Book Review: Proud Promise, by Jean Huon

We’ve all heard the jokes about French guns – never fired and only dropped once. It’s a shame that they developed that type of stereotypical reputation here in the US, because the French were actually prolific front-runners in arms design. In the 10-15 years prior to World War I, French arms factories produced literally dozens of experimental autoloading rifles for service testing. Among others, these included the first direct gas impingement design (the Rossignol, from 1896) and both long- and short-recoil rifles. Many were chambered for smallbore 6mm and 7mm cartridges that were far ahead of their time.

Jean Huon and Collector Grade Publications have published what is doubtless the most thorough research work on the history of French autoloading rifle design, under the title Proud Promise: French Autoloading Rifles 1898-1979. In addition to the first wave prototypes I mentioned already, M. Huon also has unearthed a great deal of information on the few issued semiauto rifles from WWI (the St Etienne 1917 and 1918 rifles and carbines), the whole series of developmental designs culminating in the MAS 44 and MAS 49 rifles that were widely adopted, and accessories and ammunition for the MAS49 service rifles.

 

Sample page from jean Huon's Proud Promise
Sample page from jean Huon's Proud Promise

For anyone who has not taken a serious look at French arms design, this book will open up a whole new world, and it is an excellent resource for folks who appreciate rifles like the MAS49/56 but haven’t looked into its history. This is a volume that deserves a place in any complete firearms library, and it is available at a great price too. You can order a copy directly from Collector Grade along with the other volumes they have available, or pick up a copy from a reseller on Amazon: Proud Promise: French Autoloading Rifles, 1898-1979.

Is it just me, or does that 1917 St Etienne Musket just look like an awesome rifle to have?

8 Comments

  1. The St Etienne rifle and musket are two of the rifles that I would really like to own. I own a copy of this book and have read it many times. It is well written and I am amazed at the amount of work the french have dome in small arms design.

  2. No, it isn’t just you… The RSC Modèle 1917 and its derivatives are very desireable rifles, but I guess the prices – when such rare guns can be found – must put them beyond the reach of many collectors. I also like the Meunier A6 M 1916…

    I bought the book shortly after its release, some 12 years ago. Being well researched and nicely written, as MG-42 already pointed out, it is a neat example of how really good gun history books should be made. Jean Huon has published a lot more titles since then, but I think most (if not all) are only available in French, namely a treatise on the French M 1924/M 29 lmg, a very interesting work on the history of French assault rifles (with lots of info on hitherto undocumented prototypes) – “Les fusils d’assaut français : 1916-1921,1948-1963,1969 à nos jours” – a tome on French sub-machine guns, full of previously unseen data (“Les pistolets-mitrailleurs français”) and a nice history of the Sten gun (“Les mitraillettes Sten”), just to name a few.

  3. One word of warning. The English version of Huon’s “Le M16” is trash. It reads as if the French text was run through a web-based translation program. If that was your first and only experience with Huon’s writing, you would be left with the mistaken opinion that he was a talentless hack.

  4. One of my favorite shooters is my MAS 49/56. I’ve worked to acquire most of the accessories over the years, and it’s a terrific shooter and solidly built. I know the joke about French soldiers, but their guns are very well made. I’ll definitely be on the lookout for this book as I’d love to know more.

  5. @ Daniel E. Watters: yes, I was told the same by a friend who bought the English language edition of Huon’s “Le M16”, but that must a publisher’s fault, I guess.
    The sole book by him in English I do own is “Proud Promise”. All the rest are original, French language editions, on French guns (the subject matter where the author really excels) – the book on French bolt-action rifles is also a must. I never had the oportunity to check the French version of “Proud Promise” though; it was actually published after the one from Collector Grade. I don’t know if it contains any new info and pictures (the page count is almost identical between both editions).

  6. Great recommendation – Will definitely pick up a copy of the book. 12 years late it seems… I always find the works of Jean Huon interesting and worth the read. However, it sounds as if the translation of the M-16 book has gone horribly wrong. Off subject, the French firearms literature and periodicals have a lot treasures. For light reading the periodicals “Cibles”, “Action Armes & Tir” (and even “Armes de Chasse” for contemporary hunting firearms) are great. The style is very different from US publications, so it may not be for everybody. Back on subject, and not having read the book, I have been puzzled by the “re-conversion” of the Fusils 1917/1918 into manual repeating firearms which apparently took place in 1935. Hopefully, there is more info on that in the book.

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