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The French Army had been planning a semiauto infantry rifle since 1921, but indecisiveness and bureaucracy delayed its development. A major trial was held in 1931, and elements of two experimental rifles were chosen to be combined into what would eventually become the MAS 1944. It was put through field trials in late 1939, and passed with flying colors – but too late to get into production before the 1940 armistice with Germany. The project was hidden from the Germans at St Etienne, and would be revived upon the factory’s liberation in the fall of 1944. By late 1945, rifles were coming off the production line.
The MAS 44 was a direct gas impingement operating system with a tilting bolt, as was a remarkably rugged, dependable, and simple rifle. It was initially adopted by the French Navy, and only 6200 were made before a number of improvements were made and a new model was designated; the MAS 1949. When those 6200 rifles were ultimately surplussed in the 1980s, the vast majority of the surviving examples came to the United States, where their scarcity is not well appreciated.