MAT 49: Iconic SMG of Algeria and Indochina

The MAT-49 was developed by France after World War Two to satisfy the need for a more modern submachine gun to replace the MAS-38. The military had come around to standardizing on the 9x19mm cartridge for its pistols and subguns, and the 7.65mm MAS-38 was not feasible to convert. All three state arsenals and the Hotchkiss company submitted designs, and the Tulle arsenal won out with a gun that borrows substantially from the American M3 “Grease Gun”.

About 700,000 MAT-49s were produced between 1949 and 1979, when it (along with the MAS 49/56 rifle) was replaced by the FAMAS bullpup rifle. During that time it saw substantial combat in France’s colonial wars, notable Algeria and Indochina. Despite being a relatively heavy weapon, it came to be well liked by all who used it for its durability and reliability.

Many thanks to the anonymous collector who let me take a look at this piece and bring you a video on it!

30 Comments

  1. This is first time I am able to see MAT49 innards – interesting and smack simple. One would think that after slew of German, Italian, Russian, German and eventually American SMGs, everything had been invented. Not quite so, obviously.

    French designers consistently display their ability to think out of box. I recall French cars form 60s and 70s – same thing; unique by any means possible. Yeah, the gun is ugly, but this is military crude and rude tool, not Bol d’Or shotgun (I have seen Darne shotgun recently and it is gorgeous in addition of being typically French inventive).

    Thanks to Ian for another lesson in firearms design!

    • … that second time ‘German’ was meant to be ‘British’. No one with minimal knowledge can miss them.
      (proof read, Denny!)

      • I do not enjoy to describe nastiness, but guns are used to hit, break, and crush in close encounter. They must withstand the rigour.
        How to make them light and durable same time is high challenge. If you make them too long they are less prone to sustain it, this one will.

  2. If the trigger is pulled, the bolt moves forward until the grip safety stops it. I wonder- If the gun is picked up, and the grip safety is pressed, will it fire?

    • That is a great question! I’d love to know the answer.
      I wonder if it would also be much more difficult to depress the grip safety because of the tension of the mainspring that would be pushing both on the bola and the safety lever.

      • Since the grip safety being a rotatable lever, the top lug retaining the bolt in secured position should rock slightly backwards as taking the bolt in true cocked position when the handle grip squezzed, of course against to the force of recoil/main spring and go to its backmost position by force of squezzing hand to clear the way of bolt. IMHO.

    • The trigger and grip safety were redesigned during the weapon’s service life, with the later parts installed the trigger is immobile unless the grip safety has been depressed.

    • This loading tool make more sense than playing with the stock. And it added no bulk as it goes over the oil bottle in the cleaning kit pouch.

      By the way, the 20 rounds single stack mags were known as “sand mags” because they were designed for enhanced reliability in desert lands. This remind me the 12 rounds Reising mags.

  3. The 49-54 police variant was selective fire with a double trigger. A sliding cover inside the trigger guard blocked access to the forward (full auto) trigger in normal use.
    A semi auto only version was also made in limited numbers as model 54 SB for banks and money transport security.

  4. According to a conscript who spent more time giving a hand in kitchen than on the field, he felt the gun was climbing too much for him thus preferred something more stable like a semi-auto or a bolt action weapon. I wonder if a MP5 would have fit him better..

    • I was going to mention Jackal. Interestingly, the actor who portrayed Inspector Lebel, Michael Lonsdale, was in another classic thriller, Ronin, as Jean Reno’s contact Jean-Pierre.

    • I know what you mean about “Day of the Jackal”, it made me always associate the MAT49 with the mid 20th Century French state, at a time when British policemen were armed with truncheons.

      Some years back I was lucky enough to be able to handle a MAT49 courtesy of Sam Cummings, and I really liked it, it had a good solid feel to it, much as I had hoped.

      A propos “Day of the Jackal”, I have always thought it cannot be a coincidence that the two detectives are called Lebel and Berthier. I like to think that was Freddie Forsyth’s little joke for we gun afficionados.

  5. I first became aware of the MAT49 from gun books in the 1960s while at school, and it seemed an ideal design at the time. A few years later I got my hands on one while in Viet Nam during the war, but in fortunately was not able to keep it (or shoot it). I distinctly remember how heavy it was for such a small weapon. Thanks for a very enjoyable article that I have been waiting a long time to see!

  6. As I said befor mat 49 cut bolts used to be about 100 francs
    I once saw frame flats like those for mac 10s for only 100 francs
    The trigger/ sear assemblies were only 25 francs
    the site nolasco.fr has deactivated mat 49s for sale from 400 to 600 euroes
    Apparently there is a museaum in Tulle that has a good disply of this gun

  7. The bolt rides on the inside of the receiver, mainspring is only a spring with no function of guiding it, only pushing forward. In grease gun is a different story, I suspect the 2 halve stampings it was made from were not quite precise in their innard surfaces, so they instead opted for 2 guide rods to help guiding the bolt.

    Franchi Lf-57 (hope you’ll do a video on that too one day!) also has guide rails connecting direct to the trunnion, and also is made completely (no separate lower/upper) from 2 halves stamping.

    What is novel about the french gun is that disassembly button under the trunnion, as most of the similar layout style guns, like tec9, have a removable pin, and this is way better, as soldier cannot lose the pin out in the field disassembly.

    This gun is overall very ugly, but I suppose with different barrel shroud/front handguard and stock could be charming.

    No mention of rate of fire ?

  8. Boy, I’d sure like the Gendarmerie version.
    I must confess that I’m a bit obsessed with one of the MAT-49’s competitors, namely, the Châtellerault MAC-47 that had a dual trigger arrangement like the Italian Marengoni-designed guns, the folding magazine feature, but (unfortunately, if efficiently) utilized old German MP40 magazines, of which the French had quite a few.

    Also, the French GnĂ´me et Rhone Sten copy strikes me as a nice variant what with the stock furniture, etc. Interesting episode!

    I had no idea that that is how the magazine catch worked until watching?!

  9. The 5.56mm Fusil d’Assaut MAS/ FAMAS obviated the separate 9mm SMG and 7.5mm or 7.62mm rifle much like the L85 did for the Sterling and L1A1 SLR…

    With the majority of France’s new HK 416s boasting the short barrel, is it something of a step back? Now a SBR (“armor-piercing SMG, anyone?) making up the majority of squad armament with a few longer-barreled/grenade launching rifles, specialized “DMR” and the MGs in those elements or fire teams within the squad?

  10. The sling and the way it fastens to the weapon would be handy when climbing into buildings, etc. I’ve only fired the weapon once, and was impressed. I agree w/ Ian in that the sight is a little short- my nly complaint

  11. Sad story.

    I write feature film screenplays, all “inspired by actual events” of my unintentionally exciting and interesting life to a greater or lesser extent, and all disclose things the US government would rather the citizenry not learn, most such events going back 40 or 50 years. Thus, your site and videos provide useful research, particularly as I try to convert 120 page screenplays into full scale “fictional” novels.

    Anyway, I watch a lot of movies and focus on the screenwriter’s attention to accurate detail. Shortly after first seeing your MAT-49 video I saw an eminently forgettable Charles Bronson film in which all of the armed antagonists carried automatic pistols of some plausible sort except for one guy, a former French Legionaire, who carried an SMG that — not surprisingly for a film of this genre — figured prominently in the story. Long after all the pistols had run out of ammo (of course after each firing far more rounds than possible or plausible), the SMG was the last gun standing (although it,too, would have had to have been belt-fed to fire as long as it did).

    Sadly, the armorer went to a lot of trouble and expense to get the correct SMG for a former French Legionaire to carry in the Algerian desert in 1960, a MAT-49. I was amazed. Normally they’d use a US “grease gun” or an MP-38 or MP-40 in a low-budget production like this one where the expense for ammunition exceeds what they pay the armorer.

    I don’t know whether the screenwriter screwed up or whether the director changed the dialogue when writing the shooting script from the original screenplay. There was no reason to specifically identify the SMG at all. “Bring that gun.” or “Don’t forget the machine gun.” would have been fine. But, no. In spite of the armorer’s attention to detail, the SMG was consistently referred to as the “Schmeisser”, technically inaccurate for the German guns the term is commonly used for, but inexcusable for referring to a prop the production company must have paid a premium to get.

    Love your work. Will send $$ when I can find a way to do so anonymously. ODNI threatened prosecution under the Espionage Act for my screenplay completed in 2014 (inspired by the actual events that got the US involved in Afghanistan: Jimmy Carter’s “secret order” of July 3, 1979 to covertly support the Afghan mujahedin issued at the insistence of National Security Advisor, Zbigniew Brezinski. ZB was Polish. In 1979, there was labor unrest in Gdansk, and the Soviets were threatening to invade Poland. Destabilize Afghanistan and force the Soviets into an “Afghan Vietnam” (ZB’s words), and Polish dissenters would be safe. The groups we actually supported through the Pakistani ISI, the Haqqani Network (that trained OBL and evolved into al Qaeda) and Hekmatyar’s Hezb-e Islami (that has been in and out of the Taliban because sometimes it’s perceived as too radical), sufficiently destabilized Afghanistan and forced a Soviet invasion 5 months later. Not what your kids learn in US history.)

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