Meunier A6: France’s First Semiauto Battle Rifle


France began experimenting with self-loading rifle designs in the late 1890s, although most of this work is mostly unknown today. The work was done by the State arsenals, and kept as military secrets, without patents being filed or commercial sales considered. All sorts of systems were developed experimentally, including short recoil, long recoil, and direct gas impingements. The most successful result of the various programs was the A6 model designed by one Etienne Meunier. This rifle was approved for limited production in 1910, but the ever-present bureaucracy meant that by 1913, the production line was still being worked on at the Tulle arsenal.

Semiautomatic rifles were set aside when the Great War broke out in 1914, but when it became clear that the war would not be over quickly, weapons development came roaring back as a priority. The French put the Chauchat automatic rifle into production as a close support weapon, and were looking for a semiautomatic infantry rifle as well. The natural choice was the A6 Meunier, and its production tooling was finished in 1916 and 1013 rifles were built – with 843 of these being sent to the front for combat use.

Unfortunately, while the A6 was the best that had been available in 1910, it was not ready for the rigors of World War One combat. Tight clearances in the long recoil mechanism led to problematic reliability, and the use of a non-standard cartridge really hobbled the rifle. The A6 used a proprietary 7x57mm round (unrelated to 7mm Mauser). This cartridge was quite advanced at the time, and much better than 8mm Lebel, but given the logistic choice between a few hundred semiauto rifles and literally millions of bolt action rifles and machine guns, the 7mm Meunier cartridge was obviously untenable. The project was ended in the summer of 1917 when the RSC 1917 rifle began to come off production lines in substantial quantities.

Special thanks to Paul for letting me use his rifles! Check him out on Instagram!



  1. The cartouche is stamped Juillet. July, not June.
    Meunier is pronounced Mun-ee-yay. This of course has nothing to do with the real content of another great FW presentation but I feel compelled.

  2. I feel like long recoil systems are overly complex and I don’t see the advantage unless it’s a very large caliber weapon. Are there any reasons to choose it over other systems?

    • I don’t see any reason not to do so. Do recall that cartridges of the period had very corrosive compounds in the propellant and in the primer. Gas-operated weapons needed more disassembly for cleaning, lest they rust shut for good. And long recoil systems do plenty of dampening. Just why would American police buy up the Remington Model 8 if it was too complex for them to use? I am certain that criminals will not stop doing their dastardly deeds just because you said “stop or else.” But I digress. Do recall that nobody knew the best way to create a self-repeating infantry rifle at the time. Each system has advantages and disadvantages, all of which needed to be discovered through testing. Do not apply modern hindsight to a period that has yet to understand that which is to come if you are passing judgment upon developments done in good faith as opposed to developments done for political expediency. I could be wrong.

      • I never had a chance to fire Remington 8 but heard from man who did. He said it kicked like mule. I suspect that providing there is free path for parts to move into, there is nothing which would absorb cartridge recoil energy other that buffer. I understand the intuition leading to this approach (in fact it is the closely similar to big bore gun) but in case of short recoil coupled with acce/dece/lerator you have lot more to work with to get some real benefit in terms of more pleasurable response.

        • “terms of more pleasurable response.”
          There are both advantages and disadvantages to the long recoil system in a handgun [Frommer Stop and Frommer Baby] . One advantage is that the weight of the gun can be less, as the heavy slide of a blowback operated gun is unnecessary. Also, the recoil energy is spread out over a longer time span, and is absorbed by more moving parts, so felt recoil to the shooter is less. Disadvantages are that there are more total parts in the gun, that require more complicated machining, and therefore the cost of the gun to manufacture is higher. Also, Frommers are somewhat sensitive to the power of the ammo used, requiring a fairly stout load.
          This might be more important for (pocket-sized) Frommer Baby (available cartridges: .32 and .380) than normal-sized Frommer Stop.

          • We ran in past over Frommer pistol; it is complex… way too complex to offset benefit. But then, these pistols were shooting low power cartridges anyway.

          • I fired a late production Model 81 in .35 Rem and found the recoil to be easily manageable. You know you are firing a piece of machinery with the barrel/bolt hitting the back, the barrel hitting the front, the bolt releasing and moving forward into lockup. It is not a smooth recoil impulse. I had heard they kick like a mule also, but I will believe my lying shoulder. With the heavy recoiling mass, the condition of the recoil springs is quite important. Over the past century some springs may have become worn.

      • (…) American police buy up the Remington Model 8 if it was too complex for them to use(…)
        Police use is totally another story! How often is police officer to crawl through deep mud under heavy machine gun fire?
        Anyway complex is NOT equal to unreliable. Many J.M.Browning fire-arms could be considered complex (by modern standard) – unreliable? not.
        And what were alternative in 1930s U.S. market in self-loading rifle of similar power?

      • “chamber pressure is lower at the time of extraction.”
        This is why it was encountered in self-loading shotguns (Remington Model 11 for example) as then used shot-shells hulls were made from cardboard, that is weaker that brass-cased cartridges.

    • “Are there any reasons to choose it over other systems?”
      Long recoil generally give low Rate-Of-Fire, which might be desirable for some application.
      For example Chauchat is long-recoil and has low Rate-of-Fire (~ 250 rpm)

      • Yeah, they do. For that reason they are/ were good for auto-canons. You can probably mention some of Russian origin (in addition to known western types) like NS-23.

        • NS-23 (НС-23) uses short recoil, doesn’t it? Rate of fire is 550-600 rounds/min, which sounds quite high for a long recoil weapon in any case.

        • “some of Russian origin (in addition to known western types) like NS-23”
          NS-23 is short-recoil.
          So far I know none Soviet widely produced aviation autocannons used long-recoil.

          In 1930s there was experimental МП-3 by Таубин of 23 mm caliber which fired around 300 rpm (hence 3 in designation) which evolved into short-recoil МП-6.

          From 1948 ЦНИИ-58 worked on В-0902 aviation autocannon of 100 mm caliber, which was long-recoil, magazine capacity was 15, Rate-of-Fire was 30,5 rpm, mass (cannon less feed mechanism) 1350 kg. Available cartridges:
          ФЗТ (HEI-T) 27 kg heavy, 990 mm long, powder charge 4,47 kg, muzzle velocity 810 m/s. Shell: 13,9 kg HE-filler: 1,46 kg.
          БРЗТ (API-T) 27,34 kg heavy, 956 mm long, powder charge 4,55 kg, muzzle velocity 800 m/s. Shell: 14,2 kg. Armour penetration: 120 mm @ 600 m @ 30 deg.
          100-мм дистанционная граната с убойно-зажигательными элементами (U.S. parlance?) Shell: 15,6 kg with 0,605 kg o explosives and 93 incendiary elements each 52 – 61 g heavy.
          With development of aeroplanes with jet propulsion, era of heavy aviation autocannons ended.

          • On the other hand short-recoil was used in Soviet aviation cannons.
            KPV machine gun evolved from experimental aviation cannon (V-20, V for Vladimirov, cartridge: 20x99R ShVAK), which explain why it is short-recoil unlike other Soviet land machine gun of that era, which are gas-operated.

  3. You lucky devil! A Meunier A6 is my absolute dream rifle. I understood that because of the delayed development of the RSC they took the A6 as a stopgap rifle. Fully understandable that in the mud this wasn’t a winner.

  4. Magnifique!
    I’d long been curious to see one of these “up close.” Merci beaucoup, Ian!

    With all those slots and openings in the handguard, I could see slimy mud really causing some problems. The tolerances between the barrel and its jacket fairly resembles one of the salient problems with the CSRG Mle. 1915 Chauchat, non?

    One brief point, if I may: It may strike us as a bit crazy to have any sort of carbine or rifle to equip aircraft… I mean after all on 5 Oct 1914, in the midst of the so-called “race to the sea” of attempts to turn one or the other flank, all the while digging trenches, an observer of a Voisin pusher biplane used a machine gun (St.-Etienne? Hotchkiss?) to down a German Aviatik.

    There were aircraft used as trainers and also as reconnaissance aircraft that presented difficulties for equipping with a machine gun,for example, this Caudron:

    I think Cherndog has it right about “why long-recoil” vs. direct-gas impingement: corrosive priming and cleaning with water or not cleaning very well at all posed risks for gas operated weapons. This “handicap” certainly remained the case for German designers well into the sequel of WWI. While the U.S. police did use Remington 8s–witness Frank Hamer’s ambush of Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker, along with shotgun and BAR armed deputies–the long recoil Remington shotgun was easily the more common weapon for any group that lacked the funds to purchase the expensive Thompson “choppers.” And arguably, five 00 buck shells in as many seconds represented a fearsome close-range firepower source indeed. Also, the Winchester M1907 blow-back rifle saw considerable use as a police and prison guard rifle, the latter equipped with the old Krag Jørgensen bayonet.

  5. Not to be too critical, but I think Mr. M’s disinterest in shotguns has caused him to skip a major historical development step. The influential popular weapon in long recoil of that era was John M. Browning’s FN A5 shotgun, which sold tens of thousands of units from its introduction in 1902 until before the war (and many hundreds of thousands through 1998).

    The European equivalent to the Remington 8 (the Belgian-made FN Browning 1900) sold less than 5,000 units through 1929! Remington produced the Model 8 starting in 1905 and eventually sold 100,000 them through the 1950s; how many sold before World War I (and found their way into French research hands) I don’t yet know. Mr. M is correct in that it was a successful gun, but only in the long stretch and mainly in the USA.

    In contrast, the A5 was a startling success from the get-go, not least because JMB chose long recoil, so that it could accommodate a wide variety of cartridge loadings, from black powder through smokeless, and he even designed an adjustable recoil brake to save the shooter’s shoulder from variable recoil. It was also highly reliable for its complexity, a testament to the machinists in Liege and Ilion NY.

    The subsequent rifle differed only in the breech lockup: the A5 had a rising block (activated by the recoil spring itself!) and the rifle was made with a rotating bolt, presumably for more consistent headspace and accuracy.

    The layout of the A5 was also highly influential, and is identical to this Meunier weapon: a spring under the barrel returned the barrel forward (in the A5 it enclosed the tube magazine), and the bolt return spring fed back down toward the buttstock.

    It seems probable that French military engineers looked at the A5, said to themselves, “But we need a rotating bolt!” and came to their own conclusions. (That the Chauchat mounted Lebel rifles, original locking recesses and all, indicates this to me.) The Browning rifle may have had some influence in that it was a rifle, but the shotgun was what took Europe by storm, and made itself felt. Being a safe reliable long-recoil shoulder weapon, it probably made too much of an impact, in that designers from Chauchat to Frommer and Krinka created many weapons not quite suited to the action, from LMGs to pistols. Considering that pre-WWI the only proven gas-operated automatic weapons were very heavy machine guns (Browning-Colt 1895, Hotchkiss), this seems reasonable in hindsight.

    What made long recoil unnecessary, and gas-operated military shoulder weapons tenable, was consistency of ammunition.

    It is wonderful to see the guts of this important, if dead-end weapon; thanks for bringing it to our eyes. But pending the discovery of some memo in the French archives saying, “We brought home a Browning semiautomatic rifle today to see what we could learn from it,” I bet on the shotgun as the initial influence.

    • Very good discourse, sir. Chauchat, Frommer, and Krnka all made long recoil weapons that certainly were overkill on weight (overkill for pistols, and certainly not too great for rapid fire on the move in the case of a selective-fire squad support automatic rifle), but one does admit that their designs weren’t as bad as they could have been. If the Chauchat, for example, used short recoil operation, it would have a higher rate of fire, but would it have become nearly uncontrollable in full-auto shooting given the recoil impulse of the system? Would it have been better to develop the Chauchat as a fully automatic shotgun?

      • Full auto shotgun? They are more video game weapons than practical ones. A semi-auto shotgun would have been useful in WW1, but the idea of using shotguns as weapons of war was pretty alien to European powers in WW1 and later as well.

        Even police use of shotguns was quite rare in Europe before the 1990s and today they are mostly used as less-lethal projectile launchers. Special forces and SWAT type police units do use shotguns as “entry” weapons on occasion.

      • “Would it have been better to develop the Chauchat as a fully automatic shotgun?”
        How big magazine capacity you could provide without magazine extending too much?
        And mainly why to make such weapons?
        During Great War AEF used shotguns which were more-or-less equivalent of German sub-machine gun – providing high volume of fire at close distance.
        Sub-machine gun have various advantage, it might be done lighter and shorter, it could be made in such way that you have selection between fire one bullet (SINGLE) or burst (FULL-AUTO), not to mention that with 1910s technology sub-machine gun provided better effective range.
        After end of Great War, German sub-machine guns spawned interest, French forces get similar weapon in form of MAS M1924:
        Thus there was no need for fully automatic shotgun

        • Very true, perhaps I was just going off on a fancy. A semi-automatic shotgun durable enough for trench usage would primarily serve the same purpose of a sub-machine gun, as you said. Assuming crafting was done correctly, a semi-automatic trench gun may increase effective rate of fire to allow a follow-up shot in the event that the first spray somehow misses the intended victim(s). Why not try using British .410 ammunition to keep the magazine from getting bulky?

          • ” semi-automatic shotgun durable enough for trench usage”
            Wait. Choose exactly one:
            – fully automatic [able to fire burst]
            – self-loading [one trigger squeeze one shot, other actions no need from users]
            – semi-automatic [single-shot, automatically ejecting spent case]

          • “British .410 ammunition”
            What length was then used? Wasn’t that 2 inch? How many .36 pellet would go inside such shell?

          • @ Daweo

            I was under the impression you were discouraging me from creating fully automatic shotguns. So I thought the next best thing was to create a semi-automatic shotgun, which understandably is confusing (in hindsight) since I didn’t mention context of the post. And the thing with British 410 is that it was adapted from 303 ammunition, meaning that you didn’t need to drastically alter ammunition production lines for a new proprietary round unique to the weapon.

            Okay, let’s put the confusion to rest and assume I’m trying to craft a fully automatic shotgun (with a selector switch). Long recoil operation and gas operation are tenable for this project (make your choice). Assume that I request that the new shotgun use detachable box magazines as opposed to conventional tubular magazines on the premise that the user needs a rapid reload (loading shells into a tubular magazine is quite time-consuming if you’re holding an empty weapon). With rapid reload and box magazines in mind, I must use ammunition that can easily feed from those magazines, necessitating that the shotgun shells have brass casings, not cardboard! If we assume a 20 round capacity for the magazine, what shotgun shell type seems best? And overall, what is the best way to go about this particular activity, aborting it due to redundancy?

          • “discouraging me from creating fully automatic shotguns”
            Yes, providing presence of sub-machine gun such weapon are redundant.

      • I wonder if the mentioned designers (like Krnka) lived today. They would go bananas (in best sense of the word) over possibilities we have in mfg. techniques and sophisticated materials.

      • Dear Mr. Daewoo: Sorry about the misspelling of Karel Krnka’s name. (That’ll teach me to double-check everything before hitting “Post comment.”) I note that Winchester patented the Browning shotgun for him in 1898, and I have no idea how patents were published back then. However, many great ideas are developed by great minds close in proximity of time but far in distance. Even if Krnka and J.M. Browning invented their long-recoil systems in total ignorance of each other, I still (and only) postulate that Browning’s success with the shotgun validated and enabled further experiments in and production of long-recoil small arms in general; his subsequent rifle may have been influential but it was not highly successful in Europe before the Great War. And at that I stop.

  6. This is where my centre of interest is – ‘old but modern’ solutions to semiauto rifles. Long recoil concept is technically intriguing, but as Ian points out, somehow not fitting to military type of use. Interesting part is, that afaik none of long recoil rifles was brought into general service, bar for Hungarian Gepard anti-material rifle. Great show – thanks!

  7. I have never quite worked out why there were plenty of successful recoil powered machine guns but as I understand it only one semi successful recoil powered rifle (Johnson there might be more recoil rifles I don’t know about). Only reason I can think is weight, a lightweight rifle doesn’t have enough mass to resist movement till the bolt has finished it’s cycling. A machine gun has say treble the weight allowing a sticky round/bolt to cycle properly that might be a stovepipe or fail to feed on a lighter rifle.

    • I suspect that if you look at core of issue, it comes down to integrity/ firmness of structure. In case of bolt operated rifle you have unit as integral/ firm as you can. Similarly with gas operated system, there is only operating rod/ piston which are moveable, rest is solidly connected.

      With something like recoil operating rifle (machinegun is not same thing since it can afford more mass) you have to create a frame/ guide within which the mechanism including barrel operates. That adds mass, not to mention complexity. At the same time you need to watch for acceptable degree of clearances and their stack-up which may affect the accuracy. Then you have certain auxiliaries like separate purpose springs and separate barrel and action catches which have to be synchronized. This is just a start, there is bit more to it.

      At start of concept it is necessary to ask: what do I want to achieve? Is it reduced recoil, less fouling or some other benefit. If one large benefit outweighs couple disadvantages and this is important to you, then you may decide to proceed that way. I suppose just to be ‘unique’ cannot be a serious reason.

      • If Johnson is converted into modern configuration package, say in bullpup form, it may be attractive again. It would require to house entire receiver with barrel (nothing or very little barrel protruding) into shell/ housing, which could be out of composite/ synthetic material. I am almost getting excited to take on it myself 🙂

        All kinds of solutions are possible now which were not available in 1930s. Having said this I must mention that Johnson’s receiver is relatively sophisticated for its time, being electro-welded. That was fairly new and progressive technology for the time. Well, America was at lead then.

    • “A machine gun has say treble the weight allowing a sticky round/bolt to cycle properly that might be a stovepipe or fail to feed on a lighter rifle.”
      I see two probable reasons:
      – In case of recoil-operated you need to allow barrel move (forward/backward) yet to remain parallel, it is possible to make but require some effort
      – In case of long-recoil: as the barrel (quite heavy element) move, then also point of center-of-mass is moving, thus it might gave bigger spread in shoulder-fired weapon, in case of tripod (or otherwise mounted) machine gun is less concern

    • Why not Mauser 7mm though? It was used by several nations at the time. Even Swedish Mauser would be fantastic shot. French pride at works?

      • Yes, pride was an issue. During the Franco-Prussian War, the French refused to buy Gatling guns on the premise that using foreign designs to win a war was tantamount to selling the entire nation to mere doctor “without a gun-smith’s license!” Then again, as eon put it a long time ago, both France and Prussia were abiding by the same set of rules, where only domestic designs would go into service.

          • ” Prussian royal court used French as official language”
            Before Great War français was international language, notice for example that awards were carried in following order: own country and later foreign in alphabetical order of country names in français.

          • On that French influence – you are right. Even and more so after end of Great war the French culture, language and influence was very prominent in new Czechoslovakia. Even military Chief of staff was French general until about 1925; his background was in foreign legion.

      • “Why not Mauser 7mm though?”
        According to
        initially (around 1900) French wanted flat-shooting 6 mm cartridge (see chart at page 15) but they do not have suitable powders to make it work as intended, so they switched to bigger calibers.
        6 mm calibre was abandoned in favour of 6.5 mm and 7 mm calibre cartridges for the 1910 rifle program, built around a 800 m “point-blank” range requirement against a 1.60 m standing man. This way, the French army followed other army trend towards “magnumized” and hyper velocity military rifle ammunition.
        7 mm Meunier cartridge data are given at page 22.

        • Good additional information. In any case, the 7mm calibre was an excellent pick. Even now, there is tendency toward that (in form of 6.8 SPC and .280 Brit. among others).

  8. Last time I looked, Franchi were still making their derivative of Browning’s long recoil shotgun. Like the Browning, it has an adjustable friction ring, to adjust for different intensity loads.

    I’ve not compared the two sides by side, and definitely not over the long term, so can’t comment on how well Franchi adhere to JMB’s attention to detail and multiple levels of redundancy in user safety, or Browning’s design’s incredible longevity. IMO Even Remington had difficulty in making bad guns out of Browning’s designs (FN or Miroku made guns are reckoned (by people who’s knowledge and judgement I’ve found to be reliable) to be better fitted and much longer lasting than Remington made versions).

    On the 7mm cartridge, I’ve not got my references handy. Was this the cartridge that Phil Sharpe began development of what became the 7×61 Sharpe & Hart from?

  9. Just thinking about the modern “Browning” company, before ownership passed to FN. The Browning Bolt Rifle, that replaced the rifles built on FN Mauser 98 rifles copied the scissors arrangement for the magazine spring and follower from Meunier’s mag. I’ve not checked who got patents on the back of it.

  10. It’s worth remembering that late 19th to mid 20th century was an experimental period in firearms development, especially semi-automatic and full auto firearms. By the 40s designs had shaken out to use the more optimal mechanism for each type of weapon. Thus service pistols were short recoil or blowback, depending on caliber, sub machine guns were blowback, rifles were gas operated machine guns were short recoil or gas operated and only shotguns used long recoil. The Johnson rifle was an obvious exception, and one of the objections to the Johnson was the problem of mounting a bayonet to the moving barrel, which would also have been an issue with the Meunier. The gas operated RSC 1917 makes much more sense as a simpler design that used the standard Lebel ammunition and clip and had a fixed barrel suited to a bayonet.
    As an aside, some of the issues with fouling and ammunition variability in gas operated weapons can be addressed by using an open system like the Colt-Gardner “potato digger” although it obviously had disadvantages as well since the potato digger’s action was unique.

    • Closer to the point, Meunier was using 1905 state of the art, but by 1916 gas operation was state of the art for rifles and carbines and is still the preferred system, despite detours into locked blowback (G3/CETME & FAMAS).

      • Interesting observation and use of word “detour” describes it quite well (in my understanding at least). I wonder WHAT and IF there will be another detour since obviously creators of alternative solutions, as you mentioned, had their rationale in place. We still work with same metallic cartridge, with its pros and cons.
        This is an exciting topic indeed.

  11. I picked up a browning auto5 action here in france for 5 euroes no bolt barrel or stock
    The length of the action in which the barrel and bolt recoil in is 177.5mms
    The external dia. of the action in which the barrel and bolt recoil is 37.5 mms and the internal dia. is 35.5 mms
    over all heighth of the action is 67 mms

  12. I can quite see how the Meunier was too complicated for life in the trenches.

    However, the air carbine variant strikes me as being a good weapon for storm troops. A handy semi auto carbine with a 15 round magazine is just the thing which assault troops might want. The non standard ammunition would not have been a problem.

    This Meunier carbine could have been an early sort of assault weapon, and would have added considerable firepower to French soldiers armed with Lebels and Chauchats. A shame the French didn’t go with it.

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