46 Comments

  1. It could be argued that the 49/56 is more of a carbine than a “full-grown” rifle. It has a shorter barrel than the parent 49 (20.7 ” vs. 22.8″), is almost two pounds lighter, and has a flash suppressor that also functions as a grenade spigot rather than the “bare” barrel/GL setup of the 49.

    The 49/56 is actually a very close analogue of the Russian SKS, except chambered for a “full power” rifle cartridge.

    I understand that a lot of the 49/56s brought into the U.S. were in 7.62x51mm NATO instead of 7.5×54. Were they redone for sale, or was this a French Army job reflecting their changeover to the NATO round? Any reports on relative reliability, etc?

    cheers

    eon

    • The French did make a few in 7.62 NATO, but they are extremely rare. You can distinguish them by the caliber marking on the side – 7.62N. Century did the vast majority of the .308 conversions found in the US (which are marked just “7.62”), and they are reputed to run very poorly. Problems with the recoil spring, gas tube, and chamber reaming. I would not plan to buy one unless it was as a project.

      • Here in the States, one must maneuver between the Scylla of the unavailable 7.5 and the Charybdis of a Century conversion.

        I’m not so sure French arms are “forgotten” as much as “neglected” in the USA. We didn’t even do them in light weapons school, except for the MAT 49; but Francophone Africa was (and is) full of the things, and all of them except the AAT 52 are world-class. (The AAT 52 is the M60’s competitor for World’s Worst GPMG).

        Of course, 7.5 isn’t exactly “unavailable” (any more than .30 French Long pistol ammo) — it’s simply a matter of where’s the market-clearing price for the ammo that’s out there? French guns are well made and very interesting.

        The MAS 49 was interrupted in development by the war. Much the same thing befell the SAFN 49. They were both reasonable Garand alternatives by the time they were introduced, and might have been revolutionary as the Garand itself had they been ready by May 1940.

        The MAS 49/46 is a much better update of the 49 than the M14 is of the M1, and the taxpayers of la République Française paid a vast amount less than their American counterparts for the engineering, too! (And got it much faster. The M14 project took 12 years to make very modest improvements in a proven firearm, and still failed to meet some of its original goals).

        • I guess the thing to have done was stock up on 7.5 French ammo and the bolt/ auto rifles to fire it when both were cheap, which as I recall was the early 90s. It was in the wake of the uber-cheap $80 SKS/ $130 AK tidal wave and wasn’t nearly as high-vis, but the guys I knew who bought French bargains were pretty happy with them until the cheap ammo ran out. The 7.62 conversions had a bad reputation among shooters I knew almost as soon as they became available.

    • “The 49/56 is actually a very close analogue of the Russian SKS, except chambered for a “full power” rifle cartridge.”
      not true.
      49/56 – full power cartridge equivalent to 7.62 nato / sks – intermediate cartridge.
      49/56 – detachable box magazine / sks – stripper clips.
      49/6 – direct gas impingement / sks op rod.
      49/56 – built in scope mount … any rifle could be fitted with scope and become sniper rifle …. also dedicated sniper variant.
      sks – sniper rifle variant … ha ha ha.

  2. I actually like the MAS 49, but cannot argue against the relative advantages of the its derivative being discussed here. Eon is right when saying that the MAS 49/56 is in fact a close equivalent to the Soviet SKS; I don’t have Jean Huon’s ‘Proud Promise’ at hand, but I remember reading that the French tinkered with intermediate cartridges somewhere in the MAS 49 to MAS 49/56 development line.

    • Owning and shooting both the SKS 7.62x39mm carbine (Chi-com Type 56), and the French FSA 49-56 7.5x54mm service rifle, I totally agree with both eon’s and Ruy’s points above. Jean Huon’s _French Assault Rifles_ has more details on the intermediate-range “automatic carbines” designed by all three French state arsenals.

      There were experiments, apparently, with the German 7.92x33mm kurz cartridge (like the Belgians at roughly the same postwar time period), and a French 7.65x35mm cartridge.

      Postwar, that 7.65mm cartridge and the U.S. .30 carbine (7.62x33mm) calibers where under consideration, and France found itself with the 1929 7.5x54mm cartridge for the MAS Mle. 1936 bolt-action rifle, the MAS FSA 44 and FSA 49 and the LMG, and 232,499 M1 Garands received from the U.S. between 1943 and 1964. So when the 7.62x51mm became the NATO standard to replace the de-facto NATO .30-06 M2 cartridge (and not the British 7mm/.280), the French were understandably less than enamored to add yet another cartridge (including pistols and smgs 7.65mm longue and 9x19mm Parabellum/Luger and old 8x50mm police/gendarmerie weapons) into service for logistic reasons.

      Great video! Thanks! Shot it right handed! I must say I was surprised that there was no visible gas “puff” when the bolt carrier moved back and unlocked the rear-tipping/locking bolt. Interesting.

    • “Eon is right when saying that the MAS 49/56 is in fact a close equivalent to the Soviet SKS”
      false … see above comment.

  3. One more thing: An under-appreciated feature of Jean Huon’s excellent books on French small arms designs is his careful noting that unfortunately, the race to outclass the black-powder equipped mass armies of rival powers led to the overly-hasty adopting of the Model 1886 Lebel rifle. Gary James’ recent article and evaluation of the 3-1/2 million Lebel rifles that were used by the poilus in the trenches of WWI is pretty laudatory and defends the Lebel as an excellent rifle in spite of its shortcomings, i.e. excessive length, expense to manufacture, tube magazine loaded one at a time (“no big deal” to Garry James, and offering 8 cartridges in the tube, one in the chamber and a further on the cartridge elevator for 10 shots in James’ “Lebel fan boy” piece) and so on.

    Jean Huon demonstrates ably in _Proud Promise_ that precisely because the French were cognizant that while the M1886 was the best rifle until the late 1890s, that this “rush to adoption” constrained the French military and politicians adoption of a more modern, updated rifle. This is one of the features of French arms design: under tip top secrecy designers made viable self-loading rifles before and during WWI, arguably pioneered the so-called “assault rifle” with the Ribeyrolle 1918 8mm/.351 Win. cartridge, and designed the MAS FSA 1940, which *would have been* an excellent rifle, had it been put into production. Instead, the French army faced Germany in WWII with an astonishing and technologically sophisticated and colossally expensive fortress system–the Maginot Line–some of the best early tank designs but with literally *seven different rifle designs*:

    1936 MAS Mle. 1936–arguably the simplest, and least expensive rifles to produce–sort of a “let’s start with last ditch, not get there incrementally” in my view.
    Lebel Mousqueton Mle. 86-93 R35
    Berthier Mle. 07-15 M34
    Berthier Mousqueton Mle 1916
    Berthier Mle. 1916
    Berthier Mle. 07-15
    and even the Lebel M1886-93.

  4. I love my MAS 49/56. If it only had a larger magazine and a smaller front sight post it’d be just about perfect. That muzzle brake is very effective in taming recoil in my experience. I love the simplicity of the tilting bolt design, not hard to reach bolt lug recesses (M16/AR15) to worry about while still having the simplicity and light weight of a DI gas system. On another note, is my rifle just stiff or is the action spring on the 49/56 exceptionally strong making charging difficult? I mean it’s very doable, but seems excessive.

  5. I’d say they are not popular in the USA because Century Arms did the conversions which ruined them. I am going to see how hard it is to find a French converted one.

  6. A while ago I ran across an article on the 49/56 7.62mm Century conversions. The author resolved some of the issues by drilling and tapping the gas block for a set screw that could be used to adjust how much gas went down the tube. Apparently the 7.62 runs at higher pressure than the 7.5×54.

  7. I own and have used both bolt action (36) and the semi-auto 49/56. Found them both to be excellent, totally trouble free, and economical to shoot. I do agree with a reply left earlier that I wish the 49/56 have a bit larger mag.

  8. Do you know on an M16 type rifle, when the gas leaves the tube and hits the rear of the bolt – pushing the carrier rearward “right?” were does the gas go i.e. vent, out of the holes in the carrier visible through the ejection port?

    Just wondering in relation to this rifle, if that is the case in the M16… There’s an article on this rifle in my September 1998 G&A mag, which shows the gas pipe entering the bolt carrier. But were does the vented gas go, after this er… You know the fouling – residue contained in the gas if you will, black stuff. Into the carrier? If so maybe that’s why it has a strong return spring, like someone said “to force the carrier through the fouling, so it goes over the pipe again” I heard once that it could cause problems in the M16, the fouling, which is another direct impingement design.

    • Both rifles are “direct gas impingement”, but my understanding of the MAS 49/56 (I’ve never disassemble one, so I’m going from photographs) is that the system is uses is totally different from that in the AR-15 (M16). In fact, I wouldn’t really call the AR-15 system direct gas impingement, because it is so different from that in the MAS 49/56 that they’re really not the same thing at all.

      In the MAS 49/56 the gas tube goes into a hole in the bolt carrier and the gas pressure simply pushes on the bolt carrier. I believe the Swedish Lungeman is the same.

      In the AR-15, the gas is fed deep into the bolt carrier down to where it comes out in a chamber behind the actual bolt. The gas then pushes on the back of the bolt, pushing the bolt and the bolt carrier apart. In other words, in the AR-15 the bolt itself acts as a piston and the bolt carrier as the gas cylinder. The “gas key” is used to feed the gas to this.

      With the AR-15 system, carbon can build up inside all of this, plus the bolt and bolt carrier heat up and the oil burns off. The MAS 49/56 is less prone to this because the gas isn’t fed someplace where it will cause a problem.

      You’ll also notice that the gas tube on the MAS 49/56 is well away from the guts of the receiver. Any gas which does exit is more likely to be dispersed in the open air because of the open top design.

      Most gas operated rifles use a piston specifically in order to keep the gas well away from the receiver.

      • Cheers for the information troops, maybe a port through the side of the Mas’s bolt carrier would help reduce fouling inside it ie. When locked the port in the carriers side would be over the “pipette” thing… Then when the carrier moves back the port becomes aligned with the front of the gas pipe, so the gas can pass through the port – taking some of the carbon stuff out of the side of the carrier rather than leaving it inside it, if you follow me.

        • Which brings me back to the M16, I have watched lots of videos etc in order to understand how the gas system functions, how the entire rifle strips right down into separate screws etc…

          But I would like one thing clarified please: The holes visible in the side of the carrier through the ejection port, run through to the gas “expansion” chamber, behind the bolt – created when the carrier moves, to vent the gas out of the ejection port presumably?

          I ask because I have a notion to convert the SA80 to use an M16 type gas pipe you see, by having the gas piston operate inside the bolt carrier which would vent via corresponding holes through the carrier and thus out the ejection port.

          • Removing the rotary bolt also, essentially the notion is derived from this rifle… Basically the gas piston, is the bolt carrier in this rifle – But inside the current bolt carrier, it would then operate a locking “lever” acting upon a pin, another SA80 disassembly type pin in essence put through the upper receiver via reinforced holes.

            The bolt would be replaced with an un-lugged version, supposed to be a conversion rather than a new rifle if you will.

          • The lever is basically two triangle > shaped, pieces either side of the piston, pinned to the carrier through holes in the apex part on the right. A further pin runs through these pieces above this, the piston sits above this pin when locked. The piston has a cut out on its underside which allows the upper pin through the triangle to fit inside it, when the lever rotates on it’s swivel pin through the apex – The upper of the triangle was resting against the locking surface through the receiver i.e. The pin, but now it is free of it. The lever can’t rotate until the carrier moves, rudimentary currently… He he, I tend to part think of something then move on to something else I part thought of. Needs more thought 🙂

          • The body of the SA80 is made of cheap pressed steel. You can visibly twist it with your hands if you apply enough force. As a result, the bolt absolutely has to lock into the barrel extension, and not bear against a pin through the shed roof metal it’s made of.

            In any case, moving it to Stoner-type direct gas would acheive nothing, really.

        • No, no really, you can’t. The material does not have the tensile strength. It’s very, very basic mild steel, which is rather the point of the AR18 setup they adopted. We’re in polishing turd territory here.

    • As an M1 Garand, SVT-40, SKS guy, I don’t have a problem with the ten round magazine of the FSA 49-56.

      As far as cleaning the rifle goes, the stub of the gas tube does get pretty blackened, at least with surplus French 7.5mm ammo. The slab of receiver above the chamber under the gas pipe (“pipette?”) also gets pretty carbon fouled. Some U.S. users report that with commercial production Prvi Partizan ammunition out of Serbia, the heavy firing pin can cause cartridges to “slam fire” or discharge when the bolt carrier forces the bolt downward to lock. The recommendation is typically to either get a less dense titanium firing pin, to blunt the stock firing pin ever-so-slightly, or to use reloaded 7.5mm ammunition with hard “military style” primers.

      Loading the rifle with chargers, aka. stripper clippers is a bit wonky compared to how effortless and smooth the same ammo on the same chargers works in the MAS Mle. 1936, which really is a swell rifle in spite of its quirks–principally, at least for U.S. shooters–the inability to adjust windage without replacing the whole rear sight leaf. Once you get the right sight leaf, however, it is a really nice carbine.

      Folks seem to deride the French army for being the “last major power to adopt a turn-bolt action rifle design” but I don’t quite get how the German Mauser 98k [officially adopted by the Third Reich in 1935], the British No.4 Mk.! [adopted in November 1939, two months into the “sitzkrieg”/”phony war”], the Finn m/39 [adopted in 1939, but actually put into production in 1940 and 1941] and especially the Soviet M44 Mosin-Nagant carbine [fielded in 1943, officially adopted as the new–if temporary–service rifle/carbine in *1944*] all seem to get a pass… Seems a bit of a double standard or something.

    • Thanks for bringing up the sources. I looked also at SAFN-49 – what a gorgeous rifle. The MAS-49 in comparison looks more ‘rationalized’ in lack of other word, but I like them both.

      Yes, that was the era of semiautomatics and as far as I am concerned the new generation of ‘assault rifles’ did not bring anything so much better, perhaps to contrary (continuing lethality questions of small caliber ammo and so on.)

      • You are right Denny. I also like the FN49, but the MAS49 seems more robust and durable – yes, because it is more’rationalized’ too. As David wrote above, if produced in time, the MAS 40 could have made quite a difference during the fighting in the West after the Phoney War.

  9. As I was looking at detail pictures of MAS-49 recently I realized how well this rifle was thought out and built. Even the previous model, being MAS-36 was a decent piece of ordnance used thru various conflicts in following of WWII. I recall seeing the latter on many pictures from first Indochinese war and various places in Africa.

    In retrospect, I dare to say that with arrival of FAMAS there was a clear departure from two previous rifles and definitely not toward better. French might want to return to this classical school, but sorry – too late, arsenal in St.Etienne does not exist. It’s history now.

  10. I have both the Mas 49 and the 49/56 (as well as the MAS-36 and a 36/51 Grenade Launching rifle) that I bought back when Century was importing them in the 90s. I got a whole French “collection” in one afternoon for under $500! All were in excellent condition. I stuck with the original 7.5mm as I didn’t (and still don’t) trust anything that Century put together. The 49/56 came with a telescopic sight as well as all other accessories, and I have used it for deer and wild boar hunting with soft-point handloads. Great rifles, and fortunately I haven’t experienced any slam-fires like I have with one of my SKS carbines (scary). I did find the surplus loads and some Gevelot ammo to run quite dirty in these rifles, but I didn’t put more than 50 rounds through either of them w/o cleaning, so I don’t know how it would affect combat reliability. I don’t think the MAS 49 gets the credit it deserves as being an excellent design, and in the 49/56 version, a quite useful little rifle for many applications.

  11. From what I’ve read the MAS 49 had a good reputation for reliability in Vietnam, which says something for the design. Relatively simple and robust. It’s ironic when you consider the German efforts that produced the less than successful Gew41 that the French clearly bested the Germans in the design department there, with the MAS40 that was going into production when the Germans invaded and became the 49 after the war. Also fortunate for the Allies that the Germans, somewhat inexplicably, didn’t pick up the design and start producing it for their own use, like they did with other weapons.

    • As I understand it the French hid the designwork so well they had to reverse engineer a lot of it from prototypes after the war.

  12. On the clean vs. dirty thing, I think the biggest difference is that the actions of the AG42 and MAS49/56 are open to the air, rain, mud, etc. where the AR15 is closed. Add to that the AR’s piston/cylinder arrangement where moving parts are subject to hot gas and fouling vs. the fixed cup of the Swedish and French designs and you can begin to see why the ARs are dirt and ammo sensitive (for fouling).

    I’d like to see Ian do a high speed comparison of the MAS, AG42, AR15, and any other direct gas system actions. Maybe a split screen shot???

    I think 7.62NATO is the highest pressure rated military round ever produced, so a modification to the MAS to reduce the amount of gas used in cycling the action should improve things in those Century rework guns. Keep in mind the tilting bolt locking designs are a bit weak in the slow initial extraction department. See the development work that went into the SAFN for more detail there. R Blake Stevens’ book provides a lot of reference on this (The FN49 The Rifle That Ran Out of Time)

    Weapon design is not done in a vacuum anymore, nor has it been done that way for a very long time. Knowledge of what came before, what worked and why, what didn’t work and why are important things to know. Fortunately Ian’s site helps with that!

    Thanks Ian!!

  13. many people have made comments that the MAS 49/56 is equivalent to the SKS.
    this is total nonsense.
    the MAS 49/56 is a direct competitor to the M-14, FN-FAL, and G3.
    and better than all three.

  14. in fact … the current model firearm that the MAS 49/56 is a direct competitor to is the springfield armory M1A scout squad.
    except the 49/56 is less complicated with fewer parts, easier to assemble and disassemble, more accurate, has built in scope mount, built in grenade launcher, easier to use sights, more rugged and reliable, and smoother shooting.

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