The Berthier Gets an Upgrade: The Model 1916

The “Modifié 1916” update to the Berthier system of rifles and carbines marked a major improvement in the guns combat effectiveness – really the first substantial overhaul to the design since it was developed in 1890. The two main elements of the upgrade were the addition of an upper handguard and an extension of the magazine from 3 rounds to 5, to match the capacity of the Mauser rifles used by Germany. In addition, several other improvements were made at the same time, including a redesign of the sights to favor quick target acquisition over long range precision and the addition of luminous radium elements to the sights. The upgrade package originally also included a dust cover over the bolt, but this was dropped for reasons I have not been able to determine.

This upgrade package was formally adopted in late 1916, and would go into production in 1917. However, it took a substantial time for the weapons to filter down to the front lines, and only a small number of M16 carbines and a very small number of M16 long rifles actually saw combat service before the Armistice. The M16 pattern (particularly the carbines) would form the standard armament for the French military right up to World War II, however, with Berthier carbine production continuing until 1939.


  1. “The two main elements of the upgrade were the addition of an upper handguard and an extension of the magazine from 3 rounds to 5”
    What if someone would be in situation in which must load:
    a) 5-shot Berthier having only 3-round clips
    b) 3-shot Berthier having only 5-round clips?
    Can single cartridge be easily extracted from Berthier clip manually and then loaded into rifle or it is so hard it is better to load only 3 rounds in rifle? Possibility of such situation (having rifle and “incorrect” size clip) make me think 6-shot version might be better, as it would solve a) situation, allowing to load to full capacity, simply just by using 2 clips.

    • Putting two clips in wouldn’t work, even in a hypothetical 6-round version.

      In the Mannlicher clip system, the follower pushes the cartridges up inside the clip, while the clip stays down. With two clips stacked on top of each other, the follower can only push rounds in the bottom clip; once the first round is loaded from the top clip, a gap opens up in the top clip, and the second and third rounds are not pushed up. The follower is pushing on the sixth round, but the fourth through sixth rounds are unable to rise because they’re trapped in the lower clip. The entire lower clip can’t rise because the upper clip is in the way.

      • Yes, I do overlook that, I am more accustomed to differencing loading system, like in Deutsch – Laderahmen vs Ladestreifen, when in English both are called clip. My fail.

        • What I find bizarre is that the five round Berthier rifle clips and the five round RSC-17 self-loader clips were not interchangeable?! Mon dieu!

          Someone deserved a one-way trip to French Guiana for that one! IMO…

          Logistics apparently had paper-wrapped parcels of cartridges that were issued out. My sense is that the proper clips must have been distributed separately, although then again, I have seen some pre-packaged 3-round Berthier clips in paper bundles too… At least the French armee appears to have settled on the F1 fragmentation grenade *body* although the means of initiating the explosion of the grenade kept changing… Alors!

          • From experience I can tell you downloading the 5 round clip to 3 rounds, and inserting it into a 3 round magwell, works fine on the range, not sure I would want to do this in combat, but it will work.

          • A-ha! I should have assumed there was a very clever way to use the 3-rd. clips in the 3 round versions, and, as Marcus M indicates, a way to download the five round clip… Very, very interesting! Now if only I could modify my initial remarks…

            I learned something! Well, actually much!
            Great video, very informative, and I do hope the book will be out before too long…
            I was about to exclaim over the Indochinois version, but then I got that not many were made, and most of these remained in Vietnam-Laos-Cambodia. Ah well.
            Kudos on the video! I’m inclined to think that the radium notch wide-front-sights must have had a snazzy way to “lead” a running target too…Surely a manual must exist, even if it remains classified along with the figures on the 1917 mutinies…

    • From this point of view, mod.1916 is little less than stellar. The French, who otherwise excel in logic, in this case they missed.

      That is, unless there is built-in prank – keep the left one for yourself.

  2. Hi Ian,
    Here is the website adress of the historical service of french national defence :
    You can consult restricted acces archives and there is a link to a from to ask a derogation :

    And cherry on the top, from the same site the condition to consult the M.A.Châtellerault’s archives :

    Of cours it’s all in french, it’s normal, we discovered electricity only 3 years ago.

    But, among the thousands of fans, they are plenty who’ll be really happy to help you in your historical AND administrative process.


  3. I’m confused, Continsouza made both ’07-’15s and ’16s, yet you fail to mention their production.

  4. Hello, Ian! I think I invented a completely new type of semi-automatic pistol and I wonder if a prototype could be produced. I don’t know were to ask, so I ask here. I’m aware it sounds a bit odd, but I asure you I’m a serious person.

    • I hope Ian does not mind if I step in with my advice.

      Go to companies, to see if they want to talk to you.
      Or even better, start your own to find out how good you are.
      (Hint: if you go thru older years of FW you’ll find that you invention is not that unique after all; everything was pretty well invented already.)

      • Hello, Denny, thank you for your reply. I thought to go to companies. I didn’t find a Colt’s email. If somebody could help me with that… (Of course, Colt is not the only company, but I want to try also here.)

        Starting my own company would be nice, but it seems a bit difficult. First, I would want an expert’s advice about my idea. I’m pretty sure it will work, but an expert’s advice would be nice anyway.

        I’m absolutely sure my system was never invented. I’m a gun passionate since childhood and I gathered, with years, a very solid knowledge of firearms history (when it was no internet, there were the books). It’s something very simple, actually, but it seems nobody thought to it yet.

        • You say “a very solid knowledge of firearms history …”. That sounds as confident statement to me; every time I see here on FW something new, I realize how much my knowledge is lacking. Tell you what, I am not a person to ‘go-to’ to have your project materialized, but have some past experience in relevant industry. If you entrust me (silly to say that since you know nothing about me) with your thoughts, you can ask Ian my e-mail. I will pass my humble opinion.

          I am kind of in the same field; not pistols though. I have been trying many years…. shame to admit it, since it means lots of ‘wasted’ time. But still, I like to do that.

          • I always was a very naive person, so I think I will trust you. 😀

            May I have Denny’s e-mail, Ian? I’m sorry to bother you, thank you very much!

        • “gathered, with years, a very solid knowledge of firearms history (when it was no internet, there were the books)”
          Not implemented does not equal not invented (not patented).
          I don’t want to looks like canvasser, but after browsing for “patent attorney (fire-arms)” I found:

          • You are right, the amount of presumably useable registered patents, the applicants paid tons of money for to patent attorneys, is simply in stunning disproportion to those which were actually used in production. First question anyone with “bright idea” has to ask is: where is THE MARKET for it. So, in extension, this is always a market (marketable) concept more than anything else. And than of course cost versus saleable price.

            For instance: I had been watching demise of many interesting and worthwhile designs which were previously made and sold. Take Beretta with their Cougar line of pistols – they had rotary barrel operation and were praised for their inherent qualities. The following model, the Px4 while still being made is being substituted gradually for by new browning-action type APX. Thus as I see it, variations in design and space for inventiveness are getting narrower. In short, there is little motivation for potential inventors.

          • That’s absolutely true, but I bet this one has not been invented, because it’s very original and, in the same time, very simple. So simple that it’s almost stupid. It takes my brain to think at such a stupid thing. 😀

  5. An excellent and fascinating set of videos, Ian! Especially interesting due to the relative lack of information available as well as the current disposition of many Americans (Francophobes) towards the French .

  6. The Indo-China version of the Modele 16 seems to me like just the rifle the French should have adopted. A 25″ barrel, turned down bolt handle and five round clip did not make a radical package, but it would have been a handy and effective rifle in the trenches. Why the French, even after two years of trench warfare, remained wedded to the full length 31″ barrel rifle is a mystery.

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