French Semi Auto Pistols
by Cliff Carlisle
When WW1 started in 1914, France had not yet adopted a semi auto pistol. She was the only major country still using only a revolver. Great Britain still used a revolver for the Army but had adopted the Mk1N in .455 for the Navy.
In October, 1914, France placed an order with Savage in the US for their M1907 7.65mm pistol. The first shipment of about 3,300 pistols was made in the middle of November, 1914. A second shipment of 3,850 pistols was made on 28 September, 1915. These first 2 shipments did not have the lanyard ring on the butt. Savage added a lanyard ring & re-named the pistol the Military Model 1907. An additional 20,500 pieces of the Military Model were purchased by France, the final shipment being made 2 February, 1917. None of these pistols are marked in any way to denote French ownership. Savage records of serial numbers shipped is the only way to positively identify them.
In addition to the order placed with Savage, the French government purchased 5,000 Colt M1911 pistols directly from Colt between November 1915 & January 1916.
By 1915 France was looking for a cheaper source of pistols to replace the revolvers lost to the Germans & for the additional personnel mobilized for the war effort. Her neighbor Spain was a natural source for inexpensive semi auto pistols.
In 1914 Gabilondo y Urresti had started production of the Ruby pistol. It was a simplified copy of the Browning 1903 but in 7.65mm. France placed an order with Gabilondo y Urresti for 30,000 pistols a month to start in August 1915. They did not have the capacity to produce anything like that quantity, so they went to other arms producers in Spain. The Ruby was stamped with 2 stars on the butt as an acceptance stamp. By 1918 when the war ended, at least 39 separate Spanish arms manufacturers had produced the Ruby for France. These pistols ranged in quality from excellent to non-functional. Some even fired full auto when the trigger was pulled. Inter changeability of parts was almost non existent. There is no record of the number of Ruby pistols purchased from Spain but the figure including Star pistols is 968,220. Even though it is hard to believe, the Ruby remained in French service through WW2 & was still issued to the army during the French conflicts in Algeria & Indo China.
France also placed an order with Echeverria in Spain for their M1914 Star pistol. It was a much simplified copy of the M1903 Mannlicher but with a detachable magazine & in 7.65mm. The total quantity of Stars received is unknown as Echeverria also supplied the Ruby to France. Combined shipments of Star & Ruby pistols was 23,000 to 25,000.
In 1922 France began a program to replace the obsolete arms they had in service. In 1930 the French Ministry of War announced a pistol trial, to be completed by 1933. A total of 22 weapons were tested but none met the French requirements. New trials were held in 1935 but only 4 pistols were tested. All were chambered for the 7.65mm Long cartridge. Its a little known fact that this cartridge was the WW1 secret US round for the Pederson Device that converted the M1903 Springfield into a 40 shot semi auto. The design submitted by SACM was adopted as the M1935A. The A is for Alsacienne in the companies name.
The M1935A is a modification of the Browning design used in the Colt M1911 series of pistols. The main improvement is in the firing mechanism. The hammer, hammer spring, ejector and sear are all in a package that can be lifted out & replaced as a unit. Production started in 1937 and continued until France surrendered to the Germans in 1940. 10,000 pistols were made before the surrender. Germany kept the M1935A in production & produced an additional 23,850 for their occupation forces. France resumed production of the M1935A in October, 1944. It stayed in production until 10 February, 1950. 50,500 were produced in this post war period. The pictured pistol is one of the ones supplied to the French police in the 1950s. These had the left grip cut back & a lanyard ring installed at the base of the frame.
The other French designed pistol submitted for the 1935 trials was designed by Manufacture Nationale d’Armes de Saint Etenne (MAS). SACM could not produce pistols fast enough to meet the militaries demands. So on 29 December, 1937, the French Army General Staff ordered the adoption of the MAS pistol as the M1935S. An order was placed for 10,000 pistols in September, 1938. The first production was in February, 1939. Total amount made before the surrender was only 1,404 pistols. It wasn’t made under the German occupation.
France restarted production in late 1944 & produced 1,164 more pistols before the war ended. The pre WW2 & WW2 produced pistols had the safety lever that had to be pushed toward the muzzle to safe the pistol. This was in the reverse direction compared to the Mle 1935A. To make the 2 pistols compatible and prevent accidents, the safety was changed on the Mle 1935s to require it to be moved to the rear to set the safety. All Mle 1935s pistols made after the war have this safety and are marked with M1 on the slide after the model designation. In the photo, the lower safety is the WW2 version. After the war the pistol was made primarily by Manufacture Nationale d’Armes de Chatellerault (MAC). Between December 1945 & 1956 when MAC ended production, 56,087 M1935S pistols had been produced. In addition an order was placed with Societe d’Applications Generales d’Electrique (SAGEM) in September 1945 for 10,000 pistols. The order was not completed until the early 1950s with 9512 pieces being accepted.
Manufacture d’Armes de Bayonne (MAB) had been producing a pistol since 1933 based on the Browning 1910 called the MAB Model D. The French government placed an order for 25,000 pistols a month but only received about 16,000 between September 1939 & June 1940. The German military kept the pistol in production with no changes other than the use of the German inspection stamps.
Manufacture d’Armes des Pyrennees Francaises (MAPF) had been producing a Ruby type pistol since 1928. This was the Unique 17. A French Ministry of War letter states that 18,000 of the Unique 17 pistols were procured before the surrender on 22 June 1940. As with the MAB Model D, the German military kept the Unique 17 in production with no changes to the design. Around 36,000 of the Unique 17 were produced for the German military. Later in the war, the Germans had the pistol modified with an external hammer and a curved grip frame. This was designated the Kriegsmodell and 20,000 were produced.
During WW2, the French were supplied with between 50,000 & 60,000 US M1911 & M1911A1 pistols through Lend Lease & the dropping of pistols to the French Resistance.
Unique model Rr51.
WW2 German production FN Browning M1922.
After WW2 ended the French were again desperate for pistols to arm the military. The MAB Model D, Unique Kriegsmodell (Rr51) & Browning M1922 were procured commercially. It is estimated that around 90,000 M1922 Browning pistols were purchased from FN. The pictured Browning M1922 is of German production.
French troops captured the Mauser factory on 20 Aril, 1945. They kept the Walther P38 in production for the French army but made no new parts, instead using the existing parts on hand at the factory. They continued to use the German SVW manufacturers code on these pistols. SVW 45 & SVW 46 dates are known along with whatever other slides were in the factory when the French captured it. They have the same star as used on the Spanish Ruby on the slide & various other parts. Around 51,000 pistols were produced. The pictured pistol is of German production.
The Mauser HSc was also kept in production, again without making new parts. Around 16,000 of these were assembled. The pictured pistol is of German production.
On 30 October 1946, the French Army General Staff issued an order that began the process of adopting a new pistol to replace all the existing ones in use by the French military. Counting revolver cartridges, there were 5 different caliber’s in use.
After extensive testing the pistol submitted by MAS was adopted on 16 August as the Model 1950. It is basically a scaled up & improved M1935S pistol in 9mm Luger. Though a MAS designed pistol, production was started at MAC. The first lot delivered was on 1 June 1953. In 1961 MAS began production & by 1963 production at MAC had ended. MAS produced pistols until April, 1978. MAC produced 210,900 M1950 pistols while MAS made 120,00 for a total production of 341,900.
Copyright 2004 Cliff Carlisle Carbines for Collectors