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World at War: French Infantry Weapons of World War II

Updated on March 12, 2012

French Infantry Weapons

French Infantry Weapons of World War II

One of the things that should be understood, is the fact that the French were very wary of war by the 1930s. The vast majority of the fighting, civil damage, and death had occurred on French soil in World War I, and the French people were tired of it. Spurred by a burgeoning populist movement, the military wasn't abandoned, but it wasn't given the attention that it deserved, in light of a rapidly mobilizing German Nationalist threat.

As a result, the French lacked a semi-automatic battle rifle before the war. Their updated infantry rifle of 1936 was produced in so low numbers, that many French units were outfitted with older rifles from World War I, which is why two battle rifles are mentioned below.

The Lebel

Reserve Battle Rifle

The Lebel 1886 is an 8mm Bolt-Action rifle that was produced by the Chatellerault arms plant for the French Military. It was designed in 1886, and had production runs up until the 1920s. Although the rifle was replaced by the MAS-36 in many front line units, it was still active equipment for reserve units and units not expected to see combat. As the war dragged on, it became more and more common for units with these rifles to become involved in the fighting.

The weapon weighed just under 10 pounds, and had an effective range of 400m. It was 4.3 feet long, making it hard to use in close-quarters battles. No carbine version was ever made.

MAS 36

Main Battle Rifle

The MAS36 was the standard battle rifle for the French Army as of 1936. It used 7.5mm ammunition, and was bolt-action. The rifle was intended to be general issue for the majority of the French Army, even though working models of a semi-automatic battle rifle were in existence. The French decided to go with the MAS due to budgetary concerns, but even then, could not produce enough of the rifle to adequately supply its front-line units.

The rifle weighed just over 8 pounds, and was 3.3 feet long. This meant that it had some advantage over the Lebel in close quarters fighting. It had a maximum effective range of 350 to 400 meters, so we can assume 375 meters on average.


French SMG

Typically, SMGs in World War II were used by a few select groups. They were used, along with carbines, to outfit airborne and marine units. Those brigades specifically outfitted for urban combat made extensive use of them. Squad NCOs typically had them, to help with maneuver actions by providing additional suppression fire.

The MAS-38 was no different. Manufactured for the French Army by the arms plant at Saint Etienne, the rifle was 7 lbs, and about two feet long. This made it excellent for close quarters shifting and maneuvering. It was gas operated and fully automatic, firing a 7.5mm round to an effective range of 100m.

After the fall of France, the Germans captured the factory at Saint Etienne, and continued manufacture of the weapon as an alternate SMG issued to some units and to Vichy France.

Model 1935

French Pistols

Often issued to officers for personal defense, or to military police units, the Pistol was a secondary weapon. Use in combat was limited to special circumstances and possibly a few instances in Urban Warfare. The 1935 model of French pistol was produced in several different arms plants, and was made to fire 7.65mm ammunition.

FM 24 Light Machine Gun

Squad Automatic Weapon

Squad level automatic weapons are designed for two primary purposes, maneuver and attrition. The former is the primary design of the weapon, whereby the enemy puts his head down (taking cover) while the weapon is firing. This allows other mobile elements of the squad to maneuver freely, and enter into an expert position to close and liquidate enemy resistance. The former task, attrition, is the result of the enemy not putting his head down while the weapon is firing.

The FM24/29 LMG fires a 7.5 mm round, to an effective range of 1800m. In addition, it fired 450 rounds per minute at its target area. However, it weighed 10 pounds, excluding ammunition, and would likely have to be fired from the prone position to protect and stabilize the operator.


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    • JPB0756 profile image

      Robert A. Joseph 4 years ago

      Voted thumbs up and interesting, Chris! Good coverage of a meager pool. The French spent lots of francs of preventing another war with Germany; remember The Maginot Line? I have seen it, and wow, silly but expensive in oh so many ways.

    • MPChris profile image

      MPChris 5 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      Thanks so much! I wanna know who voted it funny, lol. "What the French actually had weapons?" Great stuff! Thanks for reading guys!

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 5 years ago from Dubai

      Great hub with a lot of information, great read. Voted up.

    • MPChris profile image

      MPChris 5 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      Thanks so much! I would love to do a hub comparing all the main battle rifles of the war. I would have to develop some sort of numeric system, but I think it'd be an interesting read!

    • B R Casteel profile image

      B R Casteel 5 years ago from Camano Island

      Very good article. Nicely written on a subject not many know about. Voted up for sure!

    • MPChris profile image

      MPChris 5 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      Thanks much! I appreciate it!

    • UnnamedHarald profile image

      David Hunt 5 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      Informative and well-written on a subject I was unfamiliar with, mpchris. Voted up and interesting.