Continuing the revision of its imposing Encyclopedia of World Armaments, the firearms expert Jean Huon has recently published volume IV in Grancher editions. A most interesting volume since it deals with two nations which had a flourishing gun industry in the past, France and the United Kingdom.
A luxury of details
The irony of the situation is precisely that today we have to talk about the past when it comes to French and British firearms production. Indeed, neither country has more small arms production capacity today. Legislative constraints, budget restrictions, industrial concentration and globalization have combined to result in the closure of the factories concerned, so that both France and the United Kingdom are now dependent on foreign countries - Belgium, the United States - for the supply of their goods. small arms.
France is of course discussed in great detail, and the chapter dedicated to it is by far the most instructive encountered so far. We learn a lot of things in this way. The design of French revolvers had been abundant in the XIXth century, the various Lefaucheux models being there to prove it. In this area, the prize for originality goes to the LeMat, designed just before the Civil War by a Frenchman from New Orleans and manufactured in France during the conflict on behalf of the Southerners. This weapon, massive in appearance (but nevertheless lighter than the Lefaucheux model 1858), had the singular characteristic of being decked out with two barrels: one standard connected to a nine-shot barrel, the other loaded with buckshot ...
Among the many revolvers that appeared until the end of the 19th centuryth century, will review those of the French Manufacture of Arms and Cycles of Saint-Étienne - in other words Manufrance - and their evocative names: "Le Colonial", "Le Terrible", "Le Redoutable", "L'Explorateur" , “The African”… There then arose a hiatus of three quarters of a century, before the creation of the Manhurin MR 73, still today the main weapon of the national police force, alongside the automatic pistol G 1. Signal pistols and weapons training does not escape the exhaustiveness of the operator.
The other weapons are an opportunity to dive back into the production of weapons factories governed by the French army: Saint-Étienne, Tulle, Châtellerault, and the acronyms associated with them - MAS, MAT, MAC. These factories will carry at arm's length the great effort of rearmament, standardization and modernization which will follow the Second World War. The conflict had seen the Free French Forces use a wide and motley range of weapons from various sources, mainly British and American. The latter will be replaced by a range of weapons designed around a 7.5 mm ammunition which will form the backbone of the French equipment of the Cold War: MAT 49 submachine gun, MAS 49/56 semi-automatic rifle. , AA 52 light machine gun. As many models doomed to disappear little by little because of NATO standardization, the Atlantic Alliance using for its part a 7.62 mm cartridge.
We also find all the well-known history of Army rifles: Chassepot (1866), Gras (1874), the iconic Lebel (1886) and the MAS 36, its late and little-known replacement. The opportunity, again, to remember that the first repeating rifle used in France was an Austro-Hungarian weapon (the Kropatschek model 1878 of the French Navy), to consult the long list of foreign weapons imported during the war of 1870- 71 (often American Civil War surpluses), or to cross improbable weapons like the model 1854 speargun, a cavalry rifle that can be transformed into a lance by adding a bayonet of one meter long !
Countless experimental models are cited, especially with regard to assault rifles, test objects and multiple prototypes from the 1950s, but which did not come to fruition until 1977 with the entry into service of the FAMAS F1. A weapon now at the end of its life, and for which the Army began to look for a replacement in 2010. Symptomatically, only foreign assault rifles could be tested, and the two prototypes proposed by industrialists French are in fact derived from foreign weapons too.
Another passage in French military history highlighted by Jean Huon: school battalions. These formations, formed in the 1880s by the municipalities, were intended to train young people in military exercise and shooting before their military service - which was not yet universal - as much. than to develop their patriotism. With this in mind, the school battalions were provided with a whole range of training rifles, from the rudimentary wooden model to the elaborate weapon capable of blank firing and equipped with a bayonet.
We will pass on the (wide) range of automatic weapons and other machine guns, a long tradition since it dates back to Reffye's “bullet cannon” in 1866. Instead, we will note a very French product, once subject to controversy. , the famous "flash-balls" whose invention by Pierre Richert dates back to 1986. These weapons with reduced lethality, designed to fire large caliber rubber bullets, have evolved a lot since, since the last generation is also capable, if necessary, to fire any 40mm NATO-type grenade.
A declining giant
The nation that was once the world's leading industrial power now finds itself in a situation similar to that which was often its rival, if not its enemy. Great Britain, however, also enjoyed a great tradition of gunsmithing, whether through royal manufactures or private industry. Both, however, did not survive the mutations of the late 20th century.th century.
In this chapter we find the emblematic Adams and Webley revolvers, but also a wide variety of models from all backgrounds. These were widely used by officers, as the British Army allowed them to use any handgun of their choice, as long as it fired the prescribed ammunition. Surprisingly, the section reserved for semi-automatic pistols is almost empty: the concept has hardly ever interested English industry, except for a few weapons firing Parabellum ammunition and thus very strongly resembling the famous German Lüger.
There are many more submachine guns: Lancaster and Lanchester, but especially the iconic Sten. A symbol of resistance to Nazism in occupied Europe, this extremely rustic weapon responded above all to the need to mass produce and inexpensively a submachine gun that could be easily used, whether by a soldier or by the first supporter. The best-known version, the Mark II, was thus produced in 2.6 million copies, but other models were also manufactured, notably the Mark II S with integrated sound suppressor - which only had a submachine gun. name, since its lightweight carcass forced its user to shoot ... piecemeal.
Other known weapons await the reader: Snider single shot rifles, then Martini-Henry, Lee-Metford repeating rifles, then the Lee-Enfield dynasty, produced as its name suggests to the Enfield arsenal, near London. Like the French, the British struggled to develop an assault rifle worthy of the name, eventually opting for a derivative of the Belgian FAL, the L1 A1. NATO's switch from 7.62mm to 5.56mm ammunition will lead to its replacement by the L85 A1, also manufactured at Enfield, but production ceased in 2001.
The British tradition in automatic weapons is even richer than the French one, with two emblematic models of the Great War: the Lewis machine gun (and its camembert magazine) and the Vickers machine gun. This is hardly surprising, considering that the United Kingdom is the cradle of the modern machine gun: that of Hiram Maxim, which appeared in 1892 and then copied around the world, especially in Russia.
Only one other country presented in this volume IV has a significant production of weapons: Finland. Yet this situation derives above all from the cumbersome neighbor of Finland (Russia / USSR), and the work of the talented engineer Aimo Lahti in the 1920s and 1930s. Compared to its military spending, Greece disappoints some little: apart from a few experimental models, its production of small arms is non-existent, and it has always relied on imports to equip its army.
Volume V, to be published in October 2013, will undoubtedly be much more substantial, with production from countries with a well-established gunmaking industry (Japan and especially Italy), or on the contrary emerging (India, Israel).
Jean HUON, Encyclopedia of World Armaments, Volume IV, Paris, Grancher, 2013. 360 pages, 55 euros. ISBN: 978-2-7339-1253-9.