MANUFACTURER(S): Manufacture d'Armes de Saint-Etienne - France
OPERATORS: France; Italy; Nazi Germany
ACTION: Blowback; Automatic
CALIBER(S)*: 7.65mm; 7.65x17mm Browning SR
Detailing the development and operational history of the MAS 38 (Pistolet Mitrailleur MAS modele 38) Submachine Gun (SMG).
Entry last updated on 5/10/2019.
Authored by Staff Writer. Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com.
World War 1 introduced the concept of "machine pistols" to help bridge the gap between the portable pistol sidearm and the lethal two-handed light machine gun. As a result, the submachine gun was effectively born to provide the individual infantryman the firepower of a machine gun within a portable frame of a pistol. After the war, many-a-nation took to designing firearms for this new category of weapon and the French proved no exception. A major small arms program was initiated in 1918 to fund development of a semi-automatic rifle, submachine gun and light machine gun system for the French Army in an effort to modernize her ground forces.
One such design began emerging out of the mid-1920s and the idea was fully formed by 1938, just as war was beginning to wrap itself around Europe once more - this time in the shape of Adolf Hitler and his Nazi German war machine. The new French submachine gun became the "Model MAS 1938 Machine Pistol" (or "Pistolet Mitrailleur MAS modele 38") of 7.65mm caliber and maintained its origins in the experimental MAS 35 system of 1935. Incidentally, the "MAS" designation stemmed from the Manufacture d'Armes de Saint-Etienne ("Weapons Industry of Saint-Etienne"), known today under the manufacturing banner of Nexter (formerly GIAT Industries, the government-owned French defense contractor). Production soon began but numbers were few and far between by the time the German war machine began steamrolling into France in 1940 as critical resources and vital funding were allocated to other defensive-minded forays such as the Maginot Line. While the northern and Western regions of France fell to Hitler, production of the MAS 38 continued in the free southern reaches as well as some German occupied zones for the Wehrmacht (the latter using it as the MP722(f)). Only 1,958 MAS 38 guns were completed by the time of the German invasion.
The MAS 38 certainly looked the part of the submachine gun even by modern standards. She was supplied with fixed wooden rifle-type stock fitted to the rear of the receiver. This in itself was something of a evolutionary design approach in a time when weapons were still utilizing single-piece wooden receivers and stocks. The pistol grip was covered over in wood furniture and integrated into the oblong trigger ring. The trigger itself was ergonomically curved for maximum effect. The 32-round magazine was straight and angled slightly forward and could double as a forward vertical hand grip. The receiver itself was rather featureless with straight horizontal lines. The cylindrical barrel protruded ahead and was capped by a forward iron post sight. The caliber of choice was the 7.65mm Long (7.65mm Longue) cartridge and a rate-of-fire of 600 rounds per minute could be achieved. With a full magazine in place, the MAS 38 weighed in at just 7.5lbs while range was out to 164 yards. Despite her major body components being fabricated from steel, the MAS 38 was still a relatively light submachine gun. Add to the design formula use of the light 7.65mm round and you have yourself a controllable weapon and, thusly, good inherent accuracy. The weapon was cocked via a slide on the right side of the receiver. The receiver sides were noticeably tilted down towards the rear, opposite the angle of the barrel, giving the weapon a "bent" look when in profile. The MAS 38 measured in at 25 inches in length.
In action, the MAS 38 proved itself a reliable, if complex, weapon system. She was deemed accurate for the role but her complexity ensured that she was not a wartime-friendly design able to be put up in the inordinate numbers required of her. Such complexity also came at a literal price for the MAS 38 proved quite expensive to procure in any number of note. To add to her woes, the selection of the 7.65mm cartridge was rather lacking when compared to her contemporaries - particularly the German 9mm Parabellum - and limited her man-stopping lethality to an extent. This also served to limit the opportunity her French soldiers could utilize captured enemy ammunition (only the French M1935 service pistol used the same cartridge). Additionally, the selection of the underpowered French cartridge also precluded its interest with any other European power of the time. Beyond France and Germany, only Italian partisan forces were known to have used the weapon. Regardless, the MAS 38 was serviceable for the cause before her and endured through to the end of the war in 1945. Her legacy continued in the years afterwards as well, ensuring her place in the pages of today's military history. Production of all MAS 38s lasted until 1949.
The MAS 38 was formally replaced in the French Army inventory by the MAT-49 submachine gun of 1949.