A post-World War 2 rebuilding France saw that much work lay ahead of it. The French military, as was the nation, was in rebuilding mode and currently comprised of interim solutions captured, donated or procured from allied powers including Germany, the United States and Britain. As such, no standard service rifle was in existence - only bolt-action and several self-loading types originating elsewhere. The self-loading rifle had gained some traction prior to and during the war and eventually was embodied in designs such as the classic American M1 Garand which saw widespread service in World War 2.
Despite the arrival of the assault rifle by the late stages of the conflict, the self-loading rifle managed a consistent presence in many an arsenal during the post-war years. This led to the development of such types as the Swedish AG m/42, the Belgian Fabrique Nationale FN 1949 and the Czech CZ52. For the French, seeking to consolidate its line of outdated bolt-action service arms, came the "Fusil Semi-Automatique de 7.5mm Modele 1949" - otherwise recognized under the shortened designation of "MAS 49" (MAS to represent the government firm of "MAS" - Manufacture d'Armes de Saint-Etienne - and "49" to indicate the rifle's initial year of adoption - 1949). Official use began in 1951.
The MAS 49 borrowed some of the form from the preceding MAS 36 rifle line simply to keep development and production costs under control including the original's two-piece wooden stock. This gave the weapon a rather heavy hold at 10lbs and an overall length of 43 inches with a 40 inch barrel assembly. The weapon was chambered for the 7.5x54mm French cartridge originating in 1924 - a modern cartridge selected to replace the original 8mm Lebel mark. The 7.5mm cartridge proved a good man-stopping round with comparable statistics to the widely-accepted 7.62x51mm NATO standard rifle cartridge soon to come in 1954. The action was centered around a direct impingement system with a semi-automatic mode of fire, allowing one cartridge to be used with each trigger pull. Muzzle velocity was 2,700 feet per second with an effective range equal to 1,300 feet. Feeding was by way of a 10-round detachable box magazine fitted ahead of the trigger group in the traditional manner. While a forward and rear adjustable sight was standard to the design, optics could address the need for long-range firepower which extended the useful effective range of the rifle out to 2,600 feet. The muzzle allowed a grenade launcher assembly to be added - one of the first instances of this in any service rifle around. A sighting device along the left side of the rifle allowed for ranging.
In practice, the MAS 49 was an effective weapon system, particularly at range where its 7.5mm cartridge could be put to good use. Its solid wooden body made for a heavy but sure-handed weapon and reinforced against the rigors of military abuse. The gas system proved reliable and was one of the well-noted qualities of the design - lacking any sort of complex piston action and, instead, allowing the gas pressures to push directly against the bolt.
The MAS 49 managed a very long, extended service life with the French Army, spanning several decades before being replaced. The weapon was used from 1951 into 1979 and across the First Indochina War, the Algerian War, the Suez Crisis, the Vietnam War and in the Shaba II invasion in support of Zaire. If the rifle series held any limitation it was in the distinct French 7.5mm cartridge during a period where there proved a dramatic shift in Europe to adopt the 7.62x51mm NATO rifle cartridge. As such, the future of the MAS 49 was in doubt. Come 1978, the MAS 49 was finally replaced by the FAMAS bullpup assault rifle chambered for the smaller 5.56x45mm NATO standard rifle cartridge.
Before its formal retirement, the MAS 49 was improved in 1956 to produce the MAS 49/56 designator with adoption following in 1957. This version attempted to better the existing design based on practical use of the weapon throughout the French commitments in Indochina, Algeria and Suez. The revised form included a knife bayonet mounting assembly and a shortened barrel and forend for a more compact profile which, in turn, led to an overall lighter design. In this way, the weapon could now be issued beyond the standard infantryman where compactness and lightweight qualities were key - such as for airborne infantry and vehicle personnel.
Production of MAS 49 rifles totaled 295,840 units though 275,240 of this number alone were of the improved MAS 49/56 mark of 1956. Operators went on to include Algerian, Monacan and Vietnamese military forces.