MANUFACTURER(S): Manufacture d'Armes de Tulle / Manufacture d'Armes de Saint-Etienne (MAS) - France
OPERATORS: France; Nazi Germany
ACTION: Gas-Operated; Rotating Bolt
CALIBER(S)*: 8x50mmR Lebel
SIGHTS: Iron Front and Rear.
Detailing the development and operational history of the Fusil Automatique Modele 1917 (Model 1917 RSC) Semi-Automatic / Bolt-Action Service Rifle.
Entry last updated on 5/3/2019.
Authored by Staff Writer. Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com.
The culmination of work begun by French arms experts in the early 1900s produced the now-largely forgotten "Fusil Automatique Modele 1917" - one of the few semi-automatic rifles to see combat service in useful numbers during World War 1 (1914-1918). The rifle was the product of a team headed by the surnames of Ribeyrolle, Sutter, and Chauchat to which its alternative name became the Modele 1917 "RSC". At its core, the rifle appeared a standard long gun typical of the period with wooden furniture and integral magazine with fixed shoulder stock. It was used by frontline French forces from 1917 to 1926 with a quantity forced into action during the German invasion of France during the early stages of World War 2 (1939-1945).
As World War 1 gripped Europe, French forces were pressed to the brink and all manner of weaponry was brought into play. Despite the availability of better service rifles, shortages were such that the Modele 1917 was commissioned as a viable replacement - the chief factor being its ability to chamber and fire the once-revolutionary 8x50mmR Lebel rifle cartridge of which there proved a large remaining stock. The cartridge held origins in a bygone era of standardized warfare dating back to 1886 and amazingly saw continued use into 1944. Selection of the Modele 1917 therefore proved a logistically sound endeavor and played well to the existing strengths of the French Army now at work. The Modele 1917 was officially adopted in May of 1916 but delays in the final design led to serial production beginning in April of 1917.
On the whole, the rifle was of a well-accepted layout - the critical portions of the receiver finished in metal and wood furniture used over and under the barrel and at the stock. The shoulder stock was slightly ergonomic and made up the grip handle with the trigger underslung and within easy reach. The magazine - of 5-round count - was included as part of the weapon and fixed in place (integral), hung as a curved metal outcropping under the gun ahead of the trigger. The magazine was loaded by way of 5-round "clips" which complicated (and slowed) reloading under duress and involved the magazine case being swung open by way of a hinge to provide the needed access to the receiver. Unlike other top-down loading clip-fed rifles, the Modele 1917 loaded from the bottom-up. Additionally, the clips were unique to this French rifle which did not work well with the standardization of a modern army which relied on the 5-round Berthier clips. Modele 1917 clips were regarded as quite fragile under combat conditions. The gun's body consisted of a two-piece approach - one section making up the forend and the other over the barrel. Sighting was through typical iron fittings over the center length of the gun and at the muzzle. Operation of the rifle was through a gas system managing a rotating bolt. An ejection port was seated over the magazine in the usual way.
In practice, the Modele 1917 proved a long, awkward rifle to wield and was not favored by its users. Its mechanical action also proved unreliable when pressed into the battlefield environment full of debris, dirt, dust, and mud. Production quality was also not up to par for the discerning, experienced soldier whose life depending on a faultless weapon. Nevertheless, French factories churned out some 86,000 of these guns though a large portion were never officially issued to French troops. Those that did see the light of day were typically in the hands of the surest shot in the group or commanding personnel and used as specialist rifles instead of general issue. The last guns came off of the assembly line in November of 1918.
Before the end of the war, work had begun on a shortened form of the Modele 1917 and this became the Modele 1918. These were noted for their extended length barrel guards (now meeting the forend nose cap), a manual "hold-open" featured added, a debris guard installed near the cocking handle, and support for the standardized French rifle cartridge clip - all changes intended to promote better compactness and field reliability. However, these guns arrived only after the Armistice was achieved in November of 1918, leaving the new variants in limbo. About 4,000 of the Modele 1918 were manufactured, these by Manufacture d'Armes de Saint-Etienne (MAS). Earlier production for the Modele 1917 was from Manufacture d'Armes de Tulle (MAT).
In 1935, the rifles were addressed by instituting a manual straight-pull bolt-action feature, their gas ports being blocked and the semi-automatic fire function removed. In this form, the weapons went on to see some extended service with issue to French colonial troops overseas - mainly in Africa. Modified Modele 1917 and Modele 1918s became recognized under the new designations of Modele 1917/35 and Modele 1918/35 respectively.
By the time of German invasion of France in May of 1940 (the "Battle of France"), the weapon was still in play - some having been reworked back to their original semi-automatic mode forms. Captured examples were reconstituted by the Germans and issued to the Volkssturm under the designation of Selbstlade-Gewehr 310(f) - the small "f" to indicate their French origins. The Volkssturm served as a paramilitary "people's army" for the Third Reich.