The Berthier Rifle

The Berthier rifle was an 8mm-caliber, bolt-action rifle used in the French Army from the early 20th century to the beginning of World War II. Developed from the cavalry and artillery carbines issued in 1890-92, known as the “mousquetons Berthier", two full length Berthier rifles had already been introduced before World War I. They were the rifles M1902 and M1907 which were issued to Indochinese and Senegalese troops. Like their shorter carbine counterparts, these Berthier rifles also used a Mannlicher-type 3-round clip and 8 mm Lebel ammunition. They were first made in small numbers, altogether about 5,000 rifles, by the Manufacture d’Armes de Châtellerault. The sights were wider, higher and more substantial, a distinct improvement over those on the Lebel rifle.

During the Great War, a modified version of the Berthier M1907 rifle called Fusil Mle 1907-15 was manufactured in very large numbers, altogether 435,000, and issued to colonial troops and some allies, such as the Russian Legion in France and the American Expeditionary Force African-American regiments detached to the French Army. It was also issued to some French regular infantry regiments after 1916 in order to bring relief to an endemic shortage of the Lebel rifle. The main state contractors for the Berthier M1907 were the Manufacture d’armes de Saint-Étienne and the MAC.

Infantrymen found the Berthier M1907-15 small magazine capacity to be a major disadvantage, which led to the introduction of a 5-round Berthier rifle. It was officially designated Fusil Mle 1907-15 M16 but generally called the 1916 rifle by the troops. In spite of its designation it only appeared in small numbers on the front lines during the year 1918. After World War I, the French military sought to replace the 8 mm Lebel ammunition which was poorly suited to large-capacity rifle magazines and to automatic or semi-automatic weapons. After considerable delay the modern 7.5 mm mle 1929 rimless ammunition was finally introduced for the FM 24/29 light machine gun, and the Berthier rifles were converted or newly manufactured to make use of the new round.

The Berthier rifle had a barrel length of 80 centimeters, which was about the same length as the barrel length of the German Gewehr 98 infantry rifle present on World War I. In both the French and German infantry rifles, these barrel lengths had been designed to extend the reach of bayonets not to marginally increase muzzle velocities. The experiences of World War I demonstrated that the casualties inflicted by bayonets amounted to less than 1% of the overall casualties suffered by both sides. Consequently Germany, France, Russia, Italy and Switzerland adopted shorter infantry rifles during the post-war years.

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Thor is Carlos Benito Camacho, the manager and writer of this blog.

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