History – (A new category I should have added earlier on other rifles in the series.) Most people don’t know how influential the French were on gun design and military adoption of new ideas, it was the French that were the first to use smokeless gunpowder, first to introduce a boat-tailed bullet, introduced the tilting block and the direct impingement system to the gun world thus giving rise to the SVT40, SKS45, FN49, FNFAL, Ljungman, Hakim, Rasheed, and of course the AR-15/M-16 and others. Owners of both will note how similar the M1 Garand trigger group is to the MAS, as both rifles trigger groups are modified from the French Le fusil automatique de 8 mm RSC modele 1917/18 rifle. Garand born in Quebec from a French speaking family was familiar with the French RSC 1917/18 design. Garand was involved with US attempts to adapt the RSC 18 design to the 30.06 cartrridge at Springfield Arsenal moving many of the design features to what would become the M1 rifle.
Like the FN49 development of the MAS rifles was interrupted by WWII the French were able to keep the weapon development away from the Germans – so well in fact, they lost information and after the occupation they were forced to reverse engineer their own rifles from prototypes (a story in itself). The MAS 38/39 and 40 rifle had a fixed magazine and was produced in small numbers as prototypes. The MAS 40 was adopted for French service in March 1940 but the war was to stop further plans until parts of France were no longer under German control.
The MAS 40 and early rifles were used as a base for the next development in the series, the MAS 44 rifle, notably adding the detachable magazine. The MAS 44 rifle was produced in limited numbers starting near the end of WWII The MAS 40 and MAS 44 are very rare, the 40 unavailable and the 44 commanding collector prices.
The MAS 44 series of rifles was modified and improved in the late 1940’s into the MAS 49 (with the detachable magazine, better metallurgy, and other features).
The MAS 49 was the main rifle of the heavy conflicts in French Indo-China and Algeria where the MAS 49 and MAS 49/56 rifles became particularly identified (to outside observers) with the French Foreign Legion troops. The MAS 49/56 rifle was the main rifle of all branches of the French military until the adoption of the FAMAS bulpup rifle.
Personal – I wish my first experience with this rifle would have been the original French 7.5×54 French cartridge, the MAS 49/56 is known as one of the most reliable military rifles ever fielded by any military. Sadly there was a batch of Century Arms imported MAS 49/56 rifles that were “converted” to use the .308/7.62×51 NATO round and my first experiences with this rifle were mixed because of the mixed quality of the conversions. The “rabid angry one-eyed beavers” at Century Arms produced a series of conversions of the MAS 49/56 that are known for function problems in well over 1/2 of the rifles that were converted. I would have no problem recommending this rifle if in it’s original form, converted or repaired by a good gunsmith.
The MAS 49/56 is a short handy rifle that is accurate for it’s size, it is heavy at about 8 1/2 pounds but the weight makes the recoil more manageable, honestly the size makes the rifle very handy, for a daily carry in a pouch in a car or truck, on an ATV or even on horseback or hiking it could make itself quite useful.
If you have a McCann Industries or other competent gunsmith conversion the rifle is excellent, if one of the Century Arms conversions they are plagued with failure to chamber, eject, and extract problems, along with the typical slam-fire incidents inherent with the all too common military rifle “free floating” firing pin and (more impact sensitive) commercial primers. I will review caliber conversion choices later in this article.
I have to put this rifle in a second tier choice for a preparedness rifle if in it’s original 7.5×54 French round because of the lack of availability of ammunition.
Sadly the rifle is rare in the United States and as a consequence some spare parts, and aftermarket accessories are low in number and can be difficult to find, yet 10 round magazines, and basic parts are available (or can be modified from other rifles parts.
Function – Will be reasonable to marginal with the Century Arms conversion, and Excellent to superb with good conversions and in it’s original unmodified 7.5×54 form.
Design flaws – This rifle has a direct impingement gas system, in this rifle it is not necessarily a design flaw, because the bolt carrier is “in the open” the collection of powder fowling and heat that plague the “closed” action of the AR10 and M-16 family of rifles does not come into play. The rifle is a hefty 8 1/2 pounds, a bit heavy for the size and length. The stock has a short “length of pull” (a short butt-stock) that can be uncomfortably short unless in excessively heavy and thick winter clothing or bulky web gear, basically the stock is too short for the average statured American and almost ridiculous to tall and long armed gorillas like myself.
Quality – First world, all machined, good to excellent quality construction, machining, and metal finish when originally produced. The fact is that because the MAS 49/56 are examples of military surplus, the range of “use and abuse” can be quite vast.
Caliber/Ammunition – 7.5×54 French is an accurate full power battle rifle cartridge, like all other full powered military rifle rounds it is often considered excessive in recoil. Suitable for large and smaller game the 7.5×54 French is as useful as .308 Win. but suffers in the US due to lack of availability (rareness).
Conversions in Caliber/Ammunition – Because the rifle was direct impingement and can even be modified to make the system adjustable, many gunsmiths have used this rifle for conversions into other more common cartridges used in the US. The most popular MAS 49/56 rifle cartridge conversion is of course is the 7.5×54 to .308 Win./7.62×51 modification. With only minimal modifications the MAS 49/56 has been converted to .250 Savage, .308 Win., .243 Win., and a host of other “one-ofs” that have a similar base/extractor rim and a similar or shorter length. Basically the design of the MAS 49/56 rifle lends itself to a relatively simple conversion with a new or modified barrel, gas adjustment fabrication, extractor modification, bolt face modification, and other minor parts like springs. If a gunsmith can change a barrel in a Mauser they can modify the MAS 49/56. How cool would it be to have a short little semi-auto brush gun that is more accurate and more powerful than an SKS in about the same size?
Use – Accuracy with an original example or a well done conversion will be on par with any first world production military rifle, in other words better than the average shooter can utilize. The MAS 49/56 uses a simple detachable magazine that is available on-line and some users have modified FNFAL magazines for use with this rifle. The The MAS 49/56 magazine is a short 10 round alternating dual stack formation that has the catch latch attached to the magazine itself, this locks into the side of the receiver and makes it very easy to remove and change magazines with one hand.
Current Production -This rifle is surplus only but examples are still available from private owners and gun show dealers, future import of more examples is possible, as several batches have entered into the US periodically.
I personally would consider this rifle a second tier choice for an MBR, but only because of the ammunition and limited magazine capacity, a good example using .308 and modified to use standard capacity magazines would place this higher, and even the magazine capacity of 10 rounds is not particularly troubling.
An excellent trunk gun, brush rifle, or hunting rifle.
A company, McCann Industries provides an interesting MAS 49-56 Receiver Conversion