Monday, January 7, 2013

The French Berthier Rifle

The French Army used the Berthier rifle in both World Wars. It emerged, in carbine form, in the early 1890s as a replacement for the obsolete Gras rifles used by the French cavalry.   The 1886 Lebel and the Russian Mosin-Nagant M1891 are related to the Berthier design. The rifle had several improvements resulting in the Model 1907, Model 1907-15, and the Model 1916. The Model 1916 has a capacity of five shots, an increase over the previous models, which held only 3 shots. All models saw extensive service in the Great War. French small arms have a rich and colorful history. The French Foreign Legion and French Colonial forces used the Berthier Model 1907. They found the rifle robust and easy to maintain, especially in the tropics. The Berthier supplemented the Lebel rifle in the trenches. It was used to equip black regiments in the U.S. 93rd division which operated in the French sector and under French command.  U.S. Soldiers hated the Berthier rifles. 

After the war, Greece, Poland, and French colonies were supplied Berthier rifles as military aid. The French Army retained the Berthier for second line use. The Model 1916 saw considerable action in the Second World War.  First, he French Army used the rifle before their defeat in 1940. Second, the Germans issued captured French Berthier rifles to Atlantic Wall. The Germans captured many Berthier rifles from the defeated Polish Army. In rear areas on the eastern front captured Berthier rifles were issued to anti partisan forces.

Berthier rifles are a fun challenge to shoot. Fortunately 8x50 Lebel ammunition is available from Privi Partisan. Some French rifles are marked “N” for use with “Balle N” 8x50 ammunition. Do not use surplus Balle N ammunition in a Berthier rifle. Developed for machineguns, Balle N generates unsafe pressure in Berthier rifles. As most of these rifles are now over 90 years old; this is an important safety consideration.   

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