The French MAS-38 Was Weird But Well-Designed

Even the Viet Minh liked it

The French MAS-38 Was Weird But Well-Designed The French MAS-38 Was Weird But Well-Designed
In the early 1930s, France’s Manufacture d’Armes de Saint-Étienne developed the Pistolet Mitrailleur MAS Modèle 38 in a response to the French military’s call... The French MAS-38 Was Weird But Well-Designed

In the early 1930s, France’s Manufacture d’Armes de Saint-Étienne developed the Pistolet Mitrailleur MAS Modèle 38 in a response to the French military’s call for new submachine gun. The French tested the weapon, selected it in 1938 and launched production in 1939, just months before the beginning of World War II.

Using a simple blowback action, the MAS-38 fired from an open bolt and had no semi-automatic setting. It fed from a 32-round magazine and chambered the small 7.65-millimeter Longue pistol round that the French favored. The MAS-38’s double-stack, double-feed magazine was more reliable than the double-stack, single-feed magazines found on the competing Sten and MP40.

The MAS-38’s shape was striking, owing to the unusual angle at which the barrel met the receiver. This allowed the bolt to recoil into the stock’s recoil spring tube. The angle was supposed to slow the travel of the bolt, reducing the weapon’s rate of fire and its recoil. The angle of the stock also allowed the user to comfortably aim.

The downside of this design feature was that it made it impossible to develop a folding-stock variant.

This unusual shape didn’t affect the weapon’s accuracy. The MAS-38’s weight — more than six pounds — relatively slow 600-round-per-minute cyclical rate and its underpowered ammunition made it a very controllable, accurate weapon.

French troops in Algeria with their MAS-38s. Source

The MAS-38 boasted a hinged dust-cover flap just in front of the magazine well — the user could close this when the weapon was unloaded. The MAS-38 also had an unusual safety. To engage it, the user pushed the trigger forward. This locked the bolt into either the rear or forward position.

Finally, the MAS had a set of collapsible sights for ranges of 100 and 200 meters. The idea was to keep the receiver as smooth as possible to prevent snagging on soldiers’ clothing.

The MAS-38 saw limited service during the Battle of France in 1940 and with the resistance during the German occupation of France. Some apparently found their way into the hands of Italian partisans, as one was allegedly used to execute Italy’s fascist former dictator Benito Mussolini and his mistress in April 1945.

MAS continued to manufacture MAS-38s during the German occupation for Vichy troops and the Wehrmacht, which adopted the weapon as the MP722(f). After the war the French replaced the MAS-38 with the MAT-49. Despite this, many MAS-38s found their way to Vietnam.

The Viet Minh prized well-made French weapons and eagerly pressed any MAS-38s they captured into frontline service.

This story originally appeared at Historical Firearms.

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