Unblinking Eye
                           The 1935 French Service Pistols

 

The 1935 French Service Pistols
by Ed Buffaloe

For many years, the French had been in the forefront of firearms design. They invented the first pinfire cartridge, the first rimfire cartridge, the first center-fire cartridge, and smokeless powder.  But at the end of the Great War (World War I) their official sidearm was still the Model 1892 revolver. 

The 1935 French Service Pistols

Top: M1935A. Bottom:  M1935S.

In 1937 the French Commission d’Experiences Techniques de Versailles, charged with selecting an automatic pistol for use by the French military, chose a design from the Societe Alsacienne de Constructions Mecaniques (SACM) which originated with their director, Charles Gabriel Petter.  This gun became known as the Modèle 1935A, and was the official sidearm of the French military until 1950.  Due to production limitations at the SACM factory, the French army general staff also adopted a competing design by the Manufacture Nationale d’Armes de Saint Ètienne (MAS), which became known as the Modèle 1935S.

Many sources, including Josserand and Kinard, state that MAS redesigned Petter’s 1935 design to make it easier and cheaper to manufacture, and that this gun then became the 1935S; but according to Medlin and Huon the 1935S was designed independently for the French military tests, though both guns were ultimately based on the Colt 1911.  Medlin and Huon say, in regard to the 1935S: ‘First, the gun was submitted at the same time as the 1935A as a finished design; and second, any examination of the “S” shows it to be completely different from the “A” in a number of ways.  A close comparison of the two provides no evidence that the “S” would be any cheaper to manufacture.’  Apparently, the similarities the two guns display are a result of both meeting the design specifications of the Commission d’Experiences Techniques de Versailles.

 

These specifications were as follows:

  1. The gun must fire the 7.65mm long round.
  2. The gun must be a single-action design with one spring for both the hammer and sear.
  3. The hammer, sear, and mainspring assembly must be constructed as a unit to facilitate replacement in the field.
  4. A magazine safety must be provided to disconnect the trigger bar from the sear.
  5. A manual safety must be provided to block the hammer from striking the firing pin.
  6. The gun must not require tools for field stripping.

The two guns have other similarities, which do not appear in the specifications, such as a captive recoil spring and guide rod assembly, and a loaded chamber indicator.  The idea for the unitized hammer, sear, and mainspring assembly was almost certainly derived from the Russian Tula-Tokarev pistol of 1930.

The SACM 1935A

S.A.C.M. 1935A

SACM 1935A

Charles Gabriel Petter was granted French patent number 782914 on 25 March 1935; Swiss patent 185452 on 31 July 1936; and U.S. patent 2139203 on 6 December 1938.

The Petter patent was clearly based on the Browning-designed Colt 1911.  The French had been impressed by M1911’s performance during the Great War, but must have felt the gun was too large and heavy, and some French writers described its recoil as “brutal.”  So the French were looking for a gun with the best features of the M1911, along with a few improvements.  This might also describe the Tula-Tokarev TT-30 pistol, which was likewise a copy of the Browning design, with improvements. The Petter and Tokarev were both single action, short-recoil, dropping-barrel designs, with unitized lockwork. The Tokarev, however, utilized a much more powerful cartridge--the 7.62x25mm Tokarev, virtually identical to the 7.63x25mm Mauser.

The Modèle 1935 was officially adopted early in 1937, and manufacture began almost immediately at the SACM factory in Alsace.  (The suffix ‘A’ was added to the model designation in 1938, and stands for ‘Alsacienne’ in the company name.) Early deliveries took place in October of 1937.  Production continued until the German invasion in mid-1940--German occupation forces took over the SACM factory and resumed fabrication of the pistol on 15 October 1940. Approximately 23,850 M1935A pistols were manufactured under German occupation. The German-made pistols received a Waffenamt acceptance stamp on the left side of the frame between the model designation and serial number--no other changes were made.  French production was resumed as quickly as possible after liberation--the approximate date being 1 October 1944. The final M1935A was made on 10 February 1950. Total production was 84,950 pistols.

S.A.C.M. 1935A

SACM 1935A

The Petter design features a barrel with two swinging links at the rear of the barrel, instead of one, and a captive recoil spring with the rear end of the guide rod drilled through. This drilled end fits between the two swinging links that depend from the barrel.  The slide stop is inserted through both links and the recoil spring rod to lock the barrel and guide rod to the frame. Petter utilized a pivoting trigger that attaches to a Browning-style stirrup-shaped connector running on either side of the magazine.  Like the Colt M1911 and the Tokarev TT-30, the barrel has two locking lugs on top, just in front of the chamber, which fit into cuts on the top interior surface of the slide, serving to lock the breech when the slide is forward.  The rear sight is fixed, but the front sight is dovetailed and drift-adjustable.

The M1935a features a loaded chamber indicator on top of the slide, but this feature is not found in any of Petter’s patents.  I suspect it was requested by the French military at some point during the trials, even though it was not one of the original specifications.

The M1935A has a grey parkerized finish with an overlay of black enamel. The magazines were parkerized, with black enamel on the base only. Prior to the end of the war, the magazine bases were blank, but after the war they were marked “35_A”.  The gun was not made with a lanyard, but many were retro-fitted with lanyards for use by French police. Typically, the U-shaped lanyard was staked to the lower left grip frame, and a corner of the grip plate was cut away to make room for it.

S.A.C.M. 1935A components

SACM 1935A Components

To fieldstrip the Model 1935A:

  1. Remove the magazine and make sure the chamber is empty.
  2. Draw the slide back approximately 5mm.
  3. Press the end of the slide lock from the right side and remove it from the left side of the gun.
  4. Draw the slide and barrel off the frame.
  5. Remove the spring and guide rod assembly and then the barrel from the slide.

In 1937 Schweizerische Industrie Gesellschaft (SIG) received a license from SACM to manufacture guns under the Petter patent.  It was some years before anything other than prototypes were made, but eventually SIG produced the SP47/8, later renamed the P210, which was a 9mm pistol on the Petter design with a few significant improvements. The SIG P210 is considered by many to be the finest military pistol ever manufactured.

The MAS, MAC, or SAGEM 1935S

M.A.C. 1935S

MAC 1935S

MAS did not receive the first order for the M1935S until September of 1938, and the first guns were not completed until February of 1939.  Because MAS was producing a number of other weapons, only 1404 of the Modèle 1935S pistols were actually delivered by June of 1940 when German troops reached the factory in St. Etienne.  It was late in 1944 before MAS was able to resume production.  MAS eventually completed an additional 5281 Modèle 1935S pistols, with a parkerized finish.

At this time, due to the exigencies of the French War in Indochina, MAS contracted with the firm Manufacture Française d’Armes et Cycles de Saint Étienne, commonly known as Manufrance, to produce the weapon. This firm produced approximately 8000 pistols with a parkerized finish.  Manufrance pistols retain the M.A.S designation on the left side of the slide, but are also marked with the letters MF on the right side of the frame just in front of the trigger guard and have serial numbers with a G prefix.

By the end of 1945 MAS had contracted with yet another firm to produce the pistol. Manufacture Nationale d’Armes de Chatellerault (MAC) began production probably early in 1946.  MAC pistols have 1935-S stamped on the base of the magazine (whereas MAS and MF magazines are marked MLE 1935-S), and show the initials M.A.C on the left side of the slide. MAC also changed the orientation of the safety on the 1935S. The early safeties had the safety lever forward for safe and down for fire. The MAC pistols were changed to conform to the safety positions of the 1935A pistols, with the lever pulled back and up for safe--this way the lever stuck out from the rear of the gun and was directly in the shooter’s line of vision if the gun was on safe. Most guns with the new safety are marked M1 after the model designation on the right side of the slide. The MAC pistols were blued rather than parkerized, though some guns were parkerized when they were refinished.  There are a number of minor variations of the MAC pistols that I will not describe, but see Medlin and Huon’s book French Service Handguns, 1858-2004 for full details. MAC produced the 1935S pistol until 1956, with a total production run of 50,087.

M.A.C. 1935S

MAC 1935S

One other manufacturer produced the 1935S pistol--the Societe d’Applications Generales d’Electricite et de la Mecanique (SAGEM) made 10,000 guns between 1945 and 1953 with a black enamel finish.  The barrels for these guns were subcontracted to the Manufacture d’Armes de Paris (MAP), whose barrels are stamped with MAP in a small rectangle beneath the chamber. The guns are marked SAGEM in an oval on the left side of the slide and again on the right side of the right side of the frame above the trigger guard.

The gun saw military use primarily in the French Indochina War, though it was also widely used by French police. Total production, by all the various companies, was approximately 82,773.

The French 1935S pistol, like the 1935A and many other pistols of the 20th century, is a modified Browning design, strongly influenced by the Colt 1911. There is no barrel bushing at the front of the weapon, such as on the Colt.  The guide rod and recoil spring are made as a unit, as is the hammer and sear assembly.  The trigger pivots, and the connector runs on the left side of the gun, unlike the Colt and M1935A, which use a stirrup-shaped connector. The barrel has a Browning-style swinging link, but instead of the usual locking lugs on the barrel, the chamber has a sharp shoulder on its top front which engages a shallow cut in the roof of the slide.  This locking method was later widely copied by SIG-Sauer, Glock, and Kel-Tec, among others.
M.A.C. 1935S components

MAC 1935S Components

The barrel is held in place by a pin integral with the slide stop, almost identical to the Colt. The gun has a loaded chamber indicator on top of the slide and can be seen and felt when there is a cartridge in the chamber.  The non-adjustable front and rear sights are integral with the slide.

To fieldstrip the Model 1935S:

  1. Remove the magazine and make sure the chamber is empty.
  2. Lock the slide back and press in on the end of the slide lock on the right side of the gun.
  3. Remove the slide lock from the left side of the gun.
  4. Draw the slide and barrel off the frame.
  5. Remove the spring and guide rod assembly and then the barrel from the slide.

The 7.65 MAS (.32 French Long) Cartridge:

The cartridge is variously known as the 7.65mm Long, 7.65mm French Long, 7.65mm MAS, 7.65x20, .30 Pedersen Long, .30-18, .30 Browning Automatic Rifle, and the 7.65L Pistolet-Mitrailleur Model 1938.

The only explanation I have ever read as to why the French military adopted this cartridge is, I believe, incorrect: they wanted it to shoot the same ammunition as their MAS-38 submachine gun. True, the French military wanted a pistol and submachine gun that shot the same cartridge, but the MAS-38 submachine gun was developed in parallel with the SACM 1935A and the MAS 1935S pistols, and the specification for the cartridge to be used by both was made well before either the pistol or the submachine gun were designed.

7.65mm French Long

Left:  8mm French Ordnance Revolver
Center:  7.65mm French Long
Right: 7.65mm Browning (.32 ACP)

The cartridge was, apparently, specially designed by Remington U.M.C. during World War I for use in the Pedersen Device, which was a mechanism for converting the 1903 Springfield bolt action rifle into a semi-automatic weapon. Remington designated the cartridge the “U.S. Pistol Cal. 30 Model 1918,” or .30-18 Automatic.  It is a true rimless cartridge, unlike the .32 ACP which is semi-rimmed.  John Browning later designed an experimental carbine to shoot this cartridge. The French military encountered the cartridge when they were allowed to preview the Pedersen Device in 1917, and again when they tested Browning’s experimental carbine in 1920. Maybe the French were impressed with the cartridge, even though they didn’t buy Browning’s carbine. Most American military planners thought the cartridge was too puny to be of much value, and eventually most of the Pederson Devices (which had been manufactured just in time for the end of The Great War) were destroyed.

The brass for the .32 long cartridge is about 2mm longer than the .32 ACP (7.65mm Browning), and the bevel of the head groove is longer.  The bullet weighs 88 grains.  Medlin and Huon give the case length at 0.78 inches, and the overall cartridge length at 1.19 inches. Most references state that the .32 Long developed a muzzle velocity of about 1100 feet per second, whereas virtually every source on the Pedersen Device states that the .30-18 cartridge developed 1300 fps, but this was from a rifle barrel. White & Munhall give the muzzle velocity of the .30-18 cartridge in an M1935A as 1114 fps, and that of the 7.65mm French Long at 1175 fps.

Cartridge

Bullet Weight

Muzzle Velocity

Muzzle Energy

7.62mm Tokarev

 

85 grains

1647 feet/sec.

511 foot-pounds

8mm French Ordnance

8mm Lebel

120 grains

716 feet/sec

137 foot-pounds

7.65mm French Long

.32 French Long

88 grains

1175 feet/sec.

270 foot-pounds

7.65mm Browning

.32 ACP

73 grains

1043 feet/sec

177 foot-pounds

9mm Browning Short

.380 ACP

92 grains

955 feet/sec

187 foot-pounds

9mm Parabellum

 

115 grains

1280 feet/sec

420 foot-pounds

All figures are from the current (2009) Sellier & Bellot website, except for the 8mm French Ordnance and 7.65mm French Long, which are calculated from data found in White and Munhall’s book Pistol and Revolver Cartridges.  The 8mm data is for a black powder load.

Interestingly, Ian Hogg is of the opinion that the French Long was not derived from the cartridge for the Pedersen Device. “It seems more likely that it was a French arsenal draughtsman’s attempt to provide a 7.65mm cartridge as powerful as possible and different to that of anyone else.”  However, I feel the near identical characteristics of the two cartridges cannot be ignored.

Another consideration in the choice of the 7.65mm long round may have been that the 8mm French Ordnance revolver cartridge had been in use by the French military since 1887 and was considered an adequate military round. The primary reason the Model 1892 French service revolver was replaced was that it was regarded as inadequate by comparison with self-loading pistols which held more rounds and could be fired and reloaded much more quickly.

Only four production guns were ever chambered for the .32 Long (if we discount the Pedersen Device, which never saw use):  the MAS Model 38 submachine gun, the French Model 1935A service pistol, the French Model 1935S service pistol, and the MAB Model R (which is very scarce).  FN produced a “Browning Model 1936” in .32 long, an adaptation of the Hi-Power, which is shown in Huon’s book, but no more than a few prototypes were ever manufactured since it was not chosen for production by the French Military.

Copyright 2008-2009 by Ed Buffaloe.  All rights reserved.
Click on the pictures to open a larger version in a new window.


References

Cartridges of the World, 10th Edition, by Frank C. Barnes.  Krause, Iola, WI: 2003.
French Service Handguns, 1858-2004, by Eugene Medlin and Jean Huon.  Tommy Gun Publications, St. Louis: 2004.
Handguns & Rifles, by Ian Hogg. Gramercy, New York: 1999.
Les Pistolets Automatiques Francais: 1890-1990, by Jean Huon.  Histoire & Collections, Paris: 1995.
“The M.A.B. Pistols,” by Michel H. Josserand.  The American Handgunner, May/June 1979.
Pistol and Revolver Cartridges, by Henry P. White & Burton D. Munhall. Thomas Yoseloff, London: 1967.
Pistols, An Illustrated History of Their Impact, by Jeff Kinard.  ABC CLIO, Santa Barbara, CA: 2003.
Pistols, Revolvers, and Ammunition, by Michel H. Josserand.  Bonanza, New York: 1972.
“The Secret Pistol of World War I,” by William B. Edwards. Gun Digest, 1968.
The Pedersen Device
Photographs of the Pedersen Device

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