Sunday, January 12, 2014

The other Model 1873 revolver...

Still raw from their defeat at the hands of the Prussians, the army of the French Third Republic underwent a fairly comprehensive, ground-up program of rearmament, and not even the lowly service handgun was left out.

While double-action Lefaucheux pinfire revolvers had seen use with the French navy, the new MAS Mle. 1873 was the first metallic cartridge handgun adopted as standard issue by the French army. Introduced the same year that the U.S. Army adopted the single-action Colt, the Mle. 1873 was a solid-frame double action revolver that used a swing-open gate for loading and unloading, with cartridge ejection chores being handled by a spring-loaded rod in a housing that ran parallel to the half-octagonal barrel.

MAS Mle. 1873 French ordnance revolver. They were issued in the white.
In another similarity with the Peacemaker, the Mle. 1873 shared its bore diameter with the Mle. 1866 Chassepot service rifle and its imminent replacement, the Mle. 1874 Gras. Unlike the Colt, whose potent .45-caliber round was one of the most powerful handgun cartridges of the black powder era, the MAS fired an 11mm round that dribbled its fairly light 180gr bullets out the muzzle at leisurely velocities less than 700 feet per second.

Colt's first double action revolver in a service caliber, the M1878 "Frontier", is a far more gracile piece than the MAS. However when compared side-by-side, the more martial nature of the French wheelgun is obvious. For instance, it can easily be field-stripped: Using the cylinder pin as a screwdriver, a single screw is removed, allowing the sideplate to be lifted off.

This one's missing the ejector rod housing as well as the head of the cylinder base pin
The sideplate retains the left-hand grip panel. Et voila! You have now probably stripped the gun as far as caporal-chef Jacques had any need for taking his gat apart in a foxhole. Taking it down further wouldn't be hard, provided you have someplace to set the fiddly bits. There is even a handy pivoting lever under the grip panel, complete with a knurled tab for a thumbpiece, that can be used to remove the mainspring.

By comparison, the Colt Frontier requires screwdrivers and some needle-nose pliers, and you'd probably best just forget about messing with the lockwork unless your dog tags say "Grant Cunningham".
The loading gate on the MAS pivots rearward instead of outward.
While the Colt was never standard U.S. issue, a version was contracted with the intention of using them to arm the Philippine Constabulary in the early 20th Century. The MAS Mle. 1873 was the front-line French revolver for roughly twenty years, until replaced by the 8mm M1892, but remained in second-line service through the First World War, and even into the Second.


Old NFO said...

Great write up, thanks! And definitely an unusual piece!

Murphy's Law said...

What NFO said. You come across the coolest stuff.

Angus McThag said...

Dare you take a pic with it cocked so I can see the relationship of the mainspring with the rest of the guts?

Tam said...


I will attempt to do that.

If I haven't mentioned it by the end of the week, jog my elbow again (it's SHOT time, which means I'm more-or-less 'on call' for a bit.)

staghounds said...

The French Navy had a slightly more powerful loading for the Mle73. And you can step the cartridge up a lot, I have seen them converted to 45ACP. Although I think hardball is too stout.

Having to use tools a lot produces pretty good design sometimes doesn't it?

French and British officers had to shoot a lot more people in what we would see as defensive encounters than any other pistol designing group in the 19th century. In those armies, handguns were personal defense weapons.

The American army was different. The Civil War used pistols mainly as a weapon for cavalry charges. Thus the SAA is a somewhat improved version of the 1860 Army. A short, rapid fire one handed carbine with an accuracy-assisting single action pull, and extra heavy load to bring down horses.

Matthew said...

The revolver of choice for fighting Bedouins and Mummys (Mummi?)

Anonymous said...

Prepare for Instalanche!

And thank you for "gracile". Great word. Never heard it before.

tom swift said...

Yes indeed, the French handguns tended to be rather clever designs, and well-made of first-rate materials. The Achilles' heel of them all was their pitiful cartridges. The wonderful 1935 design finally became something more than a curio was it was reworked in 1950 to fire a halfway decent cartridge. The revolvers were always weak, although due to peculiarities of French gun control laws, many of the revolvers have been extensively reworked into something practically approaching modern handguns whilst remaining, legally, unregulated "antiques". Best avoided, I'd say, as shooters - for a proper antique military revolver with a proper knock-em-all-down cartridge, go British.

Angus McThag said...

Jog, jog, jog the elbow...