Fusil Semi-Automatique M.49
The MAS 49 is a semi-automatic rifle made by France in the late 1940s at Manufacture d'Armes de St. Etienne (MAS). It was built to replace the numerous bolt actions in French military service, one being the MAS 36, a rifle France made at the advent of World War II. The actual MAS 49 only saw limited production numbers of some 20,000 odd rifles while the upgraded, shorter version, the MAS 49/56 saw 200,000+ rifles produced. This rifle used a direct impingement gas system that had its design back to 1901. The rifle fired a 7.5mm cartridge from a ten round detachable magazine. It weighed about ten pounds, pretty average for a semi-automatic wood rifle of this era (the M1 Garand was about 9 1/2lbs). The overall length was an astounding 40 inches long which did not do the Vietnamese any favors. It had an effective range of about 450 yards when used with the iron sights. It was composed of majority wood and steel. The rifle was quite easy to disassemble; although it was not cleaned as much as it should have been.
The rifle saw service with both sides during the French Indochinese War and inevitably after against the United States with the VC and NVA. However, the rifle soon fell out of favor for captured AKs and such. As well, it soon became difficult to find 7.5mm surplus once stock ran out. Also, the rate of fire this rifle has compared to an AK or M-16 is significantly lower, which led to more troops abandoning it for better weapons. The rifle then saw service with rear-echelon troops instead. The MAS 49/56 saw service with the French military up until 1979 when France switched its main military rifle to the FAMAS. This rifle is not one that many people think of when discussing Vietnam-era weapons, but is important to understand its importance in the conflict.