I have to admit that, over the years, I get rather tired of hearing others constantly denigrate both the courage of French soldiers and the quality and design of French arms. World War I provides a perfect example of how such detractors are wrong in both cases. First, despite having an abundance of ineffectual commanders and antiquated tactics, the poilu fought gallantly during this conflict, sustaining almost 1,400,000 casualties between 1914 and 1918, a figure exceeded only by Germany and Russia. Second, while many of the infantry arms taken into the front lines were antiquated even then, they were at least serviceable, rugged and reliable. Nevertheless, the French constantly looked for ways to improve their troops’ effectiveness and fielded some interesting and innovative foreign and homegrown products. A prime example of the latter is the Fusile Automatique Modèle 1917, aka the RSC M1917.
Semi-automatic rifles were far from exotic in WWI. The militaries of many countries were actively working on self-loading designs to arm their troops with. The first nation to actually issue a full-/semi-auto to its soldiers was Mexico. It was an intricate repeater rifle designed by General Manuel Mondragon in 1887 that was ultimately manufactured by SIG in Switzerland. Only a few of the weapons made it to los soldados Mexicanos, as SIG ultimately sold the remainder of its stock in WWI to Germany, who, after finding it susceptible to dirt in the trenches, eventually relegated limited numbers of them to air crews, where they were thought to be more efficient in the more hygienic combat conditions aloft.
Noted inventors such as Hiram Maxim, Ferdinand Mannlicher and John Browning successfully turned their attention to semi- and full-auto long arms, with accolades for the first truly successful high-power commercial repeater going to John Browning for his recoil-operated Model 8, which came out in 1906. A year later, Winchester introduced its Model 1907 blowback, a .351 caliber version of its earlier Model 1903 and Model 1905, which were chambered in .22 LR and .35 SL respectively. In 1910 an even more powerful .401 caliber incarnation of the system appeared. Both the 1907 and 1910 would later be adopted in limited numbers by France in WWI for use by the aviateurs…
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