The development of new weapon systems and ammunition for them began shortly after the adoption of the Lebel rifle. So, already in 1890, the Section Technique de l'Artillerie organization began the development of new rifle cartridges with various parameters of the bullet, case and propellant charge. Over the next few decades, in the interests of self-loading weapons projects, a number of cartridges were developed from 6x58 mm to 7x57 mm with various characteristics. All of these products were soon used in various new projects.
Three organizations were involved in the development of self-loading rifles for new cartridges. The first was the Section Technique de l'Artillerie, in which Etienne Meunier worked. A little later, the National Shooting School (Ecole Normale de Tir), as well as the design organizations Commission Technique de Versailles and Etablissement Technique de Puteaux, joined the work. It should be noted that over two decades of work, four teams of designers were able to create 22 rifle projects that differed in one way or another. At the same time, newer samples were often an improved version of the old ones. Thus, until the end of the work in 1913, the proposed ideas and solutions were tested in numerous tests, and also brought to a certain perfection available at the level of technology of that time.
Self-loading rifle Meunier A6. Photo Forgottenweapons.com
E. Meunnier and his colleagues at STA began working on their variants of a self-loading rifle in 1894. After examining the available opportunities, the engineers decided to use automatics based on a gas engine. It was planned to use the latest cartridge 6х58 mm. Such a selection of ammunition soon led to the appearance of a new cartridge designation - 6x58 mm Meunier. Initially, the first version of the rifle received the designation STA No 4. Later came the name Meunier A1. The new designation was associated with the involvement of new participants in the works. Developments of other design teams were to receive designations with the letters “B” and “C”.
Rifle Meunier first version received a gas engine with a rigidly connected gate and a gas piston. It was proposed to lock the barrel by turning the bolt, equipped with five lugs. Below the gate there was an integral box magazine for eight rounds. The overall architecture and ergonomics of the product corresponded to the traditional views of the time. The original design of the weapon performed well during the tests. When using a cartridge 6x58 mm with a bullet weighing 103 grain (6,67 g) was able to achieve an initial speed of the order of 900 m / s. The weight of the weapon did not exceed 4 kg.
After the development and testing of the Meunier A1 rifle, it was decided to modernize the project in order to use the new ammunition. The result is the STA No 5 and STA No 6 rifles, also known as A2 and A3. They differed from the basic model by automatic equipment and a magazine designed for an 8x50 mm R cartridge from an existing Lebel rifle. In addition, there were some other differences affecting automation and other weapons mechanisms.
At the very beginning of the 20th century, the A1 carbine (STA No 4) was created on the basis of the A1 product. This weapon was a slightly modified rifle of the very first version, the design of which was changed due to the need to reduce the size. The barrel and stock of the rifle were shortened, which resulted in a decrease in the total length of the weapon by 10 inches. Also, a new reduced store for 5 cartridges. Dimensions and weight were reduced for the purpose of greater ease of use of the rifle in cavalry units.
Various rifles created by French engineers at the turn of the century. Above is the prototype of the A5 system by E. Meunier. Photo by Smallarmsreview.com
In 1903, a relatively small experimental batch of Meunier A4 carbines was released, which was sent to the troops for testing. Six army regiments were involved in checking weapons. During trial operation, it was found that the E. Mönier carbine system has significant advantages over existing small arms, and therefore is of great interest to the army. The carbine was recommended for adoption, however, such a decision was never made. Moreover, soon after the completion of the military trials, work on the A4 project was discontinued in favor of developing new designs.
By 1908, a new version of the self-loading rifle was created - the Meunier A5. This weapon was designed to use the new 6x61 mm. During the development of the next version of the rifle, the authors of the project changed some features of the basic design. The result was a change in some parts and other consequences of a technical or technological nature. Due to the improvements and the new cartridge was able to significantly improve the characteristics of the rifle. So, when using the 104-grain (6,74 g) bullet, the initial velocity reached 1005 m / s with corresponding consequences for the effectiveness of the fire.
Back in 1905, specialists of the French army formed a list of requirements for a prospective self-loading rifle, which was supposed to replace the existing store systems. Until a certain time, this list was considered by designers only as recommendations, roughly specifying the desires of the customer. A similar situation changed only in 1909. Then the Supreme Military Council of France announced a new competition for the creation of a promising self-loading rifle. By the decision of the Council, the requirements of 1905 were fixed. Now new weapons should be created in full accordance with the existing task.
The military wanted to get a self-loading rifle of a caliber of at least 6,5 mm with the parameters of accuracy and striking ability no worse than the existing samples. In addition, it was necessary to ensure the possibility of safe firing of a system of two ranks. As a result, from the point of view of dimensions, the new models should not be different from the weapons in service. All design teams already working on the creation of promising rifles, began to rework existing projects under the announced requirements.
In accordance with the new requirements of the customer, E. Meunier and his colleagues created the next version of a self-loading rifle. It is noteworthy that for a number of reasons it was decided to abandon the already existing and spent gas automation. The prospective sample that was planned to be submitted to the competition was to be equipped with automatic devices that use the recoil of the barrel during its long course. The reasons for such changes are unknown. Apparently, gas automatics had certain problems that could not be solved at the level of technology development of that time.
The new project received the symbol of Meunier A6. For a number of objective reasons, he received the greatest fame among all the developments of his family. In addition, the fame of the project contributed to the fact that several samples of such weapons have survived and are now available in the collections of some museums.
In the A6 project, it was proposed to use automatic equipment based on recoil of the barrel, which made it possible to significantly simplify the design of the weapon, removing a number of details from its composition. The result was a sample with the required characteristics, not differing from other analogues of that time by the particular complexity of production and operation. In addition, due to some features of the technical specifications, there should be no differences in terms of ergonomics.
The product Meunier A6 was built in the traditional for the rifles of the beginning of the XX century form factor. There was a long wooden lodge on which all the necessary units were mounted. There was also a large trunk, in the back of which there was a receiver with some automatics and a trigger mechanism. The store, as on other similar systems, was placed under the bottom of the receiver and was performed as an integral part.
A6 rifle bolt, top view. Photo Forgottenweapons.com
The main part of the automation of the original design was a movable rifled barrel, designed for use of the cartridge 7x57 mm developed by STA. The muzzle of the barrel was placed inside a tubular casing of a small length, mounted on the top of the box. The remaining parts of the trunk were inside the unit formed by the box and the top lining. Directly under the barrel was placed a tube with a cylindrical return spring, working in compression. With the help of a protrusion on its lower surface, the barrel had to interact with the spring. The breech through the corresponding hole in the front wall of the receiver, and the casing of the return spring just rested against it.
The barrel of the weapon consisted of two main parts. Inside the box was placed a large unit, which contained a trigger mechanism, a magazine and some other parts. A tubular casing was provided, which was fastened to the back wall of the box and went inside the butt. There was also a top cover of the receiver, which served as the casing of the shutter. The lid was fastened in place with stops in the front and rear latch. Inside the cover there was a guide rod that interacted with the shutter. In front of the part, a slot was provided for mounting the holder when loading.
The bolt group of the Meunier A6 rifle was designed as a block of complex shape consisting of several parts. The basis of the group was a tubular frame with flat protrusions on the underside with which it had to interact with the guides. In front of the frame was attached to the actual shutter swivel design. For locking the barrel, a set of lugs was used, representing a kind of an artillery piston bolt: on each side of the bolt there were several lugs that were to engage with a similar "cutting" of the barrel. On the surface of the bolt, the frame and the lid of the receiver there was a set of grooves and protrusions with which the bolt should be turned when locking and unlocking the barrel.
Inside the gate a channel was provided for a moving drummer. On the left side of the bolt-case there was a handle for manual cocking mechanisms. An interesting feature of the handle was the curved shape of its support, bypassing the wall of the receiver cover and ensuring the optimum position of parts during reloading. The back of the bolt carrier had a hinge for installing the pusher. During the rollback of the bolt, this part compressed the return spring placed in the tubular casing, and also partially entered inside the casing.
Trigger mechanism. Forgottenweapons.com Figure
A6 type rifle got a trigger type trigger. In the rear lower part of the receiver there were a trigger with a lamellar war spring, a trigger and some other details. USM design allowed firing only single. There was a relatively simple fuse blocking the trigger.
Of particular interest is the store proposed in the new project by E. Meunier. It was proposed to equip a rifle with a box-shaped integral magazine with a delivery system of an unusual design. Instead of the traditional spring for such devices with a pusher, it was decided to use a miniature scissor lift. In front of the store front wall, the main feed lever was attached to the weapon, which was connected to the main spring and was able to swing in a vertical plane. In the central part of this part there was a hinge for connection with the second lever, the lower arm of which was movably attached at the bottom of the store and could slide along the guide. The upper arms of the two levers rested on the lower surface of the pusher, which interacted with the cartridges. The back of the pusher had a stop for the shutter. The equipment of the store was made with the shutter open, through the window for the extraction of sleeves. Cartridges could be placed one by one or with the help of a clip.
The rifle received a relatively simple wooden fittings in the form of a long box with a set of necessary grooves and slots, as well as the upper lining of the barrel. To improve the cooling of the barrel in the front of the box there was a set of through holes. There were grooves in front of the store, which made it easier to hold weapons. The neck of the butt had a pistol projection. On the bottom surface of the box there were two untabki for a belt.
Self-loading rifle received an open mechanical sight and front sight. The sight was located in front of the chamber, and the front sight was mounted on a fixed base, connected to the front cover of the barrel.
The scheme of the store. Forgottenweapons.com Figure
The total length of the product reached 1295 mm with the 715 mm barrel. The mass of weapons without ammunition was only 4,03 kg. Thus, from the point of view of operation, the new rifle should have hardly differed from the models in service.
The principle of operation of the new automation, developed by E. Meunnier, was quite simple. To prepare for shooting, it was necessary to take the bolt to the extreme rear position, insert the clip and place the cartridges into the magazine. Then the holder was removed, the shutter was manually returned to the front position, at the same time the reloading cartridge. After disabling the fuse, the weapon could fire.
When you pull the trigger, the trigger was released, which turned forward and hit the drummer. During the shot, recoil caused the barrel and bolt group to roll back, compressing their return springs. Close to the extreme rear position of the entire system, the shutter, interacting with the guides of the receiver, had to turn and unlock the barrel. Further, the released barrel was able to return to the neutral position with its own return spring. When this occurred, the extraction of the spent cartridge case with its subsequent release. Continuing to move backward, the bolt squeezed the return spring, and also turned the trigger and made it lock into the cocked position. Next, the return spring sent the bolt group forward, producing a new cartridge and locking the barrel.
Automatic rifles allowed to produce several shots in series. After the available ammunition was used up, the bolt, moving forward under the action of the return spring, stopped with the emphasis of the magazine pusher. After reloading the weapon, it was possible to remove the clip and continue firing.
View of sights. Photo by Thefirearmblog.com
Despite the substantial rework and application of new ideas, the development of the project Meunier A6 did not take long. Already in the 1910-11, prototypes of the new self-loading rifle went to the shooting range for various tests. After the checks of the first stage, the results of which were used to refine the design, the finished rifle was presented to the customer for comparative tests. These checks started in 1911.
For state tests, the purpose of which was the final selection of weapons for the army, several promising samples were presented from a number of organizations engaged in self-loading weapons since the late 19th century. New developments were tested and compared by a number of parameters. According to the results of all tests, it was decided to give preference to the development of E. Meunier and his colleagues. In 1912, the A6 rifle was recommended for adoption and series production.
In the 1913 year, following the recommendations of the commission that conducted the tests, the French army ordered the first pre-production batch of rifles, which was planned to be used during trial operation. Upon receipt of positive feedback, the order for a full-scale mass production could appear. However, as far as is known, the order for the pre-production lot was never fulfilled. The military waited for the start of a major armed conflict, because of which they had to adjust plans for the production of new weapons and equipment. During the next change of plans rifle Meunier A6 fell under the reduction.
In the middle of 1914, World War I began, which France had to face only with available magazine rifles. Until a certain time, the problems associated with the lack of self-loading weapons were not felt too strongly. However, by 1916, the situation has seriously changed. The infantry urgently needed weapons capable of independently reloading. A start was given to the development of a new rifle, which later entered service under the name Fusil Automatique Modèle 1917 or RSC M1917. In addition, remembered the development of E. Meunier.
Self-loading rifle (top) and a carbine arr. 1916 (below). Photo by Smallarmsreview.com
In 1913, we were able to complete some of the work on setting up mass production of self-loading rifles, which facilitated the implementation of new plans. In 1916, the A6 rifle was officially adopted under the designation 7mm Fusil Automatique Modèle 1916. In addition, in the same year, the rifle was upgraded, which resulted in the appearance of a carbine in a number of modifications for various purposes. The total length of the carbine did not exceed 1096 mm, it was also possible to install an enlarged magazine on 10 or 15 cartridges. Interestingly, the store was still equipped with a scissor-feed cartridges. The shortened version of the rifle became the basis for infantry, cavalry and aviation rifles. Three types of weapons should have been distinguished by different features of the additional equipment. For example, weapons for pilots could not be used with a bayonet.
Production of self-loading rifles arr. 1916 did not last long. In total, about a thousand units of such weapons in the version of a rifle and carbine were released. However, only 843 units were transferred to the army and were able to go to the front. The operation of such weapons continued until the very end of the First World War. The use of automation became an occasion for positive feedback. Due to the possibility of self-reloading and capacious store new rifles quickly earned the respect. However, it was not without complaints. The weapons developed by E. Meunnier used a non-standard Meunier 7х57 mm cartridge, while the army’s main ammunition was 8x50 mm R. This complicated the supply of ammunition to the units and did not quite suit the military.
In 1917, the RSC M1917 rifle, designed for a standard army cartridge, went into the series. This made it possible to stop the production of weapons of the available types, as well as to eliminate any problems caused by the parallel use of two different cartridges. All new and new parts switched to the RSC M1917 rifles, but the operation of the 7mm Fusil Automatique Modèle 1916 did not stop until the very end of the battles.
After the war, in the 1920 year, E. Meunnier received a patent for the original design of a self-loading rifle. Interestingly, the application for the receipt of this document was filed back in 1915 year, but the military decided that the information about the new development is not subject to disclosure. As a result, the project was classified and the grant of the patent was postponed for several years.
After the war ended, the available rifles, E. Meunnier, were sent to warehouses as useless. The same fate befell a little earlier experienced and pre-production samples of all previous developments of the design team STA. According to some reports, this weapon remained in storage until the early forties. After the German attack, the French army was forced to use all available weapons, including early versions of self-loading rifles. Most of the unique samples of the Meunier family rifles were lost during the fighting or written off due to an unacceptable condition.
Nevertheless, a number of self-loading rifles A6 and M1916 survive to this day. Now they are unique exhibits of several museums and private collections. Fortunately, both the rifles of the first version, which are the product of pre-production, and the later models in the rifle and carbine variants are preserved.
The projects of self-loading rifles by Etienne Meunier and his colleagues Section Technique de l'Artillerie are of great interest with historical and technical point of view. The latest developments of the family, brought to mass production, are often called the most advanced self-loading weapons, created by the beginning of the First World War. Indeed, the tasks facing the authors of the projects were successfully solved, which resulted in the appearance of weapons with high characteristics. However, for various reasons, E. Mönier’s rifles were not produced in a large series and could not have a significant impact on the course of battles. At the same time, however, they seriously influenced the development of self-loading weapons in France.
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