Pistol: French Mle.1935 A

French Mle1935a Full B right

Pistol Mle.1935 A Manufacturer S.A.C.M.
Cartridge 7.65×20mm Overall Length 7.4″
Action Short Recoil Barrel Length 4.1″
Magazine 8 rnds removable Weight 1.6 lb

 

 

 

 

 

While an excellent pistol overall, the French Mle.1935 does not necessarily stand out in any one way.  It was produced a bit late to see widespread use in WWII, but stayed in service until the 1950’s.

Every time we cover Interwar Period French arms it comes back around to the same factors, but let’s recap quickly.  WWI was an incredible strain on the French military and manufacturing.  It forced them to wield technologically dated small arms on a rapidly changing battlefield and created a huge frustration with these dated designs.  Severe losses in the war and the emergence of very close quarters combat with handguns convinced French officials to begin adopting semi-automatic pistols over revolvers for the first time.  The bulk of these were the Ruby, which we’ve covered before.

Post-war the French were determined to adopt the best, most modern, and reliable pistol possible.  But the war had broken down the economy, which continued to get worse into the 30’s.  Political upheaval, poor finances, the availability of surplus arms, and a complete disbelief in there ever being another world war meant arms development lagged.  But though the gears turned slowly, they turned.  German rearmament in the 1930’s also helped to move things along much faster.

Research centered on selecting ammunition first.  Like their development of the 7.65mm rifle ammunition, they took note of Allied research for their pistol cartridge.  In this case they favored a 7.65mm cartridge developed for the U.S. Pederson Device, which would convert the Springfield M1903 rifles into semi-automatic rifles.  While this program failed to gain enough traction before the end of the war, the round itself had interested the French armed forces.  The load was slightly reduced and tentatively adopted in 1927 as 7.65x20mm Longue and 40,000 cartridges were ordered from Remington.  Domestic production followed.French Mle1935a Full B leftGeneric pistol trials had been ongoing but a submission-style trial was named by the Establissement Technique de Versailles in 1933.  There were sixteen entrants and twenty-two designs considered in several calibers.  The best were provided by MAS, Bayard, Seytres, and FN; but none were accepted.  The contest did, however, establish a firm idea in the committee’s minds about just what the next French service pistol should feature.  A new trial was held in 1935, but this time the following guidelines were provided ahead of time:

  • Same general locking system as the U.S. M1911
  • Chambered in 7.65x20mm
  • Manual safety on slide
  • Magazine safety
  • Field strip without tools
  • Hammer assembly removable as a unit
  • Single spring for hammer and sear (this was ultimately dropped)

Submissions were received from Star, FN, MAS, and Societe Alsacienne de Construction Mechanique.  The FN, MAS, and SACM pistols performed well but the latter won.  It has been suggested that FN’s submission was refused simply because it was not French.  The MAS design actually entered parallel production later when SACM could not speed things up.  This would become the 1935 S.

Anatomy Pistol French Mle1935a 3kSACM’s design was headed by their director Charles Gabriel Petter.  Greatly resembling a scaled down M1911, the pistol uses a tilting barrel with not one, but a pair of swinging links.  The same locking lugs fit inside the slide to provide a lock.  While the trigger uses a similar wrap-around stirrup as the 1911, it is also hinged with a pin through the frame.  Petter’s pistol dropped the M1911 grip safety but added a magazine safety.  The recoil spring was captive, preventing that bothersome accident of sending one flying.  The frame-mounted safety was done away with and a new one fitted to the slide.  This was much simpler than the 1911 as it just blocked the firing pin, allowing the hammer to be dropped without firing the gun.  Most dramatically, the hammer, hammer spring, sear, and ejector were packaged together into a single unit that could be removed or installed as one piece.  This is similar to what we see in the Russian TT-33.  One feature not found on the patent was included in the final pistol design: a loaded chamber indicator on top of the slide, behind the ejection port.  While the first few pistols were blued, this was quickly switched to a parkerized finish covered in black enamel.  While it did chip easily, the enamel finish over parkerization made the guns very resistant to rust and corrosion.  This pistol was adopted as the Modèle 1935 A, with the “A” standing for Alsacienne.

SACM’s Cholet factory had been a barrel manufacturer but never undertook a whole gun before.  Production began in 1937 and was stuttering and slow.  Numerous problems arose which meant that the rearmament proceeded at a trickle.  With Germany looming the French began buying up commercial pistols and rushed the MAS Mle.1935 S into service as well.  By 1938 Cholet seemed to have the hang of it but the press meant that guns were being issued straight from the factory without inspection marks!  While definitely used in the defense of France, this official pistol was likely outnumbered by WWI-surplus Spanish Mle.1915s.  That does not mean it completely sat out the war.French Mle1935a Full B topThe German invasion halted manufacture with roughly 10,000 complete beforehand in October of 1940 when they restarted production.  The Heereswaffenamt left the pistol as-is in 7.65mm.  Despite leaving the roll mark the same, it was recorded as the Pistole  625 (f).  From 1940-1944 the occupied factory produced roughly 24,000 pieces of a high quality.  These were most likely used by military and police forces as part of the occupation of France and by the Vichy government.  Given the odd cartridge, it is unlikely they were taken far from home.

When the Free French and Allied forces rolled back through Europe they took the factory back and continued production for their own forces in October of 1944.  These were issued to French forces through the end of the war.  It was further carried in the First Indochina War,  and supplies still may have been present for Algeria, though in 1950 the pistol was replaced by the MAC.

Serials

Examples of 1935 A serial prefixes. Often hard to read.

Mle.1935 A pistols were serialized in 10,000 unit blocks, with a letter prefix preceding.  This began with the letter A and carried through German occupation and French recapture uninterrupted.  It appears that pre-invasion the 1935 A made it to serial number B700.  The Germans carried on from B701 until D4550.  These will be marked with Waffenamt stamps on the left side of the frame with both code WaA655 and WaA251 having been used.  Anything else is likely a fake.  Production ended in 1950 in the “I” prefix block.  Total production was roughly 85,000 units.  Post-war pistols omitted serializing the slide and barrel.  Post-war magazines have “1935_A” stamped on the bottom, previously these were blank.  Some pistols were surplussed to police or other para-military units, where they were sometimes given lanyard rings on the left side of the frame.  These are not military original.

While the 1935 A has remained somewhat unknown and unremarkable outside of France, it was not an evolutionary dead end.  The Swiss picked up Petter’s patent and it was reworked over the years to produce the excellent Sig 210 in 9mm.  Having handled the 1935 A I can say that despite its diminutive size it has good balance, weight, and the grip feels great.  The safety is troublesome to use and the sight is very low and hard to read but overall it feels good in comparison to other pistols of its day.  Accuracy is high and the guns feed reliably, but the 7.65mm cartridge is just too weak in comparison to 9mm. It does however hold its own against .380.  In the U.S. market these pistols are very cheap because of their lack of fame and the difficulty in finding ammunition.  That makes them an easy-to-snag collectable with a great history!

French-Mle-1935a POV

 

15 Responses to “Pistol: French Mle.1935 A”

  1. GH says:

    You should do one of these on the 1935S which while not officially adopted by France was contracted for military use because of shortages although none were produced during the war (something about the factory equipment being hidden or lost for the entire occupation i forget which) they continued production until the 50’s same with the A

  2. Sam Snyder says:

    Hello, I have two questions regarding the magazines. Your article states that Post war mags were marked “1935_A” while previously they were blank. I was under the impression that the Pre war magazines were marked “35_A” so the French could tell the difference between the 35S. That it wasn’t until the Germans took over and started manufacture that they dropped the numbering,. then my next question is , I have a relatively early German Manufacture gun with a serial number of B38XXA. Roughly 2000 in the start of manufacture. I am under the impression that the Germans first used up parts that were already made up to assemble guns. hence why the Waffenamt is stamped thru the Black enamel on the early ones. could this be the reason my gun’s rig has 3 “35_A” marked mags with it? that they were captured magazines and they hadn’t started manufacture of their own yet? If this is true then that would be 3 styles of magazines available. the”35_A” which is post war. the “Blank bottom” which is Berman occupation and then the “1935_A” marked for post war. Your thoughts will be appreciated.

    • Othais says:

      The marked magazine information is from Medlin. I’m unsure of any waffenampts stamped over the finish, this would seem problematic. Which code was stamped and what is the serial for your pistol?

  3. Sam Snyder says:

    Interesting…… I’m surprised that Medlin didn’t mention how the original pre-war mags were stamped just “35_A” on the bottom and the German made mags were blank . Since he clearly mentioned Post war mags being stamped “1935_A”. My gun is stamped with the E/WaA251 right between the Mle 1935.A mark and the SACM mark. the serial number is B3859A, which would make it the 3,158th one made under German occupation. I’ve noticed other early B block guns where the black enamel is coming off at the Waffenamt suggesting that they were stamped after being enameled. You don’t see this on the later B block (around B7000) and C and D block guns. This suggested to me that Germans did the same as they did with the FN hi powers and FN 22’s and used captured parts to assemble the first few thousand guns. it would also make sense as to why some early German occupied guns have the “35_A” marked mags and then the later guns have blank bottom mags. The Germans were using captured parts to assemble the first guns. once they ran out of captured parts they started making their own. it was at that time they just left the bottoms blank. Unfortunately, there is very little written on these guns to give someone a complete overview as to say what’s correct and what is not. Especially when the Germans took over and made changes. from my information I was able to find. Two Waffenamt’s were used. E/655 from serial number B701A to B1250A. then they switched to the E/WaA251. then other changes were in the late B series the last two digits of the serial number were added to the Breech block and then around C6300A they also added the last 2 digit of the serial number to the barrel. all this makes sense if as they ran out of captured parts and started to manufacture their own they added this stuff. so only a gun produced after C6327A should have a serial number on the side and then matching last two numbers on the breech block and barrel to make it all correct and matching. I just haven’t found the number information in regards to when the magazines were changed over and what would be appropriate for a specific gun.

  4. Joe Conway says:

    Great piece of history on this gun. Due to the recent death of my WWII era father-in-law, I recently came in possession of two of these models with serial numbers in the f6000 range. I also have one (1) intact box of corresponding ammunition and one (1) not intact box of ammo (box torn apart) to go along with them. Does anyone have a suggestion as to where they can be listed for sale?

    • Othais says:

      Armslist is the “local board” site for this stuff. Gunbroker is more serious and sorta heavy if you will only ever be moving the two pieces.

  5. Holi66 says:

    I would be very interested in the ammunition if it is still available.

    Thanks.

  6. EthanP says:

    Even forgetting the economics of the French arms industry, the French adopted two pistols chambering the anemic 7.65×20, a round that could easily and far more cheaply be chambered in a simple blowback pistol.

  7. ron ertwine says:

    a lot of information

  8. I need bullets for my lamat auto pistol 1935-A 5594A S.A.C.M.

  9. Need bullets 32 French long

  10. Paul stevenson says:

    Does anyone know where I can get some ammo for this handgun

  11. Jack Reddington says:

    My 1935a has a H 1951 A serial & the mag has a 35.A on the bottom & I have 1 box of original shells. Never tried to shoot it but had it for 50 years.

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