|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.Generic 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.
SACM’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.The 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.
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!