Besides French service, the MAS-36 saw significant use abroad after World War Two.
With the end of France’s colonial war, Algeria became independent on 5 July 1962. Some MAS-36 rifles which had either been captured from the French during the war or abandoned when they left, were integrated into the new national army. The MAS-36 did not last long in service, as during the mid-1960s the government made large arms buys from the east bloc, replacing most bolt-action guns with AK-47 assault rifles.
France’s west African colony of Dahomey was granted limited self-rule in 1958 and became fully independent on 1 August 1960. (The country later changed it’s name to Benin.) During the colonial era, France maintained a military base at Porto-Novo which later became the country’s capital city. The little Beninese army was initially equipped with a mixture of WWII-era MAS-36 and postwar MAS-49/56 rifles, with the latter more dominant in the small force. The MAS-36 continued in frontline service until the 1970s, when a large influx of SKS and AK-47 assault rifles were ordered. None the less, the MAS-36 still remained in very limited use and in storage up until the end of the Cold War era. Some are reportedly still in storage, and in 2004 an allegation was made that ethnic-Songhoy soldiers in the Beninese army had illegally diverted some of the stored MAS-36 rifles to the Malian civil war. The results of the investigation were inconclusive.
The landlocked French colony of Upper Volta was granted self-rule in 1958 and became independent on 5 August 1960. (The country later changed it’s name to Burkina Faso.) This African country is bereft with every imaginable hardship: landlocked, drought-stricken, lacking in any resources, and poorly-governed. The army of Upper Volta was initially equipped with a few MAS-36s that were delivered with some WWII-surplus M8 Greyhound armored cars donated by France in 1961. In January 1983, a military coup briefly realigned Burkina Faso to the communist world and an influx of AK-47s replaced the MAS-36s, which were transferred to the national gendarmerie (which in Burkina Faso, is almost as large as the army itself). No MAS-36s rifles were observed in action during the 1985 Agacher Strip War against Mali, so in all likelihood they had been retired by then.
Cambodia was one of the five provinces of French Indochina. It was occupied by Japan during WWII, and in 1945 found itself in a state of flux, as the Japanese garrison had been untouched by WWII and needed to be disarmed and repatriated, meanwhile it took over a month after the war’s end for French troops to re-establish control of the province. As the Indochina war was heating up in the Annam and Tonkin provinces (today’s northern Vietnam) the Cambodian royal family established a military force on 6 January 1946. The force was initially armed mainly with American M1 carbines and MAS-36 rifles. The Cambodian prince’s goal was twofold; if France won the war it would receive credit for helping to keep the fighting from spilling into the area, and if France lost (which it did) the unit would serve as a ready-made national army.
With the war going badly, France granted Cambodia full independence in November 1953. The remaining MAS-36s in the province were granted to the new national army. The force soon found itself in combat, because in late 1954 Viet Minh communists began operations in Cambodia.
Additional MAS-36s were obtained during this time and France maintained a military sales office in Phnom Penh until 1971 which kept the rifles supplies with ammunition. Despite an influx of American military aid, which included M14 and then M16 assault rifles, the MAS-36 remained a frontline weapon through the 1960s.
By 1971, Cambodia was in a state of total civil war with Vietcong infiltrations along it’s eastern border and a homegrown communist rebellion country-wide. The MAS-36s were completely obsolete by then and largely replaced by either American assault rifles or captured AK-47s.
The Khmer Rouge overran the country in 1975 and deposed the government. This was the end of the MAS-36 story in Cambodia, because when Vietnam invaded the country in 1979 none were encountered and it is assumed that the Khmer Rouge scrapped any remaining examples.
This French colony became independent on 1 January 1960. The MAS-36 was part of the army’s initial loadout, along with the postwar MAS-49/56. The Cameroonian army is one of the better-run military forces in sub-saharan Africa, and the WWII-era MAS-36 did not last long as a frontline weapon. Some were still in second-line use in the 1980s when the MAS-36 was permanently retired.
Central African Republic
This landlocked country deep in the core of Africa was once a province of the French Equatorial Africa colony. During WWII, it was one of the first overseas colonies to pledge allegiance to the Free French cause, and Charles de Gaulle visited the capital, Bangui, several months after the surrender of France. General Philippe Leclerc established a Free French base there and as such, the region received a higher-than-expected amount of MAS-36 rifles.
After WWII, a local paramilitary unit was allowed to remain and by late 1957, this was for all intents and purposes a small national army. The C.A.R. became independent on 13 August 1960.
By 1963 the WWII-era MAS-36 was the only C.A.R. service rifle and in fact constituted 75% of the army’s weapons of any sort. The MAS-36 was the C.A.R. army’s main rifle into the 1970s, and due to the military’s chronic funding problems was still in limited use at the turn of the millennium. Included in the total were 58 of the rifle-grenade capable MAS-36/51 variant.
In the post-WWII era, the MAS-36 was perhaps more relevant in the C.A.R. than anywhere else. In 1993, Ange-Felix Patasse took control of the country. He regarded the army as a political threat and redistributed it’s modern M16s and AK-47s to ad hoc militias under his control; meanwhile the regular army partially reverted to using MAS-36 rifles. Patasse survived a 1996 coup attempt but effectively lost control of both the army and his militias. He was deposed in 2003. Meanwhile the MAS-36s often switched sides and were everywhere in the country. The situation was not helped when, in 2002, a rebelling army unit ransacked the national gendarmerie’s armory and stole many MAS-36s.
In 1963, the Bangui police department had re-equipped with MAS-36 rifles, replacing 19th-century relics which were amazingly still in use. The MAS-36 continued in police use until December 2003, when it switched to AK-47s – all of which had been seized during arrests. Forty of the ex-police MAS-36s were then transferred to a special anti-poaching patrol protecting endangered animals. Meanwhile the C.A.R.’s forest ranger service, which at best numbers only a few dozen men, had been equipped with MAS-36 rifles in the 1960s and, as of 2015, still uses them.
Because of the endless instability in the C.A.R. at the turn of the millennium, an international peacekeeping team tried to reduce the amount of illicit military weapons in the country. On 16 July 1999, there was a public burning of 158 military rifles, the vast majority of which were MAS-36s. In 2003, there was another public rifle burning, however there was only one MAS-36 interspersed with broken-down AK-47s, some old MAT-49 submachine guns, and obsolete-caliber ammunition. This led some observers to believe that corrupt elements in the C.A.R. army were using the disarmament effort as a tool; keeping the best seized weapons for private resale while using the burning as a show.
The MAS-36 continues to circulate in the C.A.R. In December 2013, France launched Operation Sangaris, a semi-permanent military presence in the C.A.R. to stabilize it. In March 2014, French troops blocked the sale of fifteen WWII-era MAS-36 rifles and 10,000 rounds of ammunition. These had been stolen from the army and were being routed to rebels in the country when seized.
This landlocked former French colony in the Sahara desert became independent on 11 August 1960. During WWII, the colony was strongly pro-de Gaulle and 15,000 Chadians served in the Free French army. After the war, the colony was viewed as the “eastern end” of France’s north African possessions and as such, a decent amount of war material, including MAS-36 rifles, was sent there.
Chad’s MAS-36s saw use in the GUNT rebellion between 1979-1987, the most famous part of which was a Libyan occupation of the country’s far north, culminating in a disastrous defeat for the Libyans in February 1986 which saw involvement of the French air force.
During and after the civil war and conflict with Libya, the underfunded Chadian army equipped itself with no less than five different kinds of assault rifles, usually bought on the cheap. None the less, some MAS-36 rifles remained in second-line use, and a small number are still in the Chadian army as of 2015.
This small island nation in the Indian Ocean was one of the last French colonies to achieve independence, on 6 July 1975. France still had some MAS-36 rifles in storage on the islands from the 1940s, and these were passed to the new national army. The small isolated nation has had an amazing eighteen coups or attempted coups in it’s four-decade history (including several by foreign mercenaries) and during one such attempt in 1989, the national army was stood down. When it reformed in the 1990s, FN FAL and AK-47 assault rifles had replaced the old MAS-36s.
Formerly French Congo, this colony sat opposite the Belgian Congo (later Zaire, today the Democratic Republic of Congo). It’s capital, Brazzaville, was also the capital of the whole French Equatorial Africa federation of colonies. Congo-Brazzaville achieved independence on 15 August 1960. It’s initial stockpile of MAS-36 rifles did not last long in service, as in 1963 the country took a severe pro-Soviet turn and massively re-equipped with AK-47s.
Formerly the French territory of Afars & Issas, this small country on the horn of Africa became independent on 27 June 1977. France had maintained a significant military presence in the capital, Djibouti City, and the garrison there (which included a French Foreign Legion detachment) was a ready source of arms for the new country, which included some WWII-vintage MAS-36 rifles.
Although neutral Djibouti maintained a strong relationship with France, it had a rather odd foreign policy in the late 20th century. At one point, it had military supply contracts with the Iraq, Israel, the USSR, and the USA all going at the same time. As such, the old bolt action MAS-36s briefly served alongside FN FAL, AK-47, and M16 assault rifles. In the late 1990s, the small army received a large amount of upgrading funds and the MAS-36s were placed in reserve storage.
The French colony of Gabon became independent on 17 August 1960. The new national army was equipped with MAS-36 rifles which saw use in a 1963 coup. Since then the country has been prosperous and peaceful, and it’s small but professional army was reequipped with MAS-49/56 and FN FAL firearms in the late 1960s/early 1970s.
French Guinea became independent on 2 October 1958. Guinea’s involvement with the MAS-36 was very minor and very brief, as France withdrew all military support almost immediately. A small number of MAS-36s were left behind and served for a short while until Soviet-made SKS and AK-47s replaced them.
This French colony in western Africa achieved independence on 7 August 1960. It’s army was initially equipped with a mixture of WWII-era MAS-36 (including some of the MAS-36/51 rifle-grenade capable version) and postwar MAS-49/56 rifles.
For the rest of the 20th century Ivory Coast was a staunch French ally, almost to the point of servitude, and until 2011 a battalion of French marines was forward-based in the country. Because of the generous French financial aid, the Ivorian army partially reequipped with FN FAL assault rifles in the 1970s however most of the MAS-36s remained in use as well. In fact, there are indications that the country actually added to it’s stockpile by buying MAS-36s from neighboring African countries, or from French warehouses.
The Ivorians apparently intended on keeping the WWII-veteran MAS-36 in service for some time as during the latter part of the 20th century, large lots of new-production ammunition were bought from France – in 1975, 1978, 1979, and in 1985.
(A 7.5x54mm mod.1929 cartridge with a February 1985 production serial on it. The “SF” headstamp indicates it was made by the Issy les Moulineaux ammunition factory in France. This cartridge was found by UN peacekeepers in 2006. Most likely, this 1985 run was the final overseas military order for the MAS-36’s ammunition.)
In 2002, Ivory Coast entered into a very brutal civil war that lasted until late 2006. This very violent conflict ended with the national army being destroyed, and the country split into opposing northern / southern zones.
In 2011 the army was realigned and reequipped with modern assault rifles and the MAS-36 is no longer in use. None the less, hundreds still remain unaccounted for. The UN is attempting to recover and destroy them.
(A United Nations peacekeeper mans a shipping container converted into a collection point for “demobilized” guns in Ivory Coast in 2015. As is common in Africa, almost any imaginable version of the AK-47 is represented, but in the foreground at least two MAS-36 rifles are present.)
One of the five provinces of French Indochina, Laos was occupied by Japan during WWII but achieved a degree of self-rule in August 1945 during the political chaos after Japan’s surrender. In 1947 it was made an autonomous kingdom within the French community, and was given full independence on 19 July 1949, under a security partnership with France. The last French troops departed in 1953, leaving behind a significant number of MAS-36 rifles.
For the first few years the MAS-36 was the Laotian army’s standard service rifle. Despite the landlocked country’s goal of staying an independent neutral monarchy, almost immediately the Pathet Lao communist insurgency began, meanwhile the country ‘s east was dealing with spillover from France’s Indochina war which did not end until 1954. In 1955, the US Army opened up a covert operation in Vientiane called “Programs Evaluation Office”, to prepare Laos for a transition to American weapons. Deliveries of WWII-surplus M1 Garands started in 1959, displacing the MAS-36 as the main service weapon.
The MAS-36 still lingered on in second-line and training units, as by the 1960s Laos was being dragged into the Vietnam War. Both the Pathet Lao and Viet Cong were operational in the country’s east. Laos was invaded by regular North Vietnamese troops in 1971 and became a communist state in 1975. As no further supplies of 7.5mm French ammunition would readily be available, any remaining MAS-36s were retired at that time.
Lebanon is unique in that it is one of the few countries that actually became independent during WWII. Formerly part of the post-WWI French Mandate of Syria, the Vichy government announced the country’s independence in 1941. The country, and the capital Beirut in particular, was well-garrisoned with Vichy French troops armed with a mix of MAS-36, Lebel, and Berthier rifles. In June 1941, the Allies began their Levant campaign and on 12 July 1941 the Vichy troops surrendered. This presented something of a dilemma for Charles de Gaulle, as he was determined not to recognize any acts of the Vichy government but to cancel Lebanon’s independence would have enraged the population. On 26 November 1941 the Allies recognized the country’s independence. Lebanon was a founding member of the UN.
The Lebanese army, which was established in 1946, had a huge stockpile of rifles left behind from WWII. The MAS-36 was selected as the service rifle, with the Berthiers and Lebels initially equipping reserve units. This continued to the 1950s, when the FN FAL assault rifle replaced it. The MAS-36s were transferred to training or storage units, with some being sold as surplus.
The WWII-era weapons had been completely retired by the time the Lebanese civil war started in the late 1970s. A few saw action with some of the factional militias.
During WWII, the island of French Madagascar saw one of the war’s now largely-forgotten battles, Operation Ironclad. This September 1942 operation was a combined British/Free French amphibious invasion of the large island, opposed by Vichy French forces. It was the first British amphibious assault of the war. The invasion was successful however the battleship HMS Ramillies was heavily damaged by the Japanese submarine IJN I-20 while the battleship was at anchor inside Diego Suarez harbor. This was the only combat Japan undertook in Africa during WWII. In November 1942, control of the island was given to Free French authorities. Units of Force Publique (the marooned Belgian Congo gendarmerie) maintained order until a Free French detachment, armed mainly with MAS-36 rifles, relieved them.
After WWII, France intended to retain the island and stationed regular troops there, in addition to Tirailleurs (black soldiers from France’s western African colonies, mainly Senegal). At it’s high point after WWII, the combined force numbered 18,000 men. The ethnic-French troops were armed almost exclusively with MAS-36 rifles, while the Titailleurs had some MAS-36s plus some WWI-era rifles.
The population revolted in 1947. This extremely violent insurgency lasted until December 1948, when France finally reassumed control of the whole island. About 100,000 Malagasy died, which (considering the island’s whole population was under 4 million) was a devastating loss.
After France’s defeat in Indochina, the distant colony lost most of it’s strategic value and on 26 June 1960 it was granted independence, and formed an army. The MAS-36 was Madagascar’s first service rifle.
The Malagasy military is organized uniquely. It has four branches: the army, an “aeronavale” force (combined air force and navy), an all-services gendarmerie, and a branch called Development Force which is unlike any other world military arm. It is a uniformed and ranked agricultural force which also receives basic combat training and would serve alongside the army if Madagascar was invaded.
The WWII-era MAS-36 remained the main service rifle through the 1960s. In 1972, a change in government caused a rift with France and Madagascar turned to North Korea and China for new weapons, namely SKS and Norinco Type 56 (Chinese AK-47 clone) assault rifles. The MAS-36 remained in service as the secondary rifle, and as a training weapon. In 1991, ties with France were resumed however neutral Madagascar continued to source most of it’s rifles from China.
As of 2015, the elderly MAS-36 still remains in service in Madagascar, now largely confined to second-line, training, or reservist units. It is still used by the Development Force as well. In 2013, an army unit doing a joint-training exercise with French forces was photographed still using WWII-era MAS-36 rifles.
This province of French West Africa obtained independence on 28 November 1960. It’s poorly-trained and under-funded national army was initially armed with a mixture of WWII-era MAS-36 rifles, along with postwar-designed MAS-49/56 rifles and MAT-49 submachine guns. This lineup remained standard until the 1970s, when AK-47s were purchased. An ill-advised alliance with Iraq during the 1980s brought an influx of additional AKs, and the MAS-36 was largely relegated to oddball roles, such as the camel cavalry. None are in reserve as, uniquely among the world’s armies, the Mauritanian army has no reservists. By the turn of the millennium, the MAS-36 had largely been retired from Mauritanian use.
This wasn’t the end of the story for Mauritania’s MAS-36s however. A significant number had been sold off as surplus and ended up across the border in Mali, where they saw additional combat during the 1990-1996 civil war there. Meanwhile some were doled out to semi-recognized local tribal militias, where they were then passed on to clan leaders and families.
This tiny principality is the second-smallest nation on Earth; only Vatican City is smaller. It’s geography makes an army irrelevant (a sniper rifle outside it’s borders could hit anywhere in the country) however a tiny force of ten dozen men, the Compagnie des Carabiniers du Prince, preforms ceremonial state duties and provides a changing-of-the-guard ceremony for tourists.
Monaco is the only country to have “voluntarily” (as in, not having been a French colony) adopted the MAS-36. It was also the only user in Europe other than France itself. A small number were bought in the 1950s as replacements for 19th century Gras Modele 1874 rifles. As military considerations were irrelevant, the MAS-36 was selected for it’s “crisp, clean, and classical” appearance, along with it’s low cost. Monaco’s MAS-36s remained in use until the 1980s when they were replaced by SG-510 assault rifles and later, M16s.
French Morocco became independent on 7 April 1956, with the Spanish-administered part joining shortly thereafter. The MAS-36 was one of the Moroccan army’s first battle rifles, including both (MAS-36 LG48 and MAS-36/51) of the rifle-grenade capable variants. Morocco soon added MAS-49/56 and FN FAL rifles, but the MAS-36s remained in service.
Some of the MAS-36 rifles were quietly passed to Jish Ettehrir, a pan-Morrocan guerrilla force which, in 1957-1958, laid besieged the Spanish enclave of Sidi Ifni with some support from the regular Moroccan military. The effort was unsuccessful however it did result in a different small territory, the Cabo Juby strip, being transferred to Morocco.
Spain’s victory was for naught because in 1969, Spain evacuated Sidi Ifni anyways. After Franco’s death in 1975, Spain also relinquished all of Spanish Sahara (today’s disputed Western Sahara, which is occupied and claimed by Morocco). This briefly gave the MAS-36 a new lease on life in Moroccan service, as per Congressional instructions, American-made weapons are not supposed to be used by Morocco in the territory. Some of the MAS-36s were brought out of retirement and briefly issued to forces there.
This desert province of French West Africa was granted self-rule in 1958 and complete independence on 3 August 1960. The army’s first battle rifle was the MAS-36, which continued in use until the 1970s when it was relegated to reserve as AK-47s replaced it. Some were transferred to the national gendarmerie or to civilian police forces.
In 1992, ethnic Tuaregs in Niger’s north began a rebellion, which included use of WWII-era MAS-36s alongside more modern weapons. When the rebellion ended, a UN-sponsored disarmament effort collected about a hundred of these old rifles and destroyed them in 2000.
Before and during WWII, the capital of this French colony, Dakar, was considered a key point in France’s worldwide colonial empire. Thousands of Senegalese troops had served in the French army during WWI, and there was a strong French military establishment in the colony (including a fighter squadron from the air force). The troops there were well-equipped by 1940 standards, including MAS-36 rifles.
After France’s surrender, the colonial authorities in Senegal were strongly pro-Vichy and in September 1940, a combined British/Free French invasion (Operation Menace) failed. The country did not switch to the Free French side until late in the war. Some Senegalese troops fought for the Free French during the Battle Of The Bulge.
In January 1959, France granted self-rule to what was planned to be a federation of Mali and Senegal. The plan failed and instead, Senegal declared it’s own independence on 4 April 1960. The Senegalese army was initially equipped with the large stockpile of MAS-36s in Dakar, but after only a few years switched to more modern assault rifles. None the less, the handy MAS-36 was retained as a training gun, which Senegal still uses it for today.
Nominally independent after WWI, Syria formed the larger part of the pro-Vichy French Mandate Of Syria during WWII. During 1941, a combined British/Free French force occupied much of the country, including Damascus. French troops departed in 1946.
From 1945-1948, the MAS-36 was, along with British Enfields and older French Lebels, one of the service rifles of the Syrian army. Although it is hard to believe now, for a brief period of about 20 months in the late 1940s, many defense analysts predicted that Syria would end up being a pro-western nation while the new nation of Israel might migrate towards the Soviet bloc. This all changed of course with the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. During this conflict, some Syrian troops were equipped with MAS-36 rifles. The Israeli victory led to a coup in Syria which switched it’s allegiances towards the USSR. A rapid influx of SKS and AK-47s replaced the WWII-era MAS-36s, which were quickly forgotten about.
When the Syrian Civil War started in 2011, vast stockpiles of long-stored obsolete weapons were captured from government warehouses and used by the Free Syrian Army (FSA) or other rebel groups. A significant number of long-stored MAS-36 rifles were brought into use, apparently no worse for the wear after decades of inactivity. By 2015 use of the MAS-36 by the rebels is tapering off due to the difficulty in sourcing it’s 7.5mm ammunition in the 21st century.
During the Indochina War, the Viet Minh had captured a significant number of MAS-36 rifles from French forces, both ad hoc individual battlefield captures and two large armory stockpiles. When the war ended in 1954, some of these were rolled into the new Vietnam People’s Army (the regular North Vietnamese uniformed army), which in turn transferred them to the Viet Cong irregular force which was to continue the “liberation struggle” against the new nation of South Vietnam.
Viet Cong use of the MAS-36 was heaviest during the first half of the 1960s. After that, ammunition supply became problematic as neither of North Vietnam’s benefactors, China and the USSR, manufactured clones of the 7.5mm French cartridge.
(A 1960s photo showing US Army instructors with captured Viet Cong flags and firearms. The top two are post-WWII Soviet weapons, the AK-47 and SKS; the instructor is pointing to a WWII-era MAS-36; and on the bottom is an ex-Wehrmacht 98k of WWII, which the Viet Cong also used.)
After the Tet Offensive in 1968, the MAS-36 was encountered much less frequently. After more than a decade of use by the Viet Cong, the numbers available were heavily whittled down, and the shortage of 7.5mm ammunition was acute. By this time American troops in South Vietnam had completely switched to the full-auto M16, while the ARVN (South Vietnamese army) was equipped with M1 Garands, M14s, and M16s. Continued use of a bolt-action rifle was obviously not advisable and the Viet Cong switched to semi- or full-auto rifles.
(A 1971 war trophy chit issued to an American soldier by the South Vietnamese military for a captured Viet Cong MAS-36 rifle. This document allowed the weapon to be legally imported into the USA as private property. The South Vietnamese typically issued these as a ‘thank you’ to rear area advisers and instructors who would otherwise have no opportunity to collect battlefield souvenirs. They were usually obsolete guns such as Mosin-Nagants or revolvers.)
What became the now-defunct state of South Vietnam was originally the provinces of Cochinchina and Annam in French Indochina. During WWII, the colony had been a marooned pro-Vichy entity and then occupied by Japan, with French forces returning in chaotic circumstances in 1945. The ARVN (South Vietnamese army) began in March 1949 as the Vietnam National Army, a force supporting CEFEO, France’s force fighting the Indochina War. This force was equipped with a wide variety of WWII cast-off rifles, including surrendered Japanese weapons, ex-German 98ks, and MAS-36s.
South Vietnam was one of the few countries to use the whole MAS-36 line-up: The basic version MAS-36, the MAS-36CR folding-stock paratrooper version, and both (MAS-36 LG48 and MAS-36/51) of the rifle-grenade capable versions.
In 1954 the army was reorganized and enlarged. Increasingly American-made rifles (primarily the M1 Garand and M1 carbine, both WWII veterans) displaced French weapons, however the MAS-36 remained in limited use during the 1960s.
In 1961, the United States greatly ramped up it’s military aid to South Vietnam and the MAS-36s were withdrawn from use.
(This is part two of a two-part series, part one looked at French use.)