Everyone hates Nazis. They’re our favorite bad guys in everything from movies to literature, and for pretty darn good reason. But following close behind, cowering in the shadow of the Nazi regime, is Vichy France. Like some sniveling, traitorous playground snitch, France, upon getting their underpants firmly tugged to their shoulders in the Battle of France (AKA “the trouncing”), became complicit in many of the horrors ordered by the Nazi regime. The MAS 38, a compact submachine gun with “weird-lookin’” stamped all over it, was one of primary arms Vichy France used to carry them out. One look tells you that it’s appropriately ugly for such a nefarious empire.
Where you’ve seen it:
Unless you’re a foreign film buff, odds are you haven’t seen this one on screen. However, for those who enjoy first person shooters set in WWII, you may remember the MAS 38 from Call of Duty 2: Big Red One.
The MAS 38 was produced from 1939 until just after the war’s end, but the manufacturing facilities producing it were seized for German and Vichy use right off the bat in 1940, following the sound thrashing bestowed upon the frogs. So, this weapon saw more time in Nazi and Vichy hands than in those of allied French forces. At the war’s conclusion, the MAS 38 redeemed itself by being the weapon used to execute ‘Il Duce’ of Italy, the infamous dictator Benito Mussolini.
Despite its ungainly appearance, the MAS 38 was built to a higher quality than many of its peers; unlike the stamped steel composition of the vetted American M3 “grease gun” or the iconic Nazi MP-40, the MAS 38 had parts milled and machined from solid steel. In terms of longevity, that’s a plus. But for a wartime weapon, that only added to the weapon’s production cost and time. The MAS 38 functioned on a simple open bolt design and was fully automatic only—pumping 600–700 rounds per minute downrange from a 32-round detachable box magazine.
The weapon was extremely compact—under 24 inches long. It probably could have been even smaller, except the recoil spring ran into the stock, making a folding or skeletonized stock an impossible addition. This also led to the MAS’s strange, canted receiver—necessary if the bolt was to travel a straight path. The MAS 38 had a couple other little eccentricities appropriate for a gun so ugly. For one, it needed no tools for disassembly. Depressing a catch under the buttstock, rotating the stock 90 degrees, and sliding it off the receiver allowed the recoil spring and bolt to slide out. Secondly, it had an exceedingly unusual safety mechanism—pushing the trigger forward into a horizontal position locked the bolt in place. And the spring-loaded dust cover for the mag well? A typical example of the over-engineering mindset common to early 20th century firearm designers.
The MAS 38 fired the 32 French Long cartridge, the same caliber as the M1935 French pistols—an attempt to standardize the army’s weapons. The 85-grain bullet sped along at 1120 feet per second, delivering about 240 ft/lbs of energy—a fair sight better performance than the 130 ft/lbs delivered by a .32 ACP of similar bullet weight and diameter. Of course, compared to the ballistic performance of the 9mm or .45 ACP rounds common to Nazi and Allied submachine guns, respectively, the 32 French Long looks a little anemic. That did make recoil very manageable for an automatic, though.
This is one ugly gun, but it seems that it was a reliable, well-built weapon. It looks like it’d be a riot at the range, and despite my negative feelings towards Vichy France, any gun that can claim to have offed such a notorious baddy as Mussolini is très bien in my book.
Featured image courtesy of IMFDB.org.
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