Info wanted on nineteenth-century French weapons development

Howdy - does anyone here know anything about French weapons development during the second half of the 19th century? I need some background information in order to compare how the French evaluated new proposals versus the English, but can’t seem to find much on line.

Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Cheers - Dan

Dan! Where you been hiding?
As the French were on the cutting edge of smokeless powder and small-caliber rifle (8mm Lebel) development, research into those should yield some results.

Dan: By weapons do you mean small arms, artillery, firearms, or weapons generally? Jack

I have the book, Les Revolvers Militaires Français, by Henri Vuillemin. It is a decent source for French revolvers.

Hey Jon - been slaving away on my PhD. All the coursework is out of the way, working on my dissertation. Hopefully I’ll be far enough along next year to make it to St. Louis (not that I have any money, being a po’ grad student!).

Aaron - thanks for the suggestion, I’ll see if I can find it.

Jack - I mean weapons in general. I don’t think France had a centralized facility like the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich, but honestly I just don’t know. If I had to pick a category, artillery might be the best when comparing against British developments.

Dan: I don’t have anything to suggest that seems directly related to your needs, but Jean Huon’s Proud Promise covers French developments in self-loading military rifles from 1898 to 1979 and might include information in its bibliography that would point out sources helpful in researching the 19th century. The Huon book is very useful in covering its topic and also gives some idea of how downright secretive the French army ordnance was in pursuing this area of development.

Honour Bound, by Demaison and Buffetaut (like the Huon book, published by Collector Grade Publications) covers the development and use of the Chauchat auto rifle in the first war and might also have some clues of value to you. Jack

The U.S. military and naval “Annual Reports” for the late 19th Century include several reviews of “Information From Abroad” (name used in the Naval Reports, not sure what the Army term was) about foreign developments in small arms as well as artillery and ammunition, armor, and warships.

If those sound useful, I will try to track down exact citations. Pretty sure that they are available on line in digital form these days.

Jack - that’s an angle worth looking at. Bibliographies are great things! I’ll see if I can find it. One of the great things about being a grad student is I have access to inter-library loan service…amazing what can be borrowed from around the world!

JohnS - yes please, those sound VERY useful!

May I suggest that you try to find, for a beginning, a book published in the US about the French military handguns:

Military Handguns of France by Eugene Medlin and Jean Huon

It was edited by EXCALIBUR PUBLICATIONS, PO Box 36 LATHAM, NY 12110-0036 in 1993 and should be still available.

My friend Huon has written many other books on the subject you are asking for. I will list them in future mails, even if they are written in French, anyways they are easy to translate and always fully illustrated.

Abour shoulder weapons, there is a must, edited in Collector Grade Publications series :

PROUD PROMISE, French Autoloading Rifles, 1889-1979 , by Jean Huon.
I am aware that the Blake Stevens books are well-known stateside, but you may ask for availability to

Collector Grade Publications, PO Box 1046, Coburg, Ontario Canada K9A4W5. The book is hard-bound, and was published in 1995.




I have a book called bolt action military rifles of the world by Mowbray puleo. you might find some info in there. its about only bolt guns but by the second half of the century that’s all there was. it gives a little back round on the french situation then starts with the gras rifle.
I got mine for $55 at a gun show and I know the guy has another so keep an eye out maybe you can find it cheap were you live. it is worth the sticker price of $70 though.

Outstanding French developments of the time are:

-smokeless powder by Paul Vieille 1884; he was succesful, because he tackled the problem using what we call scientific approach today. If you read Duttenhofer created it about the same time, that is far from the truth. Duttenhofer did not have the slightest idea and stuck to black powder technology.

-modern aerodynamic bullet shape 1898: slender ogive (about 10 diameters) and boattail; by systematic trials of shapes A through E, shape D was adopted as balle D. (before you ask: how the other shapes looked like is unknown today; D is not named after Désaleux). Due to French secrecy, the German S bullet got the credits that in reality belong to balle D.

-creation of a drag law (1898) by the (naval artillery!) commission of Gâvre that in the small arms field is still used today under the name G1.

I think you should also look up the 75 mm field gun. I believe it was the first recoiling type (quick fire in British parlance) so that the carriage did not hop around on each shot, but this is not my area. The Americans adopted it, too, I think.

The French also had weaknesses, of course. One is too much emphasis on theory as an end in itself. The books of P. Charbonnier on ballistics are a case in point.

Thinking of the Americans calling Belgian pommes frites “French Fries”, I take the liberty to mention that the le Boulengé chronograph so often used in ballistics, was invented by a Belgian in 1864, not a Frenchman.

And don’t forget the inventor (as the story goes) of the first self-contained cartridge and the needle gun - Jean (or Johannes) Samuel Pauly (or Pauli), (April 13, 1766 – 1821). He was born Swiss, but did his work in France. But that’s a little earlier than your period of interest.