France had enjoyed the triumph of smokeless Poudre B, introduced in 1884, in the severely tapered and wide-rimmed 8mm Lebel casing. This powerful round was perfect for tubular magazines.
But soon after the turn of the century, French arms designers at the renowned Manufacture d’Armes de St. Etienne (MAS—France’s “Springfield Armory”) began toying with self-loading rifles and machine guns. Once the belle of the ball, the Lebel turned into a nasty, old hag. The taper and the “Does this (.621) rim make my butt look fat?” caused migraines and—we can suspect—an increase in local consumption of absinthe. As Frenchmen often do, the designers sought a young, slender replacement.
The French could have simply adopted the successful 1889 7.65x54mm Belgian or 7.92x57mm Mauser, but national pride was at stake. Those were German designs, and they were out of the question.
During World War I, St. Etienne started playing with a number of designs, settling on a 7.5x57mm in 1924. This immediately caused problems, because it was easily confused in the field with 7.92x57mm. In addition, there were over-pressure issues from the BFP1 powder.
The 54mm variant debuted in 1929, with the appellation, M1929C. The “C” indicated a spitzer 139-grain Balle C lead bullet with a cupronickel jacket. Of course, there were the usual suspects: specialty rounds— tracer, incendiary, armor piercing, dummy, cadet and blank.
The case is heftier than the .469-diameter Mauser family and thinner than the .490 Swede, settling at .480. The Johnny-come-lately 7.62x51mm NATO is the same as .30-06 at .473.
Surplus ammo is drying up. Most of it is corrosive, and all of it is Berdan primed; and the priming is pretty much gone. You can make cases for 7.5 using Swedish brass and resizing dies to squeeze them down a tad. It produces around 2,700 fps, depending on what weapon it is fired through, and produces about 2,440 ft/lbs of energy. A .308 bullet will work just fine.
This excellent, versatile round soldiered from 1929 through to 1990 and was successful in a number of designs—from the 1929 Chatellerault light machine gun to the Browning 1919 and Darne aircraft machine guns to the MAS 36 bolt rifle, MAS 49 semiautomatic and AA 52 GPMG. Among rare weapons chambered in 7.5 were the FR F1 sniper rifle and odd-duck Reibel machine gun, designed for tanks and fortress embrasures.
In the first few days of World War II, a flight of Curtis Hawk 75 (an export P-36) fighters shot down a Messerschmitt with 7.5 Brownings for the war’s first Allied aerial victory.
After France fell in 1940, the 7.5 soldiered on with both Free and Vichy French forces—sometimes against each other, as happened in Damascus. The Wehrmacht, always short of automatic weapons, drafted the excellent Chatellerault 24/29 into service with second-line infantry divisions. When MG 34s finally became available, many units wanted to keep their French guns.
REJECTION OF THIS SUPERB CARTRIDGE PUT A WEDGE INTO THE NATO ALLIANCE.
The MAS 49 was tested against (and outperformed) the FAL and M-14 prototypes at Aberdeen in the 1950s, but the specs were quickly rewritten to rule it out. The French were highly incensed at being forced by NATO to adopt the nearly identical 7.62×51/.308 Winchester instead of NATO just adopting the proven 7.5. Out of spite, France actually opted out of NATO until the 1980s, when the 7.5 was quietly retired.
- NAMES: 7.5x54mm MAS; 7.5×53.5mm MAS; 7.5 French; 7.5 M1929
- CASE LENGTH: 2.110 inches
- HEAD: .480 inch RIM: .482 inch
- NECK: .340 inch
- NECK LENGTH: .320 inch
- SHOULDER LENGTH: .100 inch
- SHOULDER: .443 inch
- SHOULDER DEGREES: 26.80
- CASE TAPER DEGREES: .750
- LENGTH TO SHOULDER: 1.690 inches
- OVERALL LENGTH: 2.978 inches
- PRIMER: Large rifle
- BULLET DIAMETER: .309 inch (sources vary)
- SUGGESTED LOAD: 130-grain bullet with 43 grains of IMR4064
- For their research assistance, thanks to Bryce Towsley, Robert Shell, “Ole Crab” Miller, Wikipedia and members of the 3ème R.E.I.
- A version of this article first appeared in the February 2017 print issue of Gun World Magazine.