MAS 1938 Submachine Gun
By Jean Huon

Beginning in 1921, a new program was established for the armament of the French infantry that included a submachine gun. The submachine gun was then considered, "as a weapon of crisis, which must allow the fast organization of resistance. From its action of immediate response it should be entrusted only to people on courage and the coolness of which one is in right to count: to officers and NCOs."

The development proceeds rapidly and in 1924 two prototypes were ready: that of the Technical Section of the Army (STA) and that of the Saint-Etienne National Weapons Factory (MAS).

These two models are very close to one another - they appear as a small carbine, with a wooden stock, a tubular frame, a curved magazine and chambered for the 9mm Luger cartridge. The STA 1924 was manufactured in small numbers for tests by troops. It was used in Morocco and some specimens still appeared in the armament of the Corps Francs (commandos) in 1939-1940.

The development of other models continued, particularly at the MAS factory where the STA 1924 was improved. It received two triggers to allow single shot or full automatic burst. This weapon led to another new prototype which precedes the MAS 38. It still uses the 9mm cartridge and has a perforated cooling jacket. But Headquarter directs a new calibre and from 1927 the prototypes are constructed for the .30 Browning Automatic Rifle cartridge (.30 Pedersen), which will be renamed 7.65mm Long.

Other prototypes follow but years pass and no decision of adoption is made. One can attribute this delay to the reduction in the military budget in the 1930s, the uncertainty of soldiers who do not manage to define coherent choices and to doctrines of use which suggests that the Châtelleralt M1924 M29 LMG could replace the submachine gun.

By 1935, three guns were in consideration: the prototype developed by the Service des Etudes of the MAS, the SMG made by the E.T.V.S. in Versailles, and another invented by Charles Petter and made by SACM.

The S.E.-MAS 1935 was adopted in 1938 as the MAS 38 and the Petter is also adopted in 1939 but it was never produced. The result is that during the 1939-1940 campaign, French troops did use a few S.T.A. 1924s, some S.E. MAS 1935s, 700 or 800 Erma Vollmers seized from the Spanish Republican troops, and 3,750 M1921 Thompsons delivered in February and March of 1940.


The MAS 38 is adopted in 1938, but its production began in April 1940. Manufacture is continued on a small scale for the Vichy Forces and after November 1942 for the Germans. They received approximately 20,000 or 30,000 weapons designed MP 722 (f). The provisional technical note of the weapon is published in April 1940 and the final technical note in March 1941. Normal production restarts in October 1944 and ceased in February 1951, after 203,000 were delivered.

The French Task Force in Indochina jointly used the MAS 38 with others foreign weapons (Sten, Thompson, MP 40) and the weapon also equips the young Vietnamese Army. The gun remained in service in Algeria, the Police in Paris and for instructional purposes in the Air Force until the 1960s.


The MAS 38 is manufactured according to traditional methods. Its triangular stock is made of wood and is provided with a sheet metal butt plate and has a bar on the left side for the fixing of a sling. The stock also contains the recoil spring. The assembly of the stock on the receiver is carried out by means of a bayonet catch that is locked by means of a spring lever located at the bottom of the front of the stock.

The receiver is of machined steel. The ejection port is on the right side and can be closed by a sliding plate attached to the cocking lever. It is retained at the rear position during shooting with a spring. On the left side of the receiver is a ring to fix the sling and its screw is used as the ejector.

The bolt is cylindrical in shape and receives the extractor and the firing pin. This bolt does not move along the axis of the barrel; it is off-set approximately 6 degrees, which corresponds to the slope of the stock. The recoil spring is spiral and there is a recoil spring guide to assist its guidance on part of its length.

The pistol grip has two smooth wooden plates affixed by two screws. The grip comes to be assembled with the lower part of the receiver by two T grooves. The trigger mechanism is composed of the trigger, the sear, a trigger and respective pins and springs. There is no selector switch as the weapon fires in full automatic only. A variation with two triggers was proposed with the S.E.-MAS 1935 but was not adopted. The safety is located inside the trigger mechanism and is actuated by pushing the trigger forward and it acts by blocking the bolt head in the open or closed position.

The barrel is screwed to the front of the receiver. Its calibre is 7.65mm (.30) and it has four right groves with one turn in 250 mm (9.84 inches).

The gun receives a 32-round straight magazine that is locked in place with a push button located on the left side. A folding plate makes it possible to close the magazine housing when the magazine is not in place.

The rear sight consists of two peeps bored out of two folding small strips set for 100 or 200 meters. The front sight is a simple post attached to a band around the muzzle. The sights are not aligned along the center axis of the gun but slightly on the left side of the weapon.


Markings are located on the left face of the receiver and indicate the calibre, model designation and the serial number. (Example: CAL. 7.65 L MAS Mle 1938 F 82843.) The serial number can also be seen on the left face of the stock, close to the rear sling attaching bar.

Serial Numbers

The MAS 38 was numbered: F 00001 to F 10000, G 00001 to G 10000, and H 00001 to H 03000. Some guns repaired or built from spare parts have a serial number with prefix FG, GH or FH.


Open the plate closing the magazine housing and introduce a loaded magazine. Select the appropriate eyepiece for range before shooting. Pull the cocking lever to the rear until the bolt is locked on the sear. Pull the trigger to shoot. The gun works with a blowback bolt operation will fire until the trigger is released or the magazine is out of ammunition.

Characteristics - MAS 38

Calibre: 7.65mm (.30)
Ammunition: 7.65mm Long
Overall length: 0.630 m (24.80 inches)
Barrel length: 0.220 m (8.66 inches)
Weight w/o magazine: 2.9 kg (6.4 lbs)
Magazine capacity: 32 rounds
Cyclic rate: 700 rpm


Remove the magazine and clear the gun. Place the bolt in the forward position. Press the latch bar of the stock and turn it a quarter of turn. Separate the stock from the frame. Extract the recoil spring and the bolt. Separate the grip/trigger unit from the frame. Reassembly is carried out in the reverse order.




We tested the MAS 38 numbered F 23938. The weapon is light and easy to handle though the pistol grip is small and the stock a little bit too short. Trigger pull is 5.5 kg (12 lbs), which is correct for a submachine gun. There is no selector switch allowing for single shot operation. The safety consists of pushing the trigger forwards. The recoil is soft and the gun is very accurate. Unfortunately, old cartridges were used resulting is operational problems with the gun. This was the fault of the cartridges, not the gun.

Users of the MAS 38 appreciated his lightness, its handiness and its accuracy, but unfortunately the weapon does use ammunition which lacks power.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V14N2 (November 2010)
and was posted online on November 1, 2011


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