Dieselpunk + Steampunk Culture

The First Assault Rifle Caliber...of World War 1

I've often written here about firearm "firsts." First semi-automatic pistol, first truly suppressed weapon and the Holy Grail of weapon firsts, the first assault rifle. The Russians and Germans claim ownership to this title. A few other obscure weapons designers from around the world also vie for the title. Yet, in France, at the close of World War I, there was a little rifle that might give them a run for their money.

The Ribeyrolle 1918 was an 8mm caliber rifle that was born from a caliber that came from America. During the Great War France received increasin numbers of the Winchester Model 1907 (which deserves its own post) for their troops. The M1907 was chambered in a Winchester proprietary .351 caliber.

When French weapons designers received the Winchesters and the special ammunition, the wheels of repurposing began to spin. They knew the ballistic properties of the .351 caliber and decided to tinker. They took the .35 (9mm) case of the Winchester and neck it down to 8mm, the same bullet diameter of their standard bolt action rifle of the period. The resulting caliber was 8x35mm.

This is the first important step in creating an assault rifle. It is not the method of operation or look, but rather the creation of a special intermediate round. The Stg-44 from Germany, in 7.92x33mm, was a shortened Mauser rifle 7.92x57mm. And the Russian 7.62x39mm of the iconic AK-47 is a further derivation of the German effort. So almost 30 years before the German innovation of intermediate calibers,during World War I France was taking a special American round and turning it into something that might just work in a select-fire rifle.

The rifle built around the caliber was a fairly typical late 19th century affair, but it possessed a high capacity 25-round box magazine and the ability to switch between semi-and-automatic fire. Large magazine and select-fire are also keys to laying claim to the title of assault weapon.

A direct blow-back weapon, the Ribeyrolle used the reward movement of the recoiling case to cycle out the old case and replace it with a fresh round as the bolt returned forward against the forward pressure of the recoil spring. There was no gas tapped from barrel arrangement in this simple weapon. The range of the 8mm Ribeyrolle was limited to 400 meters which was considered insufficient and further refinements of the rifle were discontinued by the end of the war.

So the Ribeyrolle is a footnote to small arms, but it can be argued the rifle's caliber was the first proof of concept assault rifle round in history.

Next week I'll give the Winchester Model 1907 some Weapons of War love.

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