The Berthier M-16 Carbine.
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Thread: The Berthier M-16 Carbine.

  1. #1
    Distinguished Member AFJuvat's Avatar
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    The Berthier M-16 Carbine.

    The Berthier rifle and carbine were the main French military firearms during WWI, replacing the original Lebel rifle. They were bolt action firearms that were loaded with 3 or 5 round en-bloc clips, and chambered in 8mm Lebel, which happens to be the first military smokeless cartridge ever.

    After WWI, the Lebel rifles and carbines were declared obsolete. While work began on its replacement, which would eventually become the MAS 36 bolt action rifle. In the meantime, WWI surplus rifles were overhauled and refurbished, with some staying in France, and others sent to France's colonies, or the French Foreign Legion.

    Fast forward to 1937 - 1939, it finally began to dawn on France that things might get ugly with their neighbor to the north-east (Germany). As the MAS 36 rifle was still not in production, France went into overdrive overhauling and refurbishing even more WWI surplus Berthier rifles and carbines and getting them into the hands of the troops, which were mostly sitting in the string of fortresses known as the Maginot Line

    It has been speculated that lower priority was given to the MAS 36 rifle, with France focusing most of their efforts on the Maginot Line.

    By early 1940, Approximately 40000 - 50000 MAS 36 Rifles had been manufactured. On May 10 1940, Germany invaded; it was all over by the 25th of June.

    As a result of all of the above, these rifles and carbines are not very common, and when they are found, they are almost always pieced together "mixmasters", and generally in fair-poor condition. Not that it really mattered, because France applied serial numbers to the barrel, and not the receiver, so they got a new serial number every time the barrel was changed.

    The stocks are NOTORIOUS for being in extremely poor condition, loaded with arsenal repairs, and cracking in critical areas.

    The carbine that is the subject of this post is another Hurricane rescue gun. As received, the toe of the stock was broken off, the stock was a mix of water, oil, and filth. The receiver was stamped and made at the Manufacture Nationale d'Armes de Chtellerault (MAC), and has a barrel date/serial number from 1939.

    Arsenal stamp (the greenish stuff is release compound, more on that later...)
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    First thing to do was to get all of the water and assorted muck out of the stock. I took the path of least resistance and soaked the stock in acetone for a week to get all of gunk out of the wood.

    Stock after acetone bath. The darker spots are in the wood and would not come out, it may be charring.
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    Aside from the toe of the buttstock being broken, there was a wrist repair applied by the arsenal as well.
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    Flipping it over and looking at the tang area of the stock, things were not looking good at all. The wood between where the receiver lug and receiver screw was cracked and broken into pieces, and there were at least two large cracks from the tang running down the wrist.
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    Time to start repairs...

    Using a mix of thin Acraglas as well as the thick Acraglas, I worked in into the cracks and drilled holes for threaded pins to hold the stock together. My initial focus was to repair the damage in the tang/recoil area.

    You can see the ends of the pins sticking out of the wood.
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    Once the repairs were set and sanded down, I went to work on the toe of the stock.
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    This is a bad picture, but you can see the toe repair after all of the Acraglas had been sanded and blended.
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    Continued in Next Post....
    Last edited by AFJuvat; 09-09-2019 at 03:42 PM. Reason: typo... Thanks BH!
    To speak without thinking is to shoot without aiming.

    There are no dangerous weapons; there are only dangerous men.

    https://www.thethreepercenters.org/

  2. #2
    Distinguished Member AFJuvat's Avatar
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    Part 2: Bedding, reloading and a whole lot of cursing....

    After all of the repairs were set, I rubbed in some raw linseed oil into the stock. The acetone had dried the stock out, and the oil would hydrate it.

    After several coats of oil, the barreled receiver was still a bit sloppy in the stock, so I decided to bed the stock with Acraglas putty.

    I slathered all of the gun parts in the supplied release compound, filled all of the voids where I did not want epoxy with clay, mixed up the Acraglas and got the stock bedded.

    Since there is only one screw securing the receiver to the stock, I make sure that was coated with release compound, and used it to clamp down the rear of the receiver. I used latex tubing for the rest.

    Did not take too many pictures during this part, but I found one. You can see where the acraglas is oozing out of the fairly substantial gaps between the stock and the receiver.

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    Once the bedding set, I took it all apart and cleaned up the bedding areas, and put the rifle back together.

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    I was pretty happy with how it looked, the stock had a rich brown shade that looked pretty good with all of the dings and dents.

    It was time to take some of that surplus ammo and test fire!

    Surplus ammo..... I have about 1000 rounds of it, All made in 1938, and mounted on Hotchkiss Machine Gun feeding strips. The rounds loaded for the Hotchkiss were "Balle N" rounds, and not safe to shoot in Berthier rifles or carbines UNLESS the receiver and barrel are stamped with a "N", which indicated that the throat of the chamber had been opened up wide enough for the round.

    I grabbed 12 rounds off of a feeding strip, loaded them into 5 round clips and off to the range I go. My carbine is actually the three round model, but the new production 3 round clips are total garbage, and originals are near impossible to find. That said, you can use 5 round clips, and just load them with 3 rounds.

    Berthier Ammo in 5 round clips.
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    I get to the range, and every single round I brought went "click". Nice strikes on the firing pin, just dead primers.

    Get home, get online, order dies and brass, start looking into reloading.

    No load data published by the major reloading people. The data that came with my Lee dies has been slammed up and down the internet for being too weak.

    As a bonus, what load data there is assumes a bullet diameter of 0.323"...

    8mm Lebel bullets are 0.3275", which is actually 8.3mm.

    Time to get creative.....

    Start pulling the bullets from the surplus ammo. First thing I did was laugh...

    What old is now new again.... Looks like one of those new fancy pants match bullets.... only this is 81 years old.
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    First thing I did was take the powder from 5 rounds, take it out to the yard and put a match to it. It burned with considerable vigor.

    So I started pulling bullets and weighing the powder charges in each round.
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    The powder charge weighed between 43.5 to 44.5 grains across 70+ rounds measured, with an average charge of 44.2 grains.

    So I pulled about 75.

    Bullet and powder from 1 round.
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    I would have to start making some assumptions. Since the closest I could get for lot information was the cartridge headstamp, which indicated that all of these rounds were made between April and June of 1938, I could assume that the difference in weight from round to round was probably caused by deviations in the loading equipment and not due to differences in powder, since the maximum deviation of weight between charges was 1.0 grain.

    With the knowledge of an average charge weight of 44.2 grains, I felt pretty comfortable loading new brass and new primers with the original powder. I made a total of 12 rounds:

    3 x 44.0 grains
    3 x 43.0 grains
    3 x 42.0 grains
    3 x 41.0 grains.

    Fat, dumb, and happy, I went to the range to give it a try.

    Loaded the 44 grain rounds, donned my hearing protection, safety glasses, and gloves. I shouldered the rifle, aimed, tilted my head as far from the rifle and I could and pulled the trigger.

    Loud boom, some smoke, a nice hole in the target, brass ejects clean, isn't blown out of size.

    That all said, while I don't consider myself recoil sensitive..... This thing kicks like a horse.

    Pressing on, I fire the other two rounds loaded at 44.0.

    Nice holes in target. Shoulder a little sore

    Load the 43 grain rounds. All good, shoulder is hurting I shoot 2, my friend that works at the range gives it a try. He is 5' 9" and probably weighs 160 lbs with rocks in his pockets. He shoots one round and declares "F*CK THAT!"

    42.0 grains, shoot fine, we have progressed from "sore" to "painful".

    41.0 grains. I am now wincing and pausing for a few minutes after each shot.

    Last shot of the test, rifle goes bang, I feel the stock crack.

    Look at the rifle and there are new cracks. Actually, we have sailed right past cracks and landed firmly in the realm of "pieces flying off the stock"

    No real commentary needed, other than to say I was rather happy with how the bedding looked.....
    You can see one of my repair pins in the newly broken area.
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    Continued next post.....
    To speak without thinking is to shoot without aiming.

    There are no dangerous weapons; there are only dangerous men.

    https://www.thethreepercenters.org/

  3. #3
    Distinguished Member AFJuvat's Avatar
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    Part 3: Finding a stock.

    So, with a stock that is now in the "firewood" class, I consider myself truly and royally screwed.

    Start searching the web for a stock. There are no original Berthier carbine stocks to be found, unless I want to purchase another Berthier carbine and hope that by some miracle that stock isn't as beaten up as the one that just fell apart.

    After Gun Broker and all of the other parts dealers let me down, I started googling.

    Found a website of a guy that actually makes Berthier rifle and Carbine stocks, and he lives in Poland. Emailed the guy. A few days later I get a reply. He has a M16 carbine stock ready to go, and it is in walnut. He did some initial finish work on it for someone else, but they had cancelled the order, so he would charge me the normal unfinished price and not the "finished stock" price.

    The original stocks were birch or beech, which is good, but walnut is a bit sturdier, looks better too!

    So I order it.... and for the cost plus shipping from Poland, I could have spent a few dollars more and actually bought a second carbine.

    Pro-tip: mail service from Poland takes weeks.

    Stock arrived, and I have to confess that my expectations were not simply met, they were blown away.

    He did say "walnut", so I expected a decent piece of walnut.

    What he didn't say was "French Walnut" or "Turkish Walnut" or perhaps "Circassian Walnut"


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    Sitting in the gun rack.
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    Bonus points if you can guess why that Carcano is tagged "Unsafe to Fire" Hint: it is completely intact, nothing is broken or damaged, and can be fired, it is just extremely unwise to do so.

    Continued.....
    To speak without thinking is to shoot without aiming.

    There are no dangerous weapons; there are only dangerous men.

    https://www.thethreepercenters.org/

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  5. #4
    Distinguished Member AFJuvat's Avatar
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    Part 4: Engineering and some help from BrianB.

    Now I have a stock. A stock made out of walnut that in all honesty is far too nice for a French military surplus carbine...

    Particularly one that has a stock crushing recoil that makes large fat guys (me) wince and cringe when pulling the trigger....

    It is reasonable to assume that this new stock will suffer the same fate sooner or later unless something is done.

    So, I took a hard look at the original stock (which I had glued back together)

    The stock as two reinforcing bolts. One through the wrist, and the other passes through a gap in the receiver right below the chamber.

    The stock bolts are thin pieces of steel rod.

    Berthier stock bolt.
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    So when the receiver is in the stock, the forward stock bolt does not make ANY contact with the receiver, so it does nothing to absorb any of the recoil force.

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    So, by design, the only places that the recoil energy is transferred to the stock, is at the tiny lug at the rear of the receiver, the receiver tang, and the receiver screw, which is the thinnest part of the stock.

    Receiver lug.
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    That pretty much explains why the original stock looked like this when I started. You can see the space for the receiver lug, the hole for the receiver screw, and that tiny tang.
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    I took some measurements of the gap in the receiver where the front stock bolt passes through. The bolt passes near the receiver and the spring loaded ammo feeding arm passes near the bottom, but that should still leave enough room to fashion some sort of recoil block.

    Based upon the measurements, I came up with the following:

    front view:
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    Isometric view.
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    Top View
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    I prototyped it on the 3D printer and got it fitted. Now I needed one made out of metal.

    I contacted our forum FFL07, BrianB and asked if he could fabricate one out of aluminum.

    BrianB was kind enough to make one for me and send it up. Can't thank you enough for this Brian! You saved my a$$ on this one!

    The block.
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    After doing a little cleanup, I fitted it to the receiver and installed the trigger and magazine assembly.
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    Using the old stock as a template I fit the block to the stock.
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    Continued....
    To speak without thinking is to shoot without aiming.

    There are no dangerous weapons; there are only dangerous men.

    https://www.thethreepercenters.org/

  6. #5
    Distinguished Member AFJuvat's Avatar
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    Part 5:

    Once everything was lined up and fit in the old stock, I took it all apart and fitted it to the new stock.

    Block fitted in the new stock. Once it was set, I drilled the hole through the block and tapped it for 5x0.8mm threads, so the stock bolt actually screws into the block.
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    Fitting the stock bolts, the recesses for them were not as deep on the new stock, so I made them about 2mm deeper on each side with the forstner bit.
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    Did a little sanding on the wood and the bands to get the barrel bands to fit snugly.
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    Thinking some more, I realized that the receiver screw can beat on the wood during firing, so I bored out the receiver screw hole and added a bronze bushing.
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    Blued all of the stock hardware.
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    Tested that the bayonet (which I picked up) mounted correctly.
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    and finished.....

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    Last edited by AFJuvat; 09-09-2019 at 02:20 PM.
    To speak without thinking is to shoot without aiming.

    There are no dangerous weapons; there are only dangerous men.

    https://www.thethreepercenters.org/

  7. #6
    Distinguished Member AFJuvat's Avatar
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    Part 6: Range Report.

    While all of the above was going on, I made up some new loads for the rifle.

    Figuring that the original rounds were meant for a longer barreled machine gun, there was probably little risk in reducing the charge in the rounds.

    So I loaded 9 more rounds. with charges ranging from 39.0 grains to 31.0 grains, so the lowest charge was 13 grains lower than the average noted charge in the surplus ammo.

    Note I only went that low because this is a carbine with a 16" barrel, I would not attempt going that low in a full sized rifle with a 26" barrel.

    I fired all of them, starting at 39 and working my way down to 31

    The concern over having a round stuck in the barrel was eating at me so I wound up checking that the bore was clear after each round.

    No issues, no problems. The recoil started becoming reasonable at 32 - 33 grains of the original powder.

    Original target with the 41 - 44 grain charges.
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    Target with the 31 - 39 grain charges.
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    Last edited by AFJuvat; 09-10-2019 at 08:43 AM.
    To speak without thinking is to shoot without aiming.

    There are no dangerous weapons; there are only dangerous men.

    https://www.thethreepercenters.org/

  8. #7
    Thanks for another very interesting, very impressive report of your restorations. I thoroughly enjoy all of them.

    Is your carcano now chambered in 8 mm?

  9. #8
    Distinguished Member AFJuvat's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by zamboni View Post
    Thanks for another very interesting, very impressive report of your restorations. I thoroughly enjoy all of them.

    Is your carcano now chambered in 8 mm?
    DING!!!

    Yes, it is chambered in 7.92x57 (a.k.a 8mm Mauser)
    To speak without thinking is to shoot without aiming.

    There are no dangerous weapons; there are only dangerous men.

    https://www.thethreepercenters.org/

  10. #9
    Super Moderator
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    Yet another amazing restoration of a piece of firearms history! Well done, sir!!!
    -BH

    Member: Florida Carry, COTEP 766, SAF, GOA, NRA Endowment Life
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  11. #10
    Distinguished Member The Fish's Avatar
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    I read your multi=post threads like a suspense novel...I can't wait to go to the next post.
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