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The 1874 Gras: France Enters the Brass Cartridge Era

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After the disaster of the Franco-Prussian War, it was clear to the French military that the rationale for using paper cartridge in the Chassepot was no longer valid – a future rifle would need to use brass cartridges. A competition to design a conversion of the Chassepot to use modern ammunition resulted in the 1874 adoption of the rifle designed by French Artillery Captain Basile Gras. This maintained the use of the bolt handle as a single locking lug, but introduced a separate bolt head and extractor. The new cartridge was the 11mm Gras; very similar to the Chassepot loading but at a slightly higher velocity.

The Gras would be produced from 1874 until 1884, with more than 4 million made in total. Most were full length infantry rifles, but two patterns of carbine and a musketoon were also included for cavalry, gendarmerie, and artillery troops. These rifles saw significant use in colonial conflicts, but the much-anticipated war of revenge against Germany would not happen while the Gras was the standard French rifle. Instead, it would see a supporting role in the First World War, both in the original 11mm caliber and also converted to 8mm Lebel.

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