Colonial Berthiers: 1902 Indochina and 1907 Senegalese

The sharpshooters of the French colonial forces in Indochina (the Tirailleurs Indochinois) had never been issued Lebel rifles, and were still using single shot Gras rifles at the turn of the century. The Indochinese soldiers were rather short statured, and the Lebel was simply too long of a rifle for them to use efficiently. The colonial government requested a special weapon for these men, and the result was the 1902 Berthier.

The Berthier carbine was much more compact than the Lebel, and it was also less expensive to manufacture and simpler to instruct troops with. So after some brief experimentation, a version was produced with a 25 inch (635mm) long barrel, which was a nice balance between the carbines and the Lebel rifle. In my opinion, the 1902 is the ideal size for a Berthier, and I think it handles best of all the different variations made.

An initial production run of 22,500 of these 1902 rifles was made by Chatellerault between 1902 and 1912. A second batch of about 25,000 more would be produced in the 1920s, but we will discuss these in a separate video, as they were made with the 1916 upgrades.

With the successful implementation of the Berthier in the Indochinese colonial forces, it would stand out as an obvious solution for the need to upgrade the arms of France’s African colonial troops as well. These soldiers were not short, but also had outdated Gras rifles, and Lebel production was no longer active by 1907. As a result, a further lengthened Berthier was suggested for the Senegalese troops, with a barrel 31.5 inches (800mm) long; equal to that of the Lebel. This was accepted into service, and 25,000 were manufactured by Chatellerault between 1907 and the beginning of the Great War in 1914.

With the urgent need for more rifles because of World War One, the 1907 Berthier (renamed to the 1907 Colonial and issued to colonial troops besides just the Senegalese as of 1908) would attract the interest of the military because it was cheaper to manufacture than the Lebel, and still in active production. The result would be the 07/15 Berthier, which would become a dual standard infantry rifle alongside the 1886 Lebel in the war.