(Image of this rifle courtesy of Darryl Goss)
GENERALLY: The Mle1874 Gras and conversions of the Mle1866 to Mle1866-74 Gras is named for its designer, Artillery Captain Basile Gras, and is basically a conversion of the Mle1866 Chassepot, a needle fire weapon, to the metallic cartridge. In this time frame, France was engaged in a substantial arms race with Germany and adoption of the Mod. 71 German Mauser Infantrie-Gewehr, a center fire, metallic cartridge rifle considerably superior to the earlier German needle-fire Dreyse heated things up considerably. Although the Mle1866 Chassepot was of adequate range and flat enough trajectory, the breach sealing mechanism of the rubber washer was a definite handicap. The Gras was BOTH a conversion of the Chassepot utilizing the entire rifle except for a redesigned bolt head mounting a cartridge extractor without separate ejector, and, owing to the need for modern arms, newly manufactured, even before the Chasspots were converted. Gras rifles manufactured by Styer were also adopted by Greece to replace the earlier Mylonas rifle of Greek design, and French rifles were adopted in Columbia, Russia and Chili.
PHOTO: The rifle shown at the top is a Mle1874 M.80 Gras and the Goss photo is a Mle 1874 Gras in original condition without the M80 conversion. Details below and on the accompanying pages.
DISTINGUISHING CHARECTERISTICS: The Mle1874 has a two piece bolt (that is the bolt head is detachable and rotates) and later models had a modified rear sight and somewhat altered cleaning rod. The Mle1866-74 is so marked on the receiver, the Mle1874 carrying only the designation Mle1874. Interestingly, large quantities of the Mle1874 were manufactured prior to the conversion ofMle1866-74. In 1880 an annular channel was cut into the receiver and just behind the chamber as well as a longitudinal groove in the event of a case head failure or primer rupture which was a common enough occurrence with ammunition from the 1870's. Rifles with this alteration are stamped M.80 on the left side of the receiver below the manufacturer’s name.
MISC NOTES: The Gras Cartridge saw fairly wide service
for a cartridge of this era being utilized in not only the Gras, but in
several varieties of Kropatcheks,
3 Greek rifles, the WWI Vickers machine gun and in varieties of anti-aircraft
and anit-balloon roles, etc.)
Muzzle of the Mle1866 Chasspot which has been converted to Mle1866-74 Gras.
It carries what had been the cleaning rod of the Mle1866 needle fire Chasspot
Muzzle of a second Mle1866 Chasspot which has been converted to Mle1866-74 Gras
Muzzle of a newly made Mle1874 Gras. Gras were actually put into production
and being built before conversion of the Mel1866 Chasspots wwas undertaken.
A converted Mle1866 to Mle1866-74 Gras.
This M1874 Gras has not been modified with the M.80 gas escape channels.
This is the marking for the "Modifie 80" modified rifles
And this is what the modification is about; the cutting of channels to allow gas
from a ruptured cartridge to escape.
Mle1866-74, M1874 & M.80 French Gras
Page Revised: June 29, 1997
Revised September 16, 1999