According to Jean Huon in “Proud Promise, French Autoloading Rifles 1898-1979,” only 20,600 MAS 49 rifles were produced before the French government recognized that modern design changes were needed. Part of the French battle strategy at the time called for the use of rifle grenades, and the MAS 49 was incompatible with the new NATO-standard 22 mm finned projectiles. Hence the MAS 49/56, which was fundamentally the same rifle as the MAS 49, but had a number of modifications. Changes were made to the sights, fore-end and receiver. The gas tube was lengthened, and upward rotation of the new gas cut-off lever, which was hinged to the gas port bushing, allowed the launching of both direct-fire anti-tank and indirect-fire anti-personnel grenades. The fore-end was shortened, and cannelures and a ring spigot regulated the grenade tube’s position on the barrel. Rubber stock extension pads were also available for shoulder or armpit padding during grenade launching.
The French Army was uniformly equipped with the MAS 49/56 by the mid-1960s and production numbers reached approximately 275,240. Many surplus rifles were exported after the adoption of the FAMAS F1. Century Int’l Arms imported a number of the rifles into the U.S. in the mid-1990s and converted about half into 7.62x51 mm NATO/.308 Win., with the remaining rifles left in 7.5x54 mm (French).
Initial disassembly of the MAS 49 and MAS 49/56 is the same and is described below. Further steps require a special tool, as the French military preferred to dissuade its soldiers from completely disassembling their rifles.
Depress the right-side catch on the magazine (64) to remove the magazine. Pull the cocking handle (20) to the rear and visually inspect the chamber to ensure the chamber is empty, and then release the bolt (2). Leave the hammer (56) cocked and lower the safety (82).
Depress the bolt cover latch (6) found on the back of the receiver (79), and push the bolt cover (5) forward. Raise the rear of the bolt cover to remove it, and be aware of rearward recoil spring