The Meunier rifle evolved as a part of the program initiated in 1890 by the French military to develop a semi-automatic infantry rifle that would eventually replace the Mle 1886-93 Lebel rifle. Four government research establishments (STA, ENT, Puteaux and CTV) proposed over 20 prototypes. About half of them were based on recoil (both short recoil and long recoil) and the others were gas operated. This secret program was placed under the direction of General Naquet-Laroque who headed the Puteaux (APX) government arsenal.
Shortly after the adoption of the Lebel 1886 and its revolutionary ammunition, two brothers, Clair, built a semi automatic shotgun in 1888, an 8 mm semi auto pistol in 1892, and prototypes of semi auto rifles were made in 1894. In addition, the adoption in 1888 of the German Kommissions Gewehr with its rimless cartridge had shown the obsolete design of the French 8x50mm rimmed case. Programs were initiated to design a new cartridge and a new rifle.
The Section Technique de l`Artillerie (STA) developed various rimless high performance cartridges from 1890 to 1912. Among these cartridges, some were retained:6x58 Meunier 1897
6x60 ENT, 1900
6.5x60 CAP 1905
6.5x61 STA 1910
6.5x55.5 Berthier 1910
7x59 STA 1912
7x57 Meunier 1912
Between 1894 and 1913, there was a fierce competition to develop a new rifle. They were tested by:Section Technique de l'Artillerie, Artillery Technical Section aka STA
Rifle A 1 later redesigned as Rifle A 4
Rifle A 2 STA 5
Rifle A 3 STA 6
Carbine A 4
Rifle A 5 STA 7
Rifle A 6 STA 8 ( 7mm Meunier rifle)
Ecole Normale de Tir, National Shooting School aka ENT
Rifle B 1, ENT 1901, system Rossignol
Rifle B 2, System Rossignol
Rifle B 3, ENT 1902, system Belgrand
Rifle B 4, system Rossignol
Rifle B 5, system Rossignol
Rifle B 6, system Belgrand
Rifle B 7, system Chezaud
Rifle B 8, system Vallarnaud
Commission Technique de Versailles, Versailles Technical Commission aka CTV
Etablissement Technique de Puteaux, Puteaux Technical Section aka APX.
Rifle C 1 CTV 1
Rifle C 2 CTV 2 system Chauchat
Rifle C 3 APX 3, system Chauchat & Sutter
Rifle C 4 APX 4
Rifle C 5 system Chauchat & Sutter modified Naquet-Laroque aka rifle NL
Rifle C 6, NL
Rifle C 7, NL
Rifle C 8 system Chauchat & Sutter aka Indochinese rifle due to its shorter size, developed to arm indigenous troops in Indochina.
Out of the various semi-automatic prototypes being tested only three emerged as offering industrial potential:The 7mm ENT B5 Rifle by Rossignol which inaugurated direct gas impingement into the bolt.
The 7mm APX C7 Rifle by Chauchat, Sutter and Naquet-Laroque which was based on the Browning long-recoil system of 1900.
The 7mm long-recoil operated STA A6 Rifle by Meunier which was also partly derived from the Browning long-recoil system of 1900.
The long recoil operated semi-automatic Meunier rifle was adopted in 1910 to replace the Lebel rifle. It gave excellent performance during the final trials: "The 7mm Meunier Rifle fired 3,000 shots without serious incidents".
The A6 Meunier rifle was adopted in 1910, but its final ammunition specifications were not decided upon except for the caliber of 7mm. There were endless debates between the government arsenals at Puteaux and Tulle concerning the length of the case and the bullet's velocity. The final choice for a case length of 56.95 mm (2.242 in) was made in 1912, and the original loading delivered a muzzle velocity of over 1000 meters per second. A lighter load was finally chosen in 1913, allowing the final adoption of the A6 Meunier rifle. The onset of World War I in August 1914 put a halt to a project that would have equipped the French Army with its first semi-automatic infantry rifle.
The rimless 7x59mm Meunier round was substantially more powerful than 8mm Lebel.
The 7x59mm Meunier had a muzzle velocity of 3,412 ft/s (1,040 m/s). It had a steel core as well as the 7x57mm (7.2x56.95mm) adopted the same year and retained later for the Meunier rifle of 1916 with a velocity reduced to 2,690 ft/s (820 m/s).
Atelier de Construction de Puteaux near Paris manufactured the cartridge; most of the rare samples known are marked APX 1917.
During spring 1914, MAS tooled up to produce 5000 Meunier rifles each month, but the decision to launch mass production was cancelled due to the risk of introducing a new system at a moment when a conflict with Germany appeared inevitable. Eventually, 1013 Meunier rifles were manufactured at Tulle arsenal (MAT) by the time World War I broke out; these were tested in the trenches. In 1916, 4,000 pieces were made and used by designated marksmen.
The Meunier Rifle eventually lost out to the simply designed gas-operated Mle 1917 RSC semi-automatic rifle, which was built in large numbers (86,000) during 1918. The Mle 1917 RSC was adopted because it was less expensive to manufacture since it used standard Mle 1886 M93 Lebel rifle components, notably: the barrel, stock, forend, barrel bands and trigger guard. Furthermore, the Model 1917 RSC fired the standard 8mm Lebel ammunition loaded on special 5 rounds clips. The Meunier rifle, being long recoil operated like the Remington Model 8 rifle, was mechanically more complex and only fired special 7mm high-power,rimless ammunition.
Both the Mle 1917 RSC and the Meunier rifle can be seen at the Musée de l'Armée, Les Invalides, Paris, France, as a part of the permanent WW-1 (1914–1918) arms, uniforms and equipments displays. Within the USA, excellent specimens of the Mle 1917 RSC are displayed in the collections of the public museum at Aberdeen Proving Grounds and also at the US Military Academy museum at West Point.