France’s WWI “Ruby”

    Before the outbreak of WWI, France had not prioritized the adoption of a reliable pistol.  The Model 1892 service revolver was found adequate in those pre-modern engagements.  With the onset of trench warfare, however, the advantages of a larger capacity, faster firing semi-automatic handgun were undeniable. Suffering major material losses early in the war, France began importing pistols and found a cheap and plentiful market with guaranteed supply lines to their west.

    Spain did not honor patents more than a few short years unless the holder began domestic manufacture.  This meant a number of designs were readily and safely copied in the gun making region of Eibar.  With the success of Browning’s Model 1903, Spanish gun makers adapted it to ease production.French Pistol Ruby M1915 leftLike the 1903, the Eibar Type pistol is a shrouded hammer, single stack detachable mag, slide operated, blowback action, with an under barrel spring.  It features a slightly modified barrel that is still held in place by interlocking lugs on the underside and disassembles the same way as the 1903.  Most of the differences are more cosmetic as the Eibar Type is a thicker, chunkier design meant to use rougher manufacturing and inferior metal.  A clear example would be in the safety/takedown lever which, unlike the 1903, was done by hand and moved much further forward on the frame.  The most outstanding difference is that the complicated-to-manufacture grip safety was dropped.

    Eibar Type pistols are generally found chambered in .32 or .25 ACP and were produced in a wide variety of styles with extended or shortened barrels, magazines, slides, internal or external hammers, etc…  These pistols were produced by shops that became internationally recognized and fly-by-nights who changed names frequently.  They were marketed under a variety of names such as MARTIAN, COBRA, IDEAL, DESTROYER, and many, many more.  These pistols are so myriad and unique that a collector could happily (and cheaply) focus on them for a lifetime.

    French Pistol Ruby M1915 top

    By 1914 the Spanish manufacturer Gabilondo y Urresti (later Llama) had been marketing a military version of the Eibar Type to the Balkans.  They had trademarked their pistol the “Ruby” and its only unique features seems to have been a lanyard ring fitted to the frame.  In the rush to rearm, France purchased some number of already produced, commercial Ruby pistols.  They were found satisfactory and, better yet, inexpensive.  In May of 1915 a contract was opened up with GyU for the production of their “RUBY” pistol, adopted as the Model 1915.  This called for 10,000 units a month.  Within four months it was upped to 30,000, and again to 50,000.  GyU was overwhelmed but did not want to miss any opportunity for money, so it contracted with four other producers who were expected to produce a minimum of 5,000 a month while GyU took up the balance.

    The overwhelming French demand soon had other manufacturers flooding into the market.  Independent contracts began with the French military and a second tier of major producers appeared. Roughly 45 producers are believed to have been involved in supplying the French!  It would appear the major players in Spain kept in touch as there was not much in the way of price competition.  Each producer simply went along with the standards of the original contract until the end of the war, with roughly 900,000 produced in total.French Pistol Ruby M1915 letter codeOne problem with accepting nearly one million hand-fitted pistols from over 40 manufacturers was a lack of uniformity in parts.  Repairs would have been troublesome, but were likely not undertaken often with such a stream of replacements.  But a swapped magazine wasn’t an uncommon thing and since these could vary radically in small, but very important, dimensions they needed to be kept with their proper host.  So the French instituted a one or two letter code for each supplier and stamped the rear left frame of the pistol and the toe of the magazine to match.

    Ruby pistols were not the finest military arms ever invented.  The fit and finish obviously don’t compare with German, American, or even British designs at the time.  There are no special features or fine tuning.  But they do shoot straight and generally go bang with nearly every pull of the trigger.  They were something akin to the AK-47 of their time: cheap, easy, works.  So we should remember them in terms of their raw utility and recognize they played a role in the eventual Entente victory.

    More about the Ruby, including a table of manufacturer codes, can be found in our larger article at C&Rsenal.French Pistol Ruby M1915 POV


    Othais is practically useless with modern firearms. That’s OK though, because he specializes in Curio and Relic military pieces and has agreed to decorate The Firearm Blog with a little history. He maintains his own site, C&Rsenal, with the help of his friends and the collector community.