The Fusil Gras mle 1874, otherwise known simply as the Gras Rifle, was a French bolt action rifle that served the French Army from 1874 until 1886. The Gras Rifle was named for its designer Artillery General Basile Gras and was the first French firearm to use metallic cartridges meaning that it would replace the Chassepot rifle.
The Gras Rifle improved upon the Chassepot rifle by becoming more reliable, replacing the rubber seal (intended to seal the breech) with a more efficient design which used a redesigned bolt, improving the seal by using the cartridge itself to seal the breech, preventing gas escape. The seal of the Chassepot would wear with use, in turn requiring that it be replaced after sustained use.
The Gras was also the first French made rifle to fire metallic cartridges, which meant that it required an extractor to remove the cartridge once the shot had been fired. This mechanism required the bolt to be redesigned to work efficiently with the rimmed cartridge that the Gras used, while the sights were developed further to cope with the ballistic capabilities of the cartridge.
A large number Gras Rifles were converted Chassepot rifles rather than puropse built as a Gras rifle. As such the converted Gras rifles were identical to the Chassepot, the only difference being that the receiver and bolt had been changed. Purpose built Gras Rifles, on the other hand, had distinctive features (from the Chassepot) such as a more rounded stock and a triangular shaped sword bayonet and lug.
The Gras Rifle used a specifically developed metallic cartridge, refered to as the 11x59mmR. The Gras, as mentioned above, was the first French made rifle to use a metallic cartridge and hence was unique among its contemporaries in France. Later, once the Gras had been replaced by the Lebel rifle, a large number of Gras Rifles were converted to use a 10-round gravity feeder to hold the 8mm Lebel cartridge.
The Gras Rifle was manufactured for the French Army from 1874 until 1886, a production run which resulted in around 500,000 Gras' 'to be produced. This was less than half of the number of Chassepots that were produced, however the Gras was never used, in French hands, in a major conflict until it was replaced by the Lebel rifle in 1886. France also sold Gras to Chile, Columbia and, during the First World War, 400,000 (among which 146,000 were converted to fire the 8mm Lebel cartridge) Gras Rifles were sent to Russia.
The Steyr Works in Austria also produced the Gras Rifle, however these were all sold to Greece. The Gras would serve the guerrilla fighters, whom fought against the Ottoman Empire and German Occupation. The Steyr made "Grades" (as they became known in Greece as the Gras Rifle gained a legendary status) totalled around 60,000 examples and all were produced under license from the Manufacture d'armes de Saint-Etienne. Various carbine versions were also produced for the Greek guerillas.