The Manurhin MR73 revolver, an iconic French gun, continues to be the preferred side arm of French special police forces, including the GIGN (Groupe d'Intervention de la Gendarmerie Nationale) counterterrorism unit. The GIGN, one of Europe’s most hardcore police and special forces units, is tasked with confidential and dangerous missions including hostage rescues, counter-terror operations, and combating organized crime.
Founded after the terrorist attacks in Munich in 1973, the GIGN today is among the world’s most elite counter-terrorist police and has a special affinity for its traditional French revolver. (Photo above by “Domenjod / Wikimedia.)
“They’ve quickly become the most experienced and successful counter-terrorist organization in the world, tallying up over 1,800 publicly known missions with a near-flawless track record. And each time the Gendarmerie step up against a threat, they’ll always bring a trusty six-shooter revolver as their sidearm.”
After World War II, many European police units, initially disarmed—were later outfitted with weaker semi-automatic pistols. The French GIGN development of this revolver gave them a more powerful firearm at a time when other units were still carrying Walther/Manurhin PPs in .32 ACP.
Today, most modern special police units use semi-automatic side arms, which can typically hold 15 to 17 shots in reserve. Why does France’s special SWAT-like police force wield a six-shooter pistol?
This might appear to be an impractical choice at first, but the MR73 is a very flexible firearm. It allows for fine-tuning and is crafted for use in marksmanship competitions. Chambered in .38 Special/.357 Magnum, it can be converted to 9mm Parabellum and is available in varying barrel lengths. However, the conversion to 9mm could result in slightly degradation of accuracy as the 9mm (.355) projectiles may not shoot as well in a .38/357 (.358) bore. France’s GIGN commonly equips the MR73 with scopes. This seemingly simple revolver is also very hardy—it has been proven to withstand 150 rounds of full-power ammunition during daily target practice. The high-quality firearm sports the unique precision feature of having an adjustable trigger weight in both single and double-action models.
Semi-automatic handguns are, on the surface, superior guns for tactical police units. However, the slides on semi-automatic handguns could present possible disadvantages to police or counter-terrorism officers responding to calls in compact indoors quarters or crowded areas. Slides can prove awkward to wield in close formation and tight spaces—for example, the slides can jostle against police shields and other equipment, thereby causing an unsafe situation.
Revolvers such as the MR73 can be aimed with precision through small spaces due to their lack of a slide. Close-quarter tactical situations often faced by special police forces often do not require large amounts of ammunition, therefore rendering the MR73’s limited ammunition capacity of little concern.
Lastly, but perhaps most importantly to its French wielders, the Manurhin brand holds cultural significance in France. Manurhin began manufacturing German-style handguns after the French military took control of former German firearms factories, including the Mauser plant, after World War II. The French focused the Manurhin factory’s operations directly across the Rhine from Germany—and subsequently supplied firearms to German police and military forces in the postwar era, who were barred from manufacturing firearms. Manurhin’s capacity grew and the brand developed an expertise in producing tactical and military-grade firearms.
The MR73 was developed in cooperation with French police forces and first introduced in 1973. It remains widely used by in French law enforcement. Today Manurhin is still headquartered in the upper Rhine region. The MR73 is also used today by Austria’s EKO Cobra (Einsatzkommando Cobra) Special Police Forces.
The U.S. allowed importation of the MR73 in 1988, but the prices were very expensive, then ranging from $3,000 to $4,000. The MR73 remains uncommon in the United States, but can be seen at gun shows here.