Chauchat LMG in the museum of the Polish Army in Warsaw.
|Type||Light machine gun|
|Place of origin||France|
|Used by||See Users|
|Wars||World War I
World War II (limited)
|Designer||Louis Chauchat and Charles Sutter|
|Variants||Chauchat Mle 1918 (.30-06 Springfield)
Chauchat (Polish) (7.92×57mm Mauser
Chauchat (Belgium) 7.65×53mm Argentine
|Weight||9.07 kg (20.0 lb)|
|Length||1,143 millimeters (45.0 in)|
|Barrel length||470 millimeters (19 in)|
|Cartridge||8×50mmR Lebel, others|
|Action||Long recoil with gas assist|
|Rate of fire||≈240 rounds/min|
|Muzzle velocity||630 metres per second (2,100 ft/s)|
|Effective firing range||200 metres (220 yd)|
|Maximum firing range||2,000 metres (2,200 yd)|
|Feed system||20-round magazine|
The Chauchat, named after Colonel Louis Chauchat, the main contributor to its design, was the standard machine rifle or light machine gun of the French Army during World War I (1914–18). Its official designation was "Fusil Mitrailleur Modele 1915 CSRG" (in English: "Machine Rifle Model 1915 CSRG"). Beginning in June 1916, it was placed into regular service with French infantry, where the troops called it the FM Chauchat. The Chauchat machine rifle in 8mm Lebel was also extensively used in 1917–18 by the American Expeditionary Forces (A.E.F), where it was officially designated as the "Automatic Rifle, Model 1915 (Chauchat)". A total of 262,000 Chauchat machine rifles were manufactured between December 1915 and November 1918, including 244,000 chambered for the 8mm Lebel service cartridge, making it the most widely manufactured automatic weapon of World War I. The armies of eight other nations – Belgium, Finland, Greece, Italy, Poland, Romania, Russia, and Serbia – also used the Chauchat machine rifle in fairly large numbers during and after World War I.
The Chauchat machine rifle was one of the first light, automatic rifle-caliber weapons designed to be carried and fired by a single operator and an assistant, without a heavy tripod or a team of gunners. It set a precedent for several subsequent 20th-century firearm projects, being a portable, yet full-power automatic weapon built inexpensively and in very large numbers. The Chauchat combined a pistol grip, an in-line stock, a detachable magazine, and a selective fire capability in a compact package of manageable weight (20 pounds) for a single soldier. Furthermore, it could be routinely fired from the hip and while walking (marching fire).
The muddy trenches of northern France exposed a number of weaknesses in the Chauchat's design. Construction had been simplified to facilitate mass production, resulting in low quality of many metal parts. The magazines in particular were the cause of about 75% of the stoppages or cessations of fire; they were made of thin metal and open on one side, allowing for the entry of mud and dust. The weapon also ceased to function when overheated, the barrel sleeve remaining in the retracted position until the gun had cooled off. Consequently, in September 1918, barely two months before the Armistice of November 11, the A.E.F. in France had already initiated the process of replacing the Chauchat with the M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle. Shortly after World War I, the French army replaced the Chauchat with the new gas-operated Mle 1924 light machine gun.
It was mass manufactured during World War I by two reconverted civilian plants: "Gladiator" and "Sidarme". Besides the 8mm Lebel version, the Chauchat machine rifle was also manufactured in U.S. .30-06 Springfield and in 7.65×53mm Argentine Mauser caliber to arm the American Expeditionary Forces (A.E.F.) and the Belgian Army, respectively. The Belgian military did not experience difficulties with their Chauchats in 7.65mm Mauser and kept them in service into the early 1930s. Conversely, the Chauchat version in U.S. .30-06 made by "Gladiator" for the A.E.F., the Model 1918, proved to be fundamentally defective and had to be withdrawn from service.
The Chauchat is the only full-automatic weapon actuated by long recoil, a Browning-designed system already applied in 1906 to the Remington Model 8 semi-automatic rifle: extraction and ejection of the empties takes place when the barrel returns forward, while the bolt is retained in the rear position. Over time, the Chauchat machine rifle's just passable performance in its dominant version (the Mle 1915 in 8mm Lebel) and the failure of its limited version in U.S. 30-06 (the Mle 1918), have led some modern experts to assess it as the "worst machine gun" ever fielded in the history of warfare.
The design of the Chauchat dates back to 1903, and its long recoil operation is based on the John Browning-designed Remington Model 8 semi-automatic rifle of 1906, not (as so often repeated in the past) on the later designs (1910) of Rudolf Frommer, the Hungarian inventor of the commercial Frommer Stop pistol. The Chauchat machine rifle project was initiated between 1903 and 1910 in a French Army weapon research facility located near Paris: the "Atelier de Construction de Puteaux (APX)". This development was aiming at creating a very light, portable automatic weapon served by one man only, yet firing the 8 mm Lebel service ammunition. The project was led from the beginning by Colonel Louis Chauchat, a graduate from Ecole Polytechnique, assisted by senior armorer Charles Sutter. Not less than eight trial prototypes were tested at APX, between 1903 and 1909. As a result, a small series (100 guns) of 8 mm Lebel CS (Chauchat-Sutter) machine rifles was ordered in 1912, then manufactured between 1913 and 1914 by Manufacture d'armes de Saint-Étienne (MAS). Because they were light, they were used temporarily during the early part of World War I to arm observation crews on French military aircraft. None of these CS machine rifles have survived, either in public museums or in private collections. Only a fairly complete photographic record of their past existence remains.
In 1914, when World War I broke out, French troops did not operate any light machine gun. It was clear that this type of weapon had become indispensable in modern warfare, because of the increase in firepower it could provide to an infantry section. Spurred by General Joseph Joffre, it was decided to adopt the Chauchat, above all else because the pre-war CS (Chauchat-Sutter) machine rifle was already in existence, thoroughly tested, and designed to fire the 8mm Lebel service ammunition. Furthermore, due to its projected low manufacturing costs and relative simplicity, the newly adopted (1915) CSRG machine rifle could be mass-produced by a converted peacetime industrial plant. The term CSRG is made up of the initials of Chauchat, Sutter, Ribeyrolles and Gladiator, the respective manufacturors. Paul Ribeyrolles was the general manager of the Gladiator company, a peacetime manufacturer of motor cars, motorcycles, and bicycles located in Pre-Saint-Gervais (a northern suburb of Paris). The fairly large Gladiator factory was thus converted into an arms manufacturer in 1915 and became the principal industrial producer of Chauchat machine rifles during World War I. Later on, in 1918, a subsidiary of Compagnie des forges et acieries de la marine et d'Homecourt named SIDARME and located in Saint-Chamond, Loire, also participated in the mass manufacture of CSRGs.
The Chauchat machine rifle or "automatic rifle" functioned on the long barrel recoil principle with a gas assist. The chronology of the patents makes it clear that Louis Chauchat had simply borrowed the mechanical principles of an already-existing long barrel recoil, semi-automatic rifle filed by John Browning in his milestone U.S. Patent 659,786 of October 16, 1900. This precursor was the Remington Model 8 semi-automatic rifle which was successfully marketed (80,000) between 1906 and 1936.
The Chauchat machine rifle (CSRG) delivered to the French Army fired the 8mm Lebel cartridge at the slow rate of 250 rounds per minute. At 9 kilograms (20 lb), the gun was much lighter than the contemporary portable light machine guns of the period, such as the 12-kilogram (26 lb) Hotchkiss M1909 Benét–Mercié machine gun and the 13-kilogram (29 lb) Lewis gun. It was a selective fire weapon, either on automatic or semi-automatic mode.
The Chauchat's construction was composite, thus not fully consistent in terms of parts quality. The recoiling barrel sleeve, as well as all the bolt moving parts, were precision milled from solid steel and always fully interchangeable. The barrels were standard Lebel rifle barrels that had been shortened from the muzzle end. The barrel radiators were made of ribbed cast aluminum. On the other hand, the outer breech housing was a simple tube, and the rest of the gun was built of stamped metal plates of mediocre quality. Side plate assemblies were held by screws that could become loose after prolonged firings. The sights were always misaligned on the Gladiator-made guns, creating severe aiming problems that had to be corrected by the gunners. The exact number on record of Chauchat machine rifles manufactured between 1916 and the end of 1918 is 262,300. The Gladiator factory manufactured 225,700 CSRGs in 8 mm Lebel plus 19,000 in the U.S. caliber .30-06 between April 1916 and November 1918. SIDARME manufactured 18,600 CSRGs, exclusively in 8mm Lebel, between October 1917 and November 1918. The SIDARME-manufactured Chauchats were generally better finished and better functioning than those made by Gladiator. The French Army had a stock of 63,000 CSRG's just before the Armistice.
The French military at the time considered the Chauchat's performance as inferior in comparison to the reliable heavy Hotchkiss M1914 machine gun. However, whereas the Hotchkiss was a weighty, tripod-mounted weapon, the Chauchat was a light, portable gun that could be mass-produced quickly, cheaply, and in very large numbers. It was also never intended to take the role of static defense of the heavy machine gun. On the contrary, it was designed to be a light, thus highly portable, automatic weapon that would increase the firepower of infantry squads while they progressed forward during assaults. A significant plus is that it could easily be fired while walking (marching fire), by hanging the Chauchat's sling over a shoulder hook located onto the gunner's upper left side of his Y–strap.
The Mle 1915 Chauchat's performance on the battlefield drew decidedly mixed reviews from the users when the war was stagnating in the mud of the trenches in 1916. This brought about a survey, regiment by regiment, requested by General Pétain in late 1916; the survey's essential conclusion was that the open-sided half-moon magazines were defective and caused about two thirds of all stoppages. For instance, it was a common practice for the gunners to oil up the inside of the magazines to facilitate movement of the 8mm Lebel rounds. Also, loose earth, grit, and other particles easily entered the gun through these open-sided magazines, an ever-present risk in the muddy environment of the trenches. An insistence on using only good, undeformed magazines with strong springs was the most practical solution to this problem. Chauchat gunners were also known to load their magazines with 18 or 19 rounds, instead of the maximum 20, in order to avoid the dreaded first-round failure to feed. The Chauchat's long recoil system is often cited as a source of excessive stress on the gunner when firing, though recent and extensive firing tests have demonstrated that it is the Chauchat's ergonomics and its loose bipod, rather than its recoil, that makes it a difficult gun to keep on target beyond very short bursts. On most of the Gladiator-made guns, the sights also made the Chauchat shoot systematically too low and to the right, a failing which was soon recognized but never corrected. Overheating during uninterrupted periods of full automatic fire (about 120 rounds with the 8mm Lebel version) often resulted in the barrel sleeve assembly locking in the rear position due to thermal expansion, causing stoppage of fire until the gun had cooled off. Hence, French and US Army manuals recommended firing in short bursts or semi-auto only. In essence, the Chauchat was a rather heavy but portable machine gun with limited full auto capability, rather than a true "light machine gun", hence, in 1918, the A.E.F. officially labeled the Chauchat in its user manuals as an "automatic rifle".
While rate of fire restrictions (250 rounds/minute) made the gun manageable in its 8mm Lebel version, the U.S. .30-06 version fired more powerful cartridges that exacerbated the problems of overheating. Furthermore, the 18,000 Chauchats in .30-06 delivered to the A.E.F. were not conversions of the French model. Rather, they were newly manufactured guns which had been delivered directly to the A.E.F. by the Gladiator factory. As documented from the original American and French military archives, most of these Mle 1918 Chauchats in .30-06 were flawed from the beginning due to incomplete chamber reaming and other dimensional defects acquired during the manufacturing process at the Gladiator factory. Very few .30-06 Chauchats reached the front lines of northern France; however, when they did, it was reportedly not uncommon for U.S. units to simply discard their Chauchats in favor of M1903 Springfield rifles and cease to function as an auto-rifle squad altogether. Whereas instruction manuals in both French and English for the 8mm Lebel Chauchat are still commonly found today, instruction manuals for the US 30-06 "American Chauchat" have never been seen in U.S. and French military archives or in private collections.
Several prototypes of dirt-proof, fully enclosed Chauchat magazines were successfully tested in May and June 1918, but came too late to be placed into service. Stronger open-sided standard magazines, as well as tailored canvas gun covers protecting the gun against mud during transport, had previously been issued in late 1917. The initial two-man Chauchat team was also found insufficient and eventually grew to a four-man squad by October 1917 (the squad leader, the gunner, the assistant gunner who handled the magazines plus one additional magazine carrier). Both the gunner and the assistant gunner carried at all times a .32 ACP Ruby pistol with three magazines, each one loaded with 9 rounds, as part of their regular equipment. The squad leader and the magazine carrier were both equipped with a rifle or with a Berthier carbine. While the additional men provided assistance in carrying loaded magazines, helping manage malfunctions, and protecting the gunner, it also negated one of the Chauchat's primary innovations: the ability to provide highly mobile automatic fire without the need for the 4-man team inherent to the Hotchkiss M1914 machine gun.
By mid-1918, with mobility returning to the war and the end of the stalemate on the Western Front, the war had moved out of the mud of the trenches and into open fields, thus making the guns more reliable and easier to maintain. Furthermore, French infantry regiments had been reorganized into multiple small (18 men) combat groups ("Demi-Sections de Combat"). Those were made up of a full Chauchat squad plus four VB (Viven-Bessiere) rifle grenade specialists and eight conventional grenadiers/riflemen. At this point in time, in 1918, the French regimental records and the statistics of medals given to Chauchat gunners document that they were an essential contribution to the success of these updated infantry tactics. Those were applied to suppress enemy machine gun nests by the combined action of Chauchat automatic fire coming from the sides and VB rifle grenades lobbed from the front, within less than 200 yards (182.9 meters).
The Chauchat was not comparable to the submachine guns of World War I, which used pistol, rather than rifle, ammunition and were thus less powerful. Compared to the Chauchat, the early submachine guns were used in relatively small numbers (thousands, rather than hundreds of thousands) and had much shorter effective ranges.
Unlike much heavier air- and water-cooled machine guns (such as the Hotchkiss machine gun and the various belt-fed Maxim gun derivatives, but in common with the Lewis gun), the Chauchat was not designed for sustained defensive fire from fixed positions. The tactical edge expected from the light and portable Chauchat machine rifle was to increase the offensive firepower of advancing infantry during the assaults. This particular tactic became known as marching fire. Colonel Chauchat had already formulated this tactical vision since the early 1900s, in his many proposals to the highest levels of the French military command structure, including General Joffre.
Chauchat in American service
After the United States entered World War I in April 1917, the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) arrived in France without automatic weapons or field artillery. Consequently, it turned to its French ally to purchase ordnance. General Pershing chose the Hotchkiss M1914 machine gun and the Chauchat machine rifle (designated as "Automatic Rifle, Model 1915 (Chauchat)" by the AEF and nicknamed the "Sho-Sho" by the troops) to equip U.S. infantry. Between August 1917 and the November 11, 1918 Armistice with Germany, the Gladiator factory delivered to the AEF 16,000 Chauchats in 8 mm Lebel and, late in 1918, 19,000 Chauchats in .30-06.
While the performance of the M1915 Chauchat in 8 mm Lebel was combat-effective, judging by the numbers of decorated U.S. Chauchat gunners found in the U.S. Divisional Histories, the performance of the M1918 Chauchat in .30-06 was soon recognized as abysmal (and in large part the reason for the gun's bad reputation). The most common problem was a failure to extract after the gun had fired only a few rounds and became slightly hot. A modern-day test firing of the M1918 30-06 Chauchat was performed at Aberdeen Proving Grounds in July 1973, but no particular problem was described in the official report, which is accessible on open file. Conversely, an exhaustive firing test of the M1918 Chauchat in .30-06 was also carried out in 1994 near Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, by R. Keller and W. Garofalo. Their testing, which is reported in "The Chauchat Machine Rifle" volume, did expose severe extraction problems caused by incorrect chamber measurements and other substandard manufacturing. During World War I, in 1918, the preserved U.S. archival record also documents that American inspectors at the Gladiator factory had rejected about 40% of the .30-06 Chauchat production, while the remaining 60% proved problematic whenever they reached the front lines. Supplies of the newly manufactured and superior M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) were allocated sparingly and only very late, during the Meuse-Argonne offensive, which began in late September 1918. Therefore, about 75% of the U.S. Divisions were still equipped with the Chauchat – in its original French M1915 version in 8 mm Lebel – at the time of the Armistice of November 11, 1918. It is also well documented that General Pershing had been holding back on the BAR until victory was certain, for fear it would be copied by Germany. However, it is also known that the very first BARs delivered had improperly tempered recoil springs, and had these guns been prematurely introduced during the summer of 1918, their employment may also have been problematic. One of the most significant accounts of the Chauchat's poor performance was from then-lieutenant Lemuel Shepherd, who was quoted saying:
I spent the last few weeks [of World War I] back in the hospital, but I’ll tell you one thing the boys later told me: The day after the Armistice they got the word to turn in their Chauchats and draw Browning Automatic Rifles. That BAR was so much better than that damned Chauchat. If we’d only had the BAR six months before, it would have saved so many lives.— 
As documented by World War I veteran Laurence Stallings (in The Doughboys, 1963) and by U.S. Divisional Histories, the Medal of Honor was awarded to three American Chauchat gunners in 1918: 1) Private Nels Wold (35th Division, 138th Infantry). 2) Private Frank Bart (2nd Division, 9th Infantry) and 3) Private Thomas C. Neibaur (42nd Division, 107th Infantry).
The CSRG 1915 Chauchat was operated with Balle D 8mm ammunition, which was standard for the French until 1932 when they went to an improved Balle N 8mm Lebel cartridge. The Chauchats, as they were retired, were not converted to the Balle N, and as a result, they do not operate well with the Balle N cartridge (French World War I weapons converted to Balle N will have a noticeable "N" markings). Only Balle D 8mm should be used in the Chauchat 1915. The quickest way to identify the different cartridge is that the Balle D bullet is brass colored while the Balle N is a shiny silver.
- Belgium: 6,935 (about half of them converted to 7.65×53mm Mauser)
- Kingdom of Bulgaria: Used captured examples
- Finland: France donated 5,000 guns during Winter War, but the weapons arrived too late to see action. The guns were used in Continuation War, mostly on the home front. After the war they were warehoused until 1955 and sold to Interarmco in 1959-1960.
- France: over 100,000 placed in front-line service at the infantry squad level between April 1916 and November 1918.
- Kingdom of Greece: 3,980
- Italy: 1,729
- Kingdom of Romania: 7,200
- Russian Empire: 6,100
- Soviet Russia: several Red Army units used Chauchats during Russian Civil War
- Kingdom of Serbia: 3,838
- Second Polish Republic
- Blue Army: 11,869 (about half of them converted to 7.92×57mm Mauser, a.k.a. 8mm Mauser)
- United States (1917–1918): 16,000 in 8mm Lebel plus 18,000 in US 30-06. The latter model (in US .30-06), being unsatisfactory, was never deployed in significant numbers.
A number of captured Chauchats were used by German front-line infantrymen in flamethrower units because they had no light machine guns of their own until the portable Maxim MG 08-15 light machine guns were issued to them during early 1917. The Belgian Army, which held a large sector of the Western Front, acquired nearly 7,000 Chauchats for its infantry. About half of those Belgian Chauchats were successfully converted to fire their standard 7.65 mm Mauser ammunition and were also fitted with better protections against mud and dust. Poland received French military assistance, notably infantry weapons and artillery, after World War I. As a part of those French weaponry transfers, Poland received over 2,000 Chauchats, which they used extensively during the Polish–Soviet War (1919–1921). After that war, Poland bought more of them, and their numbers reached 11,869, becoming a standard Polish light machine gun (the "RKM wz 15"). Eventually, about half of them were successfully converted during the mid-1920s to 7.92×57mm Mauser (or 8mm Mauser) and kept in service until the early 1930s. One remaining specimen of these Polish Chauchats in 8mm Mauser is preserved and visible in the MoD (Ministry of Defence) National Firearms Center which is a part of the Royal Armouries in Leeds, Great Britain. Later, in 1936–1937, some 2,650 Chauchats were sold abroad by Poland, some to Republican Spain and also on the international surplus weapon market. During the Winter War between Soviet Union and Finland, over 5,000 surplus Chauchats were donated by France to Finland, which was short on automatic weapons. These Chauchats remained virtually unused by the Finns during the Winter War, and many of them ended up on the American surplus weapon market in 1955, after having been imported by Interarms. Some remnants of the Chauchat machine rifle are reported to have appeared in the 1960s during the Vietnam War.
After the Armistice of November 11, 1918, the French military decided to upgrade to a more reliable light squad automatic weapon that would be designed and manufactured nationally. Experimentation was carried out at the Manufacture d'Armes de Châtellerault during the early 1920s, culminating in the adoption of the new light machine gun (in French: fusil-mitrailleur), the FM Mle 1924. Gas-operated, and using a new 7.5 mm rimless cartridge (that would evolve into the 7.5x54mm French), this finally corrected all the problems associated with the Chauchat, and was manufactured in large numbers (232,000) and widely used by the French Army until the late 1950s.
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