Chauchat

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Chauchat Mle 1915 - 8x50mmR Lebel
Chauchat Mle 1918 - .30-06

The Chauchat, officially the Fusil Mitrailleur Modele 1915 CSRG ("Machine Rifle Model 1915 Chauchat, Sutter, Ribeyrolles and Gladiator", the four names referring to designers Louis Chauchat and Charles Sutter, and Paul Ribeyrolles, the general manager of the Gladiator company which produced the weapon) was a French light machine gun that went into service in 1915 with the French Army, and was used primarily during the First World War. The weapon was designed according to the same concept as the Browning Automatic Rifle, a "walking fire" gun that could be fired from the hip by an advancing soldier to suppress an enemy trench line. It was an extremely unusual design in that it used gas-assisted long recoil operation in a fully-automatic firearm, creating a very low rate of fire of 240rpm, and had a bizarre U-shaped 20-round magazine to accommodate the sharply tapered 8x50mmR Lebel round.

The Chauchat would later be known as one of the most ineffective machine guns ever produced, with the Mle 1918 ranked alongside the Ross Rifle as one of the worst weapons of WW1 and the Mle 1915 not much better. Due to what appears to have been a personal feud between the US Army Chief of Ordnance, General William Crozier, and Colonel Isaac Newton Lewis, inventor of the Lewis Gun, the US Army not only never adopted the Lewis Gun but actually confiscated Lewis Guns from Marines who had them. Further, General Pershing was extremely loath to deploy the new Browning Automatic Rifle until victory was certain, for fear that the Germans would copy it. Instead, the American Expeditionary Force were issued with Chauchats, initially 16,000 in 8mm Lebel but later 19,000 hastily manufactured chambered for .30-06, often with incomplete reaming and dimensional errors from rushed production: American inspectors at the Gladiator plant producing .30-06 Chauchats reported they had rejected over 40% of weapons produced. The far more powerful .30-06 cartridge did not in any way agree with the mechanism, which typically failed to extract the instant the action started to heat up after a few shots: this also happened with the standard 8mm Lebel variant, which would lock up with the bolt jammed in the rearward position after about 120 rounds of sustained fire due to thermal expansion of the aluminum radiator jacket immobilising the barrel (which had no forward assist), and not unlock until the weapon cooled down.

Far worse, though, were the dimensional errors in the .30-06 models. Due to incorrect Imperial-to-metric conversion, many of the guns that actually made it out of Gladiator's factory had still been produced with chambers that were too short. As a result, the case neck would end up jammed into the chamber and on cycling the extractor would either strip the rim or cause a complete case head separation, rendering the weapon useless. Even the Mle 1915 had manufacturing issues often requiring hand-finishing, to the point that parts from one Mle 1915 would not necessarily fit in another. These faults seem to have been unique to Gladiator: while there was another manufacturer, SIDARME which started assisting in manufacture in 1918, they are not associated with the more heinous aspects of the Chauchat. It probably helped that SIDARME was a steelworks while Gladiator was a bicycle factory.

Additional problems included the poorly designed 8mm Lebel magazines, made of thin metal that deformed easily and with an opening on the right-hand side (intended to allow the loader to monitor the remaining ammunition) which allowed mud and debris to enter freely, only exacerbated by the tendency to heavily oil the magazines to ensure proper feeding: magazine-related failures were responsible for some 75% of stoppages in the 8mm Lebel version. The .30-06 model had a closed-sided but still flimsy box magazine. All Gladiator-produced guns had sights incorrectly set low and to the right, the jarring recoil from the long recoil action, poor ergonomics and a loose bipod made the weapon inaccurate outside short bursts, using a normal cheek weld rather than lying at 45 degrees to the gun and resting on top of the action would result in a ridge tearing the shooter's cheek, and there was a tendency for the 8mm Lebel version to fail to feed on the first round if the magazine was fully loaded. To top all this off, it is unclear if US forces received any instructions in operating the Chauchat: no American service manual for the .30-06 version has ever been found. Almost all .30-06 Chauchats that reached the front line appear to have been thrown away by their operators, and very few ever made it that far, being traded for 8mm Lebel versions: images of the Mle 1918 being used in combat are practically non-existent.

It was replaced in French service by the Chatellerault Light Machine Gun, a weapon based on the Browning Automatic Rifle action, but the Chauchat turned up during the Spanish Civil War (one member of the International Brigades declaring it to be "the most outstandingly useless weapon I have ever seen" and saying his unit threw all of theirs away on the first day of action) and saw limited use in World War 2. The Belgians seemed fairly happy with their 7.65x54mm Argentine version (a redesign which featured a fully enclosed box magazine and a number of mechanical improvements) and used it well into the 1930s.

Contents

Specifications

(1915-1945)

  • Type: Light Machine Gun
  • Weight: 9.07 kilograms (20 lb)
  • Length: 1,143 millimeters (45 in)
  • Barrel length: 470 millimeters (18.5 in)
  • Cartridge: 8x50mmR Lebel (French), .30-06 (US), 7.92x57mm Mauser (Polish), 7.65x53mm Argentine (Belgian)
  • Action: Long recoil with gas assist
  • Rate of fire: ~240 rounds/min
  • Muzzle velocity: 630 m/s
  • Effective range: 200 m
  • Maximum range: 2000 m
  • Feed system: 20-round half-moon magazine (8mm Lebel, rarely loaded with more than 19 in combat), 20-round curved box magazine (.30-06)
  • Fire modes: Semi / auto


The Chauchat can be seen in the following:

Film

Title Actor Character Note Date
Ski Battalion (Za Sovetskuyu Rodinu) Red Army soldiers 1937
Fighting Film Collection No. 11 (Boyevoy kinosbornik No. 11) Soviet partisans 1942
Young, Violent, Dangerous (Liberi armati pericolosi) Seen in Lucio's collection 1976
Assassin of the Tsar Seen in the guard's room 1991
Capitaine Conan French soldiers 1996
The Lost Battalion Daniel Caltagirone Pvt. Phillip Cepeglia 2001
George Calil Pvt. Lowell R. Hollingshead
Arthur Kremer Pvt. Abraham Krotoshinsky
A Very Long Engagement French soldier 2004
Battle of Warsaw 1920 Polish soldier 2011

Television

Show Title / Episode Actor Character Note Air Date
Lock 'n Load With R. Lee Ermey (Episode 1 "Machine Gun Educations") . . .  ?

Video Games

Game Title Mods Notations Release Date
Fallout Tactics . Cannot be fired, appears as an easter egg 2001
Battlefield: 1918 2004
Battle of Empires : 1914-1918 Chauchat 2014
Verdun "Fusli Mitrailleur Mle 1915 CSRG Chauchat"
"US CRSRG .30-06 M1918 Chauchat"
Latter version incorrectly shown as a functional firearm 2015
Battlefield 1 Chauchat "They Shall Not Pass" DLC 2016

Anime

Film Title Character Note Date
Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood Amestrian soldier 2009 - 2010
The Mystic Archives of Dantalian Suitor 2011



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