The Chauchat Wasn’t the Shittiest Machine Gun — But It Was Still Pretty Shitty
Blame the factories
by MATTHEW MOSS
Widely — and wrongly — vilified as one of the worst machine guns ever made, the Modele 1915 CSRG “Chauchat” entered French army service in 1915.
It was the first mass-produced automatic rifle to see military service anywhere in the world. But the poor quality of the gun’s manufacture lent it a reputation for failure that it could never shake.
Screws which came loose during firing. Some of the materials that the Gladiator and Sidarme factories used were inferior. The weapon’s sights were frequently misaligned. The 20-round magazine — which worked best with just 18 eight-millimeter rounds — fit poorly, allowing dirt into the gun’s action.
Despite this, Gladiator and Sidarme produced 250,000 Chauchats. It became one of the most common light machine guns of World War I. The Modele 1915 was select-fire, fired from an open bolt and used a long recoil system with a rotating bolt.
The problem with dirt getting into the action was one of the Modele 1915’s most damning flaws. Arguably worse was its poor cooling. Sustained rapid fire heated up the barrel shroud and prevented the recoiling barrel from cycling.
The Chauchat had an extremely low rate of fire — just 250 rounds per minute. The low firing-rate had the unintended positive effect of mitigating the weapon’s tendency to overheat, and also helped the gunner to stay on target while shooting on full automatic.
The Romanians and Belgians also used the Chauchat. U.S. forces arriving in Europe in 1917 lacked their own automatic rifles. Paris issued 16,000 Chauchats, chambered in eight-millimeter, to the Americans as stopgaps.
The French also produced a rechambered version for the Americans. The M1918 CSRG fired the U.S. .30-06 cartridge and boasted a superior magazine that held just 16 rounds.
But the Americanized Chauchats were at least as poorly made as the original French ones were. Their chambers’ dimensions were slightly off. Some sources also suggest that the .30-06, which was more powerful than the French eight-millimeter, strained the guns’ receivers, compounding their other problems.
Like the American BAR, the Chauchat was really an automatic rifle, not a light machine gun. It was well-suited to walking fire. An ammunition bearer/assistant gunner would trail behind the gunner and, in theory, load the weapon.
The idea was for the gunner to fire a round every other step. In practice, Chauchat teams probably fired in short bursts from cover while advancing from shell-crater to shell-crater.
The Chauchat saw significant post-war service with France, Belgium, Romania and Finland. While the Modele 1915 wasn’t a perfect weapon, it was the first of its kind.
And it’s certainly not the worst firearm ever made.
Originally published at Historical Firearms.