The Hotchkiss Portative Made For a Decent Tank Gun
The trick was making it shorter
Laurence Benét and Henri Mercié designed the Hotchkiss Portative light machine gun at the turn of the 20th century. It was a gas-operated, air-cooled, select-fire weapon that fired from an open bolt.
A number of nations adopted the weapon, including France, Belgium, the United States and Britain. The United States adopted the lightweight Hotchkiss as the Benet-Mercie machine rifle, M1909. The British experimented with issuing the Hotchkiss to cavalry units before the outbreak of World War I. When London finally officially adopted the gun in 1916, it was for a very different purpose — to arm tanks.
At right, Whippet Medium Tanks in 1918. Imperial War Museum photo
The British mounted the Hotchkiss on a variety of medium and heavy tanks, including the Mark I, Mark V and the Whippet Medium Tank. The French also used the Hotchkiss Portative, chambered in eight-millimeter Lebel, on some of their own tanks.
The tank-optimized Hotchkiss Mk.I* featured a brass pistol grip replacing the larger wooden butt stock. This shortened the weapon’s overall length to 92.5 centimeters. The Mk.I* fed from a flexible belt made of links of three-round strips. It could also feed from the standard Hotchkiss 30-round strip.
A crewman release a carrier pigeon from a Hotchkiss-armed Mark V tank in 1918. Imperial War Museum photo
Some sources suggest the British Hotchkiss guns were made by the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield. However, it’s more likely they were built at the Hotchkiss factory in Coventry.
The British maintained the Hotchkiss Mk.I and Mk.I* during the interwar period, and the Home Guard still had them during World War II.