Troubleshooting a Chauchat Machine Rifle

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The Chauchat Machine Rifle, formally designated the Fusil Mitrailleur Modele 1915 CSRG, has come to be widely regarded as one of the worst firearms ever made. The rifles made for the French military during WWI were chambered for the standard 8mm Lebel, but the weapon got its reputation as a stinker in American hands, where the “Automatic Rifle, Model 1915 (Chauchat)” made by the Gladiator bicycle factory experienced numerous issues, specifically with extraction of fired cases from chambers that often were not properly reamed for the US .30-06 caliber. What does a failure to extract do to a long-recoil weapon like the Chauchat? The answer lies in the video embedded below:

YouTuber SitsinShadow attributes the malfunctions his CSRG experienced to a possibly improperly reamed chamber, but another explanation is that the barrel shroud and barrel may be experiencing too much friction, possibly due to heat. Whatever the cause, it’s clear that a stuck case in the CSRG results in a gun that’s locked up with little hope for remedy. The ejection port is blocked by the retracted barrel, and the gun likely cannot be disassembled in that position. If the case is stuck firm, there’s likely to be little a machine rifleman could do to get the Chauchat back in action. Fortunately, the chance of a severe stuck case is minimized with the aggressively tapered 8mm Lebel round, but it’s not difficult to see that the much straight .30-06 caliber could turn an annoyance into a total show-stopper. Add to that the problem of improperly reamed chambers in the .30-06 variants greatly increasing the chance of a severely stuck case, and it’s difficult to argue with the doughboy’s apocryphal assessment of the Chauchat as “the worst gun ever made”.

 

Thanks to Daniel for the tip.



Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He can be reached via email at nathaniel.f@staff.thefirearmblog.com.


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  • iksnilol

    But the Chauchat in the original chambering? Is it bad?

    • May

      That depends mostly on whether you think of bad and good by the standards of 2015 or 1915.

      • ostiariusalpha

        Even in 1915, it was bad. It was second rate even at mowing down Berbers & spear-wielding tribesmen, much less trench warfare. It’s light weight was the only real attraction, which is not entirely inconsiderable when your desperate for mobile firepower, but it was a Faustian bargain when you had to gamble on when (not if) it would malfunction.

        • Ian McCollum

          Are you saying this from personal experience?

          • ostiariusalpha

            Do you mean have I fought in a trench with the damned thing? No. Butchered restive Africans with the contraption? Hardly. I do understand basic weapon design though, and the Chauchat was awful from a mechanical operation perspective. Things it lacked: ordinary dust resistance, screws that don’t back out, a bipod that doesn’t rattle all about when firing on full auto, modestly durable magazines, ability to clear malfunctions from overheating or debris, ease of repair, general parts quality or interchangeability, and dependable sights. The long recoil system also meant that it was harsh on the operator given it’s light weight, and difficult to keep on target in even the most general sense. Light machine guns are supposed to have the benefit of only requiring a small two man team to operate, but the Chauchat tended to need a four man team like a medium or general machine gun. They would have been far better off developing cheap submachine guns for their infantry’s walking fire.

          • You know he’s not. He’s repeating the same old stuff that’s been said in un-researched books for the last 100 years. Too bad many just spew out the same dribble that’s been said over the years instead of actually finding out. The Japanese military arms have also suffered from the same often repeated quips about them that have no supporting facts.

          • ostiariusalpha

            So you have proof this is all untrue? The barrel doesn’t lock up when overheated? The original magazines weren’t flimsy crap? The late war manuals did not advise the soldiers to restrict their use to burst fire?

          • Bal256

            He’s repeating common knowledge that has risen from testimonies from people who have experienced it. There is also literally a video on this page showing the gun malfunctioning multiple times with no excess amounts of dirt and mud in it, and using the 8mm Lebel round as designed. The Japanese pistol going off in Patrick’s hands while he’s clearing a malfunction (of which there are multiples of) is also strong evidence of the low quality of Japanese weapons. Also the fact that Japanese weapon designs the French Chauchat design was largely abandoned after the wars is a pretty good indication of what the militaries of the time thought of their performance. Unless you are referring to the legendary steel katanas folded over 1000 times used to fight the dishonorubu weak american gaijin go home.

          • There are many crappy designed guns in the world. The problem is that many have gotten so much misinformation written about them because the people who originally wrote the information had no experience and did not research the material. Unfortunately these same people are elevated to be experts on guns they have never seen, taken apart or shot. How many times have you read that Japanese Type 96/99 LMGs need to have their rounds oiled? Or that either of those guns are based on the Bren/ZB26? It has also been written that hey needed special low powered ammo. All the above was incorrect but is taken as gospel because of who wrote it. Unfortunately newer authors write the same things about the guns and site the original author that made the mistake as a credible source. The problem is there are too many people putting out unresearched nonpear checked garbage. Mainly this is due to laziness. The number of people that point out that the Japanese type 94 pistol can fire if you push the transfer bar on the side thus making it a POS fail to realize the Luger can be fired the same way yet no one mentions that. The number of pistols with external trigger bars is vast (example:Beretta almost all late models )

            Remember, many of these guns are 100 years old and have been surplussed at least once if not multiple times. Original ammo is rarely available in the same loading. Springs are weak, tolerances are no longer in spec. The fact that the guns still work is a tribute to the engineering in the design. When a G36 is 100 years old how well will it work assuming the plastic has not UV degraded into uselessness. Will the plastic magazines still function of chip apart every time some one places a round in it so they are using a cobbled together magazine from another gun. Just think May of 2016 all individually owned machine guns will be a minimum of 30 years old. Many of those 30 year old guns were made from kits from guns that are 50 years older than that.

            BTW The Chauchat was used with good success up into WW2 in other calibers like 8mm mauser.

            I think what Ian was trying to point out and I kind tried to be more pointed about it, unless you have definitive experience with the arms I would refrain from posting about them. Certainly certain features can be easily picked as bad but operational history is extremely lacking to most people other than by past on proverbs that rarely are based on firm facts. The French like the Chauchat and used it to good effect. Remember when it was introduced all guns were a far cry from the quality and design that they are today but as in my other post I showed how the much vaunted AK-47/FNFAL/M14 could be ruled a failure using much of the same criteria that the Chauchat is declared a turd. I collect rare machine guns and I shot them a lot. I have learned more from hands on than most authors that write specialty books on the guns will ever since most will never see a gun much less hold it/ shoot it and field strip it. Many of the big name “XXXX guns of the world” books I pretty much completely discount being worth anything other than possibly a picture since the number of errors I have found in the few guns that I know very well is astounding. Too bad there are not books like the Collectors grade publications by people like Blake Stevens, Folke Myrvang, James L Ballou, Dolf Goldsmith and others. I would love to write books on guns like they do but after reading them I am over whelmed in the amount of research they have to do to generate such volumes.

            Sorry for rambling but I’m in the hospital on pain meds and I’m bored.

          • ostiariusalpha

            The French did not like the Chauchat. They tolerated it because even it was a step up from the crapfest that was the Mle 1886 M93. Othais covered that wundergun in a video for The Great War channel on YouTube.

          • Tassiebush

            The Japs had some stinkers but so did a lot of countries. It’d be very easy to pour scorn on American weapons if we went out of our way to focus excessively on the Reising and we could do the same with the British if we focus on the build quality and reliability of the STEN. The Japs also had some very good weapons. The Arisaka rifles weren’t bad and the type 96 and 99 LMG were very good and the grenade discharger/knee mortar was a brilliant weapon. I think it’d be fair to say that it was their less important weapons that really sucked.

          • ostiariusalpha

            No one in their right mind is going to defend the Reising. I don’t think even Mongo would. And if more than a few Imperial Japanese officers blew their fingers off while trying to execute Chinese civilians, that seems like the Nambu did it’s job right.

          • Tassiebush

            yeah actually fair point! In that context we can’t argue the Nambu sucked at all. It’s the effective ones that did.

          • marathag

            Reising would have been fine for it’s other job: rare used, Guards watching over prisoners.

    • Jolly

      Yes. Terrible. Even If the correct ammunition was available, all the dirt and muddy conditions one would encounter in WW1 trench warfare would get into that open magazine and cause even more problems.

    • Iggy

      It was definitely a lot better than in .30-06, but it seems to have suffered from bad manufacturing standards, so when it was properly made it worked alright withing the inherent problems with design (open magazine, screwed if it did jam, etc), but when rushed for war time it didn’t have the tolerances to remain satisfactorily reliable.

  • From what I have read about the Chauchat in its original chambering, it was well liked by its contemporaries. It may be that there were few firearms like it at the time so it would impress most folks regardless, but obviously many problems stem from the open magazine + trench warfare. One needs to remember that trench warfare was an entirely new concept that was conceived after the Chauchat was designed, and by all accounts it worked well in trials and in conditions found in previous conflicts (the old “you are always ready for the last war you fought” certainly applies).

    • ostiariusalpha

      They had plenty of fieldwork and trench warfare in the American Civil War. The Europeans didn’t take much notice, much to the French army’s chagrin when they took up obsolete defensive squares against Prussian artillery and got massacred.

      • Grindstone50k

        Wait, who the hell forms square vs artillery? It’s a defensive posture to counter cavalry. You spread out in response to arty. Psh, these guys obviously never played Total War.

        • In the early stages of WWI, there were still men who charged on horseback with pikes, cuirassiers, lots of mobility, etc.
          We think of trench warfare when we think about WWI, but it is fascinating to read about the early part of the war. There were traditional charges, rapid advancements, guys wheeling maxims across the battlefield, and so on.

          • Grindstone50k

            And they all paid a hefty price, too.

          • All sides did, trenches or not.
            I cannot imagine the physical and mental toll being involved in that conflict would have on a man.

          • Tassiebush

            And it was significantly more mobile on the Eastern front and in the Middle East. Mounted infantry were certainly a significant part of tearing up the Ottoman empire.

          • ostiariusalpha

            Except in Gallipoli, as I’m sure you’re aware.

          • Tassiebush

            Yep Gallipoli was certainly the wasteful exception. But in a lot of other spaces mounted infantry covered large areas in warfare much more like we saw in the second world war.
            I actually reckon a gun like the Chauchat in 8mm Lebel might’ve been more effective in that context however the Lewis would always be preferable.

          • Tassiebush

            The charge of Light Horse at the Battle of Beersheba makes for interesting reading. certainly contrasts with the trench warfare narrative we’re used to. Part of their attack was successful using handheld bayonets from horseback! https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Beersheba_(1917)#Light_Horse_charge

      • Eh, our Civil War was a bit different. While men certainly did dig in and entrench themselves to fortify their positions, you had successful charges and it was common to force the opposition to abandon their fortifications. It wasn’t until WWI that mobility could not match firepower.

        • ostiariusalpha

          It was more common for those charges to end in a bloody rout for the attackers even in the Civil War. Successfully taking a defensive fieldwork depended on successful artillery degradation of those defenses and/or cutting off resupply, then using wave after wave of men to use up the defender’s ammunition.

          • Mark

            If only Kent Lomont were still alive! He would have the meaningful opinion! I miss him.

        • Paul Dame

          The scores of Union dead at Fredricksburg and Cold Harbor (and Pickett’s Virginians at Gettysburg) might disagree.

          • Your right. No successful charges ever uprooted the opposing force in the Civil War.

          • Paul Dame

            I didn’t say that and apologize if I came off too snarky as a new commenter. I simply pointed out high profile examples of charges failing to dislodge well-positioned defenders notwithstanding the élan with which the
            attack was pressed home. Missionary Ridge near Chatanooga (where Arthur MacArthur won the Medal of Honor) and other examples showed that charges could succeed, even against heavily fortified positions. My sense, albeit not researched thoroughly, is that many successful charges were against hastily constructed field works or troops in the open (think 20th Maine at Gettysburg) rather than well-prepared bastions or other defensive positions. In contrast, the protracted Petersburg siege (including the Battle of the Crater) gave a horrifying preview of WW1 trench warfare.

      • Don Ward

        I assume you’re talking the Franco-Prussian War and not World War 1.

    • Grindstone50k

      Having an open magazine period is a bad idea, regardless of the form of warfare (except maybe space warfare).

      • Depends on the execution. The Lewis gun had an open magazine and was well liked.

        • ostiariusalpha

          The Lewis worked well despite having an open magazine; it still would have greatly benefitted from a closed mag.

          • marathag

            But at least the Lewis mag was on top, away from the dirt, rather than resting on it

          • ostiariusalpha

            Can’t argue with that.

          • Chauchat’s prototype design that evolved into the M1915 had the magazine well on top of the receiver. I have to wonder if it wouldn’t have been the better choice for production.

          • marathag

            Can’t see it working worse.
            I did see one Chauchat in 8mm run perfect years ago. Guy said ammo was the main problem, think he said everything sized to minimum and a spray of dry lube on the cases before loading into the mags

          • ostiariusalpha

            Probably one of the SIDARME guns, they were better made than the more common Gladiator Chauchats. Even a badly designed gun can benefit from a manufacturer that uses quality assurance. Did he run it full auto, or just burst fire?

          • marathag

            rock and roll.

            everybody watching expected jams, but he did like 5 mags in a row.

            Lot of preconceived ideas flew away, seeing it run as good as a BAR

          • ostiariusalpha

            Too bad no one got it on video, though reputedly 5-6 mags was the point at which a clean Chauchat would start locking up from metal expansion.

          • marathag

            He did say, ‘time for a rest’ 🙂

    • Don Ward

      Well, the point is that folks are missing, it wasn’t designed for trench warfare. NOBODY wanted trench warfare in World War 1. It was designed for mobile warfare. Hence the accoutrements enabling it to be fired from the hip and the concept of “walking (marching) fire”. The Chauchat was meant to break the deadlock of trench warfare, get soldiers out of the trenches and into No-Mans land where they’d advance under a wave of fire.

    • snmp

      Lewis MG have alredy the mag open magazine

  • Rock or Something

    Cepheglia: “This is a French Cho-Cho…”
    Rosen: “Chauchat.”
    Cepheglia: “…It’s a piece of garbage, don’t worry about it.”
    Rosen: “Leave it to Henchman and Hollingshead.”

    -“The Lost Battalion”

  • Vitsaus

    Just about everything I’ve ever read has reported that the weapon was awful. They were issued all over the world after WWI, from French colonies to home guard types in WWII and always the same bad reputation. I’m not sure it was just trench warfare that was to blame.

      • ostiariusalpha

        That’s a lot of lipstick Ian was trying to hide the pig behind, but it still looked like garbage when he fired it. He claimed it could go 200 rounds on automatic before locking up, which is ridiculous, and that all the problems with milsurp guns are due to wear. Really? There are plenty of WWI Lewis guns that still fire reliably, and most have probably seen considerably more use than any Chauchat. Chauchats don’t malf because they’re old, they fail because they’re Chauchats. You can cherry pick through the SIDARME guns for one that works well enough not to fail in good weather for a few mags, but that’s not proof that the overwhelming majority weren’t badly made junk.

        • Dude, it’s ok to be wrong.

          • ostiariusalpha

            Perhaps. Though you should delay the proclamation of my error till you’ve actually shown that you can fire a couple hundred rounds in succession through the gun without it seizing up.

  • Mogno

    It looks like the trio for the barrel to bolt locking might be out of time due to wear and is not releasing the barrel and thus extracting the round. It seems to be almost in time but might be at that wear stage where when enough looseness come together it will not trip the barrel to finish its forward movement. This can appear to be an extraction issue though its an issue of the lock timing.

    • Mongo

      that’s what I get for posting on pain killers.

      It looks like the trip for the barrel to bolt lock might be out of
      time due to wear and is not releasing the barrel and thus extracting the
      round. It seems to be almost in time but might be at that wear stage
      where when enough looseness come together it will not trip the barrel lock to
      finish its forward movement. This can appear to be an extraction issue
      though its an issue of the lock timing.

  • C.

    Future TFB TV episode?

    • Probably not, but I believe Ian may have something coming up.

  • Jeff Heeszel

    Seems much more reliable than the Chiappa M1-9 Carbine. I wish I was joking.

  • Tassiebush

    It’d be fascinating to see if the captured German ones in 8mm Mauser performed any better. They had their own mags and clearly would have a chamber reamed at different factory so perhaps the function would be quite different?

  • Tassiebush

    from watching the video I’m leaning towards the return sping issue or barrel shroud idea. If it was a washing machine I’d be looking for a lost sock jammed up against the barrel lol…
    but chamber issues could be the cause. Perhaps the bolt head isn’t camming fully out of battery at every cycle (made quite an assumption there, that’s how it locks).
    Whatever the cause I really hope they were able to fix it because it seems tantalisingly awesome when it works! I hope they can do a followup video of it working.

  • Pete Sheppard

    I once heard it mentioned that the gun was pretty reliable as long as all parts were original, but that parts didn’t interchange well among guns. Is there any truth to this?

    • Ian McCollum

      No, the parts interchange between guns just fine.

      • Pete Sheppard

        Thanks! Looking forward to a Chauchau video. 🙂

      • ostiariusalpha

        No, they goddamn don’t! Even simple parts like the extractors don’t exchange well from one gun to the other.

  • Joe

    Isn’t there somebody that people can send these guns to and make them actually work? Granted these guns are a turd to begin with but I can’t image there isn’t somebody out there that can get the chambering right on a historical firearm like this. Anybody??

    • See Ian’s new video on full 30. I posted it above.

      • Ian McCollum

        Bob Naess.

  • ostiariusalpha

    1) I’m not not talking about dust covers, I’m talking about the capacity to not malfunction in the presence of moderate amounts of airborne dust, such as could be found on any battlefield. Which the Chauchat will fail in long before any of the guns you’ve mentioned.
    2) None of those other machine guns in any way have the Chauchat’s tendency to self disassemble.
    3) Both the Lewis and BAR have awful bipods, but they are miracles of ergonomics & convenience compared to the Chauchat.
    4)Well, duh, they needed an armorer to work on the guns. The parts were perfectly interchangeable within the models on all the Maxim based guns though. The parts between a BSA and Savage Arms’ Vickers machine gun are not compatible, but a BSA can interchange with another BSA all day; same with the Savage models. They were quite proud of that fact, and it was prominently mentioned in the Nov. 25th, 1916 issue of Scientific American. The Chauchat, on the other hand, needed more than just a headspace check when dealing with it’s mechanical clearances. It was basically junk if any parts broke.
    5) The M14E2 is crap as a Squad Automatic, Ian of Forgotten Weapons covered it in a video. The RPK is in an entirely different league from the Chauchat in usability.
    6) The sights on other WWI machine guns are not nonadjustably fixed onto the damn ground like the Chauchat’s, so that you end up plowing rounds into the soil in front of the opposing side instead of making effective hits. I’d take any Century-mangled AK sight over them.
    7) No First World country has ever managed to match the Chauchat mags for uselessness.
    8) The AKM and FAL are models of reliability, and the M14 is nice to look at, at least. I can’t say the same for the Chauchat even on it’s best day.
    9) The Chauchat has a good reputation nowhere but your own mind. It is an abomination of design & execution, and has never received half the vitriol it deserves for all the brave men that died because they weren’t issued something better.

  • Robert Rodriguez

    It looks like the driving force of the barrel moving forward is not enough to break the seal created by the expanded case, something that doesn’t seem like a problem with the recoiling mass of a bolt that ejects the case when the barrel has stopped moving and the bolt continues backwards like most contemporary designs. I guess that initial extraction is rather poor on the bolt in addition to the case not breaking the seal before the barrel heads home? Could a lightly spiral fluted chamber help with extraction?

  • Hudson

    I remember reading a interview of a WWI Veteran, and when asked about the Chauchat he said ” Lousy gun, but if you had a broken one, the parts were real handy for making a still”

  • Big R

    I never saw anything made in France that was worth a crap! This so called weapon just proves it! It’s nothing but a piece of scrap iron!

    • Deanimator

      I had a St. Etienne marked Walther PPK/S. It was a perfectly fine pistol. I wish I still had it.

    • marathag

      I’m very satisfied with my .32 MAB.

      They did a great job in coping Browning.

    • ostiariusalpha

      The MAS-49/56 is actually a decent battle rifle, and the MAT-49 is an excellent submachine gun.

    • Tom

      The problem with the French is not that they make bad weapons but rather that they put too much faith in them as some sort of super weapon which alone will convey some advantage and win the war. They did this in the Franco Prussian War with the Mitrailleuse (which failed mainly due to poor placement and accurate German artillery) then they came up with the Label rifle which made everything else obsolete overnight and was in turn made obsolete just a short while later. Come WWII the French placed too much faith in the Maginot Line which held the German advance but could do nothing when the German simply went round it.

  • PaulG

    I thought I read somewhere that one of the core problems with this was that virtually none of the parts were interchangeable due to the ‘hands only’ manufacturing process for the weapon. That and the open slots on the mag which. in the muck of WWI battlefields, clogged quite easily.

  • Tassiebush

    Watched it just then. It was wonderful to see the other side of the story.

  • Zebra Dun

    I recall reading an article about the Chauchat by an old dough-boy, he related it was simple to keep in operation during marching fire in the assault, when your left foot hit the ground you fired, when your right foot hit the ground you cleared the jam, Left, right, left right, shoot clear, shoot clear.
    Wrap it in a Army blanket until you have to use it was the key.

  • MR

    Interesting to note the rearward position of the vertical foregrip necessitated by the magazine position. Had the Chauchat stayed in service longer, those using it would have no doubt developed the “Chauchat C-clamp Grip”.

  • MR

    I didn’t realize there’d be Chauchat fanbois around.

  • Cal.Bar

    Troubleshooting a Chauchat? I thought that WAS the trouble. You’re trying to shoot a Chauchat!

  • strunberg

    Beats the heck out of buying a mac-10.