Early Selfloading Rifle Mania Continues: The Chauchat C6 Semiautomatic, with Forgotten Weapons

The first nation to begin serious work on the problem of an infantry rifle that could load itself between shots was none other than the then-military superpower of France. In 1886, the French revolutionized the infantry weapon by introducing the smokeless-power, repeating Lebel rifle, and no sooner was the rifle in the hands of the troops, than were French designers and planners figuring out what to replace it with. By 1900, the French autoloader program had been kicked into high gear, with designers Etienne Meunier, Rossignol (first name appears to be lost), and Louis Chauchat, among others, all working towards the goal of a practical selfloading weapon that met the French requirements.

The story carries on from there in Jean Huon’s excellent book Proud Promise, but today we’ll be looking in detail at a surviving example of one of these early test rifles, a C6 by Chauchat, courtesy of Forgotten Weapons and Rock Island Auction:

Image below, courtesy of Rock Island Auction:

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One of the reasons these early French selfloaders are so tantalizing is that many were lost during the Second World War due to bandits and partisans stealing weapons from the French arsenal collections. This C6 sports a curious repair, a glued clean break similar to the classic “duffel cut” that GIs would make on trophy weapons so that they could fit into their duffel bags. Was this C6 captured from the collection, and then found by a liberating GI who cut it and took it back with him to the US? It seems likely, and if this is true then the rifle has seen quite a lot for an experimental trials piece!

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 is also the author of the original web serial Heartblood, which is being updated and edited regularly. He can be reached via email at nathaniel.f@staff.thefirearmblog.com.


  • Sasquatch

    If only I hand the funds to collect such firearms.

  • The_Champ

    There is something really fascinating about the pre-WW1, and WW1 autoloaders. Maybe it is the fact that they were about 30 years and 2 entire world wars ahead of the curve.

  • DanGoodShot

    I’m probably completely wrong. but that little lever looks like it relieves magazine spring pressure for easier reloads?

  • roguetechie

    Agreed completely,

    Other than modern military arms, the only guns that really tempt me are these early guns and the Johnson rifle/lmg/fg-42

  • valorius

    Of all the available WWI era weapons, if i had to go to war back then i’d want a 7.63mm Mauser C96 (semi auto version) with 10″ artillery variant barrel, 20rd box magazine and shoulder stock.

    Heck with modern optics and soft point ammunition that combo would still be perfectly serviceable to this very day.

    The sporting carbine model with custom optics that Ian featured on his site a few months ago fills my heart with I WANT!

    • Iggy

      I’m relatively sure there were no C96’s with removable magazines in WWI, the artillery luger with stock and trommelmag would scratch the same itch though. 32 rounds and 9mm for your trouble too.

      • valorius

        32 rounds is even better. 🙂 I’d actually prefer the 7.63mm variant due to reduced recoil and increased muzzle energy/velocity, but 9mm is not a deal breaker either.

  • The_Champ

    That sad moment when, on a quiet weekend, a post about a truly interesting and unheard of rifle gets less than a dozen comments, while the post above it, which is yet another long winded discussion repeating the same boring points about an AR derivative possibly replacing an AR gets hundreds of comments 🙂

  • FloridaFits

    Lost all respect for Mr. Pony Tails With the Pipe Stem Arms when he made reference to the Allies having an easier go at fighting in Europe than the Reds did in The USSR.

    • Rob

      Was he wrong?

      • FloridaFits

        If you have to ask then you never had any family members slogging their way to Berlin.

        • tts

          Your family member’s actions and personal tribulations during the war are irrelevant to the question though.