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:
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!