The Vault

The Worst Gun Ever

By popular internet acclaim, the Worst Gun Ever is officially the Chauchat light machine gun. Every time the question comes up, that’s what people say. I’m not saying they’re necessarily wrong – but everyone always uses the wrong photographic support material with that answer. See, there are two types of Chauchat light machine gun out there. You almost always see the standard French M1915 gun, with its distinctive half-moon magazine. That gun had a few early manufacturing problems (all resolved by the end of 1916), and was actually a decent gun crippled by terrible magazines and a hellish combat zone. The gun didn’t have a cover for the ejection port, and was susceptible to mud entering there. The mags were very fragile (if you haven’t handled one, you’ll be shocked by how flimsy they are) in addition to having big open holes for the obiquitous WWI mud. Grabbing the mag could easily dent the sides, or jam the follower in place until pressure was released. The springs weren’t very good, and effective combat units often only loaded them with 16 rounds.

All that being said, the gun itself was not too bad. Awful ergonomics, but the only real mechanical problem was the barrel heating and expanding enough to stick against the barrel shroud after firing several hundred rounds in quick succession (and overheating is an accepted issue in all air-cooled light machine guns). Take a decent condition Chauchat to the range with a good mag, and you are unlikely to have the gun give you any mechanical trouble. It may give you a good smack in the face, but that’s your own fault for not learning how to hold it properly (see also Ljungman thumb and Vickers knuckle).

M1918 CSRG "Chauchat" in .30-06 caliber: arguably the Worst Gun Ever

M1918 CSRG “Chauchat” in .30-06 caliber: arguably the Worst Gun Ever

The real contender for Worst Gun Ever is the US M1918 Chauchat redesigned for the .30-06 cartridge*. Development and production were rushed, and a large number of guns went out the door with incorrectly sized chambers. They were cut slightly too short, which meant that the neck of the cartridge case was jammed too tightly into the end of the chamber. Upon firing, the case would stick in the chamber and its rim ripped off by the extractor. The barrels also did not have extractor cuts in the barrel face, which didn’t help anything. They functioned so poorly that they rarely made it into combat, being exchanged for French 8mm guns before units went up to the lines (try finding a photo of the 1918 model in combat – it’s basically impossible).

So, is the M1915 CSRG Chauchat an example of great weapons design? No, not really. But it’s also not the complete failure that so many people would have you believe. I look forward to the day I can get behind one for some live firing on video, just to prove the point!

*It’s worth noting that even after WWI, a decent number of countries used the Chauchat. The Belgians came up with a fairly successful variant using the 7.65x54mm cartridge, which should settle any suggestion that the basic mechanism would be unable to handle the pressure of a straight-walled military round.

26 comments to The Worst Gun Ever

  • Jordy Greider

    The one thing I’ve heard about these guns that is bad other than the magazine and barrel problems is (however I could be wrong) that sometimes the guns were built with very loose tolerances, sometimes so loose that parts would start coming apart after a few hundred rounds. Also, how can it give you a smack in the face? What part of the gun will do that?

    • As Leszek alluded to, the part that will whack you is the butt end of the receiver tube. The training manuals for the Chauchat are quite adamant that when firing prone, you need to lay at an angle well away from the line of the bore, so that your face isn’t in contact with the end of the tube. As long as you have your cheek farther up the gun, you’ll be fine.

  • Robert Ogburn

    Re: “(see also Ljungman thumb and Vickers knuckle).”
    You will NEVER forget 20mm Lahti L39 Knuckles!

  • Leszek Erenfeicht

    I have also once fallen victim to a Chauchat prejudice, and was cured completely by none other than late Bob Farris, back there in January 2000. We took a Chauchat with us to the desert, with a 10-magazine chest, loaded to the brim with 200 rounds of 8 mm French. There was some jamming – yes, before I mastered the bloody thing good enough. There are two tricks to learn. First, just like Glock, Chauchat dispises the limp-wristed. This is a long-recoil gun, with seven pounds of bolt and barrel oscillating to and fro – you really have to tame it hard, or it will get the better of you, the choice is yours. Once I learned that, firing a magazine dump in one long burst proved no problem, both prone and (after several attempts and failures) from the hip, too. It is really awkward in hip firing, the grips are far too close to each other for that, and it is front-heavy (all that plus the god-damned deadweight flying to and fro inside). Chauchat does not go brrrrrp, it even doesn’t rat-ta-tat, it goes like chunka-chunka-chunka, 300 rpm, and cycles more than half its weight for each shot. You can imagine what that does to your best stance and sight picture :) Or no, you don’t – you have to experience that, no words would describe it fully. The other trick is to lie at a peculiar angle to the gun(look up Collector’s Grade ‘Honor Bound’ for illustration), so that the recoil spring nut is not placed against your cheekbone – or you’d get smacked. I earned my Chauchat spurs the hard way, the egg-sized bruise was still in place two days later at the airport, when I had to explain how I got it to the inquisitive border officer, who suspected I got involved in some brawl. Imagine the INS officer’s face expression at my story – priceless! The heat-jamming we also experienced. After just five magazines rapid fire, it just seized mid-cycle. Fortunately it fires from the open bolt, so no round was in chamber and we just cleared it, laid aside and proceed to the other guns, leaving it to cool down. Five minutes later, working on another gun, we heard a metallic KA-JIIINNNK (just like AR-15 bolt carrier going back to battery in semi auto, but 50 times louder) – barrel and bolt cooled down sufficiently to get relased from seizure. After it cooled down a bit more, we fired the other 100 rounds leaving 5 minutes cool-off time between magazines, and that done the trick, no more jams, mechanical, or thermal. Since that day I know that whoever called the FRENCH Chauchat a worst-gun-ever, probably never even handled one. After all, many thousands were manufactured during the war, and quite successfully used – and they wouldn’t, it they were so much flawed.
    And while we list the Chauchat foreign chamberings, let’s not forget the 7.9 mm x 57 German. Although the mythical “Polish Chauchats in 8 mm German” never existed, I have a photo of WW1 German Chauchat with a weird magazine and I have handled multiple 7.9 mm magazines (not unlike the American 30-06, but shorter enough not to allow loading a 30-06) with Cyrillic acceptance letters – which would make them Serbian (later Yugoslavian). Also, the Finnish LS-26 by Aimo Johannes Lahti was in fact a PIP Chauchat chambered in 7.62 mm x 54R Russian.

  • JohnB

    Finally, something I have been saying for years.

    The Chauchat is one of my favorite guns, and I eagerly await the day you do get your hands on one.

  • The Bryco M-59 is the worst gun ever made.
    I own the Saturday Night Specials forum. Bryco-Jennings-JimenezArms.com I get at least one email a day for m some owner who is looking for replacement parts, or for work to be done on their M-59. One email a day from a gun that has not been in production in over 15 years. Don’t get me wrong. I love Saturday Night Specials, but the M-59 sucked when it was a new design and it sucks even worse now.
    Dean from Idaho.

  • Rob

    I think that the reputation of “Worst Machinegun ever made” can be attributed to Ian Hogg. He was one of the most prolific writers about military weapons of the 20th century and has been published so many times, that almost every reference out there contains some of his insight. He hated the CSRG! His opinion is probably based on the 1918 model, but he never differentiated between the two in anything I have ever seen written about the guns by him. The problem is that readers seemed to take his word as gospel rather than form their own opinion.

    Most people have never handled, let alone shot one of these weapons. I have done both, but only with a 1915. I have never handled a 1918. I loved the gun. It was fun and a challenge. You do have to hold it right or watch out!

    The one thing to remember is: This was the first mass produced, mag fed squad automatic weapon put into service (I know about the Madsen 1914, not enough of them saw service until after WW1). The first of anything is going to have problems that need to be worked out. The major failing of the CSRG was the magazine hands down, I agree. The seizure problems could have probably been retrofitted out of the weapon given the need, but by the time the war ended, better designs were hitting the market and the CSRG was relegated to the rack for the most part.

    It is cost prohibitive, but I bet with today’s metallurgy, a decent mag could be made that would hold up to “GI” handling. That and bearing surfaces retrofitted into the receiver housing would probably increase the reliability of the weapon dramatically. There may not be a need, but I wish I had the deep pockets to build a modern one!

  • Jose

    My Grandfather carried a Chauchat in WW1. He didn’t care for it and said everytime the Germans came, it jammed.

    Fortunately, Pershing made sure all the doughboys had sidearms. Grandfather used his .45 extensively and said it never let him down, and saved his life.

    Imagine fighting your way to the German trenches having to baby that Chauchat as described above. Grandfathers artillery never made it to the battle at Argonne, and the Germans counter attacked and overran them. He managed to fight his way out, with his .45.

    I have no doubt how he would regard the Chauchat.

  • Magus

    It would be interesting to see what a .30-06 Chauchat with CORRECT chamber dimensions would’ve been like. After all, its magazine design looks like it’d dispense with the M1915 Chauchat’s major weakness.

  • Rich

    A modern contender for the title must be the SA80 light support weapon, thankfully it didn’t last long in service, it was so utterly crap we had to just bin it and buy a shit load of Minimi’s when the troops were sent into combat in Iraq, even the desk jockeys who bullshitted the SA80 rifle into service couldn’t deal with this pile of crap.

  • [...] long-gone, unlamented Chauchat light machine gun of World War One was faulted for many design and manufacture defects. One complaint that had the [...]

  • jammer397

    I wouldn’t say the Chauchat is the worst gun but it’s up there. The mag was total junk. It also had a great defects with the bolt, loose bi-pod, the stocks sometime break for no reason, and just jamming aftr firing a few rounds. I fired a Chauchat. I foired 3 rounds and it jammed. Cleared it and fired 1 and it jammed again. I was able to finish the mag but the last round jammed.

    It also takes a little more training for someone who has never fired a weapon before. I think I spent more cussing the at damn thing then firing it. However I guess this can be hit or miss on if you get a good one or not, That does happen. I would say it would be a better collector weapon than a really mass production military weapon. It also did pave the way for lighter machine gun like the BAR and the FG-42.

  • Martin woodhead

    The long silly weapon or crow cannon the light support weapon was a stupid idea badly implemented.
    A mag fed 30 round machine gun in 1980 really?
    Even with 5.56 after 10 magazines it became to hot to handle.
    Redeployed as a DMR except it wasnt any more long ranged than a standard rifle so a failure there.
    Its been cut up and made into carbines

  • gerard demaison

    I am the principal author of the Collectors Grade Publications book on the Chauchat. The editor used the name “Honour Bound” and I still wonder why. The title “The Chauchat Machine Rifle” would have brought more sales. Anyhow, I had several protracted experiences firing the 8mm Lebel Chauchat on a private range in Pennsylvania. That was long before I embarked on the costly 3 years of research it took to write and illustrate the book .The long and the short of it is : the 8mm Lebel Chauchat WORKS VERY WELL and at a steady pace with neat ejection of the empties. But the magazines must be clean, undeformed and with strong springs. Also the surplus 8mm Lebel ammunition available at the time was of excellent quality with live primers. Yes, the gun overheats after 4 or 5 full magazines in quick succession and then the barrel sleeve may seize momentarily then frees itself after a short while. the Chauchat is not a machine gun but a heavy but quite portable assault rifle with full auto capability. Comments invited. Gerard Demaison.

    • Hi Gerard – thanks for adding your comments. I have read through your book several times, and it’s a great source of information on the gun. I haven’t had the chance to shoot a Chauchat yet myself, but the more research I do the better the gun appears to be. Not perfect, but nothing like the current American legend. I’m really looking forward to getting my hands on one, and have seriously considered adding one to my own personal collection to shoot regularly.

      • gerard demaison

        Hi “Forgotten weapons” Editor
        If you do buy a Chauchat, I have a few remaining small bolt replacement parts that I would be pleased to offer to you as a gift since I am not getting any younger. I still own two French rifles designed by Ribeyrolles,Sutter and Chauchat : the Model 1917 which is fairly easy to find but getting pricey and a Model 1918. The Model 1918 works flawlessly and is easy to clean but the Model 1917 is temperamental and a real bear to take apart. I have fired these two guns only once for they are true Curios and Relics. Regards and congrats for a great editorial job. It is such a fascinating subject. Gerard.

  • Andrew Vincent

    Gerard, great work on your book. I have a copy and have really enjoyed reading it. Hopefully I could own a chauchat one day.

  • Normann

    Hi guys,
    all I can do is extend my usual congrats for the handful of information that seems to be of your knowledge on your side in the Atlantic rather than on European’s, hi.

    All in all I can only witness that those machine-guns were also used by French troops on WW1 Italian Front of Monte Grappa and one with half-moon magazine is exposed at the local museum.

    Anyway the history repeats itself, I also saw such a long-banana-magazine in one photo on the web, which I am now no longer able to trace: a 90 rounds magazine on a SKS handed by a Black Panther in the ’70s or there about…. uh !

    Good day, everybody.

  • Hoodoo

    Good write up on the CSRG’s. As for the 1915, the only one to see effective combat use by the French and American’s. Well, no one else had anything like them in any quantity AND they were pointing very much in the right direction.

  • Truman Powell

    The Marines used a Chauchat during the “Banana Wars”. A Marine who served in Haiti as an assistant machine gunner showed me the proper positioning and re-loading of the gun in combat. They were hunting “Papa Doc”.

    An article in American Rifleman (NRA) recognized the Marine’s weapons and a photo of the renowned Chesty Puller during his time in Haiti. The article didn’t have a picture of the Chatochat MG and I am glad to find one.

    It’s a bit of “fact” that the Marines get a piece of junk and make it operate successfully or even improve it(read “First to Fight” by Krulak). Personally, I much prefer the M-14 which, contrary to rumor, can be handled full auto — provied you’re scared and mad enough. I’ve never had a malfunction with mine however bad the conditions.

    Truman Powell
    Sergeant of Marines 1962/1968
    RVN 66/67

  • I am an amateur.
    1.My first contact with the Chauchat was in the 1960′s when I watched a Brazilian film “O’Cangaceiro”.
    In it a gang was followed by some sort of peasants’ militia. When they faced the bandits, they all ran away, except the commander who was holding the weapon in question II did not know its name at the time). After he fell down, he still kept his finger on the trigger and kept firing. Apart from the semi-circular magazine, it was the rate of fire that astonished me. I thought this was actually an automatic rifle.
    2. There was mentioned Polish Chauchat chambered for the Mauser 7.9 mm.
    I strongly doubt it – apart from Chauchats, Poles at the time were using other weapons of French manufacture (France being its chiief supplier of weapons after the First World War and during the war with the Soviet Russia)chambered for Lebel 8 mm – Hotchkiss MG, Lebel rifle to mention the most obvious.
    The rumour (I think) may be due to the fact, that when Poles finally decided to rationalize their machine weapons (As when the war was going on, beggars could not be choosers), they rechambered them (Browning Automatic Rifle as well as Browning 1919 Machine Gun) to the Mauser 7.9 mm, since there were German factories tooled for the production of 7.9 mm Mauser, which was then the calibre of the standard Polish rifle.
    Chauchats (I presume, because of their lightness – compared with Maxim Light Machine Gun 08/15) were used by the cavalry.
    I do not say it is impossible – but I think highly unlikely, that they would go to all the bother on account of the gun which had so dubious a reputation.
    All throughout the inter-war period, they (and other examples of untypical weapons of untypical calibre)were resold to other countries (perhaps also to Brazil).
    With ebst regards,
    MArek

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