.30-06 M1918 American Chauchat – Doughboys Go to France

When the US entered World War One, the country had a grand total of 1,453 machine guns, split between 4 different models. This was not a useful inventory to equip even a single division headed for France, and so the US had to look to France for automatic weapons. In June 1917 Springfield Armory tested a French CSRG Chauchat automatic rifle, and found it good enough to inquire about making an American version chambered for the .30-06 cartridge. This happened quickly, and after testing in August 1917, a batch of 25,000 was ordered. Of these, 18,000 were delivered and they were used to arm several divisions of American troops on the Continent.

Unfortunately, the American Chauchat was beset by extraction problems. These have today be traced to incorrectly cut chambers, which were slightly too short and caused stuck cases when the guns got hot. It is unclear exactly what caused the problem, but the result was that most of the guns were restricted to training use (as best we can tell today), and exchanged for French 8mm Chauchats when units deployed to the front. Today, American Chauchats are extremely rare, but also very much under appreciated for their role as significant American WWI small arms.


  1. One of the AEF units that were verifiably issued the .30-06 Chauchat was the 332nd Infantry Regiment, stationed on the Italian Front, who very likely used it in combat at Vittorio Veneto at the end of the war. I suspect that proportionally more .30-06 guns were issued to American troops in Italy, since the boys on the Western Front could make much greater use of the 8mm Lebel models due to shared logistics with the French.

    Incidentally, the French also insisted on the use of 8mm Chauchats by the small contingent of Italian divisions fighting on the Western Front, probably for similar reasons.

    • Almost got to shoot French version. Owner couldn’t get it to fire, I checked the ejected round had a small groove around the neck. Checked the empires found some missing a neck, had a jammed neck in the breech! He couldn’t get it cleared so nice picture, no shooting. Did fire a belt fed M16 mg at this particular shoot!

    IN THE
    available at https://gutenberg.org/ebooks/68333 gives following user impression The training schedules were on hand again, of course. Chauchats were issued to replace the Lewis guns of the English sector; much to the disgust of the auto riflemen, who had worked so hard learning the Lewis, and found the Chauchat but a crude affair comparatively.

  3. “(…)US had to look to France for automatic weapons(…)”
    There was also another French design found fit by U.S.M.C and ordered into production but due to circumstances never produced, as https://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USN/ref/MG/I/MG-3.html#berthier put it
    In 1916 Berthier, who had risen to the rank of general in the French Army, came to the United States to develop the weapon further, more by refinement of components for the purpose of being mass-produced than anything else, as the operating principles remained the same. On its first official trial by the United States Army in May 1917 the gun did not meet requirements. On 29 June of the same year, the Marine Corps after a very comprehensive test, reported it suitable for its use. The Ordnance Board tested the weapon again shortly after the Marine Corps made its report and this later Army board concurred with the Marines, who had again conducted trials that resulted in another favorable report.

    The Army then ordered, on 2 October 1917, the manufacture for issue of 5,000 of these guns chambered for our caliber .30/06 infantry cartridge, provided the order did not conflict with other machine rifle production that was being planned. It was found that the Hopkins & Allen Co. of Norwich, Connecticut, was under contract by foreign interests that controlled the Berthier manufacturing rights. It was estimated that the firm could start producing within 8 months, as it was 80 percent tooled up. Contracts were given for the Army’s 5,000 guns. An additional 2,000 were ordered by the Navy for the Marine Corps, and given the designation Mark IV. This division of Hopkins & Allen had been incorporated, after receiving the contract, under the name of the United States Machine Gun Co. But financial and other complications arose and the parent firm was forced to drop all plans for manufacturing the weapons. As no other source was available that could give any promise of delivery within a reasonable time, all contracts were canceled. Consequently the guns were never manufactured in the United States, except for a few handmade pilot models.

  4. The Chauchat is the great-grandfather of the assault rifle, in my opinion. While intended to be run by a three man crew, it could be operated successfully by one man. Last time I was there, the Virginia War Memorial Museum in Newport news, has an M1918 30-06 on display.

    • Been sitting here with my patented Nathan Fillion “speechless meme” expression on, wanting to object… And, being unable to really articulate any.

      I think you may have rather more of a point than many would like to acknowledge.

      • What I’ve never understood is that, since the U.S. Army had been trained on and used the Benet-Mercie’ M1909 automatic rifle (aka Hotchkiss Portative in .30-06), why didn’t the French command or whoever simply issue the AEF Portatives in 8 x 58mmR?

        Everybody would have been using the same gun, with the same ammunition, solving all the supposed problems.

        In Hatcher’s Notebook, Gen. Hatcher “noted” that in 1916-17 he was training machine gunners at Ft. Hood on both the M1909 and the Lewis gun before, during, and after the Punitive Expedition. The M1909 was the standard LMG during the Mexican operation. He said that when they were done, the gunners pretty much unanimously preferred the Hotchkiss to the heavier and more complex Lewis.

        Also, consider that the Japanese used Hotchkiss-type MGs in everything from 6.5 x 50mmSR on up to 13.2 x 99mm right through VJ Day and nobody had any major complaints with them. (Except Allied troops they were pointed at, that is.) Some people thing the Type 99 in 7.7 x 58mm is a ZB26 clone, but no matter what it looks like outside, internally it’s a Hotchkiss right to the rear-mounted cocking handle.

        So why the Chauchat?

        Going back to Hogg’s The Guns 1914-18, I’m wondering if the French command didn’t do it out of spite due to the, call it “friction”, between the French and U.S. commands, both in France and here in the U.S. There were quite a few U.S. officers dealing with the French “helpers” at Aberdeen and etc. who wanted Army command to “help” them back home to France.

        Similar problems surfaced with the French Air Force in the late 1930s regarding the U.S. Curtiss Hawk 75 fighters. (See Victory Through Air Power by Alexander de Seversky; he was the Curtiss sales rep and tells the whole gory story.)

        Any way you look at it, the Chauchat “story” with the AEF has never made much sense.

        clear ether


          • That should have been 8 x 50mmR. Autocorrect has a mind of its own regarding numbers.



        • It’s not punishment, but it is prejudice. The French naturally wanted the best guns for themselves. But the Chauchat was first and foremost a way of reducing man-hours per finished gun. So logically the French would want all the Hotchkiss guns that currently existed and then create Chauchats to make up any wants, then give more Chauchats to any allies. Where it gets intriguing (in any war) is when planners must decide whether to pull workers and materials out of an old-fashioned factory making reliable guns in an inefficient manner, to transfer all resources to a slipshod emergency weapon, or keep both weapons in production in parallel. As far as I know, the Wehrmacht never stopped making Kar98s alongside its ridiculous array of emergency weapons despite its heavy man-hours to firepower ratio.

    • Everything the Chauchat did, the Madsen already did better ten years earlier. It wasn’t a new concept. But it was the first time such a weapon had been used on a mass scale.

  5. The latest footage of Chauchats I have seen date from the Israeli war of independence in 1948. I saw some footage of either Syrian or Lebanese troops with an 8mm Chauchat. That makes sense, as these countries had been French colonies until around 1943.

  6. I have always considered the Chauchat to be a poor idea ..made WORSE by the individual finishing & assembly of the time ( where the heck were the idiot s who chose to ignore the obvious realities of standard individual parts ! BUT my question what did the term “SHO SHO” actually mean ? I presume is is a term of disapproval in Yank slang of the time like SNAFU of WW2. …My Dad was at the Passchendale battles said the French were great mates if there was wine about but a bit slow going “over the top” (for good reason I think!) He said trying to use LMGS ” from the hip ” on the move was invariably fatal! setting down on bipod had to be done to get any accuracy.

    • slow to go over the top…

      Tere was some account of American troops arriving in France, and getting an introductory talk from a British officer on how to stay alive in the trenches

      the story goes that the young American officer then stood up and said that was exactly why these clowns hadn’t won yet.

      he’d proceeded to get all of his guys killed as soon as he possibly could.

      bearing in mind that Woodrow Wilson (PhD and all) was employing the services of Edward Bernays, twice nephew of Sigmund Freud, and the father of propaganda…

      and Wilson also appeared to be handled by Edward Mandel House, arguably for JP Morgan interests

      what were the domestic and international reasons for having the very ill prepared American soldiers on the ground?

      we’re they sent there to kill Germans and Austrians?
      or, were they sent there to die as soon as possible, for internal American political purposes?

      • If you go back and then go through the testimonies of the men who were there, the Europeans were mostly worn down by the earlier idiocies in the war. The French had expended so many lives and so much morale on pointless attacks and mismanagement that it wasn’t even funny, and the British forces weren’t too far behind them. When it came to willingness to engage the enemy, the colonial forces like the Australians and Canadians were a hell of a lot more aggressive and feared by the Germans; the US came in with admittedly very little experience, but a hell of a lot of aggression. This, plus the raw numbers of fresh troops, made for a war-winning combination.

        The essential stupidity of the war was something you can only blame on the elites of the time. The idiot Austrian-Hungarians got everything they wanted from the Serbs, and still went back for more. The Russians felt like they had to support the Serbs, so they mobilized, which led to the Germans having to make their decision, and they all chose very, very poorly.

        WWI should never have happened, and had the various parties in all the capitals had any damn sense, it would have never started. Serbia and Russia basically worked together to assassinate the heir to the throne of a major European power, and should have gotten slapped down good and hard for being that stupid in the first place. Both parties were playing games, and the irony is that they killed the one guy in Austria-Hungary who was a reformer and who might have made life better for all the subjects Austria-Hungary had in the Balkans.

        The whole thing was a flight of idiocy, from start to finish. The war was badly managed on all sides; the Germans were laughably ill-prepared, and if they hadn’t captured all the nitrates that they did in Belgium, they would have run short of explosives and propellants before they got the Haber-Bosch process fully on line. The British expended their tiny professional army, and were left with no real cadre to expand upon, and the French kept relying on elan instead of brains… Absent the colonials coming in, along with the US, the whole thing would have likely devolved into an even worse stalemate that settled nothing.

        The war should never have happened, and the fact that it did just discredits all the “genius” statesmen that were running things, at the time. In a just world, there would have been plebiscite trials for all of them, and they’d have gone up against the wall for slaughtering their own people.

        The parallels with what is going on in Russia today are striking. Demography is destiny, and the fact that Europe is still trying to recover from the damages done by WWI isn’t at all funny. In Russia, they’ve got WWI, WWII, and now the latest round of stupidity in Ukraine. The audacity of the “elite” in expending all those lives to no good purpose is both horrifying and disgusting. The idiots running things when they thought the Somme was a good place to have a battle weren’t much better…

        • The reason Australian and Canadian troops were “more willing to engage the enemy” was little to do with any kind of inherent hardiness and everything to do with the fact that their corps were made up of professional volunteer troops, rather than conscripts. This is the reason Canadian regiments were selected to spearhead the Hundred Days Offensive in 1918. Volunteers are better-trained and more ideologically motivated, and therefore make for superior shock troops. When you have to throw a few thousand men into a meat grinder, you’re obviously going to pick the guys who actively want to leap in there head-first, rather than the office clerks and grocers who’ve only had a couple months’ training.

          US performance in WWI was, on the whole, pretty poor – the troops were inexperienced and Pershing was slow to adapt to the realities of modern combat (despite advice from the British and French). The Meuse-Argonne Offensive, while successful, remains the costliest military campaign in American history, with around 26,000 KIA in just a month and a half. The struggle of the Americans in WWI is a large part of the reason that Japan and Germany felt confident enough to declare war on them in 1941: they believed that, as in 1917, it would take at least a year for the Americans to fully mobilize, and that their troops would be soft and poorly-trained. Of course, the US had learned many lessons from 1918.

          • The US Army has always been slow to get started. If the war is considered an existential crisis, then after a couple of years it turns around. The Civil War army took until 1863 to really get its act together. The WW2 army had, to put it bluntly, an awful 1942. Pershing’s army would have performed well if the 1919 offensive occurred.

        • Though I don’t want to detract from your larger point about systemic dysfunction, the stuff I’ve read more recently points to the German General Staff encouraging the Austrians to attack Serbia because it knew this would escalate to a Germany vs Russia war. The staff was convinced that Russian rearmament plan would make it unbeatable in a war in a few years (not, apparently, being aware of Russia’s domestic discontents). So these Berlin bastards wanted to defeat Russia while they could. On a timetable, like everything else.

          The doctrinal dysfunction driving all these armies, as we know, was the belief that defense was impossible, that the only defense was to attack first. Germany’s prewar borders must have seemed completely indefensible in the eyes of those trained in the wars of the 19th century, when compact massed armies could punch thru a narrow front and then march on the enemy capital.

      • The designation CSRG was meant to “honor” (!) the members of the commission;

        C for Chauchat, the deputy war minister in charge.

        S for Sutter, the designer. (Although he seems to have cribbed most of the mechanism from Frommer’s experimental long-recoil rifle, plus John Moses Browning’s Automatic-5 shotgun made by FN.)

        R for Ribeyrolle, the president of the company that was to manufacture it. (Who was on the commission just by coincidence, pinky-swear…)


        G for Gladiator- the brand name of the bicycle Ribeyrolle’s company made. (No, seriously.)

        It was sort of a tradition in France that anyone who invented something for the military named it after whatever Minister was in charge of that sort of thing. When Vielle came up with his smokeless powder in 1886-87, it was dubbed “Poudre B” not for “poudre blanc” (white powder) as most people think, but for “Poudre Boulanger’“- the name of the deputy war minister in charge of small arms development at the time.

        Yes, French “Ministers” wanted their names on other peoples’ achievements, rather like Dilbert’s Pointy-Haired Boss.

        And if an inventor didn’t comply, well, their invention didn’t get “picked”.

        Everybody knew the rules, and inventors sucked it up and “took it like a man”.

        clear ether


  7. The Chauchat does have a very definite bicycle works appearance to it, now that you mention it…

    Given the mass conscription of French males, I’m guessing that apart from a few aged and grumpy tool makers and tool setters, that the workforce in the bike factory would have been almost entirely unskilled women with at most 3 years experience of winding the handles on capstain lathes

    it’s surprising that the guns turned out as well as they did.

    • “(…)workforce in the bike factory would have been almost entirely unskilled women with at most 3 years experience of winding the handles on capstain lathes(…)”
      According to How the shortage of skilled mechanics is being overcome by training the unskilled available at https://gutenberg.org/ebooks/71125 it was possible to imbue selected woman with necessary skills in matters of weeks
      J. J. Pierson, Dilution Officer of the British Ministry of Munitions in the London District: You can make a toolroom operator of a woman in three weeks. If you can’t do it in three weeks, you can’t do it at all. You have simply gotten the wrong woman. Pick out a long fingered, sensitive, intelligent woman from the shop force who has been carefully trained and is especially satisfactory and exact in her production and upgrade her in this way.
      or if you care only about bigger sample (which I presume almost 1000000 is) it was a few months
      …we have been able to place in munition works about 950,000 women to do work from the heaviest laboring unskilled operation to the highest grade of toolroom non-repetition work. I do not hesitate to say that women have entirely destroyed our pre-war ideas as to what constitutes “skilled” work. When in the early days of the war women were trained to turn out 18 pdr. H. E. shell and equal the production of male labor many thought that such work, amounting as it does to little more than manipulative dexterity, was about the limit of the capacity of women who had not received a regular course of Engineering training. After a few months’ workshop experience, however, women are to-day building the greater part of one of the best High-Speed Engines in the country, each woman setting her own tools and work, and able to machine any piece of work that the tool she is on will take. Women are building guns, including the fine fitting work on the breech mechanism, and the cutting of large screw threads up to a shoulder. They are doing most of the work in some shops on three and one-half ton Army Lorries and will do practically the whole of it if the war lasts much longer, including chassis erection and testing. They are doing important work in marine engine building, turning connecting rods, propeller shaft liners and doing practically all in some cases of the marked-off drilling. The Aero Engine, as you well know, is a very fine piece of mechanism and at the outset was considered a tool room job throughout. In some shops women are to-day doing the greater part of the work turning on Centre Lathes to half a thousandth, milling webs of Clerget Cylinders on a booker Miller without stops and setting up their own jobs and working again to half a thousandth limit, boring cylinders on a No. 9 Herbert and similar work on a Gishlet, setting up their own jobs, turning and finishing test pieces in various metals to a 5,000th; making tools and gauges of all kinds to fine limits; all varieties of bench fitting to drawings and marking-off work of every description. Locomotive work, steel constructional work, boilers, bending, drilling and riveting. Women are doing magnificent work both in regard to accuracy and output.

    • The weak point of the Chauchat was not the workers. It was the attempt on the fly to develop highly industrialized gunmaking processes without proper evolution of the gun’s design to fit this situation. What I mean by that is, look at all the later stamped-steel fast-build machine guns. Not one of them is long recoil operated. Even the Chauchat’s contemporary the Darne was gas-operated. It’s amazing that the Germans were able to get man-hours down on a short-recoil MG42 like they did, but since then the world has settled on gas-operation. All of these people had years to figure out how to mesh gun design with stamping processes.

      With long recoil the hasty CSRG team really put themselves in a tough spot. But to try to simultaneously invent the very means of mass-stamping guns with such a design seems today to be nuts. A friend of mine suggested that the reason early automatic pistols had such complex mechanisms was to protect the soft steel alloys of the time from the shock of rapid motion. This is the only reason I can think of that you’d want long recoil in a cheap gun. It definitely absorbs a lot of shock with all that’s going on in there.

      • Rudolf Frommer designed long-recoil pistols like the “Stop”, in .32 ACP. People who wonder why he did that forget that he was also a metallurgist, and knew what kind of low-quality steel that things like pistols were likely to be made from.

        He very probably designed his pistols along the lines your friend suggested re the CSRG. Trying to reduce the velocity of moving parts to reduce the stress on those parts.



        • Frommer in fact did a long-recoil, magazine-fed automatic rifle before the Chauchat, which was tested by the Austro-Hungarians prior to WWI but not adopted.

      • “(…)absorbs a lot of shock with all that’s going on in there.”
        CSRG was predated by https://www.vhu.cz/exhibit/francouzsky-letecky-kulomet-m-1913/ which was machine gun for aviation use. In 1913 aviation engine were anemic (compared to later developed piston aircraft engines like R-7755), therefore aeroplanes of 1913 must be lightly build, to be able to fly at all, therefore their frames were ill-suited for consuming a lot of shock.

    • W.H.B. Smith stated that the Chauchat was in many ways a direct forerunner of the WW2 Sten Gun, in terms of production methods. The difference being that it wasn’t as well-designed or built as the Sten.

      The main difference IMPO is that in 1915-16, the French metal-shaping industry just didn’t have as much experience at making stampings and etc. as the British industry did in 1940.

      In a sidelight, it was a French cook, M. Nicolas Appert, who invented “canning” as we know it in 1809. He put his heat-preserved vegetables into champagne bottles (easily sealed). We eat canned goods out of tin cans because when the idea got to England in 1810, there was already a tinplate industry going that had been around for thirty years.

      (The reason our canned veggies are diced is because M. Appert did it that way to get them through the mouth of the bottle; a small but unconscious tribute to the gentleman who started it all.)

      A century later, about the only companies in France with any experience in stamped-metal work at all were the bicycle makers. Ditto working with rolled or drawn metal tubing.

      The “Chauchat” ended up being manufactured by a company that made bicycles because they were the only ones with any experience in the production techniques required.

      If it had been made in England, with everybody from Birmingham Small Arms (which also made…bicycles) to Morris Garages being very familiar with stamped-metal work, things might have turned out a bit differently.

      clear ether


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.