Belgian Model 1915/27 Improved Chauchat

The Belgian Army was the second to adopt the Chauchat automatic rifle, after the French. Almost all of Belgium was under German occupation during World War One, leaving Belgium significantly dependent on French aid for arms during the war. The initial Belgium purchases were standard 8mm Lebel CSRGs, but by 1917 Belgian engineers were working on a solution to convert the guns to the Belgian standard 7.65mm Mauser cartridge. This was completed by the end of the war, and the Chauchat remained a standard arm of the Belgian military after the war.

Work to improve the design continued, and an upgrades version was formally adopted in 1927. This included the 7.65mm conversion, with the best magazines made for any model of the Chauchat, as well as a series of dust covers to close off every hole in the gun (magazine well, ejection port, charging handle slot, and barrel shroud vents). The Belgians also replaced the original bipod with a much better type (similar to what they would use on the FN BAR), simplified the feed system, and added a tension latch to ensure reliable operation.

This new pattern of CSRG would be standard Belgian front-line armament until the FN BAR was adopted in 1930. The Chauchats were still in service with some until at the beginning of World War Two though, and saw service at that time.

Thanks to the Liege Arms Museum for access to film this for you! If you are in Belgium, definitely plan to stop into the museum, part of the Grand Curtius. They have a very good selection of interesting and unusual arms on display.

42 Comments

    • You’re right about that. The concept was sound, but the implementation was not, and things were made worse by wartime shortcuts and rushed production owing to strategic shortcomings of the French and British general staff. Nobody was prepared for an all out industrialized war at the time. Did I mess up?

      • It might be worth adding that at moment of war outbreak when comparing number of dwellers of German Empire vs France (without overseas territories) last was much beyond first one. In 1907 it was around 39000000 vs around 67000000. This caused bigger strain on French system to provide enough soldiers and in such kind of warfare it was necessary to train new ones quickly to avoid loss-by-attrition (=tactical victory for Kaiser), thus prompting cutting time for training whenever possible. And sloppy training amplify any inherent flaws of weapon.
        It was just opposite of working in peace-time and without serious any threat visible and after “war to end all wars”.

    • I’d respectfully disagree. The long-recoil action is very much on the “concept” side of the equation, and I’d consider it “capers” / an epitome of a Wrong Answer (choice with no significant positives offsetting its negatives). Some may disagree, but the disagreers don’t seem to include any notable designers, engineers, manufacturers, governments, or operators of the last 80 years or so 😉

      That long-recoiling barrel is partially responsible for the CSRG’s dust susceptibility (note cover over the jacket holes), and mostly / directly responsible for its tendency to swell itself shut when it heats, as well as its bouncy, impossible-to-sight recoil. Imagine how controllable ANY short-recoil / gas-op LMG would be at that weight, with that ROF, with a reasonable-length bolt carrier in that 2ft long tube receiver! Elevating the sights so one could use a straight-line buttplate/pad on the buffer tube would ice the cake.

      Instead of doubling or spot-hardening the lower sidewalls at the trigger pivot point, they incorporated a complex machined equivalent of the Lightening zip-tie – genius! [not]

      Any MG with a barrel that light needs either a water jacket, quick change, or added provisions for air cooling like the Lewis or PKP. The upgrades didn’t fix this either. The Belgian upgrade basically bandaided some fundamental, conceptual design shortcomings.

      None of this is criticism of the inventor(s), who were pioneers. Almost no first-generation product excels or even counts as acceptable by the standards of subsequent, mature manufacturers and users. The venerable Wright Flyer is an objectively terrible airplane for any practical purpose, even by ultralight standards; it may well have been worse had there been German trenches a few miles from Kitty Hawk in 1903.

      • I concur with you view; long recoil operating mechanism is not suitable for this kind of weapon; it has nothing to offer which would be a gain in this case. The only useable application for LR I can think of is in field artillery. And yes, I am one of those who were involved in production and engineering of firearms, besides of life-long interest.

        • Your experience comes across clearly in your well-informed posts. Even when I don’t agree with all of your conclusions, your comments are always thoughtful. I’ve used a lot of firearms, but am only involved in engineering and producing them for myself 🙂

          I appreciate the education on field artillery. I never realized it used long recoil – thanks!

          • Thank you! Well I am little bit of loose cannon 🙂

            Interestingly, theory which is gained in school is one thing but as you go thru life you pickup knowledge of other sharing people with great talent and experience. That helped me the most. But, it is all in past for me. Most people would leave it and do something else 🙂

          • On subject of recoil operated firearms… people tend to forget that the most common is automatic pistol. In rifles, not so many. In my opinion, the potential of well designed short recoil operated rifle was not materialized yet (save for Barrett).

            This system (short recoil) has potential. If you look at Browning 1917/19 it attenuates force of recoil inside of its mechanism. To operate it needs booster ant the end of barrel.

          • I agree as regards short recoil. It dominates the pistol market as you said; excels at the opposite end of the spectrum in the M2HB, and also led with most of the MMGs and GPMGs in WWII. I too would like to see somebody give it a chance in a rifle, despite silly objections like “the extra bulk and weight of a barrel jacket” (like the handguard on every AR?).

          • @Mike

            Exactly, perception of extra bulk seem to be one reason, the ability to guide barrel within reasonable limit is another reason against. But, look at common AR rifle and not just that one. They have extended jackets to form rail base; so extra bulk is not an issue. In addition, they are or will be utilised as retention point for muzzle devices. As far as how to arranged the action of such weapon seem to be the major hurdle. It can be done. Benefit is a substantial recoil force reduction, if momentum convertor is used.

          • I also missed to mention 1941 Johnson’s rifle and later machinegun. That was very smartly designed weapon which broke the mold. M.J. used superb manufacturing technique for the time too. Same for 10round rotary magazine. Weakness, (from point of use of bayonet, which was important then) was exposed barrel. It was accurate enough for common application.

          • I’d say it would be more accurate to say bayonet use (crucial in the days when cavalry charges could still outpace reloads and break unprepared infantry) was still PERCEIVED AS important in the 1940s. Ditto for the Johnson’s bulky rotary magazine – one of the last gasps of the clip era before everyone realized that issuing a handful of $15 magazines for a $1000 rifle wouldn’t bankrupt the army.

            Recoil force attenuation is inherent in any short-recoil action, as long as both the barrel and BCG are stopped by springs or moving parts rather than direct receiver impact – akin to sprung vs. unsprung weight on a car. It’s amazing how many people think the recoiling barrel increases kick, over a century after old Sir Hiram clearly explained otherwise.

          • “(…)I too would like to see somebody give it a chance in a rifle(…)”
            My understanding is that Remington Model 8 which belong to “recoil-operated” category was relatively successful as hunting rifle in their times.

          • True (Model 8, which also pioneered several interesting intermediate cartridges), but it’s long-recoil.

            Interesting note / link about the Bofors, too – thanks!

  1. I’ve long wanted to go on a beer and bicycles tour of Belgium… I’ll definitely add this locale to the ever-growing “bucket list!”

    “Best version of the worst gun”–ha! succinct. Much is made of the Belgian army’s use of the Lewis gun, aka. the “Belgian rattlesnake” etc. Interesting that it would be the C.S.R.G. Chauchat that would soldier on as the automatic rifle/ fusil mitrailleur until the Browning was tweaked into the FN version. Considerably lighter gun. Still, it is interesting that it was “easier” or more cost-effective perhaps to put mud covers on all of the potential sources of the ingress of Flanders’ boggy fields into the action than, say, lighten the Lewis gun.

    The 7.65x53mm cartridge would have been an “off the shelf” and “ready to go” design that might have been adopted by France, I should think. Instead, before WWI, there was the obsessive research o small-bore calibers of various kinds, and after the war, the adoption of a uniquely-French 7,5x57mm that could be confused with the mountains of war reparation 7,92x57mm German ammunition used in France and Belgium (lots of German MG/08 Maxims repurposed in casemates and bunkers, I believe…) So on with the re-designed 7.5x54mm. Unfortunately, any collaboration between the French and Belgian general staff was scotched and mooted by Belgian insistence that the nation remain utterly, scrupulously neutral–and perhaps by French arrogance?–such that WWII saw the implementation of the “Dyle River Plan” without coordination, and infamously, the German “sickle cut” from the Ardennes to the Channel Ports.

    Commonality of ammo with potential Allies might have been desirable, no?
    Interesting to see the tweaks and “fixes” of the C.S.R.G. based on the “lessons learned” in the slimy, sucking mud of WWI:
    1. New–well made, reliable–magazine. C.S.R.G. “disposable” magazine has to go.
    2. That bipod.
    3. Mud-guards/ “dust covers” for every conceivable ingress of above slimy, sucking mud.
    4. Avant the invention of le zip-tie, that “nerdy” latch to keep the upper and the lower together tightly.
    Very interesting!

    Too bad the museum wouldn’t let intrepid Ian fire it on the range! My sense is he really, really wanted to!

    • “(…)New–well made, reliable–magazine. C.S.R.G. “disposable” magazine has to go.(…)”
      Firstly, Belgian cartridge – 7.65×53 mm [7.65 mm ARGENTINE MAUSER in U.S. parlance] – was adopted only few years, but it was much better suited for high-capacity magazine.
      Or maybe it would be better to say that 8×50 mm R Lebel cartridge was exceptionally high-capacity magazine unfriendly. Not only was it rimmed*, but also have peculiar milk-bottle like shape.
      It is worth noting that while aerial progenitor has top-sticking magazine, see 1st photo from top here: https://medium.com/war-is-boring/in-1914-french-airmen-desperately-needed-an-aerial-machine-gun-c98a546a257b
      infantry version had magazine sticking downward. Generally this is not problem – for example L1A1 rifle can take L4 light machine gun magazine, thus making it work upside down.
      Though I suspect “reversing” might have bigger effect on feeding on that particular “crescent” magazine than straight one. Why? In straight magazine sticking downwards, like in say BAR M1918, cartridge are resting on follower. In Chachaut magazine, due to gravity direction, middle cartridges in magazine are resting on black plate of magazine (one of walls of magazine hull). Thus attempt of moving them might produce friction. To make thing worse 8 mm Lebel rifle cartridge has bigger diameter of rim than other smokeless cartridge of this era.
      Summing up French forces have bad luck in that they did not manage replace their cartridge with something more modern before outbreak of Great War. 7×57 Meunier (NOT to be confused with 7×57 Mauser [7×57 MEXICAN MAUSER in U.S. parlance]) feature much more shallow tapper and was rimless: http://municion.org/7mm/7x57Meunier.htm

      “lighten the Lewis gun.”
      Wait. This sounds like… SOLEY light machine gun. According to http://www.smallarmsreview.com/display.article.cfm?idarticles=2192
      Lewis-licensed UK business, The Soley Armament Company(…)experimented with converting the issue .303 aircraft observer’s mark III Lewis into a modern infantry assault rifle. Soley’s designers used the Bren style stock and box magazine, but retained the Lewis clock spring mechanism in the first model, then replacing it with a helical spring for the second prototype. None of these designs went beyond prototype stage.

      * and 7,62×54 R was source of constant headache for Soviet designer trying to make it work with banana magazine of any considerable capacity. Saloranta and Lahti managed to make 20-rounder work acceptably, but note that their machine gun fired slowly and that magazine required muscular finger to load if loading device was not used.

  2. Superb – I was totally unaware of the Belgian reworked gun.
    ‘Everybody’ aware of the Chauchat must have had that ‘if only they did that’ thought and to find out that someone had actually done them all is ‘wow’. Though obviously difficult to do. Is there any way to quantify how much it actually addressed / improved the gun.

    • “(…)Is there any way to quantify how much it actually addressed / improved the gun.(…)”
      I am pretty sure Belgian tested it before ordering, so they should created some report during that. Question is: does it survived to our times? Where it might be now?

  3. I remember photos from ex-Yugoslavia showing Chauchats in use early 90s.No clue
    as to origin. Also photos showed use of WWII US M-36 TDs. There is a museum in VA.http://vmmv.org/ which owns one of them complete with RPG holes !

    • IIRC only pics of Lewis (two pictures – one ex-British, from a naval depot, other ex-Dutch, judging by the lack of ammo in the magazine taken from some museum and only used for a photos) surfaced from Yugoslavia, no pics of Chauchats, despite which were long gone by 1991. Chauchats last time appearing in the 1948. arms inventory, in the “obsolete” section. After that there are in no weapon 1958, 1968, 1975 or 1985 weapon inventory.
      It is possible it is gun taken from a museum, but in that case it would be “photo only” piece.

    • Serbia received a number of CSRGs during WWI, so that’s the most obvious origin. Alternatively some Axis guns (Romanian, Hungarian or Bulgarian) may have fallen into the Yugoslavian hands during or after WWII.

    • I’ve seen maybe thousands of photos from that period, and not on a single one there is Chauchat.
      Lewis yes, on some, but you cannot mistake that for Chau.

      • Gwytherin, as I have noted, there is no Chauchat of any kind in any of the weapon inventory lists post 1948, neither army or police. Those lists had things that never saw use in the ’90s wars. So if you have any proof of use of Chauchat I would require that to be backed by the pictures, and even if there is a picture, that would be 100% gun “liberated” from a museum for the photo OP (same as Dutch Lewis) and not actually used.

        • I did not see your reply before I sent mine (I did not refresh the page before writing the answer), so I was answering only the question where from the Yugoslavian CSRGs came. I do not claim the knowledge that Yugoslavians used CSRGs post-WWII, and I agree that it’s highly probable that no CSRGs were actually used in the 90s.

  4. I always wanted to ask – and this is probably a good place – have anyone (Belgians, Poles, Greeks etc.) tried to address the problem of a cooling jacket getting stuck? It seems either having a larger barrel tube or even simply shaving a little bit from the cooling jacket would ameliorate the problem (and while reducing the diameter of a cooling jacket may lead to overheating it seems to me like overheating after 300 rounds is better than barrel getting stuck after 200).

    Additionally CSRG’s predecessor, Chauchat-Sutter Machine Rifle had a stock in-line with the tube. Was the the stock moved down only because they wanted to use a simple block of wood for the stock or was it necessitated by some other changes in the layout? I mean at least from the naive point of view it seems that it was a bad decision – they couldn’t have saved much but the resulting weird ergonomics did hurt the usability.

  5. the condition makes me think its a reproduction but its not.
    absolute pristine condition

    it definitely seems that if they had the proper amount of T&E, then it would have went on to be a well made MG.

  6. Regarding Yugoslavian Chauchats & M-36s. Photos of both appear in an early 90s French edition Historie et Collection book in the collection of Olin Graduate Library, Cornel University, on the Balkan war. I do not read French so I can’t say what the captions were. We are talking about a civil war here. Who can say what was or wasn’t floating around sub rosa. A friend in an armored recon unit in Gulf War I carried an M-3, not an A-1, but an M-3 with crank, Grease gun He was not alone.

    • Strictly by name, Balkan wars were at the beginning of 20th century, two of them.

      About the “civil war” its often repeated false statement, unlike ww2 in same area, this conflict had nothing to do with civil war. But to some belligerents (NATO bombed them nine years too late in ’99 – probably because they are not in worlds top 10 oil reserves) it was useful to present it to international community as a “civil war” for intention to muddle and hide what was really going on and what their (evil) roles in it were.

      As for “who knows, anything goes” we here try to move away from the mystifications and speculations. Show us the photo and we will identify what side it was taken and where (if its really from that war)

  7. For anyone interested out there go to Abebooks.com look for
    War in the Balkans ISBN 10 2908182211 and/or ISBN 13 9782908182217
    That is an English edition

    • Been to the library today, its a very good book, on page 39. there are photos of Lewis and ZB 26,
      but absolutely no Chauchats on any photo in the book.

      No relation to this discussion, found it amusing that the book is from 1993. and some small data is not accurate (but for most part book is) but very ironically it predicted the war in Kosovo and conflict in Macedonia that happened in ’99 and 2001.

      • Storm – got my copy from Abe. You are right, no Chauchats, which leaves me wondering where I saw that photo. Unfortunately I haven’t had access to Cornell’s Library system (3rd largest on the east coast of USA)since 1997.
        A tangential- first Chauchat I ever saw (1956?)was, and may still be, in a display case in Cornell’s ROTC Drill Hall a WWI bring back.

  8. You’ve got my curiosity aroused, I’ve ordered a copy from Abe. I’m too young to have dementia, I think. Did you find a photo of a Rutharainian style guard in a red tunic with an SKS ?

    • What is “Rutharainian” ?

      Yes, thats presidential ceremonial guard, the tunic is designed by fashionists supposedly on historical uniforms.
      Funny (coincidence?) thing is he looks very much like a guy I met half a year ago that claimed he was in one elite unit under the command of general headquarters (the same one I suppose was more or less connected to this guard)

  9. Rutharainian – general purpose term to describe obscure and/or non – existent
    nations that prefer gaudy uniforms over decent weapons, perhaps the source for the observation that that “the country with the fanciest uniform loses the war”. BTW STORM, were you referring to Olin Library at Cornell?

  10. Couple of quick points:

    1. The only dust cover I don’t really like is the ejection cover — given that it appears the gun could be put into action with that cover still in place, that’s a failure point. If the dust cover was somehow made so you couldn’t charge the gun with the cover in place, or the bolt coming forward automatically flipped it open (as with so many other guns, albeit mostly designed later), that would be a lot more “soldier proof”. Still — kudos!

    2. The barrel jacket dust cover is *very* interesting, as I suspect that the brass knob would be difficult not to notice when looking down the sight line, as a clue to the gunner that, while he *could* fire in that position, if he wants any cooling, he should roll the cover out at his first opportunity.

    3. The detent holes for the disassembly latch are *extremely* well thought out. Excellent, simple, almost elegant, solution, with quite positive effect.

    4. Now to the real note… the tensioning latch… Not only does that mitigate the *effect* of disassembly holes egging out and allowing receiver slop (by tensioning the receiver right near where it matters), it also mitigates the *risk* of the damage in the first place, by minimizing potential movement. Any engineering “bandaid” that not only directly addresses a known failure consequence, but in fact reduces the opportunity for the failure as well, is a thing of elegance and beauty.

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