Chatellerault M24/29: France’s New Wave of Post-WWI Small Arms

France fought the Great War with an array of weapons which were all sub-par in one way or another – the Lebel rifle was obsolescent by 1914, the Berthier was a cavalry carbine forced into rifle service, the Chauchat was an emergency wartime design optimized for production volume instead of quality, and the handguns were a mixture of old revolvers and desperate imports from Spain. Once the war finally ended, the French military would move to replace the whole lot with new and modern arms.

This would begin by finally replacing the 8mm Lebel cartridge with a non-tapered, rimless cartridge – something that would be well suited to use in magazines and repeating arms. Simultaneously, a new light machine gun would be found, as this was deemed to most important improvement to be made. The cartridge was adopted in 1924 as the 7.5x58mm, but it would soon be realized that there was a critical problem with that round. The French military had a large supply of German arms taken as war reparations, and the new 7.5mm cartridge looked very similar to the 8x57mm Mauser cartridge. Worse, the Mauser round would chamber and fire in the new French chambers, causing serious damage to guns when the 8mm bullet was squeezed down to 7.5mm. To fix this issue, the French cut their cartridge down by 4mm, resulting in the 1929 adoption f the 7.5x54mm round – the chamber of which would no longer fit a German round.

As for the machine gun, the first choice was to simply adopt the Browning BAR – but France insisted on obtaining the technical data package and producing the guns in France, and they could not come to an agreement with Colt over the price of such a license. So, the French held trials of other guns, looking at virtually everything then available. In the aftermath of the trials, it was decided that the Chatellerault arsenal could design its own weapon using the best features of the other existing guns. The arsenal rather quickly produced prototypes, and they were adopted in 1924 (and then updated to use the shorter version of the 7.5mm cartridge in 1929).

The Chatellerault M24/29 is a quite good weapon, especially considering how early it was designed. It uses a tilting bolt and a top-mounted 25 round magazine. It has two triggers, the front one firing in semiautomatic and the rear one in fully automatic. The wooden front handguard allows for fire from the hip or shoulder if desired, and a set of thorough dust covers keep the gun free from ingress of mud or dirt. About 188,000 would be manufactured, and it would stay in service for many decades.

28 Comments

  1. “France fought the Great War with an array of weapons which were all sub-par in one way or another”
    None weapon can be superior in all respects to others. Thus such statement can be applied to all warring sides.
    As counterweight I want to note Hotchkiss 1914 machine gun, which was lighter than enemy Spandau MG08, used metal belt instead of fabric (less problems with moisture) and also, if I am not mistaken, has less parts.

    “old revolvers”
    To be honest, I must note that France have in inventory Modèle 1892 (also know as Lebel revolver), it featured swing-out cylinder – solution modern even by today standards, allowing simultaneous removing of cases.

    “first choice was to simply adopt the Browning BAR – but France insisted on obtaining the technical data package and producing the guns in France, and they could not come to an agreement with Colt over the price of such a license.”
    Independently from reasons, it seems to be good decision. Browning BAR was design, as it names imply, Automatic Rifle (for more see: walking fire tactic) and thus was less suitable for light machine gun, nonetheless it worked reliably and was baptized in fire during First World War. Attempts of reworking BAR to light machine gun (FN Model D, Kg m/1921, Kg m/1937, Browning wz. 1928) give results inferior as box magazine sticking downward can’t have too big length, as it would hit ground. Also such magazine placement was not best for magazine replacing when weapon resting on bi-pod.
    IIRC some U.S. soldiers in Pacific Theater of Operation during World War II, removed bi-pod from their BAR.
    As side note Polish Air Force in 1930s got Browning wz. 1928-derived Karabin maszynowy obserwatora wz.37 (named by Szczeniak by crews, due to it small mass for aircraft machine gun) with 91-round top-mounted pan magazine, Rate-of-Fire increased to 1100 rpm and without stock (spring was moved under barrel), it shows that changing feed to top rather than under was possible, but it seems that it was so deep, that it was not viable for “normal” infantry light machine gun.

    • “Old revolvers” probably refers mostly to the Mle 1873 Chamelot-Delvigne, which was still in service in 1914 and if fact was used even in WW2. Of course the Germans still used the Reichsrevolver and the Austro-Hungarians variants of the M1870 Gasser revolver, so the French were not only ones using obsolescent handguns.

      However, I agree that as far as revolvers go, the Mle 1892 was a fairly modern design, and only 22 years old at the start of the war. In fact it was arguably the most modern revolver in the war prior to the US entry, since both the Austro-Hungarians and the Russians had opted for obsolescent designs for their technically later service revolvers.

      • Bonjour à tous, félicitation, “forgotten weapons” est vraiment un super site, je suis un tireur Français qui aime les armes anciennes, je possède entre autre : Reichsrevolver : 1879 et 1883, 1873 et 1892 Français, M44 mosin-nagant, colt new police 32 long colt and webley/pryse 450. Longue vie à votre site.
        Hey guys, congratulation, forgotten weapons is an great website, i am an french shooter who like old guns, i have Reichsrevolver 1879 and 1883, 1873 and 1892 french, M44 mosin-nagant, colt new police 32 long colt and webley/pryse 450. Long life to “forgotten weapons” from France.

      • Meh. Make mine an M1898 Rast-Gasser if .32 revolver it must be… Not that anyone had a choice of course.

        I don’t know if you have ever seen Costa-Gavras’ film about the Uruguayan MLN-Tupamaros _State of Siege_ filmed in Chile in ’72/’73 about the kidnapping and execution of Dan Mitrione…? There are scenes clearly reliant on the French film industry that have the Uruguayan secret police armed with Model 1892 revolvers instead of Smith and Wessons and Colts and various Brazilian designs!

    • I don’t think France could have obtained a licence agreement for the BAR from Colt. Browning’s patents were assigned to FN for Europe not to Colt.
      And the French ordnance was notoriously fond of dismissing the value of private industry products. Better steal ideas rather than pay royalties.
      Take the “Tabatière”: a blatant copy of the Snider, officialy invented by a totally unknown and mysterious Monsieur Schneider.

  2. Sometimes the FM 24/29 was installed in fortress mounts. I will never understand why anyone would try it, but it certainly helped some soldiers at the Alpine Line. I’ll just say that the French were sitting in relatively comfortable bunkers while the Italians were freezing to death on the way up the mountain. Mussolini didn’t think this through, considering over 2500 Italian soldiers died of frostbite. And of course I wonder why nobody made a movie about the case mate of Pont Saint-Louis.

    French soldiers at the bridge: “You shall not pass!!” [anti-tank barrier rolls into position]
    Italians: “CHARGE!!!” [Italian soldiers charge at the bridge, guns blazing]

    Result 10 days later: over 500 dead Italians, no French casualties.

    Did I mess up?

      • Both guns did get fortress mounts. I did an image search and found the FM 24/29 D, which was rigged to firing ports on the Maginot Line.

        • Correct. The FM 24/29 was very common in the various pillboxes, cloches, etc. of the ouvrages of the Maginot Line, as was the Reibel M31 with the huge side-mounted drums. They had little hoses for the empty cartridge cases to be shunted elsewhere to keep the interiors tidy.

    • I remember to have seen a French black & white movie about a similar topic, but defenders were in critical position : forced to defend a point, running out of water, food, under summer heat, getting shot while trying to change position.

      I am trying to find the name.
      I assume Lino Ventura was one of the actors.

    • Right on the spot. Italian fortifications could not fire back in support too, as they were mostly armed with guns (and they were planned to defend passes and valleys right in front of them, not beyond them), while french ones had more modern and better set up howitzers and mortars which could strike back. Tank support was non existant, and L3 tankettes clogged quickly the narrow paths. The operational area did not favour close air support. Only the area of Ventimiglia/Menton offered favourable terrain. Plans and troops were hastly set up: military personnel was mobilzed after September 1939, dismissed (as late as the 30th March 1940), and summoned back only on the 2nd of May 1940. Officers of infantry regiments were lacking in leadership: in example, one of my relatives earned his posthomous Medaglia d’Oro al Valore Militare, thanks to the french commanding officer, Lt Theodose “Tom” Morel – 91e Bataillon de Chasseur Alpin, who witnessed his feats and after the armistice notified the its italian counterpart.

      http://www.quirinale.it/elementi/DettaglioOnorificenze.aspx?decorato=12859

      “Vice comandante di squadra fucilieri, all’attacco di una munita posizione, si faceva risolutamente largo, a colpi di bombe a mano,fra nuclei nemici, per impedire che questi potessero impadronirsi del fucile mitragliatore di un nostro caduto. Rimasto con solo quattro uomini, riusciva a penetrare nelle linee avversarie e stabilitosi a tergo di esse, apriva nutrito fuoco contro i difensori. Caduti tutti i componenti dell’eroica pattuglia, continuava da solo, imperterrito, la lotta, tenendo a bada il nemico per una intera giornata e durante la notte si costruiva un piccolo riparo, sistemandovisi a difesa. Al mattino successivo, accerchiato dall’avversario che gli intimava la resa, rispondeva con precise raffiche di fuoco. A nuove intimazioni, manteneva per lungo tempo a distanza il nemico, con il suo contegno aggressivo, prendendo di mira, col proprio fucile mitragliatore, gli avversari che cautamente gli si avvicinavano da ogni lato. Alcune raffiche a brevissima distanza lo abbattevano ed allorquando gli avversari furono su di lui constatarono che egli non aveva più una sola cartuccia. Il comandante del nucleo francese, ammirato, lo citava ad esempio ai suoi uomini e più tardi ne testimoniava, cavallerescamente, per iscritto, il sublime eroismo. Bois de Suffin (Fronte occidentale), 20 giugno 1940.”
      “A deputy commander of rifle squad, attacking a well-armed position, opened up his way, with hand grenades, among enemy troops, to prevent them from taking over the automatic rifle of our fallen. Left alone with four men, he was able to penetrate the opposing lines and settle down behind them, opened fire against defenders. As all the members of the heroic patrol fell, he continued alone, unshaken, the struggle, keeping the enemy at bay for a whole day, and building during the night a small shelter, sheltering in defense. The next morning, surrounded by his adversary, he responded with precise burst fire. Against renewed assaults, he kept the enemy at the distance for a long time, with his aggressive stance, aiming, with his own machine gun, the adversaries who cautiously approached him from all sides. Some bursts dropped him at a very short distance and when the opponents were on him, he realized that he had no more cartridges. The commander of the French force, admired, cited him for example to his men and later testified, chivalrously, in writing, his sublime heroism. Bois de Suffin (Western Front), June 20th, 1940.”

      It had been a gigantic political gamble, part of the machinations to drive the British Empire out of the Mediterranean sea (as they were the greek and north african campaigns) with total disdain of the lives of who was sent on the frontline.

    • The Italians barely got more than a meager 832 square kilometers. The French negotiating party screwed Mussolini’s delegates over and snickered as Adolf fumed in frustration. A more embarrassing loss for Italy was the submarine Provana, which the French mine-sweeping sloop La Curieuse actually RAMMED to death (on purpose, the French sailors must have been high on rage).

      • The Italians did get French tanks and artillery pieces as war reparations, although neither were used in North Africa for logistical reasons.

  3. This discussion about Italy’s failure when they declared war (very late on) against France; and yesterday’s discussion of the TZ-45 (link at bottom, if I remember( are both on the edges of a counterfactual discussion I have never seen:

    Could Mussolini have survived the last world war?

    His success in Italy almost certainly allowed Hitler to come to power; but Mussolini never had the control that Hitler and his party robbed after the 1933 election. The King of Italy dismissed Mussolini in 1943, Nobody could ‘dismiss’ Hitler after 1933.

    Franco of Spain was the 3rd fascist ruler to gain power. Franco stayed neutral and died in his bed, still ruling Spain, in 1973.

    If he had not invaded France in 1940 (and Britain’s East African colonies as well), could he and Italy have stayed out of the war? Would they both survived bloodshed?

      • One important fact which was not mentioned in this interesting, if not at some moments precarious discussion. There was “Pact of Steel” concluded between Germany and Italy in May of 1939 with validity for 10 years.
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pact_of_Steel

        It stipulated clearly and definitely conditions under which either side was supposed to act in support of the partner. Italy obviously took the initiative in June of 1940 to attack France in spirit of this treaty. However, it clearly reneged on its commitment in July of 1943, after mere 2 weeks of attempting to fight off Allied invasion (British, Canadian and U.S. units were struggling to obtain foothold on land in Sicily). There were also present German units to boost local defence and they were under formal Italian command of gen. Guzzioni. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfredo_Guzzoni

        As far as I am concerned, I cannot say I am impressed with this conduct and as result made comment as I did yesterday. In fact it was politicians who pulled the rug under feet of its military; military attempted to do whatever the task was. I wish to add that I do not hold any negative feelings toward a particular nation, but toward conduct/ behaviour in critical time. It is politicians however, who unfortunately create reputation for a nation… and for long time to last.

        I will certainly look at policies and conduct of Italian foreign office during those tines, as you recommend. There is always something to add to one’s knowledge and I do not claim I know as enough as I wish to. It is an ongoing process.

        • Wikipedia is a very misleading source of information, especially when it come at claims of italian imperialism, as it presents the aims of some hier up in the hierachy as the official policy then adopted – or that any law or degree had then been implemented. Reading books by Angelo del Boca about the italian colonialism in Africa could be a good start. On a more focused military persepective, the Historic Office of the General Staff of the Army, is a quality provider, on par on many topics with peers like Westpoint’s publications:
          http://www.esercito.difesa.it/en/History/Historic-Office-of-the-General-Staff-of-the-Army

          Between June 1940 and the defence of Sicily you’re skipping a big part of italian contribution to the Axis effort – from the Battle of Britain to the Invasion of Russia (which whom Italy had no non aggression pact to trump upon), or from the submarine warfare in the Atlantic to the operations in the Far East.
          Speaking of the defense of Sicily – Guizzoni was not a fool, and knew that the situation was desperate, as he was perfectly aware that the best troops were wasted as reinforcement in Tunisia (planes kept on flying in till the 27th of April, naval convoys up till the 3rd of May: the italians under Messe kept on fighting after german troops surrendered on 6th of May, till ammunition run out and a conditional surrender was agreed on the 13th of May) and that the Regia Marina surface fleet would have kept being a burden like since the beginning of the war. As in any other campaign fought togheter, germans did not care about the italian chain of command (nor communicated with), nor supplied any material – as they should have had as by pact.
          And finally, after the 8th of September and the betrayal of king the high command, which did not give any instruction to the military forces on how to behave – and civil war ensued – had the effect of having a large part the military forces still garrisoned north keep on fighting along with german forces, then augmented by volunteers of any age once RSI was set up.
          War ended in Italy on the 25th of April 1945 for Italy, despite the blantant lies perpetrated by germanophiles to cover up the long list of their very own mistakes.

  4. There were 7.92x57mm Mauser conversion of it in Yugoslavian 1955 and 1965 infantry weapons inventory (along with those in 7.5×54) – I have no idea if those were done by Germans or locally (like some other weapons were converted to 7.92, like Breda HMGs).

  5. At long last! The M 24/29 revealed, in high definition close up video glory. My takeaway is, the 24/29 is a more refined design and higher quality manufactured weapon than I thought. The crude photos and videos I had seen before left out a lot of detail.

    Thanks Ian.

  6. T have 2 M 24/29 trigger groups as they used to only cost about 50 francs each
    The full automatic trigger pull is very smooth but the semiauto trigger will just about break your finger if you pull it quickly about 10 times
    I bet you 100 euroes that most machine gunners never used the semiauto mode and instead relied on fast trigger work in full auto

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