French Winchester 94: A Backup Arm for Fliers and Drivers

The French military during World War One used a number of American-made small arms, including both the Winchester Self-Loader and the Winchester Model 1894. A total of 15,100 Model 94s were purchased by France in 1913 and 1914, and they were used as a supplemental arm for drivers and airfield guards. In addition, they were a backup alternative as an aircraft emergency weapon in case of a crash landing behind enemy lines (the primary rifles for this purpose were the Winchester Self-Loader and the Berthier adapted to use a Chauchat magazine).

The Model 94 rifles used by the French were nearly identical to the standard production model, with only two changes. One was the addition of side-mounted sling swivels (there is disagreement over whether this modification was done by Winchester or by the French arsenals upon receipt of the guns). The other was the addition of metric range markings to the rear sight, out to 1000 meters.


  1. Hi Ian,
    Love the history lesson, I had no idea the the “94” was used by any military unit. Keep up the great work.

    • Some of these French 94 are said to come from another source. According to the late French writer Yves Cadiou, they are supposed to have been seized by the French authorities on their road to Belgian Congo. These carbines in .30-30 with metric rear sight were ordered in 1915 for the Force Publique (colonial police) of the Belgian Congo. Cadiou told that the sling swivels were added by the French.

      I once had one of those carbine. I was pretty beat up, cracked and scratched wood, butt plate replaced by a wooden extension, headspace on the long side. So I only shot reduced cast bullet loads. Sold it to a collector friend.

  2. I have 2 Winchester Mod.92 carbines in .44-40 1915 & 1917 Apparently purchased by the British Navy for use on coastal patrol, the only difference these have from an off the shelf 92 are the Canadian Military proof markings! Being a military collector & Canadian – these really caught my eye 🙂

    Not a whole lot of easily found information on that contract … Maybe if it piques your interest Ian, you’d dig into it some more 🙂


  3. I found it interesting that rifles were “adapted to use a Chauchat magazine,” as one of the worst features of the Chauchat WAS the magazine.

    • The unreliability of the magazine was probably not an issue for a manually operated rifle and even less so for a weapon that would not be exposed for the mud and dirt of the trenched for extended periods. It was already designed and in production, so using it made a lot of sense.

      • “It was already designed and in production, so using it made a lot of sense.”
        I would say that there was simply no alternative – i.e. other detachable magazine for 8×50 R Lebel cartridge in production.
        IIRC, problems with Chauchat was caused by its moon-shape necessitated by peculiar shape of 8×50 R Lebel cartridge – springs (at least crafted with 1900s technology) best work in straight or moderately curved magazines.

    • Jam-prone magazines aside, the Chauchat was a decent squad automatic weapon. It wasn’t great, but it was effective given its relatively low price tag. The Hotchkiss and Lewis light machineguns may have been considered more reliable, but they were NOT intended to fire on the move when used by infantry as neither have fore-stocks or grips for the non-dominant hand. At least the Chauchat had a grip and sling for the purpose of firing on the march, something that later became mobile suppressing fire. Did I mess up?

      • “decent”
        No, due to its construction (long-recoil operation) when barrel enlarge due to heat, it become clogged rendering it inoperable.

        • The Chauchat was NOT intended for long periods of continuous automatic fire.

          American civilian/rookie soldier opinion: Machineguns, regardless of weight (heavy water-cooled guns or lightweight machine-rifles), are supposed to fire continuously (trigger depressed the entire freaking time) until one runs out of ammunition (which should NEVER happen) or until ALL of the gunner’s opponents have been reduced to hamburger. Machineguns are to be designed so that they NEVER BREAK OR JAM EVEN ONCE AFTER LEAVING THE FACTORY, even if trampled by a draft horse or dropped in wet cement or if manned by a complete amateur without proper training! They must have enough killing power to rip ten men in half per second! They must be absolutely perfect and there should be no exceptions! We want Lewis guns or Browning Automatic Rifles for the offense, not the Benet-Mercie nor the Chauchat. The Chauchat is too slow and gets jammed after shooting ONE lousy magazine and the Benet-Mercie can’t shoot a hoot at night! THEY ARE F***ING WORTHLESS!!!!

          French observations on the Chauchat: Yes, we know this isn’t perfect, but we can probably make 5 or more Chauchat automatic rifles for the price of one Lewis gun. We need one Chauchat per squad while on the go and at least our crews can shoot a few bursts while moving (not lying in the mud) so that enemy heavy machine-gunners can’t stay upright at their own positions without losing their heads. It appears that our American friends believe that only two classes of long arm exist for the infantry: “point-and-shoot-instantly-kill-enemy-from-a-mile-away” long rifle and “magically-invincible-and-unstoppable-unlimited-ammunition-kill-everyone-within-two-mile-radius-without-breaking-or-jamming-whatsoever” machinegun. Heavy suppressive fire comes from heavy machineguns and artillery, not from rifles. Just how naïve can they get?

          Your Honor [addressing Ian], the defense has completed its presentation of collective statements and evidence. Does the prosecution wish to voice any rebuttals or objections?

          Or, in other words, did I mess up this time?

        • I have one major reservation about long recoil infantry weapon: interface of recoiling barrel with magazine, namely top round. It demands some means of collision avoidance which is not easy to do. You can for instance chamfer back end of barrel, but that makes it weaker in chamber area. Still, here is always chance of snubbing bullet’s tip.

          Besides, long recoil on hand held firearms does not add that much in terms of recoil force attenuation. It is useful for auto-cannons of bigger caliber, true but again, it reduces rate of fire.

          • “reservation about long recoil infantry weapon: interface of recoiling barrel with magazine, namely top round”
            The other problem might be “wandering point of center-of-mass”, as moving parts travels greater distance, this might hinder accuracy, however it is possible to have less negative impact that positive effect of said lower Rate-Of-Fire.

        • I would say that “decent” is going just a little bit too far to the good side. I would say “mediocre”, but in modern colloquial English that is almost as bad as actual “bad”. Perhaps “tolerable” would be the right adjective? It was certainly better than no automatic rifle at all, but nevertheless it had many serious flaws.

          • Flaws as compared to what? Weapons that were designed later?
            As compared to bolt action rifles?
            How about compared to handguns?
            Bayonets had a serious flaw, you had to get into the bayonet range of the other guy to fight. You have to judge a weapon in the time it was used. Using historical hindsight is meaningless.

          • Compared to for example the Madsen LMG. It can perhaps be said that the Chauchat magazine design was unavoidable because of the cartridge and the unreliability was a consequence of that. There was, however, no real reason for it to be so open and exposed to dirt. The propensity to seize up after prolonged fire was also a flaw that should have been avoidable.

            Being (almost) the first is not a good excuse for every possible flaw in a design. I also do not see the relevance of the bayonet comparison to this discussion, since nobody has said that the Chauchat should have performed like an MG42 or even like a Bren or DP-27.

          • Comparing Madsens and Chauchats are like comparing apples and oranges. In order to get a useful number of Machine Rifles to the front the French had to consider cost and ease of manufacture an issue. They were dealing in real time, wartime. To say that another gun was superior over another and not include the entire picture, like the practical necessities in order to get the guns made and issued into service in massive numbers is to ignore reality. The Madsen was, for it’s time an excellent design, it is my understanding was never made in large numbers over a demanding schedule and short period of time, nor was it ever battle-tested in the filth of the trenches, it was essentially a good light machine gun suitable for smaller peacetime production runs and specialty units. The Madsen was a Cadillac at a time when Model T’s (Chauchats) were needed. The Chauchat was not a perfect machine, it was a compromise weapon and it did its job in the era for which it was needed. I am not a Chauchat apologist, I just think we ought to stop forwarding second-hand purple prose conclusions that are emotion based not factual, because there were no perfect weapons in WWI. Aircraft had flaws, tanks had flaws, machine guns had flaws, some rifles had flaws. It was a war of innovation and put strains on war production in so many ways. Some 250,000 CSRG 1915’s were used in the War, they proved a valuable tool and they paved the way for more efficient weapons.

          • @Euroweasel

            You are comparing a keg of watered down ale to a single tiny glass of Schloss Johannisberg wine. The Madsen was known to be ridiculously expensive (with the French budget not getting better, you would be lucky to have one issued per 5 infantry platoons during the Great War) for a squad automatic weapon. It was also NOT available in 8x50R Lebel, which would complicate matters quite a bit in terms of logistics. And I have never seen a Madsen LMG fired while on the charge, since there is no practical way to hold it with your off-hand without having to wrap the barrel shroud in rags! Yes, the Chauchat needed a better magazine and barrel housing to prevent jamming, but how much money would you be willing to spend on the latter?

            And FYI, American troops (and civilian commentators) in 1919 said the Chauchat should have performed like the Browning M1918 if it had been designed any better (you should have read one of my previous posts) and they even dismissed the well-regarded Hotchkiss guns as pieces of artistic crap (definitely because of the need for oil and precise motions required to get the ammunition strips fed properly into the receiver). They wanted a magically-indestructible-totally-reliable-SAW-EVERYONE-IN-HALF-WITHIN-TWO-MILES-OF-USER-WITH-RELATIVELY-HIGH-RATE-OF-FIRE-AND-NEVER-JAM automatic rifle that could survive getting smashed through a brick wall, stomped by an angry drill sergeant, and then blasted by hundreds of hand grenades! I’m not kidding, by the way.

            What did I do wrong this time?

      • You are on point Cherndog. Only you are overemphasizing the mag issue in terms of its impact in large numbers where these weapons actually should be judged. The Lewis and Hotchkiss guns were defensive weapons, the Chauchat could do double duty, not as good defensively as the Hotchkiss and Lewis, but it could be carried significantly longer and moved with faster in offensive sorties. I have both a Hotchkiss machine rifle , Lewis and they will wear you out pretty quite if you have to move around a lot. I also have a Chauchat. If you told me we the regiment would be advancing and fighting along the way, I would pick the Chauchat.

    • Your use of worse is relative. Every system, not matter how good has a weakest link but that doesn’t mean the link is particularly bad. While the mag feed lips did cause some issues when mags got reused, there were always new mags being manufactured. Not a major issue. Chauchat mags, and the CSRG 1915 were like Sherman tanks with 75MM guns, there were a whole lot of them and they contributed to victory. Besides you had manual feeding from the Mags and not a lot of use, so they would seem excellent for the Berthier as compared to having to design and make a new mag. The CSRG 1918 is the reason that Chauchats have a bad name, and it has nothing to do with the Maag.

  4. Why do Winchesters of this period seem to have gray receivers…..was this the quality of the metal that would not hold the blue or did the blue turn color?

    • interesting question – a lot of the Winchesters were working guns – the bluing just wore off through use ~ HOWEVER ~ metallurgy in 1900ish is not what it is today compound that with the bluing process uses caustic salts – not only the salt compositions but the processes would differ from manufacturer to manufacturer giving varying results. It’s not uncommon to find early Mausers/military guns from around then with lots of blue left – even the odd Winchester/Marlin can be found with 80% or better left. At a guess; I would assume the civilian guns got more of a cosmetic bluing treatment and military treatments were to protect against abuse & for durability. Another interesting question for more investigation! 🙂

  5. I find it interesting that the French issued rifles to airmen as backup weapons, especially considering the very weak aircraft engines of the day. Every kilogram mattered those days. Aircraft were mostly used quite close to the frontline, so in that sense better weapons for the crews made sense. Still, the contrast to WW2 and later is clear. The German Luftwaffe typically issued .32 ACP pistols for aircrews and the USAAF was looking for a more compact replacement for the 1911A1. In the 1950s they issued .38 Special snubnose revolvers with aluminum frames.

    • Early in the war, it was not really “back up” but as a “primary” weapon, albeit defensive, on two seater aircraft that carried no weapon and had a bit more lift to spare. They were for aviation use, not for downed airmen.

    • “The German Luftwaffe typically issued .32 ACP pistols for aircrews and the USAAF was looking for a more compact replacement for the 1911A1. In the 1950s they issued .38 Special snubnose revolvers with aluminum frames.”
      It should be noted that Luftwaffe also used Drilling (known now as M30 Luftwaffe Drilling) and USAAF used M4 Survival Rifle.
      There is article about aircrew sidearms:
      It states that .38 revolvers (S&W Victory model) were carried by U.S. pilots during WWII in Pacific Theater of War. I want to note that usage of that weapons varied greatly depending on environment – for example in remote areas, main usage might be hunting or defense against wild animals, when in enemy territory – deterrence of outraged civilians.

    • “The German Luftwaffe typically issued .32 ACP pistols for aircrews”
      This, beyond smaller mass, has also that advantage, that when Luftwaffe use .32 Auto as “own” caliber and Heer use 9×19 Parabellum they didn’t compete to get that resources – in fact Heer lacked 9×19 automatic pistols and often used and even produced foreign designs after capturing factories – like for example Pistole 35(p).

      • Luftwaffe bomber and transport crews had an even better option than the M30 Drilling and .32 ACP pistols. Each of the MG15 flexible observer MGs in their planes came with a detachable folding tubular steel shoulder stock plus a detachable bipod. In event of being forced down, the aircrew thus had a rifle-caliber, belt-fed LMG to conduct business with;

        In the last weeks of the war in Europe, a lot of these showed up as ground support guns in the hands of Volkssturm units. As John Walter points out in Guns of the Third Reich, while they didn’t have quick-change barrels like an MG34 or MG 42, they gave at least a measure of fire support to units that otherwise wouldn’t have had any.



        • “In event of being forced down, the aircrew thus had a rifle-caliber, belt-fed LMG to conduct business with;”
          That is assuming that aeroplane crash-landed rather than crew bailed-out – here automatic pistols have advantage over rifles and machine guns.

          • Luftwaffe doctrine was to crashland the bomber rather than bail over remote areas (ex., North Africa) to increase the chances of crew survival. Over the English Channel, or England or France, bailout was considered “good enough” because rescue was always at hand, even if you ended up as a POW.

            That’s how a lot of those Luftwaffe issue automatic pistols, like the Mauser M1910/34 7.65mm with Luftwaffe stamps I once owned, ended up as Allied war souvenirs.




        • The use of MG15 as infantry weapons actually happened much earlier than in 1945. Nearly all of Luftwaffe bombers were in 1943 and 1944 upgraded with the much more formidable MG 81Z in the place of the MG 15. Even surviving older models were eventually upgraded. The MG 15s were then turned over to infantry use, although many of them were used by Luftwaffe ground units rather than the Heer or the Volkssturm.

          The MG 81Z could not be used as a detached infantry MG. Many of them removed from unrepairable bombers were used as AAMGs around airfields with up to four (that is, 8 barrels) firing together. That makes 12,000 rpm or 200 rounds per second. Fortunately for the Allies the short effective range and small caliber made this weapons more impressive visually than in practice. One of the reasons for their availability as AAMGs was that in 1944 Luftwaffe started to replace them with the MG 131 wherever there was enough space that it could be fitted. By that time Allied fighters were sturdy enough that even extremely high ROF rifle-caliber machine guns were obsolescent.

      • I believe that .32 ACP was a secondary or “substitute” standard for the Heer as well. They were issued to higher ranking officers and as secondary weapons for soldiers such as machine gunners, but sometimes to others as well due to the shortage of 9mm Parabellum pistols you mentioned.

    • At least one such revolver, the Colt “Aircrewman” .38 Special, was a variant of the Colt Cobra snubnose that not only had an aluminum frame but an aluminum cylinder as well.

      It was supposedly designed at the request of General Curtis LeMay, but I doubt this as LeMay preferred S&W revolvers. He was the reason guards at SAC bases were armed with S&W M19 “Highway Patrolman” .357 Magnum 4″ revolvers with stag grips.

      When the “Aircrewman” snubs went out of the inventory and into the private sector, most were refitted with steel cylinders by Colt, on the grounds that while the aluminum cylinders were perfectly safe with standard GI .38 Special FMJ, they might not stand up to the high-pressure handloads and “specialty” .38 loads favored by American civilian shooters.



  6. Would be fascinating if you could examine an example of the “volley fire” (full auto) version of the Model 1907. I believe the French used a few thousand, late in WWI, for assault troops.

  7. The order for 15,100 Winchesters was not from 1913. It was placed Sept 22, 1915 by Remington-UMC with Winchester on that date. Remington had the overall contract to supply the French Govt. The guns were for the Ministry of Transport. On the same day, Rem-UMC ordered 15,100,000 FMC ammo from Winchester for the French. The first shipment was 10-13-1915 and was completed 4-6-1915.
    Serial no. 670,777 was made in mid-1914. Dates by George Madis are incorrect.
    The Belgian Congo story is a myth, also started by George Madis. In his defense, he was a pioneer in this subject without the resources we have today.
    The so-called Belgian Congo versions of this carbine have several Belgian proof marks added to the French-contract guns, and one of those marks is a Flaming Bomb with an L inside, stamped on barrel and receiver. That is the Belgian mark applied to a gun not made in Belgium. It was first used July 30, 1924, so obviously not WW1.
    The Remington orders are in the Winchester Factory Records at the Cody Firearms Museum. The serial number corrections are in Bert Hartman’s book on discovery of workmen’s notebooks found at Cody, and the Belgian Proof and Congo information is from Anthony Vanderlinden and Expanded information can be found in my article on this gun in “The Winchester Collector” Fall 2009, pages 13-15.
    My French Mod 1894 and my Model 1892 for the British Navy in WW1 are featured on this month. Check out Othais and Mae.

  8. I have read somewhere that when the manufacturers of the Spencer rifles went bankrupt, Winchester bought their tooling and stock, recalibrated the tooling to make Henry/Winchesters, and sold the last Spencers to France just in time to be of insufficient use in the 1870 war with Prussia. Thus started Winchester’s business with France and thus also did Winchester abolish both a competitor and a competitive (and arguably equal or better) system.

    Thanks to Mr. Carrick for the clarifications above.

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