M1918 Chauchat: First Shots (Will It Work?)

This M1918 Chauchat is still awaiting NFA transfer, but my dealer was able to bring it out to a public range where I could do some initial testing on it. I was expecting to get extraction problems as soon as it got warm, as that is what the literature suggests will happen. The .30-06 American Chauchats were made with improperly cut chambers. However, I ended up finding no extraction problems at all – although I had lots of feed problems with my original magazines.

People expect that because they don’t have the big open cutouts, the American Chauchat magazines are much better than the semicircular French 8mm Lebel Chauchat magazines. This is not the case; the American mags are made of equally flimsy material, and their feed lips are actually worse that the French magazines. They are supposed to hold 16 rounds, but I could not get more than 13 into any of them before I started to get a worrying amount of mag body bulging and feed lip stress.

I have plans for arranging much more reliable magazines, and once I have those (and the gun is out of NFA jail) I am excited to do a lot more shooting with it!


  1. Looks like a bolt over-ride malfunction. The back of the cartridge doesn’t come up quick enough to get caught by the bolt face as it goes forward. Just my guess.
    Your high speed camera pointed into the ejection port would help.

    • “If there’s a right way to do this and a wrong way to do this, expect most fools to do this thing the WRONG way!!” Guess who said that?

      Considering that Browning, Chauchat, and Kalashnikov didn’t meet (obviously because the first two were dead by the time the last guy was tinkering), is it strange that their designs for automatic rifles all have the safety/selector switch set to Safe-Auto-Semiautomatic in that particular order? Did they all have the same foresight of soldiers mashing the controls while panicking?

      • “Browning”
        I assume you mean J.M.Browning under that
        I assume you mean M.T.Kalashnikov under that.
        Indeed they never meet, however M.T.Kalashnikov was aware of other fire-arms design, including foreign one, he explicitly names Garand self-loading rifle in his memoirs.
        However if you consider this to be unreliable source please refer to 3rd from top photo here:

      • Actually, the standard setup on the Avtomat Kalashnikov is Safe-Automatic-Semi. The first click down on the selector/safety (borrowed from the JMB-designed Remington model 8, BTW), is full-auto because Red Army doctrine called for massed automatic suppressive fire out to 150 meters.

        Beyond that, with the rear sight set to “D” (the battlesight setting), whether in automatic or semi auto mode, with the sights set center on a man’s chest, the bullet will hit him somewhere on a vertical line down the middle of same, between his throat and his waist, out to 300 meters, which was considered the longest practical range for the 7.62 x 39mm round. Which was designed to deliver roughly 400j (~300FPE) at that range, that being considered the minimum energy needed to inflict a crippling or fatal wound with a torso hit. (That is, about dead-center between the typical ME of a .38 Special and a 9 x 19mm.)

        The AK safety-selector and sight system makes perfect sense, once you understand Red Army tactical doctrines of its day. It was designed for maximum effectiveness in massed fire within a 300-meter radius.

        Beyond that, it was a job for either medium machine guns firing the old 7.62 x 54R round, HMGs firing 12.7 x 108 or 14.5 x 114, mortars, or the Queen of Battle; the artillery.



        • True, the Red Army did call for suppressing fire, but the AK design also prevents panic-induced magazine-dumps when taken off safe. The last thing you want is a panicked soldier INDISCRIMINATELY SPRAYING everything in front of him (especially if he grabbed up his AK in the middle of a nighttime enemy invasion into his base camp-he would likely hit both foe AND friend). I wonder if Denny and Daweo would agree with this…

          • “Daweo”
            AK safety was borrowed from Remington Model 8, early design of Kalashnikov namely AK-46 have much different solution in that regard:
            with separate FIRE/SAFE and SEMI/FULL levers and on opposite side that serial AK.
            It is said that it was relocated to where it is now sitting due to make left side flush so you can sling your weapon without selector poking into your body, same for bolt handle which in AK-46 sticks to left (unlike where it is now is). Disassembly procedure was also different.
            However keep in mind that during development of new avtomat for Red Army, commanding staff do not considered copying (borrowing) patented (or not) design features to be acts of extreme evil and did NOT discourage such behaviors (for more see text in link)

        • “designed to deliver roughly 400j (~300FPE) at that range, that being considered the minimum energy needed to inflict a crippling or fatal wound with a torso hit”
          Source? I never meet any requirement like no less than x J at distance of y meters regarding development of 7,62 x 39 cartridge.
          What was main measurement in 1940s was дальность прямого выстрела (ДПВ) that is range at which height of trajectory will be equal to given value, in that case that value is 0,4 m. German 7,92 Kurz has that parameter equal to 300 m. For 7,62 x 39 in final variant it is equal to 365 m (for SKS). There were also 6,75 mm cartridge with that parameter equal to 400 m and 350 m, but never go beyond tests.

          • For data about 1940s Soviet experimental intermediate cartridge see table here:http://otvaga2004.ru/kaleydoskop/kaleydoskop-ammo/glavnyj-kalibr/
            However keep in mind that last row (recoil impulse) was unknown back then and it was calculated in our days.
            Data from top to bottom:
            CALIBER, mm
            CARTRIDGE LENGTH, mm
            BARREL LENGTH, mm
            MUZZLE VELOCITY, m/s
            ENERGY AT MUZZLE
            ENERGY AT 1000m

          • What you probably think of is “point blank range” which enables to hit human size target (specifically torso) without changing point of aim. For relatively heavy and slow M43 bullet it is right at 300m range – practical for common ground use.
            Also, kinetic energy is plentiful at that range, against unprotected (other than combat fatigues covered) target.

            Those who tend to belittle M43 round should think again; armies of Egypt, Pakistan, India, Indonesia and whole middle East retain this versatile shot for their general issue rifles. There has nor been one more grunt-suitable shot to this day.

          • “belittle M43 round”
            Many effort was put into designing that cartridge, despite pattern 1943 designation it did not evolved into formal form until 1949.

    • Jim, I do believe you’re right, it’s a bolt over base malfunction. I suspect 100 year old magazine spring issues, these were made when spring technology was in it’s infancy. Provided the follower travels freely in the magazine body, that due to it’s reported thin construction tends to flex.

  2. Can someone explain why the effect of the bolt reaching the end of its rearward travel cannot be easily mitigated by using a buffer spring? It would seem to me that a buffer spring would help a great deal and I am surprised one was not added during trials, so I’d like to understand if it really would help.

    • Here are a few thoughts. First is the bit about the bolt reaching the end of its travel. This is a long recoil operated gun, so it is the reciprocating mass (bolt and barrel) reaching the end of its travel. This doesn’t change the buffer question, but there is a lot more mass, albeit moving slower.

      Secondly this gun is 100 years old and the spring issue discussed above also applies to the recoil springs. There is no guarantee that it performed the same in trials as it does now.

      Another thing to consider is that the bolt unlocks from the barrel when they are at the rear and is latched to the frame until the barrel returns forward and releases it. Doing this under the effects of a buffer may affect the timing, especially if the buffer degrades over time and use.

      I don’t know, but the chamber seems fine so a tinkerer might start with at least a new barrel spring.

    • Depends on the nature of the buffer. A simple spring buffer (a stout coil spring that takes effect only in the last fraction of bolt travel) is very effective at reducing peak forces, and thus resolving bolt/receiver battering problems, but it remains a fundamentally elastic collision — the bolt+barrel rebound off the buffer and/or receiver at nearly the same speed they made contact. Thus there is little if any difference in recoil from adding such a spring buffer.

      An elastic collision transmits twice the recoil impulse into the stock compared to the ideal completely inelastic collision, where the bolt+barrel come to a full stop, and then travel forward propelled by their recoil springs. (Hatcher’s Notebook has a very good discussion on the transmission of recoil between the moving and fixed parts of recoil operated guns; it also applies to blowback, if one makes the appropriate identification of the barrel as a fixed part rather than a moving part; if my explanation isn’t clear enough, I recommend it instead.)

      There are various ways to implement less elastic buffers — simple buffers made of some rubber/fiber materials can behave at least partly inelastic, you can also combine a spring with a hydraulic damper, or you can play games with moving shot/weights like a dead-blow hammer or the AR-15’s buffer.

      • “Thus there is little if any difference in recoil from adding such a spring buffer.”
        So apparently if even they tested such solution, concluded it is not worth additional price.

  3. ” expect that because they don’t have the big open cutouts, the American Chauchat magazines are much better than the semicircular French 8mm Lebel Chauchat magazines.”
    Indeed, beyond lack of that cutouts, U.S. one is straight rather than half-moon, so spring should have less resistance from follower vs magazine wall to overcome. However, as that example shows even simple box magazine can be made unreliable. What are whyabouts of chosen capacity (16) for U.S. version? Why they do not make 20-rounder, same capacity as French?
    From all Chauchat version Belgian seems most reliable:
    it used 7.65×53mm Mauser cartridge (7,65 mm ARGENTINE in U.S. collectors parlance) that allowed banana rather than half-moon, was rimless not rimmed and also shorter than .30-06 which is not without meaning for full automatic weapons.

    • These sixteen-rounders are surprisingly straight. I wonder what is angle of presentation like…. and then what happens during shot pick up, but 30.06 should be lot better at that than 8mm Lebel. Something fishy’s there.

      • How about “the design engineers and the quality control guys were not actually doing their jobs right?”

        • Solid/ 3d modelling is extremely helpful tool in these days – it speeds up process and allows for quick assessment what is going on. They had not a chance to proceed in the same way, so they trialled and error’d. Even in late 60s when I started in R&D we had just board and pencils.

          • French industry does not produce just questionable products like the one in subject of this article. By coincidence, it was French company who introduced first car designed by use of French created fluid dynamics software. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euclid_(computer_program)

            The car, Citroen GS was instant hit with up to 1.9 millions built; it became Car of the year 1971. It used doubled flat twin ‘deux-chevaux’ engine from 2CV, thus creating relatively comfortable and fast car. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citro%C3%ABn_GS

            And again, by coincidence or not, the Dassault company owns rights for most prolific 3d software like Catia and Solid Works (originally created in States by renegade programmers from Pro-Engineer). Anyone involved with these tools will tell you that SW is great while Pro-E sucks (and I tried it too).

          • “French”
            Also their automobile industry was first to use so called Bézier curve
            Renault firm was first to use it in design of car body (and are named after engineer Bézier, who worked for Renault). Speaking simply that curve allows for drawing nice looking curve after placing 4 points (in 2D space), for more data see: Quadratic Bézier

    • The major reason for the 16-round rather than 20-round magazine was that a 20-round would have been about as long as the bipod legs, which could have presented a problem in firing the gun from the prone position.

      A better idea might have been a clockwork-type “snail drum” like that on the Beardmore-Farquhar automatic rifle of about the same time. The magazine was about the only thing about that one that actually worked correctly.



  4. This must be super adventure to shoot. I admire the gunner in his unwavering enthusiasm for this weird creature.

    • “weird creature.”
      Chauchat got opinion of worst machine gun, whatever such statement is true or not is disputable, however we should never forget to ask crucial question: what was alternative?
      For U.S. forces BAR 1918 is answer, however it must be noted that there were some problems early with production.
      For French I don’t know.
      And what opposing side was deploying? MG 08/15 which has not so dubious reliability and was belt-feed, but when ready to fire its mass was over 20 kg.

  5. Cool thing about it is that it will be cheaper to feed vs having a Chauchat in 8mm Lebel. I suppose getting this is why your Vickers found a new home?

  6. THis is really fascinating, I’m glad that someone like you with both the historical and mechanical aptitude and access to good high-speed cameras has it to show off. I suspect that high-speed camera footage will reveal the nature of the problem in much greater detail once the firearm is released to you.

  7. Ian, I doubt you read this far into the posts/threads, but I have had this same sort of misfeed/failure to feed with an M1 Garand rifle, and it didn’t result from the en-bloc clip/magazine but from the ammunition…

    Are the cartridge cases you’re using annealed? There should be a visible difference in the color of the brass cases up by the case neck. This is heat treating to ensure more reliable use in self-loading and even full auto mechanisms. If the brass is not annealed properly, it can stretch and strain. In a worst case scenario, the case head can be torn off the case, leaving the rest inside the chamber.

    Could it be that the bolt, having been tripped by the mechanism after the barrel returned to battery, picked up the top round, the nose of the bullet hit the top of the chamber or whatever, and then the cartridge buckled at the non-annealed case mouth before being shoved anyway into the chamber by the force of the bolt?

    As pointed out up post, a camera focused on the chamber might capture the point where the barrel decouples from the bolt, the empty is extracted and ejected, and then the bolt runs forward in the cycle of operations, but in this case causes a failure to feed and buckles the actual cartridge case?

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