Mythbusting with the .30-06 American Chauchat: Reliability Test

Everyone knows, of course, that the Chauchat is the worst gun ever, and can’t normally get through an entire magazine without malfunctioning. Well, let’s try that out…and with an ever worse culprit; an M1918 Chauchat made for the AEF in .30-06.

In total, I fired 120 rounds, using Wolf steel-cased .30-06 ammunition (I figure the steel case is just fine for a long recoil system, and the allegedly slightly reduced power of the ammo will be good for the gun). I started getting an odd malfunction after 110 rounds, sort of a reverse runaway. The gun would occasionally stop firing even though I was holding the trigger down. Releasing and pulling the trigger would cause it to fire again, and I’m not yet sure exactly what was happening. I decided to stop the experiment at that point, as I don’t want to damage this hundred-year-old piece. Definitely more to come!

45 Comments

  1. Well, 110 rounds sounds about right for the malfunctions to start with a hot CSRG 1918. Ian can you slug the chamber…would be interesting to see if the dimensions are to original spect (which were supposed to be correct) and can you tell if the chamber is polished?

  2. I remember years ago that WWI vets, who used these, were interviewed. One of the things that came out was that apparently many had been issued the original French chambered version and that many were well worn. It seems that after being used for a while these would get very loose and unreliable. You are also using the shorter magazines for the 30-06 (rather than that half-moon cut out French version). It would be interesting if you had say 5-6 extended magazines and see how it worked after getting hot even doing the correct short bursts you used.

      • I am aware of that; Ian had two mags made up of better material than the original 30-06 magazines which were very flimsy. These were then 10 rounds loaded. What I was saying is that it would be interesting to have the better magazines big enough to actually hold the nominal number of the 30-06 rounds of the WW1 originals. What is coming out in this test is that with good magazines, good ammo and perhaps a properly cut chamber the 30-06 version could at least work as well as a NEW 8mm version. It would be fun to see these being fired on an two gun stage or other active event where you have both movement and engagement of a number of targets and see which does better.

        • 20-rd. half-moon magazine= 8x50mmR Lebel
          16-rd. straight magazine= U.S. .30-06 or Belgian 7.65x53mm. (my choice!)

  3. If I gave you a choice between carrying the Lewis gun and the original Chauchat for an all-out madcap sprinting assault through the trenches (and I literally mean firing on the sprint in this case, not even pausing to set up the bi-pod), which would be better? Let’s also assume that the assistant gunner is also sprinting while carrying the spare magazines and firing his own personal weapon (very likely a small automatic pistol) while on the attack.

    • Being given the choice between those two is sort of like choosing between the frying pan and the fire. If the Lewis is (somewhat) more reliable than the Chauchat, it’s also heavier, even without the dubiously-effective air cooling jacket.

      I think Gen. Julian Hatcher said it best when he observed that after troops at Ft. Hood were given proper training on both the Lewis and the Benet-Mercie Machine Rifle, Model 1910 (aka the Hotchkiss “Portative” in .30-06) they unanimously preferred the latter. Not taking the B-M 1910 to France with the AEF was one of our more serious mistakes in WW1. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the AEF took all the Hotchkiss light and heavy MGs the could get, even in 8 x 50Rmm Lebel, in preference to Lewis guns or even Vickers-Maxims. Whatever else you might say about the Hotchkiss, it was reliable.

      clear ether

      eon

      • Unfortunately for all, the tooling for making American Hotchkiss guns had been sent to do other things by the time the Dough Boys got to France. In other words, you could send the Benet-Mercie to France but not expect to get spare parts if your gun was damaged. It’s just sad that some of the guys in charge of procuring weapons probably said “fat chance America will ever go to war, don’t bother making new machine guns.” If things were any worse, British and French units would probably mock the Americans for lugging outdated Gatling guns to the front (where the Gatling’s operators would become sniper bait) for the lack of Browning machine guns (and lots of Browning guns were not in good supply no thanks to some factories not following the directions on dimensional tolerances). I hope I’m wrong on this!

        • Because after the ‘War to End War’ the Army/Navy budget was cut to the bone and below replacement rate. Remember in the 1940 Louisiana maneuvers troops had to use wooden “machine guns” and trucks in place of tanks. The stock of the M1 rifles – adopted in 1936 – was too small to issue to most troops until late 1942. We did what Germany did in 1932-1939 in about 1 year and then after 1943 massively outdid any Axis power.

    • American forces were not armed with Lewis light machine guns because the Chief of Ordinance had a personal feud with Lewis and would not all any purchase of them before the war. It was fortunate that American industry was already geared towards war production to fill Allied contracts so that at least the troops got the excellent 1917 ‘Enfield’ rather than left over Lebels!

      • “had a personal feud with Lewis”
        It was present, but I am not sure if rework of Lewis to .30-06 would be easy and how much time/work it would need. Notice .30-06 is longer and bigger pressure than ·303 British.

    • Ian – there is a comparison for you: The Benet-Mercie vs the ‘sho-sho’ vs the Lewis. It would be great to see both 200 round firing test and your mud test!

  4. As individuals, most of us would choose the Lewis gun over the Chauchat.

    But, looked at from up high, the Chauchat was much quicker and cheaper to produce.

    So, the question becomes, do we want a few excellent machine guns, or lots and lots of mediocre machine guns?

    • The problem comes using the automatic weapon in the role it was designed for. Walking fire across no mans land requires dependability, portability and a degree of accuracy. If it overheats too quickly, has too many jams or misfires or is wildly inaccurate you are sort of ‘up the creek’. Trying to deal with problems crossing bullet and shell swept ground is not a good recommendation for coming home upright. Again, if the 30-06 version was correctly chambered the -06 magazines probably feed better than the half-moon 8mm ones.

  5. I’m not sure that there’s much support for the idea of speed or hurry in other areas of American involvement in the 1914-18 war

    Even when the decision to officially get involved in the war had been taken

    A fairly serious case can be made for the purpose of the AEF being to sacrifice the lives of virgins, who’d never tasted alcohol,

    Along of course with boondongles for politically connected American manufacturers and financiers, house of Morgan, US Steel, Dupont… and the marginalisation of their competitors, eg kuhn loeb.

    rather than to be militarily effective (take a look at the Fosdick report on the moral hygiene of the conscripts, and acts like the military action to close down New Orleans red light district, for support for that not entirely flippant view point).

  6. Keith – seems like you have a political axe to grind. The US Army remained unprepared for war because W. Wilson did not want to expand and prepare it. There was thus a number of private citizen programs to pre-train and prepare volunteers. Regardless mobilizing and training huge numbers of men takes time and the poor decisions in Washington (including NOT sending the well-trained Black regiments to France) as to men and equipment did not help. The French and British were ‘pissed’ that the AEF would not detail battalion sized or larger formations into their own depleted ones and this at first was reflected in the weapons supplied.

      • Still according to https://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USN/ref/MG/I/MG-4.html#2
        (…)This test[made in year 1913], in so far as the Lewis gun is concerned, indicated that the mechanism had not been developed to a satisfactory stage, having, in the endurance test, 206 jams and malfunctions, 35 broken parts, 15 parts not broken but requiring replacement, as against respectively 23, 0 and 0 for the Vickers gun, and 59, 7 and 0 for the [Benét-Mercié] automatic machine rifle, caliber .30, model of 1909.(…)
        So apparently initially Lewis was not so great in reliability area.

        • Comparing the Vickers-Maxim to the Lewis and M1909 was sort of an apples-and-oranges thing. The Lewis and M1909 were air-cooled light machine guns, while the Vickers-Maxim was a water-cooled heavy machine gun. Generally, you’d expect it to be inherently more durable than an LMG, just due to the parts being bigger and sturdier. It may have been included as a “control” sample, but even in that event, it wouldn’t be a fair or particularly sensible comparison.

          As for Lewis durability, it was mainly a question of manufacture, even allowing for the greater pressures and operating stresses of the U.S. .30-06 cartridge. The Mexican Mendoza LMG was based on the Lewis design, was actually lighter, was made first in 7 x 57mm and then in .30-06, and was known for its reliability. Similarly, the JGSDF’s Type 62 GPMG in 7.62 x 51mm NATO looked like an FN MAG 58 outside, but inside was almost a straight Lewis copy. Which is hardly surprising, as the IJN had use Lewis copies in 7.7 x 56mmR, a direct copy of the 0.303in Enfield round, right through WW2. The Type 62 never saw combat use, but if it hadn’t worked right I doubt the JGSDF would have kept it in service until the early 1990s, which they did.

          The Lewis mechanism can work very well, but it’s a bit particular about both the quality of the metal it’s made of and the ammunition that’s put through it. WW1 Lewis guns had problems with both.

          cheers

          eon

          • “Mexican Mendoza LMG was based on the Lewis design, was actually lighter, was made first in 7 x 57mm and then in .30-06, and was known for its reliability. Similarly, the JGSDF’s Type 62 GPMG in 7.62 x 51mm NATO looked like an FN MAG 58 outside, but inside was almost a straight Lewis copy. Which is hardly surprising, as the IJN had use Lewis copies in 7.7 x 56mmR, a direct copy of the 0.303in Enfield round, right through WW2. The Type 62 never saw combat use, but if it hadn’t worked right I doubt the JGSDF would have kept it in service until the early 1990s, which they did.”
            Ok, but they did not know this in 1913. My point is that while there was some personal conflict between Crozier and Lewis, there were also other signs suggesting against Lewis’ design.

    • I suppose the reason is that the US Army favored having lots of PUNCHING POWER in their guns and ammunition. The drill sergeant had one thing to tell the recruits who flinched and/or tossed away their rifles in terror after shooting ONCE: “Quit screaming like a girl and TAKE IT LIKE A MAN!!!”

  7. You have to remember that terminal ballistics was a young field in 1903. The Hague Convention had outlawed bullets which had excessive expansion (e.g. fragmentation) hence the FMJ bullet with smokeless powder. One can imagine the uproar that today’s 5.56 NATO would cause since terminally is designed to tumble and fragment. At the time a medium weight (140-190 grain) Spitzer going over 2400 FPS was considered needed to give results on the open battlefield (considered to be 700 – 1000 yards). Today the battle range is considered to be much shorter, the ammo load much higher and too much extra equipment added to the infantry weight load.

  8. My college library had a post WWI report on U.S. military production. It included stuff about prototype helmet designs and even body armor. Much cool stuff.

    It ALSO included some unflattering production numbers. No American made tank or plane made it into combat. The end-of-war production for the 1917 Browning was FOUR. Yup, the arsenal of democracy completed FOUR of its official issue heavy machine gun before November 11th.

      • The engines were American but the original aircraft was British. It appears no American-designed aircraft got to see actual front-line service in France.

        And why did machine gun production look so pitiful? Most of the tooling in the American armories wasn’t exactly up to the task of producing machine guns by the dozen per day. From what I read, they were accustomed to the idea of making one machine gun per infantry company, not one per platoon. In other words, the American public said “oh, let the Europeans kill each other in their silly war while we sit here and drink coffee in our picture-perfect-world!” Some Americans were isolationist to the point of demanding that the entire US Navy be scrapped just so that America itself would not have to put up a fight against U-boats if threatened.

        “After all, it is technically illegal to torpedo a merchant who has declared neutrality, right?”

        “WRONG! If bad guys want to kill you, they won’t care if you carry a gun or if all you have in your pocket is a wallet!”

        • “American-designed aircraft got to see actual front-line service in France”
          Polyphemus was writing about American made plane. Which is not equal to American-designed.

        • If bad guys try to warn people not to embark a boat of yours (that can be armed) by sending to your press, telling they suspect it to carry ammunition and possibly guns, but most of the 50 newspapers contacted do not publish the warning, were those bad guys that much twisted?

          When the sunk gun shipment proves the enemy intelligence was right about shipment, could we consider targeting the Lusitania was that illegitimate?

    • Once again, you appear to be mis-remembering *tank machine guns*.

      I think you might be thinking of *Tank machine guns.*
      America’s Munitions, 1917-1919 has a table of U.S. contract MG production for 1918. Actually, it is “Acceptances of automatic arms, by months, in United States and Canada on Unites States Army orders only.”
      Ground machine guns
      Browning heavy–12 in April, 14.6k by October, total 56,608
      Vickers field… 1,021 in Jan to 103 Oct., total 12,125
      Colt 2,816
      Lewis field 291 in Jan. 2,500 total (note well the role of the Chauchat here!)
      Lewis caliber .303 1,050

      Aircraft machine guns
      Browning (too late to see service) 580
      Marlin 38k
      Lewis flexible 39.2k
      Vickers cal. .30 (Sep. on) 2,476
      Vickers 11-mm. (June on) 1,238
      Tank machine guns
      Browning 4
      Marlin 1.47k
      Automatic rifles
      Browning light (from 15 in Feb through 13,687 in October–69,960.

    • And again:

      America’s Munitions, p. 175:
      “Both types of Browning guns proved to be unqualified successes in actual battle, as numerous reports of our Ordnance officers overseas indicated. The following report from an officer, in addition to carrying historical information of interest to those following our machine-gun development, is typical of numerous other official descriptions of these weapons in battle use:

      The guns (heavy Brownings) went into the front line for the first time in the night of September 13. The sector was quiet and the guns were practically not used at all until the advance, starting September 26. In the action which followed, the guns were used on several occasions for overhead fire, one company firing 10,000 rounds per gun into a wood in which there were enemy machine-gun nests, at a range of 2,000 meters. Although the conditions were extremely unfavorable for machine guns on account of rain and mud, the guns performed well. … even though covered with rust and using muddy ammunition, they functioned whenever called upon to do so. … One of these had been struck by shrapnel, which punctured the water jacket. All of the guns were completely coated with mud and rust on the outside, but the mechanism was fairly clean. …

      On November 11 we had built 52,238 BARs in this country (the USA). We had bought 29,000 Chauchats from the French. … In heavy machine guns at the signing of the armistice we had 3,340 of the Hotchkiss make, 9,237 Vickers, and 41,804 Brownings.

      Based upon our output in July, August, and September, 1918, we (U.S. industry) were producing monthly 27,270 machine guns and machine rifles of all types, while the average monthly production of France was at this time 12,126 and that of Great Britain 10,947.”

  9. Nice, clip, Ian, the format of giving the back story while you reload and doing the whole thing in pretty much one take is very engaging. I think I’d prefer an 8mm Lebel Chauchat, but regardless of the caliber, there is something very appealing about the slow “thunk-thunk” of the Sho-Sho. With the correct historical perspective of “this or a bolt-action rifle,” it’s easy to see what a revolutionary weapon it truly was. Cheers, Matthew

  10. Excellent clip! I’d totally be on hand to load the magazines if I lived out in the southwestern desert… Run alongside and try to switch magazines etc.

    As for the choice of a) Lewis Gun alongside, say, Aníbal Millhães–o soldado milhões at Loos in the Portuguese CEP… although he was using his in the defense, not the assault, or b) the French CSRG Mle. 1915 “Chauchat” with a couple VB–Tromblon rifle-grenadiers too, or c) mit a huge, gigantic Fritz named Fritz with an MG08/15 that weighs twice as much… Don’t forget Fritz’s cousin Hans with his also twice-as-much-weight flammenwerfer!! I hate that thing…

    At my age, I’d be trying to run the narrow gauge railway with a single-shot Remington rolling block or Gras or M1891 Mosin-Nagant or Werndl-Holub or “Long Lee” or Reichsrewolwer M1879 or whatever… Hoping my gas mask was up to date and that the “jack johnsons” weren’t sighted in on the depot… Of course most attacks were probably made by “bombing the traverses” with sacks full of hand grenades.

  11. @ Paul Hinds,
    With all due respect, war is political

    It is politics by other means.

    War and the artifacts used in it cannot be understood without reference to the politics and the lobbying of politically connected groups,

    along with the politics, prejudices, family connections and personal debts for previous favours, owed by the people who are in patronage positions.

    The point that I raised about the Fosdick commission, still remains. You blithely dismissed it, you did not address it.

    I also alluded to alcohol prohibition, a long standing campaign by religious pietists. But finally enacted into a constitutional ammendment as a war measure.

    You rightly mentioned the private training camps.
    I’ll also add in the coastal watch and the watch for axis aircraft over America

    These were Morgan and Dupont initiatives

    The house of Morgan was the agent for the sale of British government war bonds in the united state.

    The house of morgan also had significant interests in us steel and Bethlehem steel.

    Dupont’s interest as manufacturers of munitions, is similarly clear.

    There was a fear that Britain would conclude a negotiated peace. This was a real possibility, the spontanaeous Christmas truce of 1914 actually lasted for weeks, it terrified the both the authorities on both sides and their cronies, it was only broken with extreme difficulty.

    It was clear that victory was not going to be easy or quick.

    A quick peace was not in the vested interests of the house of Morgan with its agency for British bonds, and it’s role as financier for us heavy manufacturers such as us steel

    Infact, the longer the war went on, the more money the Morgans and other special interests stood to make.

    The same was true for people who had both “progressive” an religiously pietistic agendas.

    What was better than a crisis such as war to push though unpopular policies as “necessary”?

    Cartelisation of industries, alcohol prohibition and a crack down on religio ethnic minorities (Irish, German and Italian catholics, German lutherans (Wilson’s thuggery against “hyphenated Americans” was a pre fascist illustration of this) and a puritanical crackdown on whore houses had been long standing wasp pietist and progressive programs

    They reached the statute books in the name of ww1.

    Where was the need for haste? the vested interests loved the war, they openly spent the 1920s and 30s harkening back to it and looking for a moral equivalent to war.

    What was better to get people into the spirit of war, than for every family to have a loved one dying in it?
    Purely of course, as a pietistic wasp nation, there couldn’t be any whores or booze involved.

    • “every family to have a loved one dying in it”
      Interestingly Scientific American show under date February 17, 1917 (by error written as 2017) following view:
      If we are drawn into the world war, we may well prove to be the decisive factor; even though we land not a single soldier upon European soil. For it is a fact, well understood by the statesmen and strategists of Europe, that if we were lined up with the Allied cause we should place it in an impregnable position in respect of two of the most vital necessities for the winning of a war of this magnitude, namely, financial resources and munitionment. Excellent though it may be in morale and in its all-round military efficiency, our army would be lost amid the embattled millions of Europe; and the fact that Great Britain defeated the German Fleet off Jutland, and drove it back into its harbors and now holds it there, proves that our battleships would be superfluous in the North Sea. But the moment our enormous financial resources and our vast potentiality for the manufacture of guns, powder and shells, were lined up behind the allied armies, the ultimate overthrow of the Central Powers would be as certain as the rise and setting of the sun.

      • Daweo you are very correct. While Ludendorff’s Last Gasp 1917 offensive had basically petered out by the time the AEF was a significant force the morale effect was tremendous. The Grand Fleet was reinforced by a division of coal fired dreadnoughts to allow the retirement of some British pre-dreadnoughts so as to free up sailors for other duties. The manufacturing might, unlike WW2, was poorly organized at first so was just getting into stride by Nov 1917.

        Regardless this string is getting very far afield from the Chauchat reliability test. My original observation was that the reputation came from the worn-out guns first supplied by the French and then nailed down by the first batches of incorrectly chambered 30-06. The American doughboys were not going to stick with a weapon which jammed or required them to stand in no-man’s-land fiddling with it. This is like the Canadian Ross Rifle it does not matter if they got the ‘kinks’ worked out later – no one was going to trust it!

    • This whole thread of yours is really getting off topic! You do have an extreme view – right or wrong – of the political/capital Anglo-American/British groups. Wilson, while almost deified for some 80 years after his death modern (revisionist) historians recognized his monomania, racist views, and inability to accept criticism. These all lead to his unconstitutional domestic actions. The private “American Preparedness” movement I was referring to was spearheaded by the NRA and similar organizations – and certainly was not controlled by either J.P. Morgan or the Dupont family. The ‘war profiteer’ school of thought is always out there but has served as a smoke screen by politicians to explain away their virtually criminal decision making rather than reflection of reality. These on-line “discussions” of politics will not change anyone’s mind so I hope it ends here.

    • Congratulations Keith,
      truthfully and respectfully laid out facts.

      Had this charade under patriotic pretense not taken place, we would have never heard of Sho-sho. Well, it happened and here we are to take notice and learn.

  12. I could be wrong but after watching a Chauchat repair video by C&Rsenal I have to wonder. Could Chauchats fail to stop working after 300 rounds, because the tube under the flash hider that works as a gas assist gets too fouled up causing piston blockage?

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