39 Comments

  1. The St. Etienne was a joke. Its gas piston acts like a blow-forward action, if I’m not mistaken. EVERYONE HATED IT! The M1914 on the other hand was a great piece of machinery, if only because its action was simpler and less prone to jamming (though it probably needed oiling every few strips). Ironically, the Browning M2 wasn’t the first machinegun to be chambered for something bigger than a rifle cartridge. If I’m correct, it was an unreliable 11 mm Hotchkiss that served as inspiration…

    • “If I’m correct, it was an unreliable 11 mm Hotchkiss that served as inspiration…”
      There was also 11mm Vickers machine gun chambered for Gras rifle round, if I’m not mistaken it was designed to be anti-balloon machine-gun

      • Also the .500 Colt-Kynoch (also known as .50 Kynoch and under other names) exist, so far I know it was developed before WW1. This cartridge can been here: http://www.quarryhs.co.uk/tankammo1.html as a 12.7×110. Notice the round-nosed projectile typical for 19th century cartridges. Sadly I can’t find any picture of machine gun.

  2. Ah, yes, the St. Etienne ’07. W.H.B. Smith loved that… thing. Here’s what he said;

    This gun represents yet another unsuccessful attempt to improve the basic Hotchkiss. It takes its name from the fact that it was designed by officers and made at the French Arsenal at St. Etienne.

    Just about the most stupid thing any design group can do is make a change just for the sake of change- or for private empire building. The St. Etienne gun illustrates this technique.

    The gun merely reverses the successful gas piston system of operation. The gas is utilized to drive the piston forward to unlock the bolt- instead of to the rear. This requires a gear rack and spring-loaded rod hooked up to the piston. The gear rack in turn is engaged with a spur gear which in turn is secured to an operating lever. this lever in forward position engages a cam slot in the bolt to lock it when firing.

    As the gun fires, tapped-off gas blows the piston forward. This compresses the spring attached and also forces the spur gear to rotate. The operating lever turns with the gear through a half turn, thereby withdrawing the bolt and halting it in the rear horizontal position.

    The operating spring now reacts to drive the piston to the rear. This in turn brings the bolt back to firing position. The operating spring under the barrel is behind the piston and must be exposed at all times as otherwise heat would destroy its temper in very short order.

    In (World)War 1 complaints by soldiers resulted in its replacement in the field by the Hotchkiss. Its heavy cast brass receiver identifies it immediately.

    -Smith, Small Arms of the World, 9th ed., p. 130

    If you look at the innards of an ’07, they would be entirely familiar to anyone who knows either steam locomotives or medieval weaponry. The gearing system is almost identical to that of a “journal box” on an old 4-4-0 American loco, or the guts of a “cranequin”, a geared crank-operated device used to cock a ballista, a heavy military crossbow designed to fire quarrels that could punch through mail or plate armor.

    Just what it’s all doing inside a heavy machine gun is a pretty good question.

    According to Hogg (MS20C), postwar, the French army decided that the St. Etienne ’07 was “best suited for use in the tropics”, and shipped most of them off to the colonies. He further states that this was the French SOP for getting rid of inadequate or useless ordnance without actually admitting it. As a result, most ’07s ended up with outfits like the Foreign Legion and were long ago worn out and scrapped.

    This photo showing one along with a Hotchkiss and a captured MG08, plus the uniforms on the fellows posing, makes me suspect an early war date. Probably some time in late 1914 or early 1915.

    cheers

    eon

  3. The St Etienne was not a laughable matter, but a serious mistake and an example how overpaid but underbrained state monopolists can hurt the state itself. As Hotchkiss was a private company, it was snubbed by the French army, and only used by the colonial troops – and adopted by the ‘real’ French army only in 1915 after the colonials shone in the trench warfare in comparison with French units. Same story with the Berthier rifle – only used by colonial troops in 1914, and then adopted when proved better. That’s why the Berthier model is 1907/15, but (almost) no one have ever seen a Model 1907. In 1907 it was only adopted by Senegalese rifles and Annamite (Vietnamse) marines – whereas 1915 is a year of adotpion by the metropolitan troops. At first the StEtienne even had a different (though looking very much like Hotchkiss) feed strip (stripping rounds rearwards instead of push-through Hotchkiss feed – that’s why StEtienne was able to use an ordinary canvas belts, while Hotchkiss needed the all-metal ‘semirigid’ belt), and it took until 1917 for the Hotchkiss to prevail and for the French to modify the remaining StEtiennes to use the Hotchkiss strip (although they still extracted the rounds rearwards).
    Now with the 11 mm you’re wrong – it was NOT bigger than the rifle cartridge. The 11 mm x 59R Gras Mle 1874 was exactly the rifle cartridge, just a generation older one, pre-smokeless, and a base upon which the French 8 mm x 50R was jury-rigged in 1886 by necking-down the case and trimming to keep the O/A length in check with a longer bullet. That proved a blessing in 1915, when the much bigger bullet offered more payload for tracer and incendiary. The first such large caliber machine guns were the British Maxims in .450 Martini-Henry and the French Hotchkiss in 11 mm Gras, then the Gras was chosen for further development, because the French ammo factories were easier to revert from ‘Lebel’ round to the Gras than the British from .303 to .450 MH. Conversely, the Hotchkiss was a lousy aircraft gun because it fired from the open breech and cannot be synchronized – that’s why it was only used on ground as the anti-baloon MG, and on French Voisin aircraft as observer’s guns. For the fighters the 11 mm Gras was used in a suitably beefed-up Vickers machinegun, manufactured mostly by Colt, and used on both French and British fighters. The Hotchkiss was doing all right with the 11 mm round – it just lacked the synchronization capability of a Vickers.

    And you’re wrong again in Browning M2 being the first HMG – that palm goes to the Germans with their TuF-MG 18, a kind of Maxim on steroids chambered in 13 mm x 92SR, the T-Gewehr ammunition. The Germans not only did designed it, but actually manufactured at least 250 units (at least that was the s/n of the preserved one I have examined in Koblenz), which were saved for the decising offensive of 1919 – that never came. The M2 was an American responce to the TuF-MG 18, by scaling-up Browning 1917. As was the .5-in. Vickers, likewise a midway size between rifle caliber and Pom-Pom Vickers.

    • Sorry about the errors, but I said that the M2 WASN’T the first HMG. And speaking of hare-brained state monopolists, the American Ordinance Board claimed that the development of automatic machineguns was unnecessary, that there was no need to develop weapons for invading other territories (isolationist humbuggery being a big part in this), and that the Browning M2 couldn’t be scaled up to become an auto-cannon.

      Hiram Stevens Maxim’s guns, once demonstrated before many powers (and even test-fired by Kaiser Wilhelm II), became a commercial success in the more sensible countries. Sadly, France turned to its hair-brained nut-jobs who had nothing better to do than fiddle with a good design and then trash it, Italy adopted the Fiat-Revelli for lack of funds to buy the Maxim, and America went to war with no idea that industrialized war required more than fighting spirit and individual marksmanship (hard to do that in the trenches and when your enemy is likely disguised as a bush or hiding behind a rock rather than standing up or hiding behind a tree).

      American forces defending Bataan were given stuff that was one war out of date! They weren’t outnumbered, but they were certainly outgunned (lack of a good LMG, lack of good artillery, and virtually no anti-aircraft capability). Even more insultingly, all the planes of the USAAC in the area were outclassed by the aircraft used by the Imperial Japanese Navy-when the top-brass racists thought Japanese warplanes were all half-broken patched-up rejected biplanes bought from Europe and that Chinese reports of Japanese weapons developments (including Japan’s unreliable tanks) were exaggerated or even fabricated by uneducated Chinese victims.

      Last rebuttal for the ordinance board: In complete ignorance of the buffoons in charge of giving GIs their stuff, the few good engineers of resource-poor Imperial Japan managed to duplicate the M2 and make it an auto-cannon that outclassed the Oerlikon and the Hispano-Suiza. Even crazier, one Browning M2 “copy” was a 37 mm cannon…

      • As Chinn relates in The Machine Gun, Vol. 2, while U.S. Ordnance experts were swearing it was impossible to create a 20mm cannon better than the cranky Hispano/Oerlikon/Becker-based AN-M2/M3 series by scaling up the Browning .50 M3 to 20mm, the Japanese Navy did just that, resulting in the Type 2 (1942) 20mm aircraft cannon that by 1944 was the standard 20mm on almost every Japanese fighter, Navy or Army.

        BTW, the 11mm French/British “anti-balloon” heavy MG round, while based on the 11x59R Gras, was not exactly the same. It was redesigned by Vickers with a different, flatter rim to facilitate operation through both the Maxim and Hotchkiss actions, neither of which “liked” the reverse-beveled, thick M/1871 Mauser-type rim of the Gras cartridge case. It also had a more straight-walled profile, with a sharper shoulder angle, more like the 7.9 x 57 Mauser than the .303 Enfield or 8mm Lebel rounds.

        Finally, it was never loaded with anything but a full-metal-jacket bullet of about 400 to 500 grains (with or without an incendiary pellet inside) and smokeless powder, giving a MV of about 1,600 F/S. By comparison, the Gras round was always loaded with a 365 to 385 grain lead bullet in front of about 70-78 grains of black powder, resulting in about 1,490 F/S at the muzzle.

        Could the 11x59R Gras round be fired in the Maxim or Hotchkiss balloon guns? Probably. It might work for one shot, but I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t extract or eject properly, let alone fed the next round. And I doubt that you could get it out without having to field-strip the weapon.

        (Barnes, Cartridges of the World, 6th ed., p. 280)

        cheers

        eon

        • “the cranky Hispano/Oerlikon/Becker-based AN-M2/M3”
          Why the American Hispano cannon has serious reliability issues when the British Hispano (Hispano Mk.V) has not? Who is guilty for the jam-prone of American Hispano? Can’t United States get the blueprints of British Hispano?

          • Apparently not. The AN/M2 was based mainly on French blueprints of the original HS.404. There was the later AN/M3, adopted by the US Navy in 1944, which was more reliable, but I don’t know if that was because of British input or the USN independently debugging the M2.

          • Again according to Chinn, the AN-M2/M3 was redesigned in an attempt to avoid using pre-lubricated cases but still use the standard 20mm round. In the end, they had to go back to using lubed cases, but by 1944 had developed a hard wax formulation that could be applied during manufacture, eliminating the need for lubing the cases in the field. The wax also didn’t attract dust, grit, etc., the way conventional lubricants did.

            Today, we call it generic automobile paste wax. And yes, it was developed by Johnson & Johnson.

            cheers

            eon

      • Not quite, Andrew and eon:

        The Japanese 20mm autocannon based on the M2 Browning was the Ho-5, which was used only by the IJAAF. The IJN stuck to the Oerlikon API blowback based Type 99-2 (not Type 2, which was an Navy 13mm machine gun based on the German MG 131) to the end.

        Also, the 20mm AN/M2 was not really related to the Becker/Oerlikon API blowback family of guns. It was an American copy of the French Hispano HS.404 modified for belt-feed. The HS.404 family of guns were gas-operated and not API blowback , and after the teething problems were sorted out, they turned to be rather good at least in the British service. Compared to the Ho-5 they fired a heavier projectile at a higher muzzle velocity, and the final version, the Hispano Mk. V, even had about as high rate of fire as the Ho-5 (the Mk. II somewhat lower). The US AN/M2 apparently never received the improvements made by the British to the HS.404 (which really was unreliable) for some reason and the manufacturing quality was also questionable.

        As for the US Army weapons in Philippines in 1941: yes they were out-gunned, but numerically rather than qualitatively. The Japanese artillery was numerically weak and somewhat technically outdated by European standards, and their infantry lacked automatic weapons. The main Japanese LMG in 1941 was still the Type 11, which was hardly a paragon of reliability. They also did not have full TO&E strength of LMGs (the number was increased after Khalkhin-Gol, where the Soviets already had a DP for each squad). It was not so much that the US Army had bad weapons rather than it was just not ready for the Japanese invasion and simply lacked both the numerical strength and the necessary preparations (fortifications etc.) for a more successful defense of the Philippines.

        The Japanese tanks were not tactically superior to the M3 tanks the US Army had in Philippines, quite the contrary in fact. Their main tank was the Type 95 “Ha-Go” light, which was armored only against rifle-caliber weapons and its medium-velocity 37mm Type 94 gun could penetrate the M3’s frontal armor only at close ranges (about 300 meters or less). The M5 gun of the M3 (don’t you just love US designations), on the other hand, could pierce through the Type 95’s armor from all sides at any realistic combat distance. The M3 also had more forward-facing machine guns, which made it a better infantry support vehicle. The Type 95, however, was mechanically fairly reliable, so Japanese tanks were not all unreliable…

        I do agree that the US Navy and Army seriously underestimated Japanese airpower and that error contributed a lot to the early successes of the Japanese.

        • My last day on active duty at the USAARENBD at Ft. Knox, a friend and I ran into an elderly gentleman who’d been a National Guard tanker in the Philippines in ’41.

          He said that as long as they had gas and ammunition, they went through the Japanese tankers like crap through a goose. He wished they’d had a good HE-AP round.

          The Japanese never really understood tanks as Germany, Britain, the Soviet Union and we did.

          If you read Coox’s “Nomonhan”, you see just HOW obtuse their armored doctrine was.

          They treated a disabled tank like a naval vessel. Unlike in virtually every OTHER armored force, where if your vehicle was disabled, you made sure it couldn’t be turned against you and bailed, hopefully to be picked up by another vehicle, a Japanese tank commander (and crew) were supposed to “go down with the ship”. When you disabled out a German tank, the Germans lost (maybe temporarily) a tank. When you disabled a Japanese tank, the Japanese lost tank AND crew.

          Even for the Japanese, it didn’t take THAT long to build a tank. A competent tank CREW? That takes months if not YEARS to build.

          It just goes to show that al Qaeda was hardly the first “death cult” around…

          • Yes, guys, I hear you. But nobody addressed my concern that Americans in Bataan didn’t have good AA guns. I read a first-person account of the bombings that occurred then, and many American troops tried to shoot down Japanese medium bombers using the Browning M1917s and M1919s when the proper anti-aircraft guns and heavy M2s weren’t available. You can imagine that the rifle-caliber bullets never reached the bombers’ altitude, let alone damage the planes!

          • “Yes, guys, I hear you. But nobody addressed my concern that Americans in Bataan didn’t have good AA guns. I read a first-person account of the bombings that occurred then, and many American troops tried to shoot down Japanese medium bombers using the Browning M1917s and M1919s when the proper anti-aircraft guns and heavy M2s weren’t available. You can imagine that the rifle-caliber bullets never reached the bombers’ altitude, let alone damage the planes!……”

            Of course if McArthur hadn’t allowed his air force to bombed out of existence on the ground, things would have at least been somewhat different.

            Regarding A/A guns, the Japanese never really came up with a good one, ESPECIALLY a low altitude one, being largely stuck with their obsolete 75mm A/A gun and 13.2mm Hotchkiss clones. That’s why (along with the virtual nonexistance of a Japanese night figher force) Lemay’s B-29s could fly at low altitudes, inundating the Japanese with napalm bombs.

          • If I remember correctly, the US Army did not even issue anti-aircraft sights as standard for the M1917 and M1919 machine guns. And since tracer ammunition was not widely available, trying to hit ANYTHING flying through the air at faster than about 50 mph would have been nearly impossible even if the target was flying low. In practice, both an AA sight and tracer ammunition are necessary for effective AA gunnery. Many people think that simple ring AA sights are not much better than instinctive shooting, but that is a big mistake. Without the reference provided by the ring(s) adjusting the fire for correct lead on a moving airborne target is extremely difficult. Not to say that iron ring sights are good AA sights, but they are much better than nothing, provided you know how to use one.

            Chris, the Japanese were not quite as bad in their AA weapon design as you make it sound. They had two 20mm AA gun design, the Type 98, which was based on the 13.2mm Hotchkiss machine gun, and the Type 2, which was based on the German 20mm FlaK 38. Towards the end of the war they also designed double barrel versions of both guns. The Type 98 was numerically the most important one with 2,500 pieces build. However, that was not nearly enough to cover the vast areas the Japanese had to defend.

            They also copied the Bofors M29 75mm AA gun from a captured example as the Type 4 AA gun. The Bofors gun was among the best 75mm AA guns of the 1930s, but production of the Type 4 started only in 1944. The main Japanese 75mm AA gun was the Type 88, which was based on 1920s Vickers AA gun (I don’t know exactly which model) and admittedly obsolescent by 1941.

            Perhaps the biggest shortcoming of Japanese AA defenses (apart from insufficient numbers) was the complete lack of a weapon in the 37-40mm class. Such weapons were small enough to track even small fast moving targets, but a single hit could bring down a fighter and seriously damage even a heavy bomber.

        • That’s a pretty good condensed analysis on the subject(s) at hand. By the way, The Japanese adaptation of the Browning M2 in 20mm caliber, which turned out to work quite well in operational practice, was something the old Ordnance Board had written off as “impossible” in its collective wisdom when someone had proposed such a caliber increase based on the existing Browning .50-caliber action in the U.S., an event that only serves to further illustrate the ingrained narrow mindset and organizational culture originally engendered by the autocratic General Crozier ( who once rejected the ideas of one Colonel Lewis — yes, that Colonel Lewis, designer of the Lewis Gun — simply because he disagreed with the latter, and viewed the whole episode as a personal affront ).

  4. As a side note, Trigger Discipline was sort of considered ‘optional’ until the 70’s or so. When my uncle went through basic training in the early 70’s they were just beginning to enforce it.

    Great pic!

  5. When I look at that Hotchkiss, it always make me think: how they made that barrel? If the fins represent the maximum O/D, how much they had to turn down from the blank. Unless the isolator like looking fins were pressed on.

    • As I recall, the cooling fins, etc., used by the Hotchkiss guns weren’t integral parts of the barrel. I know that at least some of them used bronze “donuts” as heat radiators.

    • Early on, the Hotchkiss guns had “bare” barrels, and had problems with bleeding off heat fast enough to avoid problems.

      Then they tried machining small radial “fins” into the barrel to increase radiating surface. The Hotchkiss Portative and its American analog, the Benet- Mercie’ Machine Rifle, had this setup, and that’s where the idea for the “finned” or “reeded” barrel on the Thompson SMG came from.

      Finally, they determined that for a heavy MG that had to deliver sustained fire, more cooling was needed. The result was the five big “rings”, which were either machined from steel, or if made of bronze cast, as a “sleeve”, that either way just slipped into place over the barrel and was secured by a few screw threads near the breech end. Simpler to make, easier to deal with, and it got the job done about the same way using a pair of metal alligator clips as a “heat sink” works when you’re soldering small-diameter wire.

      One dirty trick I learned from my great-uncle who was in “The Great War” was that you could get a bucket of lukewarm water and a couple of towels or similar big, thick pieces of absorbent cloth, and when the gun’s “rings” began to get noticeably hot, just double the cloth over, soak it in the bucket, and drape it over the barrel without wringing it out first. You could hear the sizzle as the water steamed, rapidly carrying off the heat. Switch the cloths every couple of minutes, and you’d be surprised how long you could sustain fire without overheating the gun barrel.

      cheers

      eon

      • Interesting information Eon
        and it makes sense. I probably seen it somewhere but do not have enough visual retention..:-)

        Speaking of cooling fins, it is interesting how this elaborately made ‘dress-up’ for example on ZB26 and ZB30 were omitted later on Bren. More current models such as MAG58 or PKM do not use them at all. I’d call it shift in thinking.

        • Excellent points, Denny ( BTW, it’s very good to hear from you again, as always ). I think that more modern MG’s ( read GPMG’s ) have been able to completely dispense with cooling fins for sustained fire mainly because they incorporate the quick-change barrel feature, and secondarily have combined this with newer metallurgy, while still being able to maintain or reduce barrel weight.

          • In addition, changes in tactics after WW1 have made sustained MG fire less needed. The “heavy” machine guns of WW1 (Maxim, Vickers, Hotchkiss etc.) were mostly defensive weapons, although with careful setup of firing sectors they could be used to support local attacks within line-of-sight and even indirect support was a possible. Still, during attacks they would be constantly left behind and since warfare became increasingly mobile after WW1, the “heavy” MGs with their sustained fire capability became less useful, and medium (or GP) machine guns with QC barrels could take over their remaining niche.

          • Thanks for your welcoming tone, Earl. Yes, I am ‘back on casual basis’ after taking self-imposed sabbatical.

            Also, my respect to Chris Morton; there is no intention of snubbing anyone who is inclined to converse with me.

      • Very interesting information regarding the pre-QCB air-cooled machine gun quandary per sustained fire requirements — thanks for sharing the trick for enhancing heat dissipation!

    • Do you have a picture of the insignia for USAARENBD. I was stationed there in 1972, before being sent to Germany. I never did get to see an emblem of our unit while there. Been trying to find a picture of it for a long time now. Thank you John

  6. The Hotchkiss guns would have been superior to those Chauchat automatic rifles used by the French Army during that period. I’am familiar with the 5.56 M249 “SAW” and the 7.62 M240 from my time as an Infantry Marine. European readers will know these weapons as the “Minimi” and the “FN MAG.” Looking at the Hotchkiss M1914,I cant help but wonder if the design had been influential to the later Belgian weapons that I have mentioned.

    • There is grain of truth in what you are saying. Yes, I observe the trend as much as you do.

      Since every contribution to design evolution has its own merit, I do not prefer to resort to terms like “copying” or even “borrowing” ideas, but rather ‘influencing’ or ‘inspiring’.

      As case in point may be taken the M240 you mention – this is symbiosis of previous Browning developments based on BAR (inverted) action and MG42 belt feed. No one may be offended by it – the merge is nearly perfect.

      In case of Hotchkiss 1914 I can see its following in form of later ZB guns (albeit with deferent feed features).

  7. The much lower ( and therefore more discreet and more effective battlefield ) profile engendered by the sled mount of the MG-08 is noticeable in this photograph.

  8. Ah Ah ! And don’t forget a good, professionnal and very secure trigger discipline !
    ‘t’was an other era, doesn’t count…

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