Origin: France Year: 1915 Type: Machine rifle/light machine gun Caliber: 8x50R Lebel (7.65x53mm and 7.92x57mm Mauser conversion; 1918 model in .30-06) Weight: 9.07 kg (20.0 lb) Length: 1,143 millimeters (45.0 in) Barrel length: 470 millimeters (19 in) Capacity: 20rds
Perhaps the most undeservedly maligned machine gun in history, the Chauchat was an early light machine gun/machine rifle design from early World War I. The Chauchat was and still is a rather unique weapon. One notable aspect of the design is its use of the long-recoil mechanism, the only machine gun to do so. In this arrangement, the barrel recoils along with the bolt when fired and returns forward via spring power while the bolt remains locked rearward. Once the barrel is back in position, the bolt returns forward and chambers another round. Notable examples of this type of mechanism include the Remington Model 8 semi-automatic rifle and Browning Auto-5 semi-automatic shotgun.
The Chauchat also demonstrated the benefit of organic fully-automatic fire during the infantry assault. The machine rifle increased the firepower of the advancing force and thus enabled them to better suppress enemy positions and break through their lines. The idea would continue on with the BAR M1918 and other light machine guns and submachine guns and eventually culminated in the assault rifle concept in subsequent conflicts.
The Chauchat has gained a rather negative reputation as a horribly unreliable weapon. The long-recoil design did not lend itself to sustained automatic fire as the barrel would stick as it heated up due to the expansion of metal at increased temperatures; however, it should be noted that the weapon was not intended to provided sustain automatic fire in a defensive position but instead provided support on the advance with short burst or semi-automatic fire. The weapon, especially the open sides of the magazines, allowed for dirt and debris to enter the weapon and thus meticulous cleaning and maintenance were mandatory. The reputation of the M1918 version, rechambered to .30-06 for American use, has also tainted the weapon's history as the M1918 was poorly adapted to the cartridge and poorly built with several examples unable to even chamber a round.
While the Chauchat may be rated by many as the worst machine gun ever built, the CSRG 1915 served rather admirably with several nations during and after the war. Countries which issued the weapon include France, the United States (which requisitioned the 8mm Lebel version after problems with CSRG 1918), Greece, Serbia, the Russian Empire, Belgium (many of which were converted to 7.65x53mm Mauser), Poland. In Polish service the Chauchat saw postwar use as early as 1919 following the joint Soviet Russian and Soviet Ukrainian invasion of Poland. The weapon left a positive enough impression that more were ordered and the design adopted as a standard issue machine gun in the Polish army until it was replaced in 1928 with a modified version of the Browning Automatic Rifle.