Monday, April 1, 2013

Weapon Fail : Chauchat

Some weapons may seem great in the workshop under development or on the drawing board. However once they are used on the slightly less controlled situation of the battlefield then design flaws which went unnoticed at the factory often shown up especially if they have been badly made. Such was the case with the FM Chauchat or Fusil Mitrailleur Modele 1915, a light machine gun developed by the French in the First World War.

Over a quarter of a million Chauchats (named after the man who headed the commission that accepted the gun into service) were made making it the most widely produced automatic weapon of the war and it was used by the French and seven other nations. It was one of the first light machine guns that could be carried and fired by 2 men, one to fire it and someone to assist him, instead of needing a whole team. There was just one problem with the Chauchat. It was rubbish.

It's main problem was the open sided magazine. In a muddy environment it caused the gun to easily jam, mud being fairly abundant in the trenches. It's bad ergonomics and loose bipod also made it an inaccurate weapon when it wasn't jammed and working. It also overheated easily if used for long bursts rendering the gun useless until it cooled down. This could take several minutes which obviously was not a good thing if the enemy were attacking. So basically the gun was prone to jamming but if it didn't jam then it was inaccurate and overheated. Other than that it was great!

The 8mm Lebel cartridge it had to use caused some of the problems as the cartridge's taper dictated the semi-circular nature of the magazine. It's action was also not suited for a light machine gun. It's design flaws were made worse by the gun's generally poor standard of manufacture and the poor raw materials used. The gun was quite light though which was maybe it's only virtue.

Improved guns without the open sided magazine were designed but they were too late to see any service in the war. The gun itself was immediately replaced with superior guns after the war ended. Indeed there were superior guns like the Hotchkiss M'le'09 around before the Chauchat which should have been adopted instead. C'est la guerre.

It has been described as the worst machine gun ever made, maybe somewhat unfair but it certainly was up there among the worst.

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