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FM Mle1915 CSRG

8mm Lebel 20-round half-moon magazine, long recoil automatic fire at ~240 rounds per minute / ~4 rounds per second, wooden stock and pistol grips, aluminium heat shield, folding bipod, well-suited for hip fire.
The Fusil Mitrailleur Mle1915 CSRG, translated literally as the Machine Rifle, Model of 1915 but better known as the Chauchat, has a troubled history going back to the early 1900′s.
Colonel Louis Chauchat of the Polytechnique engineer school started developing the concept of marching fire in the early 1900′s, in which mobile squad weapons would provide suppressing fire for advancing troops. With the help of armorer Charles Sutter, and based on John M. Browning’s 1900 long recoil patent, they developed their first machine gun prototype in 1903 at the Atelier de Puteaux (APX), followed by seven more up to 1909.
The last of these prototypes was finally scheduled for field trials in 1912, with an order of a hundred of these FM Mle1913 CS (Charles-Sutter) machine guns being produced c.1913-14 by the Manufacture d’Armes de St-Etienne.

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APX 1911 prototype.

The Mle1913 had a top-mounted magazine containing 20 round of 8mm Lebel ammunition, the standard rifle round of the French army, and was on paper light enough to be operated by one man as Col. Chauchat intended.

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FM Mle1913 CS

Following the outbreak of World War 1, many modern gun development projects were put on hold to focus on mass production of the already outdated equipment of the French army, including the Chauchat which was relegated as a basket-mount observation aircraft gun, a role well-suited for its low weight of 8,7kg/19lbs.

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FM Mle1913 CS in service in the French air force.

It’s only in 1915 that French army commander Joseph Joffre, a soldier trained to attack at any cost since the colonial wars and now forced in the stalemate of the trenches, pushed for the renewed development and adoption of a squad LMG.
The simplified 1915 version of the Chauchat was able to be manufactured in vast quantities in civilian factories, for the most part by the Gladiator bike company of Paul Ribeyrolles, leading to the new name of FM Mle1915 CSRG (Chauchat-Sutter-Ribeyrolles-Gladiator). Although this STEN-like simplicity led to the Chauchat being the most widely-issued and used light machine gun/automatic rifle of the war, it also led to a number of defaults that not only hindered its use but also changed the doctrine within which it was employed.

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A Chauchat team c.1915-17 consisting of a gunner and assistant gunner/ammo carrier, both equipped with Ruby pistols as their sidearms. The team would be expanded with a leader and extra ammo carrier in 1917, both armed with Berthier carbines. This negated the idea that the Chauchat would provide the same amount of firepower as a Hotchkiss team for half the manpower, but not the gun’s inherent mobility advantage.

The barrel would heat up and stick to the aluminum shroud after 200 rounds of automatic fire, and the guns coming from Gladiator were improperly sighted. Famously, the magazine was also flimsy and too open to the elements, leading to 70% of the gun’s jamming problem in the rough conditions of static trench warfare.
It is only when mobile warfare resumed that the Chauchat was truly able to shine. Manufactured at more than 200000 units for the French army alone, it now equipped each of the new French 18-man “demi-sections de combat” combat groups, consisting of a 1917 four-man Chauchat team and a squad of four Viven-Bessière rifle grenadiers supporting eight riflemen plus NCO’s. In that context the Chauchat was used much like the BAR would, by providing large volumes of semi-automatic fire to pin down enemy positions for the grenadiers and riflemen to assault.
Although technically flawed, the Chauchat found its place in modern warfare due to its ease of manufacture and its reclassification as an automatic rifle. It was in essence kind of a wonky mass-producible earlier BAR.

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