Model 1915 CSRG Automatic Rifle
By Gus and Maggie Bryngelson
Michigan –-(Ammoland.com)- We have all heard the stories about how bad the Chauchat automatic rifle was.
That it was discarded by American and French troops alike. That it was the worst machine gun ever. That it was designed by committee and made by many different contractors, requiring hand fitting of non-interchangeable parts.
How much of this is true, and how much is myth?
The Chauchat M1915 CSRG was a refinement of the Chauchat CS M1911, which fired the French 8 X 50 via a long recoil system, like the Remington Model 8 rifle, Winchester Model 1911 shotgun, and Frommer STOP pistol. Simply described, it is a straight pull bolt action rifle mounted in a spring loaded tube, fed by a semi-circular magazine holding 20 rounds. It fired from an open bolt, when the trigger was depressed the bolt moved forward, picking up a cartridge from the magazine and firing as the bolt closed. The whole receiver, barrel, and bolt would then recoil, with the help of gas pressure, to the rearward position, where the bolt is arrested by the sear until the barrel and receiver return to battery, and on automatic mode, the bolt is released for the following round. This type of automatic rifle is prone to stoppages if it is not handled properly, and the French Military went to great lengths to train their gunners to operate their weapons in an optimum manner.
On July 16, 1915, the French War Minister, M. Millerand, requested that a suitable machine rifle be adopted. General Joffre proposed an improvement of a machine rifle that was already being used on aircraft. An order for 50,000 weapons was placed, with the Gladiator automobile factory, under the direction of Paul Ribeyrolles. The machine rifle was designed by Colonel Louis Chauchat and Charles Sutter, the name M1915 CSRG being made of the first initials of Chauchat, Sutter, Ribeyrolles, Gladiator.
There was not a committee that designed the weapon, but two men who worked together, dispelling one myth.
The Gladiator factory produced all parts of the rifle with the exception of the wooden stock and front grip. The barrels were from reconditioned Lebel rifles, which were shortened, thus not requiring any extra production from existing arsenals. M1915 CSRG rifles were also produced by SIDARME later in the war. It has been reported by modern collectors, that parts are interchangeable between the two manufacturers.
By July of 1916, the order for the number of M1915 CSRGs was doubled. This fact is often cited as proof that the weapon was useless, as the soldiers had discarded all of their weapons in shell craters, and they needed to be replaced. The opposite is true, the effectiveness of the weapon in trained hands was recognized, and even though there had been some flaws in the design, it was a very effective assault weapon.
The magazines are often cited as being inadequate due to flimsy construction and open sides that allowed dirt and mud to enter the weapon. These are both true, a damaged magazine is one of the first things that a gunner was to check when he had a failure to feed. The magazines were manufactured to be semi-disposable. The gunner’s tool kit included the tools to check and adjust magazines before they were re-loaded. If they did not pass, they were to be disposed of. No magazine produced during the First World War was impervious to mud and dirt. Period writings tell of how German soldiers had to abandon their belt fed machine guns when they became fouled with mud during battle.
The most telling testimony of the M1915 CSRG is in the results of the well trained men who used it. The list of French gunners who received the Croix de Guerre is long, and here is the history of three American soldiers who received the Congressional Medal of Honor for their efforts while armed with the CSRG.
- Private Nels Wold (138th Infantry) defeated four German machine gun nests while using a CRSG. After his buddy was wounded, he was proceeding alone against a fifth machine gun nest when his luck ran out, according to Lawrence Stallings in Doughboys.
- Private Frank J. Bart (9th Infantry) a company runner took out two German machine gun nests with a CSRG he took up voluntarily, instead of carrying a message back that reported that his company was held up by machine gunners.
- And Private Thomas C. Neibauer (107th Infantry) stopped an enemy advance after being wounded in both legs, using the CSRG.
In summation, the claim that the weapon was designed by a committee is totally false. The claim that soldiers discarded their weapons cannot be supported by period writings. The weapons made by Gladiator were not made of parts from small sub contractors. But the most important question that still remains; was the CSRG a bad weapon? I think that given that it was the first assault rifle to be fielded in great numbers, and the great number of soldiers who were awarded high honors for their exploits with this weapon speaks well for Chauchat and Sutter’s design. To disparage the weapon also disparages the men who designed it, the men and women who made it and, most of all, the men who fought bravely and successfully with it.
For anyone interested in more information, the book Honour Bound, The Chauchat Machine Rifle by Gerard Demaison and Yves Buffetaut is a must read.
Gus Bryngelson is the gun historian at FirearmsTruth.com,, a website that tracks and monitors media bias against guns and our Second Amendment rights. Visit: FirearmsTruth.com