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"A probing action on the Western front" Topic

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scrivs20 Mar 2015 6:13 a.m. PST

It's 1917 and the Verdun Front is particularly quiet. However the French lines are subjected to an intense bombardment including the deadly Green-Cross gas.


German troops can be seen emerging from the gloom, can they break through to the rear of the French lines?


James and I played a rather splendid game of Chain of Command yesterday evening.


A full report and loads more photos on the blog. link

Frederick Supporting Member of TMP20 Mar 2015 7:45 a.m. PST

Good game!

Do the rules take into account the truly abysmal performance of the Chauchat?

scrivs20 Mar 2015 8:02 a.m. PST

Yes, it gets half as many dice as a proper LMG and can jam.

Captain Cook20 Mar 2015 10:07 a.m. PST

Excellent stuff, Paul

Big Red Supporting Member of TMP20 Mar 2015 10:21 a.m. PST

Nice looking game!

The French version of the Chauchat had some problems with dirt getting into the open magazine but is was the US version, poorly re-chambered for US ammo that was almost useless.

monk2002uk20 Mar 2015 2:22 p.m. PST

With respect, the Chauchat was not 'truly abysmal'. Here are some of the results of the survey which General Pétain conducted in May 1917. Questionnaires were sent out to all French units. The weapons covered included: M1907 St-Etienne MG, M1914 Hotchkiss MG, M1915 Chauchat, Modèle 1917 RSC autoloading rifle, the V-B rifle grenade, hand grenades, and the 37mm Puteaux cannon.

The responses on the Chauchat included:

"16th Infantry Regiment:
…The CSRGs have been used to defend conquered trenches and have made a major contribution in breaking counter-attacks; walking fire was not used.
Several guns functioned normally and gave excellent service; a few had stoppages what were nearly all caused by deformations of the magazines at the lips.

19th Infantry Regiment:
…The CSRG has been used in the offensive, where its handling is difficult, and in the defensive where it very effectively played the role of machine guns.
…Obtained results were very satisfactory, particularly in the defensive. Observed problems: when it is raining and the terrain is muddy, the CSRG becomes dirty and fouled and a certain number of these guns are put out of action.

34th and 49th Regiments:
…After having given excellent results during the actions of May 4 and 5, by intense flanking fire, these weapons were less effective because of stoppages, in spite of all the precautions. It is necessary that this weapon should be cleaned and oiled during combat…
Also, since the Assistant Gunners are overloaded, one of the riflemen should help transport the ammunition.

62nd Infantry Regiment:
The CSRG teams are overloaded; the men have difficulty keeping up. The Backpacks and the ammunition should be carried by carts or mules.
The CSRGs magazine is not solid enough and often malfunctions.

64th Infantry Regiment:
Very effective in the defensive, for flanking and direct fire.
In the offensive, walking fire is used in approaching the position.
The weapon has given entire satisfaction; several thousand rounds have been fired between April 19 and 30, 1917.
The following two problems have been observed: the lips of the magazine become deformed, giving feeding stoppages, and the cartridge guide rod breaks at its rear extremity.

65th Infantry Regiment
…The magazine spring often fails… A protection system is needed to keep dirt out of the radiator ventilation holes on the barrel housing.
The current gun cover does not protect the gun sufficiently against rain and dust.

93rd Infantry Regiment
Excellent weapon in the hands of well-trained men. Nevertheless the magazines need to be improved, for the lips are too weak and are the source of stoppages.

98th Infantry Regiment
It has been used by the assault companies during the April 13 attack. A company that progressed through the hamlet of La Biette brought down a lot of the enemy while firing on the walk…

105th Infantry Regiment:
These weapons gave full satisfaction. Only the magazines are defective.

116th Infantry Regiment:
They are only exceptionally to be used as offensive weapons, but present considerable advantages for the stabilization of new lines that have just been conquered.
Too many stoppages during walking fire.
Carrying the CSRG and its Backpack are the source of much suffering by the men…

137th Infantry Regiment:
The CSRGs expand the action of the machinegun sections; they must be pushed forward as much as possible. Their deployment in combination with groups of V-B rifle and hand grenadiers, which provide them with cover, have given excellent results.
From the material viewpoint, necessity of great care and cleanliness and of oiling after 5 or 6 magazines.

9th Infantry Division:
Results: the CSRG has excelled in all circumstances of combat.
Disadvantages: becomes fouled and prone to stoppages in contact with mud and dirt projections.

12th Infantry Division:
Excellent results were obtained. The fire of the CSRGs during the night counter-attack of May 5-6 has contributed to a large degree to the failure of the German assault.
All were convinved after repeatedly seeing whole enemy ranks brought down in front of our trenches by the fire of the CSRGs."

Forgive me for not quoting more. The remaining quotes are very similar. The material is from Demaison and Buffetaut's book 'Honour Bound, The Chauchat Machine Rifle'. The authors went on to note:

"It is not our intent to discuss in this volume the rest of the armament covered in General Pétain's masterful combat survey of 1917, but it will suffice to say that the heavy machine guns also came in for their share of criticism due to problems experienced in the seasonally muddy and/or dusty conditions of Western Front battlefields.

General Headquarters transmitted summary reports… to the War Ministry. The following problems were addressed: magazine quality; protection against mud; standardization of the flash hider; equipment for walking fire; overloading of the Gunner and Carriers; and standardization of ammunition, which was fitted with stiffer, crimped-in primers to prevent 'popped' primers on automatic fire."

It should also be noted that French automatic rifles and medium machine guns were not the only weapons prone to jamming. The Lewis gun and MG08/15 were vulnerable as well.


monk2002uk20 Mar 2015 2:25 p.m. PST

Now to the issue of the US version:

"There is an interesting contrast between the routine disparagement of the Chauchat rifle in modern times and the dearth of negative comment in vintage American military literature.

There are very many Chauchat rifle references sprinkled through virtually all World War I US Divisional Histories, and in veterans' memoirs. However, in none of these is to be found a reference derogatory to the 8mm Chauchat.

To the combat veteran writing his memoirs in the postwar 1920s or 30s, the Chauchat was a familiar fixture that helped him to get the job done.

Naturally, when the BAR appeared in limited numbers during September, 1918 it was preferred by the few who used it. Nevertheless, the 8mm M1915 'Chau-Chau', as the Doughboys called it, was a familiar presence everywhere in the AEF Infantry and Marine divisions in France, during 12 months of warfare.

The following excerpts are quoted from the History of the 26th Division:

..April 29, near Secheprey: McMahon, an automatic rifleman, stood off many attempts at the wire on his front. When he finally ran out of ammunition the wire was hung with dead Boches… Ryan fed an automatic rifle till every other man of the team had been killed, and then fought out his own way to the Company…

..June 1918, near Chateau Thierry: Alfred Hall, of Hingham, armed with an automatic rifle, stood on the railway track. He was a fair mark for the Boche snipers on the hill and their bullets kept singing around him, but they never got him. As the Boches ran out of the railway station, Hall would line them up as on running rabbits. His automatic rifle would briefly remark 'pup-pup-pup' and Mr Boche would go down.

On the same battlefield, Lawrence Stallings' Doughboys also describes the actions of Colonel McAlexander's 38th Regiment, 3rd Division, which gained the name 'Rock of the Marne' by successfully defending the river crossing at Mezy, east of Chateau Thierry, on July 15, 1918:

..Corporal Connors with his squad of two Chauchat teams and their buddies from three companies killed twenty boatloads of the boys in the new leather belts before all but Connors were killed or wounded. Connors had no more clips for his hiccupping Chauchats, but there were still some grenades…

Several further Chauchat testimonies can be found in Fixed Bayonets, written in 1925 by US Marine Captain W J Thomason Jr. The longest one recalls an event which took place near Belleau Wood in July, 1918:

..One lieutenant found himself behind a woodpile with a big auto rifleman. Just across from them, very near, a German machine gun behind another woodpile, was searching for them. He picked up the Chauchat [when the gunner was killed]… laid the gun across the woodpile and sighted three Boches… He gave them the whole clip and they appeared to wilt.

Incidents quoted from the History of the 42nd Division…

July 16, 1918: Pvt Michael Toody, automatic gunner, shot down an enemy plane later that afternoon.
Eight of the enemy approached a post which was occupied by Private Thomas Mead, who was alone. They approached with their hands up. Seeing that Mead was alone, one of the enemy reached for and threw a potato-masher [grenade] which overshot its mark. Mead opened up with his Chauchat and cleaned out the lot.
July 28: My attention was attacted by the reports of rapid fire on the left flank. It was one of C Company boys with a French chau-chau who had tumbled a German with a light Maxim…

Another quote, this time from the 28th Division:

July 28, 1918 near Sergy, north of Chateau Thierry: After an unsuccessful attack on Bois des Grimpettes, Mechanic Beer went out alone in front of our line, in plain view of the enemy, under heavy machinegun fire from the front and flank, and gathered up the Chauchat rifles and Musette Bags of ammunition that been abandoned by the men. He made several trips, distributing the badly needed equipment to the advanced elements of our line.

Other examples, from the 3rd Division, are reported by Colonel Butts in his famous account The Keypoint at the Marne. In July, 1918,

…Lieutenant Savage, a man among men, who had in an unusual degree the desire to serve his country, died at one end of the bridge, firing a Chauchat rifle after the Gunners were killed.
…The automatic rifle squads were making their Chauchats rattle like machineguns. Gunner Parson, when he could no longer see the enemy from the trench, climbed up on the parapet and fired his heavy Chauchat from his shoulder.
…On our side it was strictly rifles and Chauchat fire; machineguns were used by the Germans…"


monk2002uk20 Mar 2015 2:33 p.m. PST

If you haven't heard the 'pup-pup' sound of a Chauchat then check out these videos:

YouTube link

YouTube link

The latter video shows how the Chauchat was used for 'marching fire', when auto-riflemen would fire from hip while advancing towards the enemy (mentioned above).


monk2002uk20 Mar 2015 2:37 p.m. PST

Finally, the ultimate accolade for the Chauchat comes from the enemy who had to face it. The father of a friend of mine served in a specialist German assault unit during WW1. The men were paid bonuses if they could capture Chauchats for use within the unit, not just to capture them.


The Germans went on to rechamber many and reissued them with a different type of magazine. This photo is of American soldiers showing off two captured German Chauchats on the left:


There are many photos of Germans packing Chauchats.


monk2002uk20 Mar 2015 3:08 p.m. PST

This quote comes from the French 1917 edition of 'Le Livre du Gradé d'Infanterie', which was the training manual for French non-coms.

"The main mission [of the Chauchat when used in defence] is to deliver a barrier of machine gun fire [the French word 'barrage' in this context is not the same as the concept of machine gun barrage as used widely in the late war by the British and Dominion MMG units]. These fields of fire should not only be created in front of the combat unit but interlocked with barrages from neighbouring units.

The goal is that there should be no unbeaten approach ahead of the front and if this front is broken then the enemy will be subjected to additional fire from elements positioned further back.

This goal is common to machine guns and automatic rifles. Their functions must therefore be combined: the missions that require very heavy fire and/or very accurate fire over distance are best suited to machine guns; the other situations are suitable for automatic rifles."


Blutarski21 Mar 2015 5:57 a.m. PST

Thanks once again, Monk, for sharing the bountiful fruits of your studies.

FWIW, the Chauchat also found its way to the Greek army on the Salonika Front. There is a group photograph of my grandfather's company with several such weapons on display in the foreground.


monk2002uk21 Mar 2015 6:56 a.m. PST

Thanks for the extra information, B. I had read that Greece, amongst several other countries, used the Chauchat. It is really interesting to hear of the personal connection. All told, the Chauchat went on to become one of the longest serving automatic rifles/light machine guns ever made. It was originally developed before WW1, being used by the French as an aircraft-mounted MG, and remained in service until after WW2 in some countries.


Big Red Supporting Member of TMP21 Mar 2015 10:42 a.m. PST

Yes, excellent info Monk!

"However, in none of these is to be found a reference derogatory to the 8mm Chauchat."

It is my understanding (always suspect) that the 8mm version wasn't the problem. It was the poorly done re-chambering for 30-06 ammo that jammed while still in the box.

"Besides the 8mm Lebel version, the Chauchat machine rifle was also manufactured in U.S. .30-06 Springfield and in 7.65×53mm Argentine Mauser caliber to arm the American Expeditionary Forces (A.E.F.) and the Belgian Army respectively. The Belgian military did not experience difficulties with their Chauchats in 7.65mm Mauser and kept them in service into the early 1930s,. Conversely the Chauchat version in U.S. .30-06 made by "Gladiator" for the A.E.F., the Model 1918, proved to be fundamentally defective and had to be withdrawn from service."

monk2002uk21 Mar 2015 9:30 p.m. PST

Thanks Big Red.

I can't speak to the interesting points you have made, particularly with respect to the Model 1918. In regards to other weapons systems, there was a tendency to supply the AEF with French-made weapons and ammunition. The same thing happened with AEF units serving alongside British and Dominion forces, for example where the Stokes mortar and Vickers MG would be supplied in many cases. Presumably the same thing may have applied with the Chauchats as with the Hotchkiss MMGs, i.e. that the examples referred to above pertained to French-supplied Chauchats and munitions?

Getting back on topic, it would be interesting to re-run this game or to apply the same rules as other LMGs to the Chauchat in future games. French squads should not be brittle but should, in the absence of heavy artillery barrages, be able to give their German counterparts a shellacking, in no small part due to the effectiveness in defence of Chauchat teams.

If the rule for jamming because of local battlefield conditions is kept then it should be applied equally to other types of LMG on the same battlefield IMHO.


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