Object Title

Saint Étienne Modèle 1907 machine gun

Saint Étienne Modèle 1907 machine gun

Development

Like the Austrian Schwarzlose, the designers of the French M1907 took a risk by opting for a unique mechanical design. Whilst the former was simplified however, the M1907 was, if anything, overcomplicated. It employed a gas piston similar to that patented by Hiram Maxim in the 1880s, used on the commercially developed French Hotchkiss designs from 1893, and commonly found on military firearms today. In these, propellant gas is tapped from the barrel and pushes directly back onto a piston mounted alongside the barrel. This design worked the opposite way around, and so needed an extra mechanism to get the bolt travelling in the right direction. A rack and pinion mechanism, like that used to steer a car, was installed. The reason for this backwards design was simple; just as Hotchkiss had worked around existing patents, the French government did not wish to pay the Hotchkiss company to use their mechanism. The first attempt at this 'blow forward' gas-operated gun was produced by the state arsenal of Puteaux, and refined by engineers at their counterpart in St. Etienne. The resulting St. Etienne M1907 machine gun was further modified in 1916 to accommodate an adjustable gas regulator to help the gun keep functioning under heavy use, and a belt feed system like that of the Maxim guns. The tripod issued with the gun was designed to be lowered allow firing from the prone position.

Use and effect

The St. Etienne soon gained a reputation for unreliability. Without the water cooling of the Maxim or the massive brass radiator of the Hotchkiss, it overheated. Despite this lack of a water jacket, the gun still weighed considerably more than the British Vickers. The overly complicated piston with rack and pinion design comprised many parts and had to be kept very clean to avoid stoppages. Parts would have to be replaced in the field as they failed. The design permitted mud and water to access these vulnerable components, in particular the large spring that effectively powered the gun. This was mounted underneath the barrel, near to the ground and uncovered to help prevent the heat of firing from affecting the tension of the spring or causing it to fracture. Instead, both heat and weather conditions negatively affected the operation of the gun. Managing these issues were difficult at the best of times, but very taxing in the conditions encountered by French soldiers in the trenches of the First World War. The gun did have reduced recoil due to the opposite action of its mechanism, but recoil was not generally a concern for machine guns mounted on tripods or other static mounts. It also sported a variable rate of fire, from eight to 600 rounds per minute. This was considered a useful feature in colonial warfare where both guns and ammunition was in short supply and ambient heat was high. In the trenches it added needless complication. Like the Hotchkiss that replaced it, the St. Etienne was fed from a short metal strip rather than a long belt. This was intended to prevent the inevitable overheating that resulted from reliance upon air for cooling the barrel. This did help with the issue of heat, but seriously reduced the effective rate of fire possible. A belt feed and 300 round belt were made available in 1916, but only for defensive roles. This at a time when the increasingly strategic use of machine guns cried out for the sustained fire possible with belt-fed, water cooled guns. The sights were also upgraded in 1916. Prior to this, the buildup of heat would change the point of impact of the bullet, also a serious flaw in a machine gun. Perhaps unsurprisingly, as sufficient quantities of the M1914 Hotchkiss gun were produced, this much more robust design began to replace the St. Etienne.

Statistics

Action / Operating system Gas
Barrel length 71 cm (28 in)
Calibre / Bore 8x50mmR Lebel (.33 in)
Capacity (rounds) 25
Country of manufacture France
Crew 5
Date entered service 1907
Effective range 1500 m (1640 yd)
Feed Strip
Manufacturer Manufacture d'Armes de Saint-Etienne (MAS)
Maximum range 2400 m (2625 yd)
Muzzle velocity 724 m/s (2376 fps)
Other operators Greece
Other operators Italy
Overall length 118.1 cm (46.5 in)
Primary operator France
Rate of fire (rounds per minute) 450
Weight 50 kg (111 lb) (with mount)

Author

Jonathan Ferguson