St. Étienne Mle 1907 - History

History

Around the turn of the century the French military evaluated machine guns made by the private French firm of Hotchkiss et Cie. While the tests were technically convincing, following which Hotchkiss machine-guns were purchased for French alpine and colonial troops, it was decided for political reasons that a machine gun for French line infantry had to originate from state-owned arms manufactures. A first attempt by a French government arsenal near Paris( APX )was the Puteaux M1905 machine gun inspired by the first gas actuated blow forward Bang rifle system of 1903. It was a deliberate attempt to develop an infantry machine gun that would be mechanically different from the patented Hotchkiss Mle 1900 machine gun design. However the M1905 Puteaux machine gun soon proved to be unsatisfactory. Consequently, the national arsenal at Saint Étienne (MAS) thoroughly reworked and modified the Puteaux machine gun resulting in some measure of improvement but also increased complexity (64 component parts for the St Etienne Mle 1907 vs only 32 parts for the Hotchkiss Mle 1914). Barrel changes on the Mle 1907 St Etienne were much easier than on the M1905 Puteaux and its firing rate could be set at any point between 8 rounds per minute and about 600 rounds per minute. Either metal strips or fabric belts, the latter introduced in 1916, for the 8mm Lebel ammunition could be used. However, in the muddy environment of trench warfare the mechanically complex St Étienne Mle 1907 suffered from frequent stoppages and was difficult to maintain by frontline soldiers. A quote from a French post-war military evaluation says it all : " admirable weapon, patented clockwork but very temperamental and sparing its whims only for the most meticulous of machine-gun virtuosos " ( Revue d"Infanterie No487, p. 486, April 1933). The Mle 1907 St Etienne had to be taken away from the front lines, beginning in July 1917, and progressively replaced by the simpler and much more reliable Hotchkiss M1914 machine gun. Large numbers of the M1907 St Etienne machine gun were then transferred to military units in the rear, to the French colonies and also to the Italian Army. Many also ended up in the Greek Army during the 1920s. Altogether 39,700 Mle 1907 St Etienne machine guns had been manufactured when the decision to close down their last assembly line was taken in November 1917.

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