The French Hotchkiss Model 1914 Heavy Machine Gun

LEFT: Receiver markings on the left side of the receiver of the Hotchkiss Model 1914. Note the brass pistol grip and the characteristic D grip at the rear. Also note the vertical orientated cocking handle at far left and the wear to the finish within its guide. The cocking handle is pushed back forward upon cocking and does not reciprocate during firing. RIGHT: Right side of the Hotchkiss Model 1914 receiver with the serial number and date of manufacture. Note the four holes at the rear of the receiver where the mire (rear anti-aircraft) support bracket is attached to the gun.

Operation
A loaded feed strip with the cartridges facing up is inserted into the feed block until its movement is stopped.  Pull the cocking handle to the rear locking the moving parts in the rear cocked position, and then push the cocking handle forward.  The cocking handle does not reciprocate during firing.  Again, the 1918 edition of the Handbook of the Hotchkiss Machine Gun Model of 1914 best relates the operation of the gun.

“Pulling the trigger releases the trigger from the sear notch on the underside of the piston allowing the recoil spring to drive the piston forward.  The lug of the firing pin resting between the firing pin tang and the breech block tang of the piston carries the firing pin forward.  The nose of the locking cam of the piston, bearing against the breech block lock, carries the breech block forward.

“The breech block forces the front end of the ejector out of the path of the breech block.  The lower part of the breech block face strikes the base of the cartridge, stripping it from the feed strip and driving it forward into the chamber.  The feed wheel is now advanced over the first half of the feeding movement by the action of the large feed cam of the piston against the operating lug on the operating wheel of the feed wheel.  The feed wheel pawl engages the feed wheel ratchet and prevents rebound.  As the breech block closes against the cartridge in the chamber, the extractor springs over and engages the rim of the cartridge.  The breech block has now reached the end of its forward movement and the breech block lock is in position above the recoil blocks in the receiver and is free to lock.  This movement is accomplished by the locking cam of the piston working against the cam surface of the breech block lock, causing the rear end of the latter to tilt down in front of the recoil blocks.

“The piston continues forward, carrying the firing pin and primes the cartridge.  The recoil spring abutment of the piston, striking against the counter-recoil buffer in the front end of the receiver limits the forward motion.

“After the explosion has taken place and the bullet has passed the gas port in the barrel, the live powder gases expand through the gas orifice into the gas chamber and impinge against the head of the piston, forcing it to the rear.  This action compresses the recoil spring and stores up energy for the counter-recoil.

“The piston withdraws the firing pin from the primer.  The lower cam of the breech block lock riding on the upper cam surface of the piston raises the breech block lock clear of the recoil blocks.

“The breech block tang on the piston striking the rear shoulder of the breech block carries the breech block to the rear.  The extractor withdraws the empty shell from the chamber.  The rear end of the ejector rides out of its groove in the breech block, which pivots the front end of the ejector into the path of the cartridge.  The cartridge base strikes the ejector, which throws the shell out to the right.  The small feed cam on the piston now completes the rotation of the feed wheel and places the next cartridge in position above the stripping finger.  The feed wheel pawl engages the feed wheel ratchet and prevents rebound.

“The backward motion is limited by the rear end of the piston striking the breech cover.  If the trigger is held back by the finger, the mechanism starts immediately on its forward motion.  If the trigger has been released, it springs up and engages the sear notch of the piston holding the fun in the cocked position.

“When the feed strip has been fired through, it allows the upper lug of the arrestor to spring up and the arrestor catch engages the arrestor lug on the piston.  This holds the piston back so as to allow the loading of the next strip.”

Elevation and traverse mechanism of the Hotchkiss Model 1916 tripod. With the traverse stops installed at their limits, traversing was limited to 37 degrees to the left and right of center.

Basic Field Stripping
To field strip the gun, make certain that there is no feed strip in the feed tray and pull the cocking handle back far enough to visually inspect the chamber to make sure it is clear.

Pull out the feed block key and remove the feed block.  Press in the recoil spring guide located within the D grip and pull out the breech cover pin located on the left side of the receiver just in front of the D grip.  Remove the breech cover and recoil spring to the rear.  Slide the trigger guard to the rear and remove.  This can be accomplished by tilting the trigger a little toward the rear and removing it downward.

Draw the cocking handle to the rear until it comes out of the guides on the receiver.  Then pull the piston and breech block the remainder of the way out of the receiver.  Rotate the front end of the ejector out until it is at right angles to the receiver, and then remove the ejector.  To rotate the ejector, grip the top lug with the finger nails or place a finger over the axis of the ejector along the side of the receiver and give it a quick draw to the rear.

To remove the barrel, move the barrel lock completely to the rear and place the barrel wrench over the gas cylinder support with the handle to the right horizontal to the ground.  Push down on the barrel wrench until the barrel stop pin strikes the top of the receiver.  Pull the barrel out toward the front.  Unscrew the gas regulator, which can easily be turned by hand if it has been kept clean and well oiled.

This completes the basic field stripping of the weapon.  Reassembly is in the reverse order.

The Hotchkiss Model 1900 saw a good deal of success in world-wide sales particularly to Japan, Mexico and South America. Note the permanently attached brass should stock attached to the rear of the gun’s top cover.

Mounts
The Hotchkiss Model 1914 used two primary mounts.  The first was the Omnibus Model 1915 mount produced at Puteaux that was originally intended for use with the St. Etienne Model 1907.  The Omnibus Model 1915 tripod was the last iteration of tripods designed for the St. Etienne Model 1907 and could be, and was, used to a great extent with the Hotchkiss M1914.  It consists of two essential parts: the traversing group and the tripod.  The upper part of the traversing head is fork-shaped and has two recesses on which the trunnions on the machine gun are locked in place.  The traversing head also carries the telescoping elevating mechanism and the traversing clamp.  The distinguishing feature of the Omnibus Model 1915 tripod that makes it instantly recognizable is the large elevating wheel located on the left side of the traversing head.  The tripod consists of three groupings: the pivot body, the trail, and the legs.  The pivot body serves as a bearing for the traversing head.  The trail consists of an arm and an inner tube.  The arm is joined to the pivot body and the inner tube within the arm may be extended to lengthen the trailing leg.  The trail terminates in a shoe provided with a trail spike.  The trail also carries the gunner’s seat which can be fixed at any convenient position by means of a hand bolt.  The two front legs are jointed at their upper ends to the same trunnion at the body of the pivot.  They are joined together by a separator which keeps them apart when the tripod is set up.  The right leg is provided with a leveling screw to vary the length of this leg for uneven terrain.  Additionally, each front leg has a knee joint making it possible to bring the mount to a kneeling position by folding the lower part of both legs under the trail.  An anti-aircraft extension that attached to the pivot head was also available.

The second type of tripod used was the Hotchkiss Tripod Model 1916.  Manufactured by Hotchkiss for the M1914, it was similar to, but simpler and slightly lighter than, the Omnibus Model 1915 tripod with some obvious differences.  It, too, consisted of two essential parts: the traversing group and the tripod.  It also had a forked-shaped traversing head with two recesses on which the trunnions on the machine gun are locked in place.  But instead of the large elevating wheel, elevation was controlled by a simple wheel located directly beneath the telescoping elevating mechanism.  The tripod also consisted of three groups: the pivot body, trail and legs.  As with the Omnibus 1915 tripod, the pivot body accepted the traversing head, and the trail consisted of an inner tube that could be extended out and the gunner’s seat could be adjusted.  The two front legs, however, did away with the separator cross bar and the knee joints and the right leg leveling mechanism.

There was actually a third tripod that saw very limited use with the Hotchkiss M1914, also named the Hotchkiss Tripod Model 1916, which was made in the United States.  Commonly called the “Cleveland Mount,” it was manufactured by the Standard Parts Company of Cleveland, Ohio.  In October, 1918, 2,500 were reported as completed.  This was the only work performed in connection with this gun in the United States.  For all intent, it was a copy of the French manufactured Hotchkiss Tripod Model 1916 except that it had a distinguishing feature that consisted of a large 360 degree traversing head above the pivot head that allowed a full 360 degree traversing movement for anti-aircraft fire.

Plate summarizing French 8mm Lebel ammunition used with Hotchkiss Model 1914 machine guns in 1940. (Courtesy of Dr. Jean-Francois Legendre)

Anti-Aircraft Sights
The auxiliary sight for anti-aircraft firing comprises four essential parts: the mire, the guidon, the support bracket for the mire, and the support clamp for the guidon.

The mire (rear anti-aircraft sight) is made with a moveable scale ended by a bead.  It is mounted in a trunnion case supported by a shank inserted into the mire support that is then fitted into the mire support bracket.  The mire support bracket is affixed by four screws to the right side of the receiver between the pistol grip and the D grip.

The guidon (front anti-aircraft sight) is made of a laying frame supported by a shank inserted in the hole of the guidon support clamp.  The frame is made of two fork-shaped branches connected by three horizontal parallel threads.  The center thread is provided with a bead.  An illuminating disk set on each branch level with the central thread facilitates night firing.  The guidon clamp is made of two semicollars with a bored block to receive the guidon.  It is set on the front end of the barrel against the front sight band.  Essential with the anti-aircraft sights is the hand-held stadia for range finding.

Accessories
As the premier front line heavy machine gun for two armies, there were a number of accessories associated with the Hotchkiss Model 1914 that included: strip loaders, strip resizing tool, clinometer, anti-aircraft sights and stadia, barrel and gas regulator wrench, hand extractor hook, defective cartridge extractor, flash hider, leather mittens with chain mail and asbestos pads for handling hot barrels during barrel changes, a leather with chain mail and asbestos pad shoulder epaulette to carry a hot barrel on one’s shoulder when advancing, canvass gun case and a metal armorer’s box containing cleaning rod, jags and brushes, oil bottle, spare recoil spring, screwdriver, hammer, pins and punches, chamber gauge, gas cylinder scraper, spare firing pins, extractors, ejectors, small springs and pins, etc.

Conclusion

The Hotchkiss Model 1914 was the right gun at the right time admirably serving the French Army as well as the U.S. Army.  It was reliable and robust and could be counted on regardless of the situation, climate or terrain.  The only complaint, and generally considered the weak point of the weapon, was its feed strip design that was clumsy to handle requiring constant feeding of the gun and strips easily deformed or bent.  The other chief drawbacks consisted in its excessive weight in comparison to the Vickers and Browning, and the length of time required for cooling – four minutes and six seconds of time and a sponging with water being required between each burst of 1,000 rounds.  However, the simplicity and ruggedness of the gun enabled it to be dismounted and reassembled in less than a minute without the aid of a single tool.  Nevertheless, the Hotchkiss remained in service with the French both at home and in their colonies up to World War II.  The United States did not keep the Hotchkiss in their inventory after the war and discarded them in favor of the superior Browning guns.  But the Hotchkiss’ contribution to the allied war effort was immense being the most widely used heavy machine gun of the allied forces and they played a pivotal role in the ultimate victory in World War I.

Gun weight: 53 pounds (24 kg)
Length: 51.6 inches (131 cm)
Barrel length: 31 inches (79 cm)
Operation: Gas, full automatic only
Cooling: Air
Feed: 24-round metal feed strips
Sights: Leaf adjustable from 250 to 2,000 meters
Caliber: 8mm Lebel
Ammunition: 1886D
Muzzle velocity: 2,380 fps (725 m/s)
Cyclic rate of fire: 400-500 rpm
Practical rate of fire: 120 rpm
Tripod weight
– Omnibus 1915: 58.4 pounds (26.5 kg)
– Hotchkiss 1916: 55 pounds (24.9 kg)

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