Hotchkiss Model 1914 (Mle 1914)
Medium Machine Gun (MMG) / Heavy Machine Gun (HMG)
The French Hotchkiss Model 1914 machine gun was the last of the Hotchkiss machine gun line born in the late 1800s.
Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited:
During the late 1800s, there only existed a few proven "true" machine gun concepts anywhere in the world. Countless attempts were made at generating a repeat-fire weapon utilizing a full-sized rifle cartridge and of these only the Browning and Maxim developments proved worthy. Both relied on the recoil principle to drive the barrel rearwards for each successive shot. In 1893, an Austro-Hungarian cavalry officer by the name of Baron von Odkolek brought to the French concern of Hotchkiss et Cie his prototype for a new machine gun operating from a gas-piston system. The Odkolek design utilized a gas cylinder which tapped propellant gasses from the barrel to actuate a piston with each successive shot, in essence providing the foundation for what was the world's first true gas-operated weapon - a system of operation hugely commonplace in machine guns today.
Hotchkiss took on Odkolek's design and paid a straight sum of money for the rights. Development proved costly and lengthy, ultimately realizing the Odkolek concept sound though suffering from overheated barrels and a reliable function. The overheating issue was of concern as this could lead to fracturing of the barrel assembly, rendering the gun useless. During the period, this failure was usually rectified by way of water cooling - water filling a jacket surrounding the barrel. So long as there was a water supply, the weapon could technically be fired indefinitely without issue. The downside to this arrangement was the requirement of a consistent water supply to be on hand during operation as the water would gradually evaporate over time. As such, more work would be needed on the base Odkolek design to find an air-cooled solution.
The remainder of the project then fell to American Lawrence V. Benet who operated as chief engineer at Hotchkiss. Refinements to the Odkolek system then yielded the first Hotchkiss pattern machine gun as the "Model 1895" chambered for the French Army 8x50R Lebel cartridge, the same as use in the Lebel service rifle. As overheating issues persisted, Benet had developed a barrel supported at its base by brass cooling fins intended to help disperse heat build-up. In this reworked version, the machine gun was formally adopted by the French Army in 1897 as the "Model 1897" and became the world's first efficient air-cooled machine gun in service anywhere. It was designed to fire from a 24- or 30-round stiff metallic brass ammunition strips which were fed from the left side of the receiver, the empty clip emerging from the right. Support hardware included a tripod which, somewhat surprisingly, lacked any adjustable options. A modified version of this production model then emerged in 1900 as the "Model 1900" featuring steel barrel cooling fins and wholly adjustable tripod mounting system. A rate-of-fire adjuster was added later.
Furthering the family line, a variant intended as a portable, light automatic weapon was born in a 1909 initiative as the "Model 1909". The product went on to see service with American (Benet-Mercie M1909) and British (Hotchkiss Mk I) forces as well and fed from 30-round stiff metal ammunition strips inserted through a new, relocated underside feed mechanism. While proving too heavy for the intended "walking shooter" role in French Army service, the machine gun still lived on as a fixture on various aircraft, combat tanks and as a static system in defense of strategic fortifications.
When the world went to war in the summer of 1914 (to begin World War 1), French war industry was forced to keep pace with the demand. The French Army turned to a modernized version of the Model 1900 which introduced refined internals and lacked the safety system of the original. The weapon became the "Model 1914". Manufacturing was streamlined for the better and new stiff 24-round metal ammunition strips were developed. Furthermore, three-round clips were developed which could be linked together to form a full 249-round "articulated belt" while being fed through the weapon in the same fashion. The end-product resulted in a refined automatic firearm with good manufacturing qualities that made for a reliable weapon. While not as light as had been hoped, the weapon could still be brought to bear in a defensive manner and utilized, with some work, as an offensive-minded weapon. The Model 1914 entered service in 1914 and was, amazingly, retained as such until 1945. The Model 1914 became the last in the long line of Hotchkiss machine guns and served as the standard French heavy machine gun of World War 1 and beyond, supplanting the St Etienne Heavy Machine Gun in the same role. Some 47,000 Model 1914 units were delivered to the French Army during World War 1 up until the end of fighting in November of 1918. An 11mm "balloon busting" variant firing incendiary bullets was also born in the war effort. The United States Army in France alone received 7,000 Model 1914 machine guns upon arriving in 1917-1918. Model 1914 machine guns also armed early French combat tanks of the war including the famous Renault FT-17 light tank.
Design of the Model 1914 was somewhat conventional in overall scope. The receiver was a boxy, rectangular shape housing the needed internal working components. It supported a pistol grip with integral trigger unit as well as a vertical charging handle set to the left side of the receiver. The barrel measured 31 inches in length and its base was shrouded in five noticeable cooling fins intended to help dissipate heat build-up. The gas cylinder was mounted under the barrel and tapped the barrel along its midway point. The barrel was not capped by a flash suppressor of any sort though a forward iron sight was fitted. Along the sides of the receiver were support arms for the adjustable tripod mounting. A large loop handle was affixed to the receiver of the receiver. Overall weight was 54lbs with a listed rate-of-fire of 500 rounds per minute and muzzle velocity of 2,325 feet per second. The Hotchkiss Model 1914 was truly a classic and successful machine gun of her time.
The Model 1914 was produced under license in Spanish factories and this allowed them to be used in number by both sides of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). By the time of World War 2 (1939-1945), the Model 1914 was still in widespread circulation with French and Belgian forces which allowed the Germans, having conquered Belgium and northern France, to reconstitute stocks of the weapon as defensive measures along the "Atlantic Wall" in defense of the shores of the growing German Empire under Adolf Hitler. The Model 1914, therefore, could claim to have seen combat service all through World War 2, joining a select group of weapons seeing service in both major World Wars. Many examples were also outfitted to various French-designed tanks prior to the war including the mammoth Char 2C. The French continued to use their Model 1914s in static defensive roles during their engagements in French Indochina and Algeria (the Algerian Revolution of 1954-1962) and by Legionnaires in Morocco and elsewhere.
In addition to the stated war record, Model 1914 machine guns saw combat service in the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) and the Polish-Soviet War (1919-1921). As such, operators of the type proved numerous and went on to include Belgium, Chile, Greece, Italy, Brazil, France, Germany (Nazi), the Empire of Japan, Mexico, Norway, Peru, Poland, Spain (built under license), Sweden, Turkey and the United States. The Japanese utilized a license-produced version of the Hotchkiss Model 1914 as the "Type 3 Heavy Machine Gun". Naturally, these were chambered for the local 6.5x50mm Arisaka cartridge. The Type 92 was similar in scope and function and from the Hotchkiss lineage though tailored for the larger 7.7x58mm Arisaka cartridge to help improve effectiveness.