The advent of machine guns in warfare gave armies without them a serious disadvantage in the First World War. The Chauchat is the result of an effort to mass produce machine guns for the French military as quickly as possible. Chambered in 8mm Lebel, the Chauchat was produced in numbers exceeding 200,000 and was introduced to the front in 1916. The weapon was designed to be operated by a single soldier accompanied by an assistant handling the ammunition.
When working properly, the Chauchat was a successful light machine gun that allowed for portable and accurate sustained fire with controllable recoil; in fact, it was intended to be able to be used in "walking fire," where the operator fires the weapon from the hip while advancing towards the enemy.
Due to the quick speed of manufacturing desired, the Chauchat had numerous design flaws that were particularly ill-suited for the conditions of World War I. The crescent moon magazines were made from a cheap metal that bent easily, necessitating careful handling. The viewing holes in the side of the magazine, intended to allow the assistant to see how much ammunition was left, allowed dirt and mud to enter. The long recoil system used in the weapon also introduced an unfortunate side effect where the barrel would lock in place as the metal expanded under sustained fire, jamming the Chauchat until it cooled off.
The Chauchat gained a particularly poor reputation in the United States military, which did not have any light machine guns of its own to bring into the war. The United States, which did not use 8mm Lebel ammunition, commissioned specially made Chauchats chambered for the .30-06 round. These rifles were made incorrectly and most did not work.