Wartime Needs Force Factories to Change Course

By Jean Huon

From Bicycles to Ribeyrolles’ Automatic Weapons

As early as September 1914, the French government moved to Bordeaux and set up an ambitious strategic plan to exert all the potential of the French industry so as to produce small arms, ammunition, provide furniture, energy and workers for a wartime economy.

Later, production was dispatched to all factories according to their production capacities. At first, production of 75mm shells was the main production throughout WWI.

Concerning small arms, many factories were designed to produce various parts such as: cars, bicycles, plumbing, hardware or locksmith accessories, sewing machines, photographic material, electric components, etc., from far or near pertaining to mechanical works. Few factories produced complete guns: Darne produced the Lewis light machine guns for aircraft and so did “Gladiator.”

These factories were ordered to produce the M1915 light machine gun, developed by Jacques Louis Chauchat and Charles Sutter. The Gladiator factory was founded by Alexandre Darracq and Jean Auroc in Le-Pré-Saint-Gervais, a small city in the East of Paris. It produced bicycles and cars.

We don’t know why Gladiator was chosen to produce the Chauchat, but the factory had all the required equipment to produce crude small arms, using a few milled parts, except for the bolt and barrel extension. The bolt housing was made out of a tube, the frame was manufactured with shaper tooling and riveted, and barrels came from discarded Lebel rifles. Between 1915 and 1918, Gladiator manufactured 250,000 M1915 Chauchat LMGs. Production was organized by Paul Ribeyrolles, technical manager of the factory.

Paul Ribeyrolles’ Invention

In 1917, the French Army adopted a semi-automatic rifle presented as an improved Lebel, but it used only a few parts of the old rifle. This model was designed by Chauchat, Sutter and Ribeyrolles. Paul Ribeyrolles worked on other projects, which did not pass the prototype status: an automatic weapon intended for the protection of tanks, firing through a port and a machine carbine shooting an intermediate caliber cartridge.

These guns are not well known: