Here’s a short video looking at how the unusual Hotchkiss Universel deploys from its compact, folded position. The whole process takes just seconds. Impressive engineering but within a couple of years the Universel would be surpassed by far more compact, ergonomic and serviceable designs like the Uzi and PM-63.
Hotchkiss Type Universal
The need for compact weapons capable of being carried with ease by troops who would be getting in and out of vehicles, jumping from planes and fighting in close quarters had been proven during World War Two. While it may look unusual the Hotchkiss ‘Type Universel’ was an extraordinary attempt at creating an extremely compact submachine gun.
Submachine guns had proven themselves to be an useful weapon during the war, their small size and high rate of fire made them invaluable, especially in close-quarter situations. The post-war French army found itself armed with a plethora of surplus submachine guns, which included: the German MP40, the British STEN and the American Thompson as well as their own pre-war MAS-38s, in 7.65x20mm Longue, which had been designed before the war. By 1946 they had already begun the process of selecting a new, more compact submachine gun. Seeking to standardise on a single weapon and calibre they selected 9x19mm and launched a programme to find a new submachine gun or Pistolet Mitrailleur.
The French War Ministry launched a call for state arsenals and civilian manufacturers, such a Hotchkiss and Gevelot/Gevarm, to submit submachine guns for trials. Hotchkiss submitted the Type 010 or Type Universel, often anglicised as Universal, despite this the guns are typically marked ‘CMH2’ – ‘Carabine Mitrailleuse Hotchkiss’.
Chambered in 9x19mm, the Hotchkiss fed from MP40-pattern magazines, used the ubiquitous blowback action, it fired from a closed bolt and had a cyclic rate of approximately 650-rounds per minute. The Hotchkiss is select fire with a push through selector that allows for semi and full-auto fire. It appears that the weapon’s only safety mechanism is to close the ejection port cover and lock the bolt in place – much like a US M3 Grease Gun.
Designers went to extraordinary lengths to minimise the size of the Universel. Not only did the stock fold beneath the barrel but the magazine well and magazine could be rotated forward to sit beneath the barrel with the magazine fitting between a U-shaped cut-out in the butt stock. The weapon is a curious mix of stamped metal and complex machining with a difficult to machine bolt and barrel contrasting with a stamped sheet metal lower receiver and wide stamped trigger.
In 1950 Hotchkiss sales material described their weapon as “the individual defense weapon meeting the requirements of the most modern Armies and Police. Folded up, it is very compact, easy to transport, conceal and parachute. It is quick to set up and comes unfolded in the form of a carabiner…”
The weapon’s pistol grip was hollow and when folding up the stock, the grip folds forward to cover the trigger. The Universel’s most interesting feature is its telescoping barrel which retracts several inches inside the receiver. These features brought the Hotchkiss’ length down from 30.6 inches (77.6cm) when the stock was extended, to 22 inches (54cm) with the stock folded, and an impressive 17.25 inches (43.5cm) when fully collapsed. The nature of how the pistol grip folded with the stock meant the weapon could not be fired with its stock collapsed. When fully collapsed the weapons’ depth was just 6 inches or 15.3cm.
First we unfold the stock by pushing the knurled collar forward to unhook it from the base of the magazine well. When fully unfolded a spring detent locks into the rear of the receiver.
At the same time the pistol grip also unfolds. If we had a magazine loaded into the weapon we would deploy the barrel first – in order to allow the magazine to slide back through the magazine well and fold down to lock into position. The bolt follows the barrel forward so once the magazine is locked into position the weapon has to he be charged to chamber a round.
The collapse the weapon again, first fold the stock, then depress the lever just behind the trunnion to unlock the barrel, push the barrel assembly and bolt to the rear until it locks.
The Universel’s extreme compactness was both its best and worst feature, the complexity of having every protruding part fold or retract made the weapon expensive to produce. It also gave the weapon poor ergonomics with a narrow butt, an uncomfortable pistol grip and narrow sights which weren’t ideal for quick target acquisition.
The Hotchkiss was one of a whole host of compact folding submachine guns developed after World War Two. These included the MAS MLE 1948, the MAC Mle 1947 and of course the MAT-49 from French state-arsenals. The French guns were by no means the first to have folding magazines, that concept dates back to submachine guns like the SIG MKMO. Incidentally, SIG’s last developmental iteration of their submachine guns, the MP48, was also developed in the late 1940s and retained the MKMO’s folding magazine housing.
A 2001 article from the Gazette des Armes, by Michel Malberbe, includes an account from a Legionnaire sergeant who describes using the Hotchkiss in Indochina:
“I saw for the first time the submachine gun Hotchkiss in ‘Indo’. We were responsible for the security of the RC4 [Route Coloniale 4], and the staff sent us wooden cases containing these famous submachine guns. As the documents were not very complete, our company commander… had trouble explaining how it worked. It was quite funny, because folded, this submachine gun did not look very serious. It was like a rectangular scrap metal package… We used it for the first time on the Lang Son side, during a serious collision between the Viets and a convoy… I remember that this machine worked very well. But it lacked a little precision. Anyway, it was much better than the small MAS-38 submachine gun, whose magazine always blocked [jammed] at the wrong time! On the other hand, I think I remember that the Hotchkiss did not stand up to mud and that it was misery to clean it. In addition it was quite difficult to unfold because of the buttons found everywhere. We never knew which one to press. We, in any case, always transported them in the firing position…”
While the Type Universel definitely wouldn’t win any prizes for its aesthetics, it was a ambitiously-engineered and well-built submachine gun. Despite this the design was simply too complex, as we have heard troops in the field rarely took advantage of its compact features preferring to carry the weapon at the ready. The Universel sacrificed a lot to achieve its compactness and the ergonomics of the weapon leave a lot to be desired with an extremely small butt and a hollow pistol grip that just feels wrong.
It is believed that in total just 7,000 Hotchkiss Universels were produced between 1948 and 1952. The French military rejected the Hotchkiss feeling the weapons was too complex and too expensive to manufacture. Instead, the MAT-49 submachine gun, designed by Tulle, was eventually adopted. The MAT-49 also had a folding magazine housing making it almost as compact as the Universel but without its complexities.
While it underwent some field testing with the French in Indochina no major military contracts were won but small numbers were purchased by the French police, the colonial police in Morocco and some were sold to the military of Venezuela. The Universel would be one of the last firearms produced by Hotchkiss et Cie, who had built numerous armaments for the French army during the 19th and 20th centuries, before it closed its weapons manufacturing arm in the early 1950s refocusing on automobile manufacture.
Special thanks to Battlefield Vegas for allowing us to take a look at their Hotchkiss.
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Overall Length: Deployed – 30.6in (77.6cm) / Collapsed – 17.25in (43.5cm)
Barrel Length: 10.6in (27cm)
Weight: 7.6lbs (3.4kg)
Action: Blowback, closed bolt
Capacity: 32-round box magazines
Rate of Fire: ~650 rpm
‘La Carabine Mitrailleuse: Hotchkiss Modele 010’, Gazette des Armes #256, R. Out
‘Carabine Mitrailleuse Hotchkiss (CMH2) Type Universel’, Gazette des Armes #321, M. Malberbe
Hotchkiss Submachine Guns, Small Arms Review, J. Huon (source)
Submachine Guns, M. Popenker & A.G. Williams (2011)
Live Fire: Hotchkiss Portative
The Hotchkiss Portative was one of the earliest light machine guns to see general service. It was used in action by a number of countries during the First World War, the example we’re examining today is a British Mk1 Hotchkiss Portative light machine gun.
British Portative’s were chambered in .303, and were initially issued to cavalry regiments as a light machine gun before arming some of Britain’s early tanks during World War One.
The gun was also known as the Hotchkiss Model 1909 and saw service with France, chambered in 8mm Lebel and the US, chambered in .30-06, where it was known as the 1909 Benét–Mercié Machine Rifle.
To cock the weapon the charging handle at the rear of the gun is turned to the unlocked position, at 12 o’clock, and pulled to the rear. It is then returned forward and the gun can be put in either safe, semi and full automatic.
Weighing around 25 lbs or 12kg the Portative was extremely heavy for a light machine gun. It had a small, unergonomic pistol grip to which the stock attached. This makes it difficult to hold the pistol grip and the stock attachment jabs into the hand during firing. The low position of the Hotchkiss’s stock provides a chin weld at best.
The Portative feeds from a 30-round metallic feed strip. Rounds are placed in the metallic strips and loaded into the weapon with the cartridges facing down. If not seated properly in the strip, vibration from firing can loosen the rounds causing them to fall out or induce jams. The strips were so fragile a sizer, used to realign bent or misshapen strips, was standard issue. Once the strip is empty it is thrown out of the gun with some force.
The Portative’s tripod while small and highly adjustable is poorly designed, it is unsuited to use in the field. As the gun is already top heavy and unbalanced, due to feeding from a side-loading ammunition strip, the gun has a tendency to topple over if not held firmly by the operator. This also complicates clearing jams and stopages.
We will have a full video and blog exploring the design, development and history of the Hotchkiss Portative in the future. My thanks to Chuck Kramer of Gun Lab for letting me shoot his Hotchkiss and helping with filming, check out his blog here.
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