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M1909 Benet Mercie – American’s First LMG


Hi guys, thanks for tuning in to another
video on ForgottenWeapons.com. I’m Ian McCollum, and I’m here
today at the Morphy Auction House taking a look at a fantastically cool
piece of American military history. This is a Colt production Automatic Machine Rifle Model
of M1909, more commonly known as a Benét–Mercié. This is the first actual light machine
gun adopted by the US military and, well, it didn’t last long and it got a pretty poor reputation, but holy cow, is it an impressive gun to take a look at. So, this was developed by the Hotchkiss company. Two engineers there, the CEO of the company
and one of his engineers, Benét and Mercié, (and I should point out the Hotchkiss
company was originally an American company, it was started by Benjamin Hotchkiss, by the time
this gun was being worked up he was long dead, but the company … kept his name for branding purposes, and the company was actually located in Paris. When Hotchkiss was originally developing
guns, he had trouble selling them in America and found a much more fertile market in Europe, and so he located the company in
France, at any rate, it was still there), and this was one of not a whole lot of light machine
guns, reasonably reliable light machine guns, available before 1910. There were of course
some others. There’s a Madsen and a few others. But this design was actually adopted by
the French, the British and the Americans. Now in the case of the Americans, this was
basically a partner gun with the 1904 Maxim, and if you’re interested in … the deeper
history of this I would recommend reading the books by Julian Hatcher because he was
actually personally involved in this process. Basically the US adopted the 1904 Maxim, and then
when
the army went to actually train with it and develop doctrine and tactics for it, they realised there’s really two
kinds of machine guns and you need them both, there’s light machine guns and heavy machine guns. And this went through the adoption
process. And I’ll be honest with you, offhand I don’t know how this
thing managed to get adopted, but it was the best option out there apparently.
And they went ahead and adopted it, and set it up as a companion gun. Now
the problem was the machine gun sections weren’t really a focal point for training
in the US military (the machine gun platoons I should say), were often a dumping ground for
problematic or underperforming unit commanders. This was a problem endemic to a lot
of armies, not just the United States. So, you know, this is a gun that has a lot of quirks, and really
takes a lot of practice and training to become very proficient with, and the units that had them generally didn’t get
that kind of training, and they weren’t the best troops. So it wasn’t a great performer. Now a
couple things to take a look at on this. … All of them are set up with optics rails, and most
of them actually were issued with optical sights, which is kind of cool and kind of
ahead of its time for 1909. This gun is chambered for .30-06,
the standard US military cartridge. The British ones of course were in .303,
the French ones were in 8mm Lebel. This uses a 30 round feed strip for feeding. Fits up here in the top of the gun. These patterns, the light Hotchkiss guns,
feed with the feed strip facing upwards. The heavy Hotchkiss guns which saw substantial use during
World War One, those guys feed with the strips down. So, let’s go ahead and look at some of the really wacky
features of this thing. There’s some stuff on here that’s anachronistic, there’s some stuff that’ll
make you go, “Why on earth did they do that?” And … if you’re a machinist, this is a
magnificent specimen to take a look at. Alright, first off I want to talk about the support
mechanism, like how the gun’s actually mounted. Because we’ve got a bunch of
different things going on here. First off, we’ve got this bipod which is, I have
to just say it, this is like the worst bipod ever. The bipod will fold all the way out to here, Although I’d be, I don’t know, you know … I don’t
know if the gun is actually intended to be shot with the bipod down this far, but
there are stops on the bipod feet for it and then the bipod does the same thing
coming backwards all the way to … there. … I don’t know that I want to
leave the weight on it down there. Up here it swivels, it pivots only a little bit. But it’s really difficult to get this thing to… You can’t just stand it up on the bipod, because
the bipod will flop forward or flop back very easily. However what you can do, which is what
we’ve done here, is you can actually extend this really sophisticated (or at least
really complicated), rear monopod. It’s a two-foot monopod that comes
out, and this provides enough friction basically to keep the gun upright.
It then also allows you to (take that out), adjust the elevation of the gun. There we go. And screw adjust the elevation
of the gun like so, up and down, and then if you, well, I’ll show you this up close. And then lastly we have this thing, which clamps around the the back of the
barrel up here and the receiver back here, and this is a tripod adapter for
a US pattern of Vickers tripod. So you can actually set this
thing up on a really good tripod. These are, by the way, really scarce pieces to find. So the way this rear monopod works, it’s
got two feet here, and they’re just on this bar, and they can slide side to side, which allows you to
traverse the gun while it’s set on this monopod assembly. We have a screw dial here, which allows me
to raise and lower the monopod incrementally, and then I can also pull back on this little
handle, which unlocks the screw thread. I can either pull it entirely out,
or simply quick adjust it like that, then let that drop back into place and then I can go back
to using this for my additional adjustment right there. If I want to lock this in place completely,
I can then flip that trigger all the way in. That engages this lock which means
I can no longer push this back. So once you’ve got your elevation set, you
lock that so that you don’t inadvertently drop it. Now in order to stow this if you don’t want to
use it, we’re gonna dial this all the way down, lock it in right there, and then we’re gonna drop this all
the way down and then we have a little latch right here. This little hook on the back of the bipod, which by
the way, they have on both ends so it’s interchangeable, that snaps into this little hole in the back of
the pistol grip and that locks this whole thing. So when you’re not using it,
this is locked in place right there. Now another note about the design of this thing, you’ll notice
it has, like, the weirdest design of stock you’ve ever seen. You’re actually supposed to put your face right
here, which lines up with the sights right up here. This is your selector switch and your
charging handle. So down like that is safe, … let’s see, yeah, that’s safe. This is automatic. The next position is ‘R’ which is
repetition or semi-automatic. Note that this handle doesn’t
go anywhere when you do that. And then all the way over, or all
the way up there, is cycling the gun. So in this position we can actually pull the handle back (the bolt’s already cocked, which is
why there’s no spring tension on this). This is like your original AR-style
non-reciprocating charging handle. We can lock that in, safe, semi, full. The sight on here is really quite elaborate. First off, it does flip up, like so, for use out to 2,800
yards using this adjustable dial, or adjustable slide. You do have a notch sight back
here for basically your battle sight use, then for actual combat use you’ve
got a choice of a rear notch there, or HK style, any one of these
increasingly large apertures. And these are … 0.04, 0.06, 0.08 and 0.1 inches. Also note that this sight actually shifts
over to the left as you increase the range. That is not particularly uncommon in
guns of this vintage, and that’s done to … account for bullet drift at long range due to the bullet
spinning in one direction as opposed to the other. As you saw at the beginning,
these are also equipped with rails for Warner & Swasey Telescopic Musket Sights.
Both the 1908 and the 1913 patterns will fit. This particular one has a Model of 1913 Warner & Swasey. That’s a 6x optic, and it is prismatic so you look in
here and you look out a little higher up. These things have all sorts of
super cool plates and data and compensation adjustments and all
sorts of crazy stuff on here. I have a separate video where I talk in a little
more detail about these Warner & Swasey optics, so if you’re curious about them, check
out that video for a little more detail. These were offset to the side, allegedly to avoid
the problem of heat mirage coming off the guns. Possibly also just because there’s so much
other stuff on the top of the Hotchkiss design, that there’s not a good place to put a scope up there. The front sight is just a narrow square
post with a very substantial long hood over it. And together with that really tiny rear notch sight,
this presents a very challenging sight picture. I would say very similar to the 1903 [Springfield rifle?]
sight picture, this would be great for a target rifle. … We’ll give the US a little bit of a benefit
of the doubt here because they really hadn’t … had the time and combat experience to
learn proper light machine gun tactics. This is not a good light machine gun sight. Oh, and by the way, this dial right here is
your windage adjustment for that rear sight. So your elevation is this slider and your windage
is twisting the whole sight around on a pivot. These light pattern Hotchkiss guns, like the Benét
–Mercié, do have quick change barrels on them. Interesting to note that the Colt production ones
have this really deep knurling on the front of the barrel. That’s something that could have
been there for grip, but maybe, you know, you’d be using some sort of insulating cloth
when you grab the barrel on that if it’s really hot. Could also be an attempt to get
extra surface area for better cooling. Whatever the reason, the Springfield Armory produced
guns don’t have that knurling. That was a Colt only thing. And speaking of Colt, here are the markings
on the side: Automatic Machine Rifle, Calibre .30 Model of 1909, Made by the Colt Patent
Firearms Company. This one is serial number 228. We don’t know exactly how many were made, but all
the ones that are known have three digit serial numbers. Which means, when you combine the Colt
production and the Springfield production, it’s an absolute top-end
possible total of 2,000 guns. Probably more like 1,000 to 1,500,
somewhere in that range. So really by a modern standard not very many of these guns
being made, and very few of them survive to this day. So when it comes to overall use, there’s still some
mystery to it. We don’t have good production numbers, or at least I have not been able to find good
production and purchase numbers on these guns. What we do know is they were purchased
by both the US Army and the US Navy. The initial purchase from Hotchkiss was only 29 guns.
However, the military also managed to negotiate a licensed production deal, and these were
produced by both Springfield Armory and Colt. You can tell them apart fairly easily because… … the Colt guns have a knurled barrel,
the Springfield guns have a smooth barrel. At the time of the US entry into World War One
this was the most common, or the most numerous, machine gun in US service. And the US
military had 670 of these on its inventory books. Some of them were shipped to France, but they were all
used for training only. They weren’t actually taken into combat. US troops would carry mostly French
machine guns until the very very end of the war when we started getting BARs and Colt 1917s
into service. Most of the American machine gunners would be using Hotchkiss 1914 heavy machine
guns and Chauchat 1915 automatic rifles. The Chauchat, by the way, being
basically the functional, or the the tactical, equivalent of the 1909 here, the light machine gun.
You saw they called this the automatic machine rifle before the people had really figured out
the tactics and the nomenclature behind squad automatic weapons, light
machine guns, that sort of thing. How best to use them, and what name
was actually appropriate for them, so. Didn’t really see any use in World War One, they were
declared obsolete in 1918 and replaced with the BAR. The one place where these guns saw
notable use is the raid on Columbus, New Mexico. And this was in 1916, in March of 1916,
Pancho Villa raided into Columbus, New Mexico, with this cunning plan to start a war between
the US and Mexico because his political rival had … gained power in Mexico. And Villa
wanted to get him kicked out of power and figured, well, if the US goes to war with
Mexico they’ll take care of that, and then I can end up in charge instead.
Well, it totally backfired on him, the US ended up going after Pancho Villa,
not declaring war on Mexico. But … the main galvanizing incident of this was
Villa’s raid on the town of Columbus, New Mexico, which was intended quite seriously,
quite literally, just to cause mayhem. Kill people, burn down stuff, and get
the US angry. And it certainly did that, however Villa underestimated the number
of American troops who were actually in the town. There were about 300 American troops
there, many of them, well, active service, you know, these weren’t guys on R&R,
this was an active military contingent. And Villa’s men came into the town
between like 3:30 and 4:00 in the morning, a couple thousand Villistas on horseback,
and the US troops were taken by surprise. Interestingly, they had to break down the
doors to their own armoury, because I guess they couldn’t find the guy who had
the keys, to break out their own guns. They did have one machine gun platoon with 4
Benét–Mercié 1909 Automatic Machine Rifles. And the popular legend of this is that the result of this
battle was they became known as the ‘Daylight Gun’, because this raid happened before dawn in the
morning and, allegedly, these guns had all sorts of problems, and they malfunction constantly, and
they couldn’t figure out how to feed them, and… The reality of this is not quite the same, there certainly
were some issues with the guns, especially at first. Which we can probably pretty well attribute
to the fact that a) it was pitch dark outside, there was no moonlight that night, and b) US
machine gun training was pretty lackluster at the time. However, once the guns got up and running and, more
importantly, once there was light available to actually identify targets, first it was light from a burning hotel
and later on, of course, the sun started to come up, the US troops put down a substantial and
very effective fire. The 4 1909 Benét–Merciés fired a total of about 20,000 rounds, and that’s
not a pathetic, horrible, non-functional machine gun. That’s something that may require some skill
to operate, but these guns could and did run. So you can’t put 5,000 rounds through
each one of those guns in a single morning if they’re constantly breaking
parts and malfunctioning, so. The gun is not quite as bad as… Let me put it this way, if you put it in context, in
1909 it’s not nearly as bad as people see it today. And it certainly is a really interesting historical
piece, being the first American light machine gun. Not just adopted by the US military, but
actually manufactured here in the US, this particular one by Colt. And this particular
gun comes with a bunch of accessories, including that really cool tripod adapter, which is a pretty
darn scarce thing to find. As well as an entire box of .30-06 Benét–Mercié feed strips, which are also
quite a bit scarcer than you might expect. So if you’re interested in having a gun like this in your
own collection, it is coming up for sale here at Morphy’s. Take a look at the description text below,
you’ll find a link to ForgottenWeapons.com, from there you can follow a link over to Morphy’s
auction catalogue, take a look at their pictures, description, all the accessories that come with the gun,
and decide if it’s something that you’d like to have yourself. This is, of course, a fully transferable, fully
registered legal NFA machine gun here in the US, and it is a Curio and Relic gun as well, for that
little extra bit of detail for folks who appreciate it. Thanks for watching.

100 thoughts on “M1909 Benet Mercie – American’s First LMG

  1. Bipod is probably built that way so if they dont have a nest dug out yet they dont have to stick their head out of the trench as far. I'm high asf so sorry if that made no sense.

  2. What an incredible gun. Not only is the stock upside-down, but it even turns the power outlets in the room upside down. It flips the orientation of other items in its presence. Outstanding.

  3. It was nicknamed The Daylight Gun by the press because of how impossible it was to operate and maintain at night, not because of the Battle of Columbus. You probably realize how terrible this gun is to use now that you went through Project Lightening.
    Also it wasn't a couple thousand Villistas. They only had around 100 more than the US did.

  4. .This is a machinist's wet dream, but my god it's like they worked out the most expensive, overengineered, complicated and time consuming to produce design possible. The knurling on that barrel alone probably took longer than throwing together an entire Chauchat.

  5. It is a very heavily engineered gun. I do like it though. I’d rather have that gun than that French mess.

  6. the fine detail on this thing is unreal. completely unnecessary, but very visually appealing. it's like a piece of art that you can carry into battle and shoot people with.

  7. To all the guns that have to be re sighted after this guy has seen them we salute you (only joking do what you want)

  8. It's like a machinist masterpiece! "Let's see if we can get every milling and turning operation into it! For good measure, let's knurl first half of the barrel, rib the other half for cooling, and drill and tap as many holes in the receiver and lower assembly as we possibly can! 🥰🥰🥰🥰

  9. The Benét-Mercié M1909 and the company Hotchkiss are originally french, created and first manufactured in Saint-Denis, near Paris, in 1909, based on a model made by the austrian manufacturer Adolf Odkolek von Újezd. And only after it was adopted by the american military forces. So it should be written : "French's First LMG", because the american version is older than the french version.

  10. 2:15 best option you say? Madsen LMGs were invented a year before maxims were and the German Special forces were trusted with Madsens., i just find it odd, that's all

  11. This "assemblage of spare parts" would make Rube Goldberg jealous. There are so many ways to dump this machine gun into the mud and NOT fire on the enemy that German agents must have been working at Hotchkiss and cunningly sold it to future enemies! (Imagine the German general staff ROTFLMAO at this intelligence coup.)

  12. That machine-gun is so beautifully made, it's almost irrelevant that it was a POS. I served in the Canadian Army, from the late 1970s to the mid-1980s, as a machine gunner in the 3rd Battalion, PPCLI. We were still using a version of the M1919A4, called the GPMG C5, essentially a 7.62 NATO version of the above. To compare the two, one so utilitarian, the other so refined, it's like comparing a Liberator .45 and a new Sig M17 (320).

  13. Mistake. He first says that the middle position of the selector is automatic, then later he says the middle position is semi. 7:30

  14. A cavalry troop had about 130 men !! 300 troops would = 39,000 men, or about 3 divisions.Were they the 9th or 10th Cavalry ?? The Chauchat ARs used by the US were rechambered for the 1906 .30 caliber ( .30-06). Long before Pres. Wilson got us into WW I , most of them were scrapped !! John Moses Browning invented the BAR (& .45 ACP) in 1894 AD. Until 1918 there was only that one BAR. BARs were first field used October 1918 A D.

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