Saturday, 1 February 2014

The Huot: The Light Machine Gun that Almost Was

Timing can make all the difference between a new firearm becoming an obscure and forgotten prototype relegated to either a scrap bin or a museum, and becoming a timeless symbol of the cause and conflicts of its day.

  The Huot Automatic Rifle

Joseph Huot's ingenious and resourceful design for a Canadian machine gun was poised to become a military (and for him, commercial) success - then World War 1 ended, no one was desperate for a better automatic rifle, and his foray into the machine gun business ended with him out $30,000 of his own money - about $450,000 in today's currency.

The ingenuity of Huot's project was not in its complexity or sophistication. It worked, and it worked well - outshining its competitors in many respects - but the really fantastic thing about it was that there were already hundreds of thousands of them half built, sitting around waiting to be used for something.

While the Canadian Expeditionary Forces were desperate for more machine guns, they were equally desperate to divest themselves of the failed family of Ross rifles. The Ross is an interesting piece of history in and of itself: smooth and accurate, it would have likely enjoyed a good reputation as a sporting platform if it hadn't had the misfortune of ever encountering French mud.

The Ross mkIII

 The Ross was a straight pull design that retained rotating locking lugs - a threaded interface between bolt head and body "screws" the lugs into battery. When the action was clean, it was faster to operate than a normal bolt action rifle. Unfortunately, when it was filthy dirty in nasty trench mud, it had a tendency not to operate at all. Without going into too much detail, as the war progressed, the Canadian Expeditionary Force ditched the Ross, and re-equipped themselves with SMLE's.

Which brings us back to Joseph Huot, tinkering away in his shop in Richmond, Quebec.

The Huot Automatic Rifle is essentially a heavily modified and rebuilt Ross. Joseph Huot added a gas piston system to the left side of the rifle that acted on the bolt body, added a buffer system to cushion the recoil, and sheathed the whole reciprocating mechanism in sheet metal. The internal magazine was replaced by a 25 round drum. The stock ahead of the magazine well is pared away to accommodate a steel cooling sleeve inspired by the standard commonwealth light machine gun of the day, the Lewis gun.

The Huot (top) and the Lewis compared

The Huot gun was subjected to extensive military trials; by all accounts it performed very well, even outperforming the venerable Lewis in many side-by-side tests. It was a whopping ten pounds lighter, thus handling much faster, and it proved to be more reliable under muddy conditions than the Lewis gun, firing and feeding a wide variety of .303 British ammunition. But the real kicker was the price tag: $50. It only cost $50 to rebuild a Ross rifle into a Huot Automatic Rifle. By comparison, a new Lewis cost $1000. 

Naturally, the Huot was recommended for adoption by both the Canadians and the British, and in late 1917 individual weapons began to trickle their way over to France for field testing. Sir Arthur Currie, commander of the CEF, approved of the new weapon immensely, described them as being popular with the troops that used them, and requested an additional 5000 units. Over the next year further refinements were made to the system - and then the war ended, and the idea was dropped. 

And so the Huot Automatic Rifle did not become an icon of WWI, or Canada's war effort, or see use all through WWII as a supplement to the Bren gun. The Lewis gun did. Timing is everything.


  1. These guns are really nice and antique.I like Huot Automatic Rifle and it is interesting to do target shooting from these guns.
    MA Firearms Safety Course.