Lebel M1886


Lebel model 1886/93 rifle, right side

 


Lebel model 1886/93 rifle, left side

 


Lebel model 1886/93 R35 carbine

 


Lebel model 1886/93 rifle, close-up view

 


Lebel model 1886/93 rifle, diagram

 

 

Mle1886 M93 rifle

Mle 1886 M93 R35 carbine

Caliber

8x50R

8x50R

Overall length

1303 mm / 51.3”

960 mm / 37.8”

Barrel length

798 mm / 31.4”

450 mm / 17.7”

Weight, empty

4,24 kg / 9.35lbs

3,76 kg / 8.28 lbs

Magazine capacity

8 rounds

3 rounds

 

The Lebel rifle of 1886 (officially known in contemporary French nomenclature as “Le fusil de 8 mm modèle 1886”) was one of most important infantry weapons of the era, because it was the first ever military rifle to fire small-bore, smokeless powder cartridge. Combination of the fast-firing magazine rifle with relatively light, long-range flat-firing cartridge (by standards of the late 19th century, which differ noticeably from modern standards) which produced almost no smoke to obscure battlefield visibility dramatically changed infantry tactics of the upcoming conflicts. It must be noted that both rifle and its cartridge were soon deemed obsolescent by advancements in design and ballistics, but they were first nonetheless and earned their proper place in the military history. Both cartridge and rifle to fire it were developed by Government commission led by General Tramond. New rifle was designed at Chatellerault state armory (MAC) by colonels Bonnet and Gras and MAT employee Verdin. Colonel Nicolas Lebel, after whom the rifle was eventually named, was developer of the flat-nosed jacketed bullet for the new 8mm cartridge. Initially his name was attached to the bullet only (officially it was designated “Balle M”), but later his name stuck to entire system, including cartridge and rifle, most possibly because Lebel was the director of the Infantry shooting school and oversaw firing trials of the new rifle.

After minor modification in 1893, the Lebel rifle served with French army and its colonial forces until the WW2. Mass production of the Leber rifles continued until about 1920, with more than 2 and a half million rifles produced. It was officially declared obsolete in 1936, with introduction of the MAS Mle.1936 bolt action rifle that fired more modern 7,5mm rimless ammunition. Despite this, during 1935-40 period noticeable numbers of the old rifles were converted to Mle 1886 M93 R35 carbine type, with short barrel and 3-round magazine. Most of these carbines were issued to colonial troops. The last major conflict which saw extensive use of the Lebel rifles was the Algerian campaign of 1960.

In general, Lebel rifles were durable, accurate and effective weapons. Its drawbacks included lack of manual safety, antiquated tubular magazine, which was slow to reload, excessive weight and complicated disassembly which required tools (screwdriver) to remove bolt.

 

Lebel Mle 1886 rifle is manually operated, rotary bolt action weapon. It has multi-part bolt with bolt head that is attached to the body by the cross screw. Bolt is locked to the receiver with dual locking lugs, located at the front of the bolt head. Feed is from tubular magazine, located below the barrel and protected by the wooden stock. The only way to load or unload magazine was through the open action, with bolt pulled to the rear. Cartridges were moved from underbarrel magazine to loading position by swinging lifter, operated by the bolt. Magazine cutoff was provided on the right side of the action, which, when engaged, blocked the elevator and turned the rifle into the single-loader to conserve ammunition in magazine for some critical moment. Magazine capacity was 8 rounds, plus two additional rounds could be carried into combat in the gun – one in chamber and one on elevator. There was no manual safety, and rifle was intended to be carried with empty chamber. Combination iron sight included fixed “combat” blade for 250 meters range, tangent-type adjustments for ranges between 400 and 800 meters. For ranges between 800and 2000 meters, the rear sight could be raised to vertical position. After modifications, carried out in 1932, rear sights were graduated to 2400 meters due to improved ballistics of the new “balle N” bullet. Rifle was equipped with two-piece wooden stock, and issued with characteristic detachable epee-type bayonet of noticeable length. A cup-type grenade launcher attachment, known as “tromblon VB”, allowed firing of VB type grenades using special blank propelling cartridges. Sniper modifications of the Lebel rifle employed APX type telescope sights of several models, and served through the WW1 and up until the occupation of the 1940.

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