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Lebel Model 1886 Bolt-Action Rifle (1887)

Authored By Staff Writer | Last Updated: 5/11/2014

The revolutionary Lebel 8mm bolt-action rifle served the French from 1887 to 1936, becoming the standard French infantry rifle of World War 1.

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The Lebel Model 1886 (more formally as the "Fusil Modele 1886 ") was the standard infantry rifle of the French Army before and throughout World War 1. The weapon lived a production life that was long enough to see action in World War 2. The weapon was designed in 1886 to take advantage of smokeless gunpowder invented in 1884. For a time, the Model 1886 was a revolutionary step forward and gave a distinct advantage to the French infantryman. By the time of World War 1 in 1914 however, rifle technology had advanced past the Model 1886 as compared to her contemporaries on the battlefield. It is estimated that some 2,880,000 total Lebel Model 1886 rifles were produced up until 1929. The Lebel was credited as being the first rifle designed for use with smokeless powder ammunition and the first to make a "boat-tailed" ammunition as standard.

The Lebel Model 1886 was a bolt-action rifle firing the 8mm Lebel round. The bolt system itself was a derivative of the one as found on the single-shot Gras 1874 rifle series it replaced. As the operator moved the bolt backwards, a mechanical lift introduced a new cartridge into line with the chamber. The closing of the bolt moved the cartridge into the firing chamber, introducing another cartridge onto the lift mechanism with help from a spring in the magazine tube. The rifle was now made ready to fire. The bolt head was locked into the receiver itself by two opposed front locking lugs.

The cartridge of choice for the new rifle became the equally-new Lebel 8mm (8x50R Lebel Mle 86), a smokeless powder ammunition utilizing a small caliber jacketed bullet. This first practical use of smokeless powder was made possible thanks to French chemist Paul Marie Eugene Vieille in 1884. The new cartridge was designed by Lieutenant Colonel Nicolas Lebel, a French senior officer then part of the design committee and whom the rifle was eventually named after. The cartridge was known as the "Balle M". In 1898, the round-nose Balle M was replaced in use by the "boat-tailed" spitzer "Balle D" cartridge - this necessitating a revision to the spring-loaded tube magazine as well. Original Lebels were identified by their two-piece stocks and unique receivers. A cruciform-type bayonet of considerable length (20.5 inches) could be affixed to the underside of the muzzle. In all, the Lebel Model 1886 was a long and heavy battlefield rifle while at the same time being noted for her reliability and robustness.

The tube magazine was situated under the barrel and ran forward, fitting up to 8 cartridges loaded as single rounds and charged rearwards via a pressure spring. In addition to the cartridges in the magazine, the receiver could house an additional two cartridges - one in the transporter and another in the firing chamber - essentially allowing the French soldier access to 10 ready-to-fire cartridges in his gun. The weapon weighed in at 9.73lbs when loaded with 8-rounds and 9.21lbs when unloaded. She held an overall length of 4.28 feet but this was substantially increased when fitted with a bayonet. The bayonet was still part of the modern battlefield and many military authorities still sided with the idea of "the longer the better" when it came to bayonets, expecting all combat to eventually be decided within close-quarters. The barrel added a length of 2.62 feet to the rifle receiver with integrated stock and featured 4 grooves with a right-to-left twist. Muzzle velocity was listed at up to 2,300 feet per second. Range was reported to be up to 4,500 yards but this was, of course, dependent on operator training and certain conditions. The tough construction of the rifle also made it the perfect launcher for the VB rifle grenade.


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Specifications for the
Lebel Model 1886
Bolt-Action Rifle


Country of Origin: France
Manufacturer: MAS (Manufacture d'Armes St. Etienne); MAT (Manufacture d'Armes de Tulle) - France
Initial Year of Service: 1887


Overall Length: 1304mm (51.34in)
Barrel Length: 798.00mm (31.42in)
Weight (Empty): 9.22lbs (4.18kg)


Caliber: 8mm Lebel
Action: Bolt-Action Lever
Feed: 8-round tube magazine
Muzzle Velocity: 2,300ft/sec (701m/sec)
Rate-of-Fire: 10 rounds per minute
Range: 10,500ft (3,200m; 3,500yds)
Sights: Iron Sights


Variants:
Lebel Model 1886 - Base Series Designation


Fusile Modele 1886/M93 - Official French Designation.

Fusile Modele 1886R35 - Shortened barrel and forestock; 37.20 inch length; revised rear sight.


Operators:
Belgium; France; Greece; Monaco; Nazi Germany; Poland; Imperial Russia; Spain