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The First Modern Military Rifle: The Modele 1886 Lebel


Hi guys, thanks for tuning in to
another video on ForgottenWeapons.com. I’m Ian McCollum, and today we’re going to take a look at a rifle that caused a serious paradigm shift in military small arms. This is the Model of 1886 French Lebel rifle, and what makes it special is the fact that it was the first military rifle to use smokeless powder. Now smokeless powder has a tremendous advantage over black powder, actually it has several. At the very basic end, smokeless powder doesn’t create a giant cloud of smoke, as the name sort of implies. This means that battlefields remain clear, you can still see in ways that large groups of soldiers firing black-powder rifles couldn’t. With black powder rifles in large groups, that smoke just obscures the whole battlefield. But more significantly than that, smokeless powder allowed a projectile to be thrown at a far higher velocity than black powder did. This allowed bullet diameters to be reduced, bullet velocities to be greatly increased, and the effective range of small arms basically doubled overnight. Now smokeless powder had been … people
knew that smokeless powder was out there. This wasn’t a revolutionary development,
it was an iterative development. So lots of different people had been working
towards it, and a Frenchman by the name of Paul Vielle was the first to actually come up
with a workable chemical solution to this problem, and he did that in 1884. Now it would remain
a closely guarded French state secret as long as possible, but that didn’t last very long. This is one of those developments where …
basically any real competent chemist could observe … if they had a sample of Vielle’s “Poudre B”, Powder B, or Blanche,
white powder as opposed to black powder, if they had a sample of it they could
reverse-engineer it fairly quickly. And so it would only be a couple years before basically the
whole world … had access to smokeless powder. The French tried to contain it, contain the
knowledge, but that was kind of a hopeless task. At any rate, when this was developed the
French military decided that it was going to go all out and exploit this new advantage that they had. So at this time … the French army
was primarily using the 1874 Gras rifle. This was a single shot, black powder, 11mm rifle.
The French Navy however had skipped ahead. The Navy had gone from the Chassepot,
which was a needle fire rifle, to a tube fed … basically a version of the Kropatschek in
11mm Gras. Now I have a Kropatschek rifle here, and what makes the Kropatschek special is
that it has a tube magazine under the barrel. Now tube magazines under the barrel
weren’t exactly a novel feature at this point, these go all the way back to the 1850s and 60s. But the Kropatschek had a specific mechanism
for it that worked pretty well, and a nice elevator. It worked for long cartridges in a way that, like, the Henri tubular magazine system wasn’t quite so efficient. At any rate, the French Navy had
adopted one of those rifles in 1878, and by 1884 the French army
was also looking at adopting them, so they were starting to build the Model of 1884, basically a Gras bolt with a Kropatschek tube magazine. Now I’m telling you this to set up
where the Lebel actually comes from. In 1884 and ’85 when this smokeless
powder was developed, the French ordnance took some time and started doing
experiments on smaller diameter bullets. They experimented with 7mm and 7.5mm and
8mm bullets, and they were able to take their time and do it well. And they came to the
conclusion that the best, the optimum, diameter to use for this new propellant would be 8mm. Then they started looking into what action to use,
they knew that a new rifle was going to come of this, obviously. And so they started looking into …
what were the best options out there. In particular they looked at the Mannlicher
system, and they also took a serious look at the Remington-Lee system. Now the Remington-Lee
would go on to be adopted by the British as the Lee-Enfield and the French were looking
at this pretty closely, the Ordnance Department was. Until January of 1886, and at that point a new
War Minister is appointed by the government, General Boulanger, and he takes a
look at this new technology and demands … he wants the new rifle on his desk in 5 months.
He wants it on his desk in May of 1886. And this really throws a gigantic wrench
into the plans that had been ongoing on how to build the best rifle to exploit this new powder. All of a sudden it’s not the best rifle,
it’s what on earth can we possibly have functional and developed by May. And it’s January now. And what this means, fortunately they’d
already had the time to do a good job on finding a bullet diameter, so that’s out of the way. But they don’t have a cartridge, and they
don’t have a rifle lined up. And with only five months to work there’s no way
that they’re going to be able to develop a brand new system on any of these existing actions. So what they have to do is look at what do they
already have in the French military arsenal, and there’s only one magazine-fed rifle that the
French military has, and that’s this Kropatschek. The 1878 Navy and the 1884/1885
(they were kind of tweaking it) Army rifle. So there we go, that’s the solution.
They took the French Kropatschek and adapted it to the new smokeless powder,
which required a few changes. So first off they also had to develop a new cartridge.
How are we gonna … what are we going to put this 8mm bullet into? And
the answer there was, again, the only way to do this in the allotted time
frame was to take the existing 11mm Gras and basically just neck it down to 8mm. This resulted in a kind of a unique double tapered cartridge. This would turn out to be one of the
fundamental flaws of the entire system. This cartridge would handicap the French
for decades, but it was the only thing that they could actually get done in the
timeframe that the government had allowed. So there was … it was actually quite remarkable
that the Lebel was able to be developed in this 5 or 6 month period. There are a lot of
different officers who worked together to make the whole project come together.
Colonel Lebel, whose name ended up on the rifle, actually his contribution was designing
the bullet itself, the jacket and the shape, that was his contribution. There were other
folks who did the other things that were necessary, changing the sights, changing the barrel, changing
the tube magazine a little bit as necessary. The most substantial change necessary to the
system was to give it a brand new bolt head, because the original Kropatschek and
the French versions in … 11mm Gras locked just on the bolt handle of the rifle. They
were low-pressure black powder cartridges and that was fine. With the new smokeless powder … the new smokeless powder developed much
higher pressures and it required a much stronger locking system, so the most
substantial change between the Kropatschek and the Lebel was the development
of a two lug … locking bolt head adapted onto the existing Gras bolt. So they
put all this together, May of 1886 rolls around and impressively they actually have a rifle and
ammunition, the whole system ready and complete. And so this rifle starts to undergo testing and it’s … actually goes through testing really quite quickly for a new, well a fundamentally new type of small arm. And by April of 1887 it’s been formally
adopted and they’re ready to put it into production. This thing met or exceeded all of the
military expectations of it. Substantially. This was a fantastic … it really was a
game-changing rifle at that point in history. Because … this thing has sights out to
over 2,000 metres, which was just literally unheard of with every other military rifle in the world. The range at which you could deliver
accurate fire with the new smokeless powder in the Lebel rifle was phenomenal. … And penetration was phenomenal because
this was a small diameter jacketed bullet traveling at high velocity. It would
go through wood, dirt, armour far better than anything else anybody had at the time. So, rifle’s great, does exactly what we want,
they … go to put it into production and all three major … French state Arsenals
are tasked with producing the Lebel. They actually contract for machine tools in
the United States to set up production lines, serious high efficiency, high
volume production lines for this rifle. This would be … a serious element of this
involved mechanical interchangeable parts, which hadn’t really been so much of a
thing with the Gras but in order to produce Lebel rifles in the volume and the time
that they had anticipated, these rifles had to be on the cutting edge of modern
technology as far as manufacturing goes. You had to be able to just have a bin of every part and
assemble rifles without having to do any hand fitting. So all three Arsenals are set up to do this. The Arsenals end up working … they are running
six days a week full shifts and half shifts on Sunday. And within six years, by the end of 1892,
they produced 2.8 million Lebel rifles. They basically completely re-equipped the entire
French Army with this fundamentally new rifle. And that was basically why Boulanger
had forced such a rapid development. He wanted the French Army to actually be
able to use … to have this advantage in hand and available. What he didn’t want to do
was take this new smokeless powder and take a long time developing a rifle,
and then, you know, start making it slowly, and so maybe only equips elite units,
and well what if a war happens then? We can’t really exploit this new advantage
and other people will catch up to us. In this way, the French Army was able to take that
advantage and have it fully in hand very quickly. The downside of course is everyone else did
catch up. And the people who were busy catching up to … the French smokeless
powder rifle, they spent more time and came up with better systems.
Primarily the magazine system. The tube magazine on this rifle is slow
to load, it’s kind of awkward and clumsy, it’s complicated, it’s expensive to make, and … Well, it does hold a lot of cartridges. It
holds eight plus one plus a second one, sort of, we’ll get to that in a minute.
Well it does hold 8 compared to 5 rounds for virtually everything else that was out there. The complexity of the magazine and the time
it takes to reload really hinder that advantage. And it would only be literally 2 or 3 years
before Mauser has developed the stripper clip. The Belgians in 1889 adopt a smokeless powder
Mauser action rifle that uses stripper clips and has a double stacked internal box magazine
that was far superior to the Lebel’s magazine. Everyone else would catch up, and
they would do it with better magazines, and they would do it with better cartridges.
The Mauser cartridges, the 7mm, the 7.65, the 8mm Mauser, these
are all rimless basically straight wall, necked cartridges that are far
easier to fit into box magazines than this double tapered, heavy
rimmed French Lebel cartridge. So by 1892 basically the whole army
is equipped with these and production pretty much, it doesn’t shut down,
but it basically tapers off dramatically. They continue making some rifles
for a few more years, but basically this was a matter of we need the Army
to have these so we’ll build all of them, and then the Army has them and
then we don’t need to build more. When World War One began, this was the
standard infantry rifle for the French military. And they actually didn’t bother … they didn’t
put it back into production during World War One. They looked at it and by this point it was
clearly obsolescent. All of the various other developments, the British with the Lee,
the Germans with the Mauser, even things like the Krag-Jorgensen rifles are
definitely better designs than the Lebel. And so the French went looking for
something that they could produce quickly and efficiently and inexpensively
during World War One. And what they came up with was adopting the
Berthier carbines into a new infantry rifle. I have a whole series of videos on the
Berthiers. If you’re interested in those,
definitely check out the other videos. But the Berthier had initially existed because a tube
magazine gun isn’t really ideal for turning into a carbine. Because the shorter you make the barrel
the smaller the magazine capacity gets. That’s all I’ll say about that. We cover
that pretty well in the Berthier videos. At any rate these guns … only the Tulle
Arsenal does any new production of Lebels during World War One.
And … it’s a little unclear exactly, but that’s done primarily from
existing stockpiles of spare parts. They may have built some entirely new
firearms, but the documentation just simply doesn’t exist anymore, and we’re
not sure about it. They do absolutely maintain and repair and rebuild Lebel
rifles that are damaged World War One. And in fact the French would be
re-barrelling Lebels clear until the 1930s. So the the rifle was formally … determined
to be … formally declared obsolete in 1920. At that point they’re not going to
be putting together any new ones, although they do continue to support
the system from there onward. So … that’s quite a lot of background. But let’s take a look at the actual action
here, because this is fairly distinctive from most other bolt-action rifles
that you may be familiar with. We’ll begin with some markings on the outside. Something important to recognise is
that with French rifles the receiver was not really a particularly heavily controlled part. So
the receiver will be marked with the manufacturing facility and the model of the weapon, but the
receiver actually doesn’t have a serial number on it. It just wasn’t considered a serialised part
by the French. So in this case we have “Manufacture d’armes St Etienne”. This is
one of the three main Arsenals, the others would be Tulle and Chatellerault. You’ll find
Lebels with those markings on the receivers as well. And then this is a Modele 1886 M93. Now well,
I’ll come back to the M93 in a moment, but basically there were a series of
production upgrades that were made over the six years of rapid production. The rifles would come back, and they would all be updated in a few minor
ways to meet a new specification. So we’ll get to that in a moment. On the barrel you’ll find the serial number,
and the French system here was to use a letter prefix and then blocks of 100,000
rifles. So each of the three Arsenals was given a batch of serial number prefixes to use,
and if they ran out of them they double back. So Chatellerault, for example, had … A, B, C, D and E. Once they finished with E they would go back
and they would have a double prefix series of AB and then they would have AC and
so on. Now this particular one is N, and and these letters are in this distinctively
French scripted font that are sometimes a little tricky to read. And then this is 85,000.
So once they hit 99,999 on this, on the N series, they would go to the P
series. They skipped O and they skipped I. Anyway, also on the barrel you’ll have the initials
of the company that supplied the steel for the barrels. And then you have two inspector’s initials
here, one of those is the factory director and one is the chief arms inspector, who are responsible for the quality of all the weapons coming out of the factory. On the opposite side, the right side of the
barrel, we have one other useful marking. This is Manufacture d’Armes, and then a
single initial for the factory, so this will be an S, generally, (an S, a T, or a C,
for St Etienne, Chatellerault or Tulle). This is a St Etienne manufactured gun, has a St Etienne barrel, and then the date that the barrel was
actually manufactured which is 1890. The serial number is going to be marked in several other places on the rifle. We have it on the bottom of the magazine
system here, we have it on the handguard, we have it on the bolt stem, the bolt handle there. And we have it on the left side of the
butt-stock. So this is a pretty cool example which is completely all matching and original,
it hasn’t been re-barrelled since 1890. One other marking you’ll find on these is a roundel
stamped on the right side of the butt-stock, and they will often be found quite worn like this one. If the stock was replaced on the rifle at some
point during its service, replacement stocks did not get these stamps, so there won’t
always be one. But often, because this was a fairly light stamp in most cases, often they’re just worn away. And this one’s almost illegible. What
this says is MA in the centre, which is the official army stamp
of approval and ownership. So this is put on the rifle when it’s actually
physically taken into military service. Which isn’t necessarily exactly the same
time as when the barrel might have been manufactured, for example. Sometimes barrels
sat around for a while before they were used. Anyway, on the top of this circular stamp,
you will read the month that the weapon was accepted and on this one it’s … I don’t
know, I think that’s totally illegible at this point. On the very bottom you’ll have the year that it was accepted and this one is, because I know the barrel date is 1890,
we can make out that this was 1890, but boy, that’s almost completely gone as well. And then there will be a letter on this
side for the Arsenal and then a couple of our controller and factory inspector initials as well. So just for comparison’s sake
here’s a very late barrel example. We know that the rifle was
declared obsolete in 1920, however they did continue to service and re-barrel
worn-out examples until World War Two. So, this one has a T, meaning that this barrel was made at the Tulle Arsenal and the barrel was made in 1936. It also has this N mark on the top of the
chamber, that indicates that the barrel has been … the throat has been recut for the
1932 Ball N, what’s called Ball N. Basically, they redesigned the 8mm Lebel
ammunition to be best suited for heavy machine guns. If you’re interested in the development
of ammo, I also have a separate video
on that that you can take a look at. Anyway, our original 1890 rifle does not have that N marking and this later re-barrel does, because this was
an upgrade that was made in the early 1930s. Also, I should point out that on this
one we have a T marked barrel, so Tulle, on a rifle that was manufactured at St Etienne,
kind of worn away here on this side, but the reason that these mismatch is
because this receiver would have been made almost certainly in the … late 1880s or
early 1890s and then it was re-barreled later on, so the original barrel would
have been a St Etienne barrel. Okay, now the action. How does this thing actually work? Well the first question is how is it that
you have a tube magazine with a pointed spitzer bullet and not have the thing
actually detonate in the magazine tube when one bullet tip hits the primer
(by the way, these are all dummy cartridges). How come that doesn’t happen
and the rifle doesn’t go kaboom? Well there are two explanations.
The first is when this was first developed it actually used a round nosed … or a
flat fronted round nosed sort of bullet and so that wasn’t an issue. Later,
when they adopted a spitzer projectile they actually cut a groove in the rim of the base
of the cartridge, so there’s a groove right here, that captures the tip of one bullet
into this safe rim, the safe channel, around the base of the cartridge in
front of it. Now in addition to this, Because of the serious taper of the
cartridges, when you lay these flat, like they would be laying in the magazine tube, the tip of the bullet actually isn’t pointing at
all at the center of the cartridge in front of it. It’s pointing down at the edge of the rim. So that’s why the tube magazine isn’t a
problem with the spitzer ammunition. Now loading this is a little bit unusual. Open the bolt first, and I just do this gently, and you can see we have an elevator mechanism here. What actually … when I want to feed a cartridge, there’s a cartridge sitting in the elevator, and I have to lift it up so it gets pushed into the chamber. The way that happens is by emphatically cycling the bolt. And the bottom locking lug on the
bolt head actually strikes a lever in here that pops the elevator up like that. Then when you close the bolt, the stem of the bolt handle right there, hits this lever, which pushes the elevator back down. So now it’s in the downward position again. This is the heart of the Kropatschek
system that allows you to have a tube magazine with a really quite long rifle cartridge. This works a lot better than the elevator
mechanism from other tube fed rifles. Some of the American rifles had
experimented with tube magazines in the back end of the stock, that didn’t work as well. Anyway, this is the system that the French would use. Now there’s a little detent down
in there that you really can’t see that catches on the rim of a cartridge,
so that only one cartridge gets spat out onto this elevator per cycling of the bolt. In order to load this what we’re going to do is just push cartridges in one at a time … like so. There’s no clip, … there is no shortcut for this. And in total we can hold eight cartridges in this tube magazine. It runs inside the handguard all the way out to … the end of the rifle. By the way, that’s why there’s no cleaning rod
in this rifle because there’s a tube magazine sitting inside the stock that prevents you
from having the space to put in a cleaning rod. Now for shooters today, what you can
also do is take one extra round and just lay it (the easiest way to do it is like that),
you can just lay one additional round on that elevator mechanism, and then close the action. Presto, you’ve got … now you’ve got eight plus one. Now, if you want to be super cool, you can also take
a second extra round, slide it into the chamber, … chamber that round, close the bolt. And now you’ve got eight plus one plus a second one, so a total of ten rounds of capacity.
Now the way that the French … the French standard for doing this, the
manual of arms for the French military, was to load eight in the tube and then
cycle the bolt, and then you’re done. They would never have carried it with a 10th
round in it because this thing is cocked. There’s no way to have a 10th round
in there without this being cocked, and the Lebel has no manual safety.
This is a holdover from the days of the Gras when you only loaded the rifle when
you were commanded to by an officer. Basically when … firing was imminent. They carried that over to the Lebel and the Berthier, both you would only chamber a round when you were commanded to, so that you were almost immediately ready to fire. So there is no manual safety. You’d never carry
this thing around chambered with the striker cocked. In addition, French doctrine did not have them
carrying an extra round in the elevator. There’s not really a particular reason not to. And in fact after you’re done firing
this is the condition that the rifle will be in. However, the original manual just says load 8 in the tube and then close the bolt and then cycle it once. And ammunition was issued in 8 round packets, so. Now some people have seen depictions of the Lebel
in video games or seen video of people shooting them, and there is this weird double charging
thing that you have to do to actually fire the rifle. So here’s how that would go. We’re gonna load the magazine fully (there we go). We’ll just pretend that that’s fully loaded in there, now in order to actually chamber a round
from this point I have to close the bolt. Fine. Now I have to open the bolt and I have to end up with a round
on this elevator, so the first thing I’m going to do is open the bolt with
some alacrity to pop the elevator up. Now I close it a second time and you can hear a secondary click, because now a cartridge has popped out onto the elevator. So I can open the bolt a second time, again with some alacrity. Now when I chamber … when I close the bolt the second time a round is chambered. And again you hear this click, when the bolt goes all the way down it drops the elevator, releases a cartridge. Now we’ve got one in the chamber, one in the elevator and 6 or however many others have been loaded in the
magazine tube. And now you can begin firing. Every time you do, when you open
the bolt it will eject the empty case. The key to running a Lebel successfully is … you can’t be gentle with it. You have to open this bolt stiffly to ensure that you have the proper amount of force to lift the elevator. Like so. Now let’s take a moment to discuss this M93 thing. Virtually every Lebel you will ever find has
been updated to the M93 improved pattern. The French army was really quite successful
at bringing all the rifles in and updating them. There are a few floating around, in fact …
I believe that the Cody Firearms Museum actually has one in the original pattern and I
haven’t had a chance to look at it very closely yet. But I suspect that’s because they
basically got some sort of factory sample during a production run that got shipped over
to the US in the early 1890s and never went back. So it never had a chance to be updated,
which by the way is a fantastic resource to have, because even in France un-updated original
1886 rifles are extremely difficult to find. But I’m getting ahead of myself. There were
four primary changes that were made as part of this 1893 package. There were
a lot more changes than this, but most of them were very small tweaks. Basically
little changes to production tooling or manufacturing techniques, things that
just either fixed production problems that they discovered along the way, or that sort of element. And these are things that are very
difficult to actually notice in a rifle. There are four, however, that are distinctive and visible. And the most obvious of them is the rear sight
block. So originally this was just a soldered on rear sight block, sounds fine. However a
combination I think of the recoil and the heat that these rear sights started coming
loose, and that was a problem. So they added in these two little claws that
wrap around the barrel and hold the rear sight much more securely in place. And that’s
one of the 1893 modifications. By the way, I should point out – these modifications
were all done independently and then kind of grouped together under the general
pattern of Model of 1893 improvement. So when the rifles came back to be
upgraded, all of these changes were made, where they had been actually implemented
progressively over a couple of years. The second one that we’ll take a look at is the addition of a stacking rod to the nose cap of the rifle. So this is not an unmodified rifle, but it does have the original pattern of nose cap, which is pretty cool and difficult to find by itself. And really all they did was add this rod to it,
the idea was this would allow you to stack rifles so you didn’t have to … lay them down
on stuff or lay them flat on the ground. Three soldiers in bivouac could stand
their rifles up in a little tripod using those rods. So you’ll find those on Berthiers as well. Perhaps the most important of the
changes was the addition of a gas vent shield. And you can see that here. This is the updated version, this is the original version. So the problem they had here was … cartridges are … by 1886 they understood pretty well how to make cartridges. Brass (well first copper and then brass) cartridges had been around for a while. However, now we’re
talking about a much higher pressure with this smokeless powder, and cartridge
production technology still isn’t nearly as good as it is today, and so they had
problems with cartridges splitting or rupturing. And with the original version of the rifle if
a cartridge ruptured, you could have gas that would vent straight back here, right along this channel in the bolt and basically right into the shooters face. And that was a safety problem. So, the solution was simply to put
a little vertical block on the bolt head that would redirect any gas. So if gas came
back out of here from a ruptured cartridge, it would come to here, hit this shield
and get basically blasted off to the sides. It still wouldn’t be a good thing,
but you wouldn’t be blowing … hot propellant gas straight into a shooter’s eye. There’s a little bit better view of that modification. Then they did also change the style of
the cocking piece back here. So the 1886 M93, the later version, has this larger
diameter kind of just slightly concave surface where the original 1886 was
convex and a little smaller in diameter. And then lastly they changed the style,
the shape, of the magazine follower. So there’s a little plunger down in the
bottom that acts as the magazine follower. Unfortunately, I don’t have an
example of the early pattern to show you. I have the bolt, I have the nose cap, but I don’t
have one of the early magazine followers. So that’s a pretty trivial change anyway as far
as practical handling or identification goes, because you really can’t see it from the outside of the rifle at all. And it doesn’t actually change how the gun works. It occurs to me I kind of skipped over the part
where I normally talk about the controls on a rifle, and well, that’s because there really aren’t very many on the Lebel. As we discussed earlier, there is no manual safety. You have a trigger, Lebel triggers (in fact pretty much the triggers of everything in … well, all French military rifles really) tend to be quite heavy and stiff. And this comes in large part from the primers that they tended to use, which were quite stiff primers. And so they tend to have very heavy firing pin springs in these guns, which translates into a heavy trigger pull. Then the only other control you have on
here is this lever, which can flip forward or back. And this is the magazine cut off. So at this point
they still wanted to to have a mechanism for loading the magazine and then keeping
it in reserve. And the cutoff on the Lebel is really quite simple, when it’s forward
this loading elevator can’t go down, so the magazine tube remains full and every
time you cycle the bolt the elevator just stays up. You’ll notice that … the little lever here that
would cause the bolt to push the elevator down, when I move the lever that gets dropped
out of position, so it can’t be actuated. In this position you would single load cartridges, and you’d be firing volleys on an officer’s command, until such time as perhaps the officer issued the command to fire individually at will, in which case you could re-engage your magazine when you needed all the capacity. Sights on the Lebel can be used in three different ways. What you would normally expect to be the
standard, which is this configuration right here, allows you to shoot from 400 out
to 800. So you can see 5, 6, 7 and 800 yard [metre] markings, and you would
do that simply by adjusting the elevator. Or, in order to exploit the new long-range
potential of the rifle, you could stand the sight up vertically (let’s tilt it forward here,
so you can see it a little better), and you can then adjust this slider
all the way up to as much as 2400. This is going to start at 9 and go up
to 2400. See we have our little tiny U-shaped notch rear sight there,
which matches up with a very small … front post. This allows for good precision shooting, but they
would change this sight picture on the Berthiers during World War One for something that
was a lot more practical in actual combat. So 2400 metres is cool, but rarely going to be used. Most of the time you would actually use this
rifle with the sight folded all the way forward. Doing this, you have a third little tiny rear
notch right there, and … at this position the sight is zeroed for 250 metres, which
is considered the battle sight zero. Or in other words, for anything from
1 metre out to 250, you set it there, aim at the target and you’ll hit
within a certain gradient high or low. So this, while it looks unusual with the sight folded forward, is actually going to be the correct position to use it in for, basically, all common applications. One last element to look at here is the bayonet, popularly known as “Rosalie”, in the common parlance. This is the model of 1886 bayonet and it
does have a quillion here for bayonet fighting, but I think it was primarily intended as a
defence against cavalry. And that’s both why it’s so long, and why instead of
having a blade it’s just a cruciform spike. You don’t need a blade to try and prevent
someone on horseback from over-running you. When you have a bayonet on a rifle
you need something pointy like a spear. This effectively turns the Lebel
into about a six and a half foot long spear. The spike on this is 20.5 inches long,
this would be longer even … once the Germans adopted the
Gewehr 98 and it’s very long bladed bayonet, the Lebel with its spike would still be
longer, giving the French infantryman theoretically an advantage in
hand-to-hand combat in World War One. Whether that was actually ever relevant,
well maybe, occasionally, but not very often. During World War One there
would be some simplification of this. In 1915 they would cut off the quillion. The 1915 pattern is like this with just a flat base. They realised this bayonet fighting thing with the quillion is really kind of meaningless. We don’t need to put that much extra
work into the bayonets, so they got rid of it. And they would also add a brass material handle in addition to the original aluminium. Rosalie here has a little spring-loaded tab
(the spring in this one’s a little bit weak), but it pushes over and it locks … behind this lug on the barrel. So when we mount the bayonet, this round plug fits into this round socket on the nose cap and then the locking lug engages behind that, right there. And then there is a second lug
right here on the barrel to help guide the bayonet. Well, the Lebel may have been declared
obsolete in 1920, but that definitely wasn’t the end of the life of the Lebel in French service. In the 1920s there would be an effort to convert this
to the new 7.5mm straight walled modern cartridge. And then in the 1930s there would be an effort to
take these obsolete Lebel rifles and turn them into something that could still be used by the military.
That would result in the R35 carbines. So we’ll be taking a look at both of those in upcoming videos. If you’re interested in those definitely stick around. And thank you very much for watching.
If you appreciate this sort of thing on the net, please do consider checking out my Patreon page, that’s what allows me to put out this sort of content for you guys. And if you’re really a big fan of the French
military and the French effort in World War One check out (it’s over there), check
out the cool T-shirt design. If you want one of those you can get one of those
at the Forgotten Weapons merchandise shop. Thanks for watching.

100 thoughts on “The First Modern Military Rifle: The Modele 1886 Lebel

  1. I've always thought the Lebel was a bad rifle in many ways, if it wasn't for the smokeless powder, it's obsolete and outdated in every way by the standards of 1886, and was downright archaic by 1914. You have to feel some sympathy for the poor poilu of 1914, dressed in their outmoded uniforms with the stupid bright red trousers and bright red kepis, armed with obsolete Lebels and terrible machine guns, lead by old, incompetent generals and marched shoulder to shoulder into murderous German fire like it was 1814 rather than 1914.

  2. Holy information batman! Ian you are a beast! If you are interested in a Lebel watch this vid and you are ready to rock!!

  3. This is super cool. The Lebel is perhaps the most significant rifle no one knows about excluding the Remington Lee. Please do more if this sort of thing.

    In the event you're still reading comments from this, it would be interesting if you tested the Lebel's accuracy at 2000+ yards in terms of volley fire, albeit maybe on InRange. Please try and use it the way it's designers intended it to be used. You are in the desert and have the range to do it, and I at least would find it interesting. Maybe you could get a group of people with Lebels together and try out volley fire at those distances.

  4. I jus wanna thank Othias and Mae for teaching me all about the Kropatschek. I knew about the tube mag before but not much else before watching their Kropatschek videos. Two videos around three hours total. Lil long but worth it. Especially when learning about the Lebel Mle 1886. I think it is much more than a smokeless Kropatschek. Cool gun.

  5. from now on, whenever anybody talks shit about the French army in ww1 and ww2…I will tell them to watch this video. The opinions will finally change then.

  6. I love certain french guns from the ww1 era like the chauchat and the rsc 1917 but my favourite is the lebel 1886 although to be honest I like the majority of guns from the cowboy era to the 1960’s

  7. So basically the french wrongly assumed or feared that a major war might break out in the 1890's so they rushed production equipping themselves with an innovative rifle by 1890's standards.Unfortunately for them the war when it came came 20 years later by which time their rifle was already obsolete.They built a rifle with the realities of the late 1880's in anticipation of problems in the 1890's.This is one problem when preparing for war if you invest too much at one point and nothing happens you can find yourself equipped with expensive to replace systems that you need to use until they're obsolete.If something happens 15-20 years down the line and your weapons are already obsolete then you're in trouble.

  8. 6:00 "This cartridge would handicap the French for decades." – sounds normal. We need it fast, we don't care if it is any good, just build it, you have 4 months. SMH.

  9. They had 5 months, and all they were able to come up with was "Well, merde, Francois, I guess the only thing we can do is beat the crap out of these 11mm cases and make them take an 8mm bullet. Now, let's knock off for a 6 hour lunch, and then go home and have sex with our wives and girlfriends. At the same time…" God, I love the French… 🇨🇵

  10. so a single man who wanted things rushed and ignored the plans of his predecessors and subordinates, crippled the french small arms industry for decades.

  11. there are a lot of photos of the french solders roasting meat on there banettes during WW1 having the cruciform blades made it perfect for this job and a use proffered buy the foot solder. the french are lovers not fighters and having gallons of wine handed out every day buy the army you needed food to go with it.

  12. The Lebel was certainly an improvement over the Gras breechloader it replaced, but it still suffered from some very severe design flaws. However, that could be said about ALL the first nitrocellulose propellant cartridge bolt actions. You needed the Lee-Metford to get to the Lee-Enfield, after all. Even the Krag, for all its problems, was a leap forward from the trapdoor Springfield.

  13. I was curious about the M93 update mark. I have one in my collection with a R35 mark instead. Will that be the model or also a update mark?

  14. I love how France uses the first revolutionary new ammunition, and falls behind in the end because others could do it better, the same with their tank designs.

  15. I'd love to see some side-by-side 1890s rifle comparisons. Lebel, Berthier, Gewehr 88, Mauser 1889, Krag 1889, Krag 1892, Mosin-Nagant M1891, Carcano M1891. Perhaps a shooting test to see which is best?

  16. Sounds like the Lebel is what happens when people take deadlines seriously. I personally avoid that problem by ignoring deadlines in general. BRB, gotta change the lamp oil in the other room

  17. How safe and reliable was the system of having the tip of the spritzer bullet go into that rim around the primer? It seems like a gamble every time you load a cartridge. Were there issues of cook-offs in the magazine tube?

  18. At the 17 min mark when you are taking about the stamp on the butt stock I believe I can see the word "avril" up top

  19. Do the French now have better small arms, they have a history of adopting bizarre forms of military hardware .

  20. My Dad has this rifle. It was handed down to him by his father, and his father before him, who fought in WWI. I hope to inherit it. We keep it in excellent condition.

  21. There reaches a point with most tube magazine rifles in combat where high skilled single shot feeding is far, far faster than trying to keep the magazine operating. Even here, the superior bolt action designs of the Mauser and Enfield are better if one needs to feed rounds single shot.

  22. Decided to see this gun when crytek implemented it in hunt showdown, and since this is the first place I go to check out guns , thanks for the education,

  23. i would argue that the shape of the STG was sort of a role model because it was pretty much the function that dictated the form and the STG external design seems to come close to the ideal of what made sense in terms of practicality and compactness using the technology and manufacturing capabilities of the era. I dont think it was copied though.

  24. Even though this rifle was pretty outclassed by WW1, I still think it’s so cool. It would be great to learn more about firsthand accounts of French infantrymen with (effectively) single shot Lebels and how they fared against the G98.

  25. Very informative video of a rifle that is not very know. Ian is very knowledgeable of the rifle, I couldn't never figure out what all the markings of the rifle mean.

  26. when in 7:30 and 2 beers in… i'm shooting in my back yard while listening to the video,
    I don't have a back yard, nor a window…..

  27. If your here cuz of a videogame you need to park the muzzle of a rifle under your face and toe that trigger. Trust me, its awesome.

  28. During WW2 , in 1940 the Greek Army used 8mm Lebel rifles,as grenade launchers against the italian troops .They used a rifle grenade called Treblon designed specifically for the Lebel rifle,by a french officer called Treblon.

  29. Hey ian nice video, would you to know where you got that poster behind you? Thanks for the great content!

  30. What again are the site gradients? Did I hear yards or feet? Would meters have been the norm? Narragansett Bay

  31. 6 1/2 day work weeks? This is the greatest atrocity ever committed by the French military. French workers would be in the streets punching cops and burning airplanes if they tried this today.

  32. I can't find him with a Browning BLR. (I think the BLR might actually be my favorite gun. A hard sentence to say.)

  33. As soon as smokeless powder came out, the 1882 Mosin-Nagant was the absolute best fighting rifle made. Development of a carbine version (20-22" barrel) and an intermediate cartridge (5.45 proj w/ 39-45mm case).

  34. Kool! You know I was never really into French firearms, or for that matter France as a nation. Dad was a full blood Swede, so I guess I always figured myself a Swede as well. Then this roots crap all began and I started talking to members of mom's family. Her dad was called a German, because he came to the USA from Germany, however checking his background showed his mother was a French Aristocrat, his dad a Dane. Their part of Denmark was seized by Germany prior to WWI and grad dad was drafted into the German Army. He said he could hear the war drums a beating, he was assigned to the stables in a military post near Hamburg. Fearing the coming war, and being forced to fight for the enemy, Germany, he wrote to a cousin who lived in America. His cousin offered to front him the money to come to America, and supported his emigration. So grand dad "Stole the fastest damn horse in the Kaiser's stable and rode it to the coast, where he signed on a freighter for America, bringing the horse with him. On arrival he went through Ellis Island, and his cousin's letter of sponsorship and employment allowed him in the country. He rode that horse all the way to North Dakota where he joined his cousin on a farm there. He worked 2 years for just room and board to work off his loan then began a farm on his own. He married a young lady who had run away from her evil step-mother. She was French-Canadian so in reality French/Native American I guess although the Indian blood is so far back as to be thought of as non-existent. So it is, I guess that I do have some French Blood, when it comes time to fight, I don't know weather to go Viking on their ass, drop my rifle and run or scalp the assholes. In reality I did learn that I could indeed fight in battle, and earned my feather in Vietnam where I can attest to at least 3 kills and a whole hell of a lot of lead down range from my old M-16A1.

  35. Probably the biggest advantage with smokeless powder is if you firing from concealment there's no risk of your position being compromised. British learned the hard way during the Boer War where the Boers would hide from rocks, trees whatever and snipe the British using Mausers.

  36. The French are fantastic engineers!-Pre-stressed concrete, front wheel drive and smokeless powder are just some of the many cutting edge technologies that they developed! Their small arms history, however, can be spotty, just like many American designs, IMHO. The FAMAS "Bugler" suffered case head separations , even though it was an early military bull pup design. I realize that the Soviet arsenals competed with each other, but still, they have come out with some of the most reliable and practical small arms technologies that I have researched and (sometimes) own:)-John in Texas

  37. I don't think the French would have had an advantage in melee combat against the Germans with such a long bayonet, at least not during trench warfare. The British adopted shorter bayonets, and most armies adopted shorter rifles/carbines, to better maneuver through the claustrophobic trenches.

  38. American machine tool imports… Great Britain, Germany, Belgium and France herself, were major producers of quality machine tools. But, due to European politics (and European suspicion and hatred) they were reluctant to sell to each other. That was a huge opportunity for the US to get into the European market. Respect to America (and Eli Whitney in particular) for inventing the 'industrial method' – modular manufacturing, interchangeability and so on. But, fast forward to WW1, with its huge opportunities for US industry to undertake lucrative military contracts for the European belligerents and the 'industrial method' didn't work so well. Sure, American wages shot up as a skilled labour shortage developed (in 1916, an average American based machinist earned THREE times what he the year before) but US manufacturers really struggled to meet European production standards and tolerances and matters like making accurate taps, dies and other tools for metric and British Whitworth threading. The reasons for the failures are complex but, 100,000s of US made shells, primers, fuzes, breaches, receivers, cartridge cases and so on were junked by French, British and Russian QA inspectors. Many of the larger American manufacturers ended up withdrawing from the contracts – at considerable cost. Back issues of 'American Machinist' magazine are revealing.

  39. Always a pleasure to see your videos, Ian. Still, I'd very much prefer to go to combat with my G3 Battle Rifle. God, it's SO much simpler!

  40. You forgot to mention that smokeless powder also burns cleaner, so it doesn't foul the barrel as quickly and therefore a shooter doesn't have to clean his/her gun as often.  I can see why they eventually replaced this gun: it's a lot of work to shoot the thing, especially when other people can just load and shoot.

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