As some of you are surely aware, this past weekend was the Show of Shows in Louisville. For those of you who do not know, the Show of Shows is the largest militaria exhibition this side of the Mississippi, and brings-in many foreign militaria collectors. This last show was the first one I had been to in a few years (mainly so I could visit with one of my friends from France who was coming over here for it), but I did enjoy it. There’s a lot of cool items here; it’s sort-of like a museum.
Both Seth and I, for our collection, have of late been looking to add more European items to our collection, such as French, British, and German; but, of course, these items are a bit more scarce here in the United States. Unfortunately, I did not find a lot of these items here, and even less that I would want to purchase, but I did find a rather uncommon French Fusil Lebel M.1886/93. While not extraordinary on its own, this one incurs its unlikeness to other Lebel rifles today in that it is still in the “Balle D” configuration.
Before we get too far into this example of Lebel rifle, however, I will give a bit of information on the Lebel rifle.
The Lebel rifle was created by a French military commission in 1886, and replaced the single-shot black-powder Gras rifle. The Lebel was quite technologically advanced for 1886; it was the first military weapon to use smokeless powder and was one of the first military weapons to use jacketed bullets. The smokeless powder, called “Poudre B” by the French military at the time, was at least three times as powerful than the traditional black powder loading of the same weight and did not leave the fouling residue that black powder did.
The Lebel rifle was in French military service for quite a few years, and so updates were made to it. These updates include the loading of ammunition and the addition of safety features. In 1893, it became apparent that gas could leak from the front of the bolt during firing, so small metal shield was added to the front of the bolt. However, the most updates to the gun was through its ammunition.
The Lebel rifle is chambered in the 8×50mmR cartridge, but there are different loadings and bullet shapes. From 1886-1898, the Lebel used the “Balle M“. The “Balle M” is a 232-grain round-nosed (non-spitzer) bullet. In 1898, however, the bullet was updated to the “Balle D” cartridge which was a pointed-nose (spitzer) bullet weighing 190-grains. The “Balle D” was introduced to compete with the spitzer-type used in the German Gewehr 1898. In 1912, the “Balle D” was updated again to the “Balle D amorcage modifié“, which introduced a slightly different primer. The “Balle D amorcage modifié” was in virtually-complete use at the time of the war. Finally, in 1932, “Balle N” was introduced, weighing-in at 232-grains. The “Balle N” was created to aid in the long-range capabilities of French weaponry chambered in it by using a heavier bullet. Most Lebel rifles were converted to use the “Balle N” cartridge. The rifles updated to the “Balle N” configuration are stamped with a “N” on the top of the receiver.
Our example of Lebel was produced in 1888 by Châtellerault. As you will see in the photographs, the stamps are a bit worn (especially on the side, which is common) and the varnish is practically non-existent.
I hope to, at some point, shoot a Lebel rifle, as I have not yet done. I hear that they are quite accurate but can be odd to handle as the weight distribution shifts as the ammunition is expended due to the tubular magazine. If you have any experience with shooting these, or have any other comments, please leave a comment!