Lebel Model 1886 rifle

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Carbine Lebel Mle1886/93R35

The French Lebel Model 1886 rifle, or officially Fusil d'Infantrie Modele 1886 was the first rifle designed to use smokeless gunpowder.

The Lebel was the standard bolt action rifle of the French army from 1886 until 1916, and would otherwise be the first truly modern military rifle had it not been for its magazine. The first smokeless gunpowder, Poudre B, was invented in France in 1886 and the government swiftly developed the new rifle to exploit its huge advantages. The committee which oversaw the rifle's development was headed by Colonel Nicolas Lebel, after whom it was unofficially named.

It was based on the earlier Gras rifle of 1874, sharing its somewhat oversized bolt handle and general layout. However it was modified to use a much smaller 8mm calibre round instead of the Gras' "normal" 11mm, but the smokeless powder resulted in a more powerful cartridge overall, as well as being much more accurate at longer ranges. The design included a new tubular magazine holding 8 rounds, based on the German Kropatschek. This was the one really archaic feature of the rifle, as most other designs had already moved to Mannlicher-based box magazines.

When it first appeared, the Lebel's longer range and lighter ammunition was a sensation. Not only would a soldier equipped with it easily outrange troops who had black powder rifles, but he could carry more of the smaller calibre ammunition because it weighed less and his view would not be obscured by the smoke generated by black powder. Concerned by the French Army's potentially decisive technological advantage, other European countries quickly followed suit. Both Germany and Austria adopted an 8 mm calibre weapon in 1888 and Italy in 1890. Great Britain, with no European land border, did not feel the pressure so acutely and took until November 1895 before it introduced its smokeless Lee Enfield.

In service the Lebel proved somewhat fragile, but was nevertheless a major advance on black powder rifles. The design of this type of weapon was naturally improved upon in subsequent designs, and reached its peak in the Mauser M98, which combined the new powder and a box magazine with a rimless cartridge.

The Lebel saw extensive use during World War I, modified with a three-round magazine and known as the Berthier Mle 07-15.fr:Lebel modèle 1886 he:לבל 1886 pl:Karabin Lebel Mle1886


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