1886 Lebel Rifle: The Gun That Changed The World

    The legendary French Lebel rifle was a revolution in small arms design: It introduced smokeless powder, which gave the rifle double the power and effective range of its competitors like the Mauser 1871/84 or American Springfield Trapdoor.

    The French Lebel and its new cartridge (usually called 8mm Lebel) set off a chain reaction in the world of small arms whereby all the other nations of the world were rushing to adopt a design on par with France’s latest fusil. In this episode, we dust off the Lebel and see what she can do on the range.

    Full transcript …

    (gun cocking) (gun fires) (gun cocking) (gun fires) (gun cocking) (gun fires) (gun cocking) (gun fires) (gun cocking) (gun fires) (gun cocking) (gun fires) (gun cocking) – [Voiceover] Hey guys, it’s Alex C. with TFPTV, and for today we’re doing some shooting with the famous French 1886 Lebel rifle.

    This is truly a rifle that changed everything.

    It introduced smokeless powder and, with it, the capability to drive lead twice as fast and twice as far as every other rifle on the planet.

    It was the undisputed king, the champion, the best rifle in the world for two years.

    But that’s kind of irrelevant for the sake of this video.

    It caused an arms race and everyone, all of a sudden, had to keep up with the French, and the Germans went berserk.

    They had the 1888 commission rifle which was not so good, but arguably better.

    Some of the weak points of the Lebel, however, immediately become apparent once you start messing with it.

    The sights are somewhat crude and, as you saw earlier, it does lay flat and you can shoot up to 800 meters that way.

    It’s got this ladder here to where you can adjust up to 2400-meter volley fire which is optimistic, to say the least.

    Or you can flip it forward and you’ve got a 250-meter battle sight.

    The front sight is a simple post with a sharp taper.

    The Lebel uses what’s known as a Kropatschek magazine system.

    That is a tubular magazine located underneath the barrel.

    It can fire spitzer ammunition, though, which is pointed bullets.

    The French were crafty, however, and put recesses around the primer so that the points of the trailing round sat in these recesses.

    It’s actually a pretty clever way to design and implement spitzer cartridges in a tubular magazine.

    It does have this button also which disables the cartridge elevator and does not allow the magazine to be used.

    People often joked that the Lebel was the best single-shot rifle of World War I.

    Disassembling the Lebel is actually kind of strange.

    You do have to undo a screw which allows you to separate the bolt body from the bolt head.

    This is actually kind of similar to a Mosin-Nagant rifle where the bolt body and head are separate pieces.

    The cocking piece is not shrouded very well, or at all, really.

    And the primary traction is achieved by the bit on the front camming against the receiver ring.

    So let’s shoot it a little bit.

    (gun cocking) (gun fires) (gun cocking) (gun fires) Another parallel it definitely has with the Mosin-Nagant is the sticky bolt.

    (gun fires) (gun cocking) (gun fires) (gun cocking) Here you can see how you load the Lebel.

    You simply open the bolt and then insert cartridges one after another in the magazine below the barrel.

    You can also see the recess so that the point of the trailing round does rest into it and prevents it from accidentally setting off a cartridge.

    (gun cocking) Here you can kind of see a demonstration of the cartridge elevator in action.

    When you pull the bolt to the rear sharply, it activates it.

    (gun fires) (gun cocking) (gun fires) (gun cocking) (gun fires) (gun cocking) (gun fires) I have quite a bit of experience shooting the Lebel.

    I take it to a lot of shoots.

    I don’t know why, I just really like this rifle partially because of the history, and partially because it’s so accurate.

    Here I am at 100 meters and I am nailing the heck out of the plate with no problem at all.

    The battle sight flips forward and gives a simple sight picture, but an effective one.

    The rifle also is not balanced very well.

    Obviously, especially when the magazine’s loaded, it’s very, very front-heavy and long.

    With the bayonet, it’s even more ridiculous, but that was the 19th-century thinking that brought us this rifle.

    That’s evident with the magazine cut off and everything like that.

    (gun fires) (gun cocking) (gun fires) (gun cocking) (gun fires) (gun cocking) (gun fires) (gun cocking) So it’s time to take the rifle back to 300 meters, as is the standard operating procedure on these kinds of deals with TFPTV, and see if I could hit anything.

    And, to be honest, I really didn’t expect to do so.

    I’ve shot these, like I said, quite a bit, but mostly at 100 meters or 100 yards.

    So when I’ve lined the sights up on the gong and let her rip, I was pleasantly surprised that I was able to actually do anything.

    (gun fires) (gong rings) (gun cocking) (gun fires) (gong rings) (gun cocking) (gun fires) (gong rings) (gun cocking) (gun fires) (gong rings) (gun cocking) (gun fires) (gong rings) (gun cocking) Anyways, I hope you guys enjoyed this quick overview of a very historically significant rifle.

    I always enjoy shooting Lebels, and we have done a Run and Gun with this.

    I will put a link in the in card and the description for mobile users.

    Big thanks to Ventura Munitions for helping us out with the cost of ammunition.

    And we hope to see you guys next time.

    Alex C.

    Alex is a Senior Writer for The Firearm Blog and Director of TFBTV.