|Pistol||Revolver Modèle 1892||Manufacturer||Manufacture d’armes de Saint-Étienne|
|Cartridge||8mm French Ordnance||Overall Length||9.3″|
|Cylinder||6 rounds||Weight||1.88 lbs|
The invention of smokeless gunpowder propelled the French military to the forefront of small arms technology. With other countries joining fast, the French knew they needed to upgrade their equipment quickly to stay ahead. Eight years later they built a revolver.
In 1884 Paul Vieille developed a stable, smokeless gunpowder later named “Poudre B.” In 1886 France began producing the Fusil Lebel and kicked off an arms race that meant smaller calibers, flatter trajectories, and longer ranged shots. The French Ministry of War followed their new rifle with an immediate request for a smokeless, small-caliber revolver. Due to rapid retooling and heavy manufacture of the Fusil Lebel, French industry was unable to produce the new sidearm for several years.
France’s previous service weapon was the venerable 11mm modèle 1873 Chamelot-Delvigne double-action revolver. Originally Manufacture d’armes de Saint-Étienne (MAS) offered a design known as the modèle 1887. This piece was mostly a scaled down modèle 1873 for use with smokeless powder and not much else. Because MAS was unable to commit to full production and the pistol failed to completely impress the government only 1,000 were made until 1889.
As rifle production in France began to stabilize more attention was paid to the revolver and MAS inspector-general Monsieur Richard decided to take a hand in the design. The revolver moved to the Galand-Schmidt action, common in Colt double action revolvers. Disassembly was eased by a hinged side plate that allows the mle. 1892 to be opened like a book. More importantly, the singular loading gate was replaced with a swing out cylinder for much quicker reloading. The hammer was designed to return to a slightly retracted position after firing to prevent unwanted discharge. The mle. 1892 shares the rifling pattern and dimensions of the Fusil Lebel rifle to share production equipment; revealing the French to be more concerned about tooling costs and setup than accuracy. Ammunition was provided in an 8x27mm rimmed round known commonly as 8mm French Ordnance.
The modèle (mle.) 1892 is commonly referred to as the “Lebel” revolver or the “St. Etienne.” The latter makes sense as the revolvers are stamped “St. Étienne” but the former is a misunderstanding as Nicholas Lebel does not appear to have played a part in their development.
Production began in its namesake year and continued until 1924. Barrels have been dated up to 1930 but these are refurbished revolvers. Manufacture date is stamped right on the barrel, so no confusion for collectors. M1892s served with the French armed forces through WWI until they were officially retired in 1935. WWII, however, had other ideas and the pistols were not completely replaced until after 1945. In many places formally under French rule they remained in service well into the 1960s. Commercial models, Belgian, and Spanish-made copies also abound with slight variations of fitting, markings, and caliber.
Using the mle. 1892 is a mix of old and new revolver styles. The internal mechanism should be very familiar to American shooters but the operation will seem a bit odd. To load the gun pull back on the lever on the right side of the frame behind the cylinder; yes the one that looks exactly like a loading gate. This, surprisingly, will release the swing-out cylinder. Now gape openly as it drops out of the right side of the revolver. This is a left-handed shooters dream. Insert your ammo, close the cylinder and you’re ready to fire. The revolver may be used in single or double action. Once done the spent casings are ejected using a single ejecting rod set in the center of the cylinder.
Ultimately the mle. 1892 is a revolver that pushed home some wonderful ideas and really could have been one of the great military side arms of history if not for a few oversights. The revolver is light, rugged, and shows a clear departure from the earlier European designs. Its action is simple and effective and disassembly and maintenance are a piece of cake given its swing-open frame. It’s a shame, but even French rifles decades later weren’t as easy to service. On the downside, the pistol has a somewhat lackluster grip angle. This is compounded by the light barrel with poor rifling from the start. While the dimensions were adequate for a 3ft. long rifle, a 4.6in. barrel just couldn’t get the same performance. You’re also shooting an anemic 120 grain, 8mm at only 728 fps. So while it’s a fun piece of history, the mle. 1892 might not be the best choice in accuracy or knock-down power.
Oh, and that whole right-side cylinder thing? We’ve tried looking into that and found only one reference to the cavalry. It claims they expected to hold their pistols in the left hand with the reigns for reloading and so the gun was built. While we cannot confirm this it is somewhat bolstered by the stabilizing springs on the ejector rod and the crane pivot. These would add stability to the reloading process while on horseback. Patrick’s post below has some great information on why this was done.