French Rifles

All right, because there was an overflow of basic questions about these rifles we’ll go ahead and get a little feature going to help with comparing them and getting a sense of their scale.  If there is anything else you’d like to ask, please do!  For anyone unsure of what this is about check out or collaborative video!

Fusil Mle. 1886 “Lebel”

French Lebel M1886 M93

Cartridge 8x50mmR Length 51.4″
Magazine Tubular, Single Load Weight 9.2 lbs
Capacity 8+1 rounds Sight Range 250-2400 m

This rifle changed the world as it was the first to chamber a smokeless powder cartridge.  It feeds from an eight round tubular magazine and can store an addition ninth on the carrier.  French doctrine was to leave the chamber unloaded so there is no safety mechanism.  It was adopted as a universal infantry rifle and would see limited modification.  It was paired with a 20.5″ long spiked bayonet.

The Lebel would stay in service past obsolescence, fighting all the way through WWII.  While this speaks some to its reliability and longevity (as most were manufactured before WWI even broke out) it is also a sign of just how slow France was to update its small arms.

 

Mousqueton d’Artillerie Mle. 1892 (sorta)

French Rifle Berthier Mle16

Cartridge 8x50mmR Length 37.2″
Magazine Enbloc, Stacked Box Weight 6.8 lbs
Capacity 3 rounds Sight Range 200-2000 m

The french now needed a carbine and the Lebel’s tube wasn’t fit for the job.  Mr. Berthier, office manager the Algerian Company of Railways Bone-Guelma, stepped up with a design merging the Lebel action with a Mannlicher en-bloc magazine.  Originally this was going to be a 5-shot model but would require a metal extension on the stock, the French found this undignified and unnecessary and settled for a 3-shot.  These were paired with a Model 1892 saber bayonet with a 15.7″ blade.

Adopted for Cavalry, Cuirassier, and Gendarme in 1890, the much more common “Artillery” model would follow in 1892.  In 1916 it would be updated as we’ll see, but the receiver markings were updated before the new parts were available, so some (like this one) were manufactured with the new markings and old parts.

 

 

Fusil Mle. 1907-15

French Berthier M1907-15

Cartridge 8x50mmR Length 51.4″
Magazine Enbloc, Stacked Box Weight 8.4 lbs
Capacity 3 rounds Sight Range 250-2400 m

Short-statured colonial troops in Indochina were having trouble with the cumbersome Lebel.  So the Berthier action was stretched into a short rifle, the Mle.1902.  This worked and because the Berthier was simpler to manufacture, lighter, and more maneuverable than the Lebel it made for a great colonial rifle where troops would be on the move.  So the standard Lebel barrel was paired with the action and the same 1890 spike bayonet, now modified just slightly to fit.  This created a 3-shot long rifle suitable for use around the world, the Mle.1907.

Demands for arms in WWI were overwhelming.  The Lebel had not become any easier to produce and Berthier tooling was still up and running.  The Model 1907 rifle was modified to better support mass manufacturing in a hurry in 1915.  The sights, barrel band, and stacking hook were simplified.  While the original 1907 already used a cruciform bayonet, its locking system was taken from the carbine and now this was changed so that the 07/15 takes the same bayonet as the Lebel, simplifying supply.  At first it carried on with the bent bolt handle but this was quickly changed to a simpler straight handle like the Lebel.

 

Mousqueton Mle. 1916

French Rifle Berthier Mle1916

Cartridge 8x50mmR Length 37.2″
Magazine Enbloc, Stacked Box Weight 8.4 lbs
Capacity 5 rounds Sight Range 200-2000 m

The trials of trench warfare soon pressed home just how useful a carbine could be over a long and awkward infantry rifle.  But the French were severely limited in comparison to their enemies as their carbines only stored three shots.  So a Lieutenant Vibert stepped forward with a pressed sheet steel magazine extension.  This has a spring-loaded hinged cover on the underside to prevent mud from entering the action.

A handguard was provided for easier handling after repeated firing, and a sliding dust cover was set over the bolt (not unlike the Arisaka).  These covers don’t appear to have been produced in enough numbers to equip every carbine and were unpopular to boot, so they were eventually dropped and are rarely encountered.

All previous Berthier carbines were subject to re-manufacture to the 1916 specification.  The 1890’s variations and 1892s would have their clearing rods filled in and be fitted with appropriate bayonet lugs.   All of these and the newly made pure Model 1916’s are considered one model in terms of issuance.

 

 

 

Revolver Modèle 1892

French Revolver Mle1892

Cartridge 8x27mmR Length 9.3″
Magazine Cylinder, Single Load Weight 1.9 lbs
Capacity 6 rounds Sight Range Fixed

We have actually covered this one in detail before

Pistolet Modèle 1915 “Ruby”

French Pistol Ruby M1915

Cartridge 7.65x17mm Length 6.2
Magazine Detachable Stacked Box Weight 1.9 lbs
Capacity 9 rounds Sight Range Fixed

We’ve also covered this one pretty well.

 

 

 

13 Responses to “The Great War Recap: French Rifles and Pistols”

  1. Slenkamure says:

    your link for the Revolver Modèle 1892 doesn’t work

    overall a pretty thorough setup of French WWI arms

  2. Tyler says:

    Hey Othais, you mentioned in the live stream that you had recommendations for books that cover the development of French firearms. Where is that published, or when will it be published?

    Thanks!

    Tyler

    • Othais says:

      You’re right!

      Armes à feu de l’Armée française 1860 à 1940
      Jean Martin

      les Fusils Français a Verrou
      Jean Huon

      Proud Promise: French Autoloading Rifles, 1898-1979
      Jean Huon

      French Service Handguns 1858-2004
      Eugene Medlin and Jean Huon

      • Tyler says:

        Thanks! You were right about some being difficult to locate.. and not being able to speak French can pose a problem, but I run into issues like that with pretty much any foreign firearm book.

        On a slightly different topic, do you happen to know of any good written resources regarding the Swedish AG-42B (Ljungman)? I am having a really hard time locating much content… especially the reliable kind.

  3. Nick says:

    You mentioned in the podcast the 1916s only made it to the front in small numbers, can you expand on that?

    • Othais says:

      Well, there was a Modele 16 rifle and a Modele 16 carbine. The rifle only saw about 300 units produced by 1919, so it had no effect.

      The carbine only went into production in 1917 and even then we know that a good many were simply the same 3-shot Mle.1892 with a remarked receiver. How many? I know of no solid figure, but we see a LOT of these 3-shot “Mle.16” guns. Eventually the 5-shot parts and handguards would make a show, but the war would end in 1918. Jean Huon lists records of 72,000 made before May of 1919… so subtract 6 months of production and the indeterminate number of 3-shots…

      With 8 million called up through the war, and an army still standing of 850,000 or so (more focus had moved to air, artillery, etc…) even the full 70,000 figure would make this an uncommon rifle on the front, let alone that most were produced as the war was ending and so had to be carried up front. The same number for the Mle.07-15 would be 435,771 + all previous Mle.07 and various carbines. Not to mention the Lebels, which were still the standard rifle.

      But, the 5-shot program continued beyond the war, and so we see a great many of them in collectors circles. Many previous models were also upgraded but I have some doubts if any of those conversions happened during the war.

  4. Quentin says:

    Sorry to nitpick, but on the first photo you wrote “mosquetón” whereas it’s written “mousqueton”, “mosquetón” seems to be Spanish, we don’t use “ó” in French.

    • Othais says:

      You’re right. I’m not entirely sure what source I pulled that spelling from now that I’m reviewing it. Sorry about that!

  5. Sam says:

    I know this question is a little outside of the topic but does anyone know if the Berthier 1890 Cavalry carbine was used in WWII?

    • Jeb says:

      Hi
      Yes the M90 cavalry carbine was used in ww2, Mainly with cavalry troops based in the colonies:
      -Spahis in North Africa
      -Tcherkess in Syria/Lebanon

      Regards

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