The Revolutionary Lebel

The world’s first smokeless powder arm.

One of the most revolutionary cartridge-rifle combinations ever to sail down the milsurp stream is the French Lebel. “Revolutionary,” you say? You thought the only revolutionary development in France was the French Revolution, not sterling small arms?

Ah, but you’re wrong. The Lebel Model 1886 was the first rifle chambered for a smokeless powder cartridge, the 8x50R, commonly known as the 8mm Lebel, for you see, the French developed smokeless powder in 1885 and a few months later, fielded their new cartridge. It was a revolutionary development in the 1885-1886 period, potentially shifting the balance of power overnight in Europe and quite unsettling to France’s Germanic neighbor.

The military ramifications from France’s development of smokeless powder were enormous. No longer was an infantryman’s position given away by a bloom of white smoke. No longer was the frontline’s vision of the enemy obscured by a pall of black-powder smoke. No longer did rifles have to be cleaned nightly. Most importantly, smokeless powder, leaving minimal fouling in the bore, facilitated the development of smallbore cartridges with jacketed bullets, working at higher pressures, delivering velocities over 2,000 fps, producing flatter trajectories and extended ranges. The advent of smokeless powder also made possible for the first time the development of the machinegun as a practical design.

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