Lebel and Berthier Manuals

Since I spent yesterday talking about my new Turkish converted Berthier rifle, I figured it would be a decent idea to upload a couple manuals for the mainstay rifles of the French Army during WWI, the Lebel and Berthier. Thanks to our friend Hrachya, we have original French language ones for both the M1916 Berthier and the M1886-93 Lebel.

Lebel 1886
Lebel 1886

The 1886 Lebel rifle holds an important place in history as the first service rifle to use a smokeless powder cartridge (the 8x50R Lebel). This was a huge leap in arms technology even though the rest of the 1886 rifle design was not particularly innovative. It was based on the 1878 Gras/Kropatschek rifle, and used an 8-round tubular magazine mounted in the stock below the barrel and a standard dual-locking-lug bolt. While this magazine had a greater capacity than the vertical magazines of its day (which held 3-6 rounds depending on the design), it really hurt the balance of the rifle, and its did not hold cartridges securely while they were lifted up and chambered. Tip the rifle the wrong way while operating the bolt, and your cartridge would fall out on the ground. However, is still offered far better accuracy, range and reliability than every other infantry rifle in use worldwide. To say it provoked concern in War Ministries worldwide would be an understatement.

Virtually all 1886 Lebel rifles were updated to 1893 configuration, and unmodified guns are very rare today. The modifications were fairly minor, and addressed common problems with the original design. A stacking rod was added, the rear sight base was strengthened, and most significantly the safety mechanism (a rotating cocking knob) was removed and a gas relief hole added to the bolt in case of ruptured cartridge cases.


Berthier 1907-15
Berthier 1907-15

The Berthier was initially designed for cavalry troops, because of the difficulty of loading a Lebel tube magazine while riding. The Berthier used a 3-round Mannlicher-style clip, which was much quicker and easier to reload (and used the same 8x50R cartridge as the 1886 Lebel rifle). After being adopted for cavalry and artillery units in the early 1890s, it was decided to produce a midlength model for colonial use, and finally it was adopted for full French Army use in 1915, as the Mle 1907-15. No sooner was it adopted, though, than a crash program was instituted to increase its magazine capacity to match the 5 rounds used by German Mauser rifles. The solution was a magazine well extending below the stock slightly, and a new 5-round clip. These rifles were accepted in 1916, and designated the Mle 1916, or just M.16 .

The French were losing horrific numbers of men and arms in the great trench battles of WWI, and had to constantly struggle to keep new soldiers armed. Significant efforts were made to salvage both complete and damaged rifles from battlefields, and repair depots worked constantly rebuilding the guns.  haivng functional arms was more important than meeting arbitrary model designations, and many guns were reissued with a mixture of features form the Berthier’s 25 years of variations. Different bolts, barrel lengths, sling swivel locations, and sights were mixed and matched as necessary, and these non-standard configurations are not infrequently seen today.You can find an excellent and very detailed history of the Berthier variations at the CurioandRelicFirearmsForum.

As I mentioned at the beginning, we have both a Lebel 1886-93 and a Berthier 1916 manual for you as well:

Fusil 86-93 Lebel manual (French)
Fusil 86-93 Lebel manual (French)
Fusil 1916 Berthier manual (French)
Fusil 1916 Berthier manual (French)



  1. I do not enjoy shooting my Berthier carbine, I’ll tell you that. All that drop in the stock on a lightweight little carbine combined with a steel buttplate, it’s like they designed it to be unpleasant…

  2. Durring the WWI many Frontline soldier (Poilue) in trench like the Carbine Berthier cause is really Matcho gun for real man

  3. I recently purchased a Lebel and was very happy to find the manual on this site, but I noticed the copy posted here is missing a page. It seems to be 46 in the original; the continuation of paragraph 72 up to the beginning through paragraph 76. I then did some checking and noticed that this same .PFD — with the same omission — is posted on several other sites as well.

    Does anyone have an idea where I can find the missing page?

  4. I bought a Remington MLE 1907-15 at an auction.Had no idea what it was and can not find a magazine clip for it.Any help would be appreciated.

  5. Does anyone know where I can get a replacement barrel I bought my french label berthier carbine at a local gun show and have shot around 60 rounds. I clean it once a week but the inside of the barrel is rusted and no matter how many times I run a bore brush in it I cant get it clean.

    • Is it a Berthier or a Lebel? Either way, replacing the barrel is not a trivial job – you will probably need to take it to a gunsmith unless you have experience rebarreling bolt action rifles.

  6. I just bought one of these also and it looks like the front metal pieces are all missing like the band,clip,rod bayonet? if it had one. Also there is a hole in front of the trigger guard. Any idea on where to get parts?

  7. LEBEL RIFLE. The statement :” tip the rifle the wrong way and the cartridge would fall on the ground” from the lifter needs to be re-written . Actually the cartridge lifter had been designed to contain the rear rimmed portion of the cartridge so it cannot roll out of the lifter, even if the Lebel rifle is turned upside down. I have just tested such a real situation on my 1886/93 Lebel rifle a few minutes ago and I respectfully and kindly invite the author of the above to test the same and hopefully re-word his text. Thank you. Gerard Demaison.

  8. I was happy to see the Berthier manual. Unfortunately, I’m afraid I haven’t even tried to read French since grade school (a really long time ago). Is there anywhere to get an English version?

  9. Does anyone know what purpose the milled groove in the rear portion of the receiver (in the bolt housing) served? Did it house a buffer for the locking lugs, or some kind of bolt lubrication?

  10. Hi guys,

    I have one of the berther carbines in the 3 shot format. The barrel is marked 1903 and has the “N” mark on top. I took it to the range today all my rounds were keyholing. I am using Prvi Partizan ammo which is supposed to be 0.327 and measures 0.326. Internal measurements of fired cases ranges from 0.329-0.31 with case bulges at the neck. The muzzle measures on average 0.328, the spread from 0.326-0.33. The rifling looks frosty, but is strong. Can you provide any insights as to what I can do about this? It seems like I need a larger bullet and some different sized brass from the expanding case neck issue. The only thing I have found is that Hotchkiss machine gun bullets have a slightly different bullet and case shape and that many French rifles had their chambers reamed out at some point to accommodate “N” rounds. The rifle shows a lot of rebuild work on the stock and the parts are from different guns so I expect it saw some action at some point. I even got to clean all the cosmoline out of the insides and barrel, so I doubt it’s been fired in decades. I want to get it back on the range, but need some more direction than random Internet forums. Any thoughts?


    Paul Barrow

    PS really enjoy the YouTube channel.

  11. Does anyone have a schematic for a 1921 La Franchaise .22 rifle. Looks like a small lebel rifle.

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