Uniquely Ethiopian Shortened Lebel Rifles

Today we are looking at an interesting sub-type of Ethiopian Lebel short rifle. When InterOrdnance brought in the surviving Lebels from Ethiopian storage, eleven of one hundred were in this configuration, with barrels shortened to about 25 inches. Each rifle is a bit different – especially in front sight configuration – and all of them have Ethiopian markings added to the receiver. Viewed individually they simply appear to be badly cut-down rifles, but I think it’s interesting to note that they formed a non-trivial proportion of the rifles in Ethiopian stores. It is not known who made these changes or when, but one can easily understand the desire to shorten a rifle as long and unwieldy as the original Lebel.


  1. I am assuming these modified Lebels would hold 5 rounds. I have often thought this would have been a sensible modification for the French to have made. The 3 round modification they did finally make seems stupidly short to me, though if they were only issued to Maginot Line troops, I suppose shortness was the main feature, rather than usability.

    I would have thought that it would have been quite possible to convert Lebels to using the 3 or 5 round clips used by Berthier rifles without much difficulty. There is plenty of room in their slab sided receivers, and such a modification, allied to a shortened barrel of about 24 inches, would have made a really decent rifle by WWI standards. It would not have been great, but a lot better than a tube magazine rifle with a 30 inch barrel. Maybe the Ethiopians did something like that? Only time will tell.

      • I think that as just happenstance coming from cutting the barrel so far back on these carbine conversions. I doubt they aimed for three round capacity. The Berthier at least has a clip loading system, that is quick enough. With a M1886 Lebel carbine you have to load each cartridge into the tube magazine individually not really faster than a Remington Rolling Block in the end. I think this french conversions is the worst in how close to a sinlge shot rifle it produced. The French must have loved their very very short cavalry carbines. The execution of the conversions by the ethiopian gunsmiths is rather questionable though. What is the word for “bubba the gunbutcher” in Amharic?

      • There was also the Mle. 1907/15/34, a Berthier 07/15 converted to 7.5 x 54 with a 5-shot Mauser-type magazine;


        It had a 57cm (22.5″) barrel, and was sighted to 900m although its best range was 200 or less.

        Considering the large numbers of 07/15 and even 92/16 Berthiers available (after all, the 07/15 became the new standard rifle by the middle of the Great War) converting them to 7.5 x 54 with the Mauser-type magazine was probably cheaper and more practical than converting the Lebels.



    • According to RTI’s site, the cut-down Lebels hold anywhere from 3-7 rounds (given this example, I imagine most hold 5 or 6). Honestly, I’d actually take one of these cut downs over the original 8-shot M93 or 3-shot R35. If I got one that was cut-down and resighted properly, 5 or 6 rounds and a short-rifle length barrel is good enough (not to mention, I can probably still do the +1, +1 technique and squeeze another round or two if needed).

      As for the clips, I know the M27 reloaded via stripper clips, but that’s because it used a double-stack (almost Mauser-style) magazine and fired the slightly smaller 7.5mm French round. My guess is the French either didn’t think the receiver to be strong enough, or it was easier to just make a new Berthier receiver (both are questionable but not impossible to believe). I’m told the French also tried to put 3-shot Berthier mags on old Gras-rifles, but the receiver would have been too weak since the only locking lug is the bolt handle root (why they didn’t just swap/modify the Gras bolt to Lebel-style is beyond me, since the Lebel bolt is an improved Gras design, but oh well).

  2. I inherited an 8MM Lebel/Berthier with the three-round en clip feed. My Father cut it down to just a half-inch over legal length for a hard-hitting ‘bush gun.’It works just fine but has NO SAFETY.

      • Both the Lebel and the Kropatschek have a magazine cutoff, which locks the lifter in the up position. This allows the rifles to be used as single-shots like the Gras, reserving the magazine for very rapid fire when needed.

        The cutoffs are also the nearest thing to a “safety” on any French service rifle prior to the MAT 1949 and 49/56. The two semiautomatic rifles have actual manual safeties, and of course need them.



  3. Thanks for sharing your precious time to create this post, It so informative and the content makes the post more interesting. really appreciated.

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