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|8x51Rmm (8 mm Lebel/Balle D)|
|Place of origin||France|
|Used by||See Users|
|Wars||French colonial campaigns,
World War I,
World War II,
and other conflicts
|Variants||Balle M, Balle D, Balle N, Balle T, Balle P|
|Case type||Rimmed, bottlenecked|
|Bullet diameter||8.3 mm (0.33 in)|
|Neck diameter||8.9 mm (0.35 in)|
|Shoulder diameter||11.6 mm (0.46 in)|
|Base diameter||13.8 mm (0.54 in)|
|Rim diameter||16.0 mm (0.63 in)|
|Rim thickness||51 mm (2.0 in)|
|Case length||51 mm (2.0 in)|
|Overall length||70 mm (2.8 in)|
|Primer type||Large rifle|
The 8×51mmR French (8mm Lebel) rifle cartridge was the first smokeless gunpowder cartridge to be made and adopted by any country. It was introduced by France in 1886. Formed by necking down the 11mm Gras black powder cartridge, the smokeless 8 mm Lebel cartridge started a revolution in military rifle ammunition. Standard 8mm Lebel military ammunition was also the first rifle ammunition to feature a spitzer boat tail bullet (Balle D) which was adopted in 1898.
There are two 8 mm Lebel cartridges, one for the Lebel Model 1886 rifle and one for the Modèle 1892 revolver. They are entirely different cartridges and are not interchangeable. The use of the term "Lebel" for the French Mle 1892 revolver and its ammunition was never applied by the French military but has become informally accepted outside of France to distinguish the French cartridge from other contemporary 8mm cartridges such as the 8mmx50R Mannlicher cartridge used by Austria-Hungary and successor states.
8mm Lebel rifle ammunition
It was originally loaded with a 15.0 g (232 grains) cupro-nickel-jacketed lead-cored flat-nosed wadcutter-style bullet ("Balle M") which had been designed by lieutenant colonel Nicolas Lebel. The flat point (flat nose) of the Balle M bullet had been designed to be totally safe inside the Lebel's tube magazine. It was propelled by the first practical smokeless, nitrocellulose based, (Poudre B) gunpowder as developed by Paul Vieille in 1884. The ballistic performance and range of Balle M eclipsed all the previous military ammunitions in existence at the time (1886). The Balle M was replaced in 1898 by a 12.8 g (198 grains) 90/10 brass mono-metal, pointed (spitzer) boat-tail bullet called "Balle D" which provided a flatter trajectory and improved long range performance. Designed at APX (Atelier de Puteaux) by a captain Desaleux, Balle D was the first spitzer and boat-tail bullet to be placed into service by any army. Later on, in 1912 Balle D ammunition was improved into "Balle D am" ("am" stands for "amorcage modifié" or modified primer) by crimping the primer in to prevent primer expulsions when fired in machine guns. Balle D am ammunition was in near universal service during World War I (1914–1918) in all Lebel caliber weapons. Somewhat later, Balle D am ammunition was followed in 1932 by "Balle N" ammunition which featured a lead-cored, cupro-nickel-over-steel-jacketed, spitzer boat-tail bullet weighing 15.0 g (232 grains). It was held into a case which had a slightly larger neck diameter than the older Balle D am ammunition. Balle N was heavier than Balle D am and had been designed to improve the long range performance of the Hotchkiss machine gun. Converting most Lebel caliber rifles and carbines to the "N" ammunition was carried out during the 1930s. "Balle T" tracer and "Balle P" armor-piercing rounds were also produced along with blank and reduced charge ammunition.
In order to safely accommodate pointed (spitzer) bullets inside the Lebel's tube magazine, a circular groove was machined around each primer cup on both Balle D am and Balle N ammunitions. The role of that circular groove is to receive the tip of the pointed bullet that follows when loaded inside the Lebel's tube magazine. Furthermore, all Balle M and Balle D French military ammunitions feature convex primer covers which are crimped in over the primer itself. Those small convex primer covers are not noticeable but do provide a second effective protection against accidental primer percussion inside the Lebel's tube magazine. Wartime experiences (1914–1918) involving hundreds of millions of Lebel rounds fired in combat have entirely confirmed the effectiveness of these protections.
While revolutionary for its time in terms of ballistic performance, the 8mm Lebel cartridge had its drawbacks. Formed by necking down the 11mm Gras rifle cartridge case, it was an odd design, with a thick rim and a rapid double taper. This made it more difficult to feed from standard magazine firearms such as the Berthier rifles and the Chauchat machine rifle. The rifles from which it was fired (Lebel, Berthier, etc.) were also nearly obsolete by the time Balle D, let alone the Balle N, came along.
Balle N ammo should never be fired from any Lebel or Berthier rifle unless it has had the chamber reamed to accept the larger neck of the N cartridge. Such weapons are stamped N on top of the barrel, just in front of the receiver and behind the rear sight. Balle N ammo is identifiable by the fact that the bullet, while pointed like the solid brass Balle D, is lead cored and jacketed with soft steel.
While newly manufactured 8mm Lebel ammunition has recently become available in the U.S., reloadable cartridge cases can also be produced by reforming .348" Winchester brass. Newly manufactured Prvi Partizan 8mm Lebel ammunition is of excellent quality and replicates the performance of the original 8mm Lebel round. However its brass cases lack the circular groove around the primer cup so the reloader must be careful to use only round-nosed or flat-nosed bullets when producing handloads for the tube-magazine Lebel rifles. Recently manufactured 8mm Lebel ammunition with spitzer (pointed) bullets will be perfectly safe when stacked in the box-magazine of the Berthier rifle. However it is highly advisable that the same type of newly manufactured pointed ammunition should be fired single shot only in the Mle 1886 tube-magazine Lebel rifle.
In 1929 the 7.5×54mm MAS mod. 1929 (7.5 French) cartridge was introduced. This made the 8mm Lebel cartridge obsolete overnight but, due to post World War I financial constraints and political neglect, it was not introduced as a rifle cartridge until the adoption, just before World War II, of the MAS-36 rifle.
Downrange performance comparison
1886 pattern 8×51mmR Lebel Balle M load
1898 pattern 8×51mmR Lebel Balle D load
Weapons using the 8mm Lebel round
- Lebel Model 1886 rifle
- Berthier carbine
- Berthier rifle
- Model 1917 semi-automatic rifle
- Gras rifle M74-80-14
- Remington Rolling Block Rifles- A limited production for France before or during WW1.
- Hotchkiss M1909 Benet-Mercie machine gun
- Hotchkiss M1914 machine gun
- Chauchat light machine gun
- Chauchat-Ribeyrolles 1918 submachine gun
- St. Étienne Mle 1907
- French Empire
- Kingdom of Greece Saint Etienne machine gun in 1917–1940
- Kingdom of Italy: Saint Etienne machine gun in 1917–18
- Second Spanish Republic: Lebel rifles obtained from France were used by Republican forces during the Spanish Civil War.
- United States: Hotchkiss machine gun and Chauchat machine-rifle in 1917–18
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to 8mm Lebel.|
- Balle M, D, N, T, and P—By Conjay
- Huon, Jean. Military Rifle and Machine Gun Cartridges. Alexandria, Va: Ironside International Publishers, 1988. ISBN 0-935554-05-X.