After a lengthy run of posts covering United States militaria, I thought I’d mix in an attempt to shed some light on military artifacts from other nations’ armed forces. You’ll have to bear with me as I my experience in these non-US pieces would hardly qualify me with even amateur status, but I will give it try.
Those of you who have been following my posts since I started writing for Collectors Quest know that my collection has a smattering of foreign militaria items, though I haven’t spent a dime on any of it. When I received them, I barely had an understanding of what they were let alone from which nations they hailed. Most of the non-American artifacts that I own were inherited from my grandfather’s older brother who served in the first three wars of the 20th Century (WWI, WWII and the Korean War). The one piece in my collection that I am going to focus on today is the French Model 1886 Lebel Bayonet.
When French chemist Paul Vieille introduced Poudre B, the first smokeless gunpowder in 1884, he propelled (pun intended) small arms technology light years ahead, helping to usher in a new era of rifle and bullet design. While Vielle’s Poudre B produced explosive force more than three times that of conventional black powder at a significantly reduced rate, the Swiss Army’s Eduard Rubin was developing a new jacketed round that would prevent the bullet from melting as it traversed the rifle barrel at the higher velocities created by the new gunpowder. The result of these advances prompted French military leadership to fast-track a new infantry rifle that would leverage these advances. The result was the Lebel Model 1886 or Fusil Mle 1886 M93 rifle.
While the Lebel rifle revolutionized infantry weapons, the accompanying bayonet was more inline with previous designs. The Épée-Baïonnette Modèle 1886 bayonet employed a unique cross-shaped blade (when viewed from the point) which lacked sharpened edges, employing a lengthy point that was designed to penetrate the thick and heavy wool and leather uniforms of the day. The “Rosalie” as it was dubbed by the French, was in use from the 1880s to well into World War I.
The length of the blade was well-suited for use at the end of a rifle, but as a ready fighting knife in the trenches of WWI, it was awkwardly lengthy prompting many soldiers to cut down the blade length to a more stiletto-type thrusting knife.
As far as the collectability of this bayonet is concerned, there are several schools of thought ranging from those who avoid the item due to its seeming abundance and lower values, to collectors who see it as a fine representation of weapons history, worthy of display.
Aside from the variations due to field modifications (such as shortening the blade), the Lebel bayonet did see several changes over the course of its production due to minor design and material changes as well as suppliers’ interpretation of the specifications. Collectors could expend a fair amount of their finances seeking out each of the known examples of the Épée-Baïonnette, however I will stand firm with the sole example in my collection. For me, it has more meaning as it was something that my uncle brought back from his service overseas.