Épée-Baïonnette Modèle 1886 and Épée-Baïonnette Modèle 1886 Modifié 1915
The standard Épée-Baïonnette Modèle 1886 was developed starting in January of 1886 for the new revolutionary smokeless powder rifle the Fusil d'Infanterie Modèle 1886 "Lebel" which would be the first French rifle to have the bayonet mounted directly underneath the barrel. These bayonets are 640mm (25.20 in) in overall length with a straight, bright steel 520mm (20.47 in) long 4-edge cruciform blade, 14mm (.55 in) diameter muzzle ring, metal grip, hooked quillion, steel cross-guard with a rounded checkered press-catch locking mechanism which weighed 400 grams (14.1 Oz.). The scabbards for these were made of blued steel, tubular in shape with an 11mm (.43 in) rounded ball tip and weighed 200 grams (7.05 Oz.).
During the years these bayonets were in service a few significant modifications took place and were as follows: On June 15th of 1888 the guidance pin for the spring of the locking ring was eliminated and the spring was lengthened from 6 to 7 spires. Prior to August of 1890 the bayonets had a false steel end-cap on the back of the handle which did not allow for the bayonet to be easily disassembled by the regimental armorer or regional support unit for parts replacement so these were eliminated by lengthening the blades hilt and using a rounded nut with 2 small square holes to help hold the grip to the pommel of the bayonet. In 1893 the locking lug was widened, the notch on the locking ring was enlarged and the thickness of the press button was slightly diminished to keep the protrusion constant despite the longer travel. There was some Épée-Baïonnette Modèle 1886 that were shortened to a blade length of 340mm (13.39 in) prior to The Great War for Troupes Cyclistes (Bicycle Troops). (These are very rare and are not found easily here in the U.S.)
In December of 1914 Manufacture Nationale d'Armes de Châtellerault Directeur, Lt. Colonel Jacquot proposed modifying the standard Épée-Baïonnette Modèle 1886 for “trench” warfare, as well as easy of manufacturing steps with the complete removal of the quillion during the manufacturing process, not cut-off as has been rumored, and simplifying the bayonet latch release with a semi-rounded type. Général Lagrange, who was in charge of l’Inspection Permanente des Fabrications d’Artillerie refused to go along with these changes but was finally over-ruled by Général de Division Desaleux. These new changes were implemented starting in January of 1915 which changed the nomenclature of the bayonet to be called the Épée-Baïonnette Modèle 1886 Modifié 1915. (These are commonly called as a 1916 designation but it is incorrect) Sometime during the war the scabbards were modified by drilling a 3mm hole in the bottom of the ball tip to allow debris and water to drain from the scabbard. It is believed that either in very late in WWI or during the 1920's or 30's some of the bayonets blades and cross-guards were blued.
After WWI, starting in 1935, both the Épée-Baïonnette Modèle 1886 and the Épée-Baïonnette Modèle 1886 Modifié 1915 blades were shortened to a blade length of 400mm (15.75), all white metal parts blued, the scabbard was shortened to fit the new length of the blade and the rounded tip at the end of the scabbard was increased to 12.7mm (.50) instead of the original 11mm diameter. These new bayonets were to be called, Épée-Baïonnette Modèle 1886 Raccourci 1935 and Épée-Baïonnette Modèle 1886 Modifié 1915 Raccourci 1935 which were mostly to be used with the following weapons: the Mousqueton de Artillerie Modèle 1886 Modifié 1893 Raccourci 1935, Mousqueton de Cavalerie Modèle 1886 Modifié 1893 Raccourci 1935 and Fusil de Infanterie Modèle 1907-1915 Modifié 1934. Note: Any other shortened bayonet that has less than a 400mm blade is not considered to be a R35 modification.
There is a Décret Ministériel (Ministerial Decree) from 1930 ordering the shortening of the Épée-Baïonnette Modèle 1886 Modifié 1915 blades to 300mm (11.81) specifically for the use with the two semi-automatic rifles (Fusil Service Automatique Modèle 1917 R.S.C. and Fusil Service Automatique Modèle 1918 R.S.C.) but was cancelled in 1933. There are some Épée-Baïonnette Modèle 1886 and Épée-Baïonnette Modèle 1886 Modifié 1915 that have blades anywhere from 265mm (10.43) up to 400mm (15.75) and at this time it is not sure why these were done.
The grips for these bayonets were made in many different metals, prior to The Great War these were made in German nickel silver (bronze de nickel) or what is referred to as maillechort. On the 25th of October of 1914 German nickel silver was substituted with brass (laiton) or aluminum bronze (bronze d'aluminium) normally called tambak or jaune (yellow) and in July of 1917 steel (acier) and grey cast iron (fonte grise) handles substituted all previous metals. Cast iron was tested by Manufacture Nationale d'Armes de Châtellerault in March of 1917 and was authorized because of easier cast ability by private industry companies.
These bayonets were called "Rosalie" by the French Poilus in honor of the Virgin of the Southern French town of Bayonne where supposedly bayonets were first used in 1655. The legend is that during the mid-17th century irregular military conflicts of rural France, the peasants of the Southern French town of Bayonne, who were Basques, having run out of powder and shot, rammed their long-bladed hunting knives into the muzzles of their muskets to fashion impromptu spears and, by necessity, created the Baïonnette.
In 1915 a steel wire breaker attachment was made for the bayonet which was slipped on to the blade of the bayonet that could cut barbed wire using the bullet of the rifle as it was fired. This device was called coupe barbelé système "FILLOUX" which was designed by Artillerie Lieutenant-Colonel L.J.F. Filloux who worked at Atelier de Construction de Bourges. These were marked with the month, the last two digits of the year and a circled capital letter B which showed these were made by Atelier de Construction de Bourges.
Both type of French made Épée-Baïonnettes and scabbards were marked with the serial number and either a script or block letter prefix which showed what Manufacture Nationale d'Armes made the bayonet. These will be marked on the left side of the quillon on the Épée-Baïonnette Modèle 1886, on the bottom of the cross-guard of the Épée-Baïonnette Modèle 1886 Modifié 1915 and on the frog strap bale of the scabbards.
1). Manufacture Nationale d'Armes de Châtellerault (MAC) ... A,B,C,D,E
2). Manufacture Nationale d'Armes de Saint Étienne (MAS) … F,G,H,J,K,L,M,N,P,Q
3). Manufacture Nationale d'Armes de Tulle (MAT) ... R,S,T,U,V
4). Letter code X was used for instruction purposes only
The bayonets were also marked with a small quality control and the mark of acceptance into military service called Contrôleur Poinçons (controllers stamps) which was stamped on the bottom or side of blade and just above the frog strap bale on the scabbard. There were three different type of acceptance marks used: Directeur de Manufacture (Armory Director), Contrôleur Généraux Principaux (Principal Arms Inspector) and Contrôleur de 1ème, 2ème y 3 ème Classe (1st, 2nd and 3rd Class Controllers). Both the Directeur de Manufacture and Contrôleur Généraux Principaux marks will be found with a letter within a circle and Contrôleur de 1ème, 2ème y 3 ème Classe will be found with a letter within a shield. Other letters and numbers are marked at various places on the bayonet in which some of these are the private companies that made parts for these during the war and others are most likely are some sort of inspectors markings, more research is needed into this. There are some bayonets that are marked with what appears to be naval anchors which meant that these were issued to the French Colonial Forces called Troupes Coloniales, which were military forces that garrisoned and were largely recruited from the vast French Colonial Empire.
Some bayonet parts were made by private companies during the Great War such as:
1). L. Delage & Cie which made grips and were marked with code: LC on the grip
2). M. Guinard which made the springs for the rotating collar latch
3). Établissement Malicet & Blin which made cross-guards and were marked with code: M
4). Société des Anciens Établissements Panhard & Levassor which made the rotating collar latch and were marked with code: PL on the part
5). Société des Automobiles & Cycles Peugeot which made the blades, grip screw and scabbards and these will be marked with code: P on those parts
6). Automobiles Renault which made grip and were marked with code: R on the grip
7). Maison Vichard et Conge: 30,000 blades
Blades also have been encountered with the following codes: CF, C&P, GR, S.C. and SG and handles also have been encountered with an intertwined B and M. It is unknown at this time whom these private contractors were.
During WWI Remington Arms Company which was based in Ilion, New York was contracted to make Épée-Baïonnette Modèle 1886 Modifié 1915 for the French military, most of these bayonets will not have any markings on them at all as very few of these were sent to France during the Great War. The grips on these bayonets were made of a unknown type of German nickel silver as well as brass that was “pinkish or salmon” in color. The grips on the bayonets had a slightly less pronounced contoured grip closer to the cross-guard.
Many of the other countries during the Great War or after such as Belgium, Bulgaria, Finland, Greece, Italy, Serbia, Russia who had been sold or used various French rifles also used these bayonets. After WWI ended the newly created nation of Poland was sold, by the French, many of both type of these bayonets which were used during the Polish-Soviet War (1919-1921) and later during the Polish Invasion of 1939.
These bayonets were called Bagnetowy Wzor 1886/93 and were usually marked at the back of the pommel with following markings: Wz86/91 or Wz86/93.
Germany also used many of these from captured stocks or from enemy prisoners of war during both World Wars, these bayonets are usually marked with the regimental unit which used them on the side or inside the top groove of the grip.
During WWII the Germans also shortened both types of Épée-Baïonnettes to an overall length of 460mm (18.11) with a blade length of 342mm (13.46) for usage with their occupation forces. The Épée-Baïonnette Modèle 1886 that were modified by the Germans were to be called the Seitengewehr 102(f) and the Épée-Baïonnette Modèle 1886 Modifié 1915 to be called the Seitengewehr 103(f).
In all of the photographic evidence seen by myself and other French Firearms Collectors the Épée-Baïonnette Modèle 1886 was only really used on the Fusil d'Infanterie Modèle 1886 Modifié 1893 "Lebel" and the Épée-Baïonnette Modèle 1886 Modifié 1915 was used on both the Fusil de Infanterie Modèle 1907-1915 and Fusil de Infanterie Modèle Modifié 1916.
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