The French Model 1892 Revolver D'Ordonnance in 8mm Cartouche – Firearms News

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(Photo courtesy of the late Peter Kokalis) 


Jules Carriere and his comrades waited patiently. After more than three years of German occupation they had become very good at waiting. Members of his Marquis unit had been assigned the duty of guiding a party of British commandos back to the Bay of Biscay where they were supposed to be picked up by a motor torpedo boat. Jules had no idea what the British soldiers had been scouting this area for, and he had no intentions of asking. Just then his cousin, Phillipe, their forward scout, came jogging back to inform them that a body of men had just left the woods and were approaching across the field.

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France’s Fusil d’Infanterie Mode`le 1886 was the first smokeless powder military rifle. The first cartridge firing revolver adopted by any nation was the French Navy’s Pistolet-Revolver Mode`le 1858. (Courtesy Rock Island Auction Co.). The French army’s 11mm Revolver d’Ordonnance Mode`le 1873 was a rugged and long serving handgun.

But were they the British or a damned Vichy Milice patrol? Jules did not have to tell his men what to do next. Experienced guerrillas all, they spread out quietly, so each had a clear view of the approaches to their position. Jules removed the Modèle 1892 revolver from his overcoat pocket as the other four checked their Sten submachine guns the British had air dropped to them weeks ago. They had not survived this long by taking stupid chances.

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1915. A group of French reservists. Several are displaying very unsafe gun handling with their 11mm Revolvers d’Ordonnance Mode`le 1873.

French Model 1873 and 1874 Ordnance Revolver in 11mm: Historical Lookback

In 1886, the French army was the first to adopt a small bore, smokeless powder repeating rifle, the Fusils d’Infanterie Modèle 1886. Its revolutionary smokeless powder cartridge, the Balle 1886 M, used rimmed, bottle necked case 51mm in length topped with a flat nosed 232-grain fully metal jacketed (FMJ) bullet moving at a velocity of 2,050 feet per second (fps). The Modèle 1886 rifle and its cartridge caused an arms race which saw all the major powers racing to reequip their armies with smokeless powder weapons.


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It is a little-known fact that the French were the first to adopt a cartridge firing revolver, when in 1858, their navy took the Lefaucheux designed Pistolet-Revolver Modèle 1858 pin fire revolver into service. This was followed by the Pistolet-Revolver Modèle 1870 which was chambered for an 11mm centerfire cartridge.

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The 8mm Revolver d’Ordonnance Mode`le 1892 was the French army’s first small bore, smokeless powder handgun. Note the octagonal barrel and elegantly curved grip. The Mode`le 1892 was issued with a full flap leather holster. Because of its distinctive shape, French soldiers referred to the holster as “le jambon” (“the ham”). (Rock Island Auction Co.)

The army was slower off the mark, and it was not until 1873 that they got around to replacing their single shot, percussion pistols with the Revolver d’Ordnance Modèle 1873. A solid frame, rod ejecting Chamelot-Delvigne design, it was intended for issue to enlisted personnel while the following year the slightly smaller, and better finished Revolver d’Officier Modèle 1874 was approved for private purchase by officers. In 1884, the Swedish army adopted the Modèle 1873 as the 1884 års Officers revolver.

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In the mid 1880s, the French army had been in the process of developing a new revolver to replace the Modèle 1873. This new revolver, while using the same 11mm cartridge, was a more robust design with a Nagant style ejector rod housed in the cylinder pin.


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1915. French cavalry escorting German prisoners. Note the trooper holding a Mode`le 1892 revolver.

But in 1887, as were a number of other European armies, the French decided to adapt the design to a small bore 8mm cartridge. Orders for the new revolver, the Revolver d’Ordonnance Modèle 1887, were placed with the government arsenal at Sainte-Etienne but because of their commitment to producing of the Fusil d’Infanterie Modèle 1886 only about 1,000 were completed by 1889.

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Rocking back the loading gate allowed the Mode`le 1892’s cylinder to be swung out (the wrong way) for loading or unloading. Pushing on the ejector rod simultaneously extracted all six cartridge cases. The Mode`le 1892’s left hand sideplate could be swung open for cleaning or repairs. During WWI the French purchased thousands of “Ruby” pistols from Basque gunmakers.

During this interlude, French had begun examining the new Galand-Schmidt design for swing out cylinder revolvers. This design offered several advantages over the traditional solid frame revolver, foremost among them was the speed with which it could be reloaded and ease of cleaning.



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Boxes of French issue 8mm Cartouche d’Ordanance Mode`le 1892 made in 1936. (Courtesy of Pat Hernandez). French WWI handgun cartridges (L to R): 11mm Cartouche d’Ordanance Mode`le 1873/90, 8mm Cartouche d’Ordanance Mode`le 1892 and Cartouche de 7,65mm pour P.A. (Lou Behling photo). A six round packet of French issue 8mm Cartouche d’Ordanance Mode`le 1892. (Jean Huon photo).

The French army’s small arms commission decided that the Galand-Schmidt system should be included in any new revolver, and the Modèle 1887 quickly became a small footnote in firearms history. A design team adapted the Galand-Schmidt’s swing out cylinder to the Modèle 1887’s frame and the result was the 8mm Revolver d’Ordonnance Modèle 1892.1

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Pages from a French army training manual for the Mode`le 1892 revolver.

The Modèle 1892 revolver was a well made and rugged weapon with a distinctive outline it has a very thin octagonal barrel; the elegantly curved grip was narrow and had a very steep grip to frame angle while a large lanyard ring was attached to heel of the grip frame. Sights consisted of a front blade topped with a bead and a U notch rear sight on the back of the top strap.

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Pages from a French army training manual for the Mode`le 1892 revolver.

A hammer rebound system allowed carrying the revolver with all six chambers loaded and the hammer down in safety, and it could be fired 
either double action or the hammer could be cocked for precise single action shooting. It utilized an Abadie-style loading gate which, when rocked back, locked the hammer in place while pulling the trigger rotated the cylinder.


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A WWI French officer armed with a Mode`le 1892 revolver. 1917. French standard bearers wearing holstered Mode`le 1892 revolvers.

But the Modèle 1892’s most unique feature is that the cylinder swings out to the right side! The cylinder latch is a large thumb piece on the right side of the frame that is rocked back to release the cylinder. Once you’ve swung out, the cylinder empty cases were ejected simultaneously by pushing back on the ejector rod as per any other swing out cylinder revolver. After reloading the cylinder with six rounds it was swung back into the frame and the cylinder latch moved forward, locking the cylinder in place.

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WWII French sailors and Marines armed with Mode`le 1892 revolvers. (Courtesy of Jean Huon). 1917. French officers paying homage to a slain comrade. Note the officers on the left and right are wearing holstered Mode`le 1892 revolvers. This WWI French propaganda postcard purportedly shows a Bosche officer threatening a Jeune fille franc¸aise with a Mode`le 1892 revolver.

One other aspect of the Modèle 1892 that is notable is that the entire left-hand side of the frame is a hinged plate that can be swung forward after unscrewing a large headed screw at the top of the right grip. This allowed access to the lock work of the revolver for cleaning and/or repair. A common feature of several other military revolvers of the day.

Now the question always comes up Why did the French design a revolver whose cylinder swung out the wrong way? As much as I hate to admit, I don’t know I just don’t know! One of the more common reasons cited is that French military doctrine called for officers and cavalry troopers to use their right hand for their saber and their left hand for the revolver. Others state it was easier to reload the revolver by holding it in the left hand and using the right to insert cartridges into the cylinder. I’m sorry if this does not satisfy your curiosity, but it is the only explanations I have heard so far for the Modèle 1892’s backward design.

The issue cartridge, the 8mm Cartouche d’Ordnance Modèle 1892, consisted of a straight walled, rimmed case 27mm in length loaded with a charge of black powder that propelled a 120-grain flat-nosed FMJ bullet moving at 715 fps. Shortly after adoption, the cartridge was loaded with smokeless powder which increased the velocity to 740 fps.2

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1917. A French grenadier armed with a Ruby pistol (left).

The Modèle 1892 was the standard sidearm of French forces when the WWI broke out, but French arsenals were unable to provide the number of revolvers needed. This resulted in the French government placing orders for unlicensed copies of the Smith & Wesson M&P and Colt New Army revolvers which the Basque firms of Trocaola Aranzabal Y Cia, Garate y Anitua & Cia, Orbea Hermanos and others, which had been producing revolvers for the civilian market. In French service all were referred to as les Revolver Modèle 92 espagnol and were chambered for the standard 8mm Cartouche Modèle 1892.

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92 Espagnol revolvers provided to the French by various Basque gunmakers. (Jean Huon photo)

But these we not enough to meet demand for handguns and so between 1915 and 1918 many thousands of 7,65mm semiauto pistols were purchased from gunmakers in Spain, Italy and the United States.

The commercial firm of Manufrance produced a licensed copy of the Modèle 1892 revolver for sale to civilians and army officers who wished to purchase private arms. For an additional five francs, they offered the Concours model which featured a fine commercial blue finish and a lighter trigger pull. They also produced a number of them under contract for the government of Romania. As was their practice before the Great War, Belgian gunmakers produced unlicensed copies of the Modèle 1892 revolver, some of which were chambered for the Tri lineinaya Revol’ver patron obr. 1895g for sale in Russia.

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Advertisements from a Russian catalog show Belgian made copies of the Mode`le 1892 chambered for the Russian Tri lineinaya Revol’ver patron obr. 1895g. Note the cylinder release/loading gate is slightly different.

Production ended at Sainte-Étienne in 1927 after approximately 350,000 revolvers were produced. During WWI, the French supplied Modèle 1892s as military aid to their ally Belgium while others were provided as military aid to Poland and Czechoslovakia in the post-war period. The tiny Principality of Monaco obtained a small number of them for equipping their Compagnie des Carabiniers du Prince while others showed up in the hands of Republican forces during the Spanish Civil War (1936 –1939).

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1944, Paris. Members of the French resistance armed with Mode`le 1892 revolvers (left). A member of the Vichy Milice guarding suspects with a Revolver Mode`le 92 espagnol (right).

In 1935, the French adopted two semiauto pistols, the Pistolet Automatique 7,65mm Modèles 1935A and 1935S, although not enough were available to equip the army when WWII erupted and many Modèle 1892s remained in service with the army and reservists.

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1957. A French officer in Algeria wearing a Mode`le 1892 revolver in a Jambon holster.

After the defeat of France, the German occupation forces used captured Modèle 1892s as the Revolver 637(f) while the collaborationist Vichy government issued them to their armed forces and collaborationist internal security troops, the Milice française. Free French forces utilized Modèle 1892s until they were reequipped with British and American small arms.

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1944, Paris. Members of the French resistance armed with Mode`le 1892 revolvers (left). An American GI shows off a “liberated” Mode`le 1892 revolver.

After the war, the Modèle 1892 continued to see service with the French army in colonial conflicts in Indochina, the Middle East and North Africa while others were used by the Gendarmerie and local police until the last ones were finally retired in the late 1950s.

Test Firing the Modèle 1892

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When fired from a rest the Mode`le 1892 proved to be a pleasantly accurate revolver. Offhand drills at seven yards showed the Mode`le 1892 to be a light recoiling, suitably accurate revolver.

Fellow collector, Tim Hawkins, kindly provided the Modèle 1892 revolver I test fired for this article. It was made in 1901 at the Sainte Etienne arsenal. Both the single and double action trigger pulls were rather heavy although the double action stroke was short. Fiocchi USA kindly provided me with a supply of their 8mm Lebel ammunition which is loaded with 111-grain, flat-nosed, FMJ bullets at a rated velocity of 880 fps.

Due to an injury in my right hand, my good friend Lin Webb volunteered to fire the Modèle 1892 for accuracy from an MTM K-Zone rest at 50 feet. The heavy trigger pull required a lot of concentration, but it proved accurate enough shooting to point of aim and producing five-shot groups in the three-inch range. We then set up a combat target at seven yards and Lin proceeded to run a series of drills, firing the revolver with both supported and unsupported grips.

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Actor Kirk Douglas, as Colonel Dax, in the WWI movie Paths of Glory (1957). Douglas would first be armed with the Mode`le 1892, and then later is seen with a Smith & Wesson M1917 revolver. (MovieStillsDB.com)

Its light recoil and a short trigger stroke helped when firing the revolver in single action mode, but when fired it in double action, with an unsupported grip, rounds tended to wander outside the high scoring zones of the target. Of the eighteen rounds thus expended, Mr. Webb managed to keep fifteen of them within the X and 9 rings of the target.

My opinion of the Modèle 1892 revolver? In spite of its quality of manufacture and obvious ruggedness, and because of the uninspiring ballistics of its 8mm cartridge, I would not have relished carrying one into combat. But I must admit, it displayed that air of Gallic individualism that seems to emanate from most things French, whether it be cooking, cigarettes, automobiles or small arms. I think it would be fitting to end this article by quoting Professor Henry Higgins from the film My Fair Lady — “The French don’t actually care what they do, as long as they pronounce it correctly.”

 I would like to thank the following for providing materials used to prepare this report: Tim Hawkins, Jean Huon, Bob Shell, Lin Webb, Joel Kolander, Danielle Smith, Lou Behling, Pat Hernandez, Peter Kokalis, Rock Island Auction Company and all my friends on the French Firearms forum at GunBoards.com.


If you have any thoughts or comments on this article, we’d love to hear them. Email us at [email protected].



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