(photos from: La grande aventure des fusils reglementaires francais, Henri Vuillemin, Gazette des armes, 1996, pgs 53-56)
GENERALLY: The introduction of the Infanterie-Gewehr Mod. 71/84 German Mauser, an 8 shot Kropatchek type tubular magazing repeater, in answer of course to M1878 Marine Kropatchek and M1884 French Kropatcheks, touched off a new scramble by the French for arms superiority. There were simiply not enough repeaters in inventory, and the large number of single shot M1874 Gras then currently in army use were simply outclassed by the new Mauser. The answer was the final refinement of the French 11mm rifle, the M1885 Kropatchek, known in France as the Chatellerault on account of the armory where it was developed and where all of the new-built M1885's were manufactured. Where the M1884 is merely the earlier Steyr designed and built M1878 made to French taste, the M1885 is a newly designed refinement of the Kropatchek magazine repeater concept. Like the Mod. 71/84 Mauser, the M1885 Kropatchek had an 8 shot magazine, 9 with a round in the chamber. However, unlike the Mauser, the Kropatchek has no safety system so a round in the chamber is extremely dangerous. The M1885 was in service only a very brief time, being almost immediately supplanted by a refinement of the Mle1885 French Kropatchek, the nearly identical M1886 Lebel, a rifle of no great note, but chambered in the truly revolutionary 8mm Lebel smokeless powder cartridge.
PHOTO: The above photo shows the major types of the M1885 French Kropatchek Infantry rifle. From top to bottom: M1885 Early Type 1; M1885 Early Type 2; M1885 definitive pattern, newly built; M1874/85 conversion of the M1874 French Gras.
DISTINGUISHING CHARECTERISTICS: The most significant distinguishing charecteristic of the M1885 French Kropatchek series is its two piece stock; forestock and buttstock each attached to the solid receiver, which was a departure from all previous French designed military rifles. The magazine cut-off lever for single shot use was operated by rotating a lever fitted into a depression on the top right of the receiver which was (or not, depending on its position) actuated by the base of the bolt. This obivated the need for the pair of drilled out depressions in the base of the bolts of the earlier M1878 Kropatchek and M1884 Kropatchek. The a cleaning rod was stored in a channel inletted into the left side of the stock, similar to the Mle1878 and 1884 French Kropatchecks, but, uniquely, was distinctly visible in an exposed channel along the right side of the receiver (see photos below).
M1885 Kropatcheks exist in at least 4 different varieties (a lot for
a rifle in service so briefly!)
Early M1885s: A strong "S" shape to the rear receiver sides, manufactured exclusively at Chatellerault. Among these are Type 1's with a distinctive reinforcing cross-bolt through the wrist just above the trigger, the Type 2's are not fitted with the cross-bolt.
Later M1885s: The lack of a cross-bolt proved too weak and the full production series M1885s, recognizable by their straight oblique rear receiver sides, returned to the wrist cross-bolt, a feature that was ultimately carried over to the M1886 Lebels as well. Numbers of M1874 Gras were converted to M1885 and these are recognized by the markings on the left receiver, "Mle1874/85" and Manufacture D'Armes Tulle (the Tulle Armory). The newly built M1885's are marked simply "1885" (the deisgnation Mle for "Model" now disappearing) and "Manufacture D'Armes Chatellerault."
Top to bottom: M1885 Early Type 1; M1885 Early Type 2;
M1885 definitive pattern, newly built; M1874/85 conversion @ Tulle.
Note the strong "S" of the rear part of the receiver in the early patterns
missing in the full production pattern.
Above, Upper photo: The late model M1874/85 conversions which
were undertaken at the armory at Tulle, and are so marked, both "M1874/85"
Above, lower photo: The newly made M1885s were built at the Armory at
Chatellerault and are marked "M1885" and "Chatellerault." Indeed, in France
the M1885 is generically known and referred to as "the Chatellerault."
The Lebel rifle, first to introduce smokeless propellant and touching off a new arms race in the late 1880s, is little different from the M1885 French Kropatchek, but lacks the distinctive magazine cut-off hump on the right side of the receiver, is chambered in 8mm Lebel, has a stacking rod and lacks an exposed cleaning rod.