In 1886 France turned the military world upside down when they brought out the 8 mm Lebel rifle. Replacing the powerful Gras with the first successful smokeless powder round it was the rocket of its day. While crude by today’s standards it pushed a smaller caliber bullet much faster then the black powder loads of the day. It started out with a 232 grain round nose at about 2000 feet per second. Since most black powder military rifles shot a bullet at about 1400 feet per second this was quite revolutionary.
The Germans immediately procured their own smokeless powder technology by any means available and in 1888 they came out with an 8 mm of their own. The rifle was designed by a commission at Spandau Arsenal hence it’s name. It was based on a Mannlicher type of rifle as opposed to a Mauser. It was known as the Gewehr 88 and the load was designated J Patrone to differentiate it from the S type of 323 diameter. There is no doubt that the Mauser family was irritated by that choice as they had been supplying Germany with its military weapons. Anyway it used a 318 diameter bullet of 226 grains round nose at about 2100 feet per second. It replaced the widely distributed and hard hitting 11mm Mauser round.
The rifle is a bolt action with a removable clip which is difficult to find these days. While a serviceable rifle, it has a couple of flaws such as a puny looking extractor and ejector. Also there is no provision for gas to escape in the event of a ruptured case. When loading ammo for this rifle these are things to keep in mind. If you have one with a clip you will probably have a problem feeding spitzer type of bullets though round nose work ok. It takes a .318 diameter bullet which is available though I size down conventional .323 slugs for mine. The standard 8 X 57 case works though you need to have a sizing die capable of sizing for the older bullet. Do not use .323 bullets as it may increase pressures to a dangerous level. Hand loads should be kept to about 40,000 PSI max as these rifles are over 100 years old. I have shot mine with a verity of loads and it is a pleasant and accurate rifle given good loads. It is a worth while addition to any collection and 303 British ammo should be shot to appreciate a part of history. If in doubt about its condition consult a gunsmith. Some were also rebarreled, the 257 Roberts was popular at one time…
In 1898 Germany went to the model 98 Mauser replacing the Commission rifle with the most successful design ever instituted for a bolt action rifle. In 1905 they went to the 323 diameter bullet. Even though the Commission rifle had a short lifespan it brought Germany into the age of smokeless powder. Like most military hardware it hung around for awhile and lots were sold to various foreign countries such as China. It was a common backup weapon in WWl for Germany and other nations.