The Rifles of Brazil
By Dan Reynolds and Eduardo LG de Oliveira
" The Rifle Mauser 1908 is the Brazilian soldier's soul. It is all that keeps him alive in combat ". These words were spoken by Sergeant Durval of the Brazilian Army over half a century ago to a group of young soldiers, among whom was P. R. G. Muniz, the noted Brazilian expert on small arms. This beautiful rifle is greatly revered by generations of Brazilians as the M1903 Springfield Rifle is in the United States of North America.
The story of military small arms in Brazil goes back to the period of Portuguese colonial times. Originally all arms, spare parts and ammunition came from Portugal.
The French invasions in Rio de Janeiro city, in 1710 and 1711 pointed out the need for facilities to store and maintain arms, ammunition and war material, as well as for workshops for the repair of arms.
Captain-General Gomes Freire, the last governor of the Captaincy of Rio de Janeiro, Minas Gerais and Sao Paulo issued an order to build an armory capable of storing, maintaining and repairing this type of material. In literal translation from old Portuguese it was known as "House of the Train" or in English military usage the "Ordnance Depot". This facility was erected beside Fort Santiago in Rio de Janeiro city.
Organized production of arms in this facility began in 1762. Known by this time period as the Ordnance Arsenal, it produced swords, lances, bayonets, dirks, shot and other weapons and repaired small arms. It was enlarged between 1764 and 1766, by order of the King's Viceroy, Don Antonio Alvares of Cunha, Cunha's Conde. However, the scope of work permitted at this expanded facility was limited by the colonial status of Brazil in this period. Colonies were to supply the mother country with raw materials and agricultural products and trade for industrial goods from the homeland. Thus the Arsenal could repair firearms, but not manufacture new ones in order not to compete with the Arsenal in Lisbon. Brazil remained a colony of Portugal until 1822.
In 1783 the first bronze statues were cast in Brazil in the foundry of this arsenal, and today, those statues are in the Botanical Garden of Rio de Janeiro.
During the Peninsular War, Napoleon's forces compelled the Portuguese Royal Family to relocate to Brazil. In 1808, a start was made to expand the scope of operations at the Ordnance Arsenal and organize it similarly to Lisbon Arsenal. A Royal writ was issued on March 1, 1811 creating the " Royal Army Unified Arsenal" which incorporated factories and foundries necessary for arms production. Brigadier Carlos Antonio Napion was the first commandant with the title Inspector of Artillery, Factories, Foundries and Arsenals.
After 1811 a period of great progress at the Arsenal began. In 1820 and 1821, the first pieces of artillery were out shopped from the new foundry built in 1819. The expansion of the works continued in 1822 and 1832, with new blacksmiths', tinkers', carpenters', metalworkers' and other workshops. In 1832, it was removed from the Unified Arsenal command structure and placed under its own management, its name becoming "Royal War Arsenal".
In 1837, an apprenticeship program was introduced which evolved into the Industrial School which was in operation until 1975. In 1840, as integral part of the establishment, the Emperor's Military School was created, where children of officers and enlisted men, especially orphans and the poor from 6 to 14 years of age, could be schooled, and upon graduation enter the Military Academy.
On December 19, 1865, the Museum of the Arsenal of War, the first military museum of Brazil was established.
During the Triple Alliance's War (Brazil - Argentina and Uruguay against Paraguay) from 1864-1870 , the Arsenal was heavily engaged in the support of Brazilian troops. The quantity and variety of material produced reached record volume. It turned out cannon as well as 78,303 cap lock rifled muskets, bayonets and other items.
At the end of the War of the Triple Alliance, Brazil was fully aware that all muzzle loading rifles were obsolete. Several types of current foreign breech loaders were purchased for evaluation and limited issue. Among these were the British Enfield Snyder .577 conversion, the French Modelo 1866 Chassepot, and the .44 Winchester Modelo 1866 . The Winchesters were held in store and not issued out until 1874.
In 1873, the Brazilian Navy decided to adopt the British Westley Richards in .577/450 while the Brazilian Army adopted the Belgian 11mm Comblain rifle. The Comblain, a drop block action, was cycled by pulling down on the trigger guard to open and up to cock and lock.
The Comblain was used in active service by the regular Army until 1895. There were nine different models in use over the years. The rifle models used the long 11x50mmR cartridge while the carbines used the shorter 11x42mmR round which gave less recoil in the shorter, lighter weapons. The first rifle issued was the M1873, a copy of the Belgian model. The M1874 featured a modified receiver and was known as the Brazilian Model. The M1878 and M1885 Rifles were based on the M1874 action. A final model rifle was purchased as the M1889 and this was chambered for a new more powerful 11x53mmR cartridge.
The carbines were, the M1873 with the action used in the first model rifle, the M1888, the M1892 both with the "Brazil" action, all these in 11x42mmR .
There was then an effort to upgrade these weapons to a modern small bore cartridge. Some M85 Rifles were converted to a special 7.7mm cartridge in the 1890's. A carbine conversion to 7x57mm used a Mauser M1894 barrel and was known as the Model 1895.
In 1893, Brazil purchased a quantity of German Model 1888 Commission Rifles in 7.9x57mm from Steyr in Austro-Hungary. These were not generally adopted but introduced the first modern smokeless powder magazine rifle to Brazilian service. They were bought hurriedly in several lots, to combat the many internal revolts that were happening in Brazil during this period. Marechal Floriano Peixoto of the "Commission Military Technicque" and the adviser Major Moreira Cesar were decisive in choosing this model and wanted to manufacture it in Brazil. This did not come about as there was not the time to develop a Brazilian production model due the press of events and ultimately it was decided to standardize on the new Mauser Modelo 1894 in 7x57mm.
With the proclamation of the Republic in 1889, the Royal War Arsenal was renamed the "Arsenal of War of the Capital". In 1902, as consequence of urban development in the central area of the city of Rio de Janeiro, there was not adequate room at the existing location and the Arsenal began to transfer its activities to the place that it today occupies, in the Cashew of Cajúúúúúúúú (neighborhood). It was renamed in 1906 " Rio de Janeiro War Arsenal ", soon simplified Arsenal of War of Rio (Arsenal de Guerra do Rio - AGR). In 1916 it began the assembly of Modelo 1908 Mauser rifles using German made components.
During the period from 1938 to 1943, the Arsenal underwent a period of extraordinary expansion which made possible in the two decades following the production on a wide scale of heavy armament and ammunition for the Army.
Today, it is the mission of the Arsenal of War in Rio (AGR) to manufacture and to rework many items in use by the military. Among those products: the heavy mortar of 120 mm; generators of 5 and of 15 KVA, mounted on specialized trailers; specialized detonators for explosives; replacement parts for communications devices; as well as castings of artistic works such as busts and allusive plates. In repair and rebuilding AGR employs complex technology in light and heavy armament, communications and electronics equipment, and light and heavy engineering equipment.
At the present time the Museum at AGR is engaged in researching, to organize and to publish documents concerning its valuable historical collection.
After the 7.92x57mm M1888 rifle was evaluated, the 7x57mm Modelo 1894 Mauser rifle and carbine were adopted. These were manufactured by both Loewe as well as FN in Belgium. The Modelo 1907 Mauser in 7x57mm was bought in small numbers from Oberndorf as were trial numbers of competing designs such as the Haenel in 7x57mm.
In 1908, 7x57mm Modelo 1908 was adopted on a large scale as standard. It was made as a long rifle and as a 21" carbine which had a smaller rear sight with scaled down range on the tangent sight leaf. These Mauser were marked as being made by DWM on the side rail, but will be found with two different addresses. Most common is Berlin where the DWM plant was located in a suburb. Oberndorf is the other address, far less commonly found, indicating that these were made by Mauser which was also part of the Ludwig Loewe controlled Mauser Rifle Cartel. Other members were Steyr and FN at this point in time. Loewe controlled the patents and owned DWM as well as Mauser Oberndorf, but licensed the other two members to produce Mausers for the large export market under an allocation system.
A Modelo 1910 Mauser Verguiero Rifle was supplied to Federal police in 7x57mm by DWM. The arsenal at Rio began assembling M1908 Mausers from imported German parts in 1916. Research is currently underway in Brazil to learn if these rifles are marked in anyway to identify them.
It is reported that Brazil bought Modelo 1894 Mausers from FN again in 1919, and in 1922 they purchased some very light, short '98 type carbines with straight gripped stock from FN in Belgium, the Modelo 1922. In the 1930's a quantity VZ24 rifles in 7x57mm were purchased by elements seeking to stage a coup, but these were taken over by the Army. These do not bear the National Crest on the receiver ring as do other Mausers. A few years later Brazil bought Modelo 08/34 short rifle from CZ at Brno with the Crest of Brazil on the receiver ring.
At this time a program began to rebuild the original Modelo 1908 rifles. Many long rifles were cut down and the bolt handles bent down to match the carbine configuration, except these retain the long rifle rear sight. These are also called Modelo 08/34. They differ in detail from the Brno 08/34 and the front sight guard on the CZ Mausers is the easiest recognition factor from a distance. Brazil also reportedly purchased some small ring VZ33 type carbines in 7x57mm but I have never seen one of these, if they exist.
In 1935, new long rifles were purchased from Mauser Werke in Oberndorf as the Modelo 1935 in7x57mm. Reports that about 15,000 of this type, which is essentially similar to the Modelo 1908, were acquired. Some Standard Model 7x57mm carbines were also purchased at this time, also said to be called Modelo 1935.
During WW2, the U.S. supplied .30 Garand M1 rifles and .30 M1 Carbines to Brazilian troops serving in Italy with the Allies. They kept these weapons when they returned home in 1945.
By the early fifties, rifle production and rehabilitation seems to have become centered on Fabrica de Itajubáááááááá located in Minas Gerais State. From 1948 into the 1950's this arsenal produced completely new Mauser rifles. In 1953, using a captured German Walther K43 in 7.9x57mm as a basis, Brazil developed a .30-06 semi-auto rifle which was made in limited numbers, as the Mq S/Auto .30 M954, at the Fáábrica de Itajubáá.
They also began producing a new Mauser variant known as the Mauser Mq .30 M954 in .30-06. This used reworked 1908 receivers, had a stamped cup shaped Mauser 98k type butt plate with a trap for a cleaning kit in it, an extra reinforcing bolt in the stock and the barrel was threaded for a muzzle break. It is reported that at least some of these have brittle receivers as in the case of the low numbered M1903 Springfields. The original 1908 receivers were made on the soft side with a high grade steel of the period. Rockwell hardness could range as low as c10-c14. Over years of hard use they tended to stretch, as headspace grew beyond tolerance and they became unserviceable, but they did not shatter. The ordnance people felt that the .30M2 cartridge pressure curve was too much for these actions to maintain headspace within specification for a reasonable period in issue. They decided to reheat-treat them before rebuild and this made some, at least, overly hard and brittle.
In 1968 another Mauser variant in 7.62mm NATO was produced. This rifle is configured in some respects to the Spanish FR8 Mauser of a similar time frame and was produced for similar reasons. The idea was to make use of existing assets to arm service and reserve troops with a low cost rifle while the Army was in transition to a new type of ammunition and slowly producing an expensive new automatic rifle, the FN FAL. Commonly called the Mosque-FAL, this Mauser bolt action rifle is officially called the Mq 7.62 M1968. Development of this design is credited to both the arsenal at Itajubáá and Arsenal General Camara located in Rio Grande do Sul. The rifle has Heckler & Koch G3 type sights and an FN FAL type flash suppressor. According to Mr. Joãã Felipe Cââmara, the great grandson of General Camara, for whom the arsenal in Rio Grande do Sul is named, these rifles were made using existing parts salvaged from DWM, FN, Czech ZB, and Mauser Werke rifles. Barrels in caliber 7x57mm were rebored, re-rifled and altered to the new pattern. These rifles are not currently in issue, but held in storage at various arsenals.
Research continues on these subjects in Brazil by Eduardo LG de Oliveira and we hope to continue updating this page. If anyone can contribute information, please e-mail us.