The Rifles of Chile from 1890 to 1990

by Dan Reynolds

The first modern rifle in issue in Chile in 1890's was the Steyr built Mannlicher of 1888 in 8x50mm using a heavy round nose bullet.  The rifles were used in the Civil War of 1891-92. These were held in limited quantity and most forces were armed with obsolete black powder firing large bore rifles.  Winchester M1873 rifles in .44-40 were imported by the insurgents and fell into the government inventory.  Over the next few years it became necessary to rearm with many new rifles to replace the obsolete weapons.

It was necessary because arch rival Argentina was adopting the new Mauser Modelo 1891 in 7.65mm as standard for her armed forces and so large numbers of the best and latest design had to be adopted to counter this potential threat.  The Chilean Army tested various available models and were very impressed with the new Spanish Modelo 1893. This rifle introduced the excellent new 7x57mm Mauser cartridge.

In 1894 the FN rifle plant in Herstal Belgium began producing a modified Modelo 1893 in 7x57mm for Brazil as the Modelo 1894.  Uruguay and Costa Rica also bought this weapon from FN and it is rumored that Guatemala may also have purchased some.  Chile decided to buy this model.

A problem developed. FN was licensed by Ludwig Loewe & Co., the owners of the Mauser patents, to produce the M1889 Mauser for the Belgians.  Ludwig Loewe & Co. was a German Banking House that had financed the Mauser Brothers and eventually bought them out.  It had established a machine tool company which produced copies of the Smith & Wesson Russian Model revolver for the Czarist Government and held a large contract to produce the German M1888 rifle and was producing the Modelo 1893 for the Spanish Government while the Mauser factory at Oberndorf was busy making a modified M1893 in 7.65mm for Turkey.

Loewe strongly objected to FN making M1893 type rifles for export, claiming that the license it granted to FN was limited to making and selling M1889 rifles to the Belgian Army. Eventually A deal was struck.  Although Loewe had a 50% interest in the firm, Loewe wanted FN to accept an quota allocation from what was to become the Mauser Rifle Cartel.  The cartel consisted of Mauser Waffenfabrik owned by Loewe, Ludwig Loewe & CO. ( later merged with various Loewe ammunition and powder companies into DWM late in 1896 ), FN, in which DWM held a share, and the great Austrian rifle works at Steyr.

The result was that Ludwig Loewe & Co. took over supply of subsequent deliveries of M1894 7x57mm rifles to Brazil, and M1895 marked rifles to Uruguay, and Costa Rica. Rifles delivered after late 1896 were marked DWM instead of Loewe.  The Chilean contracts went to Loewe and later DWM.  The only known FN M1894 marked rifles bought by Chile were initial test specimens with FN logo on the ring.

The first Loewe rifles delivered to Chile were identical to the FN rifles except for the maker marks, proofs and crest of Chile on the ring.  These rifles were marked Modelo 1895. Long rifles, short rifles and carbines were purchased and variations will be noted in markings and features. The most important improvement was the so called "super strength" action with a locking shoulder on the tang behind the bolt handle. This is found on most but not all later production Mausers delivered to Chile.  An exception is the group of Mausers order by the Boer Orange Free State, identified by the "OVS" stamping on the receiver.  These failed to penetrate the British blockade and were restamped with the Chilean Crest and sold to Chile at a later date. Deliveries of M1895 Mausers continued into 1901.  There are long rifles with turned down bolts, however all these seem to lack the "SS" feature and they may have been diverted to Chile from another contract that defaulted for some reason.



The next Mauser to be purchased was the Model 1904 from Waffenfabrik Mauser.  This was similar to the Tukish Model 1903, but in 7x57mm and featuring a very narrow upper band. Only a small number were acquired.  Some sources list this rifle as being supplied by DWM which later as the M1907 supplied it to several South American nations.

The next Mauser adopted was the Steyr Modelo 1912 in 7x57mm. It was made in long rifle and carbine models.  It is the same type adopted by Columbia and Mexico as the Modelo 1912. When WW1 broke out in August 1914, the Austro-Hungarian Government recquisitioned all M1912 rifles, carbines and parts on hand at the Steyr factory and issued them to its own forces.  This chiefly affected Mexican contract Mausers as the United States was enforcing an arms embargo on Mexico and the U.S. Navy had seized Vera Cruz and was blocading the coast, preventing delivery of most of these fine rifles.

( Information e-mailed in by A V Ballistics)
Just after WW I, the British Government sold a pre -WW I cruiser to Chile, and its  on-board small arms were  new M1910.Mk III Ross rifles, in cal. 303 british.
They have a serial Number "DA xxx"  (Directorado de Armada?).  This serial is added to the receiver.  Normal British and Canadian Ross Rifles have no receiver stamped Serials.
Indian service DP rifles have a number in the 5066xxxx range.  Stand numbers and year of adoption/acceptance were stamped into the right side of the butt, in the WW I issues.
I think the cruiser was the HMS Canada.

( Information e-mailed by Tony Edwards- England)
In 1914 Britain was building two battleships for Chile and these were seized in August 1914 for the Royal Navy.  Almirante Lattore became HMS Canada and Almirante Cochrane eventually beacme the aircraft carrier HMS Eagle.  When these vessels were seized we also got the small arms, about 820 Model 1912 Mausers in 7 x 57 and these went into service
with the Royal Navy.  We made ammo for them and the rifles were used to arm second line vessels, minesweepers and armed merchantmen.

In 1918, HMS Canada was sold back to Chile and by then the rifles on board had been replaced by the Ross rifles mentioned above.  The ship was re-named back to Almirante Lattore and served as the Chilean flagship until she was scrapped in 1958.

Post WW1 in the mid 1920's, some FN Modelo 1924 carbines similar to the Mexican pattern of that year were purchased in 7x57mm.  These are believed to have been for police use.

Circa 1934-35 Steyr Model 1929 Mauser short rifles were purchased in small numbers in 7x57mm.  It is believed these were called Modelo 1935, but this is not a certainty.  Chilean Crest on Ring.

In 1935, large numbers of Mauser Standard Modell short rifles and carbines were purchased from Mauser Werke.  The only difference was carbines had turned down bolt handles and the short rifles had horizontal bolts.  These were in 7x57mm and were issued to the Army, Navy and National Police ( "Carbineros" ).  Army rifles had Chilean Crest, Navy rifles had "Rope & Anchor" Crest, Police had "Crossed Cannon" crest.  At least some long rifles were

In 1941 1,000 M1941 Johnson Rifles in 7x57mm were purchased by the Carbineros. These still bore markings for .30-06 cartridge as they were part of the undelivered Dutch East Indies order with new 7mm barrels.  In the Johnsom design you could switch the caliber/cartridge type in seconds by changing out the barrel.

The next rifles acquired were several hundred Caliber .30 M1903 Springfield rifles which were acquired as part of the armament of the U.S.S. Brooklyn circa 1948 when that heavy cruiser was sold to Chile and became the "Bernardo O'Higgins"of the Chilean Navy.  It appears that Chilean Mausers at some point replaced the Springfields on the O'Higgins for a period of time.

In the early 1950's the U.S. supplied some Calibre .30 M1 Garand rifles and it is rumored that some Mausers were bored out and converted to .30-06.

Around 1959-60 some FN FAL rifles in 7.62mm NATO were purchased. In 1961 a program of converting some of the Mausers to 7.62mm NATO began.

The next rifle purchase was for SIG 510-4 rifles in 7.62mm NATO around 1967. Licensed production was begun some years later of this weapon, but production was switched to the 5.56mm SG540 in 1986.

In 1990 at least some of all the rifles mentioned except the Mannlichers and Winchesters were still in inventory and the M1935 rifles were regularly seen in the hands of ceremonial troops in Santiago during parades and when Honor Guards were mounted.

copyright 2001-2003 Dan Reynolds