The Breech Loading Rifles of Mexico

by Dan Reynolds
At the close of American Civil War in 1865, civil war was raging in Mexico between the forces of the Emperor Maximillano and the insurgents of Benito Jaurez.  The U.S. Government put pressure on the French to withdraw their troops which were supporting Maximillano.  Concurrently with their withdrawal, surplus American Civil War rifles began flowing south of the Rio Grande. Many of the types of rifles and carbines used in the American Civil War of 1861-65 were sold to the Liberals to aid their cause against Maximillano and the Conservatives.

Caplock Springfield Rifles and Carbines, Sharps, Burnside and many other types were sold to forces in Mexico. Among the first breech loaders in Mexico were Spencer and Henry types.  In the 1870's, the new Republican Government of Mexico purchased surplus .50-70 U.S. Springfields as well as Winchester M1873 Muskets and carbines in .44-40.  About a 1000 Remington Rolling Block carbines were purchased which used a modified breech block permitting use of the .50-70 or .56-50 rimfire Spencer round, both of which were in issue.  The Spanish Model 11mm (.43) Remington model Rolling Block was adopted as a standard type.  Many other types were  acquired in small numbers. Surplus U.S. Navy .50-70 Rolling Blocks were purchased in the 1880's.

Juarez was followed by Porfilio Diaz as Presidente and he ruled  until the end of the first decade of the 20th Century.  Policing the country and maintaining order was a constant struggle. In the 1890's the need for modern smokeless repeaters was pressing.  Bandits and insurgents could readily obtain modern weapons smuggled from the U.S.A., if they had cash.

Sometime in the 1890's, the newer U.S. Army Springfield "Trapdoor" .45-70 rifles and carbines Model 1873, 1879, and 1884 began showing up in the hands of State Military Police and various other police units as they became surplus to the requirements of the American Army as it adopted the new smokeless powder .30-40 Krag Rifle and Carbines Models 1892, 1896, and 1898. These Springfields were single shot, black powder breech loaders and would later form the main armament of the Cuencame rebels during the 1911 Maderista Revolt.

It was in early 1890's that the Mexican inventor and engineer Manuel Mondragon, an officer in the Mexican Army and a graduate of both the Mexican Military Academy at Chapultpec and the French Academy at Sr. Cyr and later the O.C. of the Department of Artillery, began designing a very advanced infantry rifle at the behest of Presidente Porfilio Diaz. The initial design was completed in late 1891, prototypes tested on 18 October 1892 and 50 Swiss made rifles of an improved type issued to the 25th Infantry Bn. on 27 September 1894 for field trials. This Model 1894 had a switch plate with three settings:"A" for automatic, "L"for safe, and "R" for use in the manual straight pull bolt action mode.The rifles were ordinarily intended to be used in aimed fire manual mode but could be switched to automatic volley fire in the assault.

The rifles had a fixed 8 round magazine using an enbloc Garand type clip of special 6.5x52mm Mondragon cartridges made by SFM in Paris. The rifles were made in Switzerland due to the lack of native production facilities, but the design was overly complex, somewhat lacking in sturdiness and too expensive in price to consider arming all the Mexican Army with it.

Instead, Mexico adopted the Mauser Model 1895 in 7x57mm both in carbine and long rifle form.  The very early deliveries in 1896 were marked "Ludwig Loewe" and after December of that year they were stamped "DWM".  The Mexican Eagle Crest is on the receiver ring.  Many specimens today have none of these markings due to wear and various rebuilding over a period of 70 years.

Money was in short supply and so as an economy measure Remington Model 1897 rifles and carbines in 7x57mm were purchased in fairly large numbers to supplement the Mausers.  Three carbines could be bought for the price of one Mauser carbine. About 1896-97 a Nagant type revolver carbine was purchased in Belgium for use by mounted police, the "Rurales".  It was made by Pieper in 8mm Nagant.

As the Mexican Army slowly rearmed with the Mauser, the older Remington 11mm and newer Model 1897 7x57mm "Rolling Block" rifles and carbines were handed off to police and other security forces.

The Federal "Rurales" were armed with the smokeless powder lever action .30-30 Modelo 1894 Winchester carbine in 1900. The northern states of Durango and Coahuila purchased Winchester Modelo 1894 carbines in the period between 1903 and 1909 for issue to their "Rurales".

In 1902, what many consider the finest Mauser action ever designed was adopted when DWM completed the deliveries on the contract for the Modelo 1895.  This used a small receiver ring short action of the pattern 98 type.  The Modelo 1902 was made by DWM and about 38,000 were delivered by 1904 when the contract was completed.  Still short of rifles, a new contract was let for additional Mausers and assigned to Steyr by the Mauser Rifle Cartel in 1906 and 40,000 more M1902 were delivered.  All M1902 were in 7x57mm.

To save money, in 1907 Mexico ordered the Model 1907 Mauser, a long barreled standard action 7x57mm rifle that was being supplied to various Latin American armies at this time, including Brazil, in 7x57mm which Mexico specified.  Previous Mausers in Mexico used the M1895 bayonet which was similar to the Spanish Model 1893 model,but this rifle had a typical 98 type bayonet as well as a pistol grip stock.  The basic price of this rifle with bayonet was reported to be $18.00 in 1910 American Dollars.

The next year, Colonel Mondragon designed a 7x57mm semi-automatic rifle which was to be made under contract in Switzerland and called the Modelo 1908. Mondragon had continued development of his earlier rifles after the 1894 field tests and produced this definitive design in the standard Mexican Army calibre. A small delivery was made in 1911 just before Diaz was overthrown and no more rifles were delivered to Mexico.

Mondragon became War Minister under General Huerta following the overthrow of the Madera government which had replaced the regime of Porfilio Diaz. He died in Spain in the early 1920's.  He was a great firearms pioneer, having designed the finest 75mm Gun in the world at the time of its introduction, surpassing even the famed "French 75" which was the mainstay of France and US artillery during WW1 as well as the first "Assault Rifle".

After WW1 began, the Germans bought many of the manufactured but undelivered rifles from SIG. These were issued as aircraft weapons with a special 30 round drum magazine, M1915 Self Loading Carbine,in the early part of the war before being replaced by machine guns.

In 1910, the Mexican army of Porfirio Díaz consisted of some 18,000 men. In addition, various police organizations required modern arms. President Diaz wanted to make Mexico independent of foreign suppliers for its rifle needs and arranged for the delivery of a rifle production plant along with foreign technicians to set it up and train Mexicans in its operation.  Various problems delayed setting up series production of the M1910 as the Mexican made copy of the M1902  was to be called. Diaz was forced from office and the long period of civil  war began in 1911 before any could be made. Some production was made about 1913-14, but real production did not get under way until the 1920's.  A Modelo 1910 carbine was made, perhaps less than 5000 before production shifted to the Modelo 1936 short rifle.

A critical problem for Mexico, the Diaz government and subsequent governments, was lack of hard currency and a very, very bad credit rating.  As the internal pressure mounted on Diaz, he sought a way to acquire more rifles as soon as possible and at the lowest price.  The best deal was for Japanese Arisaka Type 38 rifles and carbines to be made at Koishikowa Arsenal.  These rifles were made with the Mexican Crest on the ring and about 5000 were delivered before Mexico defaulted on payment after Diaz was forced out.  The rest of the contract was stored in Japan until WW1 broke out and the British arranged for the purchase of many of these rifles.  U.S. banking interests provided the loans to finance the purchase and most were probably sent to Russia by the British circa 1915.  Some of these undelivered contract rifles were brought home by GI's in 1945 as war booty having been found in Japanese armories.

Due to the on going revolution, the Mexican Government ordered Steyr Modelo 1912 long rifles and carbines in 1913.  The U.S. Navy blockaded the coast and landed Bluejackets in Vera Cruz in 1914 to prevent delivery of these Mausers, but some got through.  The rest were issued to Imperial Austro Hungarian troops as a substitute standard rifle 1914-18.  Postwar they were modified and supplied to Yugoslavia as 7.92mm short rifles M24B with new Royal Crest of the Kingdom of the Serbs, Croats and Slovenes on the receiver ring.

During the years of revolutionary turmoil 1911-18, many weapons were smuggled in to Mexico by various insurgent Armies and bands as well as American gun runners.  Most came from the U.S.

It has often been said that Spain supplied Spanish Modelo 1893 Mauser rifles and Modelo 1895 Mauser carbines to Mexico, including some marked "Oviedo".  This is not correct.  Such Mausers were and are found in Mexico, but they came from stocks captured by the U.S.A. from Spain during the Spanish American War and were sold off to Bannerman after being reworked by Springfield Armory.  Bannerman had first tried to sell them to Serbia, failed, and then sold them off in various ways and eventually some lots were smuggled into Mexico through brokers and agents in El Paso.

Large numbers of Winchester Model 1894 carbines in .30-30 were sold by gun runners to various revolutionary groups.  At one point Pancho Villa’’s forces were at least 50% armed with this weapon.  Other rifles were also supplied in a similar manner.

The production of the M1910 rifle stopped after about 40,000 had been produced, when the Mauser Modelo 1936 went into production using receivers made for the M1910.  It had a U.S. M1903 type cocking piece knob at the end of the striker. The reason for this was to allow re-cocking without opening the action in the event of a hang fire as Mexican 7x57mm ammo of the period was not of the highest quality and this was a prudent safety measure.

In 1925, before domestic production could begin supplying adequate numbers of domestic Mausers, an order was placed with "FN" in Hesrstal Belgium for Mauser short rifles and carbines.  These, as all Mausers made for Mexico, had a form of the National Crest. About 25,000 Mausers, mostly short rifles, were delivered by 1927.

In 1933-34, the "ZB" BRNO factory in Moravia, Czechoslovakia supplied several thousand Mauser standard action carbines in 7x57mm to the Federal Police.  These were the same as the M08/34 carbines supplied to Brazilian State Military Police in the same general time frame except for crest and lack of front sight with built in guard.

In 1947, the Mexican Army began looking for a new rifle.  About 50,000 M1936 rifles had been produced for the Army and Federal Police at this time. In 1954 a much modified M1936type Mauser with receiver mounted aperture rear sight was adopted in .30-06., known as  the Modelo 1954.  These were marked "Cal.7.62mm MOD. 54".  This rifle was made in limited numbers as late as 1959. Rifles of this type issued to the Mexican Navy are marked"Armada".  U.S. supplied M1903A3 and M1 Garand rifles in .30-06 were also used in the 1950's and sixties.

Mexico later produced the F.N. FAL rifle from Belgium made parts, and later the H.K G3A3rifle from German parts, both in 7.62mm NATO. Mexico in the present period has acquired 5.56mm calibre  weapons for police and military use.

Picture of Mexican revolutionaries circa 1915 posing on the pilot of a steam locomotive.  It    was said to have been taken in northern Mexico.  It shows the diversity of arms carried.  The man on left has a Federal issue Mauser rifle, either M1895 or M1902.  The one the right a Winchester.

Copyright 2001 Dan Reynolds