The auto-loading Mondragon rifle, Model 1908, has fascinated me the most and it being the world’s first issued self-loading military rifle. However, the story wouldn’t be complete without a beginning. This would be the beginning. I am referring to these bolt action rifles as a series, not as a model because no where can I find an official “model” designation. Even the final design that went to the patent office describes it as “No Model” as the model number.
The patent was granted on March 24th, 1896 as a “BREECH LOADING BOLT GUN”. If someone can show me a stamp, a cartouche or something official I will change the designation.
SERIAL #1, 6.5mm Mondragon
All manually operated turn bolt actions require four (4) separate motions to operate. 1. Bolt handle up to unlock the bolt. 2. Pull bolt rearwards to eject the spent round. 3. Push bolt forward to chamber a new round. 4. Push handle down to lock the bolt.
General Mondragon’s first rifle designs were that of a straight-pull, bolt action, rifle which required only two (2) motions to unload and reload the rifle. All that is required is a forward and backward motion of the bolt. The unlocking and locking sequence (1 & 4) were accomplished by cutting a spiral groove in the bolt that rotated the bolt on opening and closing. This is similar to the Mannlicher M95 and Swiss 1911 actions. These two motions, forward to load and backwards to unloa made for the perfect action design for an autoloading system.
Rifle and Carbine
As well as the spiral groove, other design innovations are:
Small caliber experimentation, most notable are the 6.5 Mondragon and the 5.2 x 68mm Mondragon. More information on this can be found in the “Ammunition” section. The fore stock is made of a single piece of wood. This single piece of wood is bored out and slides down over the barrel. (Picture coming)
“Walking fire” mode, as it is referred to in Swiss/German, is an attempt to put semi-aimed rapid fire in the general direction of the bad guys. This would have been used as suppressing fire in the attack or a final protective fire if you are being overrun. The selector on the RH side of the rifle has three (3) positions. “SAFE” (A), “FIRE” (L) and “RAPID” (R). In this “RAPID” position, the shooter just cycles the bolt backwards and forwards as fast as he can, each time the bolt slams forward into battery the rifle will discharge. I tried to duplicate the positioning of the rifle while rapid firing. I came up with the left hand on the forearm, tucking the stock under my right armpit and cycling the charging handle with my right hand. Not an easy method of shooting. Accuracy would be limited to a relatively short distance.
A revelation from Luis….since the guns were made in France it could be ……
A = Arret (French for “Stop”),
L = Libre (French for “Free”)
R = Rapide (French for “Rapid”)
This bolt action model was made in limited quantities, primarily most likely as prototypes or proof of concept. Even though I sometimes refer to these rifles as a “MODEL”, there is no official designation to be found anywhere.
Rifle model made in 1891, made by SIG, in caliber 6.5 x 52mm. Approximately 13 were made.
- Manufacturer: SIG Neuhausen, Switzerland
- Overall length: 1249mm
- Barrel length: 740mm
- Caliber: 6.5 x 52mm (6.5 Mondragon)
- Quantity produced: +13 units
- Markings:(a) The upper section of the barrel breech is marked in two lines: S.I.G. NEUHAUSEN
Rifles made in 1893 were by SIG, in caliber 6.5 x 48mm, approximately 50 were made. NO PICTURE AVAILABLE YET!
Rifles made in 1894, made by SIG, in caliber 5.2 x 68mm, approximately 200 were made. These were shipped to Mexico and issued to the 25th Infantry Battalion for evaluation. Any records are long gone. Rifle and carbine at the top of this page are examples.
Various other versions of the “Breech Loading Bolt Action Rifle”
Rifle of 1895/1896, made by St. Chamond Arsenal, in 8mm (presumably the 8mm Lebel round). Approximately 46 were made. This French version is quite a departure from the original design. I was surprised when I read the description as a Mondragon design.
- Manufacturer: St. Chamond Arsenal, St. Chamond, France
- Overall length: 1280mm
- Barrel length: 754mm
- Caliber: 8mm Lebel
- Quantity produced: +46 units
- Markings: (a) the receiver ring is stamped with the serial number above a crowned coat-of-arms. (b) the right side of the butt stock is stamped: CAL.8
Acknowledgments to the Royal Military College of Canada Museum
Again, there are no model numbers associated with these guns, only an associated year of manufacture. With the exception of caliber and minor fittings, all of the straight pull actions are the basically same rifle. Mr. Hans Tanner’s excellent article about the Mondragon rifle in “GUNS OF THE WORLD”, from 1972, made his own nomenclature in order to help categorize these guns. He refers to them as I, IIA, IIB, III and IV.
NOTE: None of the rifles viewed by the collector are marked with manufacturers stamp or a serial number. Only the ” 1894 rifles” have traditional military serial numbers along with bayonet lugs and stacking bar. This would indicate to me all previous models are prototypes?
A comparison of the sights between the carbine and the long guns.
Issued Carbine in 5.2mm Issued Rifle in 5.2mm Early Rifle in 6.5mm
Battle sights are 0 to 400. Steps are in 100 increments from 600-1000 for the carbine and 600-2000 for the rifle. The “earlier prototypes” are 400-1800.
NOTE: I am not sure what measuring system was being used back in those days, it could be either in meters, yards, feet, rods , poles or fish heads.
Specification Sheet for the Breech Loading Rifle of 1890
Country of Design: Mexico
Designer: Manuel Mondragon
- Caliber: 6.5mm Mondragon, 5.2 x 68mm
(Various versions of the 5.2 were experimented with, but the 5.2 x 68mm was the one issued for trials)
- Type of reloading mechanism: Bolt action, straight-pull
- Magazine capacity: 6-10 rounds, depending on caliber
(loaded from above with a single en-bloc clip fed directly into magazine)
PHOTO, caption: Shown is an original clip with six (6) 5.2 x 68mm cartridges. Rifle shown is often referred to as Model of 1894.
- Quantity: 200-300 in 3-4 different rifles.
- Years made: 1880’s and early 1890’s
- Manufacturer: Swiss Industrial Company (SIG), Neuhausen, Switzerland and St. Chamond Arsenal, St. Chamond, France
- Entered trials service: Late 1800’s with the Mexican 25th Infantry battalion.
- Weight (rifle): 7lbs 13oz
- Total length (rifle): 49 inches
- Barrel length (rifle): 30.5 inches
- Sights, short range (rifle): 600-2000
- Sights (rifle): 600-2000
- Weight (carbine): 6lbs 13oz
- Total length (carbine): 22 inches
- Barrel length (carbine): 30.5 inches
- Sights, short range (carbine): 400
- Sights, long range (carbine): 600-1000
- Belgium Patent No. 98,947 granted on: March 23, 1892
- France Patent No. 221,035 granted on: April 20, 1892
- US Patent applied for on: February 8, 1893
- US Patent No. 853, 715 granted on: March 24, 1896
Only one known to exist in 6.5 Mondragon