6 Oct 22
“Many think they are ‘thinking,’ when there are merely rearranging their prejudices.”
William James
The Mondragon Rifle, among the first military autoloaders!
As WWI ended in 1918, enlightened war planners around the world universally concluded that bolt-action military rifles were now obsolete. It was only naive politicians and reactionary, self-protective military bureaucracies during the “inter-war years” that retarded development of the next generation of infantry small arms.
The first autoloading military rifles, the French RSC and the Russian Federov, had already made their appearance, and the sage knew and understood that there was no going back!
However, the very first was the Mondragon!
The Mexican Mondragon (named after General Manuel Mondragon, a noted gun-design genius of many years) long-stroke, gas-piston, autoloading rifle, officially was adopted by Mexican Armed Forces in 1908. They were manufactured for the Mexican government by SIG in Switzerland, as Mexico had no sufficiently sophisticated domestic manufacturing facility at the time.
The Mondragon employed what we would call a modern “gas-block,” where a hole in the rifle’s barrel tapped-off gas into an expansion chamber, which subsequently operated a piston that (via an “op-rod”) cycled the action. This system would eventually be adopted by nearly all successful subsequent rifle designs.
Mondragon was clearly ahead of his time, and his autoloading rifle was the first to see major manufacture and national issue, and probably the first to see actual fighting!
Mexican president at the time (Porfirio Diaz) was a gun enthusiast, an ardent supporter of Mondragon, and very personally invested in this new self-loading rifle technology!
All Mexican Mondragons were chambered for the excellent 7×57 Mauser cartridge, by-far the best military cartridge of the era, maybe the best of all eras!
Early Mondragons used a ten-round en-bloc (Mannlicher style) clip. Later models used a ten-round, non-detachable magazine (double-column), charged via two, five-round (Mauser style) stripper-clips.
The Mondragon’s “adjustable” gas system has only two settings, “autoloading” and “manual”
The “manual” setting was merely a gas cut-off, which allowed the soldier to operate the rifle like
a straight-pull, bolt-gun. Naive war planners of the era liked this feature as a way of reducing ammunition consumption.
The Mondragon came with a “trowel” bayonet (quickly abandoned)!
First 1k Mondragons delivered to Mexico did not run well. Most believed the problem was with poor-quality, inconsistent Mexican-manufactured ammunition, but the order with SIG was abruptly canceled in any event.
Díaz was forced to resign the presidency in 1911. He fled to Europe, dying in 1915 in Paris, France, at the age of 84.
With Diaz’s departure, all enthusiasm for the troubled Mondragon evaporated!
Remainder of the order of 5k (undelivered) Mondragons were re-chambered to 8mm Mauser, and SIG tried to sell them to Germany in 1917, Detachable magazine (single-column) replaced the old, double-column fixed magazine, but by then the Great War was winding-down, and Germans showed no real interest.
What few Mondragons that ended-up in the hands of German troops quickly acquired a poor reputation for reliability. Its tolerance for muddy environments was low!
Some were then issued (with an attached brass-catcher bag) to balloon observers and early aircraft crews. A twenty-five-round drum magazine was developed by SIG for aircraft use.
However, the Mondragon Rifle otherwise rapidly faded into history, never to resurface.
Mondragon himself died in Spain in 1922, having been exiled there from Mexico after finding himself (with Diaz’s precipitous departure) on the wrong side of ever-volatile Mexican politics!
Under different political circumstances, the Mondragon Rifle (in updated form) might have been with us well into at least the 1950s.
Manuel Mondragon, like Russians Vladimir Federov and Vasily Degtyaryov, and French arms designers Ribeyrolles, Sutter, Chauchat (RSC), never received the recognition enjoyed by Americans Browning and Garand (Garand was actually Canadian), but they were the audacious pioneers, courageously fighting against bureaucratic/political momentum, and it is on their shoulders we all stand today!
“Believe and act as if it were impossible to fail.”