Mondragon 1894 Bolt Action Rifle (Video)

Manuel Mondragon was a talented lifelong gun designer born in Mexico. He worked extensively at the Swiss SIG factory, and was the man behind the first military-issue semiautomatic rifle. Before that, though, he designed this series of unique straight-pull bolt action rifles that featured a 3-position safety and “automatic” setting.

Today I’m taking a look at 4 examples of these 1894 rifles, which allow us to see the two major variations in them. They differ in caliber, sight configuration, bolt design, and more…


  1. The Mondragon rifles are well made but sadly didn’t get tested in multiple environments. This became their downfall- lack of experience with potential customers. Did I mess up this time?

    • I don’t think you messed up in any way, here.

      I’m looking at the Hans Tanner article Ian mentioned right now, in Guns of the World, published in magazine-sized squarebound paperback format by Petersen in 1972 and edited by Tanner. (It was later reprinted by Bonanza Books in hardback in 1992- oddly, minus the article on Japanese swords. No, I don’t know why.)

      Tanner’s article (pp.286-295) states that 50 IIA rifles were issued to the Mexican Army’s 25th infantry battalion on 27 Sep 1894 for troop trials. The report in the Mexican Army’s archives that resulted mainly covers the rifle’s mechanical characteristics and manual of arms, rather than how it reacted to environmental factors.

      It does state that the rifle appears sufficiently strong to stand rough service, and that the testers were dubious about the “automatic fire” setting being much actual use in combat. Tanner defies the report as “superficial”, and I agree with him.

      Interestingly enough, it states that the rifles in the test were in 6.5mm rather than 5mm. And on the second page, Tanner has a closeup of a 6.5mm he identifies as an 1893, which would be a IIA. It has the IIA type rear sight, bolt handle, etc.

      It also is marked “121” on the left side of the chamber above the stock, so I can only assume that it is S/N 121 of the first series. Which apparently included 6.5mm caliber rifles as well as 5mm caliber ones.

      Just above it is a diagram of the rifle from the original Mexican Army manual. It shows a IIB, with the later bolt minus the third set of “safety lugs” aft and the “claw” type bolt handle. It also shows the en bloc clip, very like that of a Garand M1, which holds eight cartridges, nor six or seven.

      Just to confuse matters totally, the cartridges shown look more like a 6.5 x 58 Portuguese Vergueiro or possibly a 6.5 x 54 Greek Mannlicher than any of the Mondragon cartridges.

      As far as how high serial numbers go, #121 was in the Robert F. Green collection at the time, and the Mexican Defense Department’s museum had #202. The rifle found in Mexico by Calvin Darst and described by him in an article in the May 1967 issue of Guns & Ammo magazine had S/N #76 on the receiver and #123 on the bolt actuator.

      As such, I would be rather dubious about any estimates of total production of any version of the Mondragon straight-pull rifles based solely on serial numbers. And even more dubious about classification of any Mondragon straight-pull as a “IIA” or “IIB” based on caliber. We simply do not know, and there may be no way of knowing.

      Happy New Year, everybody!



  2. The sights on the B-model are indeed very similar to the contempory Schmidt-Rubin 1889 rifle.

    Also, the front end style is very Schmidt-Rubin as well.

  3. Again – as always – excellent flawless presentation.
    You sure are educating me.
    ps: What do you think they would sell for at auction and is ammunition available for the two types?

  4. So “marching fire” was similar to the WWI trick (or reported trick) where people on trench raids “pump fired” pump shotguns without interrupters? (Hold down tricker and cycle pump, gun will fire the instant it’s in battery, right?)

    • The Winchester Model 1897, Model 12, and Ithaca Model 37 shotgun all lacked disconnectors, just as the Winchester lever-action rifles did not have them. As such, when the bolt goes into battery with the trigger held back, the gun fires.

      I several times scored high on doubles in trap with a Model 1897 12-gauge, simply by holding the trigger back and racking the pump after the first shot. If you’re used to the pump action of the ’97 (which takes more force than about any other pump gun there is), that second shot can be gotten off a bit faster than most autoloading shotguns can do it. In assault fire, with buckshot, I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end.

      The BAR was also intended for such “assault fire”. The canvas belt issued with it with the magazine pouches, etc., had a “bucket” on the right side for the butt to be anchored in in assault fire position;

      The French Army thought the best way for the poilus to use the St. Etienne M1917 and M1918 self-loading rifles was to advance at a steady march, with the trigger being pulled every time the right foot came down. I suspect the French infantry were a bit dubious about that.

      “Presenting the proper demeanor” while assaulting might look good to a general steeped in visions of Napoleonic glory, but it’s no substitute for the American method of getting cross No Man’s Land ASAP to avoid getting shot, blown up, etc., before being able to actually reach the intended objective of the assault.

      As Ian Hogg once said, the object of opening a tin is to get at the beans inside, not to demonstrate one’s prowess with the tin-opener.



      • Well, the French weren’t “cheese-eating surrendering monkeys,” but their generals tended to suck at getting tech and use of tech correct. In fact, French troops at the Alps kicked the snot out of Italian invaders AFTER Petain raised the white flag in 1940, only stopping their intended counter-invasion when the Nazis threatened to kill the civilians and POWs who got used as hostages if the Poilus didn’t stop shooting the Italians. While France was short on good planes and tanks, the Italians had some but used them wrong…

        Did I flub this account?

        • Yup – the French were not short on tanks. They were short on a command and control system for them that could transmit orders and information in a useful timeframe. They outnumbered the Germans in tanks, for instance, but just couldn’t apply them effectively.

        • “France was short on good planes and tanks”
          I don’t have enough knowledge to judge French 1940 aeroplanes, but notice that French Air Force were in transition time between Morane-Saulnier M.S.406 and Dewoitine D.520

          Most French tank were superior to German one in terms of firepower and armour, however Germans were more effective of deploying their tanks. For victory of French tank commander over Germans see for example:

          • In his book Victory Through Air Power (1942), Alexander P. de Seversky has some unpleasant things to say about the French Air Force’s aircraft procurement circa 1937-40. Like test pilots being ordered to deliberately falsify reports on the performance of such aircraft as the Curtiss Hawk 75A-1 (P-36A export version) to make it appear inferior to the French Dewoitine and Caudron fighters, when it actually was far superior to them (roughly in the same performance range as the German Bf-109D and early E).

            This was because the French military staff was determined that only French aircraft would be procured, under direct orders from the higher-ups on the civilian side.

            The bill came due in the Battle of France, when the French Air Force was hopelessly outmatched by the Luftwaffe. Ironically, they had obtained about 100 Hawks that were delivered before the fall of France, and those Hawks destroyed over 800 Luftwaffe bombers, fighters, and etc. while losing only 12 of their own number. All the French aces of the campaign got their kills in Hawks, not the “superior” local French designs.

            BTW, the over 300 Hawks that were contracted for but undelivered when France surrendered went to the RAF instead. Known as Mohawk III and IV, they served in India and the Far East, where they proved to be superior to the Nakajima Type 96 “Claude”, about equal to the A6M2 “Zeke”, and more tolerant of the heat, humidity, rot, etc., endemic to the region than even the Hurricane or Spitfire.

            BTW, the RAF lost more aircraft unusable due to climate in the CBI than they did to Japanese fighters. The Mosquito being one example; most “Mossies” sent there were declared unsafe within six weeks of arrival, as the heat and moisture caused their wooden structures to literally fall apart due to warpage and delamination. The Beaufighter ended up as the primary strike fighter in-theater, simply because it didn’t deteriorate as fast or as badly due to its mostly metal, stressed-skin construction.

            The ultimate answer, of course, was the Douglas DB-7 aka A-20 Boston/Havoc, which carried twice the ordnance load of the “Beau” to twice the range, and pretty much didn’t care how hot or humid it got. It just liked flying low and fast, and blowing things up.



          • Sorry to disagree, Eon, but Alexandr P. de Seversky’s book from 1942 is a (very) outdated source.
            Regardless of what he wrote, the Dewoitine D.520 was in fact superior to the Curtiss Hawk 75A-1. Same about the Bloch MB.152 and especially the perfected MB.155 (the Bloch fighters were armed with two Hispano-Suiza HS. 404 20mm cannons, besides from a pair of 7.5mm MAC mgs). The best fighter in the Armée de l’Air inventory was the D.520, by a good margin. It was slower by some 20mph than its main opponent, the Bf 109E, but it had a definite advantage in maneuverability, with responsive controls and pleasant handling.

            The claim that the Armèe de l’Air Hawks (291 received before the Armistice of June 1940, not 100) of Groupes de Chasse III/2, I/4, II/4, I/5 and II/5 “destroyed over 800 Luftwaffe bombers, fighters, and etc. while losing only 12 of their own number” is wildly far fetched to say the least.
            In fact, during the invasion of France in May of 1940 the Hawks were outmatched (and outgunned) by the Messerschmitt Bf 109E. The units equipped with Hawk 75A claimed 230 confirmed kills and a tally of 80 “probable kills”, against losses totaling only 29 aircraft destroyed in aerial combat. Even these figures are quite optimistic, but it seems likely that the French Hawk pilots put up a good fight against the Luftwaffe.

      • “The French Army thought the best way for the poilus to use the St. Etienne M1917 and M1918 self-loading rifles was to advance at a steady march, with the trigger being pulled every time the right foot came down. I suspect the French infantry were a bit dubious about that.”

        That’s how the Chauchat was intended to be used in the assault. Can’t say I’ve ever read that the semi-auto rifles were intended to be used the same way.

        On that point, the French had identified pre-war that only a small number of riflemen use their rifles effectively in combat, combining both nerve and marksmanship. The idea was to identify these chaps and give them semi-auto rifles and as much ammunition as they could carry as a force-multiplier. That was the point of the St. Etienne (and earlier) semis.

    • Recoil would be easier to manage with your hand on the wrist of the gun, rather than your fingers on the bolt handle.

    • It is a good stepping stone. It’s just not very well known and especially not outside of gun circles. Most surprising to most out there is that a Mexican made this design… And the design is expensive as heck to put into material form, no thanks to the fact that it’s made in Switzerland.

      • One often-overlooked attribute of “straight-pull” bolt rifles (either Lee/Mannlicher type “wedge lock” or Swiss-style cam-operated turning bolt aka “faux straight-pull”) is that they are easily converted to gas operation.

        A gas piston assembly with the operating rod attached to the bolt handle is generally all it takes, as there is no need for an extra “cam path” to turn the bolt handle upward for bolt operation. The “turning” bit, if necessary, is already built-in to the action, as it were.

        Wedge or flap locks, of course, don’t require any “turning” motion at all. Just straight back-and-forth.

        The Charleton-type modification of the SMLE in New Zealand in 1942 would have been highly interesting if applied to, say, a Swiss Schmidt-Rubin type action.

        Come to think of it, there was an experimental conversion of a Model 11 carbine done at Bern just after WW1. It was similar in overall concept to the British “Sword Guard” conversion of the SMLE done at Enfield in 1918, but a good deal neater in execution. See p. 279 of GOTW edited by Tanner, referenced above.



        • “A gas piston assembly with the operating rod attached to the bolt handle is generally all it takes”
          In early WW1 captured many Mannlicher repeating rifles, gas-operated was added, it was called Манлихер-Ясников (Mannlicher-Yasnikov) rifle, see photos here:

          but it proved be wrong way:
          – mass was increased by 1kg
          – handling become awkward as gas chamber was placed on side of rifle, which affect center-of-gravity (see photos in link)
          – magazine capacity restricted actual (practical) rate of fire
          – rifle life was lowered because gas system cycle action more harshly (faster) than any human would

  5. The obscure ammunition and clips would probably prevent this but it would be fascinating to see how proficient someone could get with this on the “auto” setting. A group of soldiers using them in a volley would be kind of similar to a Nordenfelt.

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