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Number One… with a lot of bullets

7 February 2013

As everyone in Mexico is well aware, the automatic and semi-automatic rifles that are the instruments of so much misery and death in this country come almost exclusively from the United States.  But reach back into history and maybe it’s karma come back to bit us in the butt… or —  given the Aztec sense of the cyclical nature of reality –some sort of object lesson dreamed up by Tezcatlapoca (“Lord Smoky Mirror, or… as I style him, “He who fucks with your head”).  Not that I’m a believer in collective punishment, but those who live by the gun often die by it… and automatic rifles were a Mexican invention.

Manuel Mondragón Mondragón was the specific Mexican who came up with this ingenious method of killing and maiming people en masse. With the date of generalmanuelmondragonhis ac actual birth uncertain, it is impossible to say whether Mondragón was born before or after the ferocious Battle of IIxtlahuaca (18 September 1858), or shortly thereafter.  At any rate, his early childhood was spent in that small State of Mexico town, under occupation by Conservative military forces  during the Reform War.  Perhaps that experience had something to do with influencing Mondragón towards a military career.  At any rate, after graduating as an artillery officer from the Colegio Militar de Chapultepec, he was sent for futher training to France, where his unexpected mechanical genius first was noticed.  Tinkering around with cannons, he came up with a field gun that would fire a 75 mm shell.  Produced by the French firm, St. Chaumond, the 1890 production Saint Chaumond-Mondragón was something of a … uh… smash during the Mexican Revolution.  Although obsolete by 1948, even for the peacetime Mexican Army, the Saint Chaumond-Mondragón field guns went out with a bang, having become part of the arsenal of the new state of Israel’s Defense Forces, and deployed during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.

But, by the time the Saint Chaumond was putting the field gun into production, Mondragón himself had long since returned to Mexico… and had surpassed himself in devising weapons.  Tasked by Don Porfirio himself with coming up with a a better, more shootable rifle (all the better for peasant hunting), Mondragón was experimenting throughout the 1880s with means of delivering more bullets from a single rifle.  His big breakthrough came in 1887 with the gas-operated, self-loading rifle.  While this was a huge development in the science and art of killing lots of people, this early semi-automatic required special shells that were just impossible to manufacture in Mexico at the time.

So… back to the drawing board (and the test range).  Continual improvments, especially tweaking the gun itself to use standard shells, meant that by 1910, the automatic rifle — still known primarily as the  “Mondragón rifle”– could be mass produced… just in time for both the Mexican Revolution and World War I.

Recently proposed gun restrictions in the United States would probably not  consider the Mondragón rifle an assault weapon, since it “only” had an eight round clip, and the defintion of an assault weapon usually is a rifle with a clip of 1o or more rounds.  However, it didn’t take all that long to figure out how to make a 20 round-clip for the Mondragón, which was plenty deadly enough.

Weirdly enough, with Mexican arms makers not able to produce the weapons in the quantity ordered by the Mexican Army in 1910, the design was licensed to the Swiss Armorer, SIG.  With the overthrow of Porfirio Diaz, and the chaos of the coup against Madero (in which Mondragón played a prominent role … not only fighting for Bernardo Reyes, but… some have said… being the trigger man who killed President Madero outside Lucumberri Prison), most of the Mexican-invented Mondragón rifles ended up with the German Army.

The big problem the Germans found was that these semi-automatics tended to jam up in wet, muddy conditions… which is what the Western Front was:  wet and muddy.  However, with a shortage of machine guns, they were standard issue on airplanes.  As to Mondragón himself, nobody shot him (as fitting an end as that might have been).  With Huerta’s overthrow, the father of the automatic rife fled to France, where he was given the Legion of Honor for having engendered a weapon so useful between 1914 and 1918 in wiping out an entire generation of Frenchmen, Germans, Englishmen… etc. He died in San Sebastian Spain in 1922.

Meanwhile, back in Mexico… once Pancho Villa got ahold of the plans, they were turned them over to self-taught gunsmith Rafael Mendoza whose  Productos Mendoza — ensconced in Villa-controlled Juarez, with easy access to U.S. spare parts — could retool, and set about not only making the then-standard Mexican Amy Mauser obsolete, but laying the groundwork for  a Mexican arms industry.

Although the “problem” the original Mondragón had when used in damp climates was mostly overcome by other arms manufacturers, the Mexican-made Mondragón was ideally suited as a killing machine in dry climates… like northern Mexico, like Spain (it was the “good Mexican rifle” Ernest Hemingway would write about), like the Soviet Union (where a Siberian gunsmith name Mikael Kalishnokov made some improvement in the design), like northern China and Korea.  While not as elegant as Comrade Kalishnikov’s version, the Mexican Mondragón was considered a useful killing machine even in wet, muddy places…. being last used as a regular issue military weapon by the Viet Cong during their war against the United States.

I wouldn’t be surprised if there weren’t a few old Mondragón rifles out there still in use.  But, like so many other Mexican goods, foreign imports, via the United States have pretty much destroyed the market for the locally produced goods… or, in this case… bads.

Sources: Mondragon self-loading rifle (World Guns)
Rafael Mendoza Blanco}
Mexico Armado: Mondragón, El Genio Mexicano
Encyclopedia de los muncipios y delegaciones de México: Ixtlahuaca

One Comment leave one →
  1. 7 February 2013 8:04 am

    I truly seem to agree with the whole thing that ended up being authored throughout “Number One with
    a lot of bullets The Mex Files”. Thanks a lot for all of the information.

    Many thanks,Florida

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