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Chilean military & police handgun cartridges: Talk about confusion!

Chile began its fight for independence from Spanish rule in 1810 and by 1818, under the leadership of the Libertador Jose de San Martin and the British mercenary, Admiral Lord Thomas Cochrane, they defeated Spanish forces and established the Republic of Chile.

In 1811, Fabricas y Maestranzas del Ejercito (FAMAE) was founded in Santiago to produce munitions and other material for the new Chilean army, the Ejercito de Chile. It would later become a weapons repair facility and (see below) eventually produce small arms under license from various manufacturers in addition to locally designed weapons.

Unlike most of post-colonial Latin America, Chile enjoyed relative peace and prosperity from the 1820s through the 1860s. The country had a rich agricultural industry which, combined with a growing mining industry, led to a sound economy and political stability. But there was very little manufacturing industry and when it came to equipping the armed forces; they were forced to look to foreign sources.

With the advent of breechloading rifles and metallic cartridges, the Chilean army began purchasing weapons from a number of sources. The result would be a bewildering collection of handguns in many different calibers.

As in many Latin American armies, the first metallic-cartridge handguns to see service were various models of the Lafaucheux pinfire revolver which were obtained from Belgian, French and Spanish sources.

* 12mm Lefaucheux Pin Fire--the first successful metallic cartridge, the "pin-fire" round had a pin sticking out of its case which, when struck by the hammer, ignited a primer held inside a fiber wad at the base of the cartridge. While known as a "12mm," it in fact used an 11mm lead bullet weighing 208 grains in a copper case 15-17mm long containing 9.7 grains of blackpowder for an insipid velocity of approximately 350 fps.



In the 1870s, the ubiquitous S&W No. 3 revolver was taken into service along with the .44 Russian cartidge.

* .44 Russian--this was a straight-walled, rimmed cartridge with a case length of .924" topped with a 246-grain lead bullet that 23 grains of blackpowder drove to slightly more than 700 fps. The Chilean army and police used large numbers of Winchester M1866 and M1873 carbines, and so various revolvers were obtained that chambered the same cartridges.

* 44 Henry--consisted of a copper, rimfire case .86" long topped with a 200-grain flat-nosed lead bullet backed by 28 grains of blackpowder that, in a revolver, produced a muzzle velocity of approximately 700 fps.

* .44 Largo--this was the popular .44 WCF (.44-40). It consisted of a rimmed, straight-walled case 1.3 inches long whose 200-grain flat-point lead bullet was propelled to approximately 800 fps by 40 grains of blackpowder.


The War of the Pacific (1879-1884) saw Chile fighting Bolivia and Peru for control of mineral-rich border territory. While outnumbered, the Chileans were victorious, gaining significant territory at the expense of both of their opponents. As was common in armies of the time, Chilean officers purchased their own sidearms and a bewildering variety of European and American revolvers saw use.

Chile's first civil war erupted in 1891-1892. It was a brutal conflict with many thousands of military and civilian casualties. While the forces of the dictator Jose Manuel Balmaceda obtained most of their weapons from European sources, the Congressional forces purchased large numbers of American rifles and revolvers. Among the latter were some Colt Army & Navy revolvers firing the .38 Long Colt cartridge.


* .38 Largo--was the .38 Long Colt as known throughout Latin America. It consisted of a rimmed, straight-walled case with a length of 1.02 inches topped with a 150-grain lead bullet that traveled at about 770 fps.

In 1903 the Cuerpo de Carabineros was established to provide law and order in the remoter parts of the country. In 1927, they were merged with the Policia Rural to form a paramilitary national gendarmerie, the Carabineros de Chile. The Carabineros are known for their professionalism and honesty and are one of Latin America's most respected police forces.

Each branch of the Chilean armed forces and the Carabineros adopted whatever weapons seem to strike their fancy without giving much thought to stardardization. In the early 20th century, the Chileans placed orders with a number of manufacturers for the new breed of semiauto pistols. They reportedly obtained small numbers of the Browning-designed Pistolet M1e. 1903 from Fabrique Nationale in Belgium.

* 9mm Browning Long--the Mle. 1903 pistol fired a straight-walled, semi-rimmed case 20mm long whose 110-grain full metal jacketed (FMJ) bullet achieved a velocity of 1100 fps.

Between 1911 and 1914, the Ejercito de Chile obtained 5,000 Steyr-Hahn Mo. 1911 pistols from Osterreichische Waffenfabriks-Gesellschaft of Steyr, Austria. These pistols were unique for being one of the few successful charger-loaded pistols and would remain in service well into the 1940s.

* Cartucho Steyr cal. 9mm--a straight-walled, rimless design with a case 22.7mm long, its 116-grain FMJ bullet had a muzzle velocity in the area of 1200 fps.

With World War I cutting off their source of weapons in Europe, the Chileans turned increasingly to the USA for handguns. By the 1920s most Chilean police forces issued .38 revolvers, including the Colt Police Positive. Colt Official Police. S&W Military & Police and Spanish-made copies of all the above.

* .38 S&W Special--introduced in 1899, its straight-walled rimmed case was 1.14 inches long and loaded with a 158-grain round nosed. lead bullet that achieved a velocity of 750-800 fps.

The Colt 1911 and 1911A1 pistols were favorites in Latin American and the Ejercito de Chile and Carabineros both purchased numbers of them.

* Cartucho Colt cal. 11.43mm--the legendary .45 ACP consisted of a straight-walled, rimless case .89" long topped with a 230-grain round-nosed. FMJ bullet that a charge of smokeless powder pushed to 855 fps.

The Marina de Chile (navy), going Its own way as usual, purchased 842 Astra Mo. 400 pistols in the early 1930s. As with the Mo. 1911 Steyr, these remained in service for many years.


* Cartucho cal. 9mm Largo--was based upon a 23mm straight-walled, rimless case containing a 125-grain FMJ. bullet moving at 1120 fps.

In the post-World War II period, the Chilean armed forces undertook a program to upgrade their small arms, especially handguns. It was decided to standardize on the 9mm Parabellum cartridge and orders were placed with FN for the Browning Hi-Power and, later, with Walther for the P1 pistol.

* Cartucho cal. 9mm Parabellum--Chilean issue ammunition uses a slightly tapered, rimless case 19mm long containing a 115-grain FMJ bullet at a velocity of 1160 fps.

The .45 ACP remains popular in Chile, and in 1994 the navy purchased 1,500 M1911A1 from Colt for their naval infantry while a number of Ruger P90 pistols were obtained by the Carabineros.

FAMAE not only manufactures a .38 Spl. revolver, the FT2000, for the armed forces and police, but has undertaken license manufacture the Beretta M92F and, more recently, a variant of the Tanfoglio known locally as the FN750, which is currently the standard issue pistol of the armed forces. The Carabineros have recently replaced their P90S with the 9mm SIG P220 and While most police forces issue the FT2000 revolver, increasing numbers have adopted the Glock 17.

Photos by James Walters & Lou Behling
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Author:Scarlata, Paul
Publication:Shotgun News
Geographic Code:3CHIL
Date:Oct 1, 2009
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