The Portuguese Mod. 1904 Mauser Vergueiro: with the 98 Mauser just introduced, would you have gone back to the split-bridge receiver of the Gew 88? Portugal did, and the Mod. 1904 served for decades.Although one of the smaller European countries, Portugal's long tradition of seafaring led to a series of dynamic expeditions beginning in the 14th century that saw Portuguese navigators explore the west coast of Africa, round Cape Horn and, eventually, open sea routes to the Indies.
Portugal soon controlled the lucrative trade with India and went on to establish a number of colonies in Africa, Asia, the East Indies, Pacific and South America. But as a small, relatively poor country, Portugal was unable to afford a large navy to protect her overseas possessions.
By the 18th century, much of her commercial power had been preempted by the Netherlands, England and France, but Portugal doggedly held onto many of her colonies. During the Napoleonic Wars, Portugal made the fortunate decision to side with England and would remain a strong British ally well into the early 20th century.
To protect and keep order in her far-flung territories, Portugal did what all the colonial powers did and hired the locals. Known as companhias indigenas, these African, Indian and Asian troops were commanded by European officers and backed up with small cadres of Portuguese soldiers, the latter often recruited from the local colonists.
These units were responsible for maintaining order over vast tracts of territory and large numbers of often less than cooperative native peoples. To keep their military and police forces equipped for this arduous duty, the Portuguese took advantage of advances in small arms.
The 1860s saw the Portuguese army replace an assortment of English, French and Spanish muskets and rifled muskets with Westley-Richards "Monkeytail" rifles and carbines. Considered the best of the percussion-fired, non-metallic cartridge breechloaders, it used a unique .45 cal. paper cartridge with a felt wad at its base that expanding powder gases forced rearward effectively to seal the breech.
In the 1870s, Portugal purchased 10,000, Snider-Enfield rifles from British dealers. These breechloading rifles utilized Boxer-style metallic cartridges made from brass foil encased in a cardboard tube, and would remain in colonial service well into the 1890s.
In 1878 the Portuguese navy purchased a quantity of Kropatschek rifles from Osterreichische Waffenfabriks-Gesellschaft of Steyr, Austria. Known as the Espingarda Werndl Mod. 1878 Marinha (Josef Werndl was the owner of Steyr), they were bolt-action repeating rifles with tubular magazines under the barrel and were chambered for the then-Austrian issue cartridge, the 11 mm scharfe Patrone M.1877 known in Portuguese service as the Cartucho cal. 11mm m178.
In 1885, Portugal was the first nation to adopt a small-bore military rifle, the Espingarda Mod. 1885 (also known as the Guedes-Castro). Developed by Lt. (later Gen.) Castro Guedes Dias, it was a single-shot, falling block rifle chambered for the Cartucho cal. 8 com bala m/85. A contract for 40,000 rifles was placed with Steyr, but few were delivered before the Portuguese realized that the day of the single-shot rifle was rapidly approaching its end.
France's adoption of the Fusil d'Infanterie Mle. 1886 (the "Leber) firing' the revolutionary, smokeless. 8mm Balle M cartridge, rendered the Mod. 1885 obsolete, so the Portuguese placed orders with Steyr for another Kropatschek design, the Espingarda Mod.1886, which used an eight-round tubular magazine and was chambered for the Guedes' 8mm cartridge, which beginning in 1896, was loaded with smokeless propellant. Mod. 1886 rifles and carbines would remain in service, especially in the colonies, well into the 1960s.
Despite its longevity, by the end of the 19th century, advances in military rifle design had rendered the Mod. 1886 obsolete and the Portuguese began casting about for a new rifle. In 1896 they purchased a quantity of Rumanian-pattern 6.5mm Mannlicher carbines and short rifles--Carabina e Mosqueton Mod. 1896--from Steyr for issue to cavalry, artillery and naval units. Like the Kropatschek, some of these were still in colonial service in the 1960s.
Portuguese army trials conducted from the late 1890s through 1903 tested various rifles including the Mauser Infanteriegewehr 98, Dutch M.95 Mannlicher, Rumanian Md. 1893 Mannlicher, Mannlicher-Schonauer and the little known French Mle. 1896 Daudeateau. (1) The Mannlicher-Schonauer came out on top ... but the Portuguese exchequer balked at the price tendered by Steyr.
Into the midst of this indecision stepped a Portuguese army officer by the name of Jose Verguefro who combined the 98 Mauser's charger-loaded magazine; sights, stock, and fittings with a Infanteriegewehr 88-style split bridge receiver. His primary contribution to the rifle was a greatly simplified bolt. Based to some degree on the German Infanteriegewehr 88 bolt, it had dual frontal locking lugs, a separate bolt head containing the extractor and ejector and a straight bolt handle that turned down in front of the receiver bridge. No bolt sleeve was provided and the safety was fitted directly into the cocking piece and the bolt cocked halfway upon opening and halfway on closing.(2)
As did many nations, the Portuguese wanted a rifle with "national character" and Vergueiro's rifle provided just that. After a series of trials it was adopted as the Espingarda Portugueza 6.5 Mod. 1904 and 100,000 rifles were ordered from the Deutsche Waffen-und Munitions-fabriken (DWM) of Berlin.
The Mod. 1904 featured a walnut stock with a peculiar shallow pistol grip, spring retained barrel and muzzle bands. The staggered-column magazine was loaded with five-round chargers and the magazine floorplate could be released for quick, safe unloading.
The Cartucho cal. 6,5 com bala m/04 consisted of a rimless, bottlenecked case 58mm long whose 155-grain round-nosed FMJ bullet was propelled to 2350 fps. The Portuguese never updated this round with a pointed spitzer bullet.
The Mod. 1904 became the standard issue rifle of all European-based units of the Portuguese army. In the colonies, issue of the Mod. 1904 was usually restricted to Portuguese units while the companhias indigenas got by with Kropatscheks or older weapons.
In 1906, using parts left over from the Portuguese contract, DWM assembled 5,000 Mod. 1904 rifles chambered for the 7x57 Mauser cartridge for sale to Brazil, which issued them to police (Forcas Publicas) in the cities of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. According to Brazilian authority, Adler Homero Fonseco de Castro, they proved unpopular and were withdrawn from service after a few years and replaced with Mauser carbines.
The Mod. 1904 saw its most extensive combat service in Portugal's African colonies. With the outbreak of the Great War, Portugal began reinforcing their units in Mozambique. The garrison originally consisted of 10 companies of companhias indigenas, a mixedrace unit, the Guarda Republicana de Lourengo Marques, and one artillery battery, most of whom were still armed with the Mod. 1886.
In early 1915, Portugal reinforced the garrison with regular infantry, cavalry and a mountain artillery battery armed with the Espingarda Mod. 1904 and Mannlicher Carabina Mod. 1896. Later that year, additional regulars were sent to replace those troops lost to fever, disease and desertion. Additional companhias indigenas were recruited, while in July 1916, an additional 4,500 troops arrived from Portugal.
After declaring war on Germany, in May of 1916 Portuguese troops crossed the border into Deutsches Ostafrika to assist British and Belgian forces in pursuing the German field commander, Lt. Col. Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck and his hard fighting, fast marching Askaris of the Deutsche Schutztruppe. They were quickly repulsed, whereupon they fell back across the border and built a line of fortifications. A second offensive was more successful, driving the German forces back several kilometers.
But the ever resourceful Lewttow-Vorbeck outmaneuvered the Portuguese, counterattacked and pushed them back across the border again. The high command in Lisbon was dismayed at the poor performance of the troops and dispatched a third expeditionary force of 4,000 men to Lourenco Marques.
With British, South African and Belgian forces in hot (but futile) pursuit, the ever-enterprising Lettow-Vorbeck invaded Mozambique. The Germans caught the Portuguese completely by surprise, destroyed their defensive lines and captured badly needed food, clothing, medical supplies, munitions and weapons, including large numbers of Espingarda Mod. 1904 and Mod. 1886, which Lettow-Vorbeck issued to his own troops.
The Germans repeatedly defeated Portuguese units until September of 1918, when they slipped back into Deutsches Ostafrika and continued to evade Allied forces until after the war ended in November 1918.
A little-known historical footnote about the Mod. 1904 is that it was officially adopted by South Africa. In 1915, desperately short of Lee-Enfields, the South African government purchased 25,000 Mod. 1904s from Portugal for issue to their commandos taking part in the conquest of Deutsch-Sudwestafrika. Reportedly they were quite popular and after the war most were released on the civilian market, where they were used by South African sportsmen.
While Portugal obtained large numbers of No. 1 Mk. III Lee-Enfields during and after World War I, the Mod. 1904 continued in service, primarily with units stationed in her colonies.
In the late 1930s, the Portuguese army adopted a 98 Mauser short rifle, the Espingarda Mod. 937-A. So as to extend the service life of those Mod. 1904s still on hand, many had their barrels shortened to 24 inches and re-chambered for the 7.9x57 cartridge (Cartucho cal. 8 com bala m/37). Converted rifles were re-baptized the Mod.904/39.
While Portugal was officially neutral during World War II, some Mod. 1904s were used by Portuguese troops during the short-lived opposition to the Japanese occupation of the colony of East Timor in 1942.
When the Indian army occupied the Portuguese enclave of Goa in 1961 some Mod. 1904s (and even some Mod. 1886s!) were issued to Portuguese reservists, but were never fired in anger as the colonial authorities wisely surrendered the colony rather than face the vastly superior Indian army. Lastly, both Mod. 1904 and 904/39s saw service with all sides and factions throughout the "national liberation" wars that ravaged Portugal's African colonies during the 1970s and 80s.
While they are no longer in service, photographic evidence shows that some Espingarda Mod. 904/39s are still used by the Portuguese army and police for ceremonial purposes.
Test Firing the Mauser-Vergueiro
I obtained an Espingarda Mod. 1904 from fellow collector John Klear that was in very good condition and bore the crest of King Carlos I on the receiver.
Fellow SGN contributor Bob Shell (www.obsoleteammo.com) provided a supply of custom-loaded ammunition made from trimmed and resized .270 Win. cases topped with 160-grain Hornady soft-point bullets backed by a charge of H4831 powder.
I test-fired the Mod. 1904 from a rest on my gun club's 100 yard range. The bolt both worked very smoothly, the rifle was graced with a crisp, two-stage trigger pull and the long sighting radius provided a decent sight picture. Using a six o'clock hold on the targets, I produced a series of groups that averaged less than 3 inches. Not too bad for uma Menina Velha quem nao recebe qualquer mais jovem (an Old Girl who is not getting any younger).
To my way of thinking the Espingarda Mod. 1904 typifies the military rifle of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Well made (you might almost say elegant), fine handling, accurate and--as with many: of its contemporaries--long serving. We shall never see their like again.
I would like to thank the following for providing information and materials used to prepare this report: John Klear, Bob Shell, John P. Sheehan, John Wall, Lou Behling, Dennis Kroh, Russ Pastena, Empire Arms (www.empirearms.com), Adler Homero Fonseca de Castro and Rich Venola.
(1.) The Rumanian pattern Mannlichers, known as the Mosqueton e Carabina Mod.1896, remained in colonial service well into the 1960s.
(2.) The Mod. 1904's bolt can be difficult to disassemble and reassemble. Those wishing to do so will find the following video very helpful: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AkUDEKmlewg
SPECIFICATIONS--ESPINGARDA PORTUGUEZA 6.5 MOD. 1904
Caliber: Cartucho cal. 6,.5 .com bala m/04
Overal Length: 48.2 inches
Length: 29 inches
Weight: 8.4 pounds
Magazine: Five-round, charger loaded
Sights: Front--Inverted V-blade Rear--V-notch adjustable by tangent from 200 to 2000 meters
Bayonet: Knife-style with 11 -inch single-edged blade
SPECIFICATIONS--ESPINGARDA PORTUGUEZA MOD.904/39
Caliber: Cartucho cal. 8 corn baLa m/37
verall Length: 44.2 inches
Barrel Length: 24 inches
Weight: 8 pounds
Magazine: Five-round, charger loaded
Sights: Front--Inverted V-blade Rear--V-notch adjustable by tangent from 200 to 2000 meters
Bayonet: Knife-style with 11-inch single-edged blade
Photos by: Nathan Reynolds