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Military rifle cartridges of Haiti.

On 5 December 1492, the explorer Christopher Columbus came across a large island in the Caribbean Sea which he named La Isla Espanola ("the Spanish Island"), or Hispanola (later Anglicized as Hispaniola). The following year the Spanish established a permanent colony on the island and within a short time, European diseases wiped out the indigenous tribes. Spanish colonization was centered on the eastern end of the island and within a few years buccaneers, primarily French, established settlements on the western.


In 1664, France took control of the western part of the island, naming it Saint-Domingue. The cultivation of tobacco, indigo and cotton led to the importation of large numbers of African slaves. Slave insurrections were frequent and some slaves escaped to the mountains where they mixed with the remaining natives to form bands of maroons who raided plantations, freeing other slaves.

By the 1790s a slave population of 500,000 was ruled by fewer than 50,000 whites. The French Revolution (1789) led to demands for rights by free blacks and mulattoes and in 1791 a slave uprising under the Vodou (Voodoo) priest Dutty Boukman spread quickly. Toussaint l'Ouverture, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, and Henri Christophe organized the slaves into effective military units who not only conquered most of the colony, but defeated an attempted British invasion in 1798.

In 1802, Napoleon Bonaparte sent 40,000 troops to reconquer the island, but battle and disease decimated their ranks and in 1803 most were withdrawn. In 1804 Dessalines declared independence and the remaining French troops and colonists fled or were massacred. Dessalines proclaimed himself "emperor" but was assassinated two years later.

The next six decades saw Haiti ruled by a succession of "emperors," "kings," "generals" and "presidents" who divided the country into personal fiefdoms and made war on each other. Rival political-factions all employed Cacos, peasant brigands who enlisted for promises of money and an opportunity to plunder. As with most mercenaries, the Cacos would change sides on a whim, or for a better offer. The country was in constant turmoil and between 1843 and 1915, only one of the 22 rulers of Haiti served out his full term.

During this period the Haitian "army" and private militias equipped themselves with an assortment of small arms including Winchester Model 1866 and Model 1873 rifles and carbines.

* .44 Henry--the Model 1866 Winchester fired the .44 Henry cartridge, which consisted of a copper, rimfire case .815" long containing a 200-grain flat-nosed, lead bullet and 28 grains of blackpowder that produced a muzzle velocity of 1200 fps.

* .44 WCF--the Winchester Model 1873 used the .44 Winchester Center Fire (a.k.a. .44-40) cartridge. This consisted of a rimmed, straight-walled cased 1.3 inches long whose 200-grain flat-nosed lead bullet was propelled to 1325 fps by 40 grains of blackpowder.

The development of sugar and rum industries near Port-au-Prince created a veneer of prosperity and economic growth. Between 1884 and 1896, the New York firm of Schuyler, Hartley & Graham shipped large quantities of Spanish pattern Remington Rolling Block and Model 1882 Remington-Lee rifles to Port au Prince to equip the Haitian army, gendarmerie and private militias.

* 11mm Remington Spanish--the Rolling Block and Remington-Lee rifles Haiti obtained were chambered for the ".43 Spanish," a centerfire cartridge with rimmed, bottlenecked case 58mm long, loaded with a 375-grain lead bullet that 78 grains of blackpowder pushed to 1380 fps.


This period of relative stability and prosperity ended in 1911 when revolution broke out and the country slid once again into anarchy.

In February 1915, the United States, responding to complaints from American banks to which Haiti was deeply in debt, occupied the country. Under USMC supervision, Haiti signed a treaty with the USA that gave American officials control over the country's treasury department, customs, the constabulary, public works service and public health services. The Haitian "army" was dissolved, private militas banned and the Gendarmerie d'Haiti, commanded by USMC officers including two-time Medal of Honor winner Smedley Butler, was established.


They were a well trained para-military unit and earned a reputation for efficiency, honesty and were non-political--three characteristics that had never before been seen in a Haitian military organization.

The Gendarmerie were trained, equipped and armed the same as U.S. troops and their standard issue rifles were the M1896 and M1898 Krag-Jorgensen.


* .30 Army--the U.S. Krag-Jorgensen was chambered for the ".30-40 Krag" with a rimmed, bottlenecked case 2.314 inches in length whose 220-grain round-nosed, FMJ bullet was propelled to 2000 fps.

Cacos attacks continued unabated and, using tactics learned fighting the Moros in the Philippines--and superior firepower--Marine and Gendarmerie units tracked down the various bands, and by 1920 the countryside was as pacificed as it had ever been.

By the 1930s, Gendarmerie units began receiving M1903 Springfield and M1917 "Enfield" rifles.

* Cartridge, .30 Caliber, Model 1906--consisted of a rimless bottlenecked case 2.494 inches long, containing a 150-grain FMJ, spitzer bullet with a muzzle velocity of 2800 fps.

With the withdrawal of the U.S. in 1934, the Gendarmerie began taking on the appearance and duties of a national army. To supplement the American rifles in service, a quantity of Mle. 24/30 Mausers, chambered in .30-'06, were purchased from Fabrique Nationale in Belgium.


During the 1940s and '50s the U.S. continued to provide the Haitian government with military aid. Included in this largesse were M1 Garand rifles and M1 Carbines. Additional .30 cal. Mausers were also purchased from FN at this time.

* .30 Carbine--the M1 Carbine's cartridge consisted of a rimless, tapered case, 33mm in length, loaded with a round-nosed, 110-grain FMJ bullet moving at 1970 fps.

In 1957 Dr. Francois Duvalier (known as "Papa Doc") took control in a coup and established one of the most repressive and corrupt regimes of modern times, which combined violence against political opponents with exploitation of Voodoo to instill fear in the population. Duvalier's paramilitary police, Volontaires de la Securite Nationale, more commonly known as the Tonton Macoutes, carried out political murders, beatings, and intimidation on a wide scale.

In 1961, the Kennedy administration suspended aid to Haiti, forcing Duvalier's government to purchase arms from other sources. In 1967 it obtained a quantity of FN-FAL rifles from Fabrique Nationale which were supplemented with G3A3 rifles from Heckler & Koch and Armalite AR-18s from Sterling Arms.

* 7.62mm NATO--the above rifles were chambered for the NATO standard cartridge with a rimless, bottlenecked case measuring 51mm with a 149-grain FMJ bullet moving at 2750 fps.

* 5.56mm M 1.93--the AR-18's cartridge used a rimless, bottle-necked case measuring 45mm whose 55-grain FMJ, boattail spitzer bullet achieved a velocity of 3170 fps.

Duvalier died in 1971 and was succeeded by his son Jean-Claude Duvalier (known as "Baby Doc") who was even more corrupt than his father, forcing the nation deeper into bankruptcy and anarchy. In 1983 the military forced him into exile. In 1985 the Haitian army was abolished and replaced by the Police Nationale d'Haiti.

From 1986 to 1990, Haiti was ruled by a series of provisional governments. In December 1990, Jean-Bertrand Aristide was elected president in one of Haiti's few honest elections. He was overthrown in a coup that brought Gen. Raoul Cedras. Thousands of Haitians were killed during the period of military rule.

The threat of U.S. intervention allowed Aristide to return. A UN Peacekeeping force of 21,000 arrived to maintain peace until elections could be held. It was scaled back progressively over the next four years and in January 2000, the last U.S. troops departed.

U.S. military aid resumed and the Haitian police and army obtained numbers of M14, M16A2 and Ruger Mini-14 rifles and M4 Carbines. In addition, Galil rifles were purchased from Israel and T65K1 rifles from Taiwan.

* 5.56mm M855--it uses a rimless, bottlenecked case 45mm topped with a 62-grain FMJ boattail bullet, moving at 3000 fps. The bullet has a steel insert in its tip for improved penetration of body armor and light vehicles.

Political infighting resulted in the country descending into anarchy once again. In 2004 a force of U.S., Canadian and French troops arrived, later reinforced by troops from Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Jordan, Morocco, Nepal, Peru, Philippines, Spain, Sri Lanka, and Uruguay.


In 2006, UN supervised elections saw Rene Preval elected president of Haiti. Whether his administration will survive once the UN forces are withdrawn is anyone's guess.

I would like to thank Ed Hull, Roy Marcot, John Wall, Sturm, Ruger & Co. and Springfield Armory for providing/photos and information used to prepare this column.

Photos by: Nathan Reynolds & James Walters (unless otherwise indicated)
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Author:Scarlata, Paul
Publication:Shotgun News
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2010
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