A Perfectly Delightful Cartridge

posted on October 15, 2009

It’s surprising how many of our most useful and reliable cartridges started life in the military. Some that quickly come to mind are the .45 Colt, .45 ACP, .308 Win., .223 Rem., and the glorious .30-’06 Sprg. And right in among those, I also have to add another great performer, the 7x57 mm Mauser. The 7x57 mm, although less popular in this country, is an excellent performer featuring good accuracy and moderate recoil.

The cartridge was originally designed by Mauser of Germany in 1892. It is also often referred to as the 7 mm Mauser cartridge, and in the U.K. it is commonly called the .275 Rigby. By whatever name one wants to use, the cartridge originally featured a 175-grain bullet of modern design over enough smokeless powder to drive it to slightly more than 2,300 f.p.s. In the last years of the 19th century, the accuracy and the power of this new Mauser cartridge were widely acknowledged.

The Spanish adopted the Mauser Model 1893 rifle, chambered for the 7x57 mm, for its military. And it was this combination they used against U.S. troops in Cuba during the Spanish-American War. American troops were so impressed with this rifle/cartridge combination that Theodore Roosevelt challenged U.S. military rifle designers to use it as a basis for a new U.S. fighting rifle. Legend has it the Springfield rifle and the .30-’06 Sprg. cartridge were direct results of our study of the 7x57 mm cartridge and the ’93 Mauser. So influential were the rifle and cartridge that the U.S. government was forced to pay royalties to Mauser for quite some time. In retrospect, it looks like that was a pretty good trade-off.

Even closer to home, the 7x57 mm cartridge played a huge role in the Mexican Revolution (1911-1920). Mexican federal troops, taking the lead from their Spanish allies, were armed with Mauser rifles chambered for the battle-proven 7x57 mm.

When Francisco Madero gathered the Mexican rebels to his banner, along with Emiliano Zapata, from the state of Morelos, and Francisco Villa, from the state of Chihuahua, the arms available to them were obsolete. Some rebels arrived with Winchester and Marlin lever-actions chambered for blackpowder pistol cartridges. Others showed up with equally antiquated single-shots, like the Remington Rolling Block and the old Sharps buffalo guns. A few had just sixguns, and a number were armed only with machetes.

The rebels’ idea was to get into a fight with federal soldiers as quickly as possible and then liberate the Mauser 7x57 mm rifles. As soon as the federal troops could be overcome, the first order of business was to collect all of the rifles and distribute them among those who were fighting for Mexican freedom. Gen. Villa once attacked a train filled with federal soldiers. After the battle, he handed out the liberated Mauser rifles and ammunition to his own troops then ordered the uniforms to be stripped from the dead enemies. He sent the empty uniforms back to the federal lines with this message: “Here are the husks [reusable covers for tamales], send me some more tamales!” And you can bet he hoped that the replacements were carrying more Mauser rifles.

As with other good military cartridges, the 7x57 mm was soon adopted by sportsmen. Rigby, the British firearms company, bought Mauser actions and used them as the basis for hunting rifles that were used the world over. As a marketing ploy, Rigby began to call the new cartridge the .275 Rigby. One of its best customers was a fellow that went by the name of W.D.M.“Karamojo” Bell....


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