The “Cristobal Carbine”

By Jean Huon

Rafael Trujillo, president-dictator of Santo Domingo, “benefactor of the country” as he liked to call himself, had set up a national arms industry in the late 1940s. Its factory of San Cristobal was placed under the authority of Alexander Kovàcs, a Hungarian citizen. But the specific Dominican weapon of this time was the “Cristobal Carbine.”

History of La Armeria

The San Cristobal factory was the result of favourable circumstances and the result of the ambition of the leader of Santo Domingo.

During his reign (1930-1961), the General displayed various immigration policies and foreign relations. He described himself from the start as a nationalist and implemented a right-wing policy. He ignored the killing of Haitian workers in Santo Domingo in 1937.

He perceived political changes in the various Latin American countries where instability prevailed. His own country was quiet, under police control. He wished to build a modern army and also to become a commercial platform for small arms and military equipment.

He wished to develop a Latin American arms industry, with Santo Domingo being the leader.

Starting in 1938, in order to submit to President Roosevelt’s wishes presented at the Evian Conference, Trujillo allowed many political refugees to enter his country, such as Jews of Central Europe fleeing the Nazi crackdown. One year later, the Dominican Republic greeted Spanish Republicans who chose to leave Spain when Franco came to power. Later, other refugees landed in large numbers.

But integration was selective, and only women 30 years old and younger and men no more than 35 years old were to be accepted. Santo Domingo needed workers and intelligent professionals.

At this time, the country could only propose sugar for sale, which was not enough for its development and the glory of its leader.
Power needs a strong army, but in 1937 the Dominican Forces amounted to only:

3,081 men in the Army, with 2,715 rifles, 45 machineguns, 1 mortar, 19 guns, 1 tank, 50 trucks and 23 motorcycles;
10 aircraft and 31 men in the Air Force;
100 sailors with 8 small boats; and
627 policemen.
But quickly Trujillo increased manpower and bought new guns. In 1942 the inventory was:
1,765 handguns;
2,409 Spanish 7mm rifles and carbines;
1,860 American Krag-Jorgensen Model 1898 rifles;
45 Thompson M1928 submachine guns;
363 Riot guns;
38 Other various submachine guns;
27 Browning machine guns;
4 anti-aircraft machine guns;
13 mortars;
28 field guns; and
The Air Force received one Curtiss Wright, one Bellanca, one Fleet and four Piper Cub airplanes.

The following years saw a more powerful Dominican Army with more manpower and the arrival of various small arms but often obsolete and in poor condition: Krag, Springfield, Mauser rifles, Reising and Beretta submachine guns, Madsen and Colt Monitor automatic rifles, Hotchkiss machine guns, Brandt mortars, and so on.
After 1945, more equipment landed in the country, mostly coming from WWII battlefields. This junk would be a treasure for today’s movies, accessories shops or collectible gun dealers! The equipment was very odd and ammunition often didn’t match the guns!

Then, Santo Domingo became the first second-hand (or used) arms dealer in Latin America.

Through an American agency settled in Washington (hence, with the CIA’s agreement), it proposed:

7,500 Colt pistols at $55 each;
5,000 Thompson SMG at $510;
2,000 Reising SMG at $130;
100 .30 Browning machine guns with tripod at $775;
200 .50 Browning machine guns, also with tripod at $1,298;
500 bazookas at $170;
1,000 60mm mortars at $250;
1,000 75mm mortars at $250; and
50 M 5 light tanks (in good condition) at $9,750.

Furthermore, it also offered cartridges and later 25,000 US M1917 Enfield rifles with bayonet with 1,000 cartridges for only $80 each. “Hurry, not everyone will be satisfied,” the flyer seems to say. It looked like a department store on a clearance day.

Later, the Dominicans also sold Astra, Star pistols and revolvers, French 7.65mm submachine guns, other SMGs like Madsen, ZK-383, Mendoza, 25,000 Mauser K98k rifles and ZB-37 machine guns.

But selling arms was not enough for Trujillo, he needed his own gun factory.

In 1947, many Hungarians landed in Santo Domingo after their country became a communist satellite state of Moscow. They were welcomed as agricultural workers, but it became obvious that some of them were high-level engineers, and this is how the idea to set up an arms industry dawned upon Trujillo.

Then, a new factory was built 15 miles west from Santo Domingo, newly named “Ciudad Trujillo” (Trijillo City) because it was his birthplace. The factory was named “La Armeria.”

On November 21, 1947, the factory was managed by Alexander Kovàcs. Born in Kezel in Hungary on November 2, 1888, Kovàcs had a multi-faceted career. During WWI, he worked in Hungarian arsenals, and later he left his country. In 1943, he was in India in charge of transportation and logistics for the British Army. He landed in Santo Domingo at the end of 1946 and became head of the technical services of the Defense Ministry. One year later he was at the head of La Armeria where he stayed 12 years. He was Trujillo’s agent and managed the factory without a good knowledge of the Spanish language!

La Armeria started with a group of Hungarian technicians. First, it attempted to build the Thompson SMG under licence, but the project failed.

Kojàcs sought a large scale production, with 1,500 to 2,000 workers able to manufacture 10,000 to 15,000 pistols yearly, a similar number of submachine guns, 20,000 to 30,000 rifles, 1,000 machine guns, 100 40mm Bofors guns, 200 heavy machine guns, 50 to 100 field guns and others.

The factory was equipped with modern machinery from the U.S. and Europe, including French “Manurhin” machines for the cartridge factory. A gunpowder factory was built at Villa Notch. All of these facilities were powered by a 600kw or 700kw electric power plant. In 1949, 200 small arms and 10,000 cartridges were produced monthly. It seems that a Beretta SMG was also manufactured.

The engineering office also worked with Pál Király, the Hungarian designer of the 39m and 43m SMG, and Beretta’s factory engineers. The result of this cooperation was the Cristobal carbine.

In 1950, the New York Times reported that “La Armeria” produced 500 Cristobals monthly and .30 or .50 machine guns (probably unlicensed copies of the Browning), field guns and various small caliber cartridges. Production of the Cristobal carbine was around 1,000 monthly until 1955, somewhat less in later years.

New Hungarians landed in Santo Domingo in 1956, after the Soviet occupation of the country. Official reports say that 600 families arrived in Santo Domingo, 582 of which were agricultural workers. They were quickly invited to join the milling machines and lathes at La Armeria.

The country was very proud of the industrial capacities of the factory in the Caribbean area, and many foreign delegations visited it—Latin American states but also political and military representatives from U.S., Europe, Asia and the Pacific Ocean.

Trujillo thought he could become the first furnisher of small arms of the Third World and, why not, of the Free World?! Cristobal carbines began to be exported in several countries.

In 1952, Kovàcs toured Latin America and had contacts in many countries. He worked hard to develop the local arms industry, despite poor results:

Chile: Interested in 100,000 Cristobal carbines and French machine guns;
Colombia: Dominicans proposed to turn 7mm Mauser rifles into 7.62mm; they were not successful in their bid for a gunpowder factory, which was won by Brazil;
Cuba: (during Batista’s government) Cristobal carbines, Thompson SMGs, ammunition and explosives;
Ecuador: Various proposals, no results;
El Salvador: One delegation visited the country, but no contract turned up;
India: Using his contacts in India, Kovàcs tried to sell Dominican hardware, but without success;
Indonesia: With supposed agreement of the CIA, proposal for 50,000 Cristobal carbines and 50,000 9mm pistols, no results;
Israel: Proposal for Cristobal carbines, barrels for .50 machine guns, ammunition. Negotiations were long and difficult, mainly because the country did not have money. Finally, in 1956 Trujillo proposed to swap this hardware for Russian guns sized during the Suez campaign. Eventually he proposed to exchange Soviet MiG fighters for small arms or various benefits. But finally the discussion failed;
Nicaragua: Proposals for various equipment;
Peru: Demonstrations with no continuation;
Venezuela: Proposals were met with courteous thanks.

Alexander Kovàcs died on November 21, 1957. His successor was Henry Lopez-Penha.

At this date, La Armeria employed 252 Dominican workers and 64 foreigners. It produced Cristobal carbines, .38 caliber revolvers, 9mm submachine guns, 7mm Mauser rifles, .50 Browning aircraft machine guns, gunpowder and small caliber ammunition.

Investments were tremendous but with little result, so the factory chose to turn to the civilian market:

industrial dynamite;
metal beds for hospitals;
metal components for buildings;
air condition appliances;
iron and steel.

In 1962, a government delegation led an inquiry, which pin-pointed the most modern machinery in Latin America but also showed that the machines were underused and not fit for the civilian market. Finally, the factory could not be made profitable and was shut down in April 1965.

Cristobal Carbine History

Kovàcs came in contact with Pál Király. The career of this technician is not well known. A former aircraft observer and machine gunner, he worked in Switzerland before WWII at SIG, then he returned to his country and joined the research department of Danuvia. There, he developed several prototypes of automatic weapons: rifles, light machine guns and especially its famous 39m submachine gun, which similarities with the SIG MKMO are obvious and later, the 43m.

Then, Király left Hungary and was found in Spain where he proposed his inventions under licence to the Spanish arsenals. The Franco government showed interest, but the project failed. He travelled through Switzerland and then to Santo Domingo where he landed with a passport delivered by the Red Cross! How the Spanish-Swiss-Dominican negotiations succeeded is one of the best kept secrets.

Pál Király initially seemed to have worked on a prototype featuring his delayed bolt aperture system fitted on a Beretta 9mm submachine gun. Later, the device was fitted to the same type of weapon firing the .30 M1 cartridge, already largely produced in Santo Domingo.

As a result, in the early 50s, La Armeria was able to manufacture large amounts of light automatic rifles in .30 M1, directly inspired by Pál Király’s submachine gun 39m.

Strangely enough, the Cristobal Carbine looked very much like a prototype developed in France at the Mulhouse AME plant in 1948 with “German engineers working ‘under contract’!” The weapon shows moreover a particular feature: Its trigger mechanism is very similar to the ones on the Beretta Modello 38 series submachine guns. However, our attempts to learn more about it so far have been unsuccessful.

In a letter dated November 20, 2000, the Pietro Beretta Company regretted not being able to provide us with other information than that mentioned in the book published by Smith & Smith: Small Arms of the World. This information was sent by fax, anonymously signed by the “Advising Department of the company.”

The Cristobal rifle was produced in great numbers during several years. The production was estimated, more or less, up to 1,000 weapons monthly, from 1950 to 1957; that is to say approximately 84,000 out of which 19,000 were used by the local armed forces (12,000 for the Army, 4,000 for the Air Force and 3,000 for the Navy). The remainder were exported to various countries of Latin America, the most important client being Cuba at the time of Batista.

Around 1955, the Cristobal rifles were proposed for export at the price of $150 each. But if orders were placed for more than 50,000, the price would go down to $100 each. A few years later, the weapon was priced at $75. An additional magazine retailed at $3.

This article’s author—then a teenager—discovered the gun (at the same time as the M16) on photographs published in the French press at the time of the American commitment in Santo Domingo in 1965.


The first model of Cristobal carbine is called “Model 1,” but actually we know nothing of this weapon because it remained confidential. It was quickly replaced by the better-known “Model 2.”

It features a wooden stock, with a short forearm. A hand-guard covers the barrel and is fixed to it by a swivel band. The other end of the sling is on the left side of the stock and is fixed to a metal bar screwed on the stock.

The frame is a metal tube, with a longitudinal vein, with soldered flasks holding the trigger assembly. It is sealed by means of a plug screwed like a bayonet into the rear end. The ejection port is on the left upper part. A slot for the travelling of the cocking handle is machined on its right side. This handle is fixed to an obturator, which seals the groove.

The trigger assembly is sealed in a box soldered on the frame. It features two triggers, like the Beretta submachine gun—the first being for single-shot shooting, the second for bursts. In order to allow the shooter to select the wanted shooting mode by feeling the triggers with his fingers, the single-shot trigger is smooth; the one for the burst is grooved lengthwise. A stamped trigger guard is assembled under this assembly, fixed by two screws with two small latch-tightening screws, like on the Mauser rifles.

A safety device is assembled on the left side of the frame. It blocks the firing device when directed backwards. The bolt assembly is composed of a bolt head, an additional bolt piece and an amplifying lever for inertia. The recoil spring has a large diameter, and it does not have a guide rod.

The magazine housing is slightly tilted forward, is fixed in front of the trigger assembly, just below the frame. The weapon is essentially made of a tube and of compressed metal parts, welded together by means of welding points. The magazine is a straight box holding 25 cartridges.

The barrel is machined with a succession of shoulders. It 7.62mm with six right-hand grooves with a 3-deg slope; the twist rate is: 1/ 457mm (18 inches). Their width is of 1.75mm.

The sights are made of a primitive rear sight with a distance scale and a front sight sometimes protected by a tunnel.


  1. Insert a loaded magazine in the magazine housing.
  2. Draw the cocking handle backwards locking the bolt open, and let the handle go forward.
  3. For single-shot shooting, press the first trigger, the second for full auto.
  4. When shooting, the gasses propel the bullet and exert pressure on the head of the empty case which, in turn, pushes the bolt assembly backwards.
  5. The bolt assembly will remain locked until the pressure has decreased.
  6. Then, the inertia lever rotates, allowing the bolt assembly, bolt and its additional bolt piece, to move rearwards, ejecting the empty case through the ejection port.
  7. The bolt assembly moves rearwards, compressing the recoil spring.
  8. At the end of the rearward travel, the recoil spring pushes the bolt assembly forward.
  9. On its way forward, it strips a round from the magazine and pushes it into the chamber.
  10. The bolt head closes on the loaded chamber.
  11. The other end of the amplifying inertia lever prevents the additional bolt piece from hitting the striker, as long as the bolt assembly is not fully locked.

Please note that Király’s bolt locking system is the same as the one used on several French guns, such as the AA 52 light machine gun and on the FAMAS assault rifle.


  1. Remove the magazine and clear the gun.
  2. Let the bolt forward
  3. Push the rear plug lock and turn the plug 1/4 of turn, holding it back to avoid an abrupt ejection of the recoil spring.
  4. Remove the recoil spring and the bolt.
  5. Dismount the bolt parts: bolt head, additional bolt piece, amplifying lever, after having removed its assembly pin.
  6. The complete disassembly (sling swivel, trigger guard, stock) needs the use of a screwdriver.
  7. The reassembly is carried out in the reverse order.


In 1962, La Armeria developed a new version of the Cristobal carbine, with a shorter barrel and a frame fitted with a perforated radiator. The cocking handle is positioned on the right, and the weapon can mount a short-blade bayonet. It was proposed with a wooden stock or a collapsible metal stock.


In 1962, La Armeria developed a 7.62mm NATO assault rifle prototype. The general organization and the gas operating systems looked very much like those of the M14. The bolt works the same way as the FAL’s bolt. At that time, the company’s balance sheet showed a debt of several million Dominican pesos and, unable to find finance, went out of business shortly after.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V22N3 (March 2018)
and was posted online on February 9, 2018


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