The Military Rifles of Portugal Part 1 – Firearms News

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1900. Portuguese Fuzileiros (marines) armed with the Mosqueta~o Modelo 1886. 


Portugal is the oldest continuously existing state on the Iberian Peninsula and one of the oldest in Europe, its territory having been continuously settled, invaded and fought over since prehistoric times. It was inhabited by Celtic peoples who had contact with Phoenician, Carthaginian and Greek traders. It was conquered and ruled by the Romans who were displaced by the Visigoths who were followed by the Muslim Moors from North Africa in 781 who controlled parts of the region until 13th century.

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Turn of the century Portuguese sailors armed with Mosqueta~o Modelo 1896.

The Kingdom of Portugal was established in 1139 and its first king, Alfonso Henriques (1128 to 1185), conquered many of the remaining Muslim controlled regions and received recognition from Spain and the Papacy. In 1415, Portugal acquired the first of its overseas colonies by conquering Ceuta, a prosperous Islamic trade center in North Africa. This was followed by the discoveries of Madeira (1419) and the Azores islands (1420) in the Atlantic which were colonized and served as a staging point for Portugal’s dynamic explorations. Beginning in 1418, Portuguese navigators, sailors, merchants and soldiers explored the west coast of Africa, establishing trading posts to control the lucrative trade in gold, ivory, hides and slaves.  In 1488, Bartholomeu Dias rounded the Cape of Good Hope; in 1498, Vasco De Gama reached India; and in 1500, Pedro Alvares  reached what would be Brazil.

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East Timor, 1900. A Portuguese officer and a group of mounted Moradores (native Timorese police).

Over the following decades, Portuguese sailors continued to explore the coasts and islands of East Asia, establishing forts and trading posts along the coasts of Africa, the Middle East, India, Southeast Asia, China, and Japan where they controlled the lucrative spice trade. This colonial trade led to great economic growth, making Portugal one of Europe’s major colonial, naval, and mercantile powers. As the Spanish, English, Dutch and French began encroaching on Portuguese “spheres of influence” in Africa, Asia and the Far East conflicts arose between the Europeans competing for trade, territory and influence.

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The “Monkey Tail” used a lever activated, forward folding breech block. The Westley-Richards used a nitrated, paper cartridge with a felt wad at its base that sealed the breech and was fired by a percussion cap by an outside hammer. (Lou Behling photo)

To the dismay of the colonial authorities, the native inhabitants of the colonies proved less than enthusiastic at the thought of becoming subjects of the European powers and resistance was common. The Europeans found themselves taxed trying to expand and pacify these colonies while bringing in European troops was too expensive, and they were often decimated by local diseases and diets.


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Portugal’s elite Cac¸adores were armed with Baker rifles. (Rock Island Auction Co.) Beginning in the 1850s the Portuguese equipped their Cac¸adores with breech loading Westley-Richards No. 5 “Monkey Tail” breech loading rifle and carbines.

It wasn’t long before some bright, young mind in the colonial office suggested, “Why don’t we hire the locals?” This made a lot of sense as the locals were (a) immune to local diseases; (b) inured to the local diet and climate; (c) cheaper and easier to replace than European soldiers; and (d) usually displayed excellent loyalty to their employers. As did the other colonial powers, the Portuguese enlisted local soldiers to police, defend and expand their colonies of Angola, Mozambique, Portuguese Guinea, India and East Timor. Known as companhias indigenas (“native companies”), Cipaios (a corruption of “sepoy”), and Moradores, their officers and senior NCOs were Portuguese or Portuguese settlers.

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In 1874 Portugal adopted the Snider-Enfield breech loading rifle and carbine. (James Walters photo). The Snider’s breech block opened to the right for loading and unloading. (James Walters photo)

In the 17th and early 18th centuries, the Portuguese armed forces were equipped with a mixture of flintlock muskets of Spanish, English, French and Italian origin. During the Napoleonic wars, Portugal allied itself with Great Britain who supplied them with large quantities of military equipment including Brown Bess muskets and Baker rifles.2

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The Espingarda Portugueza 6.5 Mod.1904 combined features of the 98 Mauser, turn bolt Mannlicher rifles and a Gewehr 88 type bolt. (Nathan Reynolds photo). The Espingarda Por- tugueza 6.5 Mod.1904 used a split bridge receiver and charger loaded magazine. (Nathan Reynolds photo)

The latter were supplied to units of the elite Caçadores (“hunters”) and the British raised and officered Loyal Lusitanian Legion, and remained in service for many years.3


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The Espingarda Modelo 1886/89 featured a wooden forearm. Comparing (top to bottom) the Espingarda Modelo 1886/89, Mosqueta~o Modelo 1886 and Carabina Modelo 1886. (Courtesy Ian McCollum)

Between 1855 and 1870, the Portuguese used P53 Enfield rifled muskets they purchased from Great Britain supplemented with 8,000 Westley-Richards No. 5 “Monkey Tail” breech loading rifles and carbines. These used a forward folding breech block that was locked by a projection on the underside of the actuating lever (the “monkey tail”) bearing against a shoulder in the bottom of the receiver.

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King Manual II, the last king of Portugal, ascended the throne at the age of eighteen. South Africa, 1899. A Boer father and his sons. Several of them are armed with Modelo 1885 Guedes rifles.

The Westley-Richards fired a nitrated paper cartridge consisting of a paper tube, with a greased felt wad at its base containing 70 grains of black powder tied to a .450 caliber, 480-grain-lead bullet. When the cartridge was fired, by means of an external percussion cap, the expanding powder gases compressed the felt wad against the face of the breech block forming an effective gas seal.



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Angola, 1915. Portuguese troops armed with the Espingarda Model 1886/89. 1900. Modelo 1886/89 armed Portuguese troops, and British soldiers, guarding a railroad crossing on the Mozambique border during the Second Anglo-Boer War. 1912. Portuguese Fuzileiros training with Mosqueta~o Modelo 1886. Note they are firing black powder ammunition. 1915. Portuguese sailors armed with the Mosqueta~o Modelo 1886.

The wad remained in the chamber where it was pushed forward when the next cartridge was chambered and blown out of the barrel upon firing, cleaning the bore as it went. Muzzle velocity was approximately 1,200 fps (feet per second.4

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Military rifle cartridges used by Portugal from 1874 through the 1950s included (L to R): .577 Snider, Cartucho cal. 11mm m/78, Cartucho com bala 8mm m/85 (the 8mm m/96 looked identical), Cartucho com bala de 6,5mm m/96, 6.5×54 Mannlicher-Scho¨nauer and the Cartucho com bala de 6,5mm m/04. (Lou Behling photo)

With the advent of practical cartridge firing rifles, the 1870s saw the Portuguese place an order with Birmingham Small Arms (BSA) for 12,000 Snider-Enfield breech loading rifles and carbines.

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Angola, 1907. A group of Portuguese Marine NCOs pose for a photo.

Originally based upon converted P53 rifled muskets, the Enfield-Snider used a sideways tipping breech block opened by a serrated thumb piece containing a spring-loaded firing pin that was struck by the musket hammer. After firing, the hammer was drawn back to half cock, the breech block flipped over to the right-hand side and then pulled smartly to the rear on its axis pin, which activated the extractor, pulling the spent cartridge case from the chamber where it was removed either manually or by tipping the rifle over and letting if fall free.


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Portuguese Fuzileiros in Angola. They are armed with Mosqueta~o Modelo 1886.

Breech locking was achieved by the pressure of the hammer bearing on it and by a spring-loaded detent in the rear face of the block which entered into a recess in the back of the receiver. The Portuguese army used the Snider until the late 1880s while Major-General Renato Fernando Marques Pinto stated that during WWI some Portuguese troops (probably Cipaios) in Africa were still using Snider-Enfield and Westley-Richards “Monkey Tail” carbines and some Martini-Henrys privately purchased by colonial governors.5

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In the 1890s Portugal purchased numbers of Mannlicher Mosqueta~o Modelo 1896 from Steyr. (James Walters photo). Portugal issued Carabina Modelo 1896 to mounted and artillery units. (John P. Sheehan photo)

In 1885, Portugal became the first nation to adopt a small bore rifle, the Espingarda Modelo 1885. Developed by Lieutenant Castro Guedes Dias, it was a single shot, falling block rifle similar in operation to the Martini-Henry and chambered for the Cartucho cal. 8 com bala m/85.

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Between 1902 and 1903, the Portuguese ran rifle trials. The contenders were the French Mle. 1896 Daudeatau, Mannlicher-Scho¨nauer, Dutch M.95 Mannlicher, Rumanian Pusca 1893 and the Mauser Infanteriegewehr 98.

A contract for 40,000 rifles was placed with the Österreichische Waffenfabriks-Gesellschaft of Steyr, Austria, but few were delivered before the Portuguese realized that the day of the single shot rifle was rapidly approaching its end.6   It was decided that a repeating rifle was needed— and Steyr had one ready and waiting for them.

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The Espingarda Portugueza 6.5 Mod.1904 combined features of the 98 Mauser, turn bolt Mannlicher rifles and a Gewehr 88 type bolt. (Nathan Reynolds photo). The Espingarda Portugueza 6.5 Mod.1904 used a split bridge receiver and charger loaded magazine. (Nathan Reynolds photo). Manufacturer’s and model markings on a 6.5 Mod. 1904. (courtesy Matthew Palen). Cipher of King Carlos I on an Espingarda Portugueza 6.5 Mod.1904. (Nathan Reynolds photo). The Mod. 1904’s bolt was a simplified version of the Infanterie-Gewehr 88’s.

This led to Portugal becoming one of the first nations whose army adopted a small bore, repeating rifle for general issue — the Espingarda Modelo 1886 — better known as the Kropatschek. Developed by the Austrian Alfred Ritter von Kropatschek (1838–1911), it utilized a variation of the Infanterie-Gewehr M.71 Mauser bolt and a tubular magazine based on the Swiss Vetterli. To load the magazine, the bolt was pulled to the rear and rounds slid forward into the tubular magazine through the open receiver.

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A trio of Portuguese dragoons armed with the Carabina Model 1896. Present day Portuguese military cadets parading. They are carrying Mosqueta~o and Carabina Modelo 1886.

In 1878, the French navy had adopted a Kropatschek, the Fusil de Marine Modéle 1878, for issue to Fuzileiros  and colonial infantry. Three years later the Portuguese navy purchased a quantity of Kropatschek rifles from Steyr. Known as the Espingarda Werndl Modelo 1878 Marinha (Josef Werndl was the owner of Steyr), they were chambered for the Austrian 11mm scharfe Patrone M.1877 (Cartucho 11mm m/78).

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Portuguese sailors armed with the Mosqueta~o Modelo 1896.

In October of 1885, the Portuguese army ordered 6,000 Kropatscheks from Steyr for field trials. These were similar to the navy’s Modelo 1878 except they were chambered for the Guedes’ Cartucho cal. 8 com bala m/85. In 1886, the Guedes order was canceled and replaced with a contract for 40,000 Kropatscheks known as the Espingarda Modelo 1886. This was followed in 1887 and 1888 with orders for approximately 9,000 additional rifles. Troops in tropical regions were issued the Espingarda Modelo 1886/89 which had a half length wooden handguard to protect the soldiers’ hands from hot barrels when using the bayonet. To equip mounted units, 4,000 Carabina Modelo 1886 were ordered from Steyr along with 4,800 Mosquetão  Modelo 1886 (short rifles) for issue to artillery units, specialist troops and the navy.

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Portuguese soldiers armed with the Espingarda Portugueza 6.5 Mod.1904.

The Cartucho com bala 8mm m/85 consisted of a rimmed case 60mm in length loaded with a 248-grain round-nosed, FMJ bullet which 70-grain of compressed black powder propelled to 1,755 fps. In 1896, the smokeless Cartucho com bala 8mm m/96 was adopted which featured the same round nosed, FMJ bullet as its predecessor propelled to 1,900 fps. Three years later, to obtain improved performance with the smokeless propellant, the case length was reduced resulting Cartucho com bala 8mm m/99 utilized a 56mm rimmed case whose 248-grain projectile was now moving at 2,265 fps.7

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1916. Portuguese troops boarding transport ships to Africa. Portuguese troops drilling the Espingarda Portugueza 6.5 Mod. 1904. 1916. Portuguese troops, armed with the Espingarda Portugueza 6.5 Mod.1904, leaving for Angola.

Modelo 1886 rifles saw wide use by Portuguese forces during pre-WWI colonial campaigns the more prominent being fighting against the  Gungunyane tribe in Mozambique (1895) and the Bailundo (1902 – 1904) and Ovambo Revolts (1907) in Angola which saw local tribes rebel against encroaching Portuguese control.8 Portuguese troops, utilizing repeating rifles and artillery pieces and reinforced by Capaios and Boer commandos from South Africa, were able to counter the tribes’ numerically superior numbers and destroy their fortified villages.

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Askaris of Lettow-Vorbeck’s Deutsche Schutztruppe armed with captured Espingarda Mod. 1904 and British No. 1 Mk. III Lee-Enfields.

In January 1890, the British government sent the Portuguese an ultimatum demanding the removal of all Portuguese forces from the territory between the colonies of Angola and Mozambique. The swift compliance by the government to the British demands was seen as a national humiliation by the general population and the nobility This caused deep dissatisfaction with the new king, Carlos I, the royal family and the institution of the monarchy, all of which were seen as responsible for the alleged “national embarrassment.”

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1916. Members of a South African Commando armed with Espingarda Mod. 1904.

On January 31, 1891, a military rebellion, composed mostly of NCOs and enlisted personnel, against the monarchy took place in the city of Porto. The rebels proclaimed the establishment of the republic but were suppressed by a detachment of the municipal guard that remained loyal to the government. On February 1, 1908, while returning to Lisbon the King Carlos I and his eldest son and heir-apparent, Prince Luis Filipe, were assassinated by Carboárias, a radical anti-monarchist/clerical organization.

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Unit markings on an Espingarda Mod. 1904 used by the South Africans during WWI. 1917. Portuguese troops manning a trench in Angola.

Europe was shocked by the attack, since King Carlos was highly regarded by other European heads of state. The Lisbon regicide hastened the end of the monarchy by placing the 18-year-old, and inexperienced, Prince Manuel II (1889 – 1932) on the throne and throwing the monarchical and republican parties against one another. The stability of the government deteriorated; seven governments were established and fell in a period of 24 months. The monarchist parties continued to fragment, while the Republican Party continued to gain ground.

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Angola, 1918. Portuguese troops engaging German Schutztruppen.

On October 5, 1910, the Republican Revolution erupted in the streets of Lisbon. What started as a military coup by soldiers and sailors grew as civilians and Guarda Nacional (national police) joined it and fought with loyal garrisons and attacked the royal palace. King Manual, his wife and mother fled Lisbon and found refuge in England where they remained until his death. On October 6th, a provisional government was established which took a series of important measures that had long-lasting effects. To calm tempers, and make reparations with the victims of the monarchy, a broad amnesty was granted for crimes against the security of the State, against religion, of disobedience, of forbidden weaponry usage, etc.

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1917. A member of the CEP armed with a No. 1 Mk. III Lee-Enfield. 1918. Portuguese troops manning Maxim machine guns during fighting in East Africa. Note the soldier on the left has an Espingarda Mod. 1904.

On November 10, 1910, Great Britain recognized the Portuguese Republic, manifesting “…the liveliest wish of His Britannic Majesty to maintain friendly relations with Portugal.” Identical positions were taken by the Spanish, French and Italian governments followed by all of the major powers. On August 24, 1911, with the election of the first constitutional president of the Republic Manuel de Arriga, the Provisional Government presented its resignation, which was accepted by the president on September 3,1911, marking the beginning of the First Portuguese Republic.  Despite its longevity, by the end of the 19th century advances in military rifle design had rendered the Modelo 1886 obsolete and the Portuguese began casting about for a new rifle. In 1896, they purchased a 8,500 Rumanian-pattern 6,5mm Mannlicher carbines and short rifles, Carabina e Mosquetão  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. The Cartucho cal. 6,5 com bala mod.1896 (a.k.a. 6.5x53R Mannlicher) used a rimmed, bottle necked case 53mm in length topped with a 159-grain, round-nosed, FMJ bullet at a velocity of 2400 fps.

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1917. Portuguese Cipaios armed with Mod. 1904 rifles while their officer carries a Lewis light machine gun.

Portuguese army trials of 1902–1903 tested various rifles including the Mauser Infanterie-Gewehr 98, Dutch M.95 Mannlicher, Rumanian Pusca 1893 Mannlicher, MannlicherSchönauer and the little known French Mle. 1896 Daudeatau. The MannlicherSchönauer came out on top…but the Portuguese exchequer balked at the price tended by Steyr. Into the midst of this indecision stepped a Portuguese officer by the name of José A. Vergueiro who combined the 98 Mauser’s charger loaded magazine, sights, stock, and fittings with a Mannlicher style split bridge receiver. His primary contribution was a greatly simplified bolt based upon that of Infanterie-Gewehr 88. 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 Waffenund Munitionsfabriken (DWM) of Berlin.9

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The CEP was equipped with British small arms including the No. 1 Mk. III Lee-Enfield. (Nathan Reynolds photo) During and after WWI the Portuguese purchased Pattern 14 rifles from the British.

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 2,350 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 and Mannlichers. NOTE: In 1906, using left over parts, DWM assembled five thousand Mod. 1904 rifles chambered for the 7×57 Mauser cartridge for sale to Brazil who issued them to police (Forças Públicas) in the cities of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. According to Brazilian arms authority, Adler Homero Fonseco de Castro, they proved unpopular and within a few years were replaced with Mausers. After declaring war on Germany, in May of 1916, Portuguese troops crossed the border into Deutsches Östafrika to assist British, and Belgian forces, in pursuing the German field commander Lt. Col. Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck and his Askaris of the Deutsche Schutztruppe. They were quickly repulsed, whereupon they fell back across the border and built a line of fortifications.

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Two officers of the CEP pose for a photo.

A second offensive drove the German forces back, however, Lewttow-Vorbeck counterattacked and pushed the Portuguese back across the border again. Having demonstrated they were no match against the Germans, a third expeditionary force of 4,000 men was dispatched from Portugal. With British, South African, Indian and Belgian forces in hot (but futile) pursuit, Lettow-Vorbeck invaded Mozambique, 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 Östafrika where they 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 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 many were sold on the civilian market where they were used by South African sportsmen. At the request of the Allies in early 1917, the 55,000 man strong Corpo Expedicionário Português  (Portuguese Expeditionary Corps or CEP) was sent to the Western Front. To simplify supply, they were equipped entirely with British small arms including the No. 1 Mk. III Lee-Enfield rifle as the 7,7mm 
Espingarda Mo. 917.

During and after the war, the Portuguese purchased numbers of British Pattern 1914 “Enfield” rifles — the 7,7mm Espingarda Mo. 914 — which they issued to colonial and police units who used them well into the 1960s. While at first the CEP performed well, by the winter of 1917 high casualties, supply problems and lack of replacements caused morale to fall reducing combat effectiveness. By the Armistice in 1918, the CEP had lost 2,160 dead, 5,224 wounded and 6,678 taken prisoner — 14,000 casualties and losses out of an establishment of 60,000. I would like to thank the following for providing materials used to prepare this report: FNH-USA, HK USA, Lou Behling,  Joel Kolander, Danielle Smith, Tasha Lopez, Stuart Mowbray, John P. Sheehan, Vince DiNardi,  Ian McCollum, John Klear, Matthew Palen, Rock Island Auction Co., Liberty Tree Collectors, Morphy Auctions and College Hill Arsenal.

SOLDADO MILHÕES 

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Ani´bal Milhais (middle, front row) was the most highly decorated member of the CEP.

One of the most heroic, but unknown, soldiers of WWI was a member of the CEP,  Aníbal Augusto Milhais. A Lewis gunner at the Battle of La Lys (April 1918), he singled handedly held off two regiments of Germans which allowed Portuguese and Scottish troops to safely withdraw. After running out of ammunition he, and his Lewis Gun, avoided capture for three days and rescued a Scottish Major who was mired in a swamp in the process.

A few months later, he repeated the feat holding off advancing Germans with his Lewis gun until a Belgian unit could withdraw to their secondary line of trenches. He received the highest Portuguese award, the Ordem Militar da Torre e Espada do Valor, Lealdade e Mérito (the Order of the Tower and Sword) and the French Legion d’Honneur.  His commanding officer referred to him as “Soldado Milhões”  (worth a Million Soldiers).

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Milhais used a Mark I Lewis Light Machine gun. (Courtesy Morphy Auctions)

If you have any thoughts or comments on this article, we’d love to hear them. Email us at [email protected].



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