Now its never been a mystery to me, and I have explained more than once how it came about; here on this blog, on the HaT forum (when I was active there) and elsewhere on the Internet as well as in real-life, in conversation with fellow collectors and passers-by at shows. Yet there is still misinformation out there, I guess there always will be, but hopefully these following three articles will help?
The reason I've always stuck to my version of events - that it was due to press publicity, probably following a fire-power demonstration, probably at Lulworth Cove or on 'The Plain', probably given by the Demonstration Battalion at the School of Infantry in Warminster - was because I could remember reading the articles in my Father's old bound volumes of Soldier Magazine from the 1950's. I am glad to be able to report that thanks to that magazine (which is still going and is still a good read), and the C2 Business Manager Andy Clarkson, I have located those articles, and reproduce them here to help put this 'question' to bed.
The first article was published on 1st October 1951, the lead-up being almost certainly under wraps and protected by the Official Secrets Act, so this was probably the first time the soldiery had heard about it in their official magazine (the daily press breaking it a few days earlier) and it's the earliest article Andy could find. The article I remembered was the one we'll look at two posts down, these three posts going-up together in chronological order down the page.
I've copied the text as it is in the scans as some of it would have been unreadable, or hard to read as JPG's. All capitalisation and punctuation, hyphens and the like is reproduced faithfully and with several authors and only one byline; the hyphen rule particularly varies between articles. I have annotated in normal (pale grey) text with square brackets, and both coloured the original text and italicised it.
October 1951, Soldier, The British Army Magazine
IT'S A RIFLE PLUS
Perhaps it is sensationalism to say that the fate of the world may depend on •02 of an inch. That is the difference in calibre between Britains new and widely publicised •288 rifle (or 7mm as it is now known) and the American Garand •300 which is the weapon of the other Atlantic Pact countries.
Either the calibre of the British weapon becomes the calibre of the Atlantic Pack countries, or it does not.
This decision may have been taken by the time these lines appear. [in other words, it's all still up in the air] A recommendation was due to be made this month to the Defence Ministers of the Atlantic Powers, meeting in Rome, by the specialists of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.
It is not so much the weapons that are the problem, but the ammunition. Member countries do not mind what rifles the other nations use, provided the same bullet fits all barrels. Firearms can be adapted to take a smaller bullet, but not a larger one. Hence the Garand could be made to fire a 7mm bullet; but the new 7mm rifle could not be adapted to fire •300.
At present, Britain is the nation out of step. Most countries in the Pact had already made plans to produce weapons of the American calibre, which like the British •303 has not been changed for 50 years.
No small arms weapon has had the grooming for stardom that the Enfield experts have put into their newest production. There has been no question of taking an existing rifle and 'sophisticating' it. The new weapon was devised from scratch.
What the designers did was to list the faults of earlier weapons: excessive weight; deficiency in fire power (this was responsible for the introduction of light machine-guns); inferiority in close quarters (hence the machine carbine) [a problem retained with the long-barrelled SLR]; difficulty of mastering sights; smallness of magazine; inadequate standard of accuracy (hence the need for sniper rifles).
In the new rifle the barrel length has been reduced and the wooden butt abolished, thus lessening weight. The weapon is designed all in one line - from the muzzle to the shoulder rest. This has eliminated muzzle jump found in previous types. The kick has also disappeared. [both problems retained with the introduction of the SLR]
Although there is a cocking handle the new rifle is self-loading; the gasses in the barrel have been taped to drive back the mechanism. The result is a greater rate of fire. A press button makes the weapon automatic. Thus the rifle has three roles: rifle, light machine-gun and carbine. [no talk of 'assault rifles' back in the 1950's?]
The reduction in the size of the round and the fact that its case is rimless enables a larger and straighter magazine to be used. Previously, because of the rims, magazines in both rifles and the Bren have had to be curved. The magazine has now been placed behind the trigger, thus fitting into the triangle mad by the trigger, elbow and shoulder. Should the firer want to aim downwards over a bank there is no risk of the magazine fouling the ground.[a problem retained with the SLR]
The trigger mechanism is so designed that the firer can change from single-shot to automatic without removing his hand. For men wearing arctic gloves which do not have separate fingers there is a special large trigger guard which can take the whole hand.
The rifle has a carrying handle on top of which rest the sights in a protective steel tube. That old rule of aiming which demands that the tip of the foresight shall be in the center of the backsight aperture no longer applies. Looking through the sight is like looking through a telescope which contains a guiding vertical mark and cross wires.
To the muzzle can be attached a healthy looking dagger bayonet and an attachment for firing grenades. [the bayonet looks like it was retained/adapted to fit the SLR, the grenade would have been the Mecar Energa, an AT-grenade issued in '52 for the Lee-Enfield and carried over to the SLR, it's firing attachment was the reason for the unused pouch'lette stitched to the side of the right-hand ammo-pouch where we kept our KFS or 'cabby' racing spoon]
Last year the new rifle and ammunition - the bullets are lighter but have greater penetrating power - went to the United States where for seven months at a variety of military stations they were demonstrated by one of the best shots and ablest instructors from the Small Arms School Corps at Hythe - Quartermaster-Sergeant-Instructor Henry Thwaites. There is no doubt that the weapon impressed the audience, just as it did at the more recent demonstration at the School of Infantry, Warminster, before Members of Parliament, foreign military attaches and the Press. [this is the 'fire-power demo' I have alluded to in the past]
Again the demonstrator was Quartermaster-Sergeant-Instructor Thwaites, aided by Experimental Quartermaster-Sergeant F.A.Herbert of the Experimental Establishment, Pendine. There was something of the atmosphere of a first night at the theatre, and a little of the last day of the King's Prize contest at Bisley.
From the weapon pit a demonstration was given of the American •303 Garand. In a minute 43 well aimed shots, all hitting the target, were fired. Next came the British No. 4 Lee-Enfield, the present service rifle, Quartermaster-Sergeant-Instructor Thwaites drew applause for his prefect bolt-action and but for a round jamming he would have fired 30 rounds in the minute instead of 28. The Army expects the fully trained soldier to get off 15 well aimed shots in that time.
Then came the new rifle. The movie cameras buzzed, microphones were switched on. The crowd counted - one, two, three,…27, 28, 29 …54, 55, 56… Altogether 84 rounds left the rifle before the minute was up.
The demonstrations that followed were equally impressive. Single shots and bursts were tried out by the new rifle. Steel helmets at 600 yards range were holed. (It is claimed the rifle can penetrate them at 1000 yards). Two new rifles and magazines were placed in a chest into which was fanned sand to give a sandstorm test. After five minutes the two weapons were taken out, the demonstrators blew the sand off the sights and then fired, first with the magazines already fitted to them and then with the magazines which had been placed separately in the chest. Even the thickly coated rounds were fired as if they had come straight out of the armourers shop. The Garand was not put to this test. It is known that it would not fire with sand in the works.
A test in which rounds from the three weapons were fired, from 100 yards, into a coffin-shaped chest containing a series of one-inch planks put the Garand ahead of the two British rifles, but it was pointed out that over longer distances the 7mm bullet sustains its velocity better than the other two. Tracer was also fired from the new rifle and the old.
A demonstration was also given of a new 7mm sustained fire machine-gun still in the development stage, which may eventually replace the Vickers [School of Infantry, Brecon would still have a Vickers on manifest in 1969]. Although the Bren gun can be converted to 7mm, there was not one available for demonstration. [this seems to be on the Vickers tripod, the GPMG (from the same FN stable as the SLR) would get a lighter version which folds-up to a smaller man-portable load, also; the one above looks like a reduced-size Polsten cannon!]
To show the use of the new rifle in action, two sections of Infantry (supplied by the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Regiment) [who in 1951 were stationed in Warminster, home of the Demonstration Battalion as I've previously suggested], one with the 7mm and the other with No. 4 rifles, gave each other covering fire as they attacked "enemy" positions. It was simple to tell the 7mm men by their rate of fire.
The proudest man present was Mr. E. N. Kent-Lemon, who was in charge of the team which produced the new rifle at Enfield, The most enthusiastic was Quartermaster-Sergeant-Instructor Thwaites. He said: "This is the simplest weapon to teach, I was given a squad of 11 Infantrymen, not one with more than six weeks service. We had only one rifle between us, which meant that when I taught them they had to pass the weapon round. Yet in two days they not only mastered it, but were able to fire a course on range. The average result was 15 points out of 20".
Whatever the Pact countries decide about the standardisation of calibre, Britain reserves her right to go ahead with production of the new rifle.
Peter Lawrence [byline]
The article mentions 'the new rifle' umpteen times yet the opening lines make it quite clear this is more of an all-or-nothing roll of the dice than any policy decision.
The apparent shortage of usable weapons suggests this was still far from a 'service weapon' in late 1951 (as stated on the Wikipedia page!). The truth is 'PR' is being used to push this weapon and it's chosen calibre over the rival entries in the pan-NATO commission looking into both replacement weapons technology and a replacement ammunition round.
Assuming the two squads had no MG's so that they didn't upset the audio-effect sought, and allowing for two more in the sand boxes and another two for the QMSI and EQMS, with maybe one more on a display table, with spares there probably weren't 20 weapons present, and they probably represented the bulk of the production?
I would add, that as a user of the SLR I would rather have had this to play with - as you can probably tell from the notes I've added in the text! They [the points] were all also true of the later SA80 which I was issued in 1987 as one of the first units to get it, and we got it before the drill had been taught us, so for a while the arms cote had a pile of unloved SLR's in one corner just for drill/ceremonials!
The shorter length meant egress from vehicles and FIBUA were both easier, the position of the magazine meant you could replace an 'empty' without waving the thing all over the place, recoil was zero compared to the kick of the old gatt, the mag. didn't foul on the ground, or catch on things...
Many thanks to Andy Clarkson at Soldier Magazine
Wikipedia - EM2 page
Memories of 1st Btn. Harts & Bucks Reg.
Wikipedia - Other Bull Pups
Wikipedia - The Bayonet
Part two (post below, if scrolling/'older post' if browsing) looks at a late entry in the field...