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No Fixed Abode, Home Counties, United Kingdom
I’m a 51-year-old Aspergic CAD-Monkey. Sardonic, cynical and with the political leanings of a social reformer, I’m also a toy and model figure collector, particularly interested in the history of plastics and plastic toys. Other interests are history, current affairs, modern art, and architecture, gardening and natural history. I love plain chocolate, fireworks and trees but I don’t hug them, I do hug kittens. I hate ignorance, when it can be avoided, so I hate the 'educational' establishment and pity the millions they’ve failed with teaching-to-test and rote 'learning' and I hate the short-sighted stupidity of the entire ruling/industrial elite, with their planet destroying fascism and added “buy-one-get-one-free”. I also have no time for fools and little time for the false crap we're all supposed to pretend we haven't noticed, or the games we're supposed to play. I will 'bite the hand that feeds' to remind it why it feeds.

Friday, October 9, 2015

S is for Soldier Magazine March 1954 - A Foreigner? In the Fusiliers!!!

Finally, over two years later (see two previous posts above, if scrolling/'newer posts' if browsing), we have a final decision and the EM2 has lost out to that last minute upstart, the Belgian FN self-loader, which would become the 'Ess-ell-arh', or Self-loading Rifle, L1A1 (SLR), also know colloquially as the 'Gatt'. The standard personal weapon of an infantryman for longer than the next three decades.

It should be noted that Churchill won an election in October 1951, and held the post of Minister for Defence (as well as PM) from October until march 1952 (when he handed over to Field Marshall Alexander), he is believed to have cancelled the EM2 during this period, some sources (link below) believe this to be in January '51.

March 1954, Soldier, The British Army Magazine

It may not lend itself to a snappy "Present Arms," but the new Belgian F.N. .300 rifle looks a beautiful weapon for the modern battlefield


In the last 50 years almost every weapon of war has been pensioned off and replaced by a better one - except the rifle.

The men who launched the Short-Magazine Lee-Enfield 
[in 1904] could never have foreseen that it would have such a record-breaking run.

Now, after many years of controversy,
[which Soldier itself has managed to avoid, doubtless there will be plenty in the archives of the 'Dailys' - and Hansard: the diary of the House of Commons] the Army's new rifle has been chosen: the Belgian F.N. (from Federation Nationale d'Armes de Guerre [sic] ) of .300-inch calibre. It is the British soldier's first self-loading rifle.

Five thousand of these weapons have already been ordered for troop trials this year. After the necessary modifications the F.N. will begin to replace the bolt-action Short-Magazine Lee-Enfield.

Why was a Belgian rifle chosen? In a series of exhaustive tests in Britain and the United States the F.N. was tried out alongside the British E.M.2 automatic rifle and a similar rifle of American design 
[presumably the T44 which would become the M14?]. Impartial observers found no difference in their performance, but the Belgian rifle was easier and quicker to make, maintain and teach. It seemed also the most likely to be accepted by other North Atlantic Treaty Organisation countries. By adopting it Britain will probably help speed the re-equipment of the North Atlantic Treaty forces [soldiers of my Father's generation have told me they were told it (the EM2) was too complicated for the servicemen of the day, National Service not ending until 1960].

In the tests of the F.N., stoppages were so rare that they had to be deliberately produced
[stoppages were getting common by the mid/late 1980's!]. The rifle has a very simple mechanism and the minimum of moving parts, so that the soldier will be able to strip and re-assemble it in a few seconds. It "breaks" like a shot-gun, allowing the body cover, breech-block slide and breech-block to be removed .

Showing the F.N. fitted with its optical sight. Note that the cocking handle 
(above the corporal's left fore-finger) is on the left-hand side of the new weapon.

The weapon has a high-rate of automatic fire - between 650 and 700 rounds a minute. A trained soldier using single shots from 20-round magazines can get off 60 aimed rounds a minute. Reloading from five-round clips, he should be able to fire between 35 and 40 aimed rounds a minute which is more than double the rate of rapid fire expected of the average soldier with the present bolt-action rifle. The soldier will carry spare 20-round magazines for use in emergency.

The rifle is fitted with a change lever to allow automatic fire, but when they are generally issued most weapons will be controlled to fire only single-shots. A few will have automatic fire, probably for use in the light machine-gun role.
[you could convert your gatt to fully-automatic using a piece of foil from the 24-hour ration pack's chewing-gum to wedge the firing-pin forward, but this then fired the whole magazine, very quickly, even if you took your finger off the trigger - it was quite dangerous and highly illegal!*]

The F.N. is gas-operated and an adjustable port in front of the centre of the barrel can be regulated to control the quantity of gas allowed to escape. The piston is built above the barrel and has its own return spring. The main spring is housed in the wooden butt which also has a compartment for cleaning material.

From the safety point of view the gun is almost foolproof. It cannot be fired until the breech-block is locked and the breech-block cannot unlock until after the bullet has left the barrel.

The rifle has two distinctive features not found on ordinary rifles: a pistol grip (like that on the Bren gun) which fits snugly behind the trigger guard, and a cocking handle placed (unlike on the Bren) on the left-hand side. In this position the cocking handle is easy to operate and the rifle can be kept roughly aligned on the target when remedying stoppages. Nor does the cocking handle move backwards and forwards while the rifle is firing, with the risk of distracting the firer. Because it is not permanently fixed to the bolt, it cannot be used to force the mechanism forward against a damaged round or other obstruction and so cause a jam which only an armourer could repair.
[a real plus over the SA80 (and presumably the EM2) where the action of the cocking lever requires the tipping of the weapon to the left as the left hand comes over the top of the weapon to cock the lever, while aim is lost. With the SLR you could - in the event of certain stoppages - keep hand-cocking and firing, all day!)

In its present form the rifle without the magazine attached weighs nine pounds three ounces (a few ounces heavier than the No.4 rifle). Its overall length is 41½ inches, three inches shorter than the No.4; the barrel is 21 inches long as against 25 inches. The weapon is well balanced and easy to handle, which is not surprising since its makers, the Fabrique Nationale d'Armes de Guerre [sic] produce some of the best sporting rifles and shot-guns in the world.

The F.N.'s magazine holds 20 rounds and weighs eight-and-a-quarter ounces when empty and one pound nine-and-a-quarter ounces full. However, it is intended that re-loading shall normally be done from five-round clips which the soldier will carry in bandoliers. For this reason the bold remains open after the last round has been fired. The bolt is closed either by depressing the catch after re-loading or by drawing the cocking handle back. [by the time I was serving the clips had all but disappeared, most people - including NCO's - didn't know how to use them and on the rare occasion they were issued (the bandoliers were a desert war colour) we'd just strip them down into our beret or helmet and load the magazines one round at a time in the normal manner]

Either the British-designed optical sight or the normal aperture sight can be employed. Troop trials will decide which is to be adopted.
[again I don't know the outcome of this, but my time we used the 'iron sights' for day-to-day work, with the SUSAT issued for field exercises and the SUIT sight (a hideous beast filled with special lead batteries) for night work]

By regulating the gas cylinder the rifle can be used to fire the Energa grenade.
[it was also stopped right down for the blank firing attachment (BFA)]

In a demonstration of the F.N. on a miniature range at the tower of London Warrant Officer Douglas Maber of the Small Arms School Corps engaged figure targets representing men 250 yards away, firing single shots and bursts of automatic fire at a rate of about 650 rounds a minute. All shots were on target.

Major-General F. R. G. Mattews, Director of Infantry, said the new rifle when mass-produced would cost £30. Probably arrangements would be made for factories in Britain to make it

 The one that got away: the British E.M.2 - a fine weapon, too.


Introduction of the self-loading rifle is likely to have far-reaching effects on the future make-up and organisation of the Army.

Because of the increased firepower which can be brought to bear by the F.N. and the L2 A1 sub-machine-gun (described in last month's SOLDIER), the battle organisation and tactics of every arm - particularly the Infantry - may have to be changed. The army will probably have fewer rifles and more sub-machine guns.

All arms will receive both weapons but in varying proportions according to their needs in action. The Infantry will have the action. The Infantry will have the largest proportion of rifles.

These new automatic weapons will not, however, oust the Bren gun. This weapon will be modified to fire the new .300 inch ammunition and will have a new magazine which will be interchangeable with that of the F.N. The future of the Vickers medium machine-gun is still undecided. It may be replaced by a new and lighter air-cooled machine-gun firing the new .300-inch round. [As I mentioned in part one; there was still at least one Vickers on the inventory of the Battle School, Brecon around 1969, but in fact the GPMG - also with FN parentage (MAG) and the same ammunition, was adopted and the converted Bren guns went first to the TA-TAVR-TA then the Cadets]

Because of the shape and mechanical construction of the new rifle drastic changes will have to be made in the present form of arms drill. As the main spring is housed in the butt the rifle must not be banged on the ground as the present bolt-action rifle often is in the interests of smartness and precision. This does not mean that the F.N. is not a sturdy weapon. A War Office expert says, "It will stand up top rough treatment very well, but continual banging on the ground could damage the mechanism." [you only had to sneeze on it and it lost it's zeroing!]

Guards and Light Infantry regiments and the School of Infantry at Warminster have been instructed to experiment with new drill movements. Until the method of handling is officially approved units will be forbidden to hold arms-drill parades with the new rifle.

The old rifle will probably be retained for ceremonial purposes in London. [which probably happened - for a few years at least?]

The rules governing rifle meetings will also have to be revised but the Army Rifle association are not returned. The necessary alterations can be introduced almost overnight, they say.

Footnote: can anyone suggest popular names for the F.N. and the L2 A1?

Dealing with the footnote first; The L2 was named: the 'Sterling', but was always referred to as the 'Ess-em-gee' [SMG] and wasn't named by the readers of Soldier Magazine after David Stirling, Stirling in Scotland (both with an 'i'), pound sterling or sterling sliver, but rather it referred back to the manufacturer - the Sterling Armaments Co. of Dagenham, East London, meanwhile the F.N. never got a name, as militaries everywhere used more and more abbreviations for all their new technology and the many sub-units that came with brush-fire wars and UN missions, it became merely the SLR.

So - the EM2 was never a 'service' weapon, although given an official service designation between August 1951 and January (?) '52, being only ever available in very small numbers, while the actual 'competition' or joint-nation commission/s and debates to find new weapons and a new calibre of ammunition dragged on for years.

The politics are dealt with ably here The EM-2, as is the technical and ballistic stuff, although he fails to mention the Soviet TKB-408 (which must have some part in this story), nor the fact that the reason the Belgians were so close to the Brits on this one (and why we were happy to junk the EM2 and adopt the SLR to please the intransigent Americans) is because the FN team were billeted on the Enfield boys for the duration of the Second World War, and both the FN-FAL and EM2 would have been common bedfellows to members of both teams. The two weapons were developed from the same coffee-break discussions!

All the talk of clips and bandoliers shows how the procurement system's bods were (as they still are today) always thinking of things in terms of the last war, not the next one! "Spare magazines for emergencies"? We all had an issue of five, we would 'purloin' a couple more during our service, so we had seven or eight - one on the gatt, four in the left pouch and two stuffed in with the cleaning kit, gloves, ear-defenders (we rarely wore because you couldn't hear orders and instructions - but the MOD were covered from hearing-related war-pension claims!) and other crap, in the right-pouch. You carried them all loaded and re-loaded at the 're-org' between objectives, faffing around with clips of five rounds never really entered into it.

I do remember one live-firing advance to contact when bandoliers were employed, as I said above they were a sandy-brown/true khaki with paler sand ticking and strap. Steve Beckala our platoon signaller was festooned with them like the Michelin Man, and ran round the position after each attack, throwing them at us (as in distributing, not attacking!). As we'd never been shown how to feed them through the working parts (as the illustration above), we just broke them down.

If you can attain "60 aimed rounds a minute" with pre-loaded magazines why would you even contemplate dropping that rate to "between 35 and 40 aimed rounds a minute" with faffing about...that's how their minds work in MOD! Also: The fact that there was a stock of bandoliers (and clips) suggests they had once had a more central role, presumably back in the 1950's, as not only did I rarely encounter them in service; I never saw them being used while hanging around Brecon and Aldershot or Germany as an army-brat either.

I don't think the light-support version ever really took-off, although there is discussion of it on the relevant Wikipedia pages and it may - like the clips/bandoliers - have been a feature of the early days (1950's). The conversion of the Bren in the short term and the coming of the GPMG 'Gimpy' in the longer term meant there was never a burning need for it, but the rod bi-pod in the second article (above; missing in the images accompanying this later article?) would have been bloody useful on the GS version (I guess it was a weight thing?), the French would get universal bi-pods with their Famas, it keeps the weapon out of the dirt for a start.

The Bren's 30-round magazine was another thing one tried to acquire after a year or two in battalion - friendly REME armourers always seem to have one or two kicking around if you bought them the odd pint! Although when used with the SLR it was better with 28 rounds, the Bren being - in part - a gravity-feed weapon, the spring was weaker, and used to run out of 'puff' on the last couple of rounds which could lead to a miss-feed stoppage!

Interestingly - digging around for these articles the bayonet note I put in the article I edited yesterday turns out to be not the EM2's (carried over to the SLR), but the bayonet from the earlier jungle version of the Lee-Enfield (the No.5 rifle), carried through to both the replacement contenders, with adjustments, I've now put a link on that page.

* The firing-pin trick was illegal twice, once because it just wasn't allowed and again because playing with the firing-pin was part of a REME 'armourer's strip' not an infantryman's 'field cleaning strip', it was the same with the sear & pin on the GPMG, but we all did it anyway!

Finally can anyone ID the shoulder flash of the corporal in the third image down?

Thanks to Soldier Magazine and Andy Clarkson for digging these out for us
Wikipedia - L1A1 SLR
Wikipedia - FN FAL
Wikipedia - Fabrique Nationale d'Herstal
Wikipedia - L2A1 SMG

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