Rifle Competition: US vs. UK in 1950 (DTIC)

280fal1

DTIC is a wonderful resource for finding documents that are important records in firearms history. One such article, which we will be looking at today, entitled “A Comparison Test Between United Kingdom And United States Lightweight Rifles” documents the 1950 test between the .280 caliber EM-2 (Janson Rifle, later Rifle No. 9), .280 caliber FN automatic carbine (later FN FAL, after a caliber change to the American .30 Light Rifle cartridge), and .30 caliber T25 rifle.

The tests were the product of considerable political maneuvering in the contest to field a NATO standard rifle and cartridge. In part because of this political tinge, the trials were held with great fairness, and the rifles heavily tested over the course of six months. The results were as follows:

SUMMARY

Two rifles of each model were subjected to a light rifle test. Of the 3 models tested the EM2 gave the best performance in the dust, mud, cold, dry, and automatic accuracy tests, but gave the poorest performance in the disassembly, sea water immersion, salt spray, rain, elevation and grenade tests and gave the greatest number of parts breakages in the endurance test. The FN rifle gave the best performance in the disassembly, endurance, salt spray and flash (with flash hider) tests but gave the poorest in the semi-automatic accuracy and cold test. The T25 rifle gave the best performance in the rain, elevation, semi-automatic accuracy, sea water immersion and grenade tests and was the only rifle to complete the cook-off test but gave the poorest performance in the mud, dust and dry tests.

The result of these tests dealt a major blow to the EM-2 rifle, and despite its adoption by the British labor government in 1951, the EM-2 would be abandoned later that year. The T25 also left the tests with a black eye due to its sensitivity to foreign medium ingress, and would eventually be cancelled.

This would leave the FN FAL standing alone as the NATO rifle-to-be, which was again tested against the very modest T44, which at the time was just converted from existing T20 rifle receivers (themselves just a modification of the M1 Rifle design to accept 20 round detachable magazines). The T44 fared very poorly when compared to the FAL in this second round of tests, which seemed to seal the deal and make the FAL the NATO Light Rifle. However, the T44 – down but not out – was offered again for Arctic trials, in which it performed much better than the FAL. The FAL would nevertheless become “The Right Arm of The Free World” – almost a de-facto NATO standard, but without actual standardization, and with the Americans eventually adopting the improved T44E4 in 1957 as the M14, its success would be tempered by other competitive designs.



Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He can be reached via email at nathaniel.f@staff.thefirearmblog.com.


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  • Yellow Devil

    “Here we go again,
    Same old s__t again.
    Marching down the avenue,
    I’ll take a FAL, so will you.

    Am I right or wrong?
    You’re wrong!
    M14 has won?
    It’s done!

    Sound off!
    Seven six two!
    Sound again!
    Through and through!
    Seven point six two wins on through, lets go!”

    -U.S. Army Cadence sung shortly after the adoption of the M14 rifle.

    • Ben

      That’s a pretty clever bit of PR by the Army on behalf of the rifle.

    • ghost

      Don’t remember that cadence in the Airborne. But, at the time we considered ourselves separate from “The Army”. Not that we had any idea what an FAL was in 1962.

      • Yellow Devil

        Sarcasm is indeed a dying art on the internet.

        • ghost

          I should have known.

  • While the official adoption of the EM2 was rescinded by the new Conservative government, the EM2 was still a contender in the UK rifle trials until the end of 1953.

  • One thing to remember is that the T20E2 receivers were longer than the basic M1 Garand receiver. So the early T44 variants had a receiver that was far longer than necessary for the .30 Light Rifle cartridge. Later T44 variants like the T44E4 had purpose designed receiver with reduced dimensions..

  • Blake

    “In part because of this political tinge, the trials were held with great fairness, and the rifles heavily tested over the course of six months.”

    Tales from a bygone era…

  • Vitsaus

    Hard to believe the US would force the adoption of a rifle in spite of some other rifle performing generally better. Good thing they stopped doing that after the m14 was adopted.

    • DaveP.

      I see what you did there…

  • Hypothetical Thought

    Makes one wonder if the FAL had been adopted by the U.S. if it would’ve still been replaced by the M-16 roughly a decade later, or if the FAL would’ve performed good enough in SE Asia to not warrant looking for another new rifle.

    • Vitsaus

      Still would have been too heavy for airforce sentries to carry around all day, hence still would have been changed.

      • Anonymoose

        They were still carrying M1 Carbines while the Army, Marines, and Navy were using M14s though. Also, the Aussies used FAL carbines to great effect in Vietnam.

        • Tom

          Correct me if I am wrong on this but I understand most of the Aussie and New Zeland troops where better trained than the average American draftee and as such better performance might be down to better training/tactics than weaponry.

          I think the USAF would still of gone with AR15 rifles and its doubtful the Army/Marines would have been able to resist the pressure from McNamara to switch. We could argue to the end of days over the merits of the FAL over the M14 and vice versa but considering what the “establishment” considered important at the time the AR15 was still the better weapon – automatic fire, lighter weight, more ammo, a nice new contract for Colt 🙂 etc.

          Perhaps the more interesting what if would be the adoption of an intermediate cartridge in the standard rifle back in the 50s. But that of course was never a real possibility.

          • Fruitbat44

            FWIW the British Army did adopt the AR-15 specifically for the jungle warfare role. And the ANZACs made fair use of it in Vietnam as well.

          • Hypothetical Thought

            Interesting, didn’t know that.

          • Alan

            The ANZACs fought in WWI, not Vietnam.

          • Fruitbat44

            True. I meant it more as a general term for the elements of the Australian and New Zealand armed forces which did fight in Vietnam.

          • Grunto

            The Aussie Army was a jungle army back then plus it was fighting in places like Malaya and Borneo.It also had Infantry units posted around S.E Asia so it had a hell of a lot of jungle time before it got to Vietnam.It fought differently also it was not getting thrown into meat grinders like their Yank brothers.

          • Anonymoose

            The AR15/M16 is still a major improvement over the M1 Carbine.

          • Kivaari

            You hit the right key. The better cartridge would have been the .280 British. Look at where that class of cartridges has gone. Well, no place, but the 6.8 SPC, 6.5 Creedmore and similar would have made more sense than the 7.62mm NATO.

        • Jake Barnes

          Some of the Australians who fought in Vietnam were National Servicemen (read: Drafted). They Australians switched to the M16 in Vietnam early on in the conflict. The only Australian units to use the FAL (L1A1) were Recon and SAS.

          • Grunto

            Negative.. the SLR as we called the FN ,was the main rifle of the Australian Army and Infantry until at least 1992.I was in the last Platoon to use it at the School of Infantry in 1991 along with the M16A1.

            The M16 replaced the F1 SMG in all Infantry battalions in Vietnam.So you only got 2 or 3 M16s per 9 man section.Recon platoons and SASR were actually the ones that used more M16s.

            With regular Grunts the SLR was always the more trusted weapon from what I remember

      • Jay

        Had the FAL been introduced in an intermediate cartridge, like the .270/.280 British, it might have been light enough to be issued service wide, without the need for a lighter gun for the air force.
        The Russians had no problem issuing AK-47s to all services.

    • Wetcoaster

      I don’t think it was ever performance that was the issue so much as it was US government and military politics.

      McNamara or Curtis LeMay getting hit by a car would have been a much more important factor – The former happening might have kept the Air Force and Army weapons independent for that much longer, while without the latter, the AR-15 never gets into the US inventory through the back door leaving the field open for other (maybe more conservative) designs.

      Might have ended up with Springfield making something like the Mini-14/AC-556 a decade sooner instead.

  • Riot

    Major blow?
    It didn’t have the simplest dissasembly hardy a major blow

    • It performed the worst in the test, except in semi-auto accuracy, cold, and mud, dust, and dry tests.

    • nadnerbus

      Look up Ian’s video on forgotten weapons of the disassemble of that thing, and then imagine yourself doing it in a dark foxhole.

  • ghost

    A perfect infantry rifle for everyone, for every environment? Is there such a thing? To us the M-14 was a better rifle than the M-1. Semi auto only. The M-16s we were issued were fine on the rifle range. Much easier to clean, break it open, dust it down, rod the barrel, except for one major flaw. We could not break down and clean the bolt assembly in the field. (there were other problems early on). When the firing pin was jammed by residue you were out of rifle. Understand that has been fixed long since. The on going argument as to lethality of one cal. or the other is another matter. Left to some politicians of today, the infantry would not be armed at all.

  • Anonymoose

    iirc, before they started the .30 Light Rifle and FAL projects, most of NATO had already switched to .30-06 Garands or SAFNs, and right after WWII, Britain had planned on adopting the 8mm Mauser in a semi-auto rifle (most likely the SAFN).

    • Britain went back and forth on adopting alternately .30-06 or 8mm Mauser, and they weren’t alone in seeking to modernize/unify arms in this way.

      So, in that way, 7.62x51mm was a bit of a godsend.

      • Anonymoose

        We should have just necked up .30-06 to 8mm and called it a day. :^)

      • gunsandrockets

        The 7.62 NATO is so similar to the older French 7.5, that I can see why the French never changed over until very recently.

        • I’m not sure when they changed over their machine guns. The FAL Rifle talks about the French chambering the AA-52 for the 7.62 NATO in the early Fifties, but I think they subsequently backed out of NATO and continued to use 7.5mm. Their rifles have never used the 7.62 NATO; they switched directly from the 7.5mm MAS 49 to the 5.56mm FA MAS.

          • gunsandrockets

            I’m not aware that the French ever flirted with adapting the 7.62 NATO cartridge until the 21st Century. And even now that seems more of a case of replacing the inferior AA-52 than it is replacing of the 7.5 French cartridge.

            According to my 10th edition of Small Arms of the World, the AA-52 chambered in 7.62 NATO was only for test and for export, and only the 7.5mm version of the AA-52 was used by France.

          • They definitely flirted with it; they even made 7.62 NATO MAS 49 prototypes.

            I don’t know enough about French small arms to say what they use in their current MGs.

  • Fruitbat44

    The EM-2 was definitely a rifle ahead of it’s time. Intermediate calibre, selective fire and integral optical sights. And given this was the early fifties, the result of applied experience of fighting in World War Two.

    Yet . . . The British military has very fond memories of the SLR. (A semi-auto only version of the FN FAL a.k.a L1A1) So the EM-2 losing out wasn’t exactly a “bad thing.” Or at least not all bad.

  • Lance

    I agree this is another waste of time the M-14 won FAL lover get over it. FAL had same problems as the M-14 it was uncontrollable on full auto heavy compaired to the next generation of rifles in 5.56mm.

    Overall the M-14 still solders on while most nations replaced the old FAL. They made a M-14 sniper rifle IE M-21, M-25, M-14 DMR, M-14 EBR. They couldn’t do that with a FAL and like the Brits had to goto AR-10s to fill the gap.

    • Depends what you mean by “won”; the FAL saw service with over 90 countries, over many decades; the M14 with around 20, and for a much shorter period.

      The M14 has been dragged out and pressed into service as a DMR, sure, but then it too has been replaced by the M110 SASS.

      • Tom

        It should also be remembered that the M14 was given away to a lot of those countries. Commercially it was a failure in contrast to the FAL.

        As for the resurgence if the M14 in recent times well to quote Rumsfeld you run with what you got. The Americans had plenty of essentially NIB M14 perfectly suitable for the DMR role. The British could not reissue the FAL as all ours were dumped after being worn out by 30 plus years if service. Of course the M14 was always the more accurate of the two and thus a better candidate. So the British went with LWRC rifles in 7.62 which I for one think was a better option for the modern battlefield than the M14.

        • Jay

          The only reason they sent the M14 back in service, was the obvious shortcomings of the 5.56mm. Had they selected the FAL, in the .270/.280 British, the bad controllability in full auto, wouldn’t be a problem, and they could have issued them service wide.

    • Fruitbat44

      AR-10s in British service? Errr . . . . are you sure about that?

      • Tom

        Yep they are made by LWRC but I can not recall the model. Its essentially a 16″ DI gun with a fancy optic. By all accounts its been well received.

        • Fruitbat44

          Ah. The puzzlement fades. Not AR-10s as in the late-fifties Eugene Stoner designed rifle, but a 7.62mm NATO rifle using a direct gas impingement system like the AR-10’s.

          According to G&A the rifle adopted as the L129A1 Sharpshooters Rifle is a modified version of LMT’s LW308MWS. And yes, it does seem to have been well received.

          Okay, the only comments I’ve ever heard about it was from a RAF armourer passing on what he’d heard from RAF Regiment Gunners, but they liked it a lot.

      • L129A1, which is an AR-10 in the same way a Galil is an AK.

    • Anonymoose

      UKSF actually switched over to using scoped G3A3s and A4s as DMRs with the official adoption of the SA80, especially in Northern Ireland, although a lot of L1A1s were in British and Commonwealth service through Desert Storm, iirc. They also have the L86 “LSW” (which was re-purposed from the replacement for the 7.62×51 BREN to be more of a DMR than a SAW), a heavy-barreled version of the C8 that’s similar to the SEALs’ Recce Rifle, the LMT L129, and the HK417 (SAS and SBS have them, at least, iirc).

  • davey p

    I carried an SLR in 1972 we learned to drill with it and today the aussie army still does ceremonial with this rifle because it is well suited to that purpose to shoot the weapon was an experience it had plenty of power and range and if you knew a bit about marksmanship you could get a good group with it stoppages happened but if you kept him clean then they were usually gas fouling turn the regulator it stripped down pretty easily ergonomically it was more comfortable to shoot than the M14 ..but I do think the quality of the M14 was way out in a class of its own we wernt allowed to have the full auto version in Australia so we can only remember the the semi autos and they were awesome but a bit too heavy for my liking ..shooting at meat with a 5.56 is not a very good idea the little bullet is challenged

  • gunsandrockets

    FAL the de-facto NATO standard? Oh no I don’t think so. If anything the G3 was the de-facto standard. Except for Italy, all the front line NATO nations used some G3 variant, and the largest land armies of NATO, the Turks and Germans, used the G3.