The Swiss SK-46 Semiauto: Last Gasp of the Semi/Manual Hybrid

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The world of early semiautomatic rifles is a wild, untamed one. The conventions that are virtually set in stone today as best practices didn’t exist, and a seemingly endless combination of requirements and ideas came together to produce some truly weird and wonderful firearms.

One of those was the Swiss SK-46, one of the last examples of the now-dead idea of giving the soldier the choice of using his rifle as a semiautomatic or as a bolt-action. In its time, this idea made sense: The semiauto concept surely offered a great deal more capability, but also the ordnance officials of various countries did not want to lose any capability, and wanted the weapons to feel familiar. As well, early semiautomatics were not as reliable as they are today, and the option of operating one as a bolt-action rifle in theory could give them resilience against the elements that they otherwise wouldn’t have.

Ian McCollum of Forgotten Weapons takes a look at the SK-46, which by that year of 1946 combined the outdated hybrid rifle idea with a tilting bolt; at that time a feature considered state of the art:

Most countries played around with this idea (e.g., Germany and the G.41(M)), but by the time World War II ended it was clear it was unnecessary and added complexity. The excellent M1 Garand had paved the way for the modern semiauto.



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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  • gunsandrockets

    Fascinating. It’s actually simpler than I first assumed. Quite ingenious.

    The deep heritage of the K31 is evident not just in the barrel/stock but also in the receiver layout, despite the tilting lock breechblock.

  • CS

    I think it would be fun to have more options like this today. Perhaps Ruger is listening…. can i have a semi-auto-bolt-hybrid 10/22?

    • iksnilol

      Such things were made by ze Germans.

      I remember a .22 that operated as a bolt action and semi auto depending on where the bolt handle was: If you closed the handle completely like on a turn bolt it acted like a bolt action, if you raised the bolt handle and left it like a charging handle then it would shoot semi auto. This was a blowback .22 though, I doubt you can make it work with large calibers without being heavy or complicated.

      On a .22 it could be made easy. Just a charging handle that rotates and a notch to hold it.

      • Sledgecrowbar

        I found one of those rifles at a gun show years ago and didn’t have the money for it. Would be an excellent gun to get someone used to shooting, go from bolt action to semiauto with one familiar package.

  • BattleshipGrey

    That’s pretty cool to be able to hold a rare piece of history, knowing there were only 18 ever made (who knows how many still exist). I can certainly see why it wasn’t successful. The pdf at Forgotten Weapons said it was 10lbs, but it looks heavier. It looks overly complicated and there were obviously still some design specs that no one wanted to move away from. Even so, I give them credit for using some of the same parts as the K31.

  • Matt F.

    I’m with CS below me in saying I think a gun like this would be a lot of fun today. Maybe no practical military purpose, (though, with the recent inrease in the use of SA sniper rifles, I could be wrong) but I’d love to have one in my gun safe, Albeit, in a more common caliber.