Firearm Showcase: The British EM-2 Bullpup at the Cody Firearms Museum – HIGH RES PICS!

In January, just before the 2017 SHOT Show, I got the opportunity to travel to Cody Wyoming to visit the Cody Firearms Museum at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, to see some of their rare firearms and bring photos of them to our readers.

Today we’re taking a look at a rifle I’ve been trying to get my hands on for a very long time: A fabled British bullpup, the EM-2. This rifle was an experimental post-war development in the UK which participated in the NATO trials that eventually resulted in the adoption of the FAL by the British as the L1A1 SLR, and the T44E4 by the USA as the M14. Still, the aborted EM-2 seeded the idea of a combat bullpup in the minds of British planners, a seed that would eventually become the (sadly, very poor) Enfield SA80 family of weapons.

Although the EM-2 is most famous chambered in the British experimental .280 cartridge, I believe the below example is actually chambered for the round that would become 7.62 NATO, as indeed most of the EM-2s that were actually produced were.

If you’re interested in seeing more of the Cody Firearms Museum, I highly recommend taking a trip out to Cody, Wyoming to see their awesome and extensive collection. They have over 7,000 firearms, about 4,000 of which are on display. In particular, if you have an interest in Winchester firearms and their history, Cody is the place to be. If just a visit isn’t enough for you, then check out the museum’s 79-page book, which highlights some of the finest pieces in their collection!



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 is also the author of the original web serial Heartblood, which is being updated and edited regularly. He can be reached via email at nathaniel.f@staff.thefirearmblog.com.


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  • yodamiles

    How’s the sight? The eye piece looks really tiny, smaller than WWII German optic.

    • CWO John Miller (RET)

      My friend, the late SGM Jack Walentine was part of the U.S. tests of the EM-2. He
      said the optic was like looking thru a soda straw. He was a good shot and really
      liked the rifle & the 280/30 cartridge. Regards, CWO John Miller (RET)

    • The optic is tiny and awful, resembles a ZF-41 turned upside down. It may be even smaller, though.

      • Anonymoose

        It’s not simply a Mini-ACOG, it’s a Pico-ACOG!

        • DW

          PICOG

    • clampdown

      My thoughts exactly. I can imagine your target looking at it and seeing at huge eyeball at the opening, like a telescope in a cartoon…

  • nate

    man it would be so cool if some companies made working reproductions of some of these firearms

    • B-Sabre

      Agree. Likewise that Winchester Light Military Rifle showcased earlier this week. That one would be interesting as a possible competitor to the Ruger Mini-14, even as a “CA compliant” gun.

    • Mike

      Or a .22 version, come on Walther/Umerex.
      There was talk of a SA80 version in .22

  • The_Champ

    Did you get to actually handle and shoulder that thing? Length of pull looks pretty long. Have to admit it is quite a leap forward going from a Lee Enfield to that rifle.

    • LOP was pretty long, but it didn’t feel horrible. The gun felt impressively light and was well balanced for a bullpup.

      Definitely an impressive firearm in many respects, although it raises a lot of questions, too.

      • The_Champ

        No doubt they would have found many kinks to work out, but I’m sure British soldiers would have appreciated this rifle over the Enfield in places like Korea.
        What are your quick thoughts on .280 British vs 7.62 NATO? Think it would have been a better choice? It offered roughly 6.5×55 ballistics, right?

        • .280 British was interesting at the time, but it now has achieved this unholy cult status where followers ascribe many mystical properties to it, such as the ability to treat warts and scars, and to remove heavy metals from water.

          I’ve written about the .280 British before, here, so I’d check that out: http://www.thefirearmblog.com/blog/2016/08/13/modern-historical-intermediate-calibers-012-280-british-special-extended-edition/

          Short version: “.280 British” went through a lot of permutations, kind of like the 10mm Auto, and as a result many people conflate the characteristics of different versions and create a picture of this wunderkart that could do everything. In reality, it was an interesting idea that I think was held back by the small scale of the British development effort. Although I think it was the better concept, I think in the end there was no real chance of it winning NATO adoption. 7.62 NATO was much more mature and the obvious better choice as a result.

          • idahoguy101

            The 7×57 Mauser, the 276 Peterson, and lastly the 280 British… all missed opportunities by the US Army

          • Hm, the only one of those I’d really agree with is the 7mm Mauser. 🙂

          • No one

            The .270 and .280 were legitimately completely terrible, what we got instead, we got for a very good reason.

            I don’t get why the terrible rounds this gun used get such a great reputation when they were both so bad, if anything, Britain dodged a bullet by not adopting .270 or .280 or going anywhere near them.

            The 7x57mm Mauser also wasn’t that big of a loss for what he had at the time, but that’s not relevant here.

          • The_Champ

            Care to expand on why you think they were “completely terrible”? To me they seem like a step in the right direction, away from the over powered rounds then in use that were all carry overs from the late 1800s.

          • No one

            That’s one big myth about the .280 British actually, even the very early loads had about the same ballistics and slightly more recoil then 7.62x39mm, the vast majority were only a hair below 7.62x51mm in that regard.

            The .280 was also horrendously inaccurate, when tested by the US, Among other massive problems related to the EM-2, it shot a baffling average of 14 MOA at 100 yards, .280 Chambered FALs tested didn’t exactly shoot very accurately either. I had to actually repost this because I posted a DTIC link that got my first reply auto purged.

          • The_Champ

            Accuracy problems that big sound like a gun issue, or an ammunition quality control issue, and have little to do with the viability of the round.

          • No one

            Considering the .280 chambered FALs, as mentioned before also had the same problems and this never really went away with either gun, It’s pretty safe to assume it’s the round when the FAL didn’t have these problems after switching the 7.62x51mm. (the rounds themselves in cross section were also rather poorly designed, being flat based as opposed to boat tailed.)

            Also, it still wouldn’t fix the issue that all but the very earliest loads still had just marginally less recoil then 7.62×51, which actually has close to, if not the same power as late 1800s-early turn of the century “full power” rounds, meaning it was still excessively powerful overall.

            What we got in the end was much better, generally the trend of SCHV lightweight rounds in the 5-6mm range has proven to be optimal in balancing weight, recoil, wounding effects, and range from it’s inception to the present day for modern standard issue rifles. (For anything that requires engagement beyond what those with a standard issue rifle are even trained to hit, let alone wise to try and engage, that’s what our numerous support weapons and squad members carrying them are for.)

          • seymour099

            > the small scale of the British development effort.
            According to a weapons engineer with some knowledge of the initiative to promote the rifle and the .280 round to the US military, there were a couple of other factors:
            – US technical authorities of the day did not regard high-velocity smallbore cartridges as suitable for the task, and
            – the individual they chose to sell it to the US was not much of a diplomat.
            Combined, these sank the initiative.

          • seymour099

            I also should mention that this engineer had shot the .280 EM-2, and was very taken with its design and performance.

    • n0truscotsman

      Its a fascinating rifle, for sure. Kind of a prophetic design, being an intermediate cartridge rifle, with optics, and bullpup. It definitely had some weight in the modern L85 concept.

  • Vitor Roma

    I’d love to see the insides of this gun.

  • hikerguy

    It’s the first non-black and white pic of this firearm I have seen. It is impressive. Like the others have said…..That optic would have been a headache to use. Thanks for the article.

    • clampdown

      Literally a headache…ughhh

      • KestrelBike

        No joke.. it hurts just to look at the picture of it. Good god my retinas…

  • rangefinder

    I have lucky enough to shoot two versions of the EM2 courtesy of Blake Stevens, who wrote the definitive work on the FN rifle, and Mr Thomas Duglelby who wrote
    the history of the EM2 concept and design.One version of the EM2 was chambered in 7mmx51 the other in7.62 NATO In both cases the weapons were a delight to shoot.They handled very well and the recoil of both was surprisingly light.The only problem I had was with the optical sight which was awful.The field of view was very small and the reticle was extremely complicated for what it was.
    My range estimation with it was hopeless.I shot better with the iron sights
    All in all you can only wonder what would have happened if it went into general service.As for that abortion known as the SA80(which I have also fired )the less said about that the better.

  • disqus_PDmXLtTxJj

    I’ve always thought these guns looked cool, something sci-fi about them.

  • MartinWoodhead

    The m14 was US military’s shortest lived service rifle for a reason it ignored every lesson from ww2 .
    The em2 at least acknowledged the average soldier didn’t need a 1000yd rifle.

    • No one

      Hence why we got the M16, which was born of more lessons learned then both designs.

      (The M14 was mediocre, I won’t argue that, assuming we don’t skip a bit to the future a tad where SCHV lightweight designs would soon take over, the AR-10 or FN FAL in 7.62x51mm would’ve been much better choices then the M14, but hindsight is 50/50.)