The Weapon That Should Not Have Been Forgotten – the EM-1 with Forgotten Weapons

Where most equate the post World War 2 British Army with the FAL, it should not have been and should not have come to pass. Experimenting with surprising alacrity and inspired by German designs, the British Royal Arsenals went straight to work on the development of their next-generation rifle. Unlike the US, the British took stock of their standard engagements and concluded that full-power cartridges were not needed and that various intermediate loadings would be ideal for the shoulder-fired infantry weapon. Interestingly, this is the same concept cropping back up by the US Army today…

Further, the British forged ahead with two concepts that when fused with the intermediate cartridge, created a weapon well ahead of its time. The weapon was known as the EM-2 or “Rifle Number 9” during its brief formal adoption period.

The weapon featured three main concepts that may just grace the next fully modern service rifle. The EM-2 was a bullpup weapon, it had an excellent intermediate loading in the home-grown .280 British, and included a fixed 1x power optic to increase the hit potential of the individual soldier.

Alas, the weapon was not to be due to the US Army’s complete and total ignorance. Their insistence of a .30 caliber cartridge was and still is short-sighted and only now is starting to change. To their credit, the British, wanting to play nice with the burgeoning NATO alliance acquiesced under the understanding that the US would adopt the FAL.

Instead, we adopted the M14 and we know how that story ends.

However, for the full story on the EM-2 and a full technical tear-down, check out Ian’s latest video on the rare and very much ahead of its time EM-2 rifle.



Nathan S

One of TFB’s resident Jarheads, Nathan now works within the firearms industry. A consecutive Marine rifle and pistol expert, he enjoys local 3-gun, NFA, gunsmithing, MSR’s, & high-speed gear. Nathan has traveled to over 30 countries working with US DoD & foreign MoDs.

The above post is my opinion and does not reflect the views of any company or organization.


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  • TechnoTriticale

    Title Typo: Story is EM-2. Title says EM-1.

  • Geoff Timm

    Let’s see the UK couldn’t get a bullpup to work with 5.56 and you think they could have gotten it to work with a bigger caliber? Geoff Who is skeptical.

    • Joe

      Yes, the SA80/L85 was originally chambered in a 4.85mm cartridge, and couldn’t make the leap to 5.56. The EM-2 was a completely different design, chambered in .280 British, and was never rechambered for, say, 7.62 NATO. Odds are it actually worked, but hey, no one can prove it, might as well be skeptical.

      • oldman

        The did try the EM-2 in 7.62 x 51 it was to powerful a cartridge if you dig around on Forgotten Weapons site he has a video about it.

      • Noishkel

        Yeah, I read about .280 British. The ballistics on them are better than the 5.56 round that became the NATO standard. But they were already in the process of mandating 5.56 in all NATO armies.

        • ostiariusalpha

          Nathaniel F. has a couple of articles about that. The .280 Brit was displaced by 7.62x51mm NATO, not 5.56x45mm; the British round was long defunct by the time the 5.56 came around. Also, the .280 actually has an inferior trajectory to 5.56 and about equal wind drift. It’s only real advantage is greater kinetic energy. Now, the .270 British is a different story.

        • Samuel Millwright

          Nope, that’s not even CLOSE to how things happened, you should probably go back and reread the source material.

        • Sticky-eye Rivers

          Speaking of those ballistics, the original .280 pushed ~140gr at 2,500ft/s. That is enough for 6.5 Creedmoor (and the other 6.5mm’s) to still do its thing at 500 yards guaranteed. Later formulations pushed it to +2,800ft/s (coincidentally, same as most 6.5x rifle calibres).

          The moral of the story: BULLET DESIGN people, it’s important!

        • No one

          If I had a dollar for every true statement you made in this comment..

          …I’d be broke as —-

          • BillyOblivion

            He made three statements.

            So even if they were all true you’d still be broke as.

      • Jonathan Ferguson

        The issues with SA80 had very little to do with rechambering it to 5.56.

    • phuzz

      That’s not completely fair, the UK *now* has a bullpup that works fine with 5.56, it just took the L85A1 being rubbish for about twenty years before anyone did anything about it.

    • DR.NUMBERS

      They couldn’t get the L85 to work because it was designed by engineers with no experience in designing firearms, they were literally learning as they went which is why they later had to bring on engineers from H&K to troubleshoot and de-bug the thing. When the the EM series was being developed they still had people who knew what they were doing.

      • XT6Wagon

        People think H&K made a new gun that looks like the old one, but really it was just making the current design with proper materials, clearances, and finishes.

        Also, the main production was done by people who knew their job was gone the second the last gun was out the door. Never a good thing if you want quality products in any industry.

        • Samuel Millwright

          Aka, making a MOSTLY new gun that looks the same as the old one…

          Unless you know some secrets to effortlessly transmute an improper material with the wrong finish and dodgy tolerances part directly into a part which magically has a different composition finish and is within tolerances…

          • XT6Wagon

            If you can mix and match the new parts in an old gun and have it still work… Its hardly a new design. Its bug fixes and/or improvements.

          • Samuel Millwright

            This is kinda true sometimes except when it isn’t…

            The line between new gun and updated/upgraded parts in cases like this doesn’t really have a hard and fast border.

            And with this particular gun you are apparently not really supposed to use parts from one version on the other, but without access to much more detailed information than the MOD will let us have it’s basically impossible to determine how not interchangeable said parts etc actually are…

          • CJS

            Read a post from an armourer recently (can’t remember where), he said even now he will find an odd A1 part occasionally… He also said they are under strict instructions to bin any A1 parts straight away.

          • Samuel Millwright

            I do all sorts of zombie diy homebuild monstrosities that combine parts and pieces from as many as 6 different firearms occasionally, but these are not guns i take into combat or stake my life on the performance of….

            I completely understand why this would be the policy and most definitely agree with their choice to hold the line.

    • SP mclaughlin

      I don’t think the EM-2 was designed by committee like the SA80 was, but I could be wrong.

  • Jim Slade

    This historical safe-queen stuff is some of the best content you guys hang on this site, IMHO.

    • Pete Sheppard

      Ian and his bud Karl, also shoot a lot of older weapons in competition. Check out InRange videos on YouTube. 🙂

      • Paul White

        seeing Karl run 2 gun with a Henry reproduction was awesome

    • Sticky-eye Rivers

      It’s best to point out that Ian is his own thing and doesn’t get any add revenue from TFB. He did 2? videos in collaboration with TFB, but otherwise Forgotten Weapons is its own separate thing. That’s important ’cause all of the funding comes from his patreon @ https://www.patreon.com/ForgottenWeapons

  • John

    >Their insistence of a .30 caliber cartridge was and still is short-sighted and only now is starting to change.

    TFB keeps reporting on the Department of Defense switching to a new 7.62 battle rifle, so I don’t really think anything’s changed.

  • Rock or Something

    “. Interestingly, this is the same concept cropping back up by the US Army today…”

    Huh? 5.56 was introduced over 50 years ago, and I see no concrete evidence that there is any serious push in the Army to introduce any myriad of replacement intermediate cartridges (Grendel, blackout, etc) for general issue.

    Personally I think the biggest issue wasn’t so much the debate between .308 and .280 but the insistence on a one size fits all round, when the Soviets adopted both an intermediate cartridge and kept the 7.62X54R for GPMG and DMR roles.

    • CJS

      I believe he is referring to the 6.8 spc.

      • No one

        The SPC was designed by a bunch of dishonest reformists who did think the .270 and .280 British were the greatest thing ever to be fair.

        The part where it ever came close to ever entering servicew with any branch of the US military or will is a crock though.

        • BillyOblivion

          What makes you think they were dishonest?

  • Johnsmyname
  • No one

    Also, it still baffles me that paid writers no less, let alone anyone who could actually read up on the EM-2 actually still thinks it was some massive missed opportunity, The US tested the rifle and found out that it was actually horrid. you can find the actual test report that shows it wasn’t exactly glowing on DTIC if you took 5 minutes of your time to do so.

    But yeah, blah blah evil Americans killing their allies weapons for no reason at conspiracy number 73879432 here I guess.

    • ostiariusalpha

      Nathaniel covered that in another article: https://www.thefirearmblog.Com/blog/2016/02/28/the-return-of-weekly-dtic/amp/

      Though it shouldn’t be understated just how dishonest Col. Renée Studler was in promoting the 7.62 NATO and M14.

      • No one

        I never said the M14 was a good rifle to be fair, it wasn’t, but at least it (kind of sort of) worked.

        • ostiariusalpha

          The .280 chambered EM-2 that Ian used worked quite fine, other than its magazine’s worn out spring.

    • Jonathan Ferguson

      It was neither a massive missed opportunity nor ‘horrid’. The Brits overhyped it and the Americans were predisposed to hate it. The truth lies somewhere in between, as usual.

  • gunsandrockets

    Even with the reduced size .280 round, the EM-2 has too much recoil and too little magazine capacity for an efficient automatic weapon.

    Arguably the .276 Pedersen caliber Garand rifle is a superior semi-automatic rifle to the .280 caliber EM-2 rifle.

    • toog

      According to the weapons testers in the 50’s, the EM-2 was fantastic in semi auto and even controllable in full auto. Unlike the M14.

      Also, magazine capacity. Just remind me what the mag capacityw as for the FAL again? Oh yeah, 20 rounds. M1 Garand? Mag capacity 8 rounds.

      The EM-2 was a fantastic rifle, way ahhead of its time. So was the .280 Britishh round. It should have been adopted instead of the FAL.

      • gunsandrockets

        Uh no. The .276 Pedersen caliber Garand rifle used a 10 round clip, not 8.

        For semi-automatic fire, a 10 round disposable clip shooting rifle is much more convenient than a 20 round magazine rifle. Particularly a detachable magazine from a bullpup configuration rifle.

        It doesn’t matter how uncontrollable the M14 was, the .280 EM2 was an inadequate full auto replacement for a dedicated SMG. Too much recoil, too little magazine capacity.

      • Jonathan Ferguson

        Controllable is a relative thing. You have to remember that in the ’50s, full auto was from the hip, not the shoulder.

  • kyphe

    The EM2 had what I see as a fatal design flaw, in that it required a job lot of very complicated and skilled milling work. This meant that at the time they could not properly take advantage of the economy of scale to bring the final production costs down to acceptable levels. The FAL which was also originally designed for the .280 was a masterpiece of producibility that arguably rivals even the AK pattern. I feel the excuse that the EM2 could not be readily up chambered to 7.62 NATO may be an easy cop out, used to cover up the realization of just how big the cost difference would be between the slightly superior EM2 and the way cheaper FAL.

    • toog

      You are getting the EM-1 and EM-2 rifles mixed up.

      • kyphe

        I think you have gotten confused. The EM1 was a pressed steel receiver not milled like the EM2 and would have been cheaper to produce once the Brits had gotten their heads around that level of stamping. The milled EM2 was mistakenly thought to be cheaper to manufacture than the EM1 due to British manufacture being not fully familiar with modern pressed steel technology. They did not feel ready to spend the money to tool up for that, much like how the early AKs had to be milled until the Russians had mastered stamping. Only in the British case it was a permanent change not a temporary stopgap measure. If you search on Youtube for “Inside The Pattern Room” you should be able to find a video that explains things far better than I ever could.

  • Believe it or not, more were made in 7.62 NATO than in .280/30.