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British EM-1

British EM1 rifle, caliber .280

British EM1 rifle, caliber .280

The EM1 was an experimental British rifle developed in the late 1940s, and was definitely the high-tech wonder rifle of its day. It was a bullpup-style design before that was a trend, and used a roller locking action take right from the fancy German arms captured during and after WWII. It was not adopted, losing out at the time to the visually similar and mechanically different EM2 rifle, which then fortunately lost out the the FAL. Field stripping the EM1 (and EM2 for that matter) is not a huge task, but disassembling the bolt is an absolute nightmare in anything resembling combat. Doing it on a clean workbench is tricky enough.

EM1 rifle firing positions

EM1 rifle firing positions

The EM1 was chambered for the .280/30 cartridge (also known as .280 Enfield), which was a capable intermediate cartridge, and made the rifle controllable both in semiauto and fullauto firing (especially when using the optional bipod). One interesting element noted in the EM1 manual was the inclusion of a built-in stripper clip guide in each magazine:

EM1 magazine with integrated stripper clip guide

EM1 magazine with integrated stripper clip guide

Interestingly, the EM1 we have examined in person had a magazine that did not have this integrated guide, although we have also seem other EM1 mags that did have them. The feature is a good microcosm of the whole rifle – well intentioned, but vastly more complex than necessary. Another example of this is the magazine holdopen device, which will automatically close the bolt and chamber a round when a loaded magazine is inserted. The idea sounds good on paper, but creates a different manual of arms compared to every other weapon an infantryman might encounter or be issued, and also creates a novel opportunity for mechanical failure in the gun.

We have an original manual for the EM1 available, as well as a set of photos of one. The manual does a pretty good job of describing how the gun functions (and has some very good illustrations).


Provisional Notes for Users of the Rifle, Automatics, .280in, EM1 (English, 1950)

Provisional Notes for Users of the Rifle, Automatics, .280in, EM1 (English, 1950)


EM1 Rifle, caliber .280 (click here to download the gallery in high resolution)

8 comments to British EM-1

  • Dash

    Such a shame about this rifle. If it had been refined just a little more, I think this would have been a wonderful firearm. Its looks alone always draw me back to it, and I think it’s amazing that it was developed in 1948. Not to mention the .280 British was superb cartridge. I just wish that the manual had dimensions, so I could have it built.

    Thank you, Forgotten Weapons, for sharing this beauty.


  • Garrett Benson

    I love the UK’s L-85 rifle, this is an even nicer weapon, do you know where I may be able to get one?

    • I can say with almost 100% certainty that you cannot get an EM1, period. There were very few made, I don’t think any ever came into the US, and they couldn’t be imported now because they are all machine guns. AFAIK, the few that still exist are all owned by museums. The one I have photos of is a dewat. Sorry…

      • Hoppy Hopkins

        Since there is a dewat available for patterning, why doesn’t anyone make up a pattern to make a semi Auto version, say in 300 savage, since the .280 British round is not readily available

  • Jarrett

    Keltec has just released some new models that i would call a throwback to these weapons. I have read that the 280 British had a unique characteristic. As with most auto guns when a three round burst is fired a regular pattern to see on paper is one round followed by another two grouped together. With the 280 apparently all three would group together. If anyone could confirm this that would be great….Also interesting to see how ballistics are very similar to the new 6.8/ 300 blackout category of intermediate cartridges. So ahead of its time.

  • EJ Sorona

    You said it was roller locked, but was it gas operated or delayed blowback?

  • caesar merlin

    how did the .280 enfield compare ballistically with the 5.56mm nato and 7.62 nato cartridges that forced the british to abandon the em-1 in favor of the fal?

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