Announcing: Thorneycroft to SA80: British Bullpup Firearms 1901-2020

Sorry for the poor audio quality – today I am back at the Cody Firearms Museum talking to Jonathan Ferguson, Keeper of Firearms & Artillery at the Royal Armouries in the UK. Jonathan has written a new book on the history of British bullpup firearms, which Headstamp is very proud to be publishing! The book covers all the major families of British bullpups, including:

– Thorneycroft rifle
– Godsal rifle
– Korsak’s Light Automatic Gun, 7.92 mm, (E.M. 1)
– Thorpe’s Automatic Rifle, .280 inch, (E.M. 1 aka ‘Cobra’)
– Janson’s Automatic Rifle, ,280 inch (E.M. 2) aka ‘Mamba’)
– Rifle, 7 mm, No. 9 Mk. I; Rifle, 7 mm, X1E1; and Rifle, .30 inch, X2E1
– The 4.85 mm Enfield Weapon System (Individual Weapon and Machine Gun)
– SA80 Individual Weapon (L85A1, A2, A3) and Light Support Weapon (L86A1, A2)
– SA80 Carbine (L22A2) & grenade launchers
– Several more civilian, prototype, developmental, and other weapons

Jonathan is uniquely positioned to write on this subject, with access to the British Royal Armouries archives and arms collections, and he has done substantial original research as part of this book. This is a fantastic successor to “Chassepot to FAMAS”, and we hope you will help support it by ordering a copy today!


  1. I recommend everyone interested in this (mostly dead branch) type of rifle to obtain Modern Military Bullpup Rifles by T.B.Dugelby. It covers for most part British developments, French FAMAS and Austrian AUG in less then 100 pages. Lots of pictures and diagrams.

    • Also the Osprey book on the SA80 by Neil Grant;

      It chronicles the history of this incredibly ill-conceived rifle/SAW program in what can only be called excruciating detail. And puts the blame squarely where it belongs; the British Army’s ordnance department, which started with what was at best a mediocre concept and proceeded to turn it into a near-disaster.

      One illustration says it all. A British infantry half-section in Afghanistan in which every squaddie has a Glock 9mm pistol in addition to the L86 or LSW.

      If the notably hoplophobic British government is allowing its Army to issue (gasp!) handguns to every Tommy, you know that there’s something seriously wrong with the issue rifle.



      • No wonder.
        Western civilization has been successful thanks to the free flow of knowledge.
        The development of printing, the removal of education from church control, ensuring access to education for all social and gender groups, etc.

        And the restriction of access to knowledge, that we observe in the current period of history, primarily by turning knowledge into a product, inevitably leads to degeneration.

        And this applies to all areas of life…

        • In RSAF Enfield’s case, it was more like “Let’s start with a mediocre rifle, the AR-18, and redesign it into an even less practical config. Oh, and when it comes time to produce it, screw QC, just make sure we deliver them on the politicians’ schedule.”

          I doubt they could have come up with a more complete recipe for disaster if they’d thought about it for a year with both hands, as Dorothy L. Sayers would say.



          • For a “mediocre rifle”, the AR-18 has certainly managed to be extremely influential. There is precisely one derivative Stoner-system weapon that’s made it into mass issue anywhere in the world (South Korean K1 Carbine), and you can’t even keep track of the number of AR-18 derivatives–They’re literally everywhere.

            Other point? The SA80 is emphatically not actually “derived from the AR-18”. It’s an acknowledged fact that Sterling, possibly the pre-eminent manufacturer of the AR-18, made zero contributions to the design. The Enfield “designers” did everything they did all on their own, and did not (same as the asses that designed the M60…) understand the mechanism they were copying, or have much in the way of experience either in small arms design or manufacture. The whole thing was bodged up from the beginning, and to try to blame the AR-18 for the flaws of the SA80 is more than just a little disingenuous. The designers of the SA80 did their design along the lines a friend of mine in the British Army put it: “They saw one, once, and thought it was worth copying… But, never actually looked at it too closely…”.

            Had they sought out the Sterling guys who knew the ins and outs of the system, odds are that they’d have produced a much better weapon. Even better, if they’d have gone to Sterling and said “Yeah, hey… We’re shutting down Enfield, why don’t you do the design and production of this thing?”. Instead, they did it on their own, f**ked off to Nottingham, and told the guys doing the work on the rifle that they were going to be laid off as soon as it was over with.

            The UK is cursed with an even less competent small arms procurement complex than the US is, which is kinda hard to believe.

          • Kirk;

            Ok, I stand corrected. I think the main problem is that for a very long time, the British governments (no matter what Party) operated on the principle that “actual war is a thing of the past due to nuclear weapons”, meaning “tripwire and massive retaliation” aka MAD. So there was no point in preparing to fight an “old-fashioned” war because there just weren’t going to be such things any more.

            Now, in that sort of mindset, most politicians’ minds turn to the “more immediate threat”- to their power. Namely, domestic opposition. See John Ringo’s novel Kildar on the subject of the three types of armies; parade, regime protection, and field.

            A regime protection army, really more of a heavily armed police fore relatively speaking, has fundamentally different needs than a field army.

            One result of this is that their political masters may think that a compact rifle, able to be maneuvered effectively when kicking down doors and searching hovels, is more to the point than a rifle intended for field combat. Plus, they may have noticed some problems with the OAL of the SLR in Derry back in the day. Never mind the business about the interior dimensions of the FV432, Warrior, or Humber “Pig”.

            In short, a short weapon that looks mean, rather like the Kill-O-Zap blaster in the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, might be considered “good enough” for the army to terrorize the peasantry with- even if in purely tactical/practical/mechanical terms said weapon is a PoS.

            And of course, making it as cheaply as possible pleases them, too.

            In the case of the L86 and LSW, the bill came due when the British Army found that it once more had a real war to fight. Ironically, in places they’d been a few generations ago, back when they were called Mesopotamia and the Northwest Frontier.

            And “cheap and cheerful” regime protection toys just weren’t up to the job.

            Just a thought.



          • “(…)“They saw one, once, and thought it was worth copying… But, never actually looked at it too closely…”(…)”
            Hmm… this sound like CARGO CULT.

            “(…)UK is cursed with an even less competent small arms procurement complex than the US(…)”
            Keep calm they have tradition. This story reminded me about ABC Dragonfly aviation engine:
            many examples were ordered as promised performance was high.
            In reality it proved to offer very low reliability and be totally unfit for fixes. Due to this most aeroplanes slated for its usage were made only as prototypes.

          • Kirk:

            You are right to say that Royal Ordnance could have used some input from Sterling, who were actually producing AR18s at the time RO were coming up with the SA80, which is in essence a bullpup AR18.

            The trouble is that would never happen, as RO had an institutional hatred of Sterling. It stemmed back to when Sterling got the contract to supply their SMG to the British armed forces. Unknown to Sterling, RO set up another production line at a Royal Ordnance plant, where they turned out Sterling SMGs without paying a penny in royalties.

            RO reckoned they could get away with this because they were “royal”, and you can’t sue the Queen in her own courts. But Sterling did take them to court, and far worse, won the case, much to the humiliation of RO. Hence the hatred of the private sector operation, which ensured they would never win another government contract, nor be consulted on the SA80 design. After all, Sterling might have quite reasonably have wanted a royalty on it.

            All moot now, of course. Sterling was driven out of business, Royal Ordnance no longer makes small arms, and there is no capacity left in the UK to make military firearms apart from on a very small, niche scale.

            The former owner of Sterling is now in business making bespoke shotguns. There is still a market for them at least over here.

      • Interesting video on a interesting area of firearms history/design. I agree with Ian that Jonathon has the coolest job title in the world, but I get the impression Jonathon has less experience of talking on camera than Ian does. That said, I hope his book does well.

        Hmmm . . . The L85A1 was an abomination and a real scandal that it was ever issued. The upgrade of the A1 to the A2 addressed the issues, the many issues, with the A1, and became what the A1 should have been from the get go.

        Anecdote: a couple of guys zeroing A2s prior to going out of area and a guy with an A1 zeroing for guard duty in the UK. The guy with the A1 had his brass in a neat pile beside him. The guys with the A2s had their brass on the next firing point over. Bit of a difference.

        As to the squaddies with Glocks, I suggest that this is because they might be called upon to perform duties where having a rifle in their hands would be impractical e.g. searching tunnels, or patting down suspects.

        • I think the Glocks were there because of the whole “blue-on-blue” issue with the odd Afghan recruit going into “sudden Jihadi syndrome” mode, and going after the Brits in camp and while in close proximity in the field. As such, the pistol may have been more of a prophylactic measure than anything else of real utility.

          Dunno about Afghanistan, but in Iraq? The guy with a pistol was seen as more threatening by the Iraqis, because under the former regime, dude with a pistol was likely to be a regime member and have a license to kill–While the guys with rifles were just average guys with no real power to do anything and get away with it. Iraqi translator told me that the pistol was more feared for the implication than anything else–Guy in uniform with one? He could kill you, your family, your village, and maybe even a good chunk of your clan with just a word or two…

          • Good point. The “insider threat” is also something where a pistol, weapon you can easily keep with you at all times, has a role.

          • Excuse the pedantic nit-picking: “blue on blue” refers to so-called “friendly fire.” The version you describe where an ostensible ally, bought, paid for, trained by, etc. etc. turns on the trainers and murders them from alongside is being called “green on blue.” Green being often associated with Islam and the current state of affairs of own private jihads waged by those who get murderous brain waves and psychotic urgings from God or the archangel Gabriel or whoever may be why that color was chosen? On that score I’m just not sure…

      • “Regime protection army?” A gentle reminder that the SA80/L85 (and the EM-2) was designed to be the weapon the British Army would fight World War Three with. And on the North German plain, operating out of armoured vehicles, a weapon with a full length barrel, but short overall length would be useful.

    • Respectfully, I do beg to differ that the bullpup is a “mostly dead branch” rifle design?
      Steyr AUG and its various knock-offs, Thales/Lithgow, etc. are used by Austria, Australia, Ecuador, Uruguay, Ireland, Morocco, Oman, some Saudis, etc.

      FN 2k “tactical tuna” Slovenia and the Peruvian navy
      FN P90–just about every black-clad ninja-look-alike law enforcement agency?

      The Israeli Tavor is the latest entrant, I suppose, and sales have included Vietnam, Chad, Cyprus, and a coterie of 3rd World “snake eater” beret-wearing special forces who pretty much buy everything that is sold to them, and the Croatians have made their sort of copy of the FAMAS?

      Backing away from the bullpup we might note China (albeit that is 3 million QBZ95s, might take a while), France (although the FAMAS is going to around as long as the MAS Mle. 1936…) New Zealand, etc.

      • All weapons you named are firing at most 5,56×45 NATO cartridge or similar. For which drum or Doppeltrommel magazine with reasonable mass might be crafted. Sadly such placement of magazines would lead to inevitable collisions with user (does not apply to FN P90 which naturally has high-capacity), so how British concluded that it is good idea to make LMG from it
        with no way of using bigger magazine?

        • IWI apparently marketed some of their bullpups in Ukraine and one or another former republic, Armenia? Azerbaijan? Uzbekistan? Turkemenistan? as a 5.45x39mm rifle to suit the perceived needs of the customers. Only Turkey and Argentina these days seem really enamored of sticking with the 7.62x51mm, and most other nations are opting for 5.56x45mm–at least until something more better comes along?

          Doesn’t seem to me that anyone is using over 30 magazines… At least yet? I mean the Soviets/Russians went with such a thing with the RPK-74, having a 45-rd. magazine versus the 30 rounder issued… Some people seem to have resurrected the old “coffin magazine” a la Suomi KP31, etc. and created a “double-stack” 60-rd. magazine… That fits in a STANAG magazine well… And then there is the Swiss alternative: several 20-rd. magazines that snap together like Lego plastic toy building blocks–now that won’t work with a bullpup for sure. Then there’s the French: The FAMAS magazine was for 25-rounds, which mystified me until I got Ian’s book on French service rifles. And now I know!

          It would seem larger magazines is a bit of a non-starter.

          • The paradigm shift awaits better materials and chemistry, I suspect.

            Solve caseless, and bullpups work, so long as you’re not sticking the magazine in out of sight. Go to a science-fictional linear accelerator sort of affair, and that’s another problem-solver.

            So long as we’re limited to current technology with the inherent materials and chemistry, we’re pretty much stuck with the primacy of the conventional layout. The magazine issues with the bullpup basically mean that so long as we’re limited to current technology, it’s a stick magazine of less than 30 rounds, which implies “not suitable for support weapon roles”. I suppose you could work up some nutzoid over-the-shoulder-to-a-backpack feed chute affair, but… Yeah. Not seeing that happen, for multiple reasons.

            End of the day, the bullpup format is just not suited to really effective implementation in this technological milieu. Some countries have tried it, but I would point out that precisely none of them are what I’d describe as run by “gun people” who are really au courant with the necessities of using these weapons to kill the enemy in close combat. Most of them seem to have gravitated towards the bullpup format out of a set of misguided priorities that do not include what we might call “gunfighting skills” or effectiveness at the primary role of the individual soldier’s weapon, that of killing the enemy before he kills you.

            I would submit that there are good reasons that the civilian competitive shooters have eschewed the bullpup, and that they all boil down to the issues I’ve discussed. You really do not want to lose situational awareness in combat, or you’re going to recap the experiences recounted here:


            This is a thread that highlights a lot of what I’ve been talking about with regards to the bullpup; in it, the young Marine describes how poorly he was served by his training, which did not particularly emphasize the real necessities of what I’d term “combat skill-at-arms”, namely that when it is down to you and your rifle, you’d best be able to keep your head on a swivel and let your hands do the necessary based on incessant drill and muscle memory. The incident where he was wounded was totally unnecessary, and something that should not have happened–I had tutelage from Vietnam-era veterans during my early career that emphasized what I talk about here, and what he learned the hard way. I don’t know why the Marine leaders of the generation that trained him got away from the basics the way they did, but peacetime has a way of erasing lessons learned under fire. I know I did my best to pass on what I’d learned from those veterans, when I conducted training, but I also have to acknowledge that I was a bit of a dishonored prophet by the mid-point of my career, only to see the same assholes that told me what I was training wasn’t “in the book” and unnecessary (unsafe, even…) bring in expensive civilian trainers to teach “CQB technique” at the last minute.

            Highly irritating. The “system” does not want to build internal expertise, nor listen to it, and in my experience, there are large swathes of the US military who are actually aghast at the idea that the guns they issue soldiers might actually be used to kill other human beings under fire. They’re way more comfortable with the idea that they’re strictly there for decoration, props in the war movies of their minds. Which don’t include putting a bullet into someone’s skull at close quarters, and watching it explode, or sharing close personal space with someone you just emptied a magazine into and who is busy breathing their last through the half-dozen holes you put into their thoracic cavity, while you take cover nearby trying to figure out where their buddies are hiding at so you can do the same thing to them.

            War down at the level where you need to actually be concerned about how fast you can change out an empty magazine and do immediate action on a jammed weapon is not a pretty thing, and all too many of the leaders want to make believe that sort of thing is never going to happen. But, reality gets her vote, and the fact is, she’s a bitch.

  2. Also try “EM-2 Concep & Design – a rifle ahead of it’s time” by Thomas B Dugelby, a Collector Grade Publications book. Superb tome taking us through the genesis of the EM-2 from the Enfield Sniper rifle, The Korsak rifle, The Thorpe rifle, The Janson rifle which became the EM-2. There is also a raft of technical data too on how the 280 cartridge in the rifle performed at the Aberdeen proving grounds and how those “perfidious” Americans killed off the British rifle and cartridge after its adoption into service and much much more.

  3. The SA80 debacle is a fascinating issue to look at, from ohsoverymany aspects.

    One of the more striking is the glimpse it offers into the psychology of the military/scientific/industrial complex, which apparently refuses to put down a bad idea until it has been completely and utterly discredited. The SA80 is, when you look at through a certain lens, completely congruous with the SPIW-OICW-XM25 disaster series, with the difference being that the SA80 actually got fielded. Why these things persist in the “system”, I could not answer. All you can do is observe the mania for them, and note that the track record for their eventual success is utter shiite. If your wunderwaffe is a rehash of an idea that “didn’t quite make it” two generations ago, you might want to re-examine the why of it all with great care and attention to detail, and exercise caution about bringing the zombie back to life.

    The other thing about the SA80 is the utter disregard its designers showed for human engineering and “how we fight”. Watchword for my training in combatives was always that you absolutely must maintain situational awareness, and be able to manage the basic operations of your weapon through muscle memory that allows you to manipulate the controls and mechanism for reloading, immediate action drill, and all the rest. Yet, the Brits went ahead in total ignorance of these principles, and designed/issued a weapon that virtually requires breaking contact with situational awareness just to keep in operation. Every official video I’ve seen of the Brits in action recently has them doing the same things I identified as issues with their skill-at-arms with the SA80 as far back as the early 1990s, things their own NCO trainers noted and despaired over. If you have to look down at your weapon after breaking its contact with your shoulder, you’re doing it wrong. And, you’re virtually forced into doing it with the SA80–I’m unaware of any really satisfactory techniques that get around the baked-in ergonomic flaws of that weapon, and I’ve never seen anyone demonstrate what I’d term real proficiency with the thing. People are certainly not taking them to three-gun matches and winning with them…

    The third thing that strikes me about the SA80 is the insanity of the system that keeps it going–It’s like “Oh, we f**ked that one up… Well, nothing for it, gotta keep doubling down on failure…”. The UK could have written the entire program off about 1994, gone to Colt Canada, said “Uhm, hey… We’d like to re-equip the entire force with the stuff you sold us for the SAS… Y’know, the C7 and C8 series…?”, and they’d have probably saved considerable amounts of money over the last thirty years. You don’t keep reinforcing failure, and that’s exactly what the SA80 represents–Failure.

    Don’t even get me started on the idiocy of the single intermediate “One Cartridge to Rule Them All” concept exemplified by the various idiot-savant types. The .280 British as a support MG cartridge made and makes about as much sense as the 7.62 NATO does as a cartridge for an individual weapon. Neither cartridge is really suited for the roles they’ve been pressed into, if only in fantasy for the .280 British. On the one hand, the 7.62 NATO is a crap individual weapon cartridge, and isn’t quite powerful enough to be a really outstanding support weapon cartridge. It’s basically an MG cartridge that’s been biased towards being shoehorned into an individual weapon, while the .280 British is the opposite–A decent individual weapon cartridge that a set of idiots tried turning into an effective MG cartridge. Both are “neither fish, nor fowl…” solutions to the problems of modern combat. The reality is, we need something capable of effective use in the 0-400m range, capable of controllable full-auto fire from an individual weapon-size envelope, and something else that’s capable 0-2000m in a belt-fed support weapon that can penetrate light armor and heavy cover.

    Unfortunately, due to the idiots in our procurement “system”, we have neither.

    • Ironically, the best combinations for those issues were German (7.9 x 33 for the IW, 7.9 x 57 for the GPMG) and Russian (7.62 x 39 and 7.62 x 53R for the same roles).

      The U.S. could have had something similar, if we’d developed our own version of the 7.9 x 33, like Frank Barnes’ 7.62 x 1.5″, and retained the powerful .30-06 for the support weapon. Among other things, we could have used the same barrel tooling for most everything.

      And of course, no freaking bullpups. The AR-10 would have been highly interesting in Barnes’ “.30 Short”.



    • “(…).280 British as a support MG cartridge made and makes about as much sense as the 7.62 NATO does as a cartridge for an individual weapon. Neither cartridge is really suited for the roles they’ve been pressed into, if only in fantasy for the .280 British.(…)”
      I am quite confused about what would be final ballistic performance of that cartridge. Would not it be acceptable in fighting in Western Germany, where combat would probably take place in case of NATO-WarPact direct confrontation

  4. The essence of buildup is just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. This idea repeatedly turns up and continued to come to nothing. We all know what doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome is.

  5. I cannot comment on how “squaddies” in her majesty’s armed forces are instructed and trained to replace magazines on the L85A1 or L85A2, but is it not possible to simply leave the rifle shouldered, reach up with the left hand under your chin, grasp the magazine, depress the catch with the thumb, and extract it by pullling it straight down? It doesn’t strike me as rapid as an M16, but neither does it seem to be all that awkward?

    @Daweo: Thanks for the three part story online!

    Greatly looking forward to the book from Headstamp!

    • Dave,

      This is partially in response to your other post further up, so… I’m gonna try to address the gist of both.

      Here’s the root problem with the entire bullpup idea, particularly as expressed by the SA80/L85 series of weapons: It goes against every basic principle of human ergonomics I can think of in weapons design, particularly for those magazine changes.

      I don’t particularly care for the “rock-in” style of magazine insertion, either, but the essential problem with the bullpup is that the mag well is back up along the weapon, about where it is going to be floating around near your armpit. It’s bad enough in shirtsleeves, but with the addition of armor and upper-body magazine carry chest harnesses…? Dear God, make it stop.

      M16-style weapons, you can index your forefinger at the magazine well from your firing hand. Your body knows where your fingertips are; fresh magazine insertion is as simple as touching your fingertips together. Wham, bam, you’re ready to fire. With a bullpup, you’re more-or-less trying to find a random spot along your upper bicep to insert the fresh magazine. With both styles of weapon in front of you, you’re able to see why the bullpup is such a terrible idea. On paper, watching videos? You don’t get the difference, which is huge. The M16 works with the human body; the bullpup works against it. We have built-in sensory shortcuts that enable that whole “hand finds hand” thing, and nothing for “hand finds random location floating out around our armpit”.

      To a degree, this is precisely why automatic handguns gravitated towards the magazine-in-grip design of the various flavors we’ve seen, and also why we abandoned all the crazy-ass magazine-forward designs.

      A key test of the situation is to do reload drills, where you practice emptying your vest/load carry equipment. With an M16-style conventional design, I can shuck through my entire basic load of magazines in about the time it takes to describe it–And, I can do that without having to remove the weapon from my shoulder, or lose situational awareness, because any visual input I need to have on what I’m doing can be gotten from peripheral vision.

      Bullpup shooters almost have to remove the weapon from their shoulders, look down at it, do what is necessary, and then return to the fight. This seems as though it would be “no big deal”, but the problem is, in those fleeting seconds of reload or immediate action, you lose your situational awareness. In close-in fighting, that’s deadly; the enemy can sneak up on you, or your fellow soldiers may do something unexpected, resulting in you going “Oh, damn, there’s something there now…” and shooting before realizing that was just Jones moving across to better cover.

      This is also why crew-served weapons work better with a guy doing the loading and the gunner keeping his eyes on the fight continuously. A BAR is not a good choice for the sustained fire role, because you constantly have to serve the gun yourself, while a BREN is served by the loader, and the gunner is able to just run the gun and fight with it.

      It’s these little things that seem so inconsequential that tell me that the idiots designing the guns have little or no idea of what really goes on in combat. I don’t know that Eugene Stoner was genius enough to deliberately design his weapon ergonomics with careful planning, but whether he did or not is immaterial: The M16 family can be run while being able to maintain that critical situational awareness that the poor bastard running a bullpup simply can’t manage. This is a critical flaw in the design, and one that I can’t see a way around, so long as we’re using box magazines.

      A lot of those bullpup designs that you cite are even worse than the SA80/L85 or AUG; the FN offerings are insanely complicated to do immediate action drills on, for example. The latest Israeli version of their infantry rifle has some interesting features, in that you have controls for almost everything accessible to the firing hand (unlike most bullpups…), but the raw fact of that magazine well is still there, along with the manifestly against-human-function nature of finding that mag well under stress. Sure, you can train to the point where you’re almost as fast as a guy who is reasonably proficient on a conventional design, but can you do it in the freezing cold, at night, after falling down a hillside?

      The bullpup is a good idea on paper. In practice? Not so much. Even with the controls somehow set up such that your firing hand never need leave the pistol-grip, the fundamental flaw of having that damn mag well where it is will never be overcome. You can’t index it with anything, really–The human sensory nervous system is not set up to help you naturally find a random point somewhere in the triangle formed by your upper and lower arm, and that rifle buttstock, whereas the conventional rifle can almost always take advantage of “hand-finds-hand”.

      You almost have to do it, and be reasonably proficient at basic skill-at-arms to be able to grasp the implications of all of this. Frankly, I reject even the rock-and-lock magazine systems because of the way they slow down reloads.

      One of the points a lot of people miss is that it’s a lot like the difference between driving a tank like a little old lady vs. being someone who takes full advantage of the speed and psychological power of all that mass coming at the enemy. The fool who takes little pauses between rushing from cover to cover is not going to be as effective at cowing the enemy as that guy who relentlessly keeps moving forward without pause. If you ever see a squad of guys with bullpups coming at you, with all the little “Loading!” cries, and temporary pauses while they do so, vs. seeing a squad of well-trained Rangers or some other force that actually knows how to run their weapons, you’ll see the difference: You get those little pauses to reload, it’s a hell of a lot less disorienting and threatening–You think you can deal with it. On the other hand, you get guys moving forward continuously delivering fire, maintaining eye contact with you as a target…? Yeah. There’s a discernible difference.

      Half of combat is psychological intimidation. You have a hard time being intimidating when you’re having to constantly break eye contact and serve your weapon, as opposed to being able to serve it without it leaving your shoulder and keeping eyes up and on the men you’re killing. It’s a minor detail, but it’s also a thing that you have to keep in mind during weapons selection.

      I’m of the opinion that the majority of the people who design and select weapons for procurement really don’t have the first f**king clue about most issues that are important down where the killing happens. They’re usually more worried about things like parade drill and so forth; I know from reading that the Brits had lots of concerns about the effect the SA80/L85 would have on their parade drill, and there was endless thought put into it all, but nobody really considered the ergonomics and effects of those ergonomics on the key role for that weapon: Killing armed men in combat. Those mag changes and the effect they have on situational awareness tell me that if they’d had the least little idea about reality as it is lived by the combat soldier, they’d have done things differently.

      • Lots of food for thought.

        Certainly the L85 was way too short to do–switching to British accent here: “proper drill” like the Coldstream guards what with the bearskin hats and crimson uniforms and so on and so forth. If I was dictator of some suitably exotic locale, I’d just give everyone who had to do snappy drill for tourists taking photos the SKS. Best parade ground rifle ever! I’ve not yet been to Prague, but I’ve seen photos of non-firing drill rifles based on the old vz.52 self-loader, or the old Czechoslovak Peoples Republic version of the SKS. Presumably by now they’ve got the newer, more better service rifle to fiddle with.

      • While I would also say the reload on bullpups is a little awkward*, they do have noticeable advantages when it comes to carrying them over long distances, negotiating close quarters and shooting from unsupported or hasty supported positions.
        I don’t feel my AUG fights me at all in those circumstances – on the contrary, I found it produces much more stable results than conventionally laid out rifles. Granted, most bullpups have their shortcomings, but that is more a question of doing the small details right instead of being stuck with a fundamentally flawed design principle.

        *IMO, the big advantage of the AR platform when it comes to fast reloads is the ability to drop the old mag with the firing hand while the support is already getting the new mag.

        • You’re more concerned with the admin characteristics than you are the fighting characteristics. Do you see the issue?

          Run your AUG in CQB where you’re actually having to worry about “minor little details” like reloading and doing immediate action in extremis, and then get back to us about how much you like it. I’ve done the work on it, and while I might enjoy playing games with a bullpup, if I’m taking it to war against people who’re seriously interested in killing me?

          I won’t be taking the range toy, that’s for damn sure.

          AUG isn’t a weapon for serious up-close-and-personal combat, and since you don’t have the option of saying where and when you are going to fight, I won’t ever be taking one to war. As you point out, it isn’t suited for “fast reloads”, something I’ve come to consider rather important when people are shooting at me.

          • I wouldn’t consider hitting under stress/fatigue from bad positions and banging my rifle into obstacles less admin characteristics.
            Yeah, this is not too much of an issue with M4s and even shorter ARs, but we pay for that dearly with barrel length and thus versatility (since yes, we can’t always choose where we fight).

            While the AR has the fastest reload of the common assault rifles hands down, I’ve seen LOTS of people fumble AR reloads on closed bolts.
            For reliability of reloading, I prefer AK/Sig-style rock and lock – your mileage may vary.

            And when we are talking stoppages, I´d rather have a charging handle that allows me to put force on a stuck cartridge easily as AK/M1-style charging handles do rather than the AR type.
            With double feeds, we are back to the AUG where you get perfect access to the chamber and bolt at the push of a button – and this was the kind of *technical* “small detail” I was talking about: It is quite clever, but not bullpup-specific as you could just as well get the tiny hatch of the F2000.

            I think we need to keep things in perspective here. We obsess over handling characteristics because we are interested in this stuff, but these are very seldom the things that make or break success in combat.
            Serious armies and police forces have had good success with the AUG and the Brits have a good track record *despite* the SA80.
            The last time an issue rifle had a significant influence on the course of a war was in the 19th century and for examples of having a big influence on single battles or skirmishes, you need to look at serious technical or logistical deficiencies, not at different manuals of arms.

          • “The last time an issue rifle had a significant influence on the course of a war was in the 19th century and for examples of having a big influence on single battles or skirmishes, you need to look at serious technical or logistical deficiencies, not at different manuals of arms.”

            It’s all fun and games until it’s your own ass on the line. At that point, the theoretical large-scale “benefits” start to pale beside the tiny little issue of keeping yourself alive and functional under fire. At that point, the whole thing becomes rather less impersonal and far more of a concern that the meta-benefits to the army at large.

            Not a huge fan of anything that makes it harder to survive, and the bullpup is most assuredly that. It’s the same sort of bullshit idea that left men at Little Big Horn prying cartridges out of their Springfield rifles with penknives while their opponents were making use of lever-action repeaters. As a “big picture” sort of thing, the Springfields were no doubt a better choice for the Army at that time. What they weren’t? Effective combat weapons that could help the men of the Seventh Cavalry stay alive.

            Similar observations can be made with regards to the bullpup vs. conventional layout rifle. Or, pure insertion vs. rock-and-lock.

            If I’m making the choice, it will be the weapon that does the best job of helping me keep myself alive, as opposed to what the various “big picture” types tell me is best. And, that won’t be any of the bullpup-layout rifles I’ve yet seen.

  6. The British have lots of “form” to use their term, of screwing their own firearms industry.

    The Enfield .38 revolver was a blatant ripoff of several Webley patents, but Webley didn’t manage to win in court. They tried to do the same to Sterling over their SMG. Ask for an RFP, adopt it, and then decide to reduce to almost nothing, the participation of the original company in any production. Sterling got wise, and sued and won some concessions. This gets mentioned in Peter Laidler’s Collector Grade book on the Sterling.

    Likewise, the Collector Grade book about SA-80, mentions that Sterling engineers got a look at an SA-80 and immediately noticed that that the cam track was wrong, not providing the right dwell time.

    As a long time fan of the EM-2, and having both the Dugelby books cited by earlier commentators, I am hugely looking forward to getting my copy.

  7. For Dave, who is ruminating on the use of “green on blue” and the reason for the colour- it is NOT religious. This is part of the NATO standard for map symbols.
    Blue= friendly (own) forces
    Red= enemy
    Yellow= unknown
    Green= neutral or unaligned- which we have often been using to include indigenous partner forces during the GWOT

    • The usages aren’t actually all that well delineated, and it varies widely between the various parties discussing the issue.

      To me, if you’re working with a “coalition partner”, to the degree that you’re sharing barracks and space on the same forward bases, that’s a case of “friendly forces” turning on you. A green-on-blue would more properly be something like getting shot at by a Pakistani border guard.

      It’s all semantics. There’s no real difference between getting fragged by your own troops for “doing the job” than there is getting shot by the enemy or having one of your “little brown allies” shoot you in the back on the way to the latrine. You’re still going home in a box.

      • It is not semantics when everyone has to figure out what went wrong and why. Perhaps that is your perception, but having dealt dealt with both blue on blue and (almost) green on blue (armed standoff with partner force platoon within our SHARED compound)- there are large differences.

        The piece is blue on blue generally means “I though you were the bad guy”, green on blue is generally “In going to shoot you BECAUSE of/REGARDLESS of who you are. What makes it green vs blue is that if you are deliberately engaging a known friendly, you are no longer a know entity and therefore your force’s loyalties come into question.

        • Like I said, it’s not well-defined. Having your own troops turn on you is pretty clearly blue-on-blue, and if they’re in the same camp with me, then they’re not neutral “greens”, now are they?

          There hasn’t been a hell of a lot of doctrinal thought put into any of this crap, and it shows. The various “authorities” don’t want to discuss it, so there isn’t much agreement on the terminology of it all. I remember the reactions we got discussing this crap before deployment–The brass looked at the senior NCO cadre bringing it all up like we were the bad guys for bringing it all up: “Nothing like that is going to happen, so don’t worry about it…”. Yeah. OK.

    • Thank you Canadian. “Red=enemy” and Nato standard map symbols would seem to harken back to, you know, the prospect of the 3rd Shock Army churning through the “Fulda Gap” in Southern (West) Germany, no? Still, it is nice to know that the colors predate the current, erm, “overseas contingency operations.”

      • The color symbology goes back even further–I believe that the first wargame sets created by the Prussians had the “enemy” colored in as red, and friendly as blue. Red, after all, is the universal color symbol for “danger”, which is carried over from the natural world–How many red berries are poisonous, for example?

        The interesting psychological point is where you place the “danger” at. In some uses, it’s purely arbitrary: Firearms safeties, for example. You and I look at a safety and say “Well, that bit is colored in in red, so it must mean that the firearm is ready-to-fire in that position…”. Meanwhile, the guys who designed and built that thing feel like a firearm is dangerous to the user when it is not ready-to-fire, ‘cos that’s when it is useless to defend yourself with.

        There are a whole set of assumptions built into our current culture that we are really going to have to pay attention to if we ever run into an actual out-of-context civilization or intelligent alien species.

      • “(…)3rd Shock Army(…)”
        Interestingly Red Army and then Soviet Army used reversed system – Red = we, Blue = enemy – which should not be surprising consider its name. Thus incidentally both NATO and Soviet Union used RED for Soviet units and BLUE for NATO units. In Soviet Union it was used at least since Great Patriotic War and thus in many Russian-language article you might find maps showing Soviet in RED and Nazi-Germans in BLUE, see for example 1st map from top here:

        • I had not seen that before. Quite interesting, and in fact it makes sense when considering the Russian cultural understanding of “Red” as a positive. Thanks for that.

  8. Very interesting. I kept thinking of the “color coded war plans” of the United States, which had a “War Plan Orange” involving a U.S. Pacific War against Japan, and “War Plan Red” in which the United States tinkered with a possible war with Great Britain, mostly as an intellectual exercise. Every three or four years a Canadian discovers the ramifications for “Crimson” namely, Canada, and publishes what detailed plans the U.S. had for rehearsing 1812, the Patriot War of 1837, and the Fenian raids circa 1866 but with modern weapons like float planes and so on… War Plan Green–namely the U.S. War plans for Mexico are not rediscovered every four years or so, nor are these given over to mirth. Briefly, War Plan Green was rediscovered during the 2003 invasion of Baathist Iraq and the toppling of Saddam Hussein. “Black” was the code for Germany, and even though the United States fought two world wars against that nation, there were not very well elaborated plans in a “War Plan Black” apparently limited to seizure of French colonies, erm, “overseas départments” like Guadaloupe and Martinique.

    War Plan Yellow was literally a plan for war against the “Gelbe gefahr.”
    War Plan White was apparently something akin to the Bonus Army’s ejection from Washington DC.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.