Australia’s FAL-Based L2A1 Heavy Automatic Rifle

Many the nations that adopted the FAL (or L1A1, in Commonwealth terminology) opted to also use a heavy-barreled variant of the same rifle as a light support weapon. In the Commonwealth, this was designated L2A1 and it was used by Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. The Australian model was build at Lithgow and supplied to the Australian and New Zealand forces, as well as being exported to a variety of other nations including Ghana, India, Singapore, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, and others (total Lithgow production was 9,557). It has a 21” heavy barrel and a distinct folding bipod with wooden panels that act as handguard when the bipod is folded up. Doctrinally, the L2A1 was intended to be used in semiauto most of the time, with the bipod and heavy barrel allowing greater sustained semiauto fire than a standard rifle.

A 30-round magazine was developed and issued, but abandoned before long. It was found to be insufficiently reliable, interfered with prone shooting, and contributed to overheating of the guns. Interestingly, Australia also opted to not have an automatic bolt hold open functionality in their FAL type rifles. The control can be used manually, but the rifle does not lock open when empty. This was presumably done in favor of keeping the action closed and clean at the expense of slower reloading (the same compromise was made on the G3 family of rifles).

This particular example is a registered transferrable machine gun made on a Lithgow receiver imported by Onyx in 1985 with other Lithgow-produced parts, including a 1960 bolt, 1961 carrier, and 1961 lower receiver from an L1A1 originally exported to Malaysia.

42 Comments

  1. Was out shooting a FN FAL two weeks ago. Great rifle, very reliable but man do those thing toss brass. Probably overgassed.

    Seems this version has a lot of the characteristics of the BAR. Definitely a lot easier to clean but otherwise very similar.

    • “(…)very reliable but man do those thing toss brass(…)”
      I must ask: was your example adjusted properly? https://guns.fandom.com/wiki/FN_FAL states that The gas regulator offers firing with the lowest possible recoil combined with the ability to direct more gas into the system under adverse conditions or in case of fouling.

      • Daweo, I think it was not properly gassed. Have owned and shot both the G3 and Fal, found them both to be brass chuckers. But my recent FAL experience had them being tossed a good 20 ft. I tinkered with the port, think I turned it the wrong way.

  2. It’s like an updated BAR, as if that is a thing.

    I can see the point to give an infantry squad a bit of beefed up firepower, but that is probably better done by a proper LMG. From the numbers built, the Aussies can’t have been issuing them to every fourth man, or anything like that. I don’t know if the Aussies used 7.62mm Brens, but that would probably have made more sense.

    I would be interested to know if these were used in Vietnam, and if so how they did. I can see them being quite handy on a patrol as compared to a GPMG, but then again they could deliver much less fire when needed.

    For some reason the Aussies did not adopt the FN MAG, unlike most of the rest of the Commonwealth. They ended up with the M60 in Vietnam, which I presume the US gave them pretty cheaply. It would have made sense to use M60s for logistical, if for no other, reasons.

    • The ANZAC battalions certainly did including a cut down version with a vertical front grip. There are some great pics on the web.

    • Australia did use the L4A4 Bren. The FN MAG was issued when the M60’s wore out, not the British MAG58 version. Navy carried FN MAG’s for helicopter use with spade grips and interchangeable butts

    • For the most part, the L2A1 AR was used by units other than infantry ie. We used them at RMC ‘Duntroon’in 1977 as a Section gun …. Infantry used the M60 GPMG with the L4A4 Bren also seeing service too

  3. A squad support weapon intended to be used mostly in semiauto…it seems like WW2 experience would have made this not a viable idea.

  4. The only way I can think of to make this species of weapon justify its greater weight would be open-bolt firing, so that in a pinch you could deliver a fairly large volume of automatic fire. You could do that Mel Johnson’s way, with an automatic change to open bolt when you switch to full auto, or, my way, with a separate open-bolt control that’s user-optional. Either approach adds small parts to the fire control group, and we know how small parts are just waiting to go wonk.

    But I really like those polished wood panels on the bipod. Walnut?

    • A prototype open bolt firing L2A2 with the 20 round magazine to increase cooling was developed to attempt to correct the issues with the gun. It had a skeletonised butt and an improved bi-pod that mounted above with the barrel suspended below. See Iain Skennerton Small Arms Series on the Bren gun.

  5. I recall having seen a mark/gouge (quite deep and narrow) at one sample of locking lug removed from rifle; mark was adjacent to the top edge. Someone asked me for explanation.

    To me there was no other interpretation left then a cook-off (wrong headspace that far off was very unlikely). This finding supports what Ian and others say – this rifle was not fit for automatic fire. Even rapid semi-auto had to be closely watched.

      • Possibly, yes but it is a matter of time and rounds fired. Warming/cooling of barrel looks similar to saw-tooth diagram you see on transmissions. Up and down and up again, depending how vigorously you pull on trigger.

        The way it goes is that there is about 3kJ of energy in 1ccm of propellant. In 7.62×51 is about 3ccm of it. Considering the mechanical efficiency of cartridge/ weapon system is about 1/3 it means the rest, in this case 2ccm or 6kJ goes into heat. You can take it further and figure out how quick you get into “red zone”.

        I have seen guns barrels going dark red, but they were all open bolt fired. I was able to observe bullets taking of. First you can follow, but it shortly fuzzes you vision up and and next one follows.

    • Used the L2A2 in Australian Naval Service from the mid sixty’s till 1992 in the Arabian Gulf/Red Sea after Kuwait. Replaced by M249 and FN MAG then. Also was still in Army Reserve service according to reservist mates. Regular Army used M60 & L4A4 Bren. Never had an L2A2 misfire throughout my service however temper that with less use in Navy and easier to maintain. Used as an AA gun alongside 50cal BMG on some ships using a mount with the appearance of a tuning fork that the bi-pod legs sat in and long enough for the gun to be elevated and influenced by the Falklands War as I was on a type 12 frigate of British design. Still used the thirty round magazine till the end of service. Fired at 4.5 inch star-shells of Indonesia in about 1984 and the guns kept on going without problems – so no overheating issue although we did fire until the magazine was empty so no cook off issue. Obviously this would have been a different situation entirely in an army land based combat situation which was probably why they where removed from front combat use.

  6. IIRC this wasn’t part of FN’s original concept for the FAL, but was offered later either at customer request or because the sales Dept thought it might sell.

    For the bean-counters, the attraction is obvious. And less training time.

    But it makes absolutely no tactical sense.

  7. It often puzzles me why the downwards facing magazine has been adapted so universally. Such a support weapon would be well off with a side mounted mag.

    • Uh, we are looking at a weapon that is designed as an AUTOMATIC RIFLE, not as a machine gun. If it is a rifle, troops expect it to BEHAVE and LOOK like a rifle.

      • In Australian Naval Service this was the only machine gun the landing and boarding parties had so tactically used as such. Obviously these are not front line combat troops and so used for those elements in the Australian Defence Force who may not see combat however still need a selective fire fire capability. The interchangeability with the rifle simplified training and maintenance issues.

    • “(…)Such a support weapon would be well off with a side mounted mag.”
      Well it is derived from what was called Fusil Automatique Léger, which hints providing support weapon was not for what designers of it aimed.

  8. The L2A1 (called the AR – Automatic Rifle – not Heavy) was never intended for use as a infantry weapon unlike the Canadian Army (whose training pamphlet on the C2A1 – which was adopted holus bolus), the intent was always for use with support arms, ie. artillery, engineers, signals, and logistic corps, transport, ordnance, EME.

    The 30 round magazine was used throughout its entire service, and there never ever any problems with it. It was eagerly sort after by infantry soldiers, as a status symbol for the extra ten rounds invaluable in the first moments of a first contact. The late great Warrant Officer Ray Simpson, DCM, who was awarded a very very good Victoria Cross whilst serving with the AATTV (Australian Army Training Team Vietnam) as an adviser with ARVN forces, always carried 30 round magazines on his SLR with normally
    six to eight mags in his pouches.

    In the prone position always intended to be fired from the bipod in such. For its intention of use, a very useful little weapon. In South Viet Nam it saw use in the units for which it intended, in the 1968 Tet battle around Fire Support Coral the RAA 105mm gun crews used the weapon to great affect when their positions where danger of being overrun by VC/NVA troops.

    In the infantry battalions, it saw limited use with a gun being issued specifically for rifle platoon’s HQ to add some grunt in ambush situations, with no complaints re its effectiveness. The In-Theatre Equipment Table for Infantry Battalions in SVN included a pool for specific use of 22 ARs, and apart from infantry platoon HQ’s normally seen in the battalion’s defensive positions around the Task Force Base at Nui Dat.

    A nice simple weapon, extremely accurate on the range, one Warrant Officer “Ossie” Ostara, DCM, AATTV, commanding a Province Reconnaissance Unit during the Tet fighting around Hue in 1968 had one fitted with a commercial scope using it to great affect in the fighting in the City.

    There is no history of the L2A1 suffering cook off’s, like the Canadian Army the weapon use relied upon trigger manipulation for accurate rapid fire. It did cook off when totally unauthorised people modified the firing mechanism, usually involving a matchstick.

    It was a very appropriate weapon for use to provide some grunt to non-infantry units, simple to use and simple to operate. And what is probably more important, manufactured in Australia, all spare parts from Australia, and costing one seventh of the then price of a M60, plus reduced costs in training. Good value for money.
    At the School of Infantry in Singleton in the late 1970’s-mid 1980’s, the AR was used as a dissimilar weapon for use in Warrant Officer Promotion Courses as their weapon instruction component of the course with it being very useful.

    I believe that I ran the last use of the AR in 1992 when training Reserve RAAF Ground Defence Guards in the deeply flawed Ready Reserve concept, the airfield GDF rifle flights on the basis on one per four man vehicle/static guard, with the Flight Support Flight having M60’s. This in the last stage of the change over to the F88 and the Miniman.

    The M60 was forced on the Australian Army by the then Governments PENTROPIC Divisional System (the Australian jungle version of the PENTOPIC System), even though the Belgium FN (original design MAG – not the later variant with the UK L1A1 modifications) had outshone the M60 in comparative trials. The M60 being adopted for comparability with US Forces (???), universally despised by those units which had served in Malaysia with the Commonwealth Strategic Reserve using the L7A1. The rifle companies of the Royal New Zealand Infantry Regiment who used the L7A1 in NZ, were especially vocal in their contempt of it. In the end to no avail as the US Army had totally abandoned the PENTOMIC System in favour of ROAD as being totally unworkable. Whilst the US had sold Australia lots of US equipment for the PENTROPIC knowing full well it was being abandoned. Fortunately we were able to stop purchases of such as the Gamma Goat, Sheridan light tank and such like, although the communications systems purchased were superb.

    The mythology of the “vertical front grip” in SVN is purely that, it stems from the single modification of the SLR in one of the SAS Squadrons in country. It totally ineffective.

    • “The mythology of the “vertical front grip” in SVN is purely that, it stems from the single modification of the SLR in one of the SAS Squadrons in country. It totally ineffective.”(C)

      Sounds a little strange.
      Half the world uses these handles, but all of a sudden ineffective?..

      Where do such anecdotes come from?
      Did the SAS themselves says? 😉

    • Gordon:

      Very interesting comments.

      You mention that an L2A1 was one seventh the cost of an M60. I think I would prefer to have seven L2A1s. But do you mean the Americans actually charged you for M60s?

      Did the Aussies ever use 7.62mm Brens? They would have been a good gun to have in Vietnam, they worked well enough in jungles during WWII.

      • Perhaps I can reply – Australia did use 7.62 mm Brens following the end of the Viet Nam war, for a few years at least and I think due to concerns with the performance of the M60. A good friend of mine who was a forward scout in VN in 1971 told me (while he was there) that they were to be issued Bren guns, but I never heard any more about it. I once saw a photo that purported to show Aussies in VN with a Bren, but I don’t know how reliable that was.

        • Thanks pjv. Sounds like a missed opportunity to me, but I expect it was political. Wouldn’t want to offend the Americans by not using the M60 perhaps.

  9. The modified L1A1 and L2A1 rifles as used in Viet Nam are well covered in an article online by ‘the firearm blog’. I had a modified L2A1 while there – it had a shortened barrel (by about 6 inches), which included an equally shortened gas tube and piston, ie the gas port had been moved back by that amount. No flash hider and a 30 round magazine. Matchsticks were used in L1A1s to allow full auto fire. Generally L2A1s appeared to be uncommon in VN, usually with rear area units. In training in 1969 our instructors seemed to not be impressed by them.

    • Ian said this in the video.
      They allegedly tried to increase the cooling interval between episodes.

      For some reason, it seems to me that this rather refers to the policy of “allowing the dominions of weapons, at least somewhat inferior to their own.”

    • Made no sense to me back in the day!

      Also, I once heard that some Americans referred to the SLR (L1A1) as the ‘Aussie Elephant Gun’, obviously due to its size and weight!

    • Because of Australia’s experience in WW2, which was in the mud and crud of the jungles and swamps of Melanesia and the dusty environment of a country which is mostly desert.
      Mud, crud and dust inside your weapon isn’t conducive to rreliability

      • I have no idea how the lack of interaction between the slide stop and the follower can improve reliability…

        You are either inventing something or not saying something.

        • Stiven: the lack of automatic hold open is thought by some to reduce the time that the bolt remains open and thus reduce the opportunity for dirt to get in. You might disagree but that’s the idea.

  10. The hold-open was removed as part of the British reliability trials. They also led to the introduction of “sand cuts”, the removal of some material at the rear of the bolt carrier to increase dead space for crud to accumulate in, minor changes to the gas ports to reflect the lighter working parts, and the non-adoption of a “forward assist” (because it didn’t actually increase reliability – shades of M16A1?).

    • introduction of “sand cuts”

      I read that both the Americans (Aberdeen?) And the British (North Africa) immediately discovered sand problems and treatment options.
      But, as with the G3, sand dust problems were incurable.

  11. It’s a stupid explanation anyway.
    Like “Break one leg out of four of the horse, to make it easier to catch in the pasture”.

    I think it’s all about the use of BREN magazines.
    Although, ultimately, it has to do with the magazine and reliability.

    • My second attempt to respond to you Stiven.

      I spoke to a number of people on Thursday night re the 30 round magazine, all of many years dealing with small arms (in peace and war). None state that there had never been any complaint about the magazine, it worked perfectly well with the SLR, and then the L4A1 Bren.

      A virtually identical magazine was developed for use with the South African Defence Force for their conversion to 7.62mm of Mk II Brens (which was a very cheap conversion, producing a weapon not as good as the L4’s, but good enough), excellent in service but due to the vast number of FAL 20 round magazines for their R1 combined with the need for the production of 7.62mm Browning’s, and other equipment, its production was stopped. The acquisition of the Belgium FN MAG GPMG for front line combat units, saw the 7.62mm Bren going off to the Citizen Force (reserve) and Commando’s with whom it served until their disbandment in the early part of this century.

      In the final days of use by the Australian Army in the 1990’s of the Bren, due to a sheer shortage of L4 pattern magazines, the AR magazine took its place.

      • “I spoke to a number of people on Thursday night re the 30 round magazine, all of many years dealing with small arms (in peace and war). None state that there had never been any complaint about the magazine, it worked perfectly well with the SLR, and then the L4A1 Bren.”(C)

        There is no doubt that the 30-seat magazine for FAL worked well. There is simply no reason for this.
        This BREN magazine in FAL was buggy and stuttered on the last round.
        It had too weak a spring to work upside down.
        This meant either a skip of feed on the last cartridge, which, in general, is not critical. Or its distortion, fraught with deformation and jamming, and this is already a serious stoppage.
        Apparently they “strengthened” the action of the magazine spring by eliminating the counter-spring of the slide stop.

  12. I put up two comments last night, neither of which now appear on the thread.

    And having just put another on the magazine I found that it had also vanished?

  13. My goodness and they came up with this idea in the early 1960s? Feels more like the early 1930s. Well, at least they didn’t turn it into a bolt action rifle to make sure no ammunition was wasted…

    • From the videos alone, it is difficult to understand her character.
      But the nickname “bitch” for one eye color alone will not give.

      But if “it” really was better than BAR, we can only condole with its operators.

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