BESAL: Britain’s Emergency Simplified Light Machine Gun

Armament Research Services (ARES) is a specialist technical intelligence consultancy, offering expertise and analysis to a range of government and non-government entities in the arms and munitions field. For detailed photos of the guns in this video, don’t miss the ARES companion blog post!

The BESAL is a simplified redesign of the Bren light machine gun, developed by a BSA employee named Faulkner. The design of the gun was motivated by the disastrous retreat of the British Army from Dunkirk in 1940, where they abandoned a huge amount of weaponry and war material, including most of their Bren guns.

The Bren gun was in production only as the BSA factory, which was at great risk to German bombing – and the Bren included a number of complex parts that could not be effectively put into production elsewhere in the UK on short notice. It was with this in mind that Faulkner designed the BESAL, which used much simpler components which could be made in a greta number of small shops. Decentralized production would have made it a much more resilient process in the case of invasion (similar to German small arms production late in the war).

By the time the BESAL prototypes were built, tested, and approved as being reliable and effective, however, the immediate threat of invasion had passed and the Bren was in production at the Inglis factory in Canada as well as at BSA. The BESAL design was shelved for use in case it became necessary again, but it never was.

42 Comments

  1. This could possibly be viable to this day with the addition of a quick change barrel and belt feed. As durable as M240/FN MAG?

    • You are right, MAG58 alias M240 is incredibly obsolescent design, patched together from BAR action and MG42 feed. It is atrociously expensive; worthy of museums, not inventory of modern army.

      • The MAG still manages to hang on though!

        Whether that is due to being the most effective gun for the job in terms of cost, performance and use

        Or whether it is due to the “other factors” that states exist in order to take into consideration

        Is probably not too difficult a question to guess the answer to,but proving that answer in a historically valid way would probably be very difficult.
        😉

        • Alright, they have the sheet receiver housed “upgrade” in which action locks into barrel extension, similar like 5,56 version.
          http://www.fnherstal.com/primary-menu/products-capabilities/machine-guns/general/product/306/233/306/2/_/fn-minimiR-762-mk3.html

          However, as I recall (and I believe I leaked it here already) I had one time something to do with former version. It is not exactly the easiest to build; reason being heavy heat input into it during welding. In comparison, PKM is quite a bit simpler and more developed even with its cartridge extraction.

          Interestingly enough, CDN government ordered recently about 11 hundreds of C6A1 (basically MAG58 with plastic furniture and conversion capability from mounted to dismounted usage). Less risky option maybe, but too expensive to taxpayers pockets.

          • “Less risky option maybe, but too expensive to taxpayers pockets.”
            Difference between already developed vs yet-to-design, might be more cost-effective for former, even if second has smaller unit cost, it needs some $ for development (or if you like acronyms: R&D)
            About M240: query in wikipedia states existence of Barrett 240LW:
            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M240_machine_gun#Barrett_240LW
            with main goal being lighter weapon, I don’t know how it compare cost-wise.

          • I think the MAG/240 will see out the end of the 7.62 x 51mm NATO era in GPMGs, just as the (@#%&*&!) Minimi/M249 will in 5.56 x 45mm NATO.

            The NATO armies are looking toward a new general purpose Cartridge (GPC) for GPMG, SAW and rifle, probably a 6mm or 6.5mm, possibly a composite case (plastic plus metal case head),PCTA/CPCTA ([Combustible] Plastic-Cased Telescoped Ammunition), or even caseless (least likely due to noisome memories of previous efforts such as the H&K G-11).

            The idea is a single cartridge and a single ball loading for all infantry long arms that is accurate and lethal to 600m against a single target, can suppress group targets out to 800 meters in autofire, and hopefully still be an effective DMR round out to 1000m with selected rifles and match-grade rounds. Plus a projectile large enough to carry an effective load of tracer, be an effective armor-piercing round with a hardened core, and etc.

            It’s possible to do this in 6mm or 6.5mm. 7.62mm can do it with a weight penalty. 5.56mm can’t do any of it, it’s a 200m cartridge at best and forget any really effective specialty rounds.

            With this changeover in the works for the next quarter-century (most armies expect it to be complete by around 2040), there would be no point in developing new weapons in the old calibers. Rather, you may expect to see the old weapons showing up in “interim” calibers with ballistics close to the new ones. This can be accomplished with most by a barrel change, such as 6.8 SPC in the M4 platform. In 7.62 x 51mm platforms, the U.A. Army is looking very closely at the .260 Remington, which has the downrange ballistics they want and is after all basically a .308 Winchester necked down to 6.5mm;

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/.260_Remington

            Don’t expect to see very many “brand new” infantry arms in the next decade. DO expect to see some old warhorses get new “shoes” that let them “run faster and farther”.

            cheers

            eon

          • @ Daweo
            I am aware of Barrett development and in fact, I’d give them some credit for trying to flog the crap out of this old horse (M240). I do think this will end up with military issue however. Barrett does not mind since they get paid on way or the other and have heaps of fun.

            How to reduce the weight? Simply: do not lock into receiver. Instead follow of WWI Lewis MG example. Now, having said that, Czech government among others purchased couple hundred “tried and tested” Mk3s in 7.62 Nato. This in my view was a political act to sooth relation within EU major gun makers after FN lost (very predictably) bid for CR armed forces service rifle. Thy want to pay for overpriced gun – let them pay.

            If you ask me what I consider the best current MG for 7.62 Nato – here it is:
            http://www.sadefensejournal.com/wp/?p=820&page=2
            Far better on cost/ utility scale than any FN creation.

          • @ Eon
            Yeah, I know about it – lots of talk, no act. Given what we see lately in recent procurement drives (intermediate infantry rifle in 7.62 Nato for U.S. Army) I do not see immediate future for any new telescoping ammunition. TA is a bitch when comes to feeding.

            Yes, it is palpable reality that Nato armies (with exception of Poland) lack suitable medium-heavy machinegun. Let them swim in it.

          • Daweo;

            The .338 NM is being considered as a replacement for the 12.7 x 99 Browning. While it may be heresy to say it, the “cal fifty” is a heavy bugger (literally, not just in caliber), requires a fairly heavy vehicle to mount it on (during WW2 and Korea, Jeep-mounted .50s were popular, until people learned that their recoil could damage the vehicle’s frame), and is harder for infantry to move than a TOW launcher. A Javelin infantry ATGW system, as heavy as it is, actually weighs somewhat less that an M2HB system (gun/tripod/ammunition).

            The problem is to come up with a gun that retains the range and at least most of the armor penetration of the 12.7 x 99mm system, with less weight to cope with. Keep in mind that the M998 HMMWV family is due to be replaced in the next decade by a lighter, more easily air-deployable vehicle, that may or may not be able to mount the M2. (As for mounting the 25mm on same, forget it.)

            The end result could be something along the lines of the 25mm XM307 ACSW re-engineered and reduced in size slightly in .338 NM caliber;

            http://modernfirearms.net/grenade/usa/xm307-acsw-e.html

            The only thing certain is that change is coming. Losing gunfights with mujahadin firing from 800 meters because the issue weapons are ineffective beyond 200m (5.56mm) or cannot effectively be deployed due to weight (everything in heavier caliber) isn’t good enough.

            There has to be a better, faster-response, and more cost-effective SOP for dealing with this than calling in a Beagle loaded with LGBs.

            cheers

            eon

          • “requires a fairly heavy vehicle to mount it on (during WW2 and Korea, Jeep-mounted .50s were popular, until people learned that their recoil could damage the vehicle’s frame)”
            Then it mean need for soft-recoil .50 machine gun, possibly Robinson .50 machine gun created in Australia during World War II might fit this role:
            http://www.falfiles.com/forums/showthread.php?t=76174
            which in Robinson Model 5 version has:
            total weight of only 31 pounds, including the 10 pound barrel, the S.R. Model 5 could be made to feed from the left or right without tools, a and cyclic rate of 650 rounds per minute.
            which seems to be good achievement considering 1940s technology, mass might be possibly lowered with use of modern metallurgy. Several different variants were developed (see text in link).

  2. This is smartly designed weapon and in extended sense puts Bren to shame because it demonstrates, that LMG can be made while using lot less resources. The only missing part in description is, that I did not see how barrel is attached and if it is of quick connection design.

    My suspicion regarding name is that BESA-L is meant to be BESA Light. Just loose hypothesis.

    • “BESA Light” is my suspicion for the origin of the name too. It fits the way the British tend to name things, by making a variant of an existing name.

    • Things were also given misleading names incase memos got leaked, hence what were first conceived of as land warships were called “tanks” meaning simply “water tanks”

    • “that LMG can be made while using lot less resources”
      How does compare, production-time-wise, BESAL, BREN and Vickers-Berthier (as used by British Indian Army)?

      • While studying in past drawings/ illustrations for vz.24/26 and later seeing actual weapons in detail I realized how much manufacturing effort was put into them. I am not saying that forged and machined pieces of receiver and action are unnecessary, but this version suggests different approach. It is possible that this sample will not have durability of Bren; however that is my guess I cannot back up.

          • Yes, Praga 23 was first independent Czech design and Holek was by any means master of his trade; one of the best. The later Brno designs were accomplished by Mr.Jelen.

      • @Daweo:

        Here’s what I have from my long moldering monograph manuscript on infantry weapons:
        “Enfield factory workers machined a 22-lb/10kg. block of excellent steel through 226 steps to produce the 4.4-lb/2kg. receiver.”
        My citations:
        Chris Bishop, ed. Guns in Combat (Edison, NJ: Chartwell Books, 1998), 106; Will Fowler, Anthony North, Charles Stronge, and Patrick Sweeney, The Complete World Encyclopedia of Guns (London: Hermes House, 2008), 332; John Weeks, World War II Small Arms (London: Orbis, 1979 reprint; McDonald House/Black Cat, 2008), 85-7.
        Figures from Bishop, Guns in Combat, 106-8.

        • The Lithgow Firearms museum (Lithgow, NSW) has a display on the manufacturing process for the Bren gun, the size of the initial block of steel compared to the final product is atrocious from a resource point of view. Just looking at it you tell there has to be a more efficient way of doing things.

          • A modern-day version might start with the kind of investment casting that constitutes the frames of most Ruger double-action revolvers, such as the GP-100 series.

            Considering that those start with metal sinterings, such a design might even be adaptable to 3D printing. For that matter, with modern high-strength composites and 3Dp, the receiver might not even necessarily be composed of metal at all.

            cheers

            eon

  3. The Birmingham Small Arms BESAL, designed for dispersed workshop manufacture in case Enfield was destroyed by air attack, or displaced by German invasion/Seeloewe, was also part of a wider project that included skeleton/rudimentary stocks and parts for Lewis guns, particularly those cannibalized from aircraft, or imported from the USA, and a simplified version of the P-14 rifle. If anything, the simplified rifle resembles nothing so much as a .303″ British version of the French MAS Mle. 1936… Except the reversible spike bayonet is not enshrouded by the stock. The spare barrel of the Bren was to be used initially for the BESAL barrel, as Ian mentioned, but later a barrel left mostly unfinished on the exterior surfaces was utilized instead. It is my understanding that the BESAL also had an AA mount like the hugely expensive, lavishly machined Bren. Apparently, and here dovetailing with Ian’s comments, the only set of Bren gun *tooling* was also at Enfield only…!

    • Why did not somebody at Enfield create duplicate tooling and then subcontract parts to other facilities!? That would certainly make for fewer chances of “instant cessation of production due to multiple 500 kg bombs falling through the roof at Enfield.” I mean, seriously, when America made tons of planes, tanks, and guns, there was never a good product that was produced EXCLUSIVELY AT ONE FACTORY. A good example would be the fact that Winchester produced the M1 Garand just like Springfield Armory, only that the former had a few subtle differences. YOU DO NOT WANT YOUR PRODUCTION RUN OF WEAPONS TO BE LIMITED TO ONE FACTORY, LEST YOUR OPPONENT FIGURE IT OUT AND BOMB THE FACTORY!!

      • @ Cherndog:

        The relevant paragraph from my [some day?] forthcoming manuscript, which remains in tattered draft form:
        “RSAF Enfield simplified the stock and sights for a somewhat hastier-to-produce Mk. II variant, and produced Bren guns throughout the war, ultimately totaling 30,000 by 1940 and close to 300,000 by 1945.
        Since the 1930s, and fears that enemy bombers, deployed by officers viewing the enemy nation state as a system with vulnerable organs subject to attack and paralysis, could deliver a swift “knock out” blow, the vulnerability of Enfield had been noted. No other factory had the necessary machinery, tools, dies, and other equipment to fabricate the squad or section-level machine gun, and therefore the very basis of small unit firepower. Henry Faulkener from Birmingham Small Arms developed a substitute standard light machine gun called the Besal (from Birmingham Small Arms LMG) that employed the same magazines and general layout of the Bren, but dispensed with the gun maker’s finesse and skilled machining. The Besal used simple-to-manufacture stamped parts, or in British English, “pressings,” spot welds, pins, and other less refined but much swifter, cheaper, and less skilled manufacturing methods as befitted the war of military Fordism. It was proposed to use the spare barrels of the existing Bren guns to build the Besal, and train gunners to use only short bursts in almost all cases, but in the end a barrel was made for it but left roughly unfinished on the exterior surfaces. Should the Luftwaffe have effectively destroyed Enfield Lock, the Besal might have been put into a more widely dispersed production. As it happened, the first prototypes were ready by 1941, and evaluations and refinement of the design continued into 1942 and 1943. The UK was fortunate in that while the Luftwaffe “Blitz” and later, the V-1 “buzz bomb” and V-2 missiles killed some 60,000 civilians and devastated some industrial districts, it would seem that just 1.7 percent of the nation’s stock of machine tools fell victim to the aerial bombardment. As the need for its development never transpired, and Enfield continued production of the Bren squad automatic weapon, the project was ultimately cancelled.”

      • “(…)I mean, seriously, when America made tons of planes (…) there was never a good product that was produced EXCLUSIVELY AT ONE FACTORY.(…)”
        I can’t agree with that, see for example KITTYHAWK aeroplane:
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curtiss_P-40_Warhawk
        by November 1944, when production of the P-40 ceased, 13,738 had been built, all at Curtiss-Wright Corporation’s main production facilities at Buffalo, New York.
        On the other hand continental United States were under less danger of attack than Great Britain.

      • Supposedly in Churchill’s “we will fight them on the beaches…” Speech

        As he finished giving it, He’d added in a quiet voice; “and we’ll do it with broken beer bottles, because that’s all we’ve bloody well got”

    • I seem to remember reading somewhere (don’t ask me where . . .) that the barrel on the BESAL was secured by a half-round pin that locked into a half-round cut out in the bottom of the barrel. Rotate the pin until the flat section was aligned with the cutout and the barrel was no longer locked in and could be removed. If you look at the video at the 5 minute mark while Ian is demonstrating the magazine well cover, you can see a lever at the front of the receiver which looks like it’s the barrel release.

  4. For any Canadian gunsmiths/ inventors what’s needed there is a replacement semi-auto only open bolt receiver that would use all those Inglis Bren parts. Some people can legally own Brens buy can’t legally target shoot with them. Strange but true. A way around a particularly stupid law is needed. 3D printed?

    • We have this Marstar import company and I have seen on their page demonstration of machinegun (cannot recollect what type it was).
      http://www.marstar.ca/dynamic/index.jsp

      But as much as we both know, automatic weapons are out of consideration for private owners in Canada. If there is an exception, I am not aware in what class that would be. I have permit to purchase and own restricted and non-restricted firearms, but there is no provision for full auto (even if they are of historical/ collector significance) weapons. Personally, I do not object to that.

    • The Canadian Inglis firm manufactured Bren guns in 7.92x57mm for the Guomindang/KMT “Chi-Nats” in WWII. Unless I’m way off, Ian used to have one further done into 7.62x39mm using Kalashnikov magazines, albeit as a semi-auto build. I don’t know if this has been supplanted by the semi-auto DP 7.62x54mmR build or not, but there are earlier episodes about the conversion.

  5. Oh my goodness gracious me! I imagined that I knew about the all major small arms that the UK produced or planned in the last world war, but this video proves my imaging was deluded. Thank you once again for broadening my knowledge Ian.

  6. British Empire Squad Automatic, Light

    British Emergency Supplemental Augmenting Light MG

    Basic Ersatz Simplified Armament Limited

    Bonus Entertaining Story About Lmg

  7. The locking shoulder is only riveted in place, and the whole load of firing is taken by the sheet steel body, unless it was hardened I can’t see how it would not stretch after prolonged use.

  8. Once any country industrialises there is a need for ‘companies’ to keep records, even if the country is born as anti capitalist.

    Britain was the first industrial nation, yet we have no mechanism for ensuring the preservation of company records. Some bog standard, cheaply built, screwed over by a Victorian twat parish church will be protected like it was more important than life itself, but the records of a company who’s products changed the lives of millions will be dumped in a skip.

    The records for this gun would have been secret, but I bet they ended up in landfill.

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