British EM-2: The Best Cold War Battle Rifle that Never Was

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 EM-2 was the rifle that the British pushed for NATO trials in 1950. It was a rifle well ahead of its time in several areas – as a select-fire bullpup rifle, it was intended to replace both the infantry rifle and the submachine gun. Its .280 caliber cartridge was designed with combat ranges of 600 yards and less, acknowledging the reality that engagements beyond even 300 yards were extremely rare, and not important enough to base rifle design on. It was also designed to use primarily optical sights, long before this concept would be embraced elsewhere. Unfortunately, the potential of the EM-2 was lost to the political decision that compatibility with American ordnance choices was a more significant benefit than an improved infantry rifle.

Mechanically, the EM-2 is heavily based on the German G43 flapper-locking system. It uses a long stroke gas piston in place of the G43’s short stroke one, though. To help account for the slower handling of a bullpup configuration, the EM-2 would both lock open when its magazine was empty and also automatically close the bolt and chamber a round when a fresh magazine was inserted. The safety was much like that of the M1 Garand, and the selector lever was of the push-through type like on the German Sturmgewehr.

The optic on the EM-2 is quite tiny, and offers no magnification. Its purpose is to reduce the two-element sight picture of traditional iron sights to a single plane that can be more quickly and easily placed on the target.

In total, only 55 EM-2 rifles were manufactured, including the paratrooper model in this video and a number of 7.62mm NATO examples made as a last ditch effort to remain competitive in NATO trials. Where most failed prototype rifles were rejected for very legitimate technical shortcomings, the EM-2 is (I believe) a prime example of an outstanding weapon that fell victim to politics unrelated to its actually qualities.


  1. …How many times must we read ‘ Wonder gun ‘ copy about a weapon that was untested in combat ? Going way back before we were born, new weapons have been touted as world beaters. Machine guns ? They would make combat so terrible that wars would never start. M16 ? A single bullet would tear your arm off.
    …All those can’t beat em weapons have flaws. Major flaws.

        • When you look at all the experimental rounds of the 1900s through 1950s, from .276 Enfield through .276 Pedersen and on up to .280 Enfield, what becomes clear is that almost every single one was a ballistic and often even dimensional duplicate of the 7 x 57 Mauser of 1891.

          If anyone other than the Italians with the Breda M1935 automatic carbine had thought to simply chamber their “super-intermediate rifles” for the 7 x 57, which was in widespread use by the mid-1920s, they might actually have been adopted. It would have gotten the desired results performance-wise, and solved the “ammunition problem” the ministries obsessed about almost at one stroke.

          I believe the “super-intermediate rifles” fell victim as much to inventor hubris (“I want MY rifle using MY cartridge!”) and national “pride” (“OUR rifle must use OUR cartridge, not a foreign one!”) as they did to other sorts of politics.

          Imagine the “7 x 57 NATO” being adopted in about 1949.



          • “Imagine the “7 x 57 NATO” being adopted in about 1949.”
            In fact, after some thinking, name 7.62×51 NATO is quite ironic.
            It was adopted, but notice that in fact, of 12 original NATO members (which joined in 1949 that is: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland [has not army], Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, United Kingdom, United States) two have ready cartridges very similar to final 7,62×51: 7,5 x 54 MAS [France] and 7,65×53 Mauser [Belgium; named 7,65×53 Argentine in US parlance], which were already available and could be introduced “off the shelf”.

            Anyway, I must say introduction of 7,62×51 by US when it was done, looks… simply silly. Such movement might be understand if it would happen 1920s or 1930s when rifle-caliber machine gun were still serious weapons used in aeroplanes and against aeroplanes (including ground AA role), as well it was hoped that it might be able to pierce through armored vehicles’ armor and additionally indirect machine guns fire was considered likely.
            In 1950s rifle-caliber machine guns in aircraft or AA use were replaced by .50″ or bigger weapons [and rockets], no-one sane should hope that .30″ will pierce through armored vehicles reliably and in case of US forces, there was also possibility of use of .50″ machine gun, which would be probably more effective in indirect fire.

          • Daweo;

            As Tony Williams’ article linked below says, 7.62 x 51 is a logical choice for a GPMG, HMG, and/or sniper rifle, but is totally unsuited to an assault rifle, as it is uncontrollable in full-auto fire in a weapon weighing less than about 7 kg.

            As for silly, the U.S. demand that the final cartridge adopted be effective out to 800m was unrealistic. As all the efforts to make the 5.56 x 45mm reach out effectively beyond about 400m have been.

            Again, a 7 x 57 Mauser, loaded even to the original 1891 specifications of the Spanish American War, would have fulfilled most if not all the requirements they were seeking. A heavier round, like the .30-06 or 7.9 x 57, could have been reserved for support weapons. This would also have avoided the issues of different loadings of the same cartridge for different weapons, which was a problem with some 7.62 x 51mm NATO subtypes.



          • Reaching out to 600 meters with 5.56×45mm is not impossible, but in practice it requires an optical sight (at least 4x, preferably more) and a good shooter. Bipod helps a lot as well. There are of course exceptionally good marksmen who can do it with iron sights, but there’s not too many of them around in any army.

            Additional problem with the 5.56×45mm is that it looses much of its suppressive power at long ranges. Something like the Minimi is not accurate enough to suppress very effectively at 500+ meters. Effective suppression requires the enemy to realize that he is being shot at and bullets are hitting close enough for him to hear them well. That is why the USMC wanted the M27 IAR. It can also suppress better at long ranges, because it’s more accurate.

  2. Yes, lots of unknown flaws but in a different world of 65 years ago the SLR (inch FAL) had a LOT of modifications in 5 years between adoption and full scale production. Apart from lots of test testing this included company level trials in various emergencies (definitely not wars) eg Kenya, Malaya etc involving real tests on 2 way ranges

    The Sten gun issues were still around and the Sterling just acceptable but still coming in. All of this had been forgotten one generation later with the SA80 F*up

  3. Ian, Can you comment on the EM2 trigger? heavy?Mushy? compared to other bullpups? Not having plastic it would appear to be a bit crisper than many modern bullpups? You thoughts please.

  4. Just a small correction.

    In, or around, 1942 the British and Americans decided that ALL soldiers fighting with them would only be equipped with all British or all American equipment only.

    I believe this came after the over running of French division in North Africa that was ascribed to them having, non-standard, French, stuff.

    So if some British, Polish, Canadian, Australian, or any other British equipped troops ran out of bullets they could not get any from nearby Yanks, but you could bet somebody else’s army had .303 to hand.

    This was as different as it could be to the Axis. On the Eastern Front every Axis country’s army had different everything; from bullets to tanks; and German firms refused to allow licence production of the Tiger tank at any price the likes of Hungary could afford. When the Soviet’s attacked, they attacked the worst equipped army on that front, and that worked for them.

    • Sorry, the above should read ‘all British or American equipment only.’ Equipment was mixed, but rifle calibers were not.

    • The Germans never had enough modern weapons to supply their own army, which is why they were very reluctant to sell their best stuff. It is often forgotten that the Heer suffered monstrous losses on the Eastern front almost from the beginning, and while heavy equipment losses were somewhat less severe as long as the Germans were advancing, they did still pile up pretty quickly. German industry did not switch to full war mode until late 1943, and by that time equipment losses were increasing rapidly, because now the Germans were retreating.

    • “German firms refused to allow licence production of the Tiger tank at any price the likes of Hungary could afford”
      Even if Hungary would receive license, it is unclear it would be able to manufacture such complicated vehicle. Notice that at the time Hungary do not have any tank engine of enough power (their 44M TAS heavy tank:
      was supposed to be propelled by 520 hp, despite mass of almost 37 t).
      Even these problem would be somewhat solved, there would be new for new transport and recovery vehicle (early TURÁN tanks, were under 20 t, so I suppose that their transport/recovery would be inappropriate for over 50 t vehicle)

      • I am certain I read an article a decade or so ago that stated an Axis country wanted to manufacture a German tank, but could not because of licensing issues. I remember it being the Tiger, but may have been a late model Panzer.

        Question. Is what I have written above correct? If it is: which country?

        The Second World War in North Africa and Europe proved that you could win a war with 2 different rifle calibers; and other equipment styles, but only because:

        (a). Britain and her own allies could manufacture enough guns and rounds to equip all their own armies, with stuff to spare.

        (b). Once America joined the war there was, near enough, free exchange of technology and equipment. Unlike the Axis, where the only countries with both ideas and manufacturing capacity were the ones the German Army had marched into!

        On the exchange wit has to be said the Yanks made stuff, and the Brits gave ideas. The British never could manufacture the Sherman tank, but they they put their 17-Pounder on some of the ones they got from the States, and made the only Western Allied tank that could defeat a Tiger. The gun was offered to the US Army. It was refused. Someone should name and share the men that never had to die in a tank, who decided that their own opinion was more important than the lives of American lives.

      • Recovery of a tank depends on how badly you get it bogged.

        I’ve a little bit of experience of getting 40+ ton tracked vehicles accross peat bogs, and getting them out when they get bogged and break or shed their tracks.

        You need a very serious blade on the winch vehicle, to keep it from winching itself backwards. I couldn’t imagine doing it under fire.

  5. For those not aware, there was already once article on EM2 in FW:

    This is well designed weapon, far cry from EM1 non-sense. Mr. Jansen was offered British citizenship, process was initiated publicly thru motion sponsored by PM himself. “He gave us rifle, we give him home” said Mr. Churchill in opening remark during Parliament session.

    Hardly anyone else received this kind of recognition before or after.

    • I just looked over original video and noted Ian’s comment on receiver manufacturing difficulty. At first I thought that way too, but looking at receiver more closely it appears to be fabricated from several components and probably pressed (and secure tack welded) together. As the final product appearance is, it is hard to imagine to machine it out of one piece.

      Haw I would do it? By combination of machined locking interface (the main round part) and side pressed sheet panels welded together and polished afterwards. This kind of work would be well in German domain of expertise, for sure.

  6. Thanks for the video, Ian, very interesting.

    One point which might be worth mentioning is that the British had a parallel ammunition development to the .280, as a result of the work of the Small Arms Calibre Panel. This resulted in the .270 British, which had a different case shape and fired at lighter bullet at a higher velocity. In my opinion, that would have been an even better basis for a standard rifle/LMG round.

    For the history of this, see my article from pages 15 to 23 here:

    I do not know the exact history of how the .270 came to be dropped in favour of the .280 – no doubt the detailed story is buried in a file somewhere!

    • There is a PhD thesis which examines the calibre choice, I’ll see if I can find a link.

      Put v simply, the Ideal calibre committee recommended .250 to .270. the choice of .276, calling it .280 and increasing case headsize to .473 were all intended to appeal to American bureaucrats and testers.

      Meanwhile the fibs were told that the choice of calibre was the result of science, and that the gun was designed around the cartridge.

  7. The trigger on the EM2 has adjustable first and second pressures
    The bolt has a catch on top that does not allow the locking flaps to
    come out until the bolt is fully forward. This was done to stop friction between the flaps and the receiver.
    The receiver is machined out of a solid block and the whole EM2 would have
    been more costly to manufacture than the FAL. Also the headspace of the FAL
    can be adjusted and altogether the FAL is easier to work on than the EM2

  8. Question for you experts:
    “Was U.S. insistence on .30 caliber cartridges an industrial plant issue?”
    Here’s what I mean:
    .276 Pedersen cartridge cancelled. Sure, there were all those .30-06 MGs, many sent to the UK post-Dynamo/Dunkirk, along with about a quarter of ammunition supply, the Browning, the BAR, etc. … But wasn’t part of the problem simply producing a smaller diameter cartridge? Ballistics articles by T. Williams and Nathaniel Fitch got me wondering about the selection of the .30 U.S. carbine cartridge by Winchester. Winchester could have produced an “intermediate” caliber like the .30-30 without the rim… But manufacturing ease argued for resurrecting the old 1905 .32 WSL cartridge in .30 carbine guise. No idea, eon, if 7mm was ever evaluated!

    Similarly, The Nato controversy of the post-WWII era to move from all U.S. .30-06 weapons to something newer led the U.S. to insist on a .30 caliber cartridge, and no consideration at the time for a smaller caliber. Clearly U.S. Ordnance also desired using the very extensive and expensive factory tooling and so on designed by J. C. Garand to build the M1 rifle, hence no FAL and M14 instead. The British under Labour introduced not just an intermediate caliber but also a weapon system geared to it: SMG, service rifle, automatic rifle, and with the TADEN, an MG all using the same cartridge. Instead, they got a ‘roided-up WWII squad: 9mm SMG, 7.62mm self-loading rifle, WWII-era LMG in the Bren, and later the MAG GPMG.

  9. @ Glyn: “(a). Britain and her own allies could manufacture enough guns and rounds to equip all their own armies, with stuff to spare.”

    Important caveats: The UK was reliant on U.S. industry and so on in WWI and WWII. In the latter world-war (worst sequel ever…), the U.S. provided all sorts of weapons for training and equipping the LDV/Home Guard while .303 could be produced in Canada and geared up for the UK’s own needs. The UK was simply broke, and the U.S. used all sorts of financial stratagems to prize away control of various things from the former British Empire. This reliance on the U.S. was why the re-treaded post-WWII Winston Churchill government threw over the No.9/EM-2: If things went nuclear, all bets were off, but if not, then U.S. aid would be strategically necessary as before, and it wouldn’t do to have gone from .303 to a non-U.S. industry supported ammunition. Rather bizarrely, the U.S. in WWII rejected commonality even in the pistol and SMG department, where the STEn(ch) 9mm was evaluated and flatly rejected… In favor of the M3! Similarly, .38 revolvers could be supplied to Allies, but the 1911A1 handgun in All-American-’cause-makes-Moros-go-down-anecdote-and-Thompson-Lagarde-test-corpse-and-livestock-shooting-proves-it .45 caliber remained in inventory until the belated date of 1985 when the much-reviled Beretta 92 pistol replaced it… And now the SIG.

    Winchester Western actually supplied the UK with some 9mm ammunition… Imagine scrapping the .45 during WWII?

    As for the USSR, while Lend Lease aid from the UK and far larger quantities from the U.S. began to boost the Red Army after 1942, the inputs, while they amounted to something on the order of 12% nevertheless included all kinds of vehicles to put them on the road to Berlin. Some American and British items were popular: The Sherman “Ronson” tank, P-39 Aircobra, “Douglas” transport aircraft, the Valentine tank, SPAM “tishonka,” the Willys jeep, etc. etc. while other materiel was reviled: the Grant/Lee tank “coffin for seven brothers,” apparently the Matilda tank and the Hawker Hurricane.

    • “UK was reliant on U.S. industry (…) in WWI”
      I can’t agree – US join war relatively late (in 1917) and after that still industry need time to go into war mode. Also notice that AEF during First World War used wide range of French armament.

      • Um… the UK contracted with US companies to build the P14 Enfield in *1915*, and even with major production difficulties in tooling up for it, production rifles were being delivered and accepted by the British by February *1916*. That’s *why* the standard US rifle for the AEF (75% of the rifles issued to them) was the M1917 Enfield — literally a P14 Enfield with minor modifications like the chamber cut for .30-06 (while using the same barrels as they had produced for the .303 P14), bolt and magazine modified for the .30-06 cartridge, recalibrating the sight markings, stripper clip feed guide changed to the Springfield clip pattern, etc. Since these three factories were already tooled up for Enfield production, and teh British contracts had just finished when the US was entering the war, it was faster to change the P14 to adapt it to US ammo standards than to retool for Springfield 1903 production.

        Before shifting production to the M1917 Enfield, three US companies made 1.2 MILLION P14 rifles for Great Britain. (We only built 2.1 million M1917s for our own army, in the throws of full mobilization.)

        When Lusitania was sunk, she was loaded with a bunch of ammunition the British had purchased from US factories. Hell, the primary purpose of the German submarine campaign in the North Atlantic was to shut down the flow of supplies (food, munitions, weapons, and raw materials) from the United States to the UK and France, that had been paid for with sweetheart deal loans from the US!

        (No wonder the Germans never really accepted our protestations of neutrality…)

        We also made M1891 Moisin-Nagants for the Russians.

    • “Winchester Western actually supplied the UK with some 9mm ammunition… Imagine scrapping the .45 during WWII?”
      But for US military adopting German 9×19 Parabellum would be, bad-tasted at least, notice that after WW1 there was strong anti-German sentiment in USA.

      Though during WW2 Smith & Wesson made some .30 carbine revolvers and send it for evaluation in 1944:
      it was abandoned, but this doesn’t mean that weapons itself was flawed – U.S.Army already have enough M1911 automatic pistols, so why has to adopted yet another handgun?

      • I don’t think the US military ever had quite enough M1911 pistols during the World Wars, because M1917 revolvers were still used during WW2, albeit mostly by non-combat troops.

    • “Winchester Western actually supplied the UK with some 9mm ammunition… Imagine scrapping the .45 during WWII?”
      Fact of using .45 cartridges during WWII was caused rather by series of accidents that aimed actions.
      Sub-machine gun development in inter-war was rather slow and usage in low numbers, but soon after start of WWII, sub-machine guns become more appreciated. USA similarly to most others, chose to use sub-machine gun firing standard automatic pistol cartridge (that is .45 Auto), considering that Thompson sub-machine gun was already produced, its choice is easy to understand, even if Thompson sub-machine gun has some drawback, like complicated (expensive) construction and big mass (4,9 kg for M1928 version), solution of both that drawbacks were finally found in M3 Grease Gun, problem of mass was also addressed in earlier design (ill-fated M50 Reising mass is 3,06 kg, M2 Hyde-Inland – 4,19 kg)

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