C2A1: Canada’s Squad Automatic FAL

Canada was the first country to formally adopt the FN FAL as its standard service rifle, and in 1958 it added the C2 light machine gun version of the FAL to its arsenal. The C2, later updated to C2A1, was a heavy-barreled version of the regular FAL rifle. It shared all the same basic action components, but with a dual-use bipod/handguard, a rear sight calibrated out to 1000 meters, and 30-round magazines as standard. The gun was mechanically fine, but not a great light support weapon, as its rifle lineage sacrificed handling and sustained fire capability. Only about 2700 were produced, and it was ultimately replaced by the C9 (FN Minimi) in the 1980s.

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30 Comments

  1. Why does this issue echo the problem of the M14 being used as a replacement for the old M1918? Okay, I get it, rifles are not machine guns and cannot be turned into such without extreme modifications to the design. So much for the idea of a universal small arm system for replacing all small arms. Just kidding!

    • “(…)M14(…)”
      Original intent was to produce “heavy barreled” version of this weapon, it was test but for some did not reached production status:
      https://modernfirearms.net/en/assault-rifles/u-s-a-assault-rifles/m14-eng/
      Further development and tests lead to the slightly modified T44E4 and T44E5 (heavy barreled squad automatic weapon) prototypes, which were finally adopted by US Army as M14 and M15 rifles in the 1957. The M15, a heavy barreled weapon, however, was never brought into production.

  2. It might have worked as an RPK-type automatic weapon, but for the caliber.

    At least the 30-round magazine could also be used in the 7.62x51mm Bren gun, no?

    Neat episode of a forgotten weapon. Any idea what other nations used a heavy-barrel FAL as an automatic rifle? I’ve heard that the Cuban package from FN negotiated under Batista during the U.S. arms cut-off but delivered in the early years of the Fidel Castro regime may have included such FALs in addition to the more bog standard rifle variants, but I’m just not entirely sure?

    • From what I see, EVERY nation that tried to use the FALO (heavy barrel FAL automatic rifle) ran into similar reliability, controllability, and heat problems. The last two are intuitively obvious, but the heavy barreled FALs in LMG use were noted for a BANG-BANG-CLUNK failure mode in full auto.

      I’m wondering if the heavy barrel, bipod, and/or pressure from resting on the bipod, may be a contributor, because I do not recall hearing of the standard rifles (not even the Para models) having similar reliability issues in full auto.

    • “(…)It might have worked as an RPK-type automatic weapon, but for the caliber.

      At least the 30-round magazine could also be used in the 7.62x51mm Bren gun, no?(…)”
      Well, before 7,62×51 NATO, FAL was chambered in .280 British, see 1st image from top:
      https://modernfirearms.net/en/assault-rifles/belgium-assault-rifles/fn-fal-l1a1-c1-slr-eng/
      this lead me to question: how would “.280 FAL-heavy” compare to this one? Lighter cartridge would mean you can bring more for same masses and also possibly alleviate to some degree cooling problems, but how does .280 trajectory compare to 7,62×51 NATO, IIRC first was supposed to be used in both rifles and machine guns, so I presume it has enough reach for “light rifle-derived machine gun”, but are they any numeric data about its trajectory?

    • Ah, now I see thanks to Rick R’s post. The FALO or FAP is the FN 50.41 or 50.42 heavy-barrel version. Looks like a very different flash hider, an all-metal bipod, and a different style of fluted wood hand guard. Used by Argentina, Brazil, the Netherlands, Greece, Israel, and yes, briefly, Cuba. Presumably those Latin American nations that purchased Argentine Rosario-mfr. FALs also obtained the FAP as well. Also the SADF/ South Africans.

      Weird about the “third round stoppage” failure to feed, no?

      • Used this gun in the Royal Australian Navy from 1974 till 1994. Army front line infantry used M60 and Bren. Mates in the Army reserves used it so more a second line gun. Used in a two tine fork style mounts as an improvised anti aircraft gun on HMAS Yarra. More as a throw everything at the target type of idea. Did look impressive along with 50BMG, 40/60 bofors etc firing at flares at night of Indonesia in mid 1980’s more as entertainment for the crew though.

    • No. The BREN cannot take FAL mgazines, but the L4 (converted BREN) can. Though I do not know how the L4 fares with metric pattern magazines.

  3. i wonder how much the rugged Canadian terrain and the lack of infrastructure influenced the choice of a lighter squad mg then the Bren. The Bren might be a better overall weapon, but i understood from my grandpa ( who carried one in WW II with the Dutch Brigade) it sure wasn’t the lightest thing to drag around.. Imagine that in the Canadian climate and the choice seems not so illogical at all.

    • I’m fairly certain that the idea of commonality of parts and manual of arms was almost the entirety of the decision cycle. HUUUUUGE savings in time and money there. Provided both the rifle and AR work adequately well.

      But, yeah, the Bren is basically a magazine fed GPMG. *Almost* not worth adopting, if you are also issuing the FN MAG58 (AKA L7 or M240). There is some weight advantage for the Bren over the FN MAG if you’re only carrying a “squad LMG” amount of ammunition for it, and the ability to grab magazines off the riflemen is also great. The counterargument can be made that buying a MAG58 for each squad gets you a better support gun, removes an entire gun from the logistics system, and doesn’t have THAT great a weight penalty. But the MAG58 was literally just introduced the year Canada was already building and fielding the heavy barrelled FALs as C2s, so realistically, the Canadian choice was between the C2 and the Bren L4, and they went for the lighter gun with greater commonality, instead of the better LMG (and, it was Canada and Australia who first publicly noted the Bang-Bang-Jam phenomenon *after* adopting it, IIRC, so the reliability issue is hindsight).

  4. That trigger guard actually folds back into the grip for winter trigger use. That way you don’t have loose parts to get lost(as easily).

  5. A couple of points.

    Early versions had a sliding tangent sight with a fixed aperture, which the Australians bought directly from Canada, and used throughout the service life of the L2A1, but which us Canadians replaced quickly with the dial aperture sight seen here.

    The C2 was not particularly successful, but was still miles better than the M-14 equivalent, having the heavier barrel.

    The Australians made some attempts to correct some of the flaws, adding a proper handguard and a straight line stock with a “jungle carbine” but-plate, and an improved bipod, but even that didn’t make enough of an improvement to be adopted. Instead they adopted the M-60 GPMG and relegated the remaining L2A1s to reserve service.

    The gun was too light for the cartridge, and never achieved the range/dispersion specs it was supposed to, but this was ignored. I personally think that it would have been a far better and more successful weapon if it was chambered in something like the .270/.280 British cartridge (as would the rifle).

    One of the biggest issues was the magazine. It was too long, and the bipod height was too long and uncomfortable in consequence. It also tended to “monopod” if the terrain on which it was used was not perfectly flat. Also, since it was not curved like the British L7 magazine, it tended to have high friction/stripping pressure for the first few rounds, with consequential loss of reliability. In my opinion, a 25 round magazine would have been a good idea, for both the rifle and automatic rifle.

    The commonality of parts, ammo/magazines, training etc. was its best characteristic, especially for the various local militia (reserve) units, where it saw the longest service.

    Many Canadian soldiers have a fond remembrance of the C1 rifle, but far fewer feel real affection for the C2.

  6. Surely this is just a B.A.R knock off, made decades after even the most stupid military bureaucracies (like, maybe, the United States Army Ordnance Department) realised turning a rifle into a LMG cost lives, for the sake of saving a, comparatively, tiny amount of money: Money saved by buying three legged donkeys?

    • The problem is lack of testing. Theoretically the rifle-turned-squad-machine-gun would not require a huge investment in training and logistical support but the M1918, unlike the C2, did not start as some conversion of a general issue infantry rifle. The M1918 could have been given better ergonomic design and perhaps a better-cooled barrel by the time Pearl Harbor was attacked, but sadly Army Ordnance demanded that any new variants had to have complete parts compatibility with 1918 vintage stock, ruling out any ergonomic improvements as “artistic nonsense concocted on the private sector just to make the general look stupid.” If this were a horrible movie, Ordnance would probably subject the Colt R75A to rabid one-sided abuse just to make the original design look better (like smashing the former into a tree and then beating the gun with a sledgehammer for a minute nonstop and then falsely claiming the gun fell apart after burning through two dozen magazines).

      • Taking in account that and other mishaps (like T24 MACHINE GUN), I start believing that “(…)Ordnance(…)” is “Americans” from following Prime Minister quote:
        You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing, after they have exhausted all the other possibilities.

    • Ironically FN was also offering the FN Type D, which is a BAR in 7,62*51 mm basically. Or they could have just modified their WW2 BREN guns like the British Army did. But some bright bulb in procurement thought a heavy barreled FAL was the way to go.

  7. In the 1940s/50s it seemed like a great concept. Indeed, most of the rifles developed then were intended to replace the SMG, M1carbine, infantry rifle, sniper rifle (add a scope), and LMG (if you stuck a bipod on it).

    Bear in mind that the Germans seriously considered replacing the SMG, rifle, and MG34/42 with the MP/SG44. That was the context. Armies that had used bolt-actions and Garands faced with the prospect of an all full-auto section/squad and trying to work out the right answer. And obviously swayed by logistical and training issues from commonality.

    It is not a stupid idea at all. It has merit.

    Most experience since then suggests that there are separate roles that are best filled by different weapons. But it’s a marginal call. Look at the AK family. Shorty (AKSU), service rifle and pseudo-LMG (RPK) using the same parts, manual of arms, ammo, mags, etc. And the SVD as as the DMR (= WW2 sniper) rifle, not an AK, but close.

    Or latest US intention to field cased-telescoped 6.8 in a rifle version and an SAW/LMG/LSW version. With doubtless a DMR and CQB/PDW carbine in the offing.

    None of which means the FALO/L2A1/C2A1 was good. It wasn’t. The BANG BANG JAM thing was the killer. Ironically, the full-auto “LMG” worked best with the 20rnd mag, whereas the semi-auto rifle worked better than the “LMG” with the 30rnd one.

    • I think the root problem for the armies that adopted the idea of making a “heavy barrel” version of their individual weapon was that they fundamentally misunderstood what they were trying to do with their support weapons, or what the troops actually needed out on the line.

      It’s not just the US; all the Western armies had this problem, with the exception of the German-tradition ones who kept to the MG42 philosophy of a true GPMG. And, even the Germans made the mistake of trying to make the StG44 the do-all and end-all of small arms down in their squads, only to find out that permanently task-organizing the platoon “heavy weapons” down into the line squads was a necessity.

      Fundamentally, the people doing the organization and the doctrine for the small units suffered from a myopic lack of clarity about what was going on in combat. It’s still going on today–Witness the fatal lack of prioritization on things like an improved HEDP round for the 40mm grenade launcher. That thing was a problem when I initially enlisted in the Army, back in 1982, and it was still a damn problem when I retired in 2007. What was done about it? Jack and sh*t.

      The surprising thing about Canada wasn’t that they adopted the C2; everyone makes mistakes. The shocking thing was that they didn’t do what the Brits did, and re-chamber the BREN for 7.62 as a solution. Staying with the C2 and the Canadian version of the old Browning .30 MG was a huge error in judgment that would have led to a lot of unnecessary casualties had the Big One ever happened. Happily, it did not, and all the Canadians had to worry about was a bunch of little UN deployments, for which their small arms suite worked just fine. Major war, and there would have been major problems.

      Part of the problem with this whole issue is that the logisticians keep singing that siren song of ammunition compatibility across vastly different mission profiles. You simply cannot do the mission of an individual weapon with a cartridge that also supports the needs of the support weapon role. Or, really, vice-versa; there’s overlap, but if you insist on doing it, you’re going to have a cartridge that is really half-ass at everything instead of even doing one thing well. The dual-caliber solution down in the line squad is going to remain the common-sense way to do things until there are major changes in materials and chemical technology.

      Now, what would be interesting is if someone figured out a way to have a propellant charge that was binary; one component only really working in a barrel of X length, and then having a second component that would only deflagrate in a barrel of X+Y length, allowing the longer barrel to have a much different ballistic characteristic. If you were able to make that work reliably, then you could truly have “one cartridge to rule them all”, but short of something like that…? LOL; ain’t happening, friend-o’s…

      Your binary propellant for the above solution would likely be more expensive; you would also have to get the price-point down to where you could actually make it affordable, vs. having the dual-caliber solution in your squads.

      I would not want to be the guy tasked with producing that stuff, or having to test it and make it work, that’s for sure.

      • Looking at this part of your long writeup:
        “Staying with the C2 and the Canadian version of the old Browning .30 MG was a huge error in judgment that would have led to a lot of unnecessary casualties had the Big One ever happened.”

        From what I know I concur completely. What this decision (to adopt C2)permeated was the fact that Canada received beforehand several hundreds “free of charge” Browning 1919A4 MGs. They counted dollars and cents, just to realize shortly afterwards that they were not correct. For one thing, Br1919 was obsolescent junk. What followed was purchase of MAG58 which is designated in Canada as C5 (its predecessor C5 was Browning 1919).

        It’s like jumping from one extreme into another, a definite sign of planning out-of-the-desk. It is perhaps true that an army can plan its equipment only based on true combat experience, not ‘peacekeeping’. But, at the end what is important to keep on mind is that Canadian forces are a “contingent” military, not a self-standing force and perhaps never will be. Means serve the purpose, not he other way around.

    • “(…) And the SVD as as the DMR (= WW2 sniper) rifle, not an AK, but close. (…)”
      Soviet tried to create selective-fire derivative of SVD, said to combine DMR and LMG role, but after testing it, found that this do not show promise; it was named В-70 and special 20-round magazine was developed it (normal 10-round could be also used), see 1st or 2nd image from top: http://www.iz-article.ru/svd_1.html
      note that point of attachment of bi-pod is above barrel, which was said to decrease spread, there was also special device between bi-pod and weapon itself to stabilize weapon in short bursts.

  8. Cherndog is of course right, the US could have fielded a much better BAR in WW2 if they had adopted the R75A or the FN derivatives. I can’t blame them , though, because the under-invested Army in the 20s and 30s had no money and ended up with (M1 apart) poor to average small arms, useless tanks, inferior aeroplanes (USAAF then part of the army), etc. The Navy seemed to do slightly better.

    Bottom line. The US Army in 1939 was not good. By end 1941, it (and the Administration, Congress) had woken up and smelt the coffee of total war. Same in 1914-18.

    • The problem for the US Army was development of weapons, vehicles, and doctrine on the fly. Having never faced tanks before, American tank doctrine borrowed from the British and the French for a bit and then had to be revised mid-campaign. The M4 Sherman, while ridiculed for not being able to take out Tigers and Panthers, was more than capable of shooting the Panzer III L and the Panzer IV F.1 in the face and winning (if it weren’t for the German tanks running away to let the commandeered and camouflaged 8.8cm Flak cannons kill the Shermans). Aircraft development had to be continued on the private sector, not in the governmental think-tank. And thankfully, John Browning’s machine guns did not ever disappoint!

      • “(…)M4 Sherman, while ridiculed for not being able to take out Tigers and Panthers, was more than capable of shooting the Panzer III L and the Panzer IV F.1 in the face and winning(…)”
        Well, U.S. doctrine was that “tanks” are supposed NOT to fight against enemy tanks, as this was role dedicated to tank destroyers.

        “(…)Aircraft development had to be continued on the private sector, not in the governmental think-tank.(…)”
        Same for its engines, long running project “HYPER ENGINE”
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyper_engine
        when finally managed to realize original intention (at least 1 HP from cubic inch of displacement) it was not put into production, as V-1710 which did produce less than 1 HP from cubic inch of displacement, but proved to be performant enough.

    • The Navy did a lot better, and that was a matter of national doctrine. The carriers and cruisers and destroyers it built during the interwar period maintained it as the world’s #2 and in some ways #1 navy. It had a submarine force better than anyone’s – hidden by defective torpedoes. Germany only had 50 smaller U-boats in 1939.

      The Army probably wouldn’t have made the Top 10 list.

  9. Australia adopted these rifles in the early 1960s along with the L1A1 and the M60. It was intended as a LMG for units such as artillery. I used these in 1969 in training only. I enjoyed shooting them from the bipod, although the long magazine was certainly a nuisance. I never had a problem with stoppages, but that may be because we never loaded the magazines to 30 rounds, and my experience with the rifle was fairly limited. It did not appear to be a particularly popular weapon at the time. Australia ‘readopted’ the Bren in about 1971, as the L4, I think mainly to replace this gun and also as an alternative to the M60 in some infantry units.
    Our version had the tangent rear sight, dust grooves in the bolt carrier, full-length top cover and no clip charging ability. I think the Canadian magazine catch is probably different and better than ours, which I found easy to fumble at times.
    While in Viet Nam, I only saw one of these, however the SAS guys used to modify them, often shortening the barrels. These modified rifles were known as ‘the bitch’ and examples can be seen on the web via Google if interested.

    • My understanding is that the L2 was intended to be the section support weapon, but delays meant the L4 Bren was procured as an interim measure since the ADF was engaged in Malaya and Borneo. Concurrently, the ADF were also getting hands on experience with the L7 (MAG58) while in Borneo and Malaya and liked what they saw.

      By 1962-64 Vietnam was happening and the need for a belt feed GPMG was clearly apparent, I believe the Chief of the Army happened to visit the USA and witness a demo of the M60 and essentially signed off on procuring the M60 without any evaluation process citing ‘operational requirements’

      Ironically, despite being passed over in favour of the M60, the MAG58 replaced the M60 in late 80s (along with the F89 Minimi) vindicating what a poor choice of weapon it was in the early 60s.

      While the L2 did make it into the units, its intended support role at section level was superseded by the M60 and where it was issued to units, the L4 Bren was preferred over it if available.

      Speaking to my mothers partner ( national serviceman circa 1971) the other issue they had at the unit level with the L2 and L4 was diggers bound for Vietnam couldn’t resist ‘acquiring’ the 30rnd magazines for use in the L1A1, resulting in (in his case at least) only a few 30rnd mags getting issued per gun and the balance made up of 20rnd SLR mags.

      As you say, the SASR did find a use for them and to corroborate on your accounts, there is numerous pics of SASR diggers carrying modified L2’s (some mounted with 40mm grenade launchers) I’d imagine a slightly heavier SLR capable of automatic fire would’ve suited the SASR style of reconnaissance operations as opposed to the much heavier and impractical M60.

      The last L2 I saw in use was around 1995 by Musorian role players from 10 IRC at Jungle Training Wing, along with a motley collection of L4s, M16A1 and some of the most cantankerous M60’s known to mankind. They may have plugged away in reserve armouries for ‘enemy weapon’ use beyond 1995, such is the mystery of Army Reserve Quarter Masters and Staff Sergeants brand of book keeping wizardry.

  10. I have commented before, that everyone tries this system (AK/RPK for example), and everyone who does, officially or unofficially, ends up using a GPMG down to at least the platoon level.

    Canada is no exception. Even before the adoption of the FN MAG (“borrowed” from stocks meant for co-axial use on AFVs and tanks), the C-5 GPMG (M1919s converted to 7.62 M13 link), showed up at the platoon, and occasionally, section level.

    I agree with Kirk, but there is a subtle difference between an LMG and an Automatic Rifle. A C2(L2)A1, used as part of the maneuvering element of an infantry section (squad) attack, WAS useful. After all, a 3-5 round burst of 7.62 NATO had the same effect at a couple of hundred meters if fired from an AR or from a GPMG. The difference was the sustainability of that fire. Obviously, a belt fed machine gun with a quick change barrel could do so for longer, but in the short term, the difference was negligible.

    The problem comes in when you expect the auto-rifle to do so for more than the duration of the final assault. An auto-rifle is NOT an LMG!

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