CETME-L History & Disassembly (Video)

The CETME-L was Spain’s replacement for the CETME Modelo C, which was the 7.62x51mm rifle that was essentially adopted by Germany as the G3 in the 1950s. By the 1980s Spain needed to move to the new NATO standard caliber, 5.56x45mm. A domestic design was preferred, so rather than but HK-93 rifles from Germany the Spanish military opted to bring back a development project that had begun back in 1971.

The CETME Modelo L uses the exact same operating system as the Modelo C and the HK 91/93, but because its design was run independently by Spain it shares few interchangeable parts. Most notably, the cocking handle tube and receiver top have a square profile, rather than round. The magazine well was intended to use STANAG magazines, but was not particularly well designed and has a very steep and abrupt feed angle. This, combined with quality control issues in rifle and magazine manufacture led to substantial reliability problems. The final development was completed between 1982 and 1984, with production beginning in 1986 and the full run or about 100,000 rifles finished in 1991. By 1996 the deficiencies with the rifle were clear, and the Spanish military held replacement trials, which would result in the H&K G36E being adopted in 1999 to replace the Modelo L.

The CETME-L design, if built correctly, is a reasonably good one, although rather old-fahsioned by the late 1980s. It lacked the modularity to allow use of modern optical sights, lasers, attached grenade launchers, and other accessories that were becoming common. This is likely due to the design originating more than a decade earlier – had it been introduced in the early 1970s it would have been much more timely.

In addition to this standard Modelo L, two other versions were also used in smaller numbers. The Modelo LC was a carbine variant with a shorter barrel and collapsing stock, and the Modelo LV was an marksman’s variant with a STANAG optics rail incorporated into its different type of rear sight.

Thanks to Hill & Mac Gunworks for letting me take a look at this rifle!


  1. This weapon caused havoc during the Nigerian Civil war. My uncles and kinsmen who took part in the rebellion told me that it had a powerful recoil system that would numb many a tender shoulder. There was a variant that had a rubberized butt to soften the harsh recoil. The rifle cartrdige was as deadly if not not as deadly as that of the Soviet Combloc ammunition.

    That weapon was a full automatic rifle meant to level the plainfield in any kind of firefight in the equatorial forest of West Africa.

  2. “This, combined with quality control issues in rifle and magazine manufacture led to substantial reliability problems.”
    Interesting, never thought that such simple device as box-magazine of average capacity can do great troubles. Does Spanish try to solve some problems by replacing magazines? If yes was it effective.

    • Getting reliable magazine feed is perhaps the most difficult part of developing a gun.

      going to semi auto pistols for a second, One of the little facts which has come out in discussions here on Forgotten Weapons – is that FN Browning, Beretta and S&W 9mm pistols all use the same basic two stack single feed position magazine.

      Most 9mm SMGs use the MP38 / STEN mag.

      The CETME is supposed to use the STANNAG mag, but it looks like there has been an area of design (the feed path) which has perhaps not been revised from earlier work, or could have done with more attention during development.

          • I just read the article

            The empirical evidence was to use a .38 super mag (too long and designed for straight cases) then to find that 9mmP was prone to nose diving in it.

            so his solution was to use a cut off case based on the case that his test magazine was actually designed for – and it worked better -Truly amazing!

            First create a problem that doesn’t exist, then claim to find a solution to it, very clever of him.

            he could also have fabricated his straight cases from a less exotic and less expensive source – cut down and expand (and possibly ream to thin the wall) .223
            which has a nominal rim diameter of .378″

            incidentally, I have used a .223 extractor with 9mmp, and it needed modification to get it to work correctly

            next is to have someone fire a small head case in a generously proportioned 9mmp chamber and have it split, damaging their firing hand as it blows the grips off.

            I’ve seen .380 ACP which has half the operating pressure of 9mmp, fired in a 9mmp chamber by mistake, even at that low pressure, the straighter .380 case bulges badly, and I’m guessing that it wouldn’t take a particularly large sample to get one that goes pop.

      • “STEN mag”
        However direct replacement of STEN in British Army – Patchett Machine Carabine (L2A1) use curved magazines

        • and the Patchett developed Sterling mags were a huge improvement over the STEN mags!

          Firstly the Patchett mags were double feed position,

          that eliminated the resistance caused by forcing the staggered column of cartridges into a single column.

          that resistance was exacerbated by any grit which got into the mag

          and the change to staggered column all of the way, allowed much easier loading, although I havent seen stripper loading attachments like the straight magazined post war Czech SMGs had.

          There are written comments that the single feed position feed lips were more prone to damage and malfunction compared to mags which feed from alternate sides – I’m really not sure how that idea is supposed to work. All mag lips are sensitive to damage and don’t work well if they get damaged.

          With tapered cartridges, there are two ways to make sure that the pressure of the feed spring keeps the Narrower front end of the case supported for feeding. rather than drooping down to hit the front of the mag box.

          The Straight schmiesser designed mag used in the STEN, achieves this by tapering the front of the mag box, to partially interfinger the tapered cases, so that the fronts of the cases are in contact, the same as the case heads are.

          The other way is to appropriately curve the mag, and that allows the mag side walls to be parallell, or at least less angled than in a straight mag.

          Patchett’s great advance with the sterling mag, was to have a follower composed of rollers

          this allowed the cartridges to all roll as they moved up the mag, removing the friction of some having to skid
          that further reduced the resistance that the mag spring had to overcome.

          Patchett’s mag was a huge advance compared to the earlier Schmeisser mag.

          Many designers, even today, will simply use the widely available STEN mag

          • Hi Keith,

            the first mentioned mags used on MP38 and Sten were two-to-one column. Sometimes they worked, sometimes did not (especially the latter). See sample of MP38 mag in picture.


            First decent mags were used on Beretta 38. Yes, decent 9mm mag is tapered towards front (look for example at Walther) to keep bullet up, but they do not need to be curved. This is needed on 7.62 Tok. though. And yes, Sterling was greatly improved, no doubt.

            When comes to rifle cartridge it is almost always hunky-door, no sweat. You just need sufficient transfer distance. But even with AR15 which has mag well flush with barrel extension it goes all right. Some distance forward is helpful in any case (no need to be pinchy on couple of mm extra receiver length).

          • Hi Denny,
            I’ll look the patent out for the MP40 mag and post the reference

            the “stiffeners” serve a dual purpose

            as well as reinforcing the lips, they also contain all of the holes and lips for the mag release catch and to stop the mag being inserted too far

            that allowed the inner skin of the mag to be smooth, without any holes or bumps for cartridges to hang up on or to hold dirt.

            with the 2 rows into 1 feed position
            you get the interesting effect that the follower spring is working at a mechanical disadvantage of about 1.5 to 1 as it pushes cartridges up into the feed position.

          • Re the rollers in the Sterling magazine – the same design was used in the Australian F1 SMG, and it seemed like a good idea to me. However, it has been reported that the rollers tend to impart rotation to the rounds as they move through the magazine, and thereby lead to abnormal wear in the chamber. This increases stoppages as the chamber wears. But it was a good magazine to use, easy to load quickly.

          • And I forgot to add, the Canadian version of the Sterling I believe does not have the magazine roller followers. They must have known something.

          • “Canadian version of the Sterling I believe does not have the magazine roller followers. They must have known something.”
            I think that it might be caused by economy.

            “that eliminated the resistance caused by forcing the staggered column of cartridges into a single column.”
            Similar evolution was in Soviet sub-machine guns – PPSh has single, when later PPS has wide exit, clearly visible on this photo:
            (from left: PPSh magazine and PPS magazine)

        • Just thinking on a little bit

          In a straight mag with tapered cases, even if you had a roller follower,

          there must be some slight skidding of cases against each other and against the sidewalls of the mag

          with a curved mag, that element of friction on the side walls is eliminated, and the cartridges roll around the circumference of the circle

          the imaginary point where the tapered walls of the case (or half the rim to the shoulder for a rimmed case) would intersect is the centre of the circle –

          for a stronly tapered cartridge like an 8mm Lebel, that centre wouldn’t be far away!

          eliminate that skidding and you either get more reliable lifting of the top round into position to be fed, and in time to be picked up by the returning bolt

          – with the same strength magazine follower spring

          or you can have the same reliability with a mag that is more comfortable to load.

      • The reason the Beretta M92, S&W M59, and FN P-35 magazines are so similar is simple. The Beretta and S&W magazine designs began as modified P-35 magazines.

        At the time those pistols were developed (early 1970s), the only high-capacity 9 x 19mm magazines around were the P-35 (13-shot) and the French MAB PA-15 (15-shot). The MAB magazine was designed for the rather large PA-15 pistol, and was thus a bit too large for the size of pistols Beretta and S&W were working on.

        Both firms independently concluded that the FN P-35 magazine was the best choice, if its capacity could be increased. In initial tests, this was done by simply cutting two P-35 magazine tubes apart at different points and TIG-welding the longer bits together, followed by adding a longer magazine spring. In fact, the standard FN spring could be used if it was “stretched” a bit, and the standard FN follower was used unmodified.

        This worked well enough that the actual production M92 and M59 magazines were (and for that matter still are) basically P-35 magazines made with longer tubes.

        One often-overlooked side-effect of this is that Beretta M92/M9 9mm magazines, and their Taurus near-“clones”, can be used in a P-35 by simply cutting an additional “notch” in the magazine tube for the P-35’s magazine catch. This in no way prevents the magazines from being used in their “correct” pistols, as the P-35’s catch notch is in a different place on the tube than the others’ catch notches are.

        This means that any “short-butt” P-35 (original length) can use any P-35 magazine of any vintage plus the longer Beretta and Taurus magazines, and the later “long-butt” (14-shot) model P-35 can use its own magazines plus the Beretta and Taurus magazines.

        Also consider that since aftermarket Beretta and Taurus magazines come in capacities up to 25 or even 30 rounds in 9 x 19mm, this “option” gives the petite’ P-35 a fearsome firepower potential, exceeded only by some of the nastier SMGs.

        You never know when that might come in handy.



        • Thanks Eon,
          I think it was probably you who first alerted me to the mags being the same.

          my earliest inkling was comparing the mag in a 9mm Marlin camp carbine to a p35 mag and spotting that they had the same feed lips – just the Marlin mag was shorter and had the cut out for the catch in a different place.
          Then filing a new cut out in a P35 mag and it worked well.

          I think it may have been you who pointed out that Marlin used a S&W mag


  3. Although it was not mentioned, the chamber is fluted just as with closest HK equivalent.

    All in all I consider this rifle to be extremely efficient on scale of mfg. cost versus effect. Hardly anything (part of simple blow-back) can be simpler than this. It is likely that Spain paid bit more for G36. But then, with gas breech actuation you get more operational flexibility.

  4. First silly question

    You wisely didn’t dis assemble the bolt head.

    Is the inclined surface which seats the rollers, permanently attached to the bolt carrier?

    or can it be changed in order to allow playing with the delay?

    second and third silly questions

    If you were attempting a freelance build, are there features from this rifle that you would incorporate?

    are there features from other rifles that you would add to it?

  5. unfortunate observation

    you do realize that you’ll now need to look at a boring tacticoolificated H&K

      • Think “done up like an M4 Carbine in AFPAK with taclight, laser sight, foregrip, optical sight, SiG-style side-by-side magazine holders, and etc., hung on accessory rails on all sides of the forend, and on top of the barrel and receiver”.

        I hate “Picatinny” rails. They make holding the forend very uncomfortable unless you’re wearing heavy gloves. And most of the jiggery-pokery hung on them doesn’t amount to much in a real fight.

        Tac lights especially. It sounds super-mega-cryo-chilled cool to use a “Streamlite” to dazzle some “tango” at close range.

        That is, until you realize you’ve just told all his buddies who aren’t right in front of you, “HI, HERE I AM, SHOOT ME!”

        The most useful thing to “hang” on an M4 or similar “CQB” arm?

        A sound suppressor so the bloody thing doesn’t blind and deafen you in night shooting.



        • White light tactical lights are useful primarily for law enforcement and counter-terrorist forces, which operate in environments where the presence of civilian non-combatants is likely and collateral casualties have to be minimized. Target identification is much easier and certain with the Mk 1 eyeball than with night vision gear (+ possible IR light). Of course a taclight is also much cheaper than good I² goggles and an IR illuminator for those really dark places, which is still an issue in law enforcement use.

        • “They make holding the forend very uncomfortable unless you’re wearing heavy gloves.”
          So I except someone will (or just did?) make flush cover to mount via Picatinny system for comfortable gripping.
          By trying to get some more info about that whole Picatinny hype i found:
          Yes, you can get axe attached via this system (however I don’t understand why it is called tactical axe – are there operational axe and strategic axe?)
          If Picatinny are so well liked does someone invent 3-in-1 hub or something like this – use one rail to get 3 rails (as in 3-in-1 USB hub but with rails)?

          • I have a idea for the ultimate tactical shooting accessory. “The gas actuated blender”. Yes now you can be the envy of all of your shooting buddys. Our special Picatinny front hand guard taps into the direct impingement gas system on your AR15. Just lock the pitcher into the hand guard and shoot your way to a ice cold smoothie. Cartridge gas spins the impeller operating the blades in the pitcher. So you should try the tacticoolest product in shooting sports industry. Only Mikawa B Industrial offers this innovative product. Buy yours today.

  6. Ian,
    Hoping that your shoulder recovers soon!

    Be careful with it.

    I damaged my back and neck when I was in my early twenties.

    It has taken me until my fifties to realise that I have hyper mobile joints, which results in them dislocating far more easily than most other people’s

    I’m slowly learning to move and to shoot while keeping my joints within a normal person’s range of movements, instead of in the positions that a human rubber band can get into.

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