Rearming West Germany: The G1 FAL

https://youtu.be/Rfu02fsnHNg

Today we are taking a look at a German G1 pattern FAL. The initial purchased of the G1 were actual made by the German Border Guard (the Bundesgrenschutz). In the aftermath of World War Two, the western Allies decided to perpetually disarm Germany, and German security was provided by French, British, and American forces. As the Iron Curtain fell across Europe, that attitude softened – West Germany was on the front lines of the Cold War, and could be a valuable ally against Communism in the East. Thus in 1951, the West German Bundesgrenzschutz (Border Guards) were formed and armed – basically with all WW2 Wehrmacht equipment. Looking to improve its small arms in 1955/56, the BGS tested a number of modern rifles and decided to adopt the FAL.

The BGS initially ordered 2,000 FAL rifles from FN, with wooden hand guards and a fixed flash hider (essentially a standard Belgian FAL) – these are known as the “A” pattern. A second BGS order for 4,800 more rifles followed, this time of the “B” pattern with a metal handguard and folding bipod. This was the first use of an integral bipod on the FAL, and would go on to be a popular option for other buyers.

In 1955, the German Army is reinstated as the Bundeswehr. Looking over the BGS rifle testing, the Bundeswehr also decides to adopt the FAL, and places and order for 100,000 rifles – the “C” pattern. These include sights lowered 3mm by specific German request, as well as a set of swappable muzzle devices (flash hider and blank-firing adapter).

Ultimately, FN was unwilling to license FAL production to West Germany, and this drove the Germans to adopt the Spanish CETME as the G3 rifle, which it was able to license. The Bundeswehr G1 rifles were eventually transferred to the BGS and later sold to other allies as surplus.

Special thanks to Bear Arms in Scottsdale, AZ for providing access to this rifle for video!

32 Comments

  1. Not only Turkey got these. One of the ex-German G1 surplus users was also Portugal in 1961. Portugal, then at the very beginning of the Guerra do Ultramar (a colonial war in Africa), was desperate for modern guns with which to combat Soviet- and Eastern Bloc-backed and -equipped communist guerillas in Portuguese colonies of Angola, Mosambique and Guinea (now G-Bissau). They chose to buy a G3-license (from the German Govt, not HK), and with it came stop-gap deliveries of G1 (Espingarda Automatica FN m/961), and early pre-FS G3s (EA G3 M/961 – as opposed to the licence-built EA G3 m/963, already an FS) to use before enough G3s were available to re-arm (and pay 100,000 actual rifles for the license – same deal as Scandinavia). Actually, Portugal had yet another EA m/961 – the AR-10 – plus m/961 pistol (Walther P1), and as much as three stop-gap m/961 SMGs, the Belgian Vigneron, Israeli Uzi and British Sterling to cover for the overhauling of their own Pistola Metrelhadora FBP m/948 into the PM m/963 (by adding a fire-selector) and withdrawing the PM Steyr m/942 Solothurns, still used alongside the m/948s. I’d say, altogether a very busy year for the Portuguese small arms personnel…

  2. Mr. Picky demands I point out something…

    At the 9:30 mark in the video, Ian says:

    “And the German procurement General involved made a comment about how like, apparently, “A 3mm difference in taking a head shot can mean the difference between wounding the enemy and killing them, and so yes, we need that 3mm.””

    This is the exact reverse of why they wanted that sight height difference. The objection was that the line of sight on the original FN models was higher than it needed to be, which then required that the shooting soldier exposed that much more of his head to the enemy… The height reduction was intended to reduce exposure of the shooter, not make it somehow easier to make a head shot on the enemy.

    Or, so I take it. Now, what is in the Collector’s Grade FN book…? That’s probably the source of the confusion. On p.252 of “The Metric FAL”, at roughly the fifth paragraph, we have this quote:

    “In the case of a head wound, 3 millimeters is the difference between a wounded enemy and a dead one…”

    What that German officer was talking about wasn’t speaking from the perspective of shooting at the enemy, but of exposing your own troops to enemy fire. Something that some of the Germans had a bit of a mania for… Remember, this is the nation that went to really extreme lengths to get their MG teams beneath the line of sight for the weapons, issuing a tripod and a periscopic sight that kept the gun itself the only thing exposed.

    Somewhere, I’ve got an exact reference for that tidbit, but I’ll be damned if I can find it with any real speed. But, if you think about it, the interpretation that he’s talking about the enemy? That’s nuts, because all you’d have to do is change your aiming point. Changing the sight line on the rifle does nothing to make a change in where you’re aiming; all it does is reduce the exposure of the soldier shooting.

    Another point I see is that the original German-style bipod is not a quick-release one as the later ones I’ve seen. The one I’ve got on my FAL is from the 1970s, and it’s got a nice little system for taking the bipod off without having to remove the flippin’ gas block, which I presume was a bit of common-sense someone recognized between the G1 and later Metric FAL models.

  3. Does anyone know the logic behind the selection of steel handguards? Were they just supposed to be reminiscent of STG-44 to make the BGS guys look more like the real Germans to their Eastern counterparts?

    • I can’t find a reference to why the Germans and Austrians both wanted steel handguards, but those are what both the StG58 and the G1 wound up with.

      I’d speculate that there was some continuity between the reasons for the StG44 and its predecessors having the same thing, but I don’t know that there’s any documentation. A hasty scan through my Collector’s Grade FAL book shows nothing for any concrete explanation besides typical German OCD with engineering continuity. I’d speculate that they wanted to reduce issues for chemical and biological warfare decontamination, but then that leaves us with a wooden buttstock and pistol grip…

      Plain English? No idea why they did that, but both the Germans and the Austrians wanted that.

      • I don’t mind saying, I’m a little bit proud of myself for stumping a crew like this. It’s tough to ask the guys whose Eastern Front or Afrika experience influenced their recommendations now, but you can bet their advice was solid.

      • if i had to guess, I’d point out that steel furniture is a lot easier to decontaminate than wood is. This was a Cold War decision, after all.

    • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FN_FAL#Germany claims that
      The G1 user modifications included light metal handguards and an integral folding bipod
      which raise question: what material was used for crafting said handguards? If it was aluminum it might come as surplus from production of WWII aeroplanes and thus cheaper than correctly seasoned wood?

      • I want to say that the handguards were steel, not aluminum… At least, I remember the ones on the StG58 my buddy had as being attracted to magnets.

        As to the wood, by that point the FN handguards were plywood, soooo… I don’t think there was a shortage of that material. As well, by the mid-1950s, I think most of the wartime scrap had already been repurposed. Maybe. At this remove, I’d be hard-pressed to provide proof, one way or another.

        I think it just boiled down to Teutonic preference. The weight thing may have been the driving factor; I know that StG58 my friend had got awfully damn hot after any prolonged firing.

        • I wasn’t there and I have no secret knowledge, but I’ll bet a nickle some eastern front veteran looked at the wooden fore ends and opined that when blasting away at those damned asiatic hordes the barrel would get hot, really hot, and the wood would damn well burst into flame! And having your rife on fire in the middle of Russia is a bad thing! So, steel, good German steel! Just a guess.

          • I’d take that bet, and then make another: That there was some German holding the Gefrierfleischorden (Order of the Frozen Flesh, or, officially, Medaille Winterschlacht im Osten 1941/42/Winter Battle in the East 1941–42 Medal) who’d have been arguing for something a little less likely to stick to skin under freezing conditions…

            Hard to tell what was on their minds, at this point. It might be buried in the German documentation surrounding the procurement, or it might not have gotten recorded, being down to the individual prejudices of the involved officers. I rather suspect that a German who’d served in the Afrika Korps would have a very different set of preferences from one who served up in the Arctic Circle…

        • “(…)StG58(…)”
          https://weaponsystems.net/system/1013-FN+FAL claims that
          Austrian, Dutch and German models have metal forearms.
          2nd rather did not have extensive experience with extreme frozen fighting.
          All of them used weapons equipped with bipods, so I guess it might be fear that wooden forearm would be beaten by folding/unfolding bipod many times.

          • I may have mentioned this before, but I qualified as a Marksman on the FN-FAL IE the SLR-L1A1.

            That was part of the course ‘Marksmanship and Coaching’ at what’s now the ‘School of Infantry’. It was part of the Singleton army base in New-South-Wales, Australia. Singleton township is near by.

            But I’d be betting that the ‘Sgts Mess’ beers are still way cheaper than in the town’s pubs!

          • The bipod won’t fold up into the storage position if wooden hand guards are fitted, because the wood is much thicker than the steel or later plastic hand guards.

  4. One other minor nit-pick…

    Which I can’t provide citations for, it being dredged up from memory and I don’t know where the hell I read it, but…

    The gist of it is this: The Belgian decision not to license production to the Germans came down a lot more to personalities than anything else. There was, per apocryphal tale, a party celebrating some aspect of the G1, whether adoption or whatever. One specific German, perhaps the guy at Rheinmetall who was negotiating the license, said something to the Belgians from FN. Whatever he said pissed them off so much, they were like “Oh, hell NO!” to the licensing and production of the rifles in Germany, and despite copious pressure applied by the Belgian government, would not change their minds on the issue. Prior to that, the guys at FN were ready to license, but whatever that German executive said was egregious enough to change their minds and make them dig in their heels with the authorities who badly wanted there to be a Belgian standard weapon for NATO.

    I’d speculate that if the US had adopted the FAL, then things might have been different… I could see the US pressing the T48 on the Germans as a standard, and then we’d have had the spectacle of Germany’s issue rifle being an inch-pattern FAL based on the T48/C1 technical data package. Presuming that such a thing continued to develop, and that the Belgians didn’t give in on the licensing issue…

    Ah, well… The wunnerful, wunnerful world of “Might Have Been” that we all so love speculating about.

    • “(…)NATO(…)”
      Article from 1957 from DER SPIEGEL https://www.spiegel.de/politik/waffen-a-d2856d78-0002-0001-0000-000041758525?context=issue
      Zwischen Bonn und Madrid wurde ein Abkommen unterzeichnet, das die Ausrüstung der bundesdeutschen Infanterie mit dem spanischen Sturmgewehr CMGT vorsieht. Noch wenige Tage vor dem Vertragsabschluß wollte sich der Generalsekretär der Nato, der Belgier Paul-Henri Spaak, in die Verhandlungen einschalten. Spaak glaubte, die Interessen der belgischen Waffenindustrie vertreten zu müssen, und wies auf Bestrebungen innerhalb des Atlantikpaktes hin, das belgische FN-Gewehr zum Nato-Standardgewehr zu erheben. Bonn entschied sich jedoch für die spanische Waffe, die eine Weiterentwicklung des alten deutschen Infanterie-Sturmgewehrs ist.
      suggest that Paul-Henri Spaak was pushing for upgrading (declaring?) FN-Gewehr to being NATO standard rifle, nonetheless Bonn elected Spanish weapon, which is further development of old German infantryassaultrifle.

      • I think that was after the fiasco between the Belgians at FN and the Germans who were supposed to license the production…

        I can’t remember where the hell I read that story about the arrogant German conflicting with the Belgians at FN. I want to say it was either a Small Arms Review article, or something by Peter Kokalis in Shotgun News. Maybe Soldier of Fortune, back in the day…?

        Anyhoo, it boiled down to personalities. Not sure of source, cited as additional apocryphal information. I’m certain someone out there knows…

        • Whatever was the cause of the disagreement, the irony is that it sparked the beginning of one of FN fiercest competitors.
          Would H&K had become a major actor in small arms if the licence had came to fruition?

          • Probably not… HK would have likely gone on to subcontract in small parts, the way they were making things for sewing machines and what-not before the G3 project.

            There’s an interesting parallel between HK and Glock, in that both started out making other products before getting into small arms and “going large”.

            So, yeah… Very much an “own goal” for FN. I would speculate that that would be the reason why the Belgian government was trying to shift their position on the issue.

            Another interesting question is whether or not the AR-10 would have been more attractive to the Germans if CETME wasn’t around or amenable to terms when it came to licensing.

            I honestly feel like the AR-10 was the great “woulda-coulda-shoulda” small arms story of that era. And, that it’s extremely ironic that it managed to get adopted in a far more anemic caliber for far different reasons and against the desires of the Ordnance Department as the M16… That’s almost karmic repayment for the whole fiasco with the AR-10’s testing, with a side-dish of revenge for the T48.

            I’m not particularly a fan of the design, but I do have to acknowledge that they got a hell of a lot right with it, that other people completely missed the ball on. It’s amazing how prevalent the basics of the design have become, particularly the ergonomics.

      • Sort of the same way that, when the West German Luftwaffe got F-4E(F) Phantom IIs in the 1970s, the other NATO countries only allowed FRG to have them after McDonnell Douglas swore blind that they could only use their 20mm Vulcan cannon and Sidewinder or Sparrow air-to-air missiles. Purely an air defense interceptor, IOW, with no-nada-zero-zip air-to-ground capability.

        Of course, anybody who knows anything about the Rhino knows that the same set of switches and relays operates whatever you hang on the underwing stores stations, except for the separate set for the Sergeant Fletcher underwing fuel tanks. (Not “drop” tanks, they’re bolted on.)

        Meaning, the difference between a Phantom with four Sidewinders on Stations 2 and 4 and one with two MERs hanging a dozen Mk 82 bombs there is the ten minutes it takes to yank off the missile rails and bolt on the bomb racks.

        The RAF, which used F-4Ks, F-4Ms, and later F-4Js knew this. But they somehow never got around to telling anybody else.

        cheers

        eon

        • It seems unlikely to me.
          Lockheed sold the F-104G (With “G” standing for “Germany”) specifically as a fighter bomber (for how much an improbable fighter bomber it was) and, before, the only purchasers of the NATO-concourse-winner for light ground attack aircraft, the Fiat G.91, had been Germany and Italy. When Germany received its F-4, it was already participating to the multinational MRCA program (first flight of the will be Tornado, 1974). That Germany could have bombers was taken for granted.

          • Initially, the other NATO countries only wanted FRG to have Tornados for maritime strike to “control” the Baltic. It’s interesting that pretty much nobody who ever wrote a “WW3 in Europe” novel ever considered what sort of aerial brawl that could have been.

            As for F-104G, it was a low-level nuclear strike platform, essentially what F-105 was originally conceived to be, with almost no capability to effectively deliver conventional “iron” bombs. Rather like the F-16A showed itself to be in 1991. Small, drag-critical airframes do not make good bombers except with nuclear packages, and FRG didn’t have those.

            (To this day I suspect the rest of NATO would crap themselves if it turned out Germany did have them.)

            The F-4 could carry a conventional bombload equivalent to a WW2 B-29. And that was what worried everybody else about West Germany having them.

            cheers

            eon

          • The F-4 was intended as a stopgap, because the F-104G was not that great as a fighter bomber nor fighter for the expected use so close to the iron curtain. The Starfighter was designed for catching Soviet bomber formations and not really dog fighting MiG-21 above the inner German border and such. Funny sidenote, the Bundesmarine did never fly Phantoms moving from Starfighter to the naval Tornados despite the Phantom originally being A USN aeroplane. Later the Phantoms were flown mostly by the fighter squadrons, meaning they were primarily fighters and less bombers. The fighter bomber squadrons were more bomber less fighter although both types of units train both jobs,

            Also the Starfighter was not really great at reconnaissance, so they also purchased RF-4 were better at the job being two seaters,

          • @eon: actually via the “nukleare Teilhabe” (I don’t know the English term, nuclear participation maybe?) the Bundeswehr deployd the F-104G as a nuclear striker at Büchel airbase with nuclear bombs lend by the USA.

        • I’ve got to agree that this bit of apocrypha is highly unlikely. The Germans were a trusted member of NATO, and the biggest policy problems I saw during my time was that they were a little less than willing to do what the rest of NATO thought would be necessary. Which was understandable, because when it’s your land that everyone is saying ought to be sacrificed for defending an alliance, well… You’re usually gonna be a little resistant.

          There was, for example, a US Army staff plan floated back around the mid-1970s and into the 1980s. This plan basically would have reworked the majority of the landscape along the Inner German Border, making it a vast defensive belt easier to defend with the weapons then available. It would have meant moving forests and fields into optimized defensive belts and kill zones, moving entire communities in order to properly clear fields of fire, and doing things like re-routing power transmission lines so as to enhance defense and offense. Little-known fact, but wire-guided tank missiles like TOW, HOT, and MILAN do not do well when fired beneath active high-voltage power transmission lines…

          The outright horror this plan met with is understandable, and probably the wisest course of action the Germans could have followed. You get down to it, they were playing a waiting game for the US and the Soviet Union to get tired of playing at WWIII, and take their toys and go home. Things eventually worked out towards reunification, but I suspect that the end- and after-game didn’t go anything at all the way the Germans imagined it would, on either side of the IGB.

  5. As you may know. Most Commonwealth nations also adopted the British version of the FN-FAL. It was called the SLR-L1A1 in all such places.

    But in semi-auto mode down here in Australia, at least.

    Our SAS decided that they wanted the full-auto option and some of them carried such in the Vietnam conflict. IIRC the full-auto version was not issued to our line infantry, including the Royal Australian Regiment battalions. So that at Long-Tan in 1966, D-Coy 6 RAR had only M60GPMGs and some F1 SMG or Owen guns – for full auto fire. Plus fire-support from 105 Battery RAA firing Oto-Melara 105mm Mountain Howitzers, using the NATO 105mm ammunition. It’s a rare thing for the battery’s no. to match the ammo being fired. Its RAA commander is a friend of mine, through St Pauls Church here in Canberra, Australia’s Capital city.

  6. But back the G1. They are in service in Germany still with the federal and some of the state police forces for launching smoke and tear gas grenades against protestors mostly, Also Bavaria has issued these or alternatively G3 from arsenals a few per police station for having a bit more fire power avaiable and for taking down wounded animals in rural districts like at a car accident. Bavaria even has procured deforming bullet hunting type ammunition for this purpose. Certainly better than trying to coup-de-grace a wounded animal with a 9 mm pistol. I guess some people in Bavarian politics were afraid of another Bruno too, which was a bear that had wandered into Bavaria a few years ago.

    • .308 Winchester semi-auto for… Bear?

      Yeah. Someone needs to refresh their knowledge of what a good “dangerous game” rifle consists of, and that caliber really ain’t my first choice for European Brown Bear… They might want to compare notes with the Norwegians up in the Arctic Circle, like from Svalbard.

      I mean, I’m sure it’s doable… But… Is it wise?

  7. On the BGS being issued German Sthalhelms. This was a policy decision by the Allied
    Occupation Forces to allay Russian suspicions that troops on the inner German boarder
    were not Western troops performing recon work for possible military action.
    Mark Fenton has a video on this.

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