British EM1 rifle, caliber .280
British EM1 rifle, caliber .280

The EM1 was an experimental British rifle developed in the late 1940s, and was definitely the high-tech wonder rifle of its day. It was a bullpup-style design before that was a trend, and used a roller locking action take right from the fancy German arms captured during and after WWII. It was not adopted, losing out at the time to the visually similar and mechanically different EM2 rifle, which then fortunately lost out the the FAL. Field stripping the EM1 (and EM2 for that matter) is not a huge task, but disassembling the bolt is an absolute nightmare in anything resembling combat. Doing it on a clean workbench is tricky enough.

EM1 rifle firing positions
EM1 rifle firing positions

The EM1 was chambered for the .280/30 cartridge (also known as .280 Enfield), which was a capable intermediate cartridge, and made the rifle controllable both in semiauto and fullauto firing (especially when using the optional bipod). One interesting element noted in the EM1 manual was the inclusion of a built-in stripper clip guide in each magazine:

EM1 magazine with integrated stripper clip guide
EM1 magazine with integrated stripper clip guide

Interestingly, the EM1 we have examined in person had a magazine that did not have this integrated guide, although we have also seem other EM1 mags that did have them. The feature is a good microcosm of the whole rifle – well intentioned, but vastly more complex than necessary. Another example of this is the magazine holdopen device, which will automatically close the bolt and chamber a round when a loaded magazine is inserted. The idea sounds good on paper, but creates a different manual of arms compared to every other weapon an infantryman might encounter or be issued, and also creates a novel opportunity for mechanical failure in the gun.

We have an original manual for the EM1 available, as well as a set of photos of one. The manual does a pretty good job of describing how the gun functions (and has some very good illustrations).


Provisional Notes for Users of the Rifle, Automatics, .280in, EM1 (English, 1950)
Provisional Notes for Users of the Rifle, Automatics, .280in, EM1 (English, 1950)


EM1 Rifle, caliber .280 (click here to download the gallery in high resolution)


  1. Such a shame about this rifle. If it had been refined just a little more, I think this would have been a wonderful firearm. Its looks alone always draw me back to it, and I think it’s amazing that it was developed in 1948. Not to mention the .280 British was superb cartridge. I just wish that the manual had dimensions, so I could have it built.

    Thank you, Forgotten Weapons, for sharing this beauty.


    • I can say with almost 100% certainty that you cannot get an EM1, period. There were very few made, I don’t think any ever came into the US, and they couldn’t be imported now because they are all machine guns. AFAIK, the few that still exist are all owned by museums. The one I have photos of is a dewat. Sorry…

      • Since there is a dewat available for patterning, why doesn’t anyone make up a pattern to make a semi Auto version, say in 300 savage, since the .280 British round is not readily available

  2. Keltec has just released some new models that i would call a throwback to these weapons. I have read that the 280 British had a unique characteristic. As with most auto guns when a three round burst is fired a regular pattern to see on paper is one round followed by another two grouped together. With the 280 apparently all three would group together. If anyone could confirm this that would be great….Also interesting to see how ballistics are very similar to the new 6.8/ 300 blackout category of intermediate cartridges. So ahead of its time.

  3. how did the .280 enfield compare ballistically with the 5.56mm nato and 7.62 nato cartridges that forced the british to abandon the em-1 in favor of the fal?

  4. Most of europe and Canada wanted the 280 round.The problem from the most that i’ve,read on the matter was that the americans felt that 30 cal was the way to go.Plus a lot of the suport weapons of the day were in 30 cal and would have to been replaced as they could not work with the 280 round.I feel that nATO should reviset this round.

  5. Is it roller locked and gas operated? That sounds like a very smooth experience, also why doesn’t someone integrate that system today? I would buy one immediately

  6. Having been issued with the spiritual child while in the forces i.e. SA80 it’s always saddens me that politics got in the way of a beautiful weapon like The EM1 never being introduced just to be on the trials team would have made my day. I’m going to have to go and try an view it would The Royal Arsenal have it ?
    As for the 280 round the reason it was designed was simply because most, is resident relatively close it’s just a shame the Americans didn’t put their trust in it.

  7. Just picked up an EM1 magazine with the built in charger guide in a box of assorted mags. Not something you see everyday!

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