The FAL for British Troop Trials in 1954: X8E1 & X8E2

The NATO rifle trials of the early 1950s eventually chose the 7.62mm x 51mm cartridge, and the British and Belgians agreed on the FAL rifle to shoot it (and they thought the US would as well, but that’s another story). The British government formally accepted the FAL for troop trials, and in 1954 an order for 4,000 X8E1 rifles (with iron sights) and 1,000 X8E2 rifles (with SUIT 1x optical sights) was placed. These rifles were mechanically the same as what would be finalized as the L1A1 rifle, but they include a number of differing features. Both models had 3-position selector switches allowing automatic fire, and they also had manual forward assists on the bolt handles. The iron sights rights had top covers with integrated stripper clip guides, as there was concern that troops would have to manually reload their magazines, and stripper clips would speed this process up.

Many thanks to the Royal Armouries for allowing me to film these very scarce trials rifles! The NFC collection there – perhaps the best military small arms collection in Western Europe – is available by appointment to researchers, and you can browse the various Armouries collections online.

32 Comments

    • The matter of selecting cartridges should be towards intended use, not “superiority.” You don’t snipe or saturate killing fields (full of victims hundreds of meters down-range) with pistol rounds, and full-strength rifle cartridges are horrible at dealing with hand-to-hand scuffles indoors. Select your horse to run a course, not the other way around. Also, weapons (especially issued long-arms) are treated as systems for good reasons. Just ask the Russians why 7.62x54R is still used by machine gunners and snipers and why generic professional soldiers use 7.62×39 or 5.45×39 for most encounters, as opposed to some other powers trying to create a magical “do everything” cartridge. Plenty of people can answer this well…

      • I agree with you Cherndog! Although a good multipurpose round is wanted, it is not, often, the best for different uses. You would want a good battle Rifle for long distances, but not so much for CQB, although it would work. You would not want to use a 5.56 or 7.62×39 for distances over 600 or 700 yards, although it would work, somewhat. It could be brought down to (roughly): A pistol (of any caliber) defense out to 50 yards. A submachine gun (Pistol caliber) Offence out to 50 or 60 yards. A intermidiate Cartridge “Assault” rifle/carbine out to 300 to 400 yards. A Battle Rifle (full strenght ammo) out to 1000 yards. Heavy Machine guns and sniper weapons for 500 to 1500 yards, (according to what you are targeting, material or personal.) This is all personal opinions, so take it with a grain of salt.

      • One often overlooked factor in caliber selection is platform selection. For instance, the FAL was originally designed around the German wartime 7.9 x 33 Kurz. Changing it over to British 0.280in was no problem, but when the changeover was to the near-.30-06 powered 7.62 x 51, people quickly found out how hard the brute could kick.

        The Spanish CETME rifle, derived from the Mauser StG45 and later to give birth to the G3/H&K 91, didn’t have quite so much trouble because it had been designed around the 7.9 x 57. Similarly, the Swiss StG57 was designed around the 7.5 x 55; 7.62 x 51 was actually a bit less powerful, so there were no issues there.

        It would probably have saved everybody a lot of trouble if they’d all agreed on 7 x 57 and left it at that. It would certainly have made the ammunition manufacturers a lot happier.

        “We want you to tool up for a completely new cartridge and we need ten million rounds within six months.”

        (Expletives deleted)

        Compared to

        “We’ve decided on the 7 x 57 Mauser and we need ten million rounds in the first tranche.”

        “OK, we can do that in about thirty days, where do you want them delivered?”

        cheers

        eon

        • I do not believe that U.S. ammunition companies could have produced ten million rounds of 7x57mm Mauser? The .276 Pedersen was killed off by the lack of tooling to make such cartridges in quantity, as well as the huge reserves of .30-06 cartridges–much of which, perhaps fully a quarter, went to the UK *before* Lend Lease, and Douglas MacArthur’s well known opposition to anything that used a different cartridge than the BAR and MG… Perhaps an early “one cartridge to rule them all” proponent. So enter the .30 M1 carbine development project, since all the head bearers carrying .30-06 for the MGs, along with mortar bombs, mortar tubes and base-plates, tripods, driving jeeps and trucks and tractors with artillery, shells for same, rations for trigger-pullers, grenades, mortar bombs, fuel, etc. etc. etc. needed something small and handy like the M1911A1, but couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn with it… So instead of .276 Pedersen, .45 acp, and .30-06, the U.S. fought with .30-06 packaged in BAR magazines, packaged in en-bloc clips, packaged in five-round chargers/stripper clips, packaged in belts, .30 M1 carbine, .45 acp, etc.

          As for the CETME, please excuse my pedantry, which is why I probably shouldn’t reply, methinks?, but the StG45 was designed for 7.9×33 kurzpatrone, and the first Spanish State prototypes were for the peculiar 7.9x41mm aluminum-bullet cartridge reviewed by our intrepid Ian:
          https://www.forgottenweapons.com/full-auto-at-1000m-the-7-92x41mm-cetme-cartridge/

          After that, the CETME was adopted in a peculiar-to-spain-if-similar-to-Japan’s-Type 64 7.62x51mm cartridge, followed by the full-power Nato version. Incidentally, about a decade and a half ago, Policía Nacional–a bit like the French CRS vs. the rather more famous Guardia Civil–standing guard near the U.S. embassy in Madrid were still packing the 7.62mm CETME, although the vast majority of armed forces personnel I saw had the G36 in 5.56mm. Perhaps it was a narrow tactical selection vis-a-vis automobiles?

    • 7.62 NATO is a shit cartridge.

      There, I said it. It is too powerful for an individual weapon, and marginal as a part of a dual-caliber solution on the heavy end, for support weapons.

      Every military that has actually done combat since WWII has wound up gravitating to the dual-caliber solution. Why? Because it works. Where we screwed up with the 7.62 NATO was in biasing it to still work in an individual weapon vs. a support weapon-only role. My personal belief is that we should have done what the Swedes did, and had a lower-powered version of the Swedish 6.5mm for use in individual weapons, and something like their inter-war HMG cartridge for support weapons at the squad/platoon level. The route we followed left us with barely-adequate cartridges in both roles.

      Evolution happens even in technical areas. When it does so under tactical and operational pressures, you had better be paying attention. We did not, and that is why we are where we are.

      • “(…)Swedish 6.5mm for use in individual weapons(…)”
        Interestingly there existed 6,5×55 mm version of FN FAL – namely AK fm/1962
        photo can be seen here: http://www.gotavapen.se/gota/ak/ak4_5/ak5_history.htm
        it competed to become default Swedish rifle with some other (see description in link above), but finally lose to German-designed one which became Ak 4.
        Sweden decided that they will also switch from 6,5×55 mm to 7,62×51 NATO in that moment, which I presume was not so obvious back then as all competing were tested both in 6,5 mm and 7,62 mm version.

        • I’d have gone with something in 6.5, but not the actual Swedish cartridge case. Maybe something somewhat shorter, with a steeper case angle? 6.5X45-ish?

          Fundamental issue is that you cannot get a single unified cartridge that can fulfill all roles at all times–You want to be able to control it on fully automatic in a weapon light enough to issue as an individual arm? That ain’t gonna be what you need to have in order to provide decent support for the squad–What you will have to do is go to a dual-caliber solution, no matter what. Unified “do-all” cartridges are a Really Bad Idea ™, at least until we can do “dial-a-yield” propellant packages in mass production. I’ll be damned if I know how to do it, but maybe someone will come up with a dual-yield propellant that has less power when fired out of a shorter barrel vs. a longer barrel on a support or sniper weapon. How you’d get around the “extra” propellant burning and creating a massive flash/noise signature in the shorter individual weapon barrel, I have no idea. Whole thing is ludicrous, anyway–Why the hell do you want to fire the same cartridge out of every weapon? Most support comes from belt-fed weapons, so why concern yourself with the fact that you’ve got two different cartridges.

          Whole thing is an example of false economy, IMHO.

          • The problem seems to stem from America examining the reasons why Imperial Japan lost the Pacific Theater.

            1: Stupid self-sacrificial doctrine that treats soldiers as cannon-fodder
            2: Stupid self-delusional propaganda that glorifies imperialism
            3: Messed up weapons development system (employing even more mad scientists than Nazi Germany)
            4: Messed up military logistics system

            For the last item on the list, the Japanese munitions factories were turning out at least five mutually exclusive rifle-caliber cartridge production lines even during the last days of the war. You had 6.5×50 SR Arisaka (and sub-variants including the gallery-exclusive training ammunition), 7.7×58 Arisaka, 7.7×58 Rimmed Type 92 Heavy Machine Gun exclusive cartridges, .303 British (for the Imperial Japanese Navy’s aircraft machine guns), and even 8×57 IS (yet again, for aircraft machine guns). Oh, and the Army and Navy logistics personnel SQUABBLED over ammunition crates almost to the point of SWORD DUELS ON THE DOCKS. IT WAS A RIDICULOUSLY HUGE MESS!!

            So US Army Ordnance Corps, looking at the last two problems, decided to avoid the issue that seemingly cost Imperial Japan the entire war: firearms allegedly developed by mad-scientists (including Nambu) and non-standardized cartridge production. However, by trying to force everyone in NATO to use 7.62×51, America blundered into the same problem that describes the FG42 once the M14 and the M60 were adopted in face of potentially better competitors from the private sector: attempting to make a “do everything” weapon (without subjecting weapon to horrible field conditions as a test) and a “do everything” cartridge (without getting REAL soldiers to operate weapons during tests)! Did I miss anything?

          • “(…)Did I miss anything?(…)”
            Well, that U.S. forces already were supplied with two types of long-arm cartridges during WWII – namely .30 Carbine (for M1 Carbine) and 7,62×63 (for M1 Garand), which itself is evidence that using 2 different long-arm cartridges does not lead to inevitable loss and could be done without extreme burden on logistic.

          • The logistics second to none enjoyed by U.S. personnel in WWII staggered the imagination of friend and foe. Not for nothing did MacArthur once single out the M1 rifle, the Willys Jeep, and the Liberty ship as the true “stars” of U.S. victory: superior weapons–admittedly with some real stand outs in enemy hands too!–a truly mechanized armed forces, and a nation that was able to put the Soviet army on the road to Berlin in automotive transport in addition to boot soles and horse shoes and railways–and the ability to provide same to armies of allies and the national armed forces alike in operations overseas. Germany, Japan, and even the UK fought a “two front war” and lost (although the UK hung on thanks to being an island with a superb navy until other allies came on the scene…”Thanks muchly Russia! Ta U.S.!” while the U.S. fought a two front war and won… Not alone of course, but still prodigious logistics indeed.

            As for the Japanese experience in WWII, I don’t think much of it led to a lot of self criticism and efforts at standardization by the U.S. armed forces, quite frankly. It is the case, certainly, that the T65 7.65x51mm was supposed to finally eliminate the .30-06 and .30 M1 carbine dual cartridge dilemma and eliminate the SMG in .45 at the squad level, the carbine, and the BAR-as-separate automatic rifle… But the M14 proved short-lived in U.S. standard service of course.

            While eon’s preference for the 7x57mm and perhaps something like Kirk’s for the 6.5x55mm make considerable sense, I’m not entirely understanding of why France didn’t just adopt 7.65x53mm Mauser, so too the UK, and if we must have every nation possessed of its own special snowflake cartridge, why the T65 wasn’t either just the 7.65x53mm Mauser, or even the 7.5x54mm French?! We must re-invent the wheel every time it seems?

            As for weapons chambered for an “off the shelf” already-existing cartridge, it would seem that SMG largely hewed to that model, but rifle selection often did not? Fëderov, for example, drew up all sorts of plans for his “just so” 6.5mm cartridge, but in the end decided to use 6.5x50SR mm Arisaka as “good enough?” It was either that, or no Avtomats at all? As grisly as such things are, I might further add that WWII wound analysis undertaken by the United States determined the 6.5mm bullet had a nasty proclivity for separating from its thin jacket and creating two separate wound channels in the victims of such wounds… Reinforcing, perhaps, the “pig tests” done in the 1920s where .30 cal, .276 cal, and .256 cal. rifles were tested on anesthetized swine, demonstrating the .256 was particularly hard on the beasts, but the .276 Pedersen got the “go ahead?” Much, much later of course, the Small-caliber, hyper-velocity 5.56mm got the go ahead as something super space age and revolutionary while the German 7.9mm kurzpatrone and Soviet 7.62x39mm elicited yawns and dismissal as “product improved” SMG cartridges!

          • The one thing that the US Army was traditionally great at was logistics. When you’re good at something, you might sacrifice everything else to support it. Generally, the more an aspect of war can be industrialized, the better the US would get at it. Standardization and simplification support logistics. It’s brainless, but not surprising. Once the US turned from mass-produced slaughter to “police actions” as the world’s wealthiest country, the logistical situation may have looked less restrictive; surely by then we could afford to supply a few divisions different ammo for their rifles and machine guns. I’ve never heard of units in Vietnam running out of one caliber of ammo because they got too much of the other.

            The easy way to get dual-yield propellant is to incorporate a barrel vent to allow some gas to escape and reduce muzzle velocity. The SEALs did that to get a 9mm pistol that could be either supersonic or subsonic. Other militaries have used adjustable gas piston inlets to deal with ammo variations and other problems. But the CETME had no gas piston.

          • “(…) Fëderov, for example, drew up all sorts of plans for his “just so” 6.5mm cartridge, but in the end decided to use 6.5x50SR mm Arisaka as “good enough?” It was either that, or no Avtomats at all?(…)”
            Simply 6,5 mm Japanese was only cartridge which was available in enough numbers back then in Imperial Russia – as numerous Arisaka rifles were acquired (and also cartridge for them) from Great Britain and Japanese Empire.
            It was natural – with war looming on horizon – to not initiate country-wide replacement of current rifle cartridge with new one. Similarly in France and their 7×57 Meunier cartridge developed prior 1914, with limited production (for testing in combat conditions) during Great War:
            https://modernfirearms.net/en/military-rifles/self-loading-rifles/france-self-loading-rifles/meunier-m1916-eng/

          • Could you fire… Two cartridges, to launch one projectile; say you had a 6.5 Grendel in an An94… A modified* one, that had a live round and a blank alternately stacked in a mag “just thinking in terms of logistics” *= Not sure it is feasible, but anyway! The idea being you fire a live round, then the 2nd boosts the power of the 1st thus if the bullet is heavier enough to perform I.e. 7.92 vs .338 the extra powder boost makes the bullet perform differently with the same ammo albeit via firing two cases… Bullet weights vary but I mean, something that is bigger than 5.56 initally and so it could deliver a bit more ooomph in general. Ok… Actually maybe a seperate bullet with the same cases may be the logistics point (no point giving folk blanks and no lives) getting more complex… But in theory, you could maybe have a gun that could “via a switch” double feed, into say two chambers (Not an An94; I said that as it fires quick, which is integral clearly the bullet must be in the barrel still) the barrel could have gas ports/vents etc to do the pressure curve lark… Actually it needs more work, but the idea is you could get 7.62x54mm performance out of 7.62x39mm shells in essence.

            I had a previous idea for seperate projectiles that involved a Browning .50 firing with the barrel pointing towards the shooter, with the original trigger pointing at the target; clearly you’d turn it around via a modified trigger.

            Point being, one case; multiple uses, modular! He he.

          • Maybe the 2nd chamber could interact with the normal chamber, as per a V3 cannon; sort of a sleeve… Forced air extra, extra barrel sleeve; cooling. No? Fairy muff.

          • Hmmm, gone back to ye olde seperate projectiles and charge he he. Ok I can see some problems; such as two cases to do the same as one, but… Theres mitigation, such as; as outlined… Same case, and perhaps you could make it so two cases weighed as per a .338 but individually could say deliver 7.62×39’ish power’ish, roughly… Anyway I’ll leave that there.

      • I always felt a 6mm or 6.5mm x 51 would’ve been a good compromise. Less recoil than the .308 or 7mm Mauser but a flatter trajectory and still enough bullet weigh to pack more of a punch than the 5.56mm

    • “(…)The 7.62×51 is a good cartridge.(…)”
      How do you measure good-ness of cartridge?

      “(…)We should still be using it.”
      What We is meaning here?

  1. Ian, when I went to the Royal Armories in Leeds a couple of years ago, I think I saw a Federov rifle in one of the display cases. Any chance of a in-depth look at that (there must be an example in a US museum as well).

  2. Development of the technical data package for what would become the “inch pattern” FAL (including what would become the L1A1), was actually mostly done by Canada, which was the first country to adopt the FAL, the first to produce it under license, and the first to fully equip its regular army with them. Early production guns similar to these were advertised by FN as the “..FAL Canada”.

    Canada also bought a bunch of test rifles pretty much identical to these. Unfortunately, those which survived troop trials were used as training aids for training paratroops, so as not to risk damaging the issue rifles in live equipment jumps, and few survive.

    Canada was also fairly neutral in the original NATO calibre wars, and was willing to adopt whichever (.280, or 7.62), was eventually decided upon, but was involved in trying to develop several “compromise” 7mm cartridges, trying to bridge the gap. In the end, Venezuela was the only country to adopt one of these, and switched to 7.62 NATO pretty quickly anyway.

    I used to be in the camp of “one cartridge to rule them all”, advocating the .270/.280 British, or something like it, but I have come around to Kirk’s position that the compromises are too large. In any case, we seem to be able to handle the logistics of providing belted ammo for MGs, charger clips for rifles. belted grenades for automatic grenade launchers, as well as batteries for a wide variety of radios and NVGs etc, so the logistical burden isn’t as great as it seems.

    • That is because wars since the 1980s have all been on FAR smaller scales than what was planned for at that time. Also, we absolutely do have supply problems throughout NATO, big ones. Look up “The Rucksack War” a study of logistics in Grenada in 983, or hust look at tue issues getting 25mm ammo to Kandahar in 2006- the battlegroup ran out of 25mm HEIT in a couple of weeks.

      • I am not sure if this is an erroneous logistics. Rather, the systemic problem of “breading is unknown.”
        Such ammunition is not carried individually, but based on the standard ammunition pack for a known number of vehicles. The 25mm cannon was mainly planned as a tool against armored personnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles.
        So, in a standard pack, AP rounds (in the mountains a little less useless than stones) should be about half.
        I’m not talking about physical boxes with cartridges, but about accounting units.

        • I am not talking about AP either, it was HEIT we ran out of. Yes the planning was a concern, but the issue was a logistical chain that ended with a contract aircraft being flown to Oceania to buy more and bring it back. Yes, expenditures were much higher than expected- but the inflexibility caused an international shortage. There were other “smaller” issues. The M320 is side opening, the M203 is not- so not all 40mm LV rounds are compatible. This was an issue. M118 match ammo is not the same as the (at the time) Norma 168gr Canadian standard. It also caused overpressure issues on the C3 bolts. There were multiple issues in a “low intensity” conflict, with only a few countries actually having to integrate resupply on the ground. NATO standards exist for a reason- ans YES rifle and MG ammo need not be the same, but as few options/potential points of logistical failure as possible should be the rule.

  3. IMHO During operations at the Pacific theater, logistics in both the US and Japan ended up in the same ass.
    By the way, in Europe it was the same. The American troops, while advancing, were experiencing constant problems with almost everything except ammunition. The progress was constantly slowed down due to lack of fuel, and the soldiers ate dry rations.
    Later they made the right conclusions. Already in Korea, such problems became much less, and in Vietnam, surplus supplies were simply distributed to local troops and the population.

    6.5mm problem is different. This is a wonderful ammunition “for an already over war”, when there was no mass distribution of body armor and individual means of destruction with a range exceeding conventional rifles and machine guns.
    In this sense, the reluctance to switch to a smaller caliber is understandable, since these “extra” 1.5mm will be just not superfluous if you need to use SLAP or explosive or adjustable ammunition…
    Yes, a point target of 800-1000 meters, it is quite possible to suppress by spending 2-4 kilograms of .30 machine gun cartridges. But it can be done much more efficiently by spending half the weight of cartridges for Punisher.

    Machine guns are already obsolete (and assault rifles along with them) as bolt rifles with bayonets were outdated at one time after the appearance of machine guns and SMG.
    But for many, this is just as not obvious until the widespread use of new systems has begun, which stupidly “do not fit into the existing weapons system”.

    The poorly educated bureaucrats rule, like a hundred years (and a thousand) ago.

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