Wednesday 19 July 2017

Cold War Skirmishes: The EM-2 Rifle

Short post this week given I'm a bit pressed for time.

We take a look at the British EM-2 Rifle, an experimental assault rifle designed in the late 1940s to replace the Lee-Enfield. It proved to be short lived due to the politics of the time and the SA80 is considered its spiritual successor due to their similar appearances.

The Cold War Rifle That Never Was

The EM-2 was born out of a desire by Britain, like many other countries, to develop their own assault rifles in the aftermath of WW2. The British Army had actually wanted to replace the .303 round before the First World War, but were forced to keep it for another 30 years due to time and financial constraints. With these constraints finally removed they were free to develop the .280 round and a rifle to use it, in addition to a new machine gun (the Taden gun).

Belgium company Fabrique Nationale expressed considerable interest in the round, and started development of their own rifles based upon it. The Canadian Army also expressed interest in the new round, both to maintain commonality with the British and to modernize their forces. Two similar rifles, the EM-1 and EM-2, were developed. Both were bullpup-style weapons with the magazine and chamber placed behind the pistol grip and trigger. The two rifles did differ internally and only shared the same sight, but ultimately the EM-2 was selected as the better of the two and adopted by the British Army in 1951 as the Rifle, Automatic, Calibre .280, Number 9.

Though the EM-2's service would be short lived as NATO was seeking to standardize on weapons and ammunitions, so weapon designs had to be met with the approval of at least two governments in order to have any hope of adoption by the organisation as a whole. The US put forth several of their own designs that used the 7.62×51mm NATO round, particularly in the prototype T25 and T44 rifles. A shoot-off in 1951 (which saw a Belgium .280 FN FAL being tested) saw the US claiming the British round was underpowered, and the British claiming the US round was too powerful to be used in a rifle in full-automatic mode. Canada make things awkward by declaring that it would only adopt the British .280 round if the US did, though the US had settled on the 7.62x51mm round and selected the T44 to go into service as the M14.

British designers tried adapting the EM-2 to the larger US round but it quickly became clear that it wasn't going to work, plus Winston Churchill had recently returned as Prime Minister and opted for NATO standardisation and had the British Forces adopt the 7.62x51mm round. However, the FN FAL proved to be easily adaptive to the bigger round and the British adopted that rifle as the L1A1 SLR. Though the British would be vindicated when the 7.62x51mm round proved to be powerful to be controllable in automatic mode, resulting in NATO later adopting the 5.56x45mm round after the US adopted the M16 in the mid-1960s.

More info on the EM-2 can be found here;

EM-2 (30/60/120, 2d8+1, RoF 3, 20 shots, Min Str d6, Notes: AP2, Auto)

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