By Cliff Carlisle
started working on self loading rifle (SLR) designs in the 1880s.
John M. Browning’s first design appears to have been a Winchester M1873
rifle with a muzzle attachment shaped like a spoon. The bowl was
over the muzzle of the rifle with a hole through it for the passage of
the bullet. When the rifle was fired, the muzzle blast hit the bowl of
the spoon causing it to move forward and through linkage force a connecting
rod to the rear working the action. This was probably the first gas
operated self loading rifle. Peter Paul Mauser worked with
recoil operated designs. One of his first designs was also a lever
action rifle. He designed a cup shaped boot to go over the butt of
the rifle. It extended past where the butt plate would have been.
Linkage from the boot passed through the stock up to the lever action mechanism.
When the rifle was fired the recoil forced the stock back into the boot.
As the linkage was fixed to the boot and didn't move, the recoiling rifle
worked the action.
Self loading rifles
designed and made in several countries started appearing at military rifle
trials in the late 1800s. Most of these designs were either not robust
enough to pass the severe testing or were deemed too complicated to be
used by the troops.
Patent drawing of
The first SLR adopted
by any countries military was the Mexican Mondragon Model 1908. It
was a gas operated rifle in 7X57. SIG Neuhausen in Switzerland manufactured
the rifles for Mexico. They were issued from 1908 through 1910 when
the Diaz Government was overthrown. With the upheaval in the Mexican
Government, no additional payments were made to SIG and the completed rifles
there were not shipped to Mexico. In 1915 the German Government purchased
these rifles for use by aircraft observers and issued as the “Aviators
Self Loading Carbine Model 1915”. Some were equipped with a 30 round
By the start of
the First World War Mauser had been trying to develop a successful recoil
operated self loading military rifle for several years. He had not
been successful. In 1916 one of his designs in 7.92X57 was adopted
as the M1916. It was used for arming aircraft observers and a limited
number were also used as infantry weapons. It was a very bulky and
complicated design and didn't function reliability. Some were
tried in the trenches but were quickly removed from service.
Also, in 1916, the
Russians adopted and issued the first selective fire SLR. The Russian 7.62X54R
cartridge had proved to be to powerful for the rifles that they were experimenting
with. They had purchased a large quantity of Japanese 6.5X51Sr rifles
so ammunition in this smaller caliber was readily available. Vladimir
Federov used this round in the design of his selective fire rifle.
It was adopted by the Russian military as the Avtomat M1916. The
Avtomat was used in combat in WW1 but its life was cut short by the Russian
Revolution of 1917. The existing rifles were used in the fighting
with the White Russians and another 9000 were ordered by the Red Army.
Production was stopped in 1923 with a total of around 6500 rifles completed.
It’s an interesting fact that Sergei Simonov (of SKS design fame) worked
as a mechanic on the assembly line for the Avtomat.
Photo courtesy of
France had been
experimenting with semi auto rifles since 1894. By 1913 they had
developed over 20 prototypes. In 1917 a semi auto rifle in 8X50R
was adopted for issue to front line troops. This was the Mle 1917.
Between April 1917 and Sept. 30, 1918, 85,333 Mle 1917 rifles were produced.
According to the book Proud Promise on French auto rifles, “In the units
that were equipped with the M1917 rifle, 16 rifles were distributed per
company to platoon leaders and to good marksmen, chosen for their aptitude
to use auto loading weapons and to carry out the frequent mechanical repairs
they required.” This was the first semi auto rifle to be issued to
front line troops. For some reason, the 5 round Mannlicher type clip
was not the same as the one used in the bolt action rifles and the Mle
1917 could not use the standard clips. This was corrected with the
introduction of the Mle 1918. This was a modified Mle 1917 that had
a shorter barrel and did use the regular clips.
In the trench warfare
of the 1st World War it became evident that something was needed besides
the standard bolt action rifle for the assault and defense of the trenches.
In the US John D. Pederson designed a semi auto bolt mechanism for the
M1903 Springfield. The bolt of the Springfield was removed and the
Pederson device was inserted in its place. It was blow back operated
and fired a special .30 caliber cartridge from a 40 shot magazine.
60,000 of these devices were produced but the war ended before they reached
the combat troops. The devices were destroyed later after it was
decided that the changing of the bolts in combat would probably result
in the loss of one or the other and that the carrying of two types of ammo
was not a good idea. The French adopted the .30 Pederson cartridge
as the 7.65mm Long and used it as their pistol and sub machine-gun cartridge
from 1935 into the 1970s.
Italy had produced
the first full auto firearm firing a pistol cartridge in 1915. This
was the Villar Perosa, a twin barreled 9X19 Glisenti caliber weapon that
fired from a bipod. This was modified in 1918 to a single barreled
wooden stocked sub machine-gun. In 1930 it was re-designed as a Semi
auto sub carbine and designated the Model 1918-1930. Like some of
the Italian carbines of the period, it had a folding bayonet. They
were issued to police and some military units.
Between the world
Wars a great deal of development work was carried on in most countries
trying to design a satisfactory SLR. None were adopted by a major
power until 1936.
In the US John C.
Garand had been working on SLR designs since 1910. By 1936 he had
a gas operated semi auto perfected to the point that it was adopted by
the US Army as the Rifle, Cal. .30 M1.
M1 gas trap design.
The first production
rifles had a gas trap threaded onto the end of the barrel. There
was a gap between the end of the barrel and the muzzle attachment.
As the bullet passed the end of the barrel gas went into the gap and down
into the gas piston operating the action. Occasionally early WW2
film footage will be seen on TV showing combat in the Philippines or on
Wake Island where you can see the early gas trap Garand in use. The
gas trap gave problems with fouling and even had pieces of cleaning patches
get into the trap causing malfunctions. Garand redesigned the gas
system to use a hole drilled into the bottom of the barrel. The gas
went through this hole into the gas cylinder below the barrel and drove
the piston back to function the action. This design has withstood
the test of time. It was the most successful SLR produced in WW2.
Model 1940 Tokarev.
Also in 1936 the
USSR adopted a 7.62X54R selective fire SLR designed by Sergei Simonov.
This was the AVS M1936. It was not successful and was replaced in
1938 by a non selective fire SLR designed by Fedor Tokarev.
This was the M1938 Tokarev. Again, problems were encountered with
the design in use. Tokarev made improvements and the modified rifle
was adopted as the M1940 Tokarev. This model saw considerable service
in WW2 but suffered from the use of a rimmed cartridge. Self loaders
do not function as well with a rimmed cartridge as with a rimless one.
In June 1940 the
US Army Ordnance Department commenced a program to develop a rifle that
weighed about 5 pounds. The M1 Rifle was to long & heavy to be
issued to support troops, gun crew members & Etc. Traditionally,
the pistol or sub machine gun had been issued to these men.
Arms Company developed a new cartridge (7.62X33) that was designated the
“Caliber .30, SR, M1”. The SR was for Short Rifle. Winchester
then developed a rifle to fire this cartridge. In October 1941, the
Winchester rifle was adopted by the US Army as the “Carbine, Caliber .30,
There was a need
for a short carbine to be used by airborne troops. Springfield Armory,
Winchester Repeating Arms Co. and Inland Division of General Motors all
submitted folding stock versions of the M1 carbine. The Inland version
with a side folding wire stock was chosen. It was adopted in May,
1942 at the “Carbine, Caliber .30 M1A1”.
In May 1944 a development
program was instituted to convert the M1 carbine to a selective fire weapon.
This model was designated the “Carbine, Caliber .30, M2”. A late
war development of the carbine for use as a nighttime sniper weapon led
to the adoption of the “Carbine, Caliber .30, M3”. This carbine was
equipped with an infrared night vision device known as the “Sniper scope”.
Due to the problems
that the US Army was having with the gas trap M1 Garand the army started
to evaluate new designs of SLRs. The main contender as a replacement
for the Garand was the rifle designed by Marine Corps Maj. Melvin Johnson.
His rifle was a recoil operated design. The barrel recoils back inside
the extra long receiver to unlock the action. One of the problems with
this design is that a conventional bayonet can not be used. The added
weight prevents the proper operation of the action. Fortunately for
the army, Garand had solved the problems with the M1 and the Johnson was
not adopted. The Marine Corps did adopt it as the M1941 but after
very limited use it was determined that it did not stand up to combat well
and was discontinued. In addition to the US Marine Corps, Argentina,
in 30-06, Chile, in 7x57, and the Dutch East Indies also adopted
Germany was behind
the US and USSR in the design of a self loading rifle. When they
encountered the Tokarev rifle after their invasion of the USSR in 1941
they started a design program to develop a SLR. Both a Mauser and
Walther design in 7.92X57 were approved for troop trials in 1941.
The Mauser design was rejected but the Walther was adopted as the G41(W).
The G41(W) used
a gas system that had a tube around the forward part of the barrel with
a hollow round piston inside that was around the barrel. It had a
screw on blast cone that trapped the muzzle gas as the bullet left the
barrel. This gas forced the piston to the rear operating the action
through a sheet metal operating rod. This system fouled rapidly in
use causing malfunctions of the rifle.
By 1943 the G41(W)
gas system had been modified to a copy of the M1940 Tokarev. The
troublesome nose cone and cylindrical gas piston had been eliminated.
The modified rifle was adopted as the G43. The G43 was produced in
fairly large quantities until the end of WW2.
Photo courtesy WWW.Fg42.net.
In the WW2 German
Military, the Air Force was responsible for the Paratroops. The Air
Force had requested the development of a select fire SLR to replace the
bolt action rifle, submachine and light machine-guns. Rheinmettal-Borsig
submitted the successful design. It was designated the Fallschirmjaeger
Gewehr 42 (FG42). The magazine (both 10 and 20 round were used) came
out the left side of the receiver instead of the bottom. Two versions
were produced. The early one had a sheet metal butt stock and a very
angled pistol grip while the later model had a wood stock and conventional
pistol grip. For an unknown reason, the magazines for the 2 models
do not interchange.
Sweden adopted a
SLR in 6.5X55 in 1942. It was designated the AG42. This was
the first gas operated rifle to eliminate the gas piston. Instead
of the gas being ported into a gas cylinder and forcing a piston to the
rear, the cylinder had a tube running back to the action. The bolt
carrier had an extension on it that went into the gas tube. The gas
pressure operated directly against the carrier without a piston.
Sweden helped the
Egyptian government set up a plant to produce a 7.92X57 version of the
AG42 in the late 1940s. The Egyptians called this the Hakim rifle.
In the mid 1950s
Egypt redesigned the Hakim rifle to fire the Soviet 7.62X39 round.
They had received a large number of SKS and Czech M52 rifles in 1954.
These two rifles influenced the use of a folding bayonet. The Egyptians
designated this rifle the Rashid.
Germany had started
experimenting with an intermediate length cartridge for self loaders in
the early 1930s. By 1938 formal development of a SLR firing
an intermediate cartridge was under way. The final cartridge selected
was a 7.92X57 that had the case shortened to 33mm. By doing this,
most of the existing machinery used to manufacture the 7.92X57 could be
utilized for the production of the new 7.92X33. Design of the rifle
was awarded to C. G. Haenel. The prototype weapon, made primarily
from sheet metal stampings, was known as the Maschinenkarabiner 42
After numerous development
changes the rifle was adopted in 1943 as the MP43 (Maschinenpistole 43
or Machine Pistol 43). It had its designation changed several times
during its production. Its known as the MP43, MP43/1, MP44 &
Stg 44 (Sturmgewhere 44 or Assault Rifle 44).
By 1940 France had
a semi auto rifle ready for limited production. In March, the Ministry
of War ordered 50 MAS Mle 1940 rifles. The invasion of France in
1940 stopped further development of this rifle. In November 1944,
after the Germans were driven from France, the Mle 1940 rifle was modified
to use a detachable magazine. This rifle was adopted on January 11,
1945, as the MAS 44.
A total of 6,200
MAS 44 rifles were produced. Most went to the French navy for their
Marine Commandos and were used in Indochina. The MAS 44 used the
same needle bayonet mounted in a tube under the barrel as the Mle 1936
rifle. A button is pushed; the bayonet is pulled out and reversed
then reinserted into the socket under the barrel.
By 1949 several
improvements had been made in the MAS 44. Two of the changes were
the addition of grenade firing capabilities with a grenade sight on the
left side of the front barrel band and the inclusion of a telescope mount
on the receiver. A total of 20,600 MAS 49 rifles were produced.
The pictured rifle is equipped with the M1953 Telescopic Sight.
In 1956 the MAS
49 was again modified into the MAS 49-56. Among other things, the
barrel was shortened, the stock was shortened, a flash suppressor was added
and the grenade sight was moved onto the top of the barrel just behind
the front sight. From 1957 through 1978, 275,240 MAS 49-56 rifles
The USSR was impressed
with the German assault rifle and intermediate cartridge used in it.
Development was started on a 7.62X39 intermediate cartridge and weapons
for it before the end of the war. By 1945 Sergei Simonov had developed
a SLR that was adopted as the SKS.
scaled down his 14.5X114 PTRS Semi auto anti tank rifle. The above
photo shows the size difference between the PTRS, SKS bolt, bolt carrier
& bolt cover. See the Carbines for Collectors article on the
for much more information on the SKS rifles.
During the same
time frame that Simonov was developing the SKS, Michael T. Kalashnikov
, who was a senior sergeant in the Tank Corps, was working on the design
of a selective fire assault rifle. This was adopted in 1947 as the
AK 47 or Avtomat Kalashnikov Model 1947. The AK 47 was a composite
design using features of existing weapons, both Soviet & foreign.
Kalashnikov added no radical design features of his own but his rifle has
turned out to be the most used of any assault rifle ever produced.
Belgium had been
working on the development of a SLR designed by Dieudonne Saive before
WW2 but the German invasion stopped the work. After the war ended
the development work on the rifle designed by Saive continued and it was
adopted as the M1949.
The FN M1949 was
produced in 7X57, 7.65X54, 7.92X57 & 7.62X63 (30-06). Argentina,
Belgian Congo, Colombia, Belgium, Brazil, Egypt, Luxembourg, Netherlands
East Indies and Venezuela adopted it.
been experimenting with self loading rifles since the early 1920s.
The ZH29 was a gas operated semi auto in 7.92X57 with a detachable magazine
that was marketed in the 1930s. It was not a commercial success with
Ethiopia and Thailand buying a few rifles. Immediately after WW2 they
produced the ZK420 series of rifles but none were adopted by any country.
By 1952 the Czechs
had developed a SLR around the 7.62X45 intermediate cartridge. This
was adopted as the CZ52. Like the Soviet SKS, it has a folding
bayonet. To bring it into line with the other Communist Block countries,
in 1957 it was chambered for the Soviet 7.62X39 round. It was then
designated the CZ52/57.
in Belgium had been working on a selective fire rifle since shortly after
the end of WW2. Their design was designated the FAL for Fusil Automatique
Leger (light automatic rifle). The first model was chambered for
the German 7.92X33 and was demonstrated for the Belgian Military in February,
1948. The second model was made in the British .280 caliber for the
NATO tests. After the .280 was passed over for the US 7.62X51 FN
re-designed the FAL for this round. By 1954 when the 7.62X51 NATO
round was officially adopted, FN had the FAL ready for production.
It was adopted by at least 35 different countries making it the most used
non-Communist Block SLR ever produced.
The US had been
looking for a replacement for the M1 Rifle since the mid 1940s. Numerous
different design were tested including the T48 which was a US produced
FN FAL rifle. In June, 1957 the T44E4 was adopted as the 7.62-mm
Rifle M14. It was basically a modified M1 rifle with a shorter receiver
for the shorter cartridge and a 20 round detachable magazine. It
also had a selector for full auto fire and a flash suppressor that served
as a recoil reducer.
CETME 58 S/N 00000
Presented to Captain General Munoz Grandes, Ministry of the Army.
The first CETME 58 produced. Note that it is marked ALTO EM under
the serial number. All the Spanish CETMEs are marked for what branch
of the government they were made for. ET for the Army, FN for the
Navy, EA for the Air Force & GC for the Guardia Civil. The ALTO
EM marking is for the Joint Defense General Staff.
Early in the 1950s
Centro de Estudios Tecnicos de Materiales Especiales (CETME) in Spain
started work on an updated version of the experimental WW2 German StG45
assault rifle. Both Spanish and German engineers worked on the project.
Initially, the rifle fired an intermediate cartridge. After the adoption
of the 7.62X51 by NATO the rifle was redesigned for that cartridge.
In 1956 the German Army bought 400 CETME rifles for testing. In 1958
the Spanish Army adopted the CETME as the Assault Rifle Model 58.
After extensive testing, the German Army requested numerous changes in
the CETME design. After these were incorporated, the German Army
adopted the rifle as the G3 in 1958. After Spain and Germany adopted
the rifle it’s popularity increased and it was adopted by several other
The Swiss Army had
been testing SLRs since the end of WW2. In 1957 they adopted a select
fire assault rifle in 7.5X55 based on the WW2 German experimental StG45.
It uses a roller locking action similar to the CETME - G3 series of rifles.
It was designated the Stgw. 57.
In 1958 Czechoslovakia
adopted a selective fire assault rifle designated the CZ 58. It has
the same general appearance of the Soviet AK 47 but is completely different
in design. Instead of the turning bolt locking system, it uses a
dropping block more like the German P-38 pistol.