FN FAL

     Notes: The FAL (Fusil Automatique Leger) was the most successful weapon Fabrique Nationale (FN) ever produced, and one of the most successful small arms ever made.  It has been adopted by over 70 countries in its long history.  The military versions have been license-produced in at least 10 countries, and civilian versions have been made by about twice that many countries. 

     The FAL was originally a product-improved Model 49, with lighter construction and a larger magazine capacity.  (The original designation for the FAL was the Model 50.)  It was designed with automatic fire in mind, but like many such weapons firing the 7.62mm NATO cartridge, the FAL is far too light for accurate automatic fire.  However, it may come as a surprise to some that the FAL was not originally designed for use with the 7.62mm NATO cartridge; like most NATO rifles of the period, the 7.62mm NATO cartridge was forced upon the Belgians under political pressure by the US.  The first prototype of the FAL was demonstrated in 1948, chambered for the 8mm Kurz cartridge, and those few prototypes were experimented with until 1950.  At that point FN, partly because they were a little unsatisfied with the 8mm Kurz round and partly to support the British, rechambered the FAL for the .280 British round.  The FAL was not chambered in 7.62mm NATO until 1952 when the US pretty much had managed to stamp out all rivals to its .30 T65 round, which became the 7.62mm NATO.  After rechambering, the FAL was for a short time in competition to become the new US service rifle, but in truth, it never really had a chance politically against American designs.

     The FAL is gas-operated with a short-stroke system and the piston located above the barrel.  The gas system has a regulator to allow for the environment, fouling, or rifle grenade launching.  The bolt is a tipping-type design.  Most metalwork is steel; until 1973, the receivers were built of forgings, but after that time, they were made from investment-cast stamped steel to lower production costs.  (Many countries with manufacturing licenses still make them with forged receivers.)  Furniture has run the gamut of materials through the years – wood, plastic, and polymer stocks; folding steel stocks of various designs, sometimes coated with plastic or rubber and having a variety of buttplates; plastic or wood pistol grips; and plastic, wood, or metal handguards.  (Most military FALs produced since 1963 have synthetic/plastic furniture.)  Virtually all heavy-barrel versions have a folding bipod attached, and some countries also use them with standard FALs.  Most FALs have a folding carrying handle above the point of balance at the front of the receiver.  The first production FALs had no flash suppressor, but used a bayonet which slipped over the muzzle and acted as a rifle grenade launcher/flash suppressor when necessary.  This was quickly replaced with a normal bayonet lug and a long slotted flash suppressor.  The standard barrel is 21 inches long.

     The variants of the FAL are legion; they vary not only in FN production, but by materials and manufacturer.  Some of the FN-built variants include the basic FAL (the Model 50-00), with small-scale production beginning in 1953 and adoption by the Belgian and Venezuelan armies in 1956, after which orders flooded in.  The early versions had wood furniture, but in 1963 this was replaced with plastic handguards and pistol grips and a plastic-shelled stock filled with a nylon/fiberglass composite.  The FAL 50-64 Para is essentially the same, but uses a folding tubular steel stock (sometimes coated with plastic or rubber) and (usually) a rubber-coated buttplate.  The charging handle folds against the rifle, and the breechblock return spring was also relocated.  The FAL 50-63 Para is similar to the 50-64, but the barrel is abbreviated to 17.15 inches, the carrying handle is omitted, and there is no bolt hold-open feature after a magazine is emptied.  The sights are also modified to match the shorter effective range.  The FAL 50-41 (also known as the FAL HB or FALO) is a heavy-barreled version designed as a light support weapon, with a folding bipod.  The FALO is perhaps the least popular of the FAL series; in sustained automatic fire, it overheats rapidly, and the barrel is fixed.  In addition, the 50-41 suffers from a strange problem which was never solved (by FN, anyway) – a problem called “bang-bang-jam” by the troops, where the 50-41 would every so often jam on the third shot of automatic fire.  Many countries never bought the 50-41; some essentially built their own versions, and some locked their 50-41s on semiautomatic and used them as designated marksman weapons.  The 50-41 cannot use a bayonet.

     The Austrian version of the FAL, the StG-58, has several differences from the standard FAL.  It was adopted in 1958 and continued soldiering on; it began to be replaced by the AUG in 1977, but continued in reserve service until 1995, and many an inactive reservist still has an StG-58 in his home in the event of mobilization.  The Jagdkampf (Austrian Special Forces) also used them, in ever-smaller numbers, until the late 1980s; they valued the more powerful round and its ability to penetrate brick, cinder block, and in some cases damage the engine blocks of cars, and liked the extra range. The StG-58 has a long grenade launcher tipping the muzzle; it not only acts as a flash suppressor, but allows the shooter to fire older-style rifle grenades as well as newer bullet-trap rifle grenades.  It is unusual for a FAL variant in that it does not have a bayonet lug.  The long grenade-launching flash suppressor means that not much of the blade would be exposed to make a bayonet useful. It does, however, have a robust folding bipod attached to the front of the handguards.  Those handguards are aluminum instead of wood or polymer, and are blued.  StG-58s are also drilled and tapped for a scope mount. Currently, the StG-58 is still manufactured in a semiautomatic version, for civilian sales; it is distributed by Entreprise Arms in the US, and called the StG-58C.

     The FAL Competition (also called the LAR Competition) is a special limited-production version of the FAL 50-00 built from 1962 onward.  It is highly-tuned version of the 50-00 with a standard synthetic stock and a 24.2-inch match-quality barrel and drilling and tapping for a telescopic sight or other competition-type sights.  It is not capable of automatic fire.

     I have included below some of the experimental FAL chamberings just for the heck of it.

     Twilight 2000/Merc 2000 Notes: Despite having been (in most cases) replaced by newer and lighter weapons, the FAL was still a very common weapon in the world.  Many soldiers refused to give up their FALs, even when lighter weapons became available, because they preferred the punch and range of the FAL.  This was especially common in Austria, and especially among the Jagdkampf.

Weapon

Ammunition

Weight

Magazines

Price

FAL 50

8mm Kurz

4.01 kg

30

$797

FAL 50

.280 British

4.02 kg

20

$803

FAL 50-00 (Early Production)

7.62mm NATO

4.21 kg

20

$1023

FAL 50-00 (Wood Furniture)

7.62mm NATO

4.25 kg

20

$1035

FAL 50-00 (Synthetic Furniture)

7.62mm NATO

3.9 kg

20

$1040

FAL 50-64

7.62mm NATO

4.3 kg

20

$1060

FAL 50-63

7.62mm NATO

3.74 kg

20

$1020

FAL 50-41 (Wood Furniture)

7.62mm NATO

6.55 kg

20, 30

$1547

FAL 50-41 (Synthetic Furniture)

7.62mm NATO

6.01 kg

20, 30

$1552

StG-58

7.62mm NATO

4.08 kg

5, 10, 20, 30

$1533

FAL Competition

7.62mm NATO

4.54 kg

10, 20

$1090

 

Weapon

ROF

Damage

Pen

Bulk

SS

Burst

Range

FAL 50 (8mm)

5

4

2-3-Nil

6

4

9

59

FAL 50 (.280)

5

4

2-Nil

6

3

8

67

FAL 50-00 (Early)

5

4

2-3-Nil

7

4

9

67

FAL 50-00 (Wood)

5

4

2-3-Nil

8

4

9

67

FAL 50-00 (Synthetic)

5

4

2-3-Nil

8

4

9

67

FAL 50-64

5

4

2-3-Nil

6/8

4

9

67

FAL 50-63

5

4

2-3-Nil

6/7

4

9

49

FAL 50-41 (Wood)

5

4

2-3-Nil

8

3

8

69

With Bipod

5

4

2-3-Nil

8

2

4

90

FAL 50-41 (Synthetic)

5

4

2-3-Nil

8

3

8

69

With Bipod

5

4

2-3-Nil

8

2

4

90

StG-58

5

4

2-3-Nil

8

4

9

67

With Bipod

5

4

2-3-Nil

8

2

5

87

FAL Competition

SA

4

2-3-Nil

8

4

Nil

90

 

FN M-1922

     Notes: This is essentially a modified Spanish-pattern Mauser Model 1891.  The FN began producing Mauser copies after a protracted patent fight with Mauser, with FN asserting that the Spanish-pattern Mauser they based their rifle upon was not subject to German patents, and Mauser saying the opposite.  FN eventually won a license to produce Mauser rifles in Belgium, and after World War 1, it didn’t really matter anyway.

     The M-1922 was the first post-World War 1 Mauser to be made by FN.  It was mechanically almost identical to the Gewehr 98, but had a tangent-leaf rear sight, a long handguard, and fittings for a Belgian-pattern bayonet.  Some of these rifles were also produced for Brazil, but the bottom for full-length infantry rifles fell out soon after that. 

     The M-1924 Short Rifle is a shorter version of the M-1922 that was first produced to supplement the earlier weapon, but very quickly replaced it, with production exceeding the earlier rifle by over 600,000 units.  Though early models have a straight-wrist stock, most of them have a pistol-grip-type stock.  Production of this rifle stopped when the Germans invaded Belgium in World War 2, and then picked up again in 1946, finally stopping altogether in 1954.  A training version of this rifle, firing only .22 Long Rifle ammunition, was also built after World War 2.

Weapon

Ammunition

Weight

Magazines

Price

M-1922

7mm Mauser

4.01 kg

5 Clip

$1438

M-1922

7.65mm Mauser

4.24 kg

5 Clip

$1573

M-1922

8mm Mauser

4.46 kg

5 Clip

$1768

M-1924

7mm Mauser

3.58 kg

5 Clip

$1378

M-1924

7.65mm Mauser

3.81 kg

5 Clip

$1513

M-1924

8mm Mauser

4.29 kg

5 Clip

$1708

M-1924 Training Rifle

.22 Long Rifle

3.81 kg

5 Clip

$302

 

Weapon

ROF

Damage

Pen

Bulk

SS

Burst

Range

M-1922 (7mm)

BA

4

2-3-Nil

8

4

Nil

104

M-1922 (7.65mm)

BA

4

2-3-Nil

8

4

Nil

114

M-1922 (8mm)

BA

5

2-3-Nil

9

4

Nil

118

M-1924 (7mm)

BA

4

2-3-Nil

7

4

Nil

76

M-1924 (7.65mm)

BA

4

2-3-Nil

7

4

Nil

86

M-1924 (8mm)

BA

4

2-3-Nil

8

4

Nil

86

M-1924 Training Rifle

BA

1

Nil

7

1

Nil

52

 

FN M-1935/46 Short Rifle

     Notes: This is basically an 1898-pattern Mauser converted to fire .30-06 ammunition after World War 2.  This rifle was used an interim rifle for Belgian armed forces until the development of the M-1949.  The changes, in addition to those necessary to fire the .30-06 Springfield cartridge, included the facility to feed from US M-1903-type stripper clips.

Weapon

Ammunition

Weight

Magazines

Price

M-1935/46

.30-06 Springfield

4.06 kg

5 Clip

$1720

 

Weapon

ROF

Damage

Pen

Bulk

SS

Burst

Range

M-1935/46

BA

4

2-3-Nil

7

4

Nil

74

 

FN M-1949 

     Notes: Originally developed just prior to World War 2 in 1936, the M-1949 (also commonly called the SAFN-49 or simply SAFN, or the mistaken appellation of “ABL”) design tried to address some of the problems that had plagued some rifles during that war.  FN’s plans to produce the M-1949 were scuttled when the Nazis invaded Belgium in 1940 and took over FN for their own use – but before that, Dieudonne Saive, the designer of the M-1949 (and one of John Browning’s closest students), gathered up as many FN employees, designers and plans for weapons and undertook a harrowing journey that eventually got them to England.  During World War 2, this FN team worked largely with Royal Ordnance.  During this time, they eventually became sufficiently interested in what became the M-1949 to order some 2000 of them for field trials, which were to begin in late-1944.  However, Belgium was liberated after the D-Day invasions, and Saive and his team elected to return to Belgium before these rifles were ever built.

     The M-1949 was fed by both stripper clips through the top of the receiver as well as detachable box magazines; this was believed to give the user the capability to “top off” his weapon in between firing.  The M-1949 rifle, unlike many of its predecessors, had a shorter barrel.  It was felt that rifles before this were too long and bulky -- even with a shorter barrel, the M-1949 would be capable of engaging at ranges of 600 meters.  The addition of a pistol-style stock was helpful as the weapon was manufactured to fire in full-automatic mode, and this helped to keep the weapon on target.  (Most M-1949s however, were made in semiautomatic-only versions; the selective fire versions were often called AFNs.)  The M-1949 used gas operation similar to that used on Tokarev’s rifles, and the 23.2-inch barrel was available with an optional (though rare) muzzle brake.  The muzzle is long enough to allow the launching of old-style rifle grenades, with a gas tube plug operated by a rotating switch on the front of the gas tube assisting in this. It did have its sour points, however, though easy to maintain and disassemble, the M-1949 also required assiduous maintenance – and many of its parts were easily breakable, especially by inexperienced or ill-trained troops. The M-1949 was also a rather poorly-balanced weapon, with a center of gravity near the junction of the stock and receiver, and the cartridges it fired and its small magazine meant it was never really suited to automatic fire, even with a muzzle brake.  The sear also tended to malfunction, suddenly turning a semiautomatic M-1949 into an automatic one.

     FN was willing to chamber the M-1949 to the wishes of its buyers; Venezuela made the first large-scale order in 1948, chambered for 7mm Mauser.  Argentina followed in 7.65mm Argentine Mauser (later converting most of theirs to 7.62mm NATO), followed by Belgium, the Belgian Congo, Brazil, and Columbia (all in .30-06), Egypt (8mm Mauser), and Indonesia and Luxembourg (both in .30-06).  Argentine M-1949’s converted to 7.62mm NATO are unusual; they are able to use the standard M-1949 magazine as well as FAL magazines, and the barrel was shortened to 22 inches at the same time.  Some of these conversions were used as late as the Falklands War; they were captured by British troops during that campaign.  6.5mm Swedish appears to be a rare caliber; I have not been able to find its users (if any).

     Minor variants of the M-1949 include a “sniper” version with a rail for a scope mounted on the left side of the receiver; these were not specially made in any way other than the addition of the scope rail.

     The Argentine conversions were later sold on the war surplus market, particularly in the US; many were sold with 10-round magazines to comply with the laws of the time, though they retain the ability to use 20-round FAL magazines.  They are modified to fire on semiautomatic only, and are deliberately modified to be very difficult to convert to automatic fire.  Similar Egyptian M-1949s in 8mm Mauser also found their way to the war surplus market; these use only 10-round magazines of the original, and are similarly modified for semiautomatic-only fire. (Century International Arms sells the Egyptian models as the FN-49 Sporter.)

     Quantities of these weapons are still available in the following countries, where they usually equip reserves, militia, (or rebel forces in some cases): Congo, Luxembourg, Indonesia, Columbia, Brazil (120,000 sold total); Egypt (37,000 sold); and Venezuela (8,000 sold).  In the 1980s, refurbished M-1949s could also be found on the civilian market, but only in semiautomatic form.  Most such “war surplus” M-1949s have, however, seen quite heavy combat use.

Weapon

Ammunition

Weight

Magazines

Price

M-1949

6.5mm Swedish

4.31 kg

10

$882

M-1949

7mm Mauser

4.31 kg

10

$1022

M-1949

7.62mm NATO

4.31 kg

10, 20

$1034

M-1949

7.65mm Argentine Mauser

4.31 kg

10

$1929

M-1949

8mm Mauser

4.31 kg

10

$1247

M-1949

.30-06 Springfield

4.31 kg

10

$1254

 

Weapon

ROF

Damage

Pen

Bulk

SS

Burst

Range

FN M-1949 (6.5mm)

5

4

2-Nil

7

4

9

67

FN M-1949 (7mm)

5

4

2-3-Nil

7

4

9

69

FN M-1949 (7.62mm)

5

4

2-3-Nil

7

4

9

72

FN M-1949 (7.65mm)

5

4

2-3-Nil

7

4

10

78

FN M-1949 (8mm)

5

4

2-3-Nil

7

4

10

78

FN M-1949 (.30-06)

5

4

2-3-Nil

7

4

10

68