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British EM-2: The Best Cold War Battle Rifle that Never Was

Hi guys. Thanks for tuning into another video on I’m Ian McCollum, I am here today at the Royal Armouries, the National Firearms Centre in Leeds, England, and I am here today courtesy of ARES, Armament Research Services. Today we are taking a look at a pair of British EM-2 rifles. Now this rifle was actually adopted, very briefly, in 1951 as Rifle Number 9 Mark 1 by the British military, and then subsequently un-adopted in 1952, for largely political reasons, and we will get into that story in just a moment. What I’d like to start with though,
is the basic overview of this rifle. This really was a gun that
was well ahead of it’s time. It was the first militarily
significant bullpup rifle. It was a rifle designed for an
intermediate style of cartridge. It was a rifle that had only limited back-up
iron sights and was equipped primarily with an optical sight, which was a fairly novel
concept in the 1940s, when this was designed. The Germans had expressed an
interest in doing that but were never able to actually fulfil it. The British came very close
to actually implementing that whole concept. The lead engineer on this project was a
Polish emigrant to the UK, by the name of … Stefan Januszewski, I think, he had the
practical sense after being naturalised as a UK subject in 1947 to anglicise
his name and became known as Janson, which is how I will refer to him henceforth,
because my Polish pronunciation is not good. So this became known as
the EM-2, or the Janson rifle. … Development began in 1947,
although Janson did actually have a significant role in the development of
the EM-1 Korsak rifle which was largely a copy of the FG-42 in bullpup form. I have a separate video on that rifle, which you
should check out if you haven’t seen it yet. So, a lot of the work that went into that rifle,
while that gun … was not particularly practical, it set a lot of the groundwork for guns
like the EM-2 that would follow afterwards. So that rifle development began in ’45, with
Janson playing a role, in ’47 it was scrapped, … because it wasn’t showing serious promise,
and development instead turned to the EM-1, by an Englishman named Thorpe,
and the EM-2 here, by Janson. Mechanically, this is basically a
copy of the German G43 system. It is a flapper locked action
(we’ll pull one of these apart in just a moment). But it’s interesting that a bunch of these British
post-war development rifles were in fact copied from German mechanisms. In fact, all three of the EM series of rifles are this way. The Korsak EM-1 was a copy of the FG-42.
The Thorpe EM-1 was, largely, a copy of the … Garat 06, and then the Janson EM-2 here
was largely a copy of the G43. These systems worked, why not? Everyone
recognised that the Germans had had a pretty substantial small-arms
development program during the war, and everyone was quite happy to take
advantage of standing on those shoulders. Now in terms of cartridge, the British had
… properly taken a lesson from World War Two that infantry combat wasn’t
taking place at extended ranges. The existing cartridges, the .303
British in British service, the .30-06 in American service, which would
become very relevant, we’ll get to that. These were cartridges designed to be
effective out to 600 or 800 yards, if not further. But combat did never take place at those
distances. Honestly, with an iron sighted rifle, you can’t even identify a target at
anything close to those ranges. Instead, combat was actually was taking place at
300 to 400 yards, and the British recognised that and developed an intermediate
cartridge to reduce the amount of impact on the guns, reduce the weight
of the ammunition, reduce the recoil, make the guns more
shootable, more controllable. In pretty much every way, you kind of want the
lightest cartridge that will effectively do the job, because it makes everything
else in the problem simpler. And the cartridge that was designed for
this rifle was the .280 British, this was a .280 calibre, 7mm bullet. … It started as a 130 grain bullet travelling at about
2,400 feet per second. That was later bumped up, slightly, to a 140 grain
bullet travelling at 2,530 feet per second. … This is a little bit more powerful
of a round than something like the German 8mm Kurz, but it’s still
substantially less powerful than the .30-06, or the .303 British,
and … that was the idea. Now they had a 20 round magazine
of these cartridges in this rifle. And remember this would have
been replacing the .303 Lee-Enfield, the Number 4 Lee-Enfield rifle,
and this was a massive technological advancement
over a bolt action Lee-Enfield. This allowed a far higher rate of fire for the
infantry, faster reloading, faster follow-up shots, more accurate, this was
really a pretty excellent rifle in 1947. In total, 55 of these would be built, 5 of them
being prototypes, and then 50 production guns. The first of those production guns were a
series of 20, manufactured primarily by Enfield. The first 3 were done by a contractor
in Hammersmith, and then the remaining 17 done by the
Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield. And these were put together in 1948, they
were tested in the UK, and did pretty well. This all was building up to a 1950 trial at
Aberdeen Proving Grounds in the United States. So, in the aftermath of World
War Two, the Allies decided that they really ought to
standardise on an infantry rifle. There had obviously been logistical
problems during World War Two where, you know, if the British needed
small-arms ammunition, well, the US didn’t have .303 to give them,
the French didn’t have .303 to give them. Everyone had their own rifle and their own ammunition,
and none of it was interchangeable, well, we’re putting together NATO, if
we’re going to fight another world war, as a group of Allies, it makes a lot of logistical
sense for people to have standardised equipment. So in Aberdeen in 1950 there was the
first trial held with the idea of adopting … both a standard cartridge and a standard rifle.
This trial had three competitors entered, from the US it had the T25 rifle, designed by
Earle Harvey. (I don’t have a video on that, but I do have a written blog post on it, if you
would like to know more about that rifle.) … Honestly, it wasn’t very successful,
it had a lot of problems. It was, however, chambered for what
would become the .308 NATO cartridge, the T65 cartridge. It was the
developmental version of this round, which was ballistically pretty much
the same as .30-06, though with a slightly shorter case, so that the
rifles could be made a bit shorter. In competition to that, the British
brought the EM-2, in .280, and the Belgians brought an early version of
the FN FAL, also in .280, and, honestly, all three rifles kind
of had some trouble at this initial trial. The EM-2 had some parts breakage issues,
it also was disappointingly inaccurate, although it appears that the batch of
ammunition that was brought to this trial was kind of suspect, when they
chronographed it, when they did an ammunition trial at the same time, the
muzzle velocity on the .280 British ammo at this trial was several 100 feet per
second slower than what the spec was. It was at, like, 2,270 feet per
second instead of 2,450, and it had serious accuracy problems. That doesn’t
appear to have been the fault of the rifle, it appears to have been the ammo, but 75
years later it’s a bit … hard to tell for sure. The FAL had some accuracy issues. The American T25 was kind of a
train wreck of a rifle, it didn’t go well. In fact, Harvey didn’t even realise that
this was going to be a serious trial. He was under the impression that this was,
basically, just kind of a preliminary inspection, and he would be home that evening on the
evening train, which was not the case. At any rate, the outcome of this trial was
pretty much the US came to the conclusion that they were not willing to accept an
intermediate cartridge. They thought that the ballistic power of .30-06, or the new
T65, which would become 7.62 NATO, they thought that was critically important,
they didn’t want to give up effective range. Part of this may have had to do with
wanting to continue to use that same cartridge in medium and
emplaced machine guns where that ballistic capability
is a bit more important. At any rate, in 1952 the US finally
just came out and flat out said, “we will not accept anything
less than a .30 calibre cartridge”. That is why the EM-2 was un-adopted. Now, in the aftermath of this trial a
couple of things were done, the British, and the Canadians and the
Belgians all together, decided that they’d have to try and accommodate
the US desire for a more powerful cartridge, and so they looked into
some cartridge development, they started making this .280 cartridge
progressively closer to .308 NATO, … they increased the velocity, they increased the bullet weight, they made the case longer, and it got
closer and closer, but it was never something that the American Ordnance
Department was willing to accept. In April of 1951, the British Defence Minister,
a guy named Emanuel Shinwell, came out and publically stated that the
British military would be adopting this rifle as Rifle Number 9 Mark 1,
because it really was, in the British eyes, and objectively at that point,
the best option available. And they thought that the rest of
NATO would go along with them. However, this didn’t happen. It was
shortly after this that the US came out and publicly said that they wouldn’t
accept anything less than .30 calibre. At that point Winston Churchill had
been re-elected as Prime Minister, and in the interests of maintaining a good
relationship with NATO, he un-adopted this rifle. They said, “OK we won’t go with that,
we will go with the American cartridge”. What happened at that point was
the British and the Belgians decided to accept the FN FAL, in .308, or in
7.62 NATO, as the standard rifle. And they were under the impression
that if they made that compromise and accepted the American cartridge,
the American military would also make a compromise and accept
the FN FAL as its issue rifle. Now this is getting into a whole
another story, but American Ordnance was not willing to accept the FAL, and would continue
trials, and would eventually adopt the M14 instead, rather to the disgust of the European militaries that
had, they thought, been bargaining in good faith. At any rate, what we are looking at today is
not the FAL and not the M14, but the EM-2. So let’s take a closer look at this, some
of it’s features, and then take it apart. One thing I want to start with is that this rifle
has, aside from the fact that it is a bullpup, absolutely no similarity or connection
to the later British SA80 or L85 bullpups, those are mechanically completely different
guns, however the British government, or military, was interested in this
bullpup concept, and their interest stayed over several decades, hence we have
the EM-2 as a bullpup and also the L85 as a bullpup. But there is no developmental
continuity between these two projects. Now, with that said, this rifle was designed
only to be fired from the right shoulder, there were some theoretical
plans to make left-handed versions, but that never actually materialised. It’s a 20 round magazine in the back. The magazine is a bit complex,
it does have some features (this one’s a little sticky at the moment) well, it has a stripper clip guide
built into the back of the magazine (this one only wants to come up halfway,
but you get the idea), you can actually pull this up, it snaps over and then you can load the magazine
from stripper clips without needing a separate tool. … So, when the magazine is empty, the rifle will lock open, like so, and normally with a magazine fed rifle,
I can take the magazine out and then if I want to close the bolt,
I just … the charging handle. On the EM-2 that does nothing, because this
is designed to have a loaded magazine … … When you insert a loaded magazine
it automatically trips the bolt release, closes the bolt, chambers the first round
and presents you with a rifle ready to fire. Now, should you want to close the bolt
without having a loaded magazine, you can do that. You actually take the magazine release and you push it backwards … like that, and as long as there is no magazine
in the gun, that will close the bolt. So, it’s actually a pretty slick system, it’s
a little bit complicated, but not as bad as you might expect. Now
there is also a dust cover here, that snaps shut, prevents
ingress of gunk into the bolt. There is also an open slot here for the
charging handle, although you’ll notice that when the charging handle is
closed, the gas piston takes up this slot. Overall this is a pretty well sealed up gun. The safety is located here in the front of the
trigger guard, very much like the M1 Garand. That’s safe, that’s ready to fire. It’s an ambidextrous system, although
that doesn’t really matter on a rifle that can only be shot right handed.
But it’s also a system that makes it very evident to the shooter when the safety is on, and it’s actually an easier safety to
disengage than the M1, which is kinda nice. We have a button here on the side, this is a
… push-through button, and that is the fire selector. So you can see it is marked ‘R’ on
that side for repetition, or semi-auto, and then if you push it through on the
other side it’s marked ‘A’, for automatic, so that’s full-auto, and that’s your fire selector, … Like … the L85 that would come much
later, this has … two separated controls, one for safe and fire,
and one for single shot and fully automatic. One of the other really cool elements to
the EM-2 was that it was intended to be used primarily with an optical sight for
everybody who was issued the gun. This conical thing here is actually
a shield over the optic, it is what was called a Unit Optic, it is a one power,
so non-magnifying, optic and it has a … little pointer in it that was zeroed for 200 yards
with then two … holdover notches, or lines, for 400 and 600 yards (actually I think
that would be metres, but close enough …). There is then a backup iron sight
mounted on the rear sight bracket here. And a folding backup front sight
… there on the gas block. So you did have emergency
iron sights, if necessary. But this was intended to be
used primarily with the optical sight. You can see the back of the
optic there, it’s a really, really tiny lens, it’s like a 4 or 5mm lens,
even smaller than the German ZF-41. But, it was intended to be light and simple,
and that shield around it made it pretty durable. There’s the front end. This, I suspect,
would have been pretty quickly improved and modified if the rifle had gone into service. Although what’s interesting is they did
take this optic and carry it over to the early British FAL rifles, the first ones. They
did experiment with this exact same optic. Alright, there is the reticle system,
I’ve got that close to in focus, you would see the same system basically
used on the Trilux optic for many, many decades later. Alright, and then we have our
emergency front sight there, rear sight here, which gives you just a simple
aperture sight picture like that. Of course, it is intended to be used with the optic. So, the standard rifle was about 3.5 kilograms, which is just a little under 8 pounds. And had a 24.5 inch barrel, which is quite a remarkably long barrel, remember this is a bullpup, so the barrel ends here, and starts all the way back there. They did also have plans to consider a
paratrooper version, a carbine version, and we have one of those examples here,
this is a magnificently handy little rifle. It’s about 5 inches shorter, I don’t have
an exact measurement on the barrel, but the hand guards are
almost the same length. The barrel here comes to right
about this point on the standard rifle. So they made a couple prototypes
of these, it’s interesting to note that while they were doing this, they
were also looking at other potential issues. You can see that a little
shield has been added here. This would have been blocking the
magazine catch from the shooter’s body, so they might have had some issues with
people accidentally tripping the mag catch. I don’t know if it’s just age and wear, but
the mag catch springs on these two rifles are both fairly light. It doesn’t take a
lot of pressure to drop the magazine. And this may have been just an experiment
to try and prevent that from becoming a problem. So, disassembly, we are going to
start by taking out the magazine. I do want to comment, this is so
magnificently simple compared to the EM-1, and honestly, it’s a pretty simple and effective
field stripping system by any standard, even today. So the first step is going to be
to remove the butt plate. On the butt plate we have this spring-loaded button, I push that in and rotate the butt plate, and then it’s going to come out with it’s recoil spring and guide. Next, I am going to pull the
charging handle all the way back. At this point, the charging handle slot is
enlarged and the handle can come out. … The gun has been dry fired,
so I do need to cock it in the process, so this is going to be a
little bit of a stiff pull, there we go. That comes to there,
I can pull the charging handle out. And then, at the back of the gun, I have
access to the bolt and the operating rod. Those come right out,
and then the bolt drops off of the op rod. One more step to basic disassembly
is to remove the fire control group, we’re going to do that by removing
this one pin, push that pin through, pull it out … Captive pin, stays in there,
and then the back of the grip comes up,
and the whole thing comes out. There we have a completely field stripped EM-2 para, this is, like I said, a really simple, slick, system. Mechanically speaking, this rifle works
… virtually exactly like the German G43. So we have a pair of flaps in the
bolt here, they are currently retracted, which is unlocked,
and allows the bolt to cycle. The operating rod has this
round peg that locks into the bolt here, and when it goes into battery, this is going to push forward, and a plug inside the bolt, spreads these two flaps outward, here
they would be locked into … the trunnion, that solidly locks the bolt, and then to fire it, you press up on this little lever
right at the front of the bolt. Now the way the rifle is set up. when the bolt is in battery,
it is going to be sitting right about here, the trigger mechanism sits right there, and so you can see that these two line up, like this. When I pull the trigger, we have this blade
at the back of the mechanism that lifts up, that is directly in line with that
trip on the bottom of the bolt. When I push that in … (it’s got a quite stiff spring in it), it fires, and the firing pin protrudes through. To re-cock the action, all you have to do is pull this internal block backwards, which is done by the operating rod, which sits there, and when the rifle cycles, the operating rod
comes back, you can see it clicks into place, the two flaps retract into the bolt,
the firing pin is re-cocked. The empty case is then ejected,
and a new case loaded from the magazine. Thank you guys for watching.
I hope you enjoyed the video. It was really cool to get a chance
to take a look at, not just a standard one, but also one of the prototype short
paratrooper versions of the EM-2. This thing is one of the
coolest guns I think I’ve ever run across, it’s just got … all sorts of … so cool. At any rate, if you would like to see more
about these guns, there are a couple things that you can do. One is to check out the
Armament Research Services blog, they will be posting high res pictures
of these guns as the video goes up. and you can see a link to that
in the description text below. And of course, you could come here
to the National Firearms Centre in Leeds, and take a look at these guns yourself. They
have actually a substantial number of these, oh, a dozen or 15 of them, I believe, of several
different calibres, experimental versions, all sorts of cool stuff. Their collection
here is not open to the general public, but it is available by appointment. So if you
are doing particular research on these guns, or anything else that the NFC has in its
collection, by all means contact them, set up an appointment, and
come take a look at the collection. Thanks for watching.

100 thoughts on “British EM-2: The Best Cold War Battle Rifle that Never Was

  1. Am I wrong in thinking that this was the literal predecessor to the SA80, in terms of development , or have I misread/been misinformed somewhere along the way?

    I understand if it's just a spiritual/inspirational predecessor developed separately into the SA80, but Im sure I have been told that both were originally Enfield designs

  2. Thanks for this excellent video on a rifle I've long admired (I may be a tad biased being a Brit but it was way in advance not only of the SMLE but the Garand & even the M14)

  3. And the moral of the story is, never deal in good faith with America.
    Because they're not returning the favour.

  4. The videos in this channel should be made into digital copies and be a part of every library in the western world in the future!

  5. It seems anti-Polish sentiment and fawning over American policy went further back in the UK than just brexit 🙁

  6. I have been binge watching these videos the last few days and I love them! Can I please request that you use SI units instead of the imperial system? Or at the least both…

  7. So my gripe against all bullpups is the awkward handling. With a normal rifle setup the CG of the rifle is between the shooters hands when held in a shooting position. Every bullpup I have held has the CG behind the rear hand and it makes the handling awkward because the CG has a lever. It would be interesting to see a timed handling test comparing bullpup and non-bullpup to see if that is a thing or just my (maybe anyone else?) opinion.

  8. Am I the only one who thinks Eugene Stoner might owe Mr. Jansen a few pints? It's almost like the 16 was reverse engineered to de-bull-pup and gas-tube-upfit this rifle. I've no idea, but I find it likely this weapon might've asked for a forward assist in some environments. Maybe? Hard to say with the op rod set up. Fascinating video!

  9. The British never do anything right , so where they manage to get it right its only right that they undo it to conform to their normal behavior .

  10. Good Lord that is a hell of an advanced rifle for being developed just after WWII. It took decades to work back up to recognizing a lot of these ideas as valid. Can you even imagine how military rifle development would have occurred had this been adopted?

  11. Those Lee Enfield SMLE rifles in 303 were some awesome rifles, I had one that had been manufactured in 1917 and it shot like a brand new rifle and was incredibly accurate! Wish I still had it!

  12. All these years later and the 280 cartridge is spot on. Not as powerful as the 7.62-51 but more power than the 5.56.

  13. It just occurred to me , 20 years were spent trying to redesign a budget rifle(ar18) and put the trigger in front of the mag. 20 years to do that. Even though the em2 was an original design that had passed trials. There’s something wrong here.

  14. There were some interesting cartridge developments in this caper.

    One of these was the 7mm, "second optimum". This is VERY close to the MUCH later, commercial, 7mm / 08. Venezuela adopted it in their initial FAL order but these were, apparently re-barreled in later years to 7.62 NATO.

    From the "nothing new under the sun' department, the Remington 7mm BR case is quite similar to the later version of the 280 round, the .280 / 30. This has much the same dimensions as the .280 "proper", but includes the more robust, thicker rim of the 7.62 NATO, hence ".280 / 30".

    I note that the Brits borrowed G43 extractor retention system, but appear to have improved on the original retention system that seems to have been more of an "extractor disposal" system. H&K also "borrowed", via the STG45, the same extractor idea, but certainly used a more positive spring / retention design.

  15. One question to author of this video, if we see what is happening with american army they switched from 7.62×51 to 5.45×45 and now going to replace the last cartridge to 6.8×43, so many ammo were produced during last 60 years, how do you think if American government accepted this ammo 7х43 60 years ago they could escape all these frustrations?
    As I guess 7х43 and 6.8×43 pretty similar, isn't it?

  16. And this rifle could be the one that could emerge earlier than m16 and American soldiers could have more reliable gun than m16 in Vietnam, honestly I don't know reliability of em1 and em2 are they better than m16, but I guess it should be so because mechanics of rifle was stolen from German rifle and it

  17. sounds like classic U.S.A, stubborn as you please. However, they would still be under British rule if they were the compromising type.

  18. LOVE POTION RIFLE NO. 9! Almost elegant wooden furniture, the weapon has a steampunk feel to it. Wasn't aware of this rifle.

  19. Three things: The length of pull looks astronomical, and very uncomfortable. How's the barrel length??? Muzzle velocity must have been fierce from that thing. Those magazines though… Pffft .280 British: looks more like it's chambered for .338 Lapua.

  20. were talking about weapons that soldiers use to save their lives, as well as others. Why the FUCK would europe have a stick up their ass, just because we decided to issue an all around better rifle? other than having money and pride on the line. This is supposed to be an industry of peak efficiency, not petty trade diplomacy.

  21. That bolt looks like a pretty intricate piece of machinery. Cost probably the same to make as an entire Sten gun.

  22. Ah, just another example of America being a right pr***.
    I say this as a Briton and I do understand the irony.

  23. I came to the comments looking for people pulling out their "I was in the military" cards an I wasn't disappointed.

  24. That is a nonergonomical piece of shit. I wouldn't even pick one up with load, probably blow a toe off. Only the highly educated can turn a functional concept into a stupid piece of over engineered rubbish.

  25. I think people overrate the .280, the rifle indeed seems fantastic for its time, but the cartridge (if wikipedia's information on velocity is correct) is nothing more than a slightly smaller and faster 7.62×39. Also in Ian's EM-2 range video, he says that the rifle is better suited for semi, so what advantages would soldiers have other than being able to carry a bit more ammo? (When comparing to 7.62 NATO.)

  26. Why?. Why didn't the Brits just put this back into production???. And chambered for5.56 rounds and left hand shooters???. Why?, Why???…

  27. How many bullets does a rifle need? Enough to kill multiple targets, bigger calibre, better hitting power, requires less to drop. It would have been interesting to see something of the EM-2 Design used.

  28. Damn shame…I own a M-1A and can onky imagine how badass US soldiers would have been staring DOWN East German and Soviet troopz at Check point Charlie armed with US FALS… or Marines in Vietnam with them…the M-16 would never existed

  29. Late 1940's/early 1950's? The sights would be in yards. The UK military didn't go to metres until the 1960's/70's. 1965, I think, but I could be a bit out on that.

  30. I learnt to shoot with the Lee-Enfield No.8 (.22LR) when I was in the Army Cadet Force at school before moving onto the No.4 .303 later on (1961-62), and even though I was a puny little runt at 15, I got on well with the No.4.
    When I joined the RAF in 1968, I was issued with a 7.62mm FN rifle – which we called the SLR (Self Loading Rifle) and I thought it was a bloody poor design, with the way the gas port could coke up so easily giving you a misfire with no warning, and having to get out a dinky little C-spanner to adjust it – but that BLOODY cartridge that the US Army dumped on us was an ABORTION!! Yes, it had a nice flat trajectory, but it kicked like an Army mule – and, talking to blokes I met who'd used them in Northern Ireland, they said it was a complete overkill for urban warfare, as it would go through a brick wall with enough energy to kill any innocent person in a building.
    Interesting that the British had selected .280 as a suitable calibre for realistic combat distances in 1947, as they made near enough the same choice in 1913 for the original design of what started as the P.13 rifle in .276 calibre. It was intended to switch all our armed forces over to this rifle and calibre – but then WWI kicked off, and it was decided that trying to change calibres in the middle of a major war was not on. The rifle was then rechambered to take the standard .303 cartridge, and was issued as the P.14 rifle – designed at Enfield Lock, but almost entirely manufactured in America. The last of the line was when the Americans re-chambered it to take the .30/06 cartridge and issued it as the M.1917 – and excellent snipers rifle, but with nowhere near the rate of fire of a trained man with an SMLE.
    So, but for the pig-headed attitude of the US Army Ordnance, our troops could have had a first rate semi-auto rifle, in a practical calibre, in time for the Korean War, and which would STILL be a good bet against the Taliban today.

  31. Imagine if the US wasn't so stubborn, they could have adopted one of the most revolutionary gun designs for the time.
    Politics is truly what kills the best of what we design over favoritism

  32. I’m not sure if that was a cheeky jab or unintentional use of the word “subject” instead of “citizen” lmao

  33. ive always hated safetys that pull back and forth in front of the trigger. If youre in the dark or have gloves on in winter you could fumble and pull the trigger by mistake however this seems like not a bad design

  34. Huh…the fire selector is the same as on the MP40.

    Anyway, I sure wish the US had gone with the British .280. We wouldnt have to be looking for a new caliber until caseless rounds are developed.

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