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Enfield L85A1: Perhaps the Worst Modern Military Rifle


Can you hear that? I can hear it. That’s the sound of every former British service
member cringing at the mere sight of this rifle. And it’s so loud you can hear it over the internet. Thanks for tuning in to another
video on ForgottenWeapons.com. I’m Ian, I’m here today at the Institute of Military Technology taking a look at this L85A1 British bullpup rifle. Now this is, probably more so than any other firearm
in current service, a giant scandal of plastic and metal. We’ll start with a little bit of the history of this rifle, and then
we’ll go into why it became such a hot potato of an issue. These were originally developed in the 1970s. And the British government knew that it would need to
replace … the FAL, the L1A1, with a new small-bore rifle. And they were looking at a whole bunch of different
options. They considered everything from 4mm up to 7mm, and the early versions of this rifle were actually
developed in a proprietary 4.85mm cartridge. And one of these days I’ll get my hands on some of
those prototypes and we’ll bring them here to show you. But as it turned out of course NATO decided
to adopt the 5.56 round developed in the US, and so that became the obvious de-facto cartridge to use. So the rifle was redeveloped, or tweaked, to accommodate
the 5.56 NATO cartridge, and it was then adopted. … The development process really was in the late
1970s, ultimately adopted in 1985 as the L85A1. And there was also a companion … light machine gun, the
L86A1, which was intended to be a squad automatic weapon. It’s basically the same gun, but with a longer barrel, and in theory it was to provide more
sustained fire, had a bipod, that sort of thing. Now the British went with a bullpup here,
and a lot of people are going to say, “Ah, they just took the bullpup they had
right after World War Two and used it.” Actually they didn’t, the EM-1 and EM-2 bullpups (the EM-2
having actually been adopted as Rifle Number 9 by the British just after World War Two and then very
quickly unadopted, which is a story all its own), that rifle shares nothing with the
L85 except the basic bullpup concept. If anything the EM-2 was basically a .308 bullpup G43. This is basically a bullpup AR-180,
and we’ll pull it apart in a minute. Now after these were adopted they went into
production at RSAF, Royal Small Arms Factory, Enfield. These were actually the last gun to be developed and produced
at Enfield. And, unfortunately, the quality control was pretty spotty. Now production did eventually move to a new facility at RSAF
Nottingham, and apparently the QC was a little bit better there. They had a lot of new machinery that they were using
for production, but by that point the damage was done. This rifle was not a reliable gun in pretty
much any circumstances. It had problems. And … they managed to kind of bury these and
overlook them, and it wasn’t that big of a problem. For the government anyway, not necessarily
for the guys who had to carry them. It wasn’t that big of a problem until Desert Storm. And the British had a substantial combat
contingent in the … initial invasion of Iraq, and the guns really performed poorly in the sand. And there was a report that was written detailing
all of these problems and submitted to MOD in the aftermath of Desert Storm.
And it got leaked to the public. And this document basically said, “These
guns are a piece of junk, and they never work, and you got to do something to fix it.” And of course
when this leaked to the public it was a huge scandal. Well, the MOD … (Ministry of Defence) didn’t make
things better by initially completely denying all charges. “Everything, it’s all fake. Can’t trust any of it.” But it wasn’t fake and it stayed in the news.
And then finally they came back and went, “Well, OK, maybe it’s not fake. But
it’s certainly not official”. Which it was. And that didn’t take either, and a little while
after that they had to come back and say, “Well, OK, it’s not unofficial, but it’s only like
semi-official.” Which it wasn’t really either. They just kept stonewalling this problem. And finally in 1997 they couldn’t stonewall
it any longer and they had to do something. And they actually hired H&K to
basically redesign and rebuild the rifles. Now there was of course consideration for just scrapping
them entirely at that point and adopting a new rifle, presumably the M16. That was
turned down basically because of cost. They figured it would be substantially cheaper to fix
the existing guns than to just buy entirely new guns. And there were some things that they had
specifically wanted with this bullpup style. Primarily they wanted to replace the Sterling submachine
gun and the FAL rifle with a single weapon system. This is the part of the same rationale that the
French used when they adopted the FAMAS. The idea being if you have your combat
rifle this short by making it a bullpup, you can effectively substitute it for the submachine gun,
which you know, a normal submachine gun is gonna be it’s gonna be about the same overall length when
you’re using it because it’s not a bullpup design. Whether that works in practical reality is another issue. That was part of the reason they wanted a
bullpup, so they decided to stick with the L85. Now a lot of people joke about the fact that
the British had to hire the Germans to fix the gun. Well, it’s worth noting that at
the time that this happened, HK was actually a subsidiary owned
by a British company, Royal Ordnance. So while yes, HK is a German company, they
weren’t actually German owned at the time. They were actually British owned, which gives that choice
a little more … makes more sense with that in mind. So the Germans at HK went through the rifle. And they
came up with just a couple things to fix, namely everything. In the rebuild they either replaced or redesigned the
bolt, the gas piston, the gas block, the front trunnion, the hammer, all of the springs, pretty much all of
the pins, the magazine release, and the furniture, and the charging handle, and probably a
couple other things that I’ve forgetting about. They basically kept the receivers as a shell
and replaced everything else inside them. And from 2000 to 2002 they rebuilt about 200,000 of these
rifles into what became known as the L85A2 configuration, for the cost of about 92 million pounds. … You know, the problem here is because these
guns had so many reliability problems to begin with, they will probably never overcome that reputation. You know, they had far more
problems than the M16 did in Vietnam, and yet still to this day we hear about
the M16 being an unreliable piece of junk because of some limited issues that were actually
pretty easily fixed in the early days of Vietnam. Well, the L85 had much more substantial
and severe problems to begin with. And even though the A2 appears
to be a pretty darn good gun now, its reputation is dead forever
… because of how bad the A1 was. So we’ll take a look at some of the external differences
here between this, which is an A1, and the A2. But first a couple of the things to consider, reasons why the
British didn’t necessarily like this rifle, the British soldiers. It is a bullpup, it makes no
accommodation for left-handed shooting. Most bullpups, like the Steyr AUG, the French FAMAS, the
military ones, they can be switched to left-handed operation. The L85 cannot. It’s right-handed and if you are a lefty,
tough cookies, you’ll learn how to shoot as a righty. So not … not a lot of sympathy there. The scope that … is on these is a 4x power
scope called the SUSAT, which is I believe Sighting Unit Small Arms, Trilux,
and it’s a really heavy scope. It’s like a 2 pound scope and base. All of the
windage and elevation adjustments are done externally. So it’s a very rugged scope, you could probably
drive a tank over this thing and it would survive. But with the scope and with a loaded magazine
this rifle is almost the exact same weight as an FAL. You would think part of the idea of going to a
lighter calibre rifle would be to have a lighter rifle. They didn’t. It’s basically like carrying a
FAL, except all of the weight’s in the back. So on full-auto it tends to bounce
around more than a non-bullpup 5.56. The magazine release on these guns, I’ll … show you here, the magazine release is completely unprotected. And because you have to shoot this
right-handed you’re carrying it like this, which means the mag release
is between the gun and your body. Which makes it pretty easy to bump it on web
gear or anything that you happen to be carrying. And one of the regular complaints about the rifle was
that it was way too easy to accidentally hit the mag release, drop your mag without realising it, and then when you need
the rifle, you have one round in the chamber and that’s it. Not a good thing to have happen. So I think that pretty much covers the external stuff. Let’s go ahead and take a closer look at this, and I’ll show
you a couple of the other changes, and then we’ll take it apart. Alright, so one of the most distinctive … differences
between the A1 and the A2 is the charging handle here. When HK redesigned the gun they replaced this with
a plastic charging handle that’s kind of comma shaped. And the reason was when it’s fully cycled
backwards it acts as a shell deflector. That was one of the whole litany of
problems with the rifle is the ejection pattern changed radically as the gun heated and cooled. So they fixed part of that by having a deflector
to kick the shells into a predictable pattern. Now other controls here on the side. We do have a manual hold open here. We have a dust cover which pops open when I charge
the bolt. If I pull the bolt all the way back and then, yeah, push this down I can lock the bolt open. On the other side here we have this little button which
acts as a bolt release. So if I push that I believe it’s up, down. Push that down, drops the bolt. We also, in an interesting choice, we have the
selector lever back here on the bottom of the receiver. … “R” for semi-auto and “A” for fully-auto.
That’s kind of a stiff thing, you’re kind of going to end up picking
a mode and leaving it there for that. Now here’s that unprotected
mag catch that I mentioned It really does kind of stick out, and it really is
pretty easy to accidentally drop a magazine. So the A2s have a bit of a shield around
that mag catch to make that less likely. Trigger up here, of course. And then this is
our cross bolt safety. So this is currently on fire. If I push that in, now it’s on safe. Flip it over, safe to fire. Now because this is
a right-handed only gun, that’s a reasonably, reasonably ergonomic control. Although I think troopers
often wanted to be able to use this thumb to do it instead. Now taking the rifle apart is fairly simple.
We’ll start by pulling the magazine out. And then there are two main cross pins,
these two, that I need to push out like so. That needs a little persuasion. There we go. And a second pin right there, that one I can get with my thumb. Put that over. These are both captive pins, which is nice. Pull them out, and then the lower assembly pivots off the gun. I should point out here something I keep
meaning to mention and keep forgetting. One of the other, other, other problems with the
A1s was that the furniture actually broke a lot. Especially in cold weather, but even in warm weather.
This stuff was not high quality and would break. So we have our trigger mechanism here, with the actual
bits back there, you can see this long trigger connecting bar, right there, to connect the
trigger back to the actual sear. Then the upper receiver is
basically a copy of the AR-180. So we have a pair of dual guide rods,
and the bolt actually runs on steel guide rods. It doesn’t actually run on the
receiver itself, which is a good idea. That was part of the basis of the AR-180 design is you
could make a pretty cheap bent steel upper receiver, and you didn’t have to worry really about wear on it because
you’d have the bolt running on these guide rods instead. Now on the AR-180 each of the guide rods
has a recoil spring. The SA80, or the L85, here (by the way, SA80 means Small Arms 1980,
and it’s the name for the family of this and the L86), these have a single recoil spring in the
centre here, as opposed to a pair of them. And this guide rod and recoil spring
assembly is held in place by this rear cross pin. So that pin is currently pulled back far enough
to release the lower, but keep the springs in place. I hold on to it and then pull that pin the rest of the way out.
Now we can release the guide rods. Once the guide rods are out then the bolt can come out.
Going to pull the bolt handle back to this circular cutout, handle comes out, and then push the bolt out the back. Disassembly of the bolt itself is
very much like the AR-180 again. … Basically to get the bolt out you have to take the cam pin out, to take the cam pin out you have to
take the firing pin out, and to take the firing pin out you have to take the firing pin retaining
pin out. So we’ll start with that retaining pin. You would normally do this with the tip
of a cartridge, I just have a punch instead. So that pin comes out, then
the firing pin comes out the back. Then I can pull the cam pin here. … You can see the little hole there, the cam
pin is held in place by the firing pin like that. Now the bolt comes out. This is a multi-lug rotating bolt
just like an AR-15 bolt, except machined slightly differently. And there is our AR-180 style bolt body. There you go. Not a particularly complex bolt. About the same as the AR-15 in terms of complexity and the
number of parts that you’ve got lying around when you’re done. Thank you for watching guys,
I hope you enjoyed the video. L85s are quite hard to come by here in the United States
because they were never available as a commercial option. There was some talk about bringing in some
semi-automatic ones, which was quashed by the 1989 US assault weapons
import ban, so there aren’t any here. The British attempted to make export sales of
these, but for obvious reason didn’t make very many. So it’s very cool to be able to
take a look at this one at the IMT. They were gracious enough to let me pull it
apart for you and … show you how it works. So if you’re interested in doing more small arms research
here, do definitely get in touch with them and make an appointment. They’re not generally open to the public,
but they are available by appointment. If you like seeing this sort of thing on-line
so you don’t have to travel anywhere, well I would appreciate it if you might
consider checking out my Patreon page. It is the subscribers there who make it possible for me to
travel to these places, find these guns and bring them to you. Thanks for watching.

81 thoughts on “Enfield L85A1: Perhaps the Worst Modern Military Rifle

  1. I went through two of these and an LSW in one two week exercise in Jordan. Absolute, unmitigated garbage. The SUSAT sight however was great.

  2. Woah woah woah i was in Afghanistan for 7months in 2011 with 180 commando (royal marines) and were used the l85a1/a2 and we never had any problems very accurate gun good fire rate it can get jammed but if u no how to use it its brilliant
    I dont see you using this gun on the frontline against the Taliban so what do you know

  3. It just looks rubbish to begin with you'd think they would upgrade to something better there's a million more better assault rifles out there than this

  4. I've seen a lot of drill videos where British soldiers are doing the inspections and the gun twirling and it ends with at least 6 or 7 soldiers' (out of a line of 10) magazines falling out.

  5. Some “ in their feelings UK former military” swear up and down its “ good kit” and are quick to talk shit about the M16/M-4 ( even though their SF groups use M-16s and M-4s!!!)- difference is ? The M-16 didn’t take more than 2 yrs to get it right vs the SA80/ L85A1 taking 10 yrs and a very expensive HK overhaul…

  6. How popular was the L85A1?

    Well, in 1992, I was still using the L1A1. The SLR was not a particularly pretty weapon but it was straightforward.

    More blokes pointed out flaws on the L85A1 than features. The main complaint being the plastic bits.

  7. Mine used to just fire on its own. The amount of times I had to run around the block because it just went off even though the safety was on lost me any trust in the system. I was terrified of the thing and would never ever keep it cocked. Used to drop the mag and put back in but the armpit make it difficult to hide.

  8. A1 might not good at all but it looks nice and quite modern too. I think that British Army should adopt IWI TAVOR TAR 21. It looks similar but works much better :).

  9. Left handed Ex Tom. The exposed magazine release was addressed before the major upgrade. The wraparound you can see there was extended outward. Different SA80s had very different accuracy, or at least I did! The upgrade was good. The rifle was issued with a good cleaning kit. The multi tool was used to push out the 2 retaining pins on the main body & to push out the firing pin retaining pin. A round was not used. The drill is to use the left hand for the safety. I rarely used it in Auto. On patrol sometimes half the section would use Auto & the other Rounds to avoid an embarrassing silence.

  10. both FAMAS and this unholy pile are really a study on how “conceptual” design and ivory tower design development WILLI bite you in the arse,

  11. The problem with not being able to shoot it from the left shoulder is not one of mere inconvenience. Sometimes, you need to shoot right of cover, whatever your dominant hand might be. A combat weapon, particulalrly a rifle, MUST BE AMBIDEXTROUS. During basic training (which is, I admit, my only military experience) we were taught that, on patrol, each man should have his weapon in the opposite shoulder to the men in front and behind him, so that both sides of the patrol are covered. For that, you need an ambidextrous weapon.

  12. They upgraded it to SA80 they had a FAL and turned it into semi calling it the SLR self loading rifle . Those found their way to loyalist terrorists in ireland

  13. Brits dont like autos thats its first ever . They want aimed shots . 1000. 000 rounds fired in vietnam to kill 1 man .they wanted to avoid it .

  14. Man I was just bitching about this gun on call of duty modern warfare and how it’s the worst gun in the game . I get done playing and this is the first video I see.

  15. The Royal Scots regiment, were the first infantry to be issued with the L85A1, and that was between "86/87. They were using M16 magazines, as the British version was still not ready.

    Then they were also the first to use the weapon in N.I.

    My regiment, The Queens rgt. was the second one to be issued. We got it in '88, about 4 months before we were due to be deployed in N.I.

    The magazine release catch guard was completely missing. So we had to wait another month, to use the rifle. They sent some civilian armourers from the UK factory (My battalion was in Germany). Then they GLUED! Yes GLUED, not welded, the Guard onto the body of the weapon. What kind of glue it was, I don't know. But they never fell off, and nor did the magazine. lol
    Apart from that, I never had any jams or stoppages with this rifle, but then it was brand new. Perhaps a couple of years later, with more wear, it was different?
    We never use bullets to disassemble the breach block. We had a so called "universal tool", which had a pointy thing on it. Bullets were issued to be fired, and nothing else.

  16. This kind of incompetence has always been the bain of the British military. Good troops with crap (or insufficient) equipment. The individuals who sent troops into combat with this piece of shit should have been charged with corporate manslaughter.

  17. Oh hey its hat gun from S.T.A.L.K.E.R.! You know, the one no players pick up because… it's unreliable… and… too heavy…
    wow, gsc did their research.

  18. The problem with so many Europeans is that they are under constant bombardment of anti-American propaganda by their government funded news so they are easily fooled by wasteful government programs for unions and lobbyists that are not designed to win wars but make money for bureaucrats and crony-capitalists. The Eurofighter is another such boondoggle.

  19. Europeans should just leave firearm design to Americans. You city leftist Europeans know fuck all about firearms LMAO!

  20. Cannot figure out why 7.62 calibre round was changed to the tiny 5.56mm round??  I did my basic training with the good old Belgian made 7.62 FN SLR. If a guy was hiding behind a tree, you simply shot him through the tree!  You did need to keep it clean, I will admit…..sexy looking beast however.

  21. My Drill Sergeant in 1983 were mostly Vietnam War vets, and they said the M-16 was a great rifle that was rolled out to troops in a horrible way. The Army and Marines were trained with M-14s, went to Vietnam with M-14s and for a while in 1966 and maybe early 1967, turned them in and took M-16s. They were never properly trained on how to clean them in the US at first, so they figured they could treat it like an M-14…big mistake. Also, the ammo was shit. After early 1967, when troops trained on M-16 and better ammo was available the problems pretty much disappeared, but the first guys to use them bashed the rifle so badly, it became an urban myth that throughout the war it got troops killed. I can imagine how the Enfield would fare.

  22. what is he talking about, this gun looks AWESOME! just like a laser gun from star wars…PEW PEW
    seriously, i thought bullpup was the future. apparantly not

  23. mag release was a pain, it happened more than once
    Yep the plastics cracked when it was cold, like in Norway
    We always just called them an SA80

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