L1A1 Self-Loading Rifle
|L1A1 Self-Loading Rifle (SLR)|
The L1A1 self-loading rifle
|Type||Semi-automatic battle rifle (L1A1/C1A1)
Light machine gun (L2A1/C2A1)
|Place of origin||Belgium
|Used by||British Commonwealth (See Users)|
|Designer||Dieudonné Saive, Ernest Vervier|
|Manufacturer||Royal Small Arms Factory and Birmingham Small Arms Company factories (UK),
Lithgow Small Arms Factory (Australia)
Canadian Arsenals, Ltd. (Canada)
Ordnance Factory Board (India)
L2A1/C2/C2A1 (Squad automatic weapons)
|Weight||4.337 kg (9.56 lbs) empty|
|Length||1,143 mm (45 in)|
|Barrel length||554.4 mm (21.7 in)|
|Action||Gas-operated, tilting breechblock|
|Rate of fire||Semi automatic (L1A1, C1A1)
Full Automatic (L2A1, C2A1) 675-750RPM
|Muzzle velocity||823 m/s (2,700 ft/s)|
|Effective firing range||800 m (875 yds) (Effective range)|
|Feed system||20- or 30-round detachable box magazine|
|Sights||Aperture rear sight, post front sight|
The L1A1 Self-Loading Rifle, also known as the SLR (Self Loading Rifle), by the Canadian Army designation C1A1 (C1) or in the USA as the "inch pattern" FAL.[nb 1] It is a British Commonwealth derivative of the Belgian FN FAL battle rifle (Fusil Automatique Léger ["Light Automatic Rifle"] produced by the Belgian armaments manufacturer Fabrique Nationale de Herstal [FN]). The L1A1 is produced under licence and has seen use in the Australian Army, Canadian Army, Indian Army, Jamaica Defence Force, Malaysian Army, New Zealand Army, Rhodesian Army, South African Defence Force and the British Armed Forces.
The original FAL was designed in Belgium using metric dimensions, while the components of the "inch-pattern" FALs are manufactured to a slightly modified design using British imperial units. Many sub-assemblies are interchangeable between the two types, while components of those sub-assemblies may not be compatible. Notable incompatibilities include the magazines and the butt-stock, which attach in different ways.
Most Commonwealth pattern FALs are semi-automatic only. A variant named L2A1/C2A1 (C2), meant to serve as a light machine gun in a support role, is also capable of automatic fire. Differences from the L1A1/C1 include a heavy barrel, squared front sight (versus the "V" on the semi-automatic models), a handguard that doubles as a foldable bipod, and a larger 30-round magazine although it could also use the normal 20-round magazines as well. Only Australia and Canada used this variant, as the UK and New Zealand used Bren light machine guns converted to fire the 7.62×51mm NATO cartridge. Canadian C1s issued to naval and army personnel were also capable of automatic fire.
The L1A1 and other inch-pattern derivatives trace their lineage back to the Allied Rifle Commission of the 1950s, whose intention was to introduce a single rifle and cartridge that would serve as standard issue for all NATO countries. After briefly adopting the Rifle No. 9 Mk 1 with a 7 mm intermediate cartridge, the UK, believing that if they adopted the Belgian FAL and the American 7.62 NATO cartridge that the United States would do the same, adopted the L1A1 as a standard issue rifle in 1954. The US, however, did not adopt any variant of the FAL, opting for its own M14 rifle instead.
The L1A1 subsequently served as the UK's first-line battle rifle up to the 1980s before being replaced by the 5.56mm L85A1.
The L1A1 and variants have seen use in several conflicts, including as part of the Cold War. L1A1s have been used by the British Armed Forces in Malaysia, Northern Ireland, and in the Falklands War (in opposition to FN FAL-armed Argentine forces), the First Gulf War (where it was still on issue to some second line British Army units and RAF personnel not yet issued with the L85A1), by Australia and New Zealand in Vietnam, and by Rhodesia in the Rhodesian Bush War.
Starting in the mid-1980s, the UK started replacing its 30-year-old L1A1 rifle with the 5.56 NATO bullpup L85A1 assault rifle. Australia chose the Steyr AUG as a replacement in the form of the F88 Austeyr, with New Zealand following suit shortly after. Canada replaced its C1 rifle with the AR-15 variants: the C7 service rifle and C8 carbine. Both Australia and Canada replaced their L2A1/C2 heavy barrel support weapons with FN Minimi variants: the F89 and C9, respectively.
Production and use
The Australian Army, as a late member of the Allied Rifle Committee along with the United Kingdom and Canada adopted the committee's improved version of the FAL rifle, designated the L1A1 rifle by Australia and Great Britain, and C1 by Canada. The Australian L1A1 is also known as the "self-loading rifle" (SLR), and in full-automatic form, the "automatic rifle" (AR). The Australian L1A1 features are almost identical to the British L1A1 version of FAL; however, the Australian L1A1 differs from its British counterpart in the design of the upper receiver lightening cuts. The lightening cuts of the Australian L1A1 most closely resembles the later Canadian C1 pattern, rather than the simplified and markedly unique British L1A1 cuts. The Australian L1A1 FAL rifle was in service with Australian forces until it was superseded by the F88 Austeyr (a licence-built version of the Steyr AUG) in 1988, though some remained in service with Reserve and training units until late 1990. Some Australian Army units deployed overseas on UN peacekeeping operations in Namibia, the Western Sahara and Cambodia still used the L1A1 SLR and the M16A1 rifle throughout the early 1990s. The British and Australian L1A1s, and Canadian C1A1 SLRs were semi-automatic only, unless battlefield conditions mandated that modifications be made.
Australia, in co-ordination with Canada, developed a heavy-barrel version of the L1A1 as an automatic rifle variant, designated L2A1. The Australian heavy-barrel L2A1 was also known as the "automatic rifle" (AR). The L2A1 was similar to the FN FAL 50.41/42, but with a unique combined bipod-handguard and a receiver dust-cover mounted tangent rear sight from Canada. The L2A1 was intended to serve a role as a light automatic rifle or quasi-squad automatic weapon (SAW). The role of the L2A1 and other heavy barrel FAL variants is essentially the same in concept as the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) or Bren, but the Bren is far better suited to the role of a fire support base for a section, being designed for the role from the start. In practice many considered the L2A1 inferior to the Bren, as the Bren had a barrel that could be changed, and so could deliver a better continuous rate of fire, and was more accurate and controllable in the role due to its greater weight and better stock configuration. For this reason the British used the 7.62mm-converted L4 series Bren. Most countries that adopted the FAL rejected the heavy barrel FAL, presumably because it did not perform well in the machine gun role. Countries that did embrace the heavy barrel FAL included Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Canada, and Israel.
Unique 30-round magazines were developed for the L2A1 rifles. These 30-round magazines were essentially lengthened versions of the standard 20-round L1A1 magazines, perfectly straight in design. Curved 30-round magazines from the L4A1 7.62 NATO conversion of the Bren are interchangeable with the 30-round L2A1 magazines, however they reputedly gave feeding difficulties due to the additional friction from the curved design as they must be inserted "upside down" in the L2A1. The L4A1 Bren magazines were developed as a top-mounted gravity-assisted feed magazine, the opposite of what is required for the L2A1 FAL. This was sometimes sorted out by stretching magazine springs.
The Australian L1A1/L2A1 rifles were produced by the Small Arms Factory – Lithgow, with approximately 220,000 L1A1 rifles produced between 1959 and 1986. L2A1 production was approximately 10,000 rifles produced between 1962 and 1982. Lithgow exported a large number of L1A1 rifles to many countries in the region. Among the users were New Zealand, Singapore and Papua New Guinea.
During the Vietnam War, the SLR was the standard weapon issued to Australian infantrymen. Many Australian soldiers preferred the larger calibre weapon over the American M16 because they felt that the SLR was more reliable and that they could trust the NATO 7.62 round to kill an enemy soldier outright. The Australians' jungle warfare tactics used in Vietnam were informed by their experience in earlier jungle conflicts (e.g., the Malayan Emergency and the Konfrontasi campaign in Borneo) and were considered far more threatening by their Viet Cong opponents than those employed by U.S. forces The Australians considered the strengths and limitations of the SLR and its heavy ammunition load to be better suited to their tactical methods.
Another product of Australian participation in the conflict in South-East Asia was the field modification of L1A1 and L2A1 rifles by the Special Air Service Regiment for better handling. Nicknamed "the Bitch", these rifles were field modified, often from heavy barrel L2A1 automatic rifles, with their barrels cut off right in front of the gas blocks, and often with the L2A1 bipods removed to install XM148 40 mm grenade launchers mounted below the barrels. The XM148 40 mm grenade launchers were obtained from U.S. forces. For the L1A1, the lack of fully automatic fire resulted in the unofficial conversion of the L1A1 to full-auto capability by using lower receivers from the L2A1, which works by restricting trigger movement.
Australia produced a shortened version of the L1A1 designated the L1A1-F1. It was intended for easier use by soldiers of smaller stature in jungle combat, as the standard L1A1 is a long, heavy weapon. The reduction in length was achieved by installing the shortest butt length (there were three available, short, standard and long), and a flash suppressor that resembled the standard version except it projected a much smaller distance beyond the end of the rifling, and had correspondingly shorter flash eliminator slots. The effect was to reduce the length of the weapon by 2 1/4 inches. Trials revealed that, despite no reduction in barrel length, accuracy was slightly reduced. The L1A1-F1 was provided to Papua New Guinea, and a number were sold to the Royal Hong Kong Police in 1984. They were also issued to female staff cadets at the Royal Military College Duntroon and some other Australian personnel.
In 1970, a bullpup rifle known as the KAL1 general purpose infantry rifle was built at the Small Arms Factory Lithgow using parts from the L1A1 rifle. Another version of the rifle was also built in 1973.
The Canadian Armed Forces and Royal Canadian Mounted Police operated several versions, the most common being the C1A1, similar to the British L1A1 (which became more or less a Commonwealth standard), the main difference being that rotating disc rear sight graduated from 200 to 600 yards and a two-piece firing pin. The trigger guard was able to be removed from the pistol grip, this allowed the user to wear mitts when using the weapon. The Canadian rifle also has a shorter receiver cover than other Commonwealth variants to allow for refilling the magazine by charging it with stripper clips. It was manufactured under license by the Canadian Arsenals Limited company. Canada was the first country to use the FAL. It served as Canada's standard battle rifle from the early 1950s to 1984, when it began to be phased out in favor of the lighter Diemaco C7, a licence-built version of the AR-15.
The Canadians also operated an automatic variant, the C2A1, as a section support weapon, which was very similar to the Australian L2A1. It was similar to the FN FAL 50.41/42, but with wooden attachments to the bipod legs that work as a handguard when the legs are folded. The C2A1 used a tangent rear sight attached to the receiver cover with ranges from 200 to 1000 metres. The C1 was equipped with a 20-round magazine and the C2 with a 30-round magazine, although the two were interchangeable. Variants of the initial C1 and the product improved C1A1 were also made for the Royal Canadian Navy, which were capable of automatic fire, under the designations C1D and C1A1D. These weapons are identifiable by an A for "automatic", carved or stamped into the butt stock. Boarding parties for domestic and international searches used these models.
The Rifle 7.62 mm 1A1 is a reverse engineering of the UK L1A1 self-loading rifle. It is produced at Ordnance Factory Tiruchirappalli of the Ordnance Factories Board. The Indian 1A1 differs from the UK SLR in that the wooden butt-stock uses the butt-plate from the Lee–Enfield with trap for oil bottle and cleaning pull-through. The 1A1 rifle has been replaced in service with the Indian Army by the INSAS 5.56 mm assault rifle. A fully automatic version of the rifle (known as the 1C) is also available, meant for use in BMP-2s via firing ports. The 1A1 is still in use by Central Armed Police Forces, some law enforcement bodies and also used during parades by the National Cadet Corps (India).
The 1A is the full automatic version based on the FN FAL while the 1A1 is the semi-automatic version based on the L1A1.
Production started in 1960 after the Armament Research & Development Establishment evaluated several Australian, Belgian and British FAL rifles and each one was disassembled and examined. ARDE researchers began to make plans to make their own rifle after negotiations with FN were unsuccessful because of royalty requirements and the clause that Belgian technicians help manage the production lines. 750 rifles were made per week.
FN threatened a lawsuit when they learnt of the unlicensed variant. Then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was not made aware of it and after he had heard it, offered to settle FN's complaints by agreeing to purchase additional Belgian-made FALs, FALOs and 60.20 GPMGs.
The New Zealand Army used the L1A1 as its standard service rifle for just under 30 years. The Labour government of Walter Nash approved the purchase of the L1A1 as a replacement for the No. 4 Mk 1 Lee–Enfield bolt-action rifle in September 1958. An order for a total of 15,000 L1A1 rifles was subsequently placed with the Lithgow Arsenal in Australia which had been granted a license to produce the L1A1. However the first batch of 500 rifles from this order was not actually delivered to the New Zealand Army until 1960. Thereafter deliveries continued at an increasing pace until the order for all 15,000 rifles was completed in 1965. As with Australian soldiers, the L1A1 was the preferential rifle of New Zealand Army and NZSAS troops during the Vietnam War, over the American M16. After its adoption by the Army, the Royal New Zealand Air Force and the Royal New Zealand Navy also eventually acquired it. Unlike L1A1s in Australian service, New Zealand L1A1s later used British black plastic furniture, and some rifles even had a mixture of the two. The carrying handles were frequently cut off. The British SUIT (Sight Unit Infantry Trilux) optical sight was issued to some users in infantry units. The L2A1 heavy barrel variant was also issued as a limited standard, but was not popular due to the problems also encountered by other users of heavy barrel FAL variants. The L4A1 7.62mm conversion of the Bren was much-preferred in New Zealand service. The New Zealand Defence Force began replacing the L1A1 with the Steyr AUG assault rifle in 1988. The Steyr AUG was phased out across all three services of the New Zealand Defence Force in 2016. The Royal New Zealand Navy still uses the L1A1 for line throwing between ships.
The United Kingdom produced its own variant of the FN FAL incorporating the modifications developed by the Allied Rifle Committee, designating it the L1A1 Self Loading Rifle (SLR). The weapons were manufactured by the Royal Small Arms Factory Enfield, Birmingham Small Arms, Royal Ordnance Factory and ROF Fazakerley. After the production run ceased, replacement components were made by Parker Hale Limited. The SLR served the British Armed Forces from 1954 until approximately 1994, being replaced by the L85A1 from 1985 onwards.
The SLR was designed using Imperial measurements and included several changes from the standard FN FAL. A significant change from the original FAL was that the L1A1 operates in semi-automatic mode only. Other changes include: the introduction of a folding cocking handle; an enclosed slotted flash suppressor; folding rear sight; sand-clearing modifications to the upper receiver, bolt and bolt carrier; folding trigger guard to allow use with Arctic mitts; strengthened butt; enlarged change lever and magazine release catch; vertical stripping catch to prevent unintended activation; deletion of the automatic hold-open device and the addition of retaining tabs at the rear of the top cover to prevent forward movement of the top cover (and resulting loss of zero) when the L2A1 SUIT was fitted. The flash suppressor is fitted with a lug which allows the fitting of an L1-series bayonet, an L1A1/A2 or L6A1 blank firing attachment or an L1A1/A2 Energa rifle grenade launcher.
Initial production rifles were fitted with walnut furniture, consisting of the pistol grip, forward handguard, carrying handle and butt. The wood was treated with oil to protect against moisture, but not varnished or polished. Later production weapons were produced with synthetic furniture, The material used was Maranyl, a nylon 6-6 and fiberglass composite. The Maranyl parts have a "pebbled" anti-slip texture along with a butt has a separate butt-pad, available in four lengths to allow the rifle to be fitted to individual users. There was also a special short butt designed for use with Arctic clothing or body armour, which incorporated fixing points for an Arctic chest sling system. After the introduction of the Maranyl furniture, as extra supplies became available it was retrofitted to older rifles as they underwent scheduled maintenance. However, this resulted in a mixture of wooden and Maranyl furniture within units and often on the same rifle. Wooden furniture was still in use in some Territorial Army units and in limited numbers with the RAF until at least 1989.
The SLR selector has two settings (rather than the three that most metric FALs have), safety and semi-automatic, which are marked S (safe) and R (repetition.) The magazine from the 7.62 mm L4 light machine gun will fit the SLR; however, the L4 magazine was designed for gravity assisted downwards feeding, and can be unreliable with the upwards feeding system of the SLR. Commonwealth magazines were produced with a lug brazed onto the front to engage the recess in the receiver, in place of a smaller pressed dimple on the metric FAL magazine. As a consequence of this, metric FAL magazines can be used with the Commonwealth SLR, but SLR magazines will not fit the metric FAL.
Despite the British, Australian and Canadian versions of the FAL being manufactured using machine tools which utilised the Imperial measurement system, they are all of the same basic dimensions. Parts incompatibilities between the original FAL and the L1A1 are due to pattern differences, not due to the different dimensions. Confusions over the differences has given rise to the terminology of "metric" and "inch" FAL rifles, which originated as a reference to the machine tools which produced them. Despite this, virtually all FAL rifles are of the same basic dimensions, true to the original Belgian FN FAL. In the US, the term "metric FAL" refers to guns of the Belgian FAL pattern, whereas "inch FAL" refers to ones produced to the Commonwealth L1A1/C1 pattern.
SLRs could be modified at unit level to take two additional sighting systems. The first was the "Hythe sight," formally known as the "Conversion Kit, 7.62mm Rifle Sight, Trilux, L5A1" (L5A2 and L5A3 variants with different foresight inserts also existed) and intended for use in close range and in poor lighting conditions. The sight incorporated two rear sight aperture leaves and a permanently glowing tritium foresight insert for improved night visibility, which had to be replaced after a period of time due to radioactive decay. The first rear sight leaf had a 7 mm aperture which could be used alone for night shooting or the second leaf could be raised in front of it, superimposing a 2 mm aperture for day shooting. The second sight was the L2A1 "Sight Unit, Infantry, Trilux" (SUIT), a 4× optical sight which mounted on a rail welded to a top cover. Issued to the British Infantry, Royal Marines and RAF Regiment, the SUIT featured a prismatic offset design, which reduced the length of the sight and improved clearance around the action. Also, the SUIT helped to reduce parallax errors and heat mirage from the barrel as it heated up during firing. The aiming mark was an inverted, tapered perspex pillar ending in a point which could be illuminated by a tritium element for use in low light conditions. The inverted sight post allowed rapid target re-acquisition after the recoil of the firearm raised the muzzle. The scope was somewhat heavy, but due to its solid construction was durable and robust.[nb 2]
The SLR was officially replaced in 1985 by the bullpup design L85A1 service rifle, firing the 5.56×45mm NATO cartridge. The armed forces were re-equipped by 1994 and during this period the L1A1 rifles were gradually phased out. Most were either destroyed or sold, with some going to Sierra Leone. Several thousand were sent to the US and sold as parts kits, and others were refurbished by LuxDefTec in Luxembourg and are still on sale to the European market.
SLRs were used by the 1st Battalion, Parachute Regiment (1 PARA) in 1972's Bloody Sunday massacre in Northern Ireland, in which 26 unarmed civilians were shot and 14 were killed. Two of the rifles, which were supposedly destroyed, were later used by the West Side Boys, an armed group in Sierra Leone, in 2000's Operation Barras. The rifles were saved for souvenirs by 1 PARA, who discovered that they matched the serial numbers from their own armoury.
Australia banned the sale and possession of all semi-automatic rifles in 1996 in response to the Port Arthur Massacre (one of the firearms used was an L1A1). The only way to legally own a semi-automatic centrefire rifle today is to have a Category D licence (professional animal culler, law enforcement), or to have a collector's licence and the firearm permanently deactivated. Prior to 1996, L1A1s were legal to own in a number of states.
In Canada, all variants of the FN-FAL are classified as prohibited firearms, under Weapons Prohibition Order No. 13 in 1995. Being a variant of the FAL, the L1A1 cannot be legally owned or imported except under limited circumstances. Those who owned a 12.5 prohibited firearm prior to prohibition can continue to possess and acquire weapons banned under this order.
The Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988 banned all semi-automatic and pump-action centrefire rifles except for those chambered for .22 rimfire cartridges, which includes the L1A1. Thus, L1A1s are classified as Section 5 weapons, making them all but impossible to legally own for private citizens. However, L1A1s manufactured in a straight-pull bolt action format are legal to own with a Section 1 Certificate.
Like all semi-automatic rifles with features such as pistol grips and flash suppressors, L1A1s are classified as military-style semi-automatics, requiring a special permit to own them. Magazine capacities for other centrefire semi-automatics are limited to seven rounds.
There are no federal restrictions on ownership of L1A1 semi-automatic rifles. However, the 1989 import ban on military-style semi-automatic rifles made it impossible for genuine L1A1 rifles to be imported into the United States. The Federal Assault Weapons Ban, which lasted from 1994 to its expiration date in 2004, banned certain semi-automatic firearms by name as well as by features, which included several variants of certain military-style firearms, such as the FN-FAL and AR-15. Although the 1994 ban expired 10 years later, several states continue to enforce their own laws against military-style semi-automatic rifles. However, there are semi-auto only FN-FALs being made by DSA Arms to military tolerances and specs within the US as well as Century Arms (considered more affordable but more fickle) thus the US remains the only country in the world still producing FN-FAL rifles for the civilian population.
Eight Malaysian soldiers stand in formation to practice drills inside their headquarters located near the airport in Mogadishu during Operation Restore Hope. They all carry British made 7.62mm Enfield L1A1 rifles over their shoulder.
A female soldier of the Rejimen Askar Wataniah with a L1A1 SLR, circa 1990s.
An Indian security personnel carrying a 7.62mm 1A1 rifle in West Bengal.
Australian soldier being served a hot meal near fighting zone of Operation Crimp, Vietnam.
The L1A1 self-loading rifle has been used in the following conflicts:
- Suez Crisis
- Malayan Emergency
- Mau Mau Uprising
- Indonesian Confrontation
- Aden Emergency
- Vietnam War
- Cambodian Civil War
- The Troubles
- Rhodesian Bush War
- Dhofar Rebellion
- 1965 and 1971 Indo-Pakistan Wars.
- Falklands War
- Bougainville Civil War
- Gulf War
- Sierra Leone Civil War
- Nepalese Civil War
- 2013 Lahad Datu standoff
- Australia - Produced under licence. Replaced by the F88 Austeyr.
- Canada - Produced under licence. Replaced by the C7 rifle.
- Bahamas - Royal Bahamas Defence Force & Royal Bahamas Police Force.
- Bermuda - Supplemented by the Ruger Mini-14GB/20 since 1983.
- Brunei - Uses them as standard issue infantry rifles alongside M16 service rifles.
- Cyprus
- India Replaced by the INSAS.
- Jamaica - Uses various British and Australian L1A1s.
- Malaysia - Used until the 1990s and replaced by the HK 33, Beretta AR70 and M16A1.
- Malta - Still used by its armed forces, mainly for ceremonial purposes.
- New Zealand -Used Australian built L1A1s from 1960, replaced by Steyr AUGs in 1988. The New Zealand Navy still uses the L1A1 for line throwing between ships.
- Nepal: Uses both British/Indian-made SLRs.
- Papua New Guinea Used Australian built L1A1s.
- Rhodesia: Adopted in the early 1960s, seconded to reserve status following the Rhodesia's unilateral declaration of independence. Standard service rifle of the Rhodesia Regiment.
- Singapore - Introduced by British colonial forces prior to independence to 1st and 2nd Singapore Infantry Regiments in 1957. Replaced by AR-15/M16 rifles a few years after independence.
- Sierra Leone
- Trinidad and Tobago
- United Kingdom - Used by the British Armed Forces until 1987, then replaced by the L85A1. The rifle has since been phased out of service from the UK, except for UKSF.
- Vanuatu: 270 SLRs, some configured as light machine guns.
- List of battle rifles
- AR-10 – An American 7.62mm battle rifle design from the same period
- CETME – A Spanish 7.62mm battle rifle
- Heckler & Koch G3 – A German 7.62mm battle rifle derived from the CETME
- M14 – An American 7.62mm battle rifle
- MAS-49 – A 7.5mm French semiautomatic battle rifle
- Small Arms Weapons Effects Simulator - Infrared training device used in the 1980s
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