The Right Arm Of The Free World

The 7.62×51 FAL Served With 90 Countries. Now, DS Arms Offers Both
20th And 21st Century Versions Of This Cold War Veteran

By Jeff John

No other battle rifle better blends the warm Old World feel of wood with the cold, businesslike look of
the modern black rifle as well as Fabrique Nationale’s Fusil Automatique Léger. The graceful lines give
the rifle a look as beautiful as it is lethal. The storied legacy of the FAL continues to thrive at DS Arms
.

A Bit of Backstory

As originally envisioned after World War II, the FAL was a lithe select-fire rifle chambered in a to-be-determined intermediate-power cartridge along the lines of Nazi Germany’s 7.92×33 Kurz. But the United States insisted on the full-power 7.62×51 (.308) and the FAL was scaled up to handle the bigger round. As the 1960’s ground on, the accepted doctrine favoring the full-power battle rifle changed.
Inevitably, long after the US insisted on adoption of the 7.62×51 and then embraced a centerfire .22, — our NATO allies began similarly rearming with the new NATO-standard 5.56×45.

Soon large quantities of surplus FAL’ s (just bits and pieces since they were select-fire) began wending their way to the US along with a treasure trove of new spare parts. DS Arms bought up the Austrian StG58 parts (and tooling) and my particular FAL is old enough to have some of those in it. Today DS Arms fabricates the parts (all metric based) in house. The FAL has 120 parts or more depending on model, so this is no mean feat.

DS Arms cataloged a wood-stocked FAL billed as a “US T48” (the FAL we tested before adoption of our M14). I had one on order for a year or so when DS Arms discontinued the model when the wood stock supply became iffy (wood stocks were one of the few things they didn’t do in house), but offered me their show gun which I snapped up. Frankly, except for the square triggerguard, the rifle wasn’t very close to the T48. No matter, for it led me down the path to remodeling it into the FAL shown here.

Most of NATO shouldered the “Right Arm of the Free World” — Fabrique Nationale’s Fusil
Automatique Léger, with an assist from John Browning’s last pistol, the Hi-Power.

Operating controls include (clockwise from left): a non-reciprocating charging handle,
a takedown latch under the rear sight and a safety over the pistol grip. Just behind
the magazine is the bolt hold-open.

The carry handle folds down against the right side of the receiver. The mag release is
visible just behind the magazine. Although it is on the right side, it’s easier to manipulate
with your left hand.

Handling Qualities

Ergonomically the FAL is quite friendly. Beyond the matter of good looks, the value of oil-finished wood furniture over plastic is it warms to the touch, even in cold weather, and never gets too hot to the touch in hot weather. The safety is handy, intuitive and easy to operate with the shooting hand (as long as you’re right handed). It’s soft-shooting for a .308 since the bore line is low and muzzle lift during recoil is slight. Other key features are an adjustable gas system and a sturdy set of aperture sights fully adjustable for windage and elevation.

Although the mag release is on the right side just ahead of the triggerguard, it favors operation with the left hand leaving your firing hand in position. Press the release forward and the magazine pivots forward, down and out. To insert a magazine, push the front of the mag up and in so a tab on the front of the mag engages its locking recess, and rock the mag back and up until it clicks into place.
Alternatively, the magazine can be topped off with 5- or 10-round stripper clips, and a charger guide allows clip loading of the magazine when it’s out of the rifle.

In firing, spent cases eject forward and to the right, arcing into a tidy area for easy retrieval. On the last shot the bolt locks open. Remove the magazine, insert a fresh one, pull back the left-side charging handle and release. Going forward with the bolt, the non-reciprocating charging handle locks into a detent. Being non-reciprocating, it can’t be bumped to seat a cartridge not fully chambered. In such an event, just pull the handle back slightly and let the springs do the job.

You can also release or lock open the bolt by manipulating the small tab located on the left side opposite the magazine release. It is awkward but not difficult to lock open the rifle without an empty magazine in place. Place the butt under your right arm or on your hip and you can reach under the receiver with your right forefinger and push up the bolt catch while holding the bolt open with your left hand.

Bayonets with round-tube handles are difficult to control in the hand for fighting and, in this case,
the smooth metal shaft and odd part-round blade shape doesn’t lend itself to any purpose off the rifle,
unlike conventional bayonets. The black scabbard is plastic and riveted to the webbing frog.

The bayonet slips over the flash hider and clicks in place in a detent atop the hider. The
muzzlebrake/hider can be oriented up or down for the bayonet to be on top or bottom. The
bayonet body is vented so the flash hider/brake still functions normally. There’s little
play between bayonet and hider body. Lift up the latch and slide the bayonet off. Simple.

The FAL’s straight-line recoil makes for fast recovery for repeat shots. The ejection pattern is
forward and to the right, leaving spent shells in a wide “brass puddle.”

Pluses And Minuses

A big drawback is the factory trigger system, designed for a select-fire rifle. From the factory, the pull was a long, gritty 8.5 lbs. Jard makes a replacement trigger and DS Arms has a way to tune and lighten the trigger. I went the gunsmith route and had a trigger job and Falcon Arms springs installed. It is now a manageable 5.5 lbs.

A small drawback is the sight radius is a short 22″, but the front sight is well protected and less prone to snag than if it were at the end of the barrel. The rear sight is sturdy but unprotected. The rifle can’t be scoped easily due to the stamped sheetmetal top cover, an original flaw not easily remedied in the day, but one DS Arms solved with a machined top cover.

Another plus is the sling swivel arrangement. The front swivel revolves around the barrel and the bottom swivel spins giving both 360-degree travel. A minor downside is if the sling is used to lock the rifle tightly to the support arm, enough pressure can be applied to the barrel to affect accuracy. It was one of the US Army’s criticisms, but one relevant mostly for target shooting.

In the field the sights are only elevation-adjustable at preset 100-meter intervals from 200m to 600m. Calibration is pegged to 7.62 NATO 147-grain ball. To fine-tune the sights you need a screwdriver for the windage at the rear and a special spanner for elevation at the front.

At one time, FAL accuracy was sniffed at, but a select-fire battle rifle is built differently from a target rifle. The M14 excelled as a target rifle (albeit with considerable tuning). DS Arms puts together a tight, very accurate version of the FAL dispensing all notions the FAL is “inherently inaccurate.” You won’t be competitive with the “semi adjustable” sights at Camp Perry, but sighted in with Federal American Eagle ammo, you’d be well prepared for business.

For the shooting test, I had American Eagle, Prvi Partisan (both NATO 147-grain FMJ), along with Federal Match and assorted Black Hills Match. Of the inexpensive loads the Prvi Partisan shot extremely well. Well enough, in fact, to allow me to smoke out a problem lurking in the sights.

Few arms blend the modern with the traditional as well as the FAL. Although not as durable or
as strong as synthetic furniture, wood is warm in winter and never too hot in summer.
It’s also quieter afield.

The protected front sight is adjustable for elevation. There are four post heights, and they’re easy to
replace with the T-handle spanner. The gas valve is marked 1 to 7. To adjust, put a single round in the
magazine and fire. On “7” the gun should short recoil and fail to hold open the bolt. With an empty mag in
place, keep firing single shots and turning the valve down until the bolt cycles far enough to lock open.
Test with several more rounds and open the valve one or two more turns for insurance.

The rear sight slide adjusts in 100-meter increments. All the way back and the zero is 200m, so the
sights should be adjusted to shoot 2.5″ high for NATO ball. Windage is adjusted by tightening one of
two opposing screws while loosening the opposite one to move the base left or right.

A “Sight Problem”

My rifle came with the highest front sight — a “4-dot” post — and it shot extremely low. Getting onto the bull required moving the rear sight to the 500m notch. The resulting 5-shot group was in the 3″ range at 100 yards. Moving the sight down to the 400m setting moved the group 6″ lower and the group was now 2″ center-to-center. These results were repeatable, thus the problem. With the FAL’s reputation for so-so accuracy, I wondered how much the rear sights are the culprit? They were built for combat where ease of adjustment instead of precision was a logical trade-off.

In the 500m range notch my sight seemed to wobble more than in the 400m setting. DS Arms confirmed the irregular groups were likely caused by a too-loose rear sight slide. The new slide was $10 and a new coil spring for the button $5. A dial micrometer showed the new slide to be measurably tighter. Changing the sight slide required use of a light hammer, non-marring punch of Delrin or brass, a good fitting screwdriver and a pin punch. An exploded parts diagram helps. Gun Parts has them if you don’t have the DS Arms owner’s manual.

Installing the front sight is a piece of cake if you have the correct spanner. FAL lore says the point of a bullet can be used. This is probably true — if you have all day. With the spanner, simply unscrew the old one and screw in the new one. DS Arms offers all four front sights originally provided to armorers. The math indicated I needed the “2-dot” front sight. The DS Arms rep verified my front sight height choice and sent me the new one ($30).

After sighting in with American Eagle, Jeff tested Federal 168-grain Gold Medal Match (on white target)
for a 0.875″ group. After a trigger job, he got another very tight group with that ammo — with one errant
flyer. The Eagle ammo delivered reliable 2-1/2 MOA groups (top).

Federal’s new match load featuring the Berger 185-grain BTHP arrived too late for chronographing,
but not for the final accuracy testing. This 100-yard group is 1.5″.

With Prvi Partisan ammo, the FAL delivered this 3″ group (top) with the
rear sight set at 500m and the bottom group set at 400m.

The FAL top cover has stripper clip guides for 5- or 10-round clips. A charger guide.

Is used to load magazines from clips away from the gun. Not all clips are alike.
Stripper clips for the FAL.

Have the stop in the center of both sides (loaded clip) so the clip drops low enough for
the cartridges to go straight into the magazine. Many clips accept the common 7.62×51 but
are designed for other rifles, so if you’re shopping at a gun show, the FAL clip’s telltale
is the stop in the center of the clip rather than the two different ones above. Those clips
ride too high above the magazine. These others work fine with the charger guide though.

Rounds Downrange

DS Arms builds these rifles to shoot using a high-quality barrel and .308 chamber. You can forget about the FAL’s reputation for poor accuracy if you select decent ammo. Selecting a good load was fun since so many shot well. Either American Eagle or Prvi Partisan FMJ ammo would be just the ticket, since both shoot well and are reasonably priced. American Eagle was a reliable 2-1/2 or 3 MOA, and warmed my heart when I hit the 14″x14″ 300-yard gong 14 out of 20 times testing full mags, then hit the similarly sized 400-yard gong 5 times out of 10.

Of the match loads, all gave reliable 1.5 MOA 4-shot groups with the 5-shot group running things to about 2 or 2-1/4 MOA on average. I shot one spectacular 5-shot group of 0.875″ with Federal Gold Medal Match and 168-grain Sierra bullets. That one I’ll frame.

In shooting, the only malfunctions occurred while setting the gas valve, from lack of lubrication and from using a defective surplus magazine. In the last case, the offending mag appeared new, but after a couple of odd malfunctions, an examination showed brass shavings on the follower. I could feel burrs under the feed lips by running my finger under them. An easy fix? Yes. But not at the range.

After swapping mags the gun ran fine. After polishing the feed lips, the offending mag ran fine later on. But now somewhat chastened, I bought two new DS Arms magazines which have synthetic followers and a high-quality external finish. Full payload testing has been limited to three full mags in each. Both ran without a problem. I plan on replacing all the springs in the used ones with Wolff magazine springs.
The lack of lube glitch was due to my ignorance. The bolt wouldn’t cycle reliably for the first 5 or 6 rounds of a full mag, although it would cycle the last 15 fine. I was telling John Connor about lubing it as I would an M1 Garand, causing it to run sluggishly. He laughed. “Son, the gun works best drowning in oil.”

I used Synthetic CLP gun lube from G96 liberally applied to the bolt and bolt carrier. Problem solved. I always wondered why the Israeli “sand cuts” in the bolt carrier were such an important modification (the DS Arms bolt doesn’t have them). It’s obvious considering how much oil the gun requires.

This brings up a concern for today’s shooter. You don’t want to stand up a wood-stocked rifle dripping with oil as it will soak into the end of the wood, eventually weakening it fatally. Store it muzzle down or dry. And don’t forget to wear shooting glasses. A little too much lube and you’ll get “oiled” too!

Many countries employ one full-power rifle per squad to provide an extended-range capability. While the
original FAL would have problems being outfitted for the role, DS Arms solves the many issues with their
Designated Marksman Rifle. A 20-shot 7.62×51, it features a 16.25″ barrel, short gas piston system,
machined top cover with scope rail, iron sights, and fully adjustable synthetic stock and accessory
friendly fore-end. Photo: DS Arms

You wouldn’t think a muzzlebrake could be so complicated, but add internal threading and muzzle
machining to lock in a blank adapter and you have a recipe for complexity.

(Above): The FAL takes down quickly for routine cleaning without tools. Push the latch forward under
the rear sight and break open the rifle. The top cover slides off to the rear and the bolt and carrier
pulls straight out the back, allowing the barrel to be cleaned from the breech. Jeff found G96 Synthetic
CLP provided trouble-free operation even after 140-plus rounds. (Below): Hold down the gas valve lever,
rotate the gas valve 180 degrees, and pluck out the gas valve, piston and spring. Turning the gas valve
45 degrees shuts off flow to the piston. You can now shoot the rifle as a straight pull — a real advantage
when working up a handload.

Requiem For A Battle Rifle

Sandy environments proved deadly to the FAL while the Kalashnikov generally thrived in them. With the Free World’s move to smaller munitions such as the 5.56×45, the end was near for the hard-hitting 7.62 FAL, and by the early 1990’s it was mostly replaced with myriad “mouse guns.”

The intermediate caliber concept pioneered by the German 7.92×33 and Soviet 7.62×39 never covered all the bases, however. Infantry so armed were impotent against enemies at extended battlefield ranges easily covered by the FAL and US M14 — a factor the US once considered vital.

The Soviets early on realized the flaw and deployed the optic-sighted self-loading 7.62x54R Dragunov at the squad level to engage enemies beyond AK range. This doctrine in place, it was a logical transition to the even smaller 5.45×39 AK-74 round replacing the 7.62×39.
The US relearned the utility of the “battle rifle” in Afghanistan, leading to a hodgepodge of arms dragooned into service. These days a variety of 7.62 arms are in the inventory and include the FN SCAR, HK417, an accurized M14 and others based on the AR-10.

DS Arms now offers a 21st century FAL with all the modernization needed to fulfill this new mission. The FAL shoots great (as we’ve seen), so putting on a more solid top cover, scope, adjustable stock and fore-end allows it to perform far beyond its original mission.

My DS Arms FAL in early Cold War trim was a jewel in the rough. It required little effort to shoot far beyond its critics’ expectations as befits a rifle once known as “The Right Arm of the Free World.” 


The FAL was born as a select-fire rifle shooting intermediate class cartridges. But at Uncle Sam’s
insistence, FN beefed it up to chamber the 7.62×51.

Had the US adopted the .276 Pederson for the original M1 (far left), it’s possible we’d still be using it,
since its 126-grain bullet at 2,550 fps presages the “intermediate power” concept. However, we kept with
the full power pre-WWI .30-06 (middle left). After WWII we insisted all allies adopt the similar 7.62×51
(near left). Our allies, initially enthused by the 7.92×33 Kurz (near right), grudgingly acquiesced. The
intermediate-range, rapid-fire concept was seized on by the Soviet Union as they adopted the 7.62×39
(middle right) for the AK-47. Ultimately the US abandoned the “battle rifle” concept by adopting the
even lighter 5.56x45mm (far right).

Cold Warrior

World War II didn’t end in 1945. The Soviet Union had enslaved half of Europe, and eyed more. Mao’s China grew quickly into another murderous regime, spreading its tentacles where it could. The result? Almost all Western powers chose a single rifle to confront the rising Red Menace in Fabrique Nationale’s FAL.

The unique history of the rifle designed by Dieudonné Saive and Ernest Vervier of FN fills a large coffee table book from Collector’s Publications. The Right Arm of the Free World is the right title and defines a rifle used by 90 countries confronting invaders, rebels and outlaws armed primarily with Mikhail Kalashnikov’s Avtomat Kalashnikova Model of 1947.

FN’s ascendant rifle, the FN49, was on the drawing boards before WWII. When Germany invaded Belgium the plans were hidden and smuggled out under the noses of the Nazis, along with those of the P35 Hi-Power pistol (already in production, the Nazis quickly seized on the 9mm Hi-Power). With the plans sewn into his coat, Saive left occupied Belgium, made his way to Portugal and caught one of the last Lufthansa flights to Britain in the early 1940’s. The immediate benefit to the Allies was the Hi-Power, which Britain quickly adopted.

At war’s end, FN recovered and the new 10-shot self-loading FN49 (chambered in full-power cartridges) gave its many end users an efficient upgrade from their current bolt action. Meanwhile, development of the FN/FAL centered on the intermediate 7.92×33 cartridge designed for Nazi Germany’s StG44, an arms concept electrifying European and Soviet designers.

The intermediate-powered weapon recoiled lightly, shot better than an SMG at longer ranges and was as fast and more lethal close in. The British meanwhile worked on a .280 cartridge of slightly greater power for the new FN rifle. Then along came the United States with an unequivocal demand for the full-power .30 T65 rifle cartridge to arm the fledgling NATO alliance.

Yankee Power Play

After trampling every other idea in our path, we Americans shoved the T65 7.62×51 cartridge down everyone’s throat, eschewed the FAL for our own M14, and within a few years dropped the once-holy “full-power battle rifle” concept for Stoner’s .22-caliber “Mouse Gun.” Our bewildered allies may have finally stopped spinning. Maybe…

Thus the FN/FAL grew from a lightweight select-fire rifle into a much larger, more powerful rifle than nature originally intended. For the most part it excelled, if lugging around a 9-lb. plus rifle that was wildly uncontrollable in full auto was “excelling.” But in all fairness, the M14 proved even worse in this regard.

Looking back is frustrating since both the Johnson M1941 LMG and German FG42 were blueprints for a successful full-power, full-auto battle rifle, a path followed by Eugene Stoner’s equally ignored yet successful AR-10 (used by several countries).

Still, the 7.62 was a capable cartridge and white pawns in the Cold War chess game kept red pawns at bay with an FAL subtly different — but fundamentally the same — from country to country. In a weird twist, the rifle was made in metric and inch patterns looking alike yet not interchangeable partswise.

With the FAL in use by so many countries, a clash between equally armed opponents was unavoidable. Probably the most famous was the Falklands War in 1982, where the “Inch Pattern” L1A1 FAL in British hands traded fire with the “Metric Pattern” FAL in Argentine hands — both in 7.62mm. Perhaps equally odd, both England and Argentina also issued Hi-Power 9mm pistols, both also respectively in inch and metric patterns! Both combatants built their own arms under license. I believe the Falklands War might be the first time two sides battled with nearly identical primary models of small arms, chambered in identical, interchangeable cartridges. 


The Ironwood Design stock has the grain running straight and true. It took little time to fit and is the
early pattern Jeff prefers. The Canadian surplus buttplate has the trap, and the stock has the cavity for
the oiler and wrench (above). Three tools make life with the FAL much easier. They include the stock
wrench (which also traps and guides the action spring), plus a front sight adjusting tool and gas nut
wrench. A good set of screwdrivers is a must. Note the square “T48” triggerguard (right).

Tuning and Tweaking Particulars

Although DS Arms billed this model as a reproduction of the US T48 (the FAL tested before adopting the M14), enough details were off that I couldn’t quite see a way to make it an exact T48 replica without some major fabrication of key parts, which proved too expensive.
However, remodeling to another country’s FAL would require minimal expense using Ironwood Designs early-style wood, and a Belgian muzzle-brake/flash hider. The fore-end and pistol grip were very beautiful and would stay.

While plotting my remodel, ObamaScare arose and all parts, tools and ammo became scarce. Eventually Brownells had the FAL tools and Ironwood Design accepted new orders for FAL wood. Ironwood’s stock is well crafted, has enough wood everywhere and not too much anywhere. The grain layout was excellent and no surprises occurred on installation.

At Apex Gun Parts I found a reasonably priced wooden carry handle which was high on my list. It was well used, but cleaned up well enough. Apex also had some other miscellaneous parts to fill in gaps. The buttplate with a trap, oiler and thong cleaner were gunshow finds. And thankfully, Ironwood’s stock had the requisite cavity….

With sight issues settled and the rifle shooting accurately, it was all I could do to shoot well squeezing the gritty, creepy 8.5-lb. factory trigger. John Connor suggested I send it to his buddy in Montana, the reclusive “Dr. K.” He rarely accepts new clients, so I felt honored.

His tune-up consisted of squaring up the contact surfaces on the sear and polishing the hammer, trigger spring plunger, sear spring plunger and the inside of the hammer spring plunger and tip. Reassembly included a new Falcon Arms FAL Trigger Pull Reduction spring kit reducing the trigger pull weight to 5.5 lbs. The stock trigger system will never be match grade, and there is some travel after the first stage take-up with a pause before it lets go, but it is now light and the grittiness gone. I don’t believe Dr. K did anything another gunsmith couldn’t do, he just does it with a “touch.” He has a lot of repeat business and, sadly for us, has chosen to retire as I write this.

In addition, he also polished the inside of the recoil spring tube, which provided another nice touch. I replaced the recoil spring with a Falcon Arms Recoil Spring kit (although there was little time on the one in the gun). Falcon Arms also had an inexpensive round triggerguard to replace the squared T48 one. Lastly, a DS Arms nickel/teflon recoil spring rod went in, too. The bolt operation is now markedly smoother. There is a glassy “feel” when you draw the bolt. 


If you think in survival mode, having a “stand of arms” for your grab-and-go rifle is good insurance.
If you collect, it’s one of the fun sides of our hobby. Here we have an early FAL, Browning Hi-Power,
Belgian cartridge belt, holster and bayonet. If you don’t mind mixing gear, the WWII German paratrooper
neck bandolier (foreground) from World War Supply is great for keeping 100 rounds of ammo in stripper clips.

Geared To Go

In the old days, a “stand of arms” was all the equipment a soldier needed to go to war. Musket, cartridge box, bayonet with crossbelts — just the essentials for a battle, and they were usually maintained and stored in the armory. During our Revolution the “Minute Men” kept theirs at the ready. The concept is valid on a survival/prepper basis with high-tech gear and accentuates arms collecting with period gear. Once my Belgian model FAL took shape, corresponding gear proved easy and much less expensive than comparable US GI gear for the T48.

Numrich Gun Parts had Belgian gear, which seems to borrow the best of American and British designs. The 4-pocket belt (each pocket holding 2 magazines) has shoulder straps to aid load bearing and is a style similar to our BAR belt. The OD green sling is a nylon version of the standard WWII British sling and is comfortable and quiet in use. Lastly, I added a Browning Hi-Power holster (from Liberty Tree Collectors, who also had FAL stripper clips and charger guides). An unmarked US canteen would round out the belt, but the holes for the wire attachment are too close. I’ll have to sacrifice the pistol holster, or get a Belgian canteen on a strap (a US-style canteen combined with a shoulder strap like the British used).

While I like the look of the long US-style flash hider installed by DS Arms, it had been “Feinstein-ized” and the bayonet lug ground off so it wouldn’t scare liberals (I bought this rifle originally when the ’94 Assault Gun Act was just ending). The Belgians used a short flash hider/muzzlebrake/bayonet mount and DS Arms had them. A proper bayonet was an eBay find (misidentified and half the going rate) and Liberty Tree also had a good selection of the various models at presstime.

Fortunately, the new/surplus Belgian-style flash hider went on without a hitch. The weird-looking tube bayonet fits perfectly. These flash hiders can be installed with the bayonet catch over or under the hider. Mine is over, so the bayonet doubles as another flash hider.


Game changers: Germany’s FG42 (top) was a select-fire rifle chambered in 7.92×57. It was capable
of controllable full-auto fire from an open bolt and semi-auto fire from a closed bolt. The .30-06
US M1 Garand (bottom) gave the soldier semi-auto firepower, even though it was limited by its 8-shot
capacity. It served as the springboard for the M14 — a fine rifle but nonetheless obsolete before it
left the drawing board.

Germany’s StG44 (left) was an intermediate-range rifle capable of select fire. The US stumbled upon the
concept with the semi-auto M1 Carbine (below), but it never achieved its full potential the way the
StG44 did. Photos: Yvonne Venturino

Although it excelled as a rifle, it was uncontrollable in full-auto and did not accept an optic readily.
The AR-10 was a controllable full-auto 7.62×51 and excelled where it was adopted, like
this one employed by Portugal.

The Captains of the West acquiesced to the 7.62x51mm with the understanding the US would adopt the FN/FAL.
We instead adopted the M14 (represented by a current Springfield Armory M1A).

The US adopted Stoner’s design as the full-auto 5.56 M16 early on. Our enemies, led by the Soviet
Union, embraced Germany’s StG44 intermediate-cartridge concept embodied in the AK-47 (bottom, left)
in 7.62×39. Photos: Springfield Armory and Will Dabbs, MD.

The Path To The FAL

On an open WWII battlefield, soldiers were best served by a rifle capable of reaching out to 600 or 700 yards, while fighting in close quarters required high-volume fire better done with a smaller cartridge, a job filled by the SMG. Most battle rifles were unwieldy in close and the sub-guns couldn’t deliver effective fire beyond 100 yards or so.

The Germans successfully solved the high volume/open battlefield conundrum in two ways, fielding (1) the select-fire FG42, a full-power rifle in 7.92×57, and (2) the intermediate select-fire StG44 in 7.92×33. The Americans came close with the M1 Carbine.

Aberdeen Proving Ground held a shoot-to-destruction test and wrote good things about the German FG42. Salient points included firing on full automatic from an open bolt and semi auto from a closed bolt; an effective muzzlebrake and a buffer in the buttstock; low bore center so recoil is directly inline with the shoulder; and provision for an optical sight. These recommendations were apparently ignored in the quest for a postwar full-power, select-fire rifle ultimately leading to our adoption of the M14 while the most of the Free World opted for the FN/FAL.

It’s no surprise the concept failed without the FG’s virtues intact. Two other points ignored were the side magazine to ensure the soldier was as low to the ground as possible, and the folding bipod. The FAL came close, but missed the mark, and the M14 missed almost every one. Designers then tried to shoehorn on the bits and pieces to make the select-fire concept work to no avail.

Today, many armies combine both concepts and use a full-power battle rifle usually in 7.62×51 NATO or Russian 7.62x54R alongside the general infantry rifle in an intermediate-class cartridge such as NATO’s 5.56×45 or Russia’s 5.45×39.

Factory Ammo Performance

Load (brand, bullet weight, type) Velocity (fps) Group Size (inches)
American Eagle 150 FMJ 2,767 2.5
Black Hills 155 Sierra TM 2,629 2
Black Hills 168 Sierra TM 2,576 2.25*
Black Hills 168 Sierra BTHP 2,540 2
Federal GM 168 Sierra BTHP 2,633 0.875
Federal GM 185 Berger BTHP ** 1.5
Prvi Partisan 150 FMJ 2,759 2
SIG SAUER 168 BTHP 2,583 2.375

FAL

Maker: DS Arms, P.O. Box 370, Lake Barrington, IL 60011, (847) 277-7258, www.dsarms.com
Action type: Gas-operated, semi auto
Caliber: 7.62x51mm NATO
Capacity: 20
Barrel length: 21″
Overall Length: 44.625″
Weight: 9 lbs., 7 oz. (unloaded with magazine)
Finish: Duracoat
Sights: Elevation adjustable front post, windage & elevation adjustable rear 200m-600m
Stock: Ironwood Designs, walnut, oil finished
Price: $1,700 (Original Series STG 58, synthetic stock)

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