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Small Arms Ltd’s Experimental Firearms

September 2, 2014

by Roger V. Lucy

In 1943, the War Office announced number of new small arms projects and asked Canada in which types it wished to participate. The Canadian crown corporation, Small Arms Ltd., (SAL) of Long Branch, Ontario (a neighbourhood of Toronto), responded with designs for a lightweight rifle, a machine carbine, and a self-loading rifle (SLR).

Lightweight Rifle

In August 1943, SAL was able to demonstrate its design of a lighter version of the No.4 rifle, to Major-General “Tubby” Lethbridge’s 220 Military Mission, which was touring North America looking into weapons and equipment for use in South-east Asia. The British required a lightened version of the .303 rifle, accurate out to 400 yards (360 metres). In light of this interest, DND’s Directorate for Small Arms and Vehicles (DVSA) undertook to have its further development funded by the Army Technical Development Board (ATDB).[1] Project 66 was approved on 15 December 1943. Two pilots were sent to the UK for trials, which took place at Bisley in early February 1944. The Canadian design lost out, and its British competitor was adopted as the No.5 (“Jungle Carbine”). Compared to the No.5, the British deemed the SAL rifle to be less accurate, had excessive muzzle flash, and required the manufacture of new components such as a new trigger group (which been redesigned by SAL as an improvement on the No.4) and shoulder pad. The pad was required to offset the extra recoil caused by the rifle’s lighter weight and shorter barrel – 6 3/4 lbs. (3 kg) and 22 inches (55 cm) respectively. The SAL rifle had a full length but lightened stock, held by two screws and accepted the No.4 spike bayonet.

SAL’s prototype for a lightweight version of the No.4 rifle. It lost out in competition to the British No. 5 Jungle Carbine. MilArt photo archives

SAL’s prototype for a lightweight version of the No.4 rifle. It lost out in competition to the British No. 5 Jungle Carbine. MilArt photo archives

Advised of an Indian requirement for 25,000 rifles, with specifications similar to its lightweight rifle, SAL undertook a redesign, incorporating some of the features of the British No.5. The prototype was completed in April 1944, but India adopted the No.5 rifle, which was now in production. Australia also trialed the first pattern Canadian lightweight rifle in August 1944. The Australians were impressed by the SAL rifle’s accuracy, handling and serviceability but deemed its excessive flash unacceptable. They also found it too light – particularly in the butt portion – for Australian methods of close-in fighting. In December 1944, SAL decided to halt further development. The lightweight rifle project was declared completed by the ATDB on 5 January, 1945.

Carbine, Machine, Canadian Experimental

When SAL had approached DVSA for funding for the development of a machine carbine, DVSA’s Director, Colonel J.L. McAvity advised SAL that, despite the stream of complaints from the field about the Sten, he could not get funding from the ATDB, unless the General Staff issued a requirement for a new machine carbine. SAL returned to the charge on 28 August, 1944 and McCavity obtained approval for the project at the ATDB’s September 5, 1944 meeting. This was based on a General Staff specification which called for a 9mm Parabellum, selective fire weapon with: satisfactory reliability in the most adverse conditions; weighing no more than 6 lbs. (2.7 kg) without a magazine; and capable, when firing single shots, to place five bullets in a 12 inch x 12 inch (30cm x 30cm) group at a range of 100 yards (90 metres). To improve accuracy, the cyclic rate was to be no more than 500 rpm. It was to have compact, short, 30-60 round magazines. To minimize stoppages, the magazine lips were to be incorporated in the body of the gun. The butt was to be removable, and the metal parts rust-proof. Finally – an aesthetic dig at the homely Sten – its appearance should inspire the user’s confidence.

The project got off to a slow start as SAL had been concentrating its development work on its self-loading, sniper and lightweight rifle designs. In December 1944, two of its designers George Kersey and Anton Rosciszewski, came up with an innovative “positive feed,” with the magazine mounted horizontally. A rocker arm worked by the bolt’s blow-back action, removed the round from the magazine, rotated it 90o, and chambered it. This arrangement protected the magazine and ammunition feed from dirt dust and sand – albeit at the expense, in early versions, of more misfeeds and ejection malfunctions. The trigger was based on a design Rosciszewski had developed for a modified Sten. Pressure on the top of the trigger fired the weapon in a fully automatic mode while pressure on the bottom of the trigger fired the weapon semi-automatically.

The Machine Carbine designed by Anton Rosciszewski of SAL, note the dual-action trigger which allowed selective fire. MilArt photo archives

The Machine Carbine designed by Anton Rosciszewski of SAL, note the dual-action trigger which allowed selective fire. MilArt photo archives

The first pilot was completed in May 1945, and by the end of July it had successfully test fired 6,000 rounds. At that time a second prototype was under construction with modifications to bring it down to the specified 6 lbs. weight limit (loaded weight was in fact somewhat more than 7 lbs. – 3 kg), and the weapon had a fixed wooden stock, with a wooden fore-grip.

In October 1945 DND agreed to pay SAL $10,000 to build four more prototypes. Work continued after January 1946 when SAL was taken over by Canadian Arsenals Ltd, to become its Small Arms Division. In July 1946, the Inspection Board of the United Kingdom and Canada (IB) tested the experimental machine carbine against the Stens Mk. II and Mk. V. The experimental machine carbine had a lower cyclical rate of fire (492 rpm, against 610 and 534 respectively), and was more accurate, more tolerant of mud, somewhat less inclined to fire spontaneously when dropped, and was judged easier to carry and operate. However, it did have a notably higher rate of misfeeds. The project was sufficiently promising to be designated a long term one when the ATDB was disbanded at the end of 1946. In September 1948, it was trialed by the British Board of Ordnance against two experimental British designs, the EM2 and EM6. It performed very well (especially once the British solved its feed problems), but was deemed too long and heavy, lacked the folding butt of the EM2 and EM6 and, above all, was too expensive. Trials continued in Canada, it was tested in winter conditions at Churchill in the winter of 1948/49, but in the end the Canadian machine carbine, like the EM2 and EM6 lost out to the British Sterling submachine gun.

Self-loading rifles

As far back as September 1940, DND had monitored US developments of self-loading rifles , not only of the M1 Garand but also a Winchester project to develop an upscaled version of its M1 carbine, firing a standard full size cartridge (ATDB Project 18). While this passed Winchester’s own tests, it failed dismally when trialed at Aberdeen Proving Grounds in January 1943.

The 30 calibre Winchester Carbine being test fired. Note the addition of a bipod. MilAt photo archives

The 30 calibre Winchester Carbine being test fired. Note the addition of a bipod. MilArt photo archives

A worker at SAL test firing the M1 carbine. MilArt photo archives

A worker at John Inglis Ltd., test firing the M1 carbine. MilArt photo archives

Based on a misapprehension of what the US M1 carbine actually was, the ATDB, at Lt.General McNaughton’s request, initiated Project 27 on 16 October, 1942 to investigate whether it could be developed as a Light or even Medium Machine gun. While it soon realized the error of its ways, 500 M1 carbines, and 150,000 rounds were obtained, and issued for trials by 4th Canadian Armoured Division in May and June 1943. They were issued to 4 Anti-tank Regiment, 4th Canadian Armoured Brigade Workshop and Divisional HQ, as a substitute for both pistols, for those issued side arms, and for other troops’ rifle. The former found it superior to their pistols in terms of range and accuracy; the latter found it more compact and easier to carry in confined spaces than the Lee Enfield. The only criticism was that it had far less stopping power than the Thompson SMG. In the end the M1 carbine was rejected because Lt.General McNaughton saw no requirement for it, and did not want to introduce a new type of ammunition into the supply chain.

No further work was done on SLR development in Canada until late in the War. DND’s views were largely guided by the initial British General Staff belief that semi-automatic rifles were of little utility, given the great increase in the number of machine guns that were being issued. Nonetheless, in April 1944 SAL initiated its own development- as a private venture – in response to a 1943 British specification for a gas-operated SLR with a rotating bolt and using a rimless 7.92 mm round. Design work began in November 1943, with the first pilot being ready for trials in June 1944. It used a dropping bolt locking mechanism similar to the Bren. To work properly this required very heavy parts and the design was declared obsolescent in January 1945. Its redesign was begun in March 1945 and test shot in May.

First model SAL semi-automatic rifle. MilArt photo archives

The SAL 7.92mm rifle was 45 inches long (115 cm), with two-piece wood furniture, a blade foresight with wind guard and peep type back sights, and a flash eliminator. It had a 10 round charger-fed magazine but could take a 20 round box magazine. It took the No.5 bayonet. Muzzle velocity was 2,500 f/s (750 m/s). MilArt photo archives

Test firing SAL’s 7.92-mm self-loading rifle. MilArt photo archives

Test firing SAL’s 7.92-mm self-loading rifle. MilArt photo archives

The revised SLR had a forward locking bolt, and while considerably lighter was deemed too complex and delicate. A more robust version was developed with a threaded sleeve and – to give a more positive firing mechanism – hammer firing. This version was test-fired in August 1945. By December, the EX1, as it came to be designated, had successfully fired 800 rounds, and DND became seriously interested in the weapon – particularly as British efforts at designing a 7.92mm SLR were meeting with little success – tending to jam when firing British made ammunition.

The EX1 before work was switched to a design based on the .30 calibre T65 round. MilArt photo archives

The EX1 before work was switched to a design based on the .30 calibre T65 round. MilArt photo archives

The Director of Artillery recommended that further development be funded. SAL set about refining the design to reduce its loaded weight from 10 lbs. to 9 lbs. (from 4.5 to 4 kg), and to simplify manufacture, assembly and stripping the weapon. SAL expected to begin work on the pilot in January 1946 and have it ready by April. Soon thereafter the British changed their requirement to conform to the US T65 .30-06 round. While Small Arms Ltd had, by then, been wound up, the ATDB agreed, in July 1946, to fund work at Canadian Arsenals on a revised design, the EX2, which would not only accommodate the T65 round but further reduce weight – the goal being 7 lbs. (3.2 kg). The possibility of selective fire was also to be examined. Work on this weapon continued into 1950 – eventually, of course, it was the FN, firing 7.62 NATO that was selected.

Canadian Arsenals Ltd. EX2 prototype automatic rifle, chambered to the US T65 .30-06 round. MilArt photo archives

Canadian Arsenals Ltd. EX2 prototype automatic rifle, chambered to the US T65 .30-06 round. MilArt photo archives

SAL0011SAL0012

The twin triggers indicate that this is the selective fire version that CAL investigated. MilArt photo archives

A variant of the selective fire version that CAL investigated. MilArt photo archives

A lightweight version of CAL's EX2. MilArt photo archives

A lightweight version of CAL’s EX2. MilArt photo archives


Notes

[1] For more information on the role of the ATDB in funding the development of new equipment see Secret Weapons of the Canadian Army, Service Publications 2006.

Bibliography

Lucy, R,V., Secret Weapons of the Canadian Army, Service Publications, Ottawa, 2006

Directorate of History and Heritage (DHH)

115.41013 (D17) Project 18 Self‑loading rifle

115.41013 (D65) Project 66 Lightened Rifle

Library and Archives Canada RG 24 Series C‑3

Reel C‑8386 file 8928‑11‑18 , Army Technical Development Board ‑ Project No. 18 ‑ Self‑loading rifle

Reel C‑8388, file 8928‑11‑66 Army Technical Development Board ‑ Project No. 66 ‑ Lightened rifles

Reel C‑8389, file 8928‑11‑907 ‑ Army Technical Development Board ‑ Project No. 907 ‑ Improved machine carbine

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From → Small Arms

One Comment
  1. Terry permalink

    A Canadian rifle cartridge Self Loading Rifle – never knew we’d done that!

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