The EM-2 rifle, which occupies a somewhat mythological status in the history of British firearms design, was created in the late 1940s by Kazimierz-Stefan Januszewski, a Polish immigrant working for Britain’s Armament Design Establishment. (Januszewski, who’d become a naturalized British citizen after World War II, officially changed his name to Stefan Kenneth Janson in 1950.) The weapon he produced included modern features that taken together broke the mold for a standard service rifle. Its bullpup design set the action behind the trigger, retaining a full-length barrel while reducing the rifle’s overall length, and its straight-line design between barrel and stock was perfect for recoil control when firing on full-automatic setting. An optical sight was standard. Its cartridge, the .280 Enfield, gave respectable performance over realistic combat ranges of 300 to 400 yards.
In 1951 Britain officially adopted the EM-2—7mm Rifle, Automatic, No. 9—as its new service rifle, replacing the bolt-action Lee-Enfield No. 4. Yet only 50 EM-2s were manufactured before British prime minister Winston Churchill canceled production, partly because the United States had rejected the .280 round during efforts to standardize NATO forces to a single cartridge but also out of his own belief that a fully automatic rifle would lead to excessive ammunition consumption. Ultimately, the next British rifle would be the semiauto-only 7.62×51mm NATO FN FAL, designated the L1A1 in British service.
To this day some see the EM-2 as one of the finest weapons of the early postwar era, attributing its failure more to politics than to its futuristic design. It was certainly good, but it wasn’t perfect—it had a poor trigger, and other, arguably better assault rifles were available. Given the subsequent performance of the redoubtable FN FAL, Churchill may have made the right decision. MHQ
Chris McNab is a military historian based in the United Kingdom. His most recent book is The M4 Carbine (Osprey Publishing, 2021).
This article appears in the Spring 2021 issue (Vol. 33, No. 3) of MHQ—The Quarterly Journal of Military History with the headline: Weapons Check | EM-2
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