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British infantry small arms

  • Thread starter Thread starter RetiredBrit
  • Start date Start date


Some interesting points made in this forum, and with respect, a lot of nonsense talked too. If I may, I will make some general points about small arms in the British infantry prior to the introduction of the SA80 family of weapons and a bit about the future.
As many of you pointed out, the SA80 was the ultimate development of the bullpup concept that started life as the EM-2 in the 1940s, led to the experimental 4.85mm IW in the late 70s and finally to the delayed introduction of the SA80 in the late 80s/early 90s. The 7.62 mm SLR, which I started life with, was a good rifle with fairly primitive iron sights. Carrying more than four or five mags was hard work with the old 58 webbing especially as you had to carry a belt of ‘link‘ for the GPMG gunner or 30 round magazines for the old LMG (rechambered Bren) which lingered in service with some home defence units/Corps until the late 80s. The Sterling SMG (Not Stirling as some guy here has it) was a simple blow-back 9mm weapon based on the old wartime Sten, originally titled the Patchett and used experimentally during the Battle of Arnhem in 1944. Except in close quarters in the automatic mode it was regarded as a waste of time.
Incidentally, the one issue that genuinely improved the performance of the SLR was a sight called the SUIT, sight, unit, infantry, trilux - which is best described a primitive SUSAT - the scope fitted to the infantry versions of the SA80. That really did improve shooting with the old SLR - she was a sturdy, reliable old girl with a very well made 9 inch bayonet.
I first saw the SA80 in 1988 and fired it, in iron sights mode. I don‘t remember being very impressed and it gave the appearance of something a bit cheap and nasty. By the time my unit got it a few years later, a lot of problems had been ironed out, chief among these, the magazine release catch, the top-cover, and the locking pins - and the weapon drills themselves. The weapon is held together by a series of locking pins made out of hardened steel. While on a course at the School of Infantry in Warminster, I remember a WO2 from the Small Arms Corps (**** and Shovel Corps) telling us that the manufacturer Royal Ordnance had decided to make the first production batch of rifles with the locking bolts made from mild steel. This problem came to light when squaddies‘s weapons would fall apart if they fell out the back of a four tonner. So the Small Arms Corps had said, "Oi, C*****s, put the hardened pins back!"
I must have fired about seven or eight hundred rounds during the conversion packaage down in the range complexes at Lydd and Hythe in Kent - whose ranges date back to Elizabethean times. The SA80 performed well with hardly any stoppages, it was accurate and you could carry far more of the 5.56 mm ammunition. Over the next few years, I carried the weapon in difficult and demanding environments where it generally performed well, both in live firing and blank firing mode. More modifications were made and our REME fitters gradually got the problems sorted, lots of better quality plastic was used, steel plates inserted in the butt plate and so forth. It was never Gucci but it was far from the ‘dog‘ it was made out to be. The real problem was the LSW, the light support weapon. Infantrymen from the 80s or before never really understood it, we had been used to working with the awesome firepower of the 7.62mm GPMGs ‘gimpies‘. Even at platoon level we could lay down serious volumes of fire. The GPMG was retained in the SF ‘sustained fire‘ role in Support Company. Ironically, the GPMG is a bit light for SF, a role better adopted by the Browning .50. Each platoon now had three sections split into two fire teams each with an LSW. They were basically heavy barrelled SA80s with a bipod and the same size mag. A crap weapon in the LMG role but a good weapon up to 800m with sniper like firing qualities. Incidentally, the SA80 was a far better weapon in FIBUA (Fighting in built-up areas) due to its short size and full automatic capability. In the final analysis, the SA80 was OK, to those who used it, it always felt a better weapon than its armchair critics made out. I can‘t speak of its performance in the desert except to say it was built to be used in Europe like most of our kit. The Minimi is now being brought into the British infantry at fire team level and the new orbat will be one SA80 rifleman, one LSW, one LMG and one SA80 with 40mm grenade launcher. That works for me. The SA80/LSW has now been upgraded to A-2 standard with new barrels, magazines, cocking handles etc and by all accounts is a good bit of kit. I don‘t know I never used it - I can only comment on personal experience. The problem with the SA80 debate is that a lot of people - who know nothing of the weapon - decided to talk bollocks about it. A Happy New Year to our Canadian mates - all the best for 2004.
Hey RetiredBrit.

Thanks for input on SA-80 from someone who used it. Its very hard to people here in Canada or the US who like it or give any credit, so its good to know its getting better.

I have a few questions for you can you tell me more of how tactics and sections were laid out back in the day of SLR, Bren and MAG? I‘ve been searching the internet and library on how the platoon was set up for cold war.

Interesting, Sir - thanks for the info!

The problem with the SA80 debate is that a lot of people - who know nothing of the weapon - decided to talk bollocks about it.
We have experts here on everything you could imagine - the Marine Corps, psyops, JTF2, Israeli tanks, SEALs, how to jump from airplanes, the best hard rations in the former Rhodesian SAS....you name it..... ;)
I see the topic has been moved to ‘foreign‘ militaries! And there‘s me thinking we shared the same Queen! Never mind...
The last quote about experts made me chuckle too - we call them ‘armchair generals‘ - who have been in and out of their upholstery quite a bit since 9/11.
To the chap who asked about Cold War orbats (order of battle) and section and platoon tactics, that‘s an interesting question. Section battle drills altered little in the British Army between the late 30s and late 80s. The organisation of a rifle section was a two man gun group who had the LMG and a six man rifle group. The LMG, or Bren Gun was rechambered to the NATO 7.62 round in the 50s and was replaced in the infantry by the GPMG (General Purpose Machine Gun). This saw infantry service as far back as the 1960s but the LMG was always around the place and the last weren‘t struck off service with the Territorial Army until the mid 1990s I believe.
The rifle platoon organisation changed with the introduction of the SA80. Going by memory, up until the mid-80s the typical rifle platoon was three sections of 8 plus a platoon HQ of four. Platoon HQ was Pl Cmdr, Pl Sgt, Pl Signaller and runner who doubled up as the 2 inch mortar man. The composition of a section depended on the role of the battalion whether it was light role or 432 mounted. NATO battalions, ie armoured infantry would have had an orbat of sect cmdr,one x 84mm Carl Gustav, four rfn and the gun group of one gunner and a no2 , perhaps with the section 2 i/c attached to create a five man rifle group and three man gun group. You couldn‘t take the 84mm into an offensive battle so that format was very much for sitting in trenches on the West German plains waiting for the Russians to come.
In the light role, it was simpler, it was a rifle team of 5/6 and a gun team of 2/3. By the mid 80s some units were using four man fire teams and I understand the Marines and Paras had experimented with them.
The smallest tactical unit to operate on the streets of Ulster was the four man ‘brick‘, four of which formed a ‘multiple‘. The Falklands War and experience on the streets of Northern Ireland gradually led to the fire team concept becoming part of mainstream military thinking.It even affected fire trenches from the traditional two man fire trench I dug on Salisbury Plain to the modern four man trench. There is far less conventional battlefield training dome these days I believe as the emphasis is on speed and mobility. I remember one old boy with the MC saying to me at a dinner, a veteran of the last war, saying "Do you still have rifles and machine guns?" "Yes sir, we still do..."
For all the changes it came down to lads with rifles and bayonets. Still does.
Well, this is a Canadian army forum :D

I‘m the guy who misspelled "Sterling". Apologies for that.

As for the criticsim against the SA80 and it‘s subsequent variants. I‘ll be cautious here. There are far too many accounts of those failings, including the investigation by the British government in 1995 and the subsequent awarding of a £80 Million contract to H&K which they fulfilled in 1998. As of now, the new variant is greatly improved according to testing.


Here‘s a link to start. Bottom line, it was a nice concept, but proved to be a range queen. And the costs to get her working have been extensive. The LSW wasn‘t exactly a step in the right direction either. The FN ‘Minimi‘ was. Which explains why that firearm is becoming premiere in so many nations armouries. As for field stripping the Enfield, still not as easy as many others (take your pick, the list isn‘t small).

As for FIBUA, a US M4 or a C8 works fine also.

Maybe the Enfield was a bit before her time?
My intention was simply to give you my impression of the weapon which is far from unfavourable in a European context. The weapon, as I understand it, really let itself down under extremes of weather ie the heat of the desert conditions or the freezing cold. But none of our kit was made for extremes, it was made for Europe!! The British Army still does not have, from chaps I know still serving, sufficient war stock for the desert. I suppose in the final analysis, you can beg, steal and borrow kit but not your personal weapon. Incidentally, the fact panel on that BBC report was probably compiled by some longhair who‘s never seen a toy popgun let alone a service rifle it‘s just plain wrong, to wit...

300,000 used by British Army - wrong, the Army, including reserves would be hard pushed to put 150,000 in the field.
Effective range 500m - wrong, 300m battle range, as a section weapon, upto 600m
Used since 1985 - wrong, entered service with the infantry between 1987 and 91, delayed due to problems
First faults reported in 1991 - nonsense, first problems reported with cadet version and later the full service rifle in late 80s

Perhaps we should have stuck by the old .303!!
I don‘t mean to come across as confrontational. but aside from the contentious stats, the fact remains that many have complained about the serviceability of the rifle over the years, H&K were given a ton of cash to fix something that should have functioned properly in the beginning and saying a rifle was developed for one environment is a poor argument. You don‘t always have the luxury of choosing your continents and last time I checked. Europe, especially Eastern and Northern Europe can get quite cold in the winter. As for heat, talk to the French about their past summer. Not to mention the Med, the middle east or northern Africa.

I‘m curious about the rifle, but seems that it‘s a lemon. Or maybe I should say, was. If the fixes have brought her up to speed, that‘s good for the guys who are using it. You‘re right though, the SLR, Sterling and even the old .303 Enfield were excellent firearms. But the Enfield? Think I‘ll take my old C7 thanks.

It‘s just how it happens. I‘m not saying we‘re infallible by any means, ever hear of the Bricklin? :D
Here is a great site that tons of info on SA-80 and how Brits actually feel about. Its a British forum so it stands to reason they have more knowledge on SA-80. I think the H&K improvemant have made it a good a AR; I‘ld still take the C-7 over it, but its crap.


Here the link to direct topic.