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EM2 Rifle: Britain vs. America Round 3

Years ago, when I was still an assistant curator, I gave a vault tour to the Outdoor Channel’s Gun Stories production crew. When I opened one of the vault doors, they got incredibly excited to see a firearm about which I knew very little — a firearm that’s rare in the United States and one that has developed a cult following — the British EM2 Rifle. 

This selective-fire bullpup rifle went head to head during the NATO Trials (1950s) with the guns that would become the U.S. M14 and the FN FAL. While I’ve discussed the unique technological developments that stemmed from this time period in previous articles, especially in terms of experiments with actual space age materials and concepts, one thing I haven’t touched on was the impact of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). 

In 1949, NATO was established by the U.S., Canada, and other European countries. The goal was to create a transatlantic security alliance to protect against the Soviet Union. This agreement was intended as a reciprocal one in which economically stable countries could help reinvigorate others destroyed by World War II and in turn create a united front to protect the world from encroaching communism. 

EM2 Rifle

While I won’t get into all the nitty-gritty details and arguments about the pros and cons of the agreement, I will confirm that it influenced the adoption of military technology across the allied countries. As a result, some technological inventions during this time frame were tested, but many were tested in search of standardizing rifles and cartridges.

Several of these inventions were created to meet a need for the government, such as the .280 intermediate cartridge — the caliber in most EM2 type rifles — but not widely adopted. While the EM2 type rifles have developed quite a following as an infallible firearm and caliber combo and therefore was purely eliminated due to NATO and American bias against their cartridge, it wasn’t without fault. 

This article will explore a bit of the EM2 type history. However, the entire history with a detailed summation of the technology, accoutrements, trials, as well as success and failures behind these bullpups will be published in a book by Jonathan S. Ferguson, Keeper of Firearms and Artillery for the Royal Armouries in Leeds, so I won’t spoil all the fantastic details. I’m grateful though that Ferguson provided me a preview into this fascinating history — one that is full of what ifs, colloquial perception, and politics. 

Try Spelling that Name on a Starbucks Cup

Kazimierz Stefan Januszewski, a Polish immigrant, was a prisoner of war in Hungary who escaped to Britain by way of Italy and France. There’s speculation on his career in Poland; he was a part of the Polish Army and some believe worked in the Radom Factory before 1939. Once in England, he played a pivotal role in the design of weaponry technology for the military. 

EM2 Rifle

Januszewski became a British citizen in 1947. He was a commissioned officer in Poland during the war and retained his rank as Captain in England. In 1950, he changed his name to Stefan Kenneth Janson, which was probably a smart move because no one in the history of America’s Ellis Island was going to spell that name correctly. He worked in Britain in the Armament Design Establishment until he left for the U.S. in 1953 to work for Winchester, notably for the U.S. Government’s Project SALVO. 

During his time with Winchester, where he’d finish out his career and retire in 1974, he served as the Head of Engineering of the Arms Research and Development Department and ultimately Director of Arms Product Research. He oversaw the production of many civilian arms as well, including the Winchester Models 190, 255, 1200, and 1400 firearms. 

However, you didn’t come here to read about the commercial shotguns he made for Winchester. Most people are a little more interested in his work with Britain’s Infantry Personal Weapon Program — which would lead to his development of the EM2 rifle. 

EM2 Type Rifle Program

While bullpups had been around for a while, the EM2 was one of the first bullpup service rifles adopted by any nation, albeit temporarily. It did receive a military designation following acceptance by the Brits and was known as: Rifle, 7mm, No.9 MK.1. 

EM2 type rifles weren’t widely adopted by other NATO members, and the 7.62 NATO cartridge ultimately won out with the adoption of an FN FAL variant in the UK (the L1A1 Rifle, Self Loading), and the M14 in the U.S. 

The Unit sight: a 1x optic with an etched reticle. It was unusual to see an optic mounted to a standard infantry rifle until the 1980s, so, in this way, the EM2 was ahead of its time. 

Many fans of the EM2 believe purely American politics are to blame for the rejection of the rifle. While the U.S. and the adoption of the NATO cartridge did play a role, it was in large part Winston Churchill’s decision to ax it. In fact, Ferguson’s research shows that the reasons for leaving the EM2 type rifles behind in history is far more nuanced than some realize. While the firearm did well in testing, in fact better in some trials than the FAL, it had pragmatic and practical issues. 

Now, I keep writing “EM2 type rifles” and that’s because it’s more of a colloquialism for a series of similar rifles used in testing. The name was used in early prototypes, so it stuck. The predecessors to the EM2 were multiple EM-1s, including the Korsac and Thorpe design. Although, Janson’s first prototype, code named MAMBA, was introduced on May 27, 1947, at the same time as Thorpe’s EM-1. 

There were many similarities between these prototypes. They were bullpups, meaning the pistol grip and magazine is forward of the action, which in turn makes the firearm shorter and lighter. Several were also equipped with similar magazines and an ahead-of-its-time Unit optic sight.

Janson worked on Korsac’s EM-1 and, in 1947, under the Infantry Personal Weapon Program, led a team using Korsac’s EM-1 to base his EM2 rifle. He eventually received two patents — 2,775,166 and 2,935,915 — and chambered the firearm in .280 — England’s contender in the fight for a standardized NATO cartridge. In 1949, the EM2 was pitted against the Fabrique Nationale Herstal Carabine Universell and the Birmington Small Arm’s Company’s prototypes. They were all chambered for the .280. They were tested against the M1 Garand as a control. During this testing, the EM2 did encounter stoppages, but not as many as the BSA and M1 Garand.

EM2 Rifle bayonette

In the U.S. Trial of February 1950, the EM2 was tested against FN and the American T-25, which was chambered in .30 Lightweight rifle. The EM2 did receive criticism, including that it couldn’t be fired from the left shoulder and the trigger heated to the point of causing blistering. In the end, the EM2 and the T-25 were declared to require significant improvements. While the EM2’s story was over in America, trials continued back in England. While briefly adopted, it was quickly overturned by Churchill. In the end, the EM2 was a good rifle. It, like the other trials guns, needed modifications but had it been adopted, cost could’ve been a prohibitive factor. It’s estimated that only five EM2s could be made for the same cost as six FALs, which adds up. Additionally, the U.S. wasn’t backing down on caliber. Despite the fact that some EM2 rifles diverted from the .280 norm and were actually chambered in 7.62 NATO, ultimately good ole Churchill was just a much bigger fan of the FAL. In fact, an engraved presentation piece made for him sits in the Imperial War Museum today. 

An EM2 Type Rifle in America

As I mentioned in the introduction, the Cody Firearms Museum has one of these EM2 type rifles from the Winchester collection. This firearm is a “Rifle, 30 inch, X2E1’ chambered in 7.62x51mm.” It was a part of a series built at RSAF Enfield, probably in the latter half of 1951. It’s serial number EN109. According to Ferguson, the rifle was gifted in May of 1960. While it’s conceivable that Janson was involved in the gifting process, it cannot be confirmed. 

It never ceases to amaze me that, to most of the world, Winchester is the quintessential Western brand, thanks in part to Winchester’s marketing campaign after World War I. Yet somehow no matter what I study and where I go, it seems all roads lead back to Winchester — even something as British as a bullpup. 

[Editor's Note: Photography Courtesy of the Cody Firearms Museum. This Article First Appeared in RECOIL #56.]

EM2 Rifle
Did you know that the British don’t actually use the term bullpup? They used the term buttless rifle. Above you can see a bayonet mounted to this EM2, however, it also accepted a grenade launcher as an attachment. 

EM2 Type Rifle (X2E1)

Make: Royal Small Arms Factory
Barrel length: 26 inches
Overall length: 35 inches
Weight: 7.7 pounds
Caliber: 7.62x51mm
Action: Gas-operated; Flapper Locked
Mag capacity: 20 rounds
Rate of Fire: 450-600 rounds/min.

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