In 1703, the British East India Company was given permission by the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb and the Emperor’s son, the Emperor Muhammed Shah Alam, to build a factory on the outskirts of Delhi. This factory, called the “Empowerment of Manufactures” was the first foreign-owned factory to be built in India and was built with the intention of producing weapons for the Mughal army. One of the first products to be manufactured at the factory, named the “EM-2 Rifle” after its founder Colonel William Hall, was a large-caliber rifle that was made in a variety of calibers including .577 caliber, 7x57mm, and .577.22mm.
The British EM-2 rifle was a short magazine-fed, gas-operated machine-gun, adopted by the British Army in 1915, produced in large numbers during World War I, and also used by the United States Army when it entered World War I. It was an adaptation of the Maxim gun produced by Maxim’s Patent Firearms , a British gunsmithing firm in the city of Small Heath. During World War I, it was produced by the firm of Birmingham Small Arms Company , Ltd., which was owned by John C. Garand, who had been trained as a machinist by the company.
It is known as the EM-2 because it was also manufactured by the firm of Enfield and Company in England. The EM-2 is also known as the “Enfield” rifle and was the British army’s first self-loading rifle to enter mass production. The rifle which was also manufactured in Austria, Brazil, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland, and the United States, was the brainchild of Captain John T. Thompson, who had been employed as an instructor in the British army.The EM-2 rifle, which has a certain mythological status in British firearms history, was designed in the late 1940s by Kazimierz-Stephan Januszewski, a Polish immigrant who worked for a British arms development company. (Januszewski, who became a naturalized British citizen after World War II, officially changed his name to Stephen Kenneth Janson in 1950). The weapon he created contains modern elements that together break the mold of the standard service rifle. The bullpup design allowed the trigger to be placed behind the trigger, while still keeping the barrel at full length and reducing the overall length of the gun. The rectilinear design between the barrel and the stock was ideally suited to controlling the recoil of automatic fire. The viewer was part of the standard equipment. The .280 Enfield cartridge offered decent performance at real combat distances of 300 to 400 yards.
In 1951, the EM-2-7mm No.9 automatic rifle was officially introduced in the United Kingdom as a new service rifle, replacing the Lee-Enfield No.4 rifle. However, only 50 EM-2s were produced before British Prime Minister Winston Churchill stopped production, in part because the United States rejected the .280 cartridge to standardize NATO forces on a single cartridge, and because it believed that a fully automatic rifle would lead to excessive ammunition consumption. Finally, the next British rifle is the FN FAL, a semi-automatic rifle in 7.62×51mm NATO caliber, known in British service as the L1A1.
Even today, some consider the EM-2 one of the best weapons of the early postwar era, attributing its failure to politics rather than futuristic design. It was certainly good, but not perfect – it had a bad trigger, and there were other, perhaps better, assault rifles. Given the later characteristics of the remarkable FN FAL, Churchill may well have made the right decision. MHQ
Chris McNab is a military historian living in the United Kingdom. His latest book is The M4 Carbine (Osprey Publishing, 2023).
This article appeared in the Spring 2023 issue (Vol. 33, No. 3) of MHQ-The Quarterly Journal of Military History with the title: Armament control EM-2
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