The British Thorpe E.M.1 Automatic Rifle

By Jonathan Ferguson, Armament Research Services (ARES)


When the Second World War broke out in 1939, the standard British service rifle was still the rifle, Short, Magazine, Lee-Enfield (SMLE), by that time known simply as “Rifle, No.1.” A successor had already been adopted and put into mass-production but this, the No.4 rifle, was simply a re-engineered SMLE; still chambered for the outdated rimmed .303 cartridge and still a manually operated firearm. Surprisingly, self-loading rifles had been trialled soon after the turn of the century, culminating in the adoption (but not the issue) of the Rifle, Self-Loading, Pattern 1918. This weapon was intended for use by aircrew; a relic of the early war in the air. However, in 1940, a new future rifle specification was issued by the British War Office, specifying a weapon of SMLE (i.e., relatively short for the period) with overall length, a 22- to 24-inch barrel, a maximum weight of 10 pounds, semi-automatic-only operation by means of either gas or recoil, a bayonet similar to the No.4 pattern and—perhaps most interestingly—a calibre of 7.92mm.

By contrast, post-war Britain was determined to replace its full-power service rifle, submachine gun and light machine gun with one universal weapon or family of weapons in an intermediate calibre and capable of automatic fire. This was partially realised with the introduction of the Enfield Weapon System/SA80 in 1985. However, the ambition originated with the Small Arms Calibre Panel of 1945, which decided upon a new “ideal calibre” cartridge of the following specifications:

Calibre—.27 in
Bullet weight—130 grains
Bullet length—1.03 inches
Charge weight—19.1 grains
“Round length”—1.5 to 1.8 ratio

This new round would become the .280 Enfield, which was eventually (albeit briefly) adopted as the “7mm Mk.1Z.” The next step, logically enough, was to agree to a new War Office specification (which became WOPS No.9, issued in September 1947) for a new universal “Infantry Personal Weapon,” intended for use out to 600m, as opposed to the 1000m of prior doctrine. At this time, three new weapons were already under development, all of which were developed further, to a greater or lesser extent,...

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V23N1 (January 2019)
and was posted online on November 16, 2018


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