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British infantry small arms

  • Thread starter RetiredBrit
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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.

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