The British Army Almost Got a Bullpup Rifle Back in the Early 1950s
Politics killed off the early, compact designs
by MATTHEW MOSS
By late 1947 the British Army’s Armaments Design Department had designed three principal rifles for the Infantry Personal Weapon program. The new rifles got their official designations in January 1948.
The three designs shared one common design feature — they all featured the bullpup configuration, with the action behind the trigger. This layout produced a compact weapon ideally suited to close-quarters combat.
Hall began developing his rifle in 1944 as a response to problems he encountered during a small-arms course at the Royal Military College of Science at Shrivenham. He patented his bullpup design in February 1945.
Hall’s rifle was semi-automatic only and used an interesting vertically-sliding block to lock the rifle’s breech. He meant the weapon to fire a rimless .303-caliber round — although, in practice, the rifle was compatible with a range of cartridges. Hall’s EM-3 bullpup fed from a 10-round, detachable box magazine similar in dimensions to that of the Lee-Enfield’s.
In the late spring of 1945, Hall returned to Australia, leaving his drawings and specifications with the Armaments Design Department. In April, shortly before returning to Great Britain, Hall wrote to Brig. J.A. Barlow — one of the British Army’s leading small-arms experts and later Director of Artillery (Small Arms) — asking to be notified in the event the army decided to further develop his rifle.
In the letter, Hall enthusiastically espoused the benefits of the bullpup layout. “Should my suggested mechanism be rejected, there are other points about the design which might well work in very successfully with current small arms projects such as CEAD’s S/L Rifle and Burney’s development [sometimes referred to as the EM-4],” Hall wrote.
“I refer in particular to the disposition and relationship of both magazine and chamber and to the decided advantages gained in respect to the ratio between the barrel and overall length.”
Perhaps the most interesting characteristics of Hall’s EM-3 rifle were its action and its method of ejection. The action was completely enclosed and cycled vertically at the same time that spent cases ejected to the rear, over the operator’s shoulder. This meant that the rifle was both right- and left-handed.
The EM-3 was gas-operated, its piston linked by a connecting rod acting on a vertically-sliding breech block. The same action also actuated a transporter that extracted spent cases and ejected them out of the rear, picking up a new round as it returned forward. The cocking handle was on the underside of the weapon just behind the pistol grip.
Only a single wooden mockup of Hall’s bullpup was ever built. There were no functioning prototypes. It was “unlikely that EM-3 will be developed in the required time,” the army explained in rejecting the weapon.
As development of the various Infantry Personal Weapon designs ramped up, the shortage of technical staff became acute and, in September 1947, the army redistributed the program’s staff to other projects. Some work continued on Thorpe’s EM-1 and Januszewski’s EM-2, both chambered in the .280-caliber British intermediate round.
The EM-1 began testing in December 1949, but the army eventually dropped it in favor of the EM-2 owing to problems with the new stamping techniques used to manufacture the former weapon.
The British Army selected the EM-2 in April 1951, but international politics intervened. European countries pushed for a standard weapon, ultimately selecting the FN FAL. The EM-2 followed Hall’s EM-3 into obscurity.