The American FAL that could have been
Springfield Armory was the nation’s clearing house for rifle designs dating from approving the contracted Model 1795 muskets, through the famous Trapdoor Springfield breechloader to the M1903 (which was more or less an unlicensed copy of the Mauser bolt gun) to the M1 Garand of the 1930s and dozens of prototypes and other rifles in between.
Their last design project to be adopted, the T44 rifle, became the M14, but the route that it took to get there was very complicated.
Competing against theT25/47 design of Earle Harvey (of Springfield Armory), was Garand’s own T20 design tweaked by Springfield’s Lloyd Corbett into the T44.
Soon, the T25/47 was dropped by the wayside and the T65 .30 light rifle cartridge (7.62x51mm) became the choice of the Army moving forward and the T44 would be the gun to use it.
The thing is, the European part of NATO had fallen in love with the Belgian-made FN FAL rifle and it looked like just about everyone except the French and Italians were going to adopt it. In short, a gentleman’s agreement was made in which Europe would adopt the U.S. Army’s T65 7.62x51mm round as the NATO standard, and the U.S. would pick the FN FAL to replace the M1 Garand, M3 Grease gun and M1918 BAR light machine gun.
With that, the Army duly ordered 3,103 7.62x51mm-chambered FAL rifles from Fabrique Nationale d’Armes de Guerre in 1952 and they were imported into the U.S. from Herstal over the next two years.
These rifles, classified as “Rifle, Cal.30 T48 FN” by the Army, were 21-inch four-groove, right-hand twist barrels that taped out to 47.25-inches overall. In addition, a small quantity (200) of FAL Heavy Barrel Rifles (HBAR) with bipods were ordered– which were classified as the T48E1.
All were the standard lightweight, air-cooled, gas-operated, magazine-fed (20-round detachable) design. Though primarily intended for semiautomatic fire, they were select-fire and could stitch it up at a 600rpm cyclic for as long as the ammo held out.
Weight of the standard rifle was 9.43 lbs. empty and 10.2 lbs. with an attached muzzle-mounted rifle grenade launcher for NATO standard M29 (T42) grenades. The heavier T48E1/HBAR, with its hinged butt plate, went 12.43 lbs unloaded, and was intended to be used as a SAW or sorts.
In Jan. 1954, Harrington & Richardson Arms Company, Worcester, Ma, was awarded a contract “for the production of 500 T48 F.N. (Fabrique Nationale) Infantry Rifles required the expansion of activities in the Hand Arms & Equipment Unit. This action was necessary to prepare Ordnance drawings and provide manufacturing information and technical data to the Boston Ordnance District for use in administering the contract.”
H&R company officials visited the Canadian FAL works to observe their operations before they made their limited run.
High Standard Mfg. Co., Hamden, Ct. at the same time made 12 guns, serialed #HS1-#HS12.
This means a total of about 3,815 U.S. and Belgian-made T48s were delivered to the Army between 1952-55.
These guns were evaluated in field tests at Fort Benning, in the Arctic, and the desert.
One of the problems was that the original FAL was crap in the desert (which the Israelis found out in their campaign in 1967, leading to the local design and production of the AK/Valmet-based Galil), and another was that it had suffered “early and violent extraction, violent ejection, and broken parts” during testing in the frozen north– though in the end the rifle was determined to be fit for arctic use.
Besides this, the T44 was a tad lighter, had fewer components, and was all-American rather than Belgian, which in the end (IMHO) was the chief reason it was adopted in 1957 as the M14.
This left the American FAL’s out in the cold and they have largely been scrapped over the years.
Springfield Armory has no less than 58 T48 rifles listed in their collection including 28 made by H&R, 5 of the extremely rare High Standard models and 25 assorted Belgian rifles from FN itself, all transferred to the museum between 1959-65 at a value of $150-250 each (the Springfield Armory price for M14s was $155.98 at the time).
Lucky FN-made T48 SN#13 is on public display with alongside the M14 and T44 (T65E3) SN# 1 with the following exhibit label:
“T48 – Despite American problems with the FN the British adopted the weapon over their own design increasing the pressure in the United States to conform. The Army contracted the High Standard Company of New Haven to produce an American version of the FN, designated the T48.”
Other guns are in private collections, public museums and the like, with at least one, H&R SN#4142, in the National Firearms Museum.
Also, the Marine depot at Quantico as of 2008 had some 70 remaining H&R T48s, as noted in an extensive post here at FAL Files.com
After all, if anyone can appreciate a really nice select-fire 7.62x51mm battle rifle, it’s the USMC.