Osprey author Leigh Neville this week examines the iconic Belgian designed L1A1 Self Loading Rifle, better known simply as the SLR by ANZAC forces in Vietnam as featured in King & Country’s Vietnam ANZACs range.
The SLR replaced the equally iconic “303” or Lee Enfield SMLE No.1 MkIII chambered for the .303 cartridge also used in the Bren LMG and the Vickers MMG. The SLR came into Australian service after the Korean War in 1959, the SLR being for all intents and purposes (including its eventual designation) a copy of the British L1A1. Both rifles were semi-automatic variants of the Belgian Fabrique Nationale designed FAL which offered selective fire.
Interestingly both the Brits and Aussies saw a full auto setting on a large calibre (7.62x51mm) battle rifle as being rather a waste of ammunition and barrels as accuracy was quickly lost due to the meaty recoil of the weapon. Full automatic fire was supposed to be provided by an automatic rifle variant, the L2A1, although in reality this role was fulfilled by the American M60 MMG with Australian forces in Vietnam.
One Australian unit, the Special Air Service Regiment or SASR, did use the L2A1 along with modified L1A1s, chopping barrels down and converting the L1A1s to full auto for use by their patrol scouts. The thinking was that, operating in small five man teams, the SASR patrols did not want to get into a firefight with a larger sized enemy force and thus wanted to break contact as quickly as possible. The full auto L1A1s and A2s provided an impressive amount of noise, often fooling the opposition into thinking they had run into a much larger Australian force and allowing the SASR patrols to safely break contact and escape.
The rifle was generally liked by Diggers who appreciated its reliability and penetrative capabilities although perhaps not its weight (almost 4.5 kilograms unloaded). The SLR served right up into the 1990s, although as noted in an earlier article, it had been supplemented by the 5.56x45mm M16A1 in the infantry section. The L1A1 was eventually retired from 1988 as the 5.56x45mm F88 Steyr was brought into service. Heated arguments still rage in corners of the internet on the pros and cons of the 7.62x51mm versus the 5.56x45mm although the latter has become a very reliable and lethal round in its own right.
The L1A1 is carried by a number of miniatures within King & Country’s ANZACs range including;