|Made in the traditional manner
using machined steel forgings and a wood stock, the Fabrique Nationale
(FN) Model 1949 self-loading rifle was one of the last elegant, old-world
military rifles. Arguably the best self-loading rifle design of its era,
production was delayed first by World War II and, later, by post-war events.
By the time the FN-49-also known as the SAFN (Semi-Automatique Fabrique
Nationale)-finally entered production in 1949, it was already becoming
obsolete and was soon overtaken by a later generation of military rifles.
Founded in 1889 to build military rifles for the Belgian army, FN started producing Model 1889 Mausers for Belgium in 1891. It soon expanded its Mauser line with the Model 1893 that was exported to Brazil and Costa Rica among other countries. In 1896, Germany's Ludwig Loewe consortium bought majority ownership in FN to restrict its Mauser exports. In order to survive, FN's management diversified and expanded into sporting arms, bicycles, motorcycles and automobiles. A chance meeting with John Browning in 1897 literally saved the firm. Soon after, FN produced Browning's first pistol, the Model 1899. Through the years, FN produced many other Browning designs, and the conclusion of the Great War ended German majority stock ownership.
The Belgian firm's efforts to develop a military self-loading rifle began with the little-known Model 1914 experimental rifle, but work on the design was not continued after the war. Nearly 20 years passed before FN resumed development of a military self-loader. Dieudonne Saive, who became FN's chief firearms designer after the death of John Browning, worked on several shortrecoil-operated rifle designs between 1932 and 1934.
Saive developed and patented a new gas-operated rifle in 1936, and a prototype
was built the following year. Photographs show the basic characteristics
that would be used in the final FN-49 design: a bolt carrier-actuated,
rear-locking, tilting bolt and a gas system with a full-length piston to
drive the bolt carrier. Before it could be refined, World War II would
In March 1948, the first production order was received from a long-standing FN customer: Venezuela. Before production ended, FN-49 rifles would be sold to at least 26 nations. Most orders were for small quantities of trials rifles, but nine nations placed production orders. Following Venezuela, production orders came from Egypt, Belgium, Luxembourg, Indonesia, the Belgian Congo, Colombia, Argentina and Brazil. The rifle was in production from 1949 until 1956. After a five-year hiatus, a final order was delivered to Indonesia in 1961. In total, more than 176,000 FN-49s were produced.
there are a host of variants of FN-49 rifles. The rifles usually include contract crests
on their receiver rings applied at Fabrique Nationale's Liege factory.
Examples include (I. to r.):
Argentina; Belgium; the Belgian Congo; Columbia; Egypt; Venezuela; Luxembourg; and Indonesia.
The FN-49 was chambered for
seven different cartridges. Five rifles chambered for 6.5x55 mm were sold
to Sweden, a single rifle in 7.5x54 mm was sold to Syria, and a single
rifle in 7.62x51 mm NATO was sold to Brazil. Four chamberings were
used in both trials rifles and for the nine production contracts.
Selecting the .30-'06 Sprg. chambering were Belgium, the Belgian Congo,
Brazil, Colombia, Indonesia and Luxembourg; Argentina selected the 7.65
mm Mauser; Egypt, the 7.92 mm Mauser; and Venezuela, the 7 mm Mauser. Argentina
would later modify its rifles to chamber the 7.62x51 mm cartridge, making
a total of five chamberings that were used in significant quantities.
Numerous changes were phased in over the production life of the rifle, and the best known was to the firing pin. The long, original, one-piece firing pin was prone to breakage, which could then induce slam fires under some conditions, so a two-piece design was adopted to eliminate this problem. The rifle did not fully mature until 1953, after which there were few changes. By the end of production, fully two-thirds of the parts on the FN-49 had more than one configuration, either due to cartridge handling differences or design improvements.
Design changes and customer options created more than 20 variants of the FN-49. The Belgian contract had three variants of the standard rifle that are recognizable by changes to the stock, receiver, receiver cover and other parts. The Luxembourg and Venezuelan contracts each had two distinct variants with significant parts differences between the two. The Belgian Congo, Brazilian and Indonesian contracts each had minor variants. The Egyptian contract had a standard configuration rifle, upon which variants were created by the addition of specific features, such as the scope-mounting dovetail and a third sling swivel. Only the Argentine and Colombian contracts had rifles of a single configuration with no other known FN-produced variants.
Customer requests prompted FN to develop a selectivefire version of the FN-49, referred to as the AFN (Automatique Fabrique Nationale). The AFN's primary external characteristic was the automatic-fire lever (selector) on the left side of the trigger guard. The practicality and effectiveness of a 9 1/2 -lb., .30-'06, selective-fire rifle with a 10-round magazine capacity is open to question.
Another FN-49 variant was created when Argentina modified its FN-49s in the early 1970s to use 20-round detachable magazines and to chamber the 7.62x51 mm NATO cartridge. It used a unique magazine not based on that of the FN FAL, as is sometimes reported. The conversions were performed in Argentina by a private firm. Metalurgica Centro, in Banfield, Buenos Aires Province, formerly known as .zirmas Halcon (Hawk Arms), was a well-established Argentine arms manufacturer that had designed and produced military and sporting firearms for many years.
Accessories for the rifle offered by FN included two bayonets: the Model 1949 Short Export (with a 9" double-edged blade) and the Model 1924/49 Long Export (with a 15" singleedged blade). Also offered were a mi=le brake, blank-firing adapter, gas-adjustment wrench, cleaning equipment and slings as optional equipment. A clamp-on grenade launcher made in Belgium by MECAR was also available.
The service life of the FN-49
was quite varied. Venezuela retired its FN-49s after several years
of service. Belgium continued to use FN-49s in second-line service as late
as 1988. Some FN-49s are said to still be in service in Argentina and Brazil
as parade or drill rifles. The FN-49s did serve in combat, and the Belgians
used them in the Korean conflict to good effect. The FN-49 saw extensive
combat in the Congo in the hands of Belgian, Congolese and insurgent forces.
Egypt used FN-49s in action in the 1956 Suez-Sinai war against Israeli,
British and French forces, and undoubtedly in later conflicts against Israel.
The rifles also equipped forces serving on United Nations peacekeeping
The first known import to the US. was in 1958; these were Egyptian contract rifles that were battlefield captures from the 1956 Suez-Sinai war. Between 1965 and 1967, essentially all of the rifles of the Colombian, Luxembourg, and Venezuelan contracts were imported to the United States. The Gun Control Act of 1968 prohibited the import of surplus military firearms until late 1984, when import of certain surplus firearms was once again allowed. The vast majority of the Egyptian contract rifles in the U.S. were imported soon thereafter. Since then, there have been two imports of the Argentine contract rifles: one in 1995 and another in 2003. There have been no quantity imports of rifles from the Belgian, the Belgian Congo, Brazilian or Indonesian contracts.
While a superbly designed and manufactured rifle, the timing of the FN-49s introduction robbed it of the opportunity to be a great success or to achieve wider use. For most nations, it was a bridge between bolt-action service rifles and the adoption of a later generation of selective-fire rifles. As for Dieudonne Saive and FN, the FN-49 filled a market niche and provided funds for the development of other projects. Indeed, concurrent with the development of the FN-49 in the late 1940s, Saive was also working on what would become the most widely used military self-loading rifle in the free world, the FN Fiisil Automatique Leger-otherwise known as the FN FAL.