Fabrique Nationale Model 1949

By Alton Chiu

Father to the Right Arm of the Free World

The FN-49 is the Belgian rendition of a first-generation semi-automatic battle rifle, and its genes are seen in the FAL. This article illustrates the differences between this Belgian rifle and its more famous peer: the M1 Garand.

The well-known M1 Garand and the lesser known FN-49 are both first-generation semi-automatic battle rifles designed prior to WW II. Their descendants, the M-14 and FAL, respectively, served as the battle rifles of the Cold War. While the M1 achieved lasting fame in the crucible of militarism, the FN-49 was a rifle hampered by unfortunate circumstances and is only remembered as the father to the “Right arm of the free world.” This article aims to highlight the difference between the Belgian and American perspectives on a semi-automatic battle rifle.


The story of the M1 is well known to the American shooting public. John Garand, working for Springfield Armory, developed the M1 rifle, which was adopted as the first standard-issue semi-automatic rifle in 1936. The FN-49 had a more difficult gestation period. Dieudonné Saive at Fabrique Nationale experimented with recoil-operated rifles in the 1930s and eventually patented a gas-operated design in 1936.

Its development was interrupted by the German invasion, but Saive escaped to the UK. The Royal Small Arms Factory, Enfield, ordered prototypes and troop trials, but gas pressure and the impending end of WW II ended the contract. Saive went back to Liège and finalized the design in 1947. The small arms market post-WW II was difficult. Eastern-bloc countries used Soviet designs (with rare exceptions like the VZ. 58), and Western countries got American aid in the form of surplus WW II M1 rifles. FN marketed to non-aligned countries who did not want the commitment that came with accepting aid from either sphere of influence. The baptism of fire came when the FN-49 served with the Belgians alongside U.S. troops armed with the M1 Garand in Korea.

Most of the rifles supplied to Belgium, Luxembourg, Indonesia, Colombia and Brazil are chambered in 30-06. An 8x57mm version was produced for Egypt and served alongside...

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V22N1 (January 2018)
and was posted online on November 17, 2017


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