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 the Hakim rifle. While a version was made for Venezuela in 7x57mm, another version in 7.65x53mm was produced for Argentina. These were later converted to 7.62x51mm. The more common versions available on the C&R market are those exported to Egypt and Luxembourg.

For this article, the author has used a Colombian FN-49 chambered in 30-06 for reference. While the painted finish—similar to that found on the SMLE—is common to all FN-49 models, the rubber buttpad is unique to the Colombian contract rifles. Other variants of the FN-49 feature a metal butt-plate with a compartment for storing cleaning supplies.


Both the M1 Garand and FN-49 are gas-operated rifles. However, while the former has a long-stroke gas piston, the FN-49 utilizes a short-stroke gas piston. The Garand operating rod cycles with the bolt and adds to the moving mass. The theoretical advantage is that the additional momentum ensures more positive cycling. This comes at the price of having more mass to stop at either end of the bolt travel and a more noticeable change in the balance of the rifle as it cycles. In the FN-49, the operating rod moves only a small distance and imparts a sharp impulse to the bolt carrier. The bolt carrier group then cycles while the operating rod resets. This reduces the moving mass and theoretically makes the rifle easier to control for follow-up shots, but also makes it cycle less positively than a long-stroke gas piston rifle. Nonetheless, both short- and long-stroke actions can prove reliable if well designed, as exemplified by the SKS and the AK-47, respectively.

Another difference between the two rifles is the placement of the operating rod. The rod is placed below the barrel in the Garand, whereas it is placed above the barrel in the FN-49. The arrangement of the M1 Garand reduces the distance from sightline to bore (a difference of about 5mm between the two samples from the author’s collection) but necessitates the “dogleg” shape in order to actuate the bolt without interfering with the magazine.

Finally, while the FN-49 features an adjustable gas system, the Garand taps a fixed amount of gas. The FN-49 features a ring that rotates around the gas tube to adjust the vent-hole size and control the energy transferred to the operating rod. The gas plug can be rotated to “R” for gas cutoff and “A” for semi-automatic operation. The plug can be rotated halfway between these gas settings for disassembly, after which the gas piston can be removed and cleaned. The adjustable gas system allows the FN-49 to adapt to different ammunition loads, an important trait in the export market. The fixed gas system of the Garand is more sensitive to ammunition types, leading some manufacturers to offer specific Garand-safe loads and others to offer adjustable gas plugs.


Both rifles also differ in the way the bolt locks. The M1 Garand uses a rotating bolt, while the FN-49 features a tilting bolt. The Garand bolt locks into the receiver via two lugs, which are rotated into place by a channel in the operating rod. The FN-49 tilting bolt mechanism is analogous in operation to the Browning short recoil action used in the Model 1911. Tilting is achieved via channels machined into the bolt carrier and lugs on the bolt itself. Force applied to the bolt cannot move the group, as the bolt is locked to the receiver. When force is applied to the carrier, it can move backward and unlock the bolt. When in battery, the bolt is pushed down by the carrier, and an L-shaped edge at the bottom of the bolt interfaces with a trough in the receiver. This is the locking surface that resists the blowback force. This tilting bolt design is also seen in the Sturmgewehr 44 and was passed on to the FAL.

The ejectors in the FN-49 and the Garand also differ. The Garand features a piston ejector also seen in the AR-15 series. The FN-49 features an ejector fixed to the receiver that interacts with the back of the case through a channel in the bottom of the bolt, similar to the Mauser Model 1898 ejector. The FN-49 bolt speed determines how vigorous the ejection is. The author found the FN-49 ejection positive for surplus ammunition, full-power hand loads and reduced-recoil hand loads once the gas system had been properly adjusted.

Both rifles have a cutout in the rear of the receiver to accommodate the bolt lug of the Garand and the bolt handle of the FN-49. However, while the FN-49 features a sliding dust cover to prevent foreign matter from entering the receiver, the Garand leaves the cutout bare. The FN-49 dust cover is a tab that slides over the cutout and is pushed out of the way by the bolt handle when the bolt is cycled.

Additionally, the FN-49 features a bolt hold open device similar to that on the M-14. On a Garand, the user cannot lock open the bolt without ejecting the entire en-bloc clip. Before reloading, it is necessary to empty the rifle either by unloading through the muzzle or via the lever on the left receiver wall. With the FN-49, the user can pull the bolt back and depress the lever to hold the action open. This allows the user to top off the magazine during a lull or to interrupt the normal feeding cycle and insert a special cartridge: for example, a blank for use with a rifle grenade.

Lastly and most importantly, the FN-49 features a firing pin spring meant to prevent a slam fire. While the early rifles feature a one-piece firing pin, it was found that a broken pin can be stuck protruding from the bolt face and cause slam fires in the fashion of an open bolt machine gun. Later versions switched to a two-piece firing pin to remedy this, with the rear piece being locked by the firing pin block and the front piece being held by the firing pin spring. In contrast, the M1 Garand has a free-floating firing pin. The effects are seen in the slightly dented primer when chambering. This is why only hard primers are recommended for use in the M1 Garand.

Feeding Mechanism

Different design philosophies are also seen in the ammunition feed mechanism. The Garand utilizes the famous en-bloc clip that holds eight rounds and ejects with an audible ping when spent. The FN-49 features a magazine that is only meant to be detached for cleaning (like that of the SMLE or K-31) and is fed via stripper clips. The FN-49 magazine securely locks into the action via a tab in the rear, which is recessed into a channel such that the tip of a bullet (the author prefers a large crescent wrench) is required for removal. Another feature of the magazine is that it lacks feed lips, which means that it cannot hold ammunition when removed from the rifle. As on the Mauser Model 1898, the raceway functions as feed lips. The FN-49 magazine holds 10 rounds of ammunition, and the follower is marked “30” in the author’s Colombian example.

Curiously, the overall length of the Greek HPX surplus M2 ball ammunition—originally produced to serve the M1 Garand—has an overall cartridge length a hint too long to fit into the FN-49 magazine.

The FN-49 magazine is fed using stripper clips from the charging bridge machined into the receiver cover. In the Colombian model, the author found M-14 five-round stripper clips to work well. In the Egyptian model chambered in 8x57mm, Mauser stripper clips will feed the magazine. Note that the left receiver wall does not feature a cutout for the thumb like that found on the Mauser Model 1898. The added benefit of having a magazine instead of a clip is that the FN-49 is easier to single load for a competition course of fire.

The FN-49 shows Mauser influence in being a control feed type, in contrast to the push feed mechanism of the M1 Garand. In the Garand, the bolt merely pushes the cartridge into the chamber, and the extractor rides over the rim as the bolt goes fully into battery. In the FN-49, the rim is engaged into the extractor once the round is stripped from the magazine when the bolt is approximately halfway through the cycle. While it is outside the scope of this article to discuss the relative merits of push versus control feed, the author found both the M1 and FN-49 to be very reliable in feeding under both target practice and three-gun conditions.


Both the Garand and the FN-49 feature front sight posts protected by robust wings, and both have rear aperture sights. However, they are adjusted differently. The Garand is adjustable in both windage and elevation via a drum in the rear; each click corresponds to a one minute-of-angle change to the point of impact on a standard issue rear sight. The elevation drum has numerals marked to aid the user in rapidly adjusting elevation in lieu of counting clicks. The rear of the receiver and the sight assembly also have hash marks so the user can see the windage being applied.

In contrast, the FN-49 aperture is smaller and mounted atop a tangent marked from 100 to 1,000 meters in 100-meter increments with no fine adjustments available. In order to properly utilize the tangent elevation adjustment, the ammunition must match the original load with which the rifle was designed. The dovetailed front sight may be replaced to zero the rifle in elevation. The windage is adjustable via a screw. This screw does not have any tactile feel when adjusting. However, the author found that said screw does not shift under recoil in his particular example.

Another point of contrast is the way the rear sights are mounted to the rifles. The Garand rear sight is mounted to the receiver and is not normally removed unless the user specifically aims to clean the assembly. The FN-49 mounts the rear sight atop the action cover, which is removed whenever the user removes the bolt. The author did not experience a noticeable shift in the point of impact on his sample.

Trigger Assembly

The safety on the FN-49 is located on the right, adjacent to the trigger guard. When it is parallel to the receiver, it is on fire. When rotated approximately 45 degrees down, the rifle is on safe and the trigger cannot be pulled. The M1 Garand and FN-49 both offer tactile indications that the safety is engaged. The former reduces the area inside the trigger guard and makes it difficult to place the finger on the trigger, while the latter blocks the finger from pulling the trigger. The FN-49 also features a cocked indicator in the form of a nub protruding from the front of the trigger guard when the hammer is cocked.

The Garand and FN-49 also differ in the way the action is attached to the stock. The M1 Garand uses the hinged trigger guard to lock the trigger assembly into the receiver, thereby sandwiching the wood stock in between. As such, the Garand action can be removed from the stock without any tools. By contrast, the FN-49 uses a Mauser-like design, whereby the trigger assembly is attached to the action via two screws. These are prevented from moving under recoil by two smaller locking screws.

Shooting Impressions

Using Greek HPX Surplus M2 Ball ammunition, the author’s Colombian contract FN-49 shoots to point of aim out to 300 meters. Beyond that distance, hold corrections are required in elevation.

To adjust the FN-49 gas system, the author first fully opened the gas vent-hole and shot with only one round loaded in the magazine. The vent-hole was progressively closed until the bolt locked back reliably. Then two rounds were loaded in the magazine to check that the rifle was cycling reliably.

Of note, the recoil of the FN-49 is noticeably softer than that of the M1 Garand due to the adjustable gas system. The fixed gas system of the M1 Garand must cycle the rifle reliably under adverse conditions and is therefore over-gassed for normal range use. The additional tapped gas requires the mitigation of more momentum at both ends of the bolt travel. In contrast, the user can tune the FN-49 to use just enough gas to cycle the action. Combined with the lesser momentum of the short-stroke gas piston system, this makes the rifle very pleasant to shoot.

The gas cutoff of the FN-49 is of importance to reloaders. In self-loading operations, the case is extracted when the pressure has dropped to a safe level. With the gas plug turned to “R,” the user does not extract the case until there is no pressure at all, saving some wear and tear on the case. In the author’s experience, one can easily obtain at least one extra reload from the manually cycled cases in contrast with the self-cycled cases. This is a useful feature for non-timed courses of fire such as the slow fire portions of a high-power rifle match.

Both rifles are on a par in accuracy, consistently achieving 3- to 4-inch groups at a target 100 meters distant. The author found the FN-49 easier to score with, because of the smaller rear aperture and finer front sight blade.

Concluding Thoughts

The FN-49 is a distinctly European rendition of a first-generation semi-automatic battle rifle. The Mauser manufacturing heritage of Fabrique Nationale is evident in various features of the rifle.

A contemporary of the M1 Garand, delayed by WW II and introduced into a difficult market at the beginning of the Cold War, the FN-49 nevertheless achieved sales to many non-aligned nations. The basic design of the rifle proved sound, and its traits were passed onto the wildly successful FAL.

At the time of writing, Egyptian contract rifles are the most commonly seen type for sale. They command around $800 depending on condition. The versions using 30-06 ammunition, with the Luxembourg version being most prevalent, tend to fetch a higher price in the United States because of the readily available caliber. As an added bonus, the FN-49 is not considered an “assault weapon” in the state of California, along with the likes of the M1 Garand, Ruger Mini-14 and Springfield M1A.

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


Comments have not been generated for this article.