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South Africa: SADF R1 assault rifle

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I did my military service in the ‘70’s. The R1 was the standard assault weapon of the time. I qualified as a military sharpshooter.

[quote]There are no perks attached to this. It entitled you to wear a silver shooting badge. It wasn’t even a babe magnet because the babes didn’t know what it was. It made you paranoid about bashing your rifle sights during training. It attracted official attention (you don’t want this!) In hindsight, it was a liability.[/quote]

I mention it because I took a greater interest in my weapon because of it. Attributes of the R1 - it was as heavy as lead. Great for rifle PT. It was based on a good conventional warfare rifle (the Belgian FN). As I recall the differences were very subtle. The R1 tended to have a (black) plastic butt, a thicker wooden carry handle (much better) and the FN had a knurled zig-zag on the breech block (I don’t know what this was for but it was easy to see through the shell ejection gap). The R1 had a smooth breech block. If ‘made in Belgium’ was stamped on the barrel, it’s pretty irrefutable proof. The R1 is made in SA. Quite likely FN’s were passed-off as R1’s. They look very similar. The whole FN/R1 dichotomy was probably a licensing issue or Belgium not wanting their weapons used in conflicts they didn’t approve of.

I see it is still the standard weapon for the Indian and Pakistani army. I noted that it was the standard weapon for British forces when they were fighting the IRA in Ireland. However, I wonder at the wisdom of trying to turn it into a bush warfare rifle. The R1 is too well-made. In the close quarters kind of bush warfare that SA tended towards, you don’t have to be able to shoot-off a gnats left whisker at 2 kilometers. You need AK47 sloppiness in the mechanism, so a grain of sand doesn’t jam the high tolerance, high spec. R1. I assume it was a learning curve. The latest SA assault rifle (I hear) is a mixture of the AK47, the Israeli Galiel and SA’s learning curve. Pretty good (as these things go). I rather fancy the American M16’s magazine receiver. I hope they included it. An advantage (which the American M16 shares) is the segmented, composite stock. You can loosen the screws and get a satisfying “thwack” from it when you slap it during mindless marching about, presenting arms etc. If you adjusted the gas mechanism, you got a sort of rapid ‘hammering’ on automatic fire rather than the sound of ripping cloth (like American movies - where do they come by the ammo they waste so prodigiously?). Saves ammunition. It also allowed you to keep the weapon on full-automatic fire. A slight squeeze of the trigger loosed-off two rapid fire rounds (the ubiquitous and deadly ‘Double Tap’ – the way all military and police are trained to shoot). What I particularly hated about the R1, was the heaviness of the magazines loaded with 7.62 ammo if you had to walk a long way. Much too high powered. Many of my companions (and I) didn’t carry the recommended 8 magazines (too heavy). We carried 4 on the assumption that if we needed more we were so deep in the s**t that it wouldn’t matter.

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  1. spiff's Avatar
    I was lucky I got one of the first R4's issued back in 1981. still in its plastic pouch smothered in oil. wow what an awesome weapon! light easy to handle / clean. ok so my only other weapon was a 9mm parrabellum, but I still miss the R4
  2. hawker's Avatar
    I enjoyed reading this!