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Austrailia Infantry Weapons

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FN's FAL was developed from the earlier SAFN-49. Although the SAFN-49 was expensive to produce, it was manufactured in quantity and in various calibres as specified by the purchasing countries, such as the 7.62mm version for Egypt, and the .30 calibre versions for Colombia and Indonesia

The FAL was a marked improvement, both technically and in its lower production cost. Being a rugged and dependable rifle, the FAL soon found favour with a considerable number of countries, including many in South America such as Argentina, The 20-round detachable box magazine, comfortably positioned pistol grip and left thumb-operated selective fire capability were all contributing factors to the FAL'S popularity. Being a relatively light rifle it did have a tendency to climb very rapidly when fired on full automatic. Along with the British and Canadian decision to manufacture the FAL in a slightly modified form, the Australian Government also decided on a modified FAL for local production at the Small Arms Factory, Lithgow, in 1954.

There are a number of differences between the original FAL design and that adopted by Australia as the L1A1, most visible being the deletion of the selective fire capability to allow semi-automatic fire only, and a flat profile, folding cocking handle rather than the fixed round knob of the FAL, the magazine, while on the FAL, automatically engages the hold-open device which holds the bolt in the rearward position after the last round is fired. There are also manufacturing differences between both the FAL and Australian LIAI , together with variations in manufacture because of local improvements. The FAL is a rifle based on metric measurements, while the LIAI is manufactured to Imperial standards. Local improvements include variations in the butt and front hand-guard construction, changes to the break-open lever design, and to the carry handle, to name a few. There were also specific variations of the L1 as produced at SAF Lithgow in response to overseas customer requirements, such as a shorter rifle for the Papua New Guinea Defence force.

The Australian LIAI rifle is officially described as a semi-automatic, magazine-fed, gas-operated, air-Cooled rifle which permits the operator to fire accurate single shots. Each time a round is fired, a small amount of gas is bled off through the gas vent, located some distance along the barrel. The gas is directed through a regulator with 12 settings, marked 0 to 11 . When set correctly, the regulator allows only enough gas to operate the mechanism to flow through to the head of a piston housed within the gas tube located parallel with and above the barrel. The gas pressure acts on the piston, driving it to the rear, which in turn forces the breechblock carrier and breechblock rearward, extracting and ejecting the spent cartridge case on the way. A return spring, housed in the butt is also compressed by the rearward movement of the breechblock carrier. This acts to drive the breechcloth carrier forward again, stripping a fresh round from the magazine and chambering it as it moves to the locked position once again. Spent cases, along with gas and powder residue, are ejected from the right side of the rifle, making the LIAI difficult for left-handed soldiers to use successfully. There is no provision for ejection from the left side of the rifle body.

Introduced into Australian service in the late 1950's the LIAI saw its most prolonged operational use during the Vietnam War, where its dependability and the knock-down power of the 7.62mm x 51 round made it a popular weapon, despite its all-up weight of 5kg. The nature of warfare in close jungle, however, made the absence of a selective fire capability a disadvantage in some instances – and some temporary but unofficial methods were devised to rectify this problem ! Officially, sixty LIAI rifles were modified for selective fire capability, specifically for use by the SAS. In addition to the ability to fire bursts of fully automatic fire, the modified SAS rifles had both sling swivels and the flash eliminator removed, and the back sight permanently raised. In contrast to the relieving infantry units who carried their individual weapons into South Vietnam at the time of their deployment, the modified rifles remained in South Vietnam and were handed on to the relieving SAS squadron at each deployment.

The standard black metal and oiled timber finish of the LIAI also caused some concern to infantry and SAS units operating in South Vietnam. Various requests were made to officially allow the camouflage painting of rifles, and while initially rejected, permission was finally given in July 1970 for 7RAR and the SAS squadron to camouflage paint their weapons. The finish was to be a dappled effect made up of grey, dark red and forest green. The permission was only granted for these specific units and only while operating in South Vietnam.

A fully automatic version, the L2A1 , was also produced at SAF Lithgow for Australian and overseas customers. This was basically the LIAI fitted with a heavy barrel, selective fire capability, 30 round box magazine and a folding bipod which also doubled as the front handguard when in the folded position. Just under 10,000 were produced between 1962 and 1982. They saw only limited use as a supplementary weapon.

In all, just over 220,000 L1A1 rifles were produced between 1959 and 1986, mostly for the Australian Military Forces, with sizable numbers also being exported to countries such as PNG, Brunei, various West Indies nations and Fiji. The rifle was superseded in Australia service in 1988, with the introduction of the 5.56mm calibre Austeyr rifle and carbine

Reprinted from
Army Magazine No 50 April 2002

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Although Austrailia had many of their own weapons to draw from the adoped many of the US standard infantry weapons.  The picture above refelecs some of the weapons used.  For more information on the US weapons please refer to the US infantry weapon section of this page.

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