A couple of SAFNS enjoy retirement. (All images embiggen with a click).
If the FN Model 1949, also called the SAFN (Semi-Automatic FN), had been, as intended, the FN 36, or at least the FN 38, it might have changed the world. But its development took longer than planned and was interrupted by war — its designer exiled, its plans hidden, and then, its manufacturer in ruins and needing to rebuild.
During his exile, Dieudonné Saive supervised the construction of over 50 prototypes of versions of the rifle that later would become the SAFN, for his British hosts at Enfield. Some of these prototypes still exist today, but the British Army was never serious about a semi-auto during the war; British soldiers and leaders were happy with the old reliable Enfield bolt action.
Saive returned to an FN whose only boast was that it was less destroyed that most other Continental gun factories, despite the consequences of Allied bombing and German looting. But even as clean-up and restoration continued, he worked to bring his long-delayed semi-auto rifle design to life.
One benefit of this long gestation was that the SAFN was rather thoroughly debugged when it shipped, and it suffered fewer of the teething problems that other rifles that had had a more direct path to production, like the Tokarev, the M1 Garand, or even the AK, did.
But, it launched into a market saturated with high-quality arms that were surplus to the needs of downsizing military victors (and entirely-disarmed vanquished). An FN salesman could, were he worthy of the name at all, make a case that the SAFN was a better rifle than an M1, or the Mausers still used around the world at the time. But that case, assuming arguendo that it was strong when the cost of an M1 equaled the cost of an FN 49, was appreciably weaker and harder to make when the M1s were flowing at one-half, one-quarter, one-tenth of the cost of new production. Or free. The United States had literally millions of surplus M1s, and they rearmed many of the nations of Europe, giving guns in hopes of gaining influence — or as a reward for wartime alliances.
Some nations, like France, developed their own rifles in pursuit of national independence. “Thanks for your M1s, but we need a French rifle as soon as possible/” Indeed, in the fifteen years after World War II, many more nations than are in the business today developed their own firearms, even small nations like Indonesia, Egypt, and the Dominican Republic. It was a far cry from today’s consolidated market, where much of the world is content buying ARs and AKs from distant lands. (Indeed, the four former gun-making nations mentioned in this paragraph are using or going to imported ARs, AKs, or a combination thereof).
Venezuela was one of the nations that bought the SAFN. Notice the fine figure of the stock.
Other nations were on the outs with, or at least cautious about becoming dependent on, the US or USSR; between the World Wars they had bought from the neutrals, Belgium and Czechoslovakia, and with CS no longer neutral, the Belgians had a look in. And in this market context, FN designer Dieudonné Saive launched what may have been the finest World War II generation semi-auto rifle. Just in time for the world to have absorbed and fallen for the German intermediate cartridge assault rifle concept.
The SAFN is an old-school combat rifle, with wood (usually French Walnut, often highly figured) stocks, and the balance of the components being steel, often machined from forgings. It is heavy, compared to the modern standard, but it’s about equivalent to its contemporaries, the M1 Garand or the French MAS Mle. 1949 (the Tokarev SVT is noticeably lighter). The most common finish on original guns is paint over parkerizing, which makes for an ugly, chip-prone, but corrosion-resistant coating. These guns are all human retirement age (production was from 1949-1956), and barrel conditions of existing samples vary widely (they survived the heyday of corrosive ammunition, and the barrels were not chrome-lined).
The bolt and gas system of the SAFN strongly resembles that of its Soviet contemporaries, the Simonov and Tokarev semi-auto rifles; it is unlikely that copying was going on, rather than parallel, convergent evolution. A version of the tipping bolt had been used on several FN products, including the Browning Automatic Rifle. A solid benefit of the SAFN over its competitors was its toolless-adjustable gas system, which was not only good for adjusting to different lots, makers or types of ammunition, but enabled the rifle to fire rifle grenades (with special blanks). The rifle grenade launcher was a common SAFN accessory, as was a bayonet. (Bayonets are common, but many Mauser bayonets fit, too).
FN 49 muzzles. Top: the cutts-compensator like Flash Hider of the Venezuelan. Below: typical muzzle, in this case Egyptian. Both show the adjustable gas port off well.
The biggest limitation the SAFN faced in the postwar environment was its prewar magazine concept. The magazine was not user-detachable, but was filled from above, using ordinary Mauser stripper clips, or a new FN-developed 10-round stripper. With this magazine, the provision of automatic fire capability on Belgian and some export SAFNs was truly puzzling: why? The rationale for this decision is lost in time, but it seems probable that the customers asked FN to do it.
FN 49 (here Venezuelan, Ser. Nº. 4955), shows off its stripper clip guide and magazine follower. The bolt is held back by the magazine follower until rounds are loaded — or it can be held back with the bolt catch visible opposite the operating handle.
This view from the left shows the bolt hold-open catch on the side of the receiver.
As a semiauto rifle, the SAFN was, in its day, a good equivalent of the M1. Some people recommend it as a practical rifle, but in 2016, that’s just silly. If you must have steel, walnut, and a fixed magazine, the M1 has plentiful spare parts and knowledgable gunsmiths and accuracy specialists. The SAFN belongs in the safes and gun-rooms of collectors, and can certainly go to the range as much as you like.
SN 1949 SAFN Production & Sales
|SAFN 1949 Variants
||7 x 57 mm
||First sale (4,000 in 1948) Unique compensator/flash suppressor
||7.5 x 57 mm
||No sales known
||7.65 x 57 mm
||“ARA” for Armada Republica Argentina, and Argentine Crest
||Some sources say 5,537
||7.62 x 63 mm
||“ABL” for Armee Belgique
||.30-06, convertible to select fire, not US importable
||7.62 x 63 mm
||.30-06, all select fire, not US importable
||7.62 x 63 mm
||Brazilian crest & Anchor
||7.62 x 63 mm
||7.62 x 63 mm
||“ADRI” and Eagle
||7.62 x 63 mm
||“AL” for Armee Luxembourgois
||7.62 x 51 mm
||NATO, detachable mag
||No new guns, converted from 7.65mm. Mag is NOT an FAL mag.
||7.92 x 57 mm
||Eagle or Crown, Arabic numbers
||Some sources say 37,602. Century imports may have replaced stocks
Venezuelan crest on a 7mm FN M1949.
Crown of King Farouk and crest of the Kingdom of Egypt (Kingdom 1922-1952, Farouk’s sovereignty 1936-52)
Why the Short Run?
FN produced Mauser rifles (for military purposes, anyway) for over 60 years; in fact, the company was founded to build Mausers for the Belgian Army, and for export. But the SAFN lasted just seven years in production (and after the Belgian & Egyptian contracts were filled, by 1952-3, production was desultory. As you can see in the table above, those two contracts were the bulk of the rifles produced: roughly 126,000 out of 176,000, leaving only 50,000 for all other variants).
Our pair of FNs. Venezuelan Nº 4955, not import marked; and Egyptian Nº 11507 (mismatched, refinished, imported by Century Arms). Note that the Egyptian rifle bears its serial numbers in Western and Arabian numbers. The receiver cover of the Nº 11507 is from a different rifle, Nº 12979. (Possibly 13979, as the Arabian numeral is hard to read).
What happened is that technology moved on, and the SAFN was obsolete even as Belgian craftsmen inspected the rifles on the line. No one knew that more than M. Saive, who was already at work on the Next Big Thing — and it would really be that. The FN-FAL (Fusil Automatique Leger, Light Automatic Rifle) would build on the SAFN’s reliable bolt and gas system, and add the sought-after features of select-fire (fairly useless in a 7,62 x 51 light rifle) and a detachable 20-round magazine (no soldier ever said “no” to more ammo). The FAL’s success was much greater, both technically and commercially, vindicating Saive’s vision and arming scores of nations from the 1950s through the 1990s — including many former SAFN and FN Mauser customers.
More Pictures Coming Soon?
Our photo models today are a relatively common 8mm (7.92 x 57 mm) Egyptian rifle, as imported, modified and sold by Century Arms, and a relatively rare Venezuelan model. While Venezuelans are often found in excellent condition, making them prized by collectors, this one is an exception: it’s fairly beaten-up, and was clearly stored in a pile with many other FN-49s: it’s got dings in the annular shape of the end of an FN-49 operating handle (part of the bolt carrier) all over its stock!
Behold, some dings.Note the telltale mark of another FN 49, just under the “D’Armes” in the rollmark.
More photos may be added after the jump, time permitting (if there isn’t a more link below this, we haven’t added the images yet).
Cammack, Mark. FN 49 Rifle – A Brief Overview. AmmoLand, 13 Jan 2016. Retrieved from: http://www.ammoland.com/2016/01/fn-49-rifle-a-brief-overview/
Peterson, Phillip. Collectors Love The FN-49 Rifle. Gun Digest, 24 May 2011. Retrieved from: http://www.gundigest.com/gun-collecting-firearm-collecting/collectors-love-the-fn-49-rifle
Poyer, Joe. The SAFN-49 Battle Rifle (A Shooter’s and Collector’s Guide). Tustin, CA: North Cape, 1998.
Stevens, R. Blake. The FN49 – the Rifle That Ran out of Time. Toronto: Collector Grade, 2011.
Stevens, R. Blake. The Metric FAL. Toronto: Collector Grade, 1989.