Self Loading Rifle (SLR)

The move to replace the venerable Lee Enfield bolt action rifle was a tortuous one for the British Army. Much time and money was invested in developing a new bullpup rifle called the EM2. This rifle was actually adopted, but pressure from the US for NATO to adopt the 7.62mm cartridge led to the rapid dropping of the new, smaller calibre, rifle. With a rapid need for a new semi automatic battle rifle, the British turned to Fabrique Nationale who had developed the FAL, which was rapidly proving to be a very successful and popular design. The rifle was converted from metric measurements to imperial and adopted as the Self Loading Rifle, or ‘SLR’. Imperial SLRs were also adopted by much of the commonwealth including Canada and Australia. Today we are looking at an Australian produced SLR:

This rifle, produced by Lithgow, is a full length and full weight battle rifle. The ammunition is held in a twenty round box magazine in front of the trigger housing. A large paddle catch allows the magazine to be changed easily, even when wearing gloves:

Immediately behind this is the trigger, pistol grip and selector which allows the rifle to be moved from safe to semi-automatic. It was recognised that fully automatic fire with the heavy 7.62mm round was impractical:

Forward of this, on the left hand side, is the charging handle, used to draw the bolt back to chamber the first round and cock the weapon. This is a folding handle that sits close to the rifle’s receiver when not needed:

A folding wire and plastic carry handle is fitted to the top of the rifle at its balance point so that when used to carry the rifle it sits comfortably in the hand:

Moving forward on the rifle we come to the front sight and the gas regulator that allows the amount of gas used to be altered depending on the amount of fouling the rifle has. This plug is also removed to allow the gas parts to be removed for cleaning and maintenance:

Finally at the very front of the rifle is a flash hider and the bayonet lug for the rifle:

Returning back to the butt of the rifle, the SLR has a metal butt plate and like earlier Lee Enfield rifles a butt trap is fitted to hold an oil bottle and pull through:

One change that the British and Commonwealth made to the SLR when compared to a standard FAL was to add a series of zig zag cuts to the bolt carrier:

British testing had revealed that the rifle was susceptible to jamming from fine sand in desert conditions, the cuts in the bolt carrier cleared fine grit out of the bolt and clear of the gun every time it cycled.

The rear sight of the SLR was a simple aperture sight that was adjustable on a slider, it folded down out of the way when not in use to protect it from accidental damage:

The SLR was very easy to disassemble for cleaning. A latch at the rear of the receiver is undone and the whole rifle hinges in half:

This then allows the working parts to be simply slid out of the rifle, the bolt, bolt carrier and the top cover simply sliding out ready to be cleaned:

The SLR was one of the most popular rifles ever issued to British troops, despite being heavy and long. Much of its mystique is justified as it is an excellent rifle, however the poor quality of the early SA80 that replaced it cannot have harmed its status in the eyes of the squaddie!


  1. I loved this rifle. I remember it well – and can still strip and clean it in my mind’s eye!

  2. It was an awesome range rifle and great for hand to hand combat. You get butt stroked it’s all over.

    For winning a firefight a decent 5,56 gave you more rounds and less recoil

  3. Beautiful example of a L1A1 Lithgow. Every ex-serviceman I have talked to gets misty-eyed talking about the SLR…a travesty that we cannot own them now. The Australian govt destroyed thousands of them which were kept in storage after the introduction of the ‘plastic fantastic’ SteyrAugs.

    “It was recognised that fully automatic fire with the heavy 7.62mm round was impractical” – but not impossible with a matchstick 🙂

  4. One of the drawbacks of the L1A1 was that you couldn’t field strip it for cleaning if you’re in a real shooting war. In the Falklands War, men could only wipe and pull-through.

    When you “break” the rear half to remove the top cover and working parts, you lose zero. That said, I love this weapon.

    What I liked about SA80 when we received it was that you COULD fully field strip it. The barrel was inline with the butt, making for less muzzle climb. Shooting at less than 400M with optics felt like skills dumbing down: with the SLR, we used to regularly shoot to 500M with iron sights.

    You needed the LSW if you still wanted to whack people with it – but the spoilsport designers didn’t enable it to accept a bayonet. The army were a proper bunch of spoilsports: they never let us carry bayonets on exercise, SLR or SA80… 😦

  5. The SLR was a wonderful weapon which in my opinion should never have been replaced by the SA80. Nato 7.62mm stopping power, simplicity of use and construction, and very reliable. Referred to as “ the rifle that shoots through trees” by Malayan Communist Terrorists and “the mechanical musket” by many squaddies. A classic weapon I missed very much. In the early 2000s I was part of an arms control escort team with a party of Russian military at Bicester. We went into one workshop and there was a skip full of SLRs waiting for the furnace -heartbreaking! Despite not having handled one since about 1992, in Berlin, I demonstrated stripping and reassembling one for our Russian visitors with no hesitation; my weapon of choice.

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