Book Review: "The FN FAL Battle Rifle"

When I received a signed copy of my brother Bob’s latest book “The FN FAL Battle Rifle,” a book about the Cold War rifle known as the “right arm of the Free World,” of course I was excited to read it.  Bob is a former active duty Cavalry Scout, Desert Storm vet, forestry worker, and still an avid shooter and gun collector living in Montana. Suffice it to say he has a passion for firearms and military history.

Since I’m not quite the firearms technician nor military historian that my brother is, part of me was a little worried I might find parts of a “biography” of a rifle a little dry. However Bob kept the book quite interesting and accessible to us laypersons while still providing plenty of detail for gun wonks.

For many American gunnies the Cold War was a face-off between the American M16 and the Soviet AK-47. However the 7.62x51mm NATO Fabrique Nationale (FN) Fusil Automatique Léger (FAL) eventually equipped over 90 Western nations around the world, earning it the aforementioned nickname. The history of the FAL is a history of every bushfire war that popped up during the Cold War. The FAL showed up in most of them, officially or not. The FAL’s storied history reaches a crescendo during the 1982 Falklands War where both sides (the British and the Argentinians) used the FAL against each other. Bob’s book chronicles the whole history.

First Bob walks us through the development of the FAL right after WW2. Besides the technical aspects of developing the new weapon there was the political quarreling behind adopting a new NATO standard rifle round. The book then provides a brief rundown of the adoption and modifications made by each of the major nations issuing the new FAL. There is a section running down the major accessories adopted for the FAL including magazines, optics, rifle grenades and bayonets.

In the next section Bob points out that although the FAL was (thankfully) never used for its intended role of repelling a Soviet invasion of Western Europe, “[i]t did, however, give excellent service in battle around the world in many smaller wars and numerous insurgencies.” Bob gives a brief history of the FAL’s major use in combat by the British army from the 1948 Malayan Emergency to the 1991 Persian Gulf War and by other nations in African and Latin American bush wars, the Arab-Israeli Wars, the Indo-Pakistani Wars, and Vietnam. The FAL still pops up in combat zones today.

The book then has a breakdown of the capabilities of the FAL’s 7.62x51mm NATO cartridge as well as an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the FAL system itself. Bob also compares and contrasts the FAL with its two a main contemporary rival battle rifles the German G3 and American M14. The book is chock full of historical photographs, graphs, as well as several original historical battlescene paintings created specially for the book by British artist Steve Noon.

I thoroughly enjoyed taking the stroll down Cold War “memory lane” that “The FN FAL Battle Rifle” provided. I think anyone with a bit of interest in weapons and/or military history will enjoy it as well. I recommend you check it out.

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