August 11, 2020
By Paul Scarlata
Photos by Becky Scarlata
In an upcoming series of articles on the famous Congo mercenary leader Col. “Mad Mike” Hoare, I will mention that his 5 Commando was originally armed with Spanish CETME Modelo C rifles until reequipped with the Belgian FN-FAL. Being the majority of the volunteers in his unit were veterans of armies that used the FAL, he stated that they had a low opinion of the CETME and were quite happy to have them replaced with the Belgian rifle.
The FN Fusil Automatique Léger (Light Automatic Rifle — FAL) was designed by FN’s chief engineer Dieudonné Saive. It used a gas operated system similar to Saive’s earlier Fusil SemiAutomatique Modèle 1949 (SAFN) but modified to lighten it and improve reliability. It was fed from a detachable, 20-round box magazine and was one of the first rifles chambered for the 7,62mm NATO cartridge. While early rifles had wooden forearms and buttstocks these were later made from synthetic material.
Canada was the first country to adopt the FAL as the Rifle, 7.62mm FN (C1) and was quickly followed by Belgium, the British Commonwealth, West Germany, Israel, South Africa, Austria, the Netherlands, India and most Latin American and many African countries. It was eventually issued to the armies and police of more than 90 nations.
The Fusil de Asalto CETME used a recoil operated, roller locking system developed late in WWII by the German engineer Ludwig Vorgrimler. In 1949 Herr Ludwig moved to Spain and continued to improve his design at the Centro de Estudios Técnicos de Materiales Especiales (CETME). It was adopted by the Spanish army in 1957 as the Fusil de Asalto CETME Modelo A chambered for the Cartucho CETME Cal. 7,62 mm, a downloaded version of the 7,62mm NATO cartridge. The later Fusils Modelo B and C fired the standard NATO cartridge.
The CETME was used by all branches of the Spanish armed forces and marketed internationally eventually seeing service with more than ten nations and various national liberation movements, mainly in Africa and the Middle East. It served as the basis for the Heckler & Koch G3A3 rifle which has seen even wider service.
I suggested to our editor that I compare the two rifles to see if either was superior to the other, to which he readily agreed. Accordingly, I contacted two collectors seeking rifles. From fellow OSG contributor Garry James, I obtained a L1A1 (the British/Commonwealth version of the FAL) that had been assembled from imported British surplus parts with a U.S.-made receiver by Enterprise Arms. Garry retrofitted it with all original wooden furniture and it was in very nice condition.
To represent the Iberian, side my good friend Tim Hawkins lent me his Century Army CETME Sporter .308. As all Spanish issue CETMEs were capable of selective fire Century retrofitted Spanish surplus Modelo C rifles with U.S.-made receivers so as to satisfy BATFE import restrictions. This removed the original paddle type magazine release which was replaced by a push button on the right side of the receiver. More about that later. Oh yes, and the nasty bayonet lug was removed. Don’t you feel safer now?
Test firing was performed with Winchester “white box” and steel cased Barnaul 7.62x51 ammunition.
Due to storm damage on my gun club’s 100-yard range I had to restrict accuracy testing to 75 yards. Using a Lead Sled shooting rest, I fired three five-shot groups from each rifle with each brand of ammo.
Garry’s L1A1 printed dead on from the get go but I had to fire a few extra shots with Tim’s CETME to figure out how much “Kentucky windage” to use (it was printing about five inches to the right). The dozen groups thus produced ran from slightly under two to three and half inches in size, more than adequate for a standard issue military rifle.
I then set up another pair of targets 50 yards and proceeded to have some fu- … uh, I mean continued my test firing. Firing offhand, I proceeded to engage each target, very carefully, with twenty rounds. This expenditure of ammunition showed each capable — with a bit of help from yours truly — of more than adequate “combat accuracy.” In fact, the L1A1’s target had every round inside the target’s bullseye and 10 ring while only two of the rounds I fired with the CETME wandered outside said circles.
After test firing I graded each rifle on a 5 (best) to 1 (worse) scale in the following categories: reliability, ergonomics, sights, trigger, ease of operation, ease of reloading and accuracy. Note: 35 would be a perfect score.
A bit of explanation how I came to these conclusions:
Early on I experienced three failures to eject with the L1A1 with the Barnaul steel cased ammo although after about 20 rounds the problem disappeared. Tim’s CETME just kept chugging along and spitting out spent cases no matter what I fed it.
The L1A1’s controls were well located and could be manipulated easily with the shooter’s support hand (if he was right handed). It was also well balanced and came up to the shoulder smoothly. I found the CETME to be butt heavy and its safety and magazine release were both difficult to access and stiff in operation.
No contest here! The L1A1s were high and easy to acquire, I found the rear aperture just the right size for fast sight alignment and the narrow post front sight allowed me take a fine bead on the target. The CETME’s rear sight was mounted so low on the receiver I had to “scrunch” my face down on the stock comb to see it. I found the open V notch battle sight useless at anything other than “reach out and touch someone” distances while the 200-meter aperture was too small to get a fast sight picture. While the tapered post front sight did allow me to take a fine bead on the target, in rapid fire, its hood tended to obscure the sight picture.
Again the L1A1 ran away with this category. Its trigger had a very short take up and broke crisply with 6.5 pounds of pressure, while the CETME also had a short, but very gritty, take up. My trigger pull scale only goes up to 8 pounds and it took more than that to trip the sear. Needless the say I had to nurse the Spaniard’s trigger quite a bit during accuracy testing.
Ease of Operation
The rifles tied in this category primarily because it took an inordinate amount of effort to retract their operating handles to chamber a round. In fact, it was darn hard to pull them back and their folding cocking handles did nothing to help the situation as I believe that it would have been difficult to chamber a round when wearing heavy gloves or mittens. Another design fault they shared was that their bolts did not lock open on an empty magazine. Unless you were counting your rounds (in combat?) you didn’t realize your weapon was empty until you heard a “click” instead of a “bang.”
Ease of Reloading
While magazines could be inserted into both rifles quickly the L1A1 came in first here again as its magazine release was well positioned and magazines could be quickly extracted with the support hand. The CETME’s push button release on the right side of the receiver could not be operated without removing your right hand from the grip and dragging the magazine out with your left.
NOTE: the military issue CETME’s large, paddle shaped magazine release behind the magazine well would have allowed you to release and remove the magazine with your support hand.
While both rifles provided more than adequate “combat” accuracy, the CETME’s crude sights and heavy trigger caused it to suffer here. That being said the best 75-yard group fired with the L1A1, with the Winchester ammunition, was an impressive 1.8 inches while the CETME produced a more than adequate 2.7-inch group with the Barnual.
In conclusion, while I feel that either rifle would have served a soldier well, I found the L1A1 a much more user-friendly weapon. And I must admit that the L1A1 handled “elegantly” while the CETME felt chunky and “clunky.”
Although if I had my ‘druthers I would have gotten my hands on an M14!
L1A1 7.62mm Self-Loading Rifle Specs
- Caliber: 7.62mm NATO
- Overall length: 45 in.
- Barrel length: 21.7 in.
- Weight: 9.6 lbs.
- Stock: Wood or synthetic
- Magazine: 20 rd. detachable box
- Front Sights: Post
- Rear Sights: Aperture adj. by ramp from 200 to 600 yards
- Bayonet: Knife style with 9 in. blade
Fusil De Asalto CETME Modelo C Specs
- Caliber: 7,62mm NATO
- Overall length: 39.9 in.
- Barrel length: 17.7 in.
- Weight: 9.9 lbs.
- Magazine: 20 rd. detachable box
- Front Sights: Hooded post
- Rear Sights: V notch & aperture for 100, 200, 300 & 400 meters
- Bayonet: Bolo style with 8.75 in. blade
I would like to thank the following for providing materials used to prepare this report: Mark Dotten, Danielle Hollembaek, Joel Kolander, Sarah Stoltzfus, Tim Hawkins, Garry James, Charlie Brown, Century International Arms, Sarco, Inc., Winchester Ammunition, Barnaul Ammunition (BarnaulAmmo.com), Rock Island Auction Co. & James D. Julia Auctioneers a division of Morphy Auctions.