August 07, 2019
By Leroy Thompson
The Swiss had defended their neutrality during World War II with the K31 rifle, as well as some older Schmidt-Rubin rifles, both chambered for the 7.5x55mm Swiss cartridge. Because of the Swiss military reserve system, in which soldiers took their rifles home after completing their training and initial service, older rifles remained in service as long as those to whom they had been issued served. Both of these bolt-action rifles showed typical Swiss quality and accuracy. The utility of both rifles was increased by the quality of Swiss marksmanship.
During the 1950s, as the rest of Europe adopted select-fire rifles with detachable box magazines, the Swiss also began development of a new battle/assault rifle. The AM55 that was designed during the early 1950s employed a half-lock or delayed-blowback operating system. With similarities to the HK G3, the system used a retarded blowback roller-locking system. However, as developed by SIG, the AM55 didn’t use a true roller-locking system. It used pivoting locking lugs with rounded roller shaped ends. These lugs pivoted to the sides to lock, forcing the tapered nose of the bolt body back to unlock. Also like the HK G3, the AM55 employed a fluted chamber. It fired from a closed bolt.
Though previous Swiss rifles had been known for fine machining, the AM55 used modern sheet metal stampings. In 1957, the Swiss Army adopted the AM55 as the Stgw57. The standard magazine for the rifle held 24 rounds, but the 30-round magazine of the Swiss M1925 LMG, which was chambered for the same cartridge, could also be used. There was also a six-round magazine produced for bench shooting as marksmanship is a high priority with the Swiss. Rather than use the 7.62x51MM NATO round, as did other European battle rifles, the Stgw57 was chambered for the same rimless, bottle neck 7.5x55mm cartridge as the K31. This was logical, as the previously issued rifles in this caliber remained in service with Swiss reservists. Having one standard rifle cartridge made ammunition production and logistics much simpler.
Other notable features of the Stgw57 included its rubberized butt stock and forearm, which made the rifle more comfortable to shoot and also protected the shooter’s hands from cold in an Alpine AO (Area of Operations). Also designed for the winter environment was a folding winter trigger to allow firing while wearing mittens or gloves. Still another feature useful when wearing gloves, the Stgw57’s cocking handle was beer keg shaped. Fans of Swiss rifles will notice that this cocking handle is virtually identical to that used on the K31 straight pull rifles. For ease of carrying up and down mountainous terrain, a carry handle that balances the rifle was incorporated. The Stgw57 used a three-position selector marked S (Safe), E (Semi-Auto), and M (Full-Auto). An integral muzzle brake reportedly cuts recoil by about 25%. Normally, the Stgw57 was equipped with a bipod.
Swiss rifles are intended for trained marksmen; hence, the sights are important. In the case of the Stgw57, its straight-line stock necessitated very high front and rear sights. As a result, to keep them from being damaged when transporting the rifle, they were designed to fold down when not in use. The rear sight was calibrated for adjustments between 100 and 640 meters. It seems likely that Swiss engineers were aware of the sights used on the WWII Fallschirmjager FG42 rifle, as they are similar. For use by the Schaarfschutze (Sharp Shooter), optical sights could be fitted, most often the Kern 4x24mm.
Two semi-auto variations of the Stgw587 were imported into the USA. The SIG AMT was the civilian version of the 7.62x51mm SG510-4 as adopted by Chile and Bolivia. The PE57 was the semi-auto version of the Stgw57 battle rifle. The PE57 was among the earliest assault rifles imported into the USA. Actually, “Battle Rifle” would be a more correct term, as the PE57 was chambered for a full-power service cartridge rather than an intermediate “assault rifle” cartridge such as the 5.56x45mm or 7.62x39mm. At $3,000 in 1984, the PE57 was expensive. That translates to about $7,300 in 2018. That was a lot of money, but $7,300 would be a bargain for a PE57 today, as one usually will sell for $10,000 or more depending on condition and accessories.
Not only was the PE57 expensive, it was long and heavy. It also was chambered for a cartridge that was uncommon in the USA and magazines for it were hard to find. (PE57 magazines are currently available for $94.95 from Colorado Gun Sales CoGunSales.com and the company has many other parts in stock.) All of these factors legislated against it having large sales. On the positive side, except for being a semi-auto, it was virtually identical to the Swiss military Stgw57, even keeping its bayonet lug. More AMT rifles, the semi-auto 7.62x51mm version of the Stgw57, were imported — estimates usually run to around 3,000 imported between 1969 and 1989. I’m not sure exactly how many PE57s were imported, but believe it would have been fewer than the number of AMTs.
I always liked the PE57 aesthetically, but I had no urge to purchase one. Of the imported SIGs, my want list read: 1st SIG 550, 2nd SIG 551, 3rd AMT, and 4th PE57. Because I collect semi-auto assault/battle rifles, I wasn’t averse to purchasing a PE57, but I didn’t acquire one before they were banned from importation and didn’t really look for one later. However, a few years ago I was offered a package deal on a PE57 and 550 at a relatively good price. The fact the PE57 came with hundreds of rounds of Swiss GP11 ammunition and a half-dozen magazines made the deal more
I’ve been happy that I did acquire it. It’s one of those firearms that, in its own way, is a work of art. As battle rifles go, it looks somewhat long and ungainly, but when you study it you realize that it is an excellent example of Swiss craftsmanship. Actually, the only criticism of the PE57 I’ve had since I bought it is that it takes up a lot of room in a safe and, therefore, doesn’t fit in my usual assault/battle rifle safe. It and my fixed stock FAL have to go in one that will take longer rifles. It’s in there with my .338 Lapua sniping rifles.
I don’t foresee the need for mounting a bayonet on my PE57, but I like the fact that I can if I want to do so. The M1957 Swiss bayonet is an elegant blade with a 9.4" blade and an attractive black ribbed handle. Even though Swiss riflemen were trained to shoot at longer ranges to keep the enemies from getting too close, I like the idea that they still planned and trained for the possibility that they would have to engage at close range.
On the rare occasions, I take my PE57 out to shoot, I use some of my stock of GP11 174-grain FMJ ammunition. For this article, I also decided to test it with some Hornady/Graf & Sons 165-grain BTSP. The GP11 ammunition was used by the Swiss as a military load but also in matches and is known for its accuracy. A friend who has shot my PE57 with me pointed out that the GP11 load is at a minimum equivalent in accuracy to US National Match ammo. I was interested to see how the Hornady/Graf & Sons performed by comparison.
I did not shoot the PE57 as much as I would an assault/battle rifle in 5.56x45mm or 7.62x51mm for the simple reason that 7.5mm Swiss ammo is expensive and my GP11 stock is hard to replenish. Still, I have shot my PE57 previously so am familiar with it. About 40 rounds were fired in the testing session for this article split between GP11 and Hornady/Graf & Sons.
My overall impressions of the PE57 have not changed since the last time I shot it. It is a firearms work of art, one that I sit and look at any time it’s out of the safe. Anyone who likes Swiss precision, and I do, has to appreciate the PE57. However, anyone who appreciates modern battle rifles also has to admit that the PE57 is long and heavy. Among idiosyncrasies of the PE57 are its tall flip-up sights. Because they stick up so high, during movement they should be folded to keep them from striking something and breaking off. Having noted this as my opinion, I have to admit that none of my Swiss contacts that were issued a PE57, mentioned breaking off their sights while moving through the woods.
On the positive side, the beer keg-shaped cocking handle gives a lot of leverage for pulling back the bolt, making the process seem easier than with many other battle rifles. The selector/safety switch is large enough for easy operation, but its location makes it impossible for me to operate it with the thumb of the shooting hand without completely shifting my grip. I use my support hand. The forearm is much smaller than is typical with battle rifles or assault rifles. As a result, my support hand is positioned closer to the receiver than with most battle rifles. To be honest, that is only notable if the rifle is being fired offhand, and its weight makes that difficult for me at distances past 25–50 meters even though I have better than average upper body strength. Actually, having the hand closer to the receiver seems to help balance the rifle in offhand use. An aid to offhand shooting or to shooting the PE57 in general is the pistol grip, which is ribbed for a solid grasp.
The PE57 is at its best being fired off of the bipod or off of some type of rest. Swiss soldiers were and are trained to fire prone to take advantage of the rugged terrain of Switzerland and to achieve better accuracy; the PE57 was designed for longer-range marksmanship. The magazine release paddle is easily operated with the support hand, and, by canting the rifle on its bipod, the 24-round magazine may be changed while firing from the prone position. In simple terms, Switzerland doesn’t have jungles where CQC with weapons such as the M4 or AK74 normally require quick, close-range handiness. Speaking of handiness, though, I did mount the bayonet on my PE57 and found that its length and heft do make it an effective weapon for bayonet thrusts, though I found it a little longer than I am used to for butt strokes.
I had the only malfunction I remember with my PE57 during the testing. A loaded round of Hornady/Graf & Son ammo remained in the chamber and I could not extract it even though the keg-shaped cocking handle allows a lot of leverage. On the positive side, the cocking handle is large enough that I could push it against the edge of the shooting bench to extract the cartridge. The soft point had become deformed. The PE57 is designed for FMJ military rounds.
As is usually the case with Swiss rifles, the trigger pull with the PE57 is good. I have in the past shot groups using the folding winter trigger since it gives more leverage making for an even better trigger pull. This time, though, I just used the standard trigger.
I expected the GP11 ammo to shoot better than the Hornady/Graf & Sons, but it REALLY shot better. The best GP11 group was almost one-third the size of the best Hornady/G&S group.
My conclusions are about the same as they have been any time I’ve shot my PE57. I really like the rifle and am glad I own it. It is true classic battle rifle, one of the most desirable of the semi-auto imports. Now that I’ve shot it and admired it once again, it will go back in the safe, towards the back. As much as I like it, I don’t plan to shoot it again for quite some time. If I had a ready supply of Swiss GP11 ammo at a reasonable price that would probably change.
PE57 SPECIFICATIONSOperating System
: Roller-Delayed BlowbackCaliber
: 7.5x55mm SwissOverall Length
: 43.3"Barrel Length
: 12.57 lbs.Magazine Capacity
: 6 or 24Sights
: Rear-Aperture, Front-Post; Both foldingValue
: $8,000 - $14,000