Fact file: R1 battle rifle


The standard rifle of the SA Army up to the 1980s. 


Gas-operated battle rifle


No longer manufactured.

Associated project names:

Not known.


Not known; largely withdrawn from service with surplus weapons destroyed.


Not known.


7.62x51mm NATO.


4.31kg empty, 5.06kg loaded with 20-round magazine (R1).

Magazine capacity:

20 or 30 rounds.


1.053m (R1).

Barrel length:

0.533m (R1).

Muzzle velocity:


Rate of fire:

650rpm (max), 35rpm (rapid), 20rpm (normal).

Effective range:



A license-built copy of the Belgian Fabrique National (FN) Fusil Automatique Leger (FAL, light automatic rifle). The R2 had a folding stock, the R3 was a semi-automatic version and the R1HB was a heavy barrelled variant that allowed for a measure of fully automatic fire and was used as a light machine gun.


Called a battle rifle rather than a true assault rifle by some in the small arms field, the FN FAL used the high-powered ammunition of World War Two bolt-action weapons rather than the less-powerful “intermediate”1 rounds preferred for assault rifles.


The FAL first appeared in 1950 and quickly set a world standard. South Africa adopted it as a standard service rifle in the early 1960s. By the 1980s it was in use with over 70 countries. The R1 family has largely been withdrawn from SANDF service, barring a few accuratised rifles issued for use as snipers’ weapons.


A copy of the first weapon made in SA – and received on behalf of the state by then-Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd on September 23, 1964 – is on display in the SA Museum of Military History in Saxonwold, Johannesburg.


1 Intermediate between high power rifle ammunition and pistol ammunition used for submachine guns.