It’s a year since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and since last February we have seen a massive influx of Western weapon systems into Ukraine. We’ve seen everything from artillery to infantry weapons and the breadth of small arms has ranged from brand new Polish MSBS Grots and M4A1s to M14s. In recent months another Cold War icon has begun to appear in imagery from the fighting – the FN FAL – the ‘Right Arm of the Free World’.
To date both standard fixed stock and folding stock FALs have been seen in use, though appearances are relatively rare. The first sightings of FALs came in June 2022 when two photos of fixed stock 50.00 metric pattern Type 3 FALs were shared. The first in the second week of June and a second at the end of the month. The second photograph was posted by Ukrainian combatants near Nikolaev, Mykolaiv region. It is possible that both of these rifles may have been a civilian-owned rifle pressed into service.
The most common variant seen in open source imagery is currently the 50.61 or PARA FAL with a side-folding stock and a full length 53cm (21.0 in) barrel. The rifles could also be the visually identical 50.64, which has an alloy receiver, though these rifles are less common. All of the rifles seen in the photographs have Type 3 receivers which date them to post 1973 production. Sadly, photographs showing the weapon’s serial number ranges aren’t available.
A photograph of several crates of these still in their plastic wrapping shared in early October 2022. This is potentially the first sighting of the folding stocked rifles in Ukraine.
In late November a photograph of five PARA FALs in the same sort of crate was shared and said to have been taken near Bakhmut.
On 10 December, Dmytro Mrachnyk, the commander of a mortar platoon with a Ukrainian Territorial Defence Force unit fighting around Bakhmut, shared his first photograph with his PARA FAL. I contacted Dmytro and he was kind enough to share his thoughts on the rifle. He explained that he liked the rifle and has only had one stoppage, he said: “it jammed a cartridge case once during an intense fight, but the problem was quickly resolved.” He also explained that he really likes the 7.62x51mm round and that he had 9 magazines for the rifle.
He confirmed that the rifles are select fire and when I asked him about ammunition availability for the 7.62x51mm FALs, Dmytro said that there is some available but it can’t be found everywhere.
He said that so far he’s only seen the FALs in use with elements of his unit. He opted for the FAL, to replace his AK-74 when he joined the unit.
On the 22 December Dmytro shared a photograph of a PARA FAL which had its forend and stock covered in fur. I asked him about this and he explained that: “My sergeant decided to disguise the rifle for the winter – he partially painted it white and glued on a light fur found among the garbage in Bakhmut.”
On 30 December, Ukrainian personnel shared an update video from Bakhmut, one of the soldiers can be seen holding a PARA FAL. Several days later, in early January 2023, the same soldiers shared another short video filmed in a town square in Bakhmut, again the FAL can be seen.
Our second sighting of a fixed stock FAL came on 31 December when another Ukrainian combatant shared a photograph holding a 50.00 FAL, with some scrim wrapped around the butt and carrying handle and a bipod attached. He wished to remain anonymous but was kind enough to share his thoughts on the FAL.
He explained that he was issued the FAL instead of a UR-10 (UAR-10/Z-10) DMR rifle and that he was the only one in his company to be issued one. An optic was issued with the rifle but no means of mounting it to the rifle. He was also only provided with two 10 round magazines. Even without an optic he said that: “As a marksman, you can work at a maximum of 500m” and it “hits quite accurately with single shots, automatic fire gives a very large spread, very loud.”
Commenting on the rifle itself he noted that he believed the rifle to date from 1976 and that while ‘cool and a little unusual’ it was “picky, she is afraid of dirt, she was in a swamp and the action almost did not work.” He also felt that it was ‘a little too heavy compared to the AK [AK74].”
He also pointed out that “it is very long and not convenient when storming buildings” he concluded: “In my opinion, it is already outdated and not practical and often very inconvenient.”
The most recent photograph of one I have seen dates from 15 January, when Dmytro posted a photo, holding his FAL aloft, with the caption ‘The unconquered Bakhmut stands’.
It’s unclear who provided the rifles to Ukraine as numerous nations around the world have fielded similar variants. In Europe these include Belgium, Greece, Luxembourg, Portugal and the Netherlands. Most of these, however, have long since replaced them in service. If Belgium, one of the most likely candidates, provided the rifles then they have been in store since the late 1990s.
Special thanks to Dmytro and the other anonymous Ukrainian combatant for answering my questions, Dmytro’s details are in the description box below. Thanks also to the guys at Shrieking Delilah on Instagram who have been doing great work on documenting some of the plethora of weapons turning up in Ukraine.
So far, of the three major call war battle rifles we’ve seen the M14, check out my video on that if you haven’t already, and the FN FAL but I’m yet to see any sign of HK G3s. If you spot any or anything else I should cover in a video drop me a comment below or an email.
The social media of the Command of the United Forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine shared a photograph of a member of the 103rd Separate Brigade of the Ukrainian Territorial Defence Force with a tricked out 50.00 FN FAL mounted with bipod and an ATN THOR thermal optic. This configuration is in line with one mentioned by the anonymous Ukrainian combatant who shared his thoughts on the FAL. This FAL with the 103rd brigade, however, has an optic mounting rail and 20-round magazines.
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Identifying & Tracing the FN Herstal FAL Rifle, ARES, (source)
Authors discussions with Ukrainian servicemen including Dmytro Mrachnyk [PayPal: firstname.lastname@example.org]