What is the history of the bullpup rifle?

What is the history of the bullpup rifle?

Armies around the world utilize weapons to fight wars, intimidate other countries, and protect their citizens during times of strife. With ever-changing technology, the armed forces and the government must stay current with the latest and most effective weapons to help safeguard their country.

The same can be said for guns throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. With numerous technological changes in the last 150 years, handheld guns and weapons have evolved through the help of innovators and scientists who want to make the most powerful and successful option for their country’s soldiers.

History of the bullpup rifle


One of the first known designs of the bullpup rifle was created in 1902 by J.B. Thorneycroft, a Scottish man who wanted to create a compact rifle that could effectively shoot long ranges without suffering any performance determinants. Thorneycroft decided to move the action and magazine backward into the shoulder stock and placed the trigger at the magazine’s interior, changing the weight distribution of the rifle.

Furthermore, he connected the trigger and the rear by configuring a long link between these two apparatuses. Unfortunately for Thorneycroft, the British Army tested his rifle type, but was rejected in favor of the SMLE rifle.

At the same time, Thorneycroft worked on this bullpup rifle model, P.T. Godsal, a British inventor, patented his bullpup rifle. Similar to the fate of Thorneycroft’s model, Godsal’s did not attract any buyers in the market either.


In 1910, a French designer named A.F. Faucon strived to design a semi-automatic rifle with a decreased strain on the user’s shoulder during use. The rifle was intended to be used while walking, standing, kneeling, or sitting, with most of the rifle’s weight placed on the shoulder instead of the hands.

This bullpup rifle design was advanced, with the shoulder stock located below the gun, and the trigger and pistol grip in the front of the mechanism.

Following this standing bullpup rifle design, two other interesting suggestions were patented in the USA by 1918.

  • The first patent was created by J.R. Fordyce, who wanted to make a bullpup rifle that could be used over the shoulder. The design featured two grips and a front trigger below the barrel, adding a wooden stock, and using a conveyor feed system that held cartridges perpendicular to the barrel.
  • The second patent was created by H.L. Welsh, with the bullpup rifle design looking like a semi-automatic pistol. The concept of this rifle was to provide increased control over the recoil and transfer most of the weight to the bicep instead of the wrist.


Americans at this point had taken on the idea of a bullpup rifle. In1920, US Army soldier P.B Cunningham received a patent for a military bullpup rifle. His design used a gas-operated semi-automatic rifle with a rotary bolt and large-capacity magazine, designed in the bullpup layout, and a horizontal opening near the top of the shoulder stock.


In 1936, a Frenchman named H. Delacre received a British patent for a bullpup rifle, focusing on a compact weapon that contained dual triggers. Near the end of the same decade, workers in Czechoslovakian workers created several prototype bullpup rifles in 1938. This creation prompted the first bullpup rifle actually to be adopted by any military force worldwide.

World War II

During World War II, many firearms ended up in the United Kingdom, inspiring designers to create new bullpup rifle designs. During this period, the most notable design was the 7.9mm EM-1 automatic bullpup rifle, which featured a removable barrel.

Two other designs were created towards the end of the war, attempting to create a compact and fast-shooting bullpup rifle. The two designs were named the SREM-1 and the Hall rifle.

  • The SREM-1 was a manual weapon with a movable pistol grip.
  • The Hall Bullpup Rifle was a gas-operated semi-automatic weapon. Unfortunately for this design, it highlighted one of the main flaws of the bullpup rifle – ejection. The pity of the chamber was so close to the shooter’s face, it caused shooting to be impossible or very uncomfortable.


Towards the end of the war, British professionals started developing a new type of cartridge that could increase the bullpup rifle and universal machine gun range. With a focus on being lightweight and generating less recoil than any other rifle in the armed services, the priority of creating a bullpup rifle was paramount.

The British army initiated the development of a new rifle, with two versions being a bullpup layout – the EM-1 Cobra and the EM-2 Mamba.

  • The EM-2 Mamba was the most successful of the new weapons produced, and was eventually adopted for the British service as a bullpup rifle.

During the post-war period, the Soviets were also known for their creation of new weapons and rifles. Soviet designers began experimenting with the bullpup rifle configuration, creating one of the earliest-known models – the TKB-408. This option was a gas-operated gun with a tilting bolt, complete with a magazine catch for added efficiency.

The same innovation was happening in France during the 1950s. French manufacturers were competing in developing a new automatic rifle for their army to replace the slower-lading and inaccurate MAS-49 option. Several designers began turning towards the bullpup rifle layout, creating models like the AME, MAS, and MAT.


The Soviets began experimenting with bullpup rifle designs in the 1960s, with one of the wrist examples being the TKB-022 assault rifle. This weapon contained a compact steel receiver, rear location of the box magazine, and forward ejection of the spent cases. The ejection and feeding of cartridges were streamlined using a U-shaped part, while the spent cases were forced out of the barrel line.

The USA caught up in the late 1960s as the US Army sponsored the ‘Special Purpose Individual Weapon’ program to focus on creating multi-shot rifles and bullpup rifles that could include benefits of multiple weapon types.


The new and modern age of bullpup rifle construction began in the 1970s, when European militaries adopted the 5.56mm assault rifles in bullpup configuration as their official weapon. The Austrian military used the Steyr AUG, and the GIAT FAMAS was used by the French military, showing the improvements the bullpup configuration had made in recent years.


As you can see, the bullpup rifle configuration has changed drastically throughout many decades of changes, alterations, and improvements. Although young designers in the early 20th century realized the capability and potential of bullpup rifles, it wasn’t until the late 1980s that the bullpup rifle really became a staple in organized armed forces.

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