As we mentioned earlier this week in the Charlton Automatic Rifle article, the Australian government expressed an interest in converting rifles to Philip Charlton’s self-loading design. Charlton spent several months in Australia negotiating the deal, and it was eventually decided that the Australian manufacturing company Electrolux (which made primarily household appliances) would produce the guns, with Charlton receiving a small royalty for each one. Electrolux built a couple prototype guns, and they differed in several ways from the typical New Zealand Charltons.
First of all, the Electrolux guns were made from No1 MkIII SMLE rifles, instead of the obsolete Lee Metford and Long Lee rifles used in New Zealand. The front end of the rifle was left intact with its wooden furniture and bayonet lug. Information about this Australian offshoot of the Charlton is pretty scarce, but it is possible that the Australians intended to use the guns as shoulder-fired semiauto rifles instead of light machine guns, and this would account for some of their design changes.
The Electrolux guns did have pistol grips, but not a front grip or bipod like the New Zealand guns. They also had sheet metal covers to protect the gas piston and other operating parts. Between these various changes, the Electrolux guns were much cleaner looking than Charlton’s original design. Looking closely, you can see that the buttstock was lengthened by splicing in an extension behind the sling swivel – the original length stock was too short to effectively shoot with he extra hardware added for the semiauto conversion.
Note that while the original Charlton guns used the regular rifle left sight located above the rear of the barrel, the Electrolux version replaced this with a simple aperture sight at the very back of the action cover. This would have made for better practical accuracy by significantly increasing the sight radius of the weapon.
This particular Electrolux rifle is equipped with a standard 10-round SMLE magazine, and we do not know if the Australian planned to use those or replace them with 30-round modified Bren magazines or extended SMLE magazines. The 10-rounder may have been used on the prototypes just for simplicity’s sake.
After the prototype rifles were built, production began on the parts for a large quantity (10,000, according to Charlton’s agreement with the Australian government) of conversions. At some point, however, the project was abandoned, and no production Electrolux guns were ever assembled. Late in the war the Australian government got around to offering their stock of finished parts to New Zealand, but by that time New Zealand had completed the 1500 guns it wanted, and had no need for the parts. What ended up happening to them is up to speculation – they were most likely destroyed, but there is always the tantalizing possibility that they remain crated up in the back of some warehouse. If you happen to know of them, please let us know – we would love to get our hands on Charlton parts!
Because only a handful of prototypes were ever made, the Electrolux Charlton guns are even more rare than the New Zealand version. We know of one in the British Pattern Room collection, and there may be another in a second museum. Unfortunate, because of all the self-loading Enfield conversions, the Electrolux Charlton is by far the most elegant looking.