Sten Gun

The submachine-gun is a compact automatic weapon firing pistol ammunition, designed for short-range assault and close-quarter fighting.

In the early stages of the Second World War the British Army purchased the Tommy Gun from the United States. These were expensive and in 1941 they switched to the Sten Gun made in Enfield. It was named after the combined first letters of the names of the designers, R. V. Shepherd and H. J. Turpin, and the Enfield Royal Small Arms Factory.

There were several models of the Sten Gun but the Mark 2 was the most popular. The gun had a massive bolt inside a tubular casing with the barrel fixed to the front and the magazine feeding from the left side where it could be supported on the firer's forearm.

During the Second World War the Royal Small Arms Factory supplied 4 million of these guns to the British Army. It was not popular with the soldiers because its habit of jamming when being used in battle. However, they were cheap to buy and the British government distributed them to resistance groups throughout occupied Europe. The gun could be easily and rapidly dismantled into its component parts for concealment, which was a distinct advantage for underground fighters.

Firearms History, Technology & Development

In our last post, we saw how America adopted the M3 a.k.a the Grease Gun. In today's post, we will look at one of the guns that inspired it, the British Sten gun. This was a gun that was designed to be manufactured cheaply and easily and we will study its origins and design today.

First, we must go back in history to Europe in the summer of 1940. German soldiers were sweeping through Belgium and France and allied troops were in a desperate situation and trapped in the tiny port of Dunkirk. The British deployed every boat and ship available to rescue the stranded Allies and in nine days (27th May - 4th June), over 300,000 soldiers (British, French, Polish, Belgian, Dutch etc.) were evacuated to England. However, this rapid evacuation also resulted in soldiers leaving their equipment behind and large amounts of firearms fell into the hands of the Germans. Shortly after that, the Battle of Britain started and many factories in England were bombed. As a result of all this, there was a shortage of small arms in Britain. The British were buying Thompson submachine guns from the United States, but the factory could not keep up with the demand (and after 1941, many of those Thompsons went to the US military, so they couldn't supply anyone else anyway). Therefore, a decision was made to design a submachine gun that could be made in England quickly and cheaply.

The task of designing this new weapon fell to Major R.V. Shepherd of the Design Department at the Royal Arsenal, Woolich and Mr. Harold J. Turpin, of the Design Department of the Royal Small Arms Factory, Enfield. The design they came up with was called the STEN. The "S" and "T" in the name came from the first letters of the designers last names (S from Shepherd and T from Turpin) and the "EN" came from the first two letters of "Enfield".

From the beginning, the aim was to design a cheap gun that could be manufactured with a minimum of machining operations. It had to be capable of being manufactured in small workshops and produced as quickly as possible. It also had to be capable of single shot and automatic fire and designed for close range fighting. It was designed to use the 9x19 mm. Parabellum Luger cartridge, which was also used by the Germans. The Sten was also deliberately designed to fit German 9 mm. magazines from the MP-38 and MP-40, so that they could use captured German ammunition and equipment if needed.

The design that they came up with was a submachine gun using a blowback mechanism and firing from an open bolt. When the weapon is cocked, the bolt remains at the rear of the weapon. When the trigger is pulled, the bolt is pushed forward by spring pressure and strips a cartridge from the magazine, chambers it and then fires it. The firing pin is fixed in front of the bolt. After the cartridge discharges, the bolt moves rearward against spring pressure and inertia of the heavy bolt and then recocks itself. The working components of this weapon are housed in a basic tubular metal receiver with a barrel on one end and a wire shoulder support welded to the other end, with a simple trigger mechanism in between

The first version of the Sten gun, the Mark I model, came with a conical flash hider and contained some wooden parts (the foregrip and part of the stock). The front pistol grip could also be rotated to make the firearm smaller and therefore, easier to pack. Production started in late 1940 and about 100,000 of this model were made.

Compared to the Mark I model, the Mark II model was much more stripped down. The flash hider was removed and the folding front pistol grip and all the wood were eliminated as well. This made the Mark II smaller and lighter than the Mark I model.

The Mark II variant was the most commonly manufactured model and about 2 million of these were produced. Some Mark II models were made with integral suppressors attached and were classified as Mark II (S)

The Mark III variant was even more stripped down than the Mark II model and was first produced in 1943. In this model, the receiver and the barrel shroud are made from a single tube, by wrapping a sheet steel plate into a cylindrical shape and welding the top. This model is also a bit lighter than the Mark II model.

The Sten Mark III model was the second most commonly produced model of the Sten gun family and was the most stripped down model of the series, and therefore the lightest version.

By 1944, the threat of a German invasion of Britain was over and the Sten gun quality improved. Models Mark IV and Mark V had better quality fit and finish and even came with wooden parts.

The Mark IV model was a paratrooper's model with a folding stock, but never got off the prototype stage. The Mark V model had better sights and finish and came with a bayonet attachment as well.

The Sten was designed to be manufactured quickly and easily. This is why most of the components could be manufactured by stamping sheet metal and doing some minor welding. From the beginning, many of the parts were subcontracted to small workshops, with final assembly being done at the Enfield factory. This was especially useful as the larger factories were being bombed from the air by the German Air Force, early on during the war. The design was made simpler with each generation and the Mark III model only had 47 parts. Interestingly, one of the largest manufacturers of the Mark III model was a toy company called Lines Brothers. The Sten was really cheap to manufacture and only cost about $10 to make, which was much cheaper than the Thompson submachine gun, which cost about $200 then.

While Sten guns were cheap to manufacture, they occasionally had jamming issues as well. The gun was designed to use the same magazine as the German MP-38/MP-40, so that people could reuse captured equipment. However, it also inherited the problems of the German magazine, in particular dirt could cause it to jam. In the absence of a pistol grip and forward grip in the Mark II and Mark III versions, some soldiers would hold the magazine with the supporting hand, causing it to wear out the magazine catch and cause failure to feed issues. The safety device was rudimentary and there was a danger of accidental discharge upon dropping the weapon, especially since many were crudely made. The Mark V model attempted to fix some of these issues.

The Sten was loved and hated by its users at the same time. Many didn't like its peculiar appearance and reliability (at least for the Mark II and Mark III models) and it was nicknamed the "Plumber's Nightmare" and the "Stench Gun". However, they liked its cheap cost and short range firepower. It was manufactured during World War II by many British companies, as well as workshops and factories in Canada, Australia, France, Poland, Denmark, Norway etc. It was responsible for the US manufacturing its own cheap submachine gun model: the M3 grease gun. Towards the end of World War II, even the Germans got in the act and made over 28,000 copies of the Sten gun. After World War II, many were made in small workshops Israel in 1948. The Sten gun is still in use in some countries around the world.


There are some inconsistencies in the classification of submachine guns. [4] British Commonwealth sources often refer to SMGs as "machine carbines". [4] [5] Other sources refer to SMGs as "machine pistols" because they fire pistol-caliber ammunition, for example, the MP-40 and MP5, where "MP" stands for Maschinenpistole ("Submachine gun" in German, but cognate with the English term "Machine pistol"). [6] However, the term "machine pistol" is also used to describe a handgun-style firearm capable of fully automatic or burst fire, [7] such as the Stechkin, Beretta 93R and the H&K VP70. Also, Personal Defense Weapons such as the FN P90 and H&K MP7 are often called submachine guns. [4] In addition, some compact assault rifles, such as the Colt XM177 and HK53, have been historically referred to as submachine guns as they served in the latter's role. [8]

World War I Edit

During World War I, Austria-Hungary introduced the world's first machine pistol: the Steyr Repetierpistole M1912/P16. The Germans also experimented with machine pistols by converting pistols such as the Mauser C96 and Luger P-08 from semi-automatic to fully automatic operation and adding detachable stocks. Carbine-type automatic weapons firing pistol rounds were developed during the latter stages of World War I by Italy, Germany and the United States. Their improved firepower (800-1000RPM) and portability offered an advantage in trench warfare, [9] where most troops were issued bolt action rifles, such as the Gewehr 98 or Lee–Enfield.

In 1915, the Kingdom of Italy introduced the Villar-Perosa aircraft machine gun. It fired pistol-caliber 9mm Glisenti ammunition, but was not a true submachine gun, as it was originally designed as a mounted weapon. This odd design was then modified into the OVP 1918 carbine-type submachine gun, which then evolved into the 9×19mm Parabellum Beretta Model 1918 after the end of World War I. Both the OVP 1918 and the Beretta 1918 had a traditional wooden stock, a 25-round top-fed box magazine, and had a cyclic rate of fire of 900 rounds per minute.

The Germans initially used heavier versions of the P08 pistol equipped with a detachable stock, larger-capacity snail-drum magazine and a longer barrel. By 1918, Bergmann Waffenfabrik had developed the 9 mm Parabellum MP 18, the first practical submachine gun. This weapon used the same 32-round snail-drum magazine as the Luger P-08. The MP 18 was used in significant numbers by German stormtroopers employing infiltration tactics, achieving some notable successes in the final year of the war. However, these were not enough to prevent Germany's collapse in November 1918. After World War I, the MP 18 evolved into the MP28/II SMG, which incorporated a simple 32-round box magazine, selective fire, and other minor improvements. [10] Though the MP18 had a rather short service life, it was influential in the design of later submachine guns, such as the Lanchester, Sten and PPD-40. [11]

The .45 ACP Thompson submachine gun had been in development at approximately the same time as the Bergmann and the Beretta. However, the war ended before prototypes could be shipped to Europe. [12] Although it had missed its chance to be the first purpose-designed submachine gun to enter service, it became the basis for later weapons, and was much more successful than the other submachine guns produced during World War I.

In the interwar period, the Thompson, nicknamed "Tommy Gun" or "Chicago Typewriter" became notorious in the U.S. due to its employment by the Mafia: the image of pinstripe-suited James Cagney types wielding drum-magazine Thompsons caused some military planners to shun the weapon. However, the FBI and other U.S. police forces themselves showed no reluctance to use and prominently display these weapons. Eventually, the submachine gun was gradually accepted by many military organizations, especially as World War II loomed, with many countries developing their own designs.

World War II Edit

Changes in design accelerated during the war, with one major trend being the abandonment of complex and finely made pre-war designs like the Thompson submachine gun to weapons designed for cheap mass production and easy replacement like the M3 Grease Gun.

The Italians were among the first to develop submachine guns during World War I. However, they were slow to produce them under Mussolini the 9 mm Parabellum Beretta Model 38 (MAB 38) was not available in large numbers until 1943. The MAB 38 was made in a successive series of improved and simplified models all sharing the same basic layout. The MAB 38 has two triggers, the front for semi-auto and rear for full-auto. Most models use standard wooden stocks, although some models were fitted with an MP40-style under-folding stock and are commonly mistaken for the German SMG. The MAB 38 series was extremely robust and proved very popular with both Axis and Allied troops (who used captured MAB 38s). [13] It is considered the most successful and effective Italian small arm of World War II. During the later years of the war, the TZ-45 submachine gun was manufactured in small numbers in the Italian Social Republic. A cheaper alternative to the MAB 38, it also sported an unusual-for-the time grip safety.

In 1939, the Germans introduced the 9 mm Parabellum MP38 which was first used during the invasion of Poland of September that year. However, the MP38 production was still just starting and only a few thousand were in service at the time. It proved to be far more practical and effective in close quarters combat than the standard-issue German Karabiner 98k bolt-action rifle. From this experience, the simplified and modernized MP40 (commonly and erroneously referred to as the Schmeisser) was developed and made in large numbers about a million were made during World War II. The MP40 was lighter than the MP38. It also used more stamped parts, making it faster and cheaper to produce. [14] The MP38 and MP40 were the first SMGs to use plastic furniture and a practical folding stock, [14] which became standard for all future SMG designs. [14] The Germans utilized large number of captured Soviet PPSh-41 submachine guns, some were converted to fire 9 mm Parabellum while others were used unmodified (the German 7.63×25mm Mauser cartridge was used as it has identical dimensions as the 7.62×25mm Tokarev, albeit slightly less powerful).

During the Winter War, the badly outnumbered Finnish used the Suomi KP/-31 in large numbers against the Russians with devastating effect. [15] Finnish ski troops became known for appearing out of the woods on one side of a road, raking Soviet columns with SMG fire and disappearing back into the woods on the other side. During the Continuation War, the Finnish Sissi patrols often equipped every soldier with KP/-31s. The Suomi fired 9 mm Parabellum ammo from a 71-round drum magazine (although often loaded with 74 rounds). "This SMG showed the world the importance of the submachine gun in modern warfare", [15] prompting the development, adoption and mass production of submachine guns by most of the world's armies. The Suomi was used in combat until the end of the Lapland war, was widely exported [15] and remained in service to the late 1970s. Inspired by captured examples of the Soviet PPS submachine gun, a gun that was cheaper and quicker to manufacture than the Suomi, the Finns introduced the KP m/44 submachine gun in 1944.

In 1940, the Soviets introduced the 7.62×25mm PPD-40 and later the more easily manufactured PPSh-41 in response to their experience during the Winter War against Finland. The PPSh's 71-round drum magazine is a copy of the Suomi's. Later in the war they developed the even more readily mass-produced PPS submachine gun - all firing the same small-caliber but high-powered Tokarev cartridges. The USSR went on to make over 6 million PPSh-41s and 2 million PPS-43s by the end of World War II. Thus, the Soviet Union could field huge numbers of submachine guns against the Wehrmacht, with whole infantry battalions being armed with little else. [16] Even in the hands of conscripts with minimal training, the volume of fire produced by massed submachine guns could be overwhelming.

Britain entered the war with no domestic submachine gun design of its own, but instead imported the expensive US M1928 Thompson. After evaluating their experience battlefield experience in the Battle of France and losing many military arms in the Dunkirk evacuation, the British Royal Navy adopted the 9 mm Parabellum Lanchester submachine gun. With no time for the usual research and development for a new weapon, it was decided to make a direct copy of the German MP 28. Like other early submachine guns it was difficult and expensive to manufacture. Shortly thereafter, the simpler Sten submachine gun was developed for general use by the British armed forces, it was much cheaper and faster to make. Over 4 million Sten guns were made during World War II. Indeed, the Sten was so cheap and easy to produce that towards the end of World War II as their economic base approached crisis, Germany started manufacturing their own copy, the MP 3008. After the war, the British replaced the Sten with the Sterling submachine gun.

The United States and its allies used the Thompson submachine gun, especially the simplified M1. However, the Thompson was still expensive and slow to produce. Therefore, the U.S. developed the M3 submachine gun or "Grease Gun" in 1942, followed by the improved M3A1 in 1944. While the M3 was no more effective than the Tommy Gun, it was made primarily of stamped parts and welded together, and so, it could be produced much faster and at a fraction of the cost of a Thompson. Additionally, its much lower rate of fire made it a lot more controllable. It could be configured to fire either .45 ACP or 9mm Luger ammunition. The M3A1 was among the longest-serving submachine gun designs, being produced into the 1960s and serving in US forces into the 1990s.

France produced only about 2,000 of the MAS-38 submachine gun (chambered in 7.65×20mm Longue) before the Fall of France in June of 1940. Production was taken over by the occupying Germans, who used them for themselves and also put them into the hands of the Vichy French.

The Owen Gun is a 9mm Parabellum Australian submachine gun designed by Evelyn Owen in 1939. The Owen is a simple, highly reliable, open bolt, blowback SMG. It was designed to be fired either from the shoulder or the hip. It is easily recognisable, owing to its unconventional appearance, including a quick-release barrel and butt-stock, double pistol grips, top-mounted magazine, and unusual offset right-side-mounted sights. The Owen was the only entirely Australian-designed and constructed service submachine gun of World War II and was used by the Australian Army from 1943 until the mid-1960s, when it was replaced by the F1 submachine gun. Only about 45,000 Owens were produced during the war for a unit cost of about A$30.

While most other countries during World War II developed multiple submachine guns, the Empire of Japan had only produced one, the Type 100 submachine gun, based heavily on the German MP28. Like most other small arms created in Imperial Japan, the Type 100 could be fitted with a bayonet. It used the 8×22mm Nambu cartridge, which was about half as powerful as a standard Western 9mm Parabellum round. [17] Production of the gun was even more inadequate: by the war's end, Japan had only manufactured about 7,500 [18] of the Type 100, whereas Germany, America, and other countries in the war had produced well over a million of their own SMG designs.

The German military concluded that most firefights took place at ranges of no more than about 300 meters. They therefore sought to develop a new class of weapon that would combine the high volume of fire of the submachine gun with an intermediate cartridge that enabled the shooter to place accurate shots at medium ranges (beyond that of the 100-200 meter range of the typical submachine gun). After a false start with the FG 42, this led to the development of the Sturmgewehr 44 select-fire assault rifle ("assault rifle" is a translation of the German Sturmgewehr). In the years following the war, this new format began to gradually replace the submachine gun in military use to a large extent. Based on the StG44, the Soviet Union created the AK-47, which is to date the world's most produced firearm, with over 100 million made.

Post World War II Edit

After World War II, "new submachine gun designs appeared almost every week to replace the admittedly rough and ready designs which had appeared during the war. Some (the better ones) survived, most rarely got past the glossy brochure stage." [19] Most of these survivors were cheaper, easier and faster to make than their predecessors. As such, they were widely distributed.

In 1945, Sweden introduced the 9 mm Parabellum Carl Gustav M/45 with a design borrowing from and improving on many design elements of earlier submachine-gun designs. It has a tubular stamped steel receiver with a side folding stock. The M/45 was widely exported, and especially popular with CIA operatives and U.S. Special Forces during the Vietnam War. In U.S. service it was known as the "Swedish-K". In 1966, the Swedish government blocked the sale of firearms to the United States because it supported North Vietnam in the Vietnam War. [20] As a result, in the following year Smith & Wesson began to manufacture an M/45 clone called the M76.

In 1946, Denmark introduced the Madsen M-46, and in 1950, an improved model the Madsen M-50. These 9 mm Parabellum stamped steel SMGs featured a unique clamshell type design, a side folding stock and a grip-safety on the magazine housing. The Madsen was widely exported and especially popular in Latin America, with variants made by several countries.

In 1948, Czechoslovakia introduced the Sa vz. 23 series. This 9 mm Parabellum SMG introduced several innovations: a progressive trigger for selecting between semi-automatic and full auto fire, a telescoping bolt that extends forward wrapping around the barrel and a vertical handgrip housing the magazine and trigger mechanism. The vz. 23 series was widely exported and especially popular in Africa and the Middle East with variants made by several countries. The vz. 23 inspired the development of the Uzi submachine gun. [21]

In 1949, France introduced the MAT-49 to replace the hodgepodge of French, American, British, German and Italian SMGs in French service after World War II. The 9 mm Parabellum MAT-49 is an inexpensive stamped steel SMG with a telescoping wire stock, a pronounced folding magazine housing and a grip safety. This "wildebeast like design" proved to be an extremely reliable and effective SMG, and was used by the French well into the 1980s. It was also widely exported to Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

1950s Edit

In 1954, Israel introduced a 9 mm Parabellum open-bolt, blowback-operated submachine gun called the Uzi (after its designer Uziel Gal). The Uzi was one of the first weapons to use a telescoping bolt design with the magazine housed in the pistol grip for a shorter weapon. The Uzi has become the most popular submachine gun in the world, with over 10 million units sold, [22] more than any other submachine gun. [23]

In 1959, Beretta introduced the Model 12. This 9 mm Parabellum submachine gun was a complete break with previous Beretta designs. [24] It is a small, compact, very well made SMG and among the first to use a telescoping bolt design. [24] The M12 was designed for mass production and was made largely of stamped steel and welded together. [24] It is identified by its tubular shape receiver, double pistol grips, a side folding stock and the magazine housed in front of the trigger guard. The M12 uses the same magazines as the Model 38 series.

Submachine guns in the Korean War Edit

Submachine guns proved to be an important weapon system once again in the Korean War (25 June 1950 – 27 July 1953). The Korean People's Army (KPA) and the Chinese People's Volunteer Army (PVA) fighting in Korea received massive numbers of the PPSh-41, in addition to the North Korean Type 49 and the Chinese Type 50, which were both licensed copies of the PPSh-41 with small mechanical revisions. [25] Though relatively inaccurate, the Chinese PPSh has a high rate of fire and was well-suited to the close-range firefights that typically occurred in that conflict, especially at night. [26] United Nations Command forces in defensive outposts or on patrol often had trouble returning a sufficient volume of fire when attacked by companies of infantry armed with the PPSh. Some U.S. infantry officers ranked the PPSh as the best combat weapon of the war: while lacking the accuracy of the U.S. M1 Garand and M1 carbine, it provided more firepower at short distances. [26] As infantry Captain (later General) Hal Moore, stated: "on full automatic it sprayed a lot of bullets and most of the killing in Korea was done at very close ranges and it was done quickly – a matter of who responded faster. In situations like that it outclassed and outgunned what we had. A close-in patrol fight was over very quickly and usually we lost because of it." [26] U.S. servicemen, however, felt that their M2 carbines were superior to the PPSh-41 at the typical engagement range of 100–150 meters. [27]

Other older designs also saw use in the Korean war. The Thompson had seen much use by the U.S. and South Korean military, even though the Thompson had been replaced as standard-issue by the M3/M3A1. With huge numbers of guns available in army ordnance arsenals, the Thompson remained classed as Limited Standard or Substitute Standard long after the standardization of the M3/M3A1. Many Thompsons were distributed to the US-backed Nationalist Chinese armed forces as military aid before the fall of Chiang Kai-shek's government to Mao Zedong's communist forces at the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949 (Thompsons had already been widely used throughout China since the 1920s, at a time when several Chinese warlords and their military factions running various parts of the fragmented country made purchases of the weapon and then subsequently produced many local copies). US troops were surprised to encounter communist Chinese troops armed with Thompsons (amongst other captured US-made Nationalist Chinese and American firearms), especially during unexpected night-time assaults which became a prominent Chinese combat tactic in the conflict. The gun's ability to deliver large quantities of short-range automatic assault fire proved very useful in both defense and assault during the early part of the war when it was constantly mobile and shifting back and forth. Many Chinese Thompsons were captured and placed into service with American soldiers and marines for the remaining period of the war.

1960s Edit

In the 1960s, Heckler & Koch developed the 9 mm Parabellum MP5 submachine gun. The MP5 is based on the G3 rifle and uses the same closed-bolt roller-delayed blowback operation system. This makes the MP5 more accurate than open-bolt SMGs, such as the Uzi. The MP5 is also one of the most widely used submachine guns in the world, [28] having been adopted by 40 nations and numerous military, law enforcement, and security organizations. [29]

In 1969, Steyr introduced the MPi 69. This 9 mm Parabellum open-bolt, blowback-operated SMG has a telescoping bolt and is similar in appearance to the Uzi SMG. [30] It has a vertical pistol-grip into which the magazine is inserted, a longer horizontal front grip area and a telescoping wire buttstock. The receiver is a squared stamped steel tube that partly nestles inside a large plastic molding (resembling a lower receiver) which contains the forward hand-grip, vertical pistol-grip and the fire control group, making the MPi 69 one of the first firearms to use a plastic construction in this way. It has a progressive trigger and is also unusual among modern SMGs, as the MPi 69 is cocked by a dual-purpose lever also used as the front sling attachment point. [30]

1970s Edit

In the 1970s, extremely compact submachine guns, such as the .45ACP Mac-10 and .380 ACP Mac-11, were developed to be used with silencers or suppressors. [31] While these SMGs received enormous publicity, and were prominently displayed in films and television, they were not widely adopted by military or law enforcement agencies. [31] These smaller weapons led other manufacturers to develop their own compact SMGs, such as the Micro-UZI and the H&K MP5K.

1980s Edit

By the 1980s, the demand for new submachine guns was very low and could be easily met by existing makers with existing designs. [2] However, following H&K's lead, other manufacturers began designing submachine guns based on their existing assault rifle patterns. These new SMGs offered a high degree of parts commonality with parent weapons, thereby easing logistical concerns.

In 1982, Colt introduced the Colt 9mm SMG based on the M16 rifle. [32] The Colt SMG is a closed bolt, blowback operated SMG and the overall aesthetics are identical to most M16 type rifles. The magazine well is modified using a special adapter to allow the use of the smaller 9mm magazines. The magazines themselves are a copy of the Israeli UZI SMG magazine, modified to fit the Colt and lock the bolt back after the last shot. The Colt is widely used by US law enforcement and the USMC. [33]

1990s Edit

In 1998, H&K introduced the last widely distributed SMG, the UMP "Universal Machine Pistol". [34] The UMP is a 9mm, .40 S&W, or .45 ACP, closed-bolt blowback-operated SMG, based on the H&K G36 assault rifle. [35] [36] It features a predominantly polymer construction and was designed to be a more cost effective, lighter weight, and less complex design alternative to the MP5. [35] [37] The UMP has a side-folding stock and is available with four different trigger group configurations. [38] It was also designed to use a wide range of Picatinny rail mounted accessories [35] [36]

2000s Edit

In 2004, Izhmash introduced the Vityaz-SN a 9 mm Parabellum, closed bolt straight blowback operated submachine gun. It is based on the AK-74 rifle and offers a high degree of parts commonality with the AK-74. [39] It is the standard submachine gun for all branches of Russian military and police forces. [40] [41]

In 2009, KRISS USA introduced the KRISS Vector family of submachine guns. [42] Futuristic in appearance, the KRISS uses an unconventional delayed blowback system combined with in-line design to reduce perceived recoil and muzzle climb. The KRISS comes in 9mm Parabellum, .40 S&W, .45 ACP, 9×21mm, 10mm Auto, and .357 SIG. It also uses standard Glock pistol magazines.

2010s Edit

By 2010, compact assault rifles and personal defense weapons had replaced submachine guns in most roles. [2] Factors such as the increasing use of body armor and logistical concerns have combined to limit the appeal of submachine guns. However, SMGs are still used by police (especially SWAT teams) for dealing with heavily armed suspects and by military special forces units for close-quarters combat, due to their reduced size, recoil and muzzle blast. Submachine guns also lend themselves to the use of suppressors, particularly when loaded with subsonic ammunition. Variants of the Sterling and Heckler & Koch MP5 have been manufactured with integral suppressors.

First developed during the 1980s, the personal defense weapon (PDW) is touted as a further evolution of the submachine gun. The PDW was created in response to a NATO request for a replacement for 9×19mm Parabellum submachine guns. The PDW is a compact automatic weapon that uses specially designed rifle-like cartridges to fire armor-piercing bullets and are sufficiently light to be used conveniently by non-combatant and support troops, and as an effective close quarters battle weapon for special forces and counter-terrorist groups. [43] [44]

Introduced in 1991, the FN P90 features a bullpup design with a futuristic appearance. It has a 50-round magazine housed horizontally above the barrel, an integrated reflex sight and fully ambidextrous controls. [45] A simple blowback automatic weapon, it was designed to fire the proprietary FN 5.7×28mm cartridge which can penetrate soft body armor. [43] [44] The P90 was designed to have a length no greater than an average-sized man's shoulder width, to allow it to be easily carried and maneuvered in tight spaces, such as the inside of an infantry fighting vehicle. [45] The P90 is currently in service with military and police forces in over 40 nations. [46]

Introduced in 2001, the Heckler & Koch MP7 is a direct rival to the FN P90. It is a more conventional-looking design, and uses a short-stroke piston gas system as used on H&K's G36 and HK416 assault rifles, in place of a blowback system traditionally seen on submachine guns. [47] The MP7 uses 20-, 30- and 40-round box magazines and fires the proprietary 4.6×30mm ammunition which can penetrate soft body armor. Due to the heavy use of polymers in its construction, the MP7 is much lighter than older SMG designs, being only 1.2 kg (2.65 lb) with an empty 20-round magazine. The MP7 is currently in service with military and police forces in over 20 nations.

The STEN Gun: Britain's Love-Hate Submachine Gun

The STEN gun was a 9 mm Parabellum submachine gun developed by Britain for use in WWII and this damnably straightforward piece of kit today still elicits conflicting emotions from machine gunners and history buffs alike.

The STEN, its name is derived from the chief designers initials (S for Shepherd, T for Turpin) and EN for Enfield or The Royal Small Arms Factory, Enfield, was described in one unflattering early account as, “resembling a roughly machined collection of scrap metal that was quite exciting to be around as it tended to go off when knocked” and it is more than likely this love hate relationship with the gun (courtesy of the role it played in history) that best epitomizes this classic small arm.

Though the gun received very little praise in its heyday, by modern standards the rawness of the design deserves respect, particularly when you place the weapons initial manufacture squarely during the Battle of Britain (i.e. Germany’s attempted invasion of the United Kingdom). Losing a substantial number of men and weapons at the battle of Dunkirk, a shaken British military realized demand for submachine guns could not be filled by the US, who would be entering the War in 1941 and up until that point had been supplying the Brits with US made Thompsons. Seeking a domestically produced solution, an already resource hungry Great Britain turned to the Royal Arsenal to design a user friendly, threadbare weapon that even a country on rations could afford to produce.

With only 47 parts (and with only two of those parts machined) the simple STEN gun was made of stamped steel, welded together so that production could be done in small shops, rather than in large factories. As the war progressed, the design became more Spartan—the Mark III, which replaced a wood stock with essentially just a length of pipe, could be made in a matter of five man hours. Ironically, this third iteration, the STEN Mark III, was manufactured by Lines Brothers in England, a firm of toy makers, and surprisingly these guns are considered to be the best quality weapons of all the models produced.

At time when any type of weapon was in short supply, an unpredictable, sewn together submachine gun was better than nothing and with production cost so low the Brits weren’t anxious about handing them out to resistance fighters, who loved because they could be dismantled and components hidden with ease. The STEN also quite crucially could fire captured German 9 mm ammunition though STEN ammo magazines of inferior quality which further reduced trust and reliability. This fickleness could also be attributed to the belief that, because of the minimalist design, the weapon could be fired without lubrication (it can and it can’t).

The nutty part is this however: despite all of the guns’ well understood, cash strapped driven design flaws, more than 4 million STEN guns produced for Commonwealth troops through WWII. And England didn’t keep this ugly secret to themselves they exported the design and the methods to the rest of the British Commonwealth and her allies, cementing the STENs open bolt design, curious horizontal magazine and even inspiring copycat (and by most accounts superior) designs like Australia’s Owen submachine gun. Argentina, France, Norway, Denmark, Poland and even the United States of America (we called it the Sputter gun) all toyed around with STEN designs.

First used by Canadians (who produced Mark II’s in Long Branch Ontario) at Dieppe, the STEN completely replaced the Thompson in Northwest Europe by the time of the Normandy landings in 1944. The STEN was initially issued to vehicle crews and dispatch riders assuming a limited need for a long range weapon. As production grew it was preferred by platoon commanders, platoon sergeants and officers as it was small and light. In 1944 Brit Official Dispatches noted that a Canadian Battalion Commander in Normandy personally hunted down a German sniper, tracked him to a barn, and “gunned the bastard down” with his STEN.

After the War, the STEN was replaced by the Sterling, but not after leaving a whole family of variants behind. Notably the Mark II can be fitted with a silencer, making it the very first silenced sub machinegun ever produced.

If necessity is the mother of invention, the STEN was created because crude times often necessitate a crude solution. A gun that was an easy to make, surprisingly simple to operate, offered very little recoil and, when fired in close, was effective as anything else out there, ultimately won the hearts of the soldiers who lived and died by it’s performance, regardless of how ugly it looked. Today, complete WWII STEN guns can fetch upwards of $15,000, though more modest examples can go for as little as $3,000.

Cheap Shot: How the Sten Gun Saved Britain

ON JUNE 5, 1940, THE SMOLDERING BEACHES AT DUNKIRK, ON THE WEST COAST OF FRANCE , were largely silent. German soldiers, having stormed across Western Europe in less than a month, now milled about the bomb-blackened sands. Over 10 frenetic days, the British Royal Navy and a vast fleet of auxiliary civilian vessels had managed to evacuate more than 330,000 soldiers—all that was left for a fragile but continued resistance to the German juggernaut. Yet the physical evidence of a massive British defeat lay all around. In the last-gasp scramble to escape enemy clutches, British forces had abandoned nearly 2,500 artillery pieces, 85,000 vehicles (including 445 tanks), 75,000 tons of ammunition, 416,000 tons of supplies, 11,000 machine guns, and tens of thousands of other small arms.

Great Britain now faced an industrial as well as a military emergency, compounded by accelerating casualties from the German U-boat campaign, the ongoing neutrality of the United States (its Lend-Lease program would not begin for another year), the expansion of its armed forces through national conscription, and the looming specter of a German invasion. A particularly pressing problem was how to arm Britain’s newly constituted Home Guard, which by July 1940 numbered 1.5 million men. The guards, embarrassingly short of weapons, were sometimes forced to drill with broomsticks, eliciting nervous laughter from the British public. If the country was to survive, its fighting men had to be properly armed.

Fortunately, an unlikely—and unlovely—solution was about to appear. It would officially be known as the Sten gun, though some soldiers would come to call it the “Plumber’s Nightmare” or the “Stench Gun.” By any name, it would prove to be one of the most unusual and ubiquitous weapons of World War II.

BRITAIN’S DISASTROUS CAMPAIGNS OF 1939 AND 1940 MADE AT LEAST ONE THING CLEAR: Its armed forces needed submachine guns. During numerous close-range scraps in Norway and France, British soldiers—almost exclusively armed with .303-inch bolt-action Lee-Enfield No. 4 rifles—had come off worse against German troops armed with 9mm MP 38 and MP 40 submachine guns, which delivered blistering fire at 500 rounds per minute over an effective range of 200 yards. Besides increasing British firepower, submachine guns would also be also ideal weapons for the expanding ranks of auxiliary troops and tank crews who needed compact, easily accessible weapons they could store inside their vehicles.

Through most of the 1930s, the Small Arms Committee of Britain’s Ordnance Board had dallied over acquiring submachine guns, testing several foreign-made types but opting for none. When World War II broke out in 1939, the British government hastily acquired limited numbers of submachine guns by importing Thompson M1928s from the United States and by commissioning the Sterling Armament Company in East London to manufacture its own 9mm Lanchester for issuance to the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force. Neither weapon, unacceptably expensive for a wartime economy, solved the problem. What Britain really needed was a homegrown submachine gun that could be produced rapidly and inexpensively and that would tick off all the core tactical and functional boxes. “The most important consideration at the moment,” a member of the ordnance board noted, “seems to be to get some form of machine carbine acceptable to all three services into production as quickly as possible.”

The solution came in December 1940, almost six months after Dunkirk. Harold John Turpin, a senior draftsman at the Royal Small Arms Factory in Enfield, produced a drawing for a simplified trigger mechanism that had only two moving parts. He then worked closely with Lieutenant Colonel Reginald Vernon Shepherd, the inspector of armaments in the design department of the Ministry of Supply at the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich, to develop a prototype “street fighting machine carbine” that could be produced with minimal machine tools by unskilled laborers. In just 39 days Shepherd’s designers came up with two working prototypes. After performing well in function and endurance tests, the winning prototype was adopted, on March 7, 1941, as the Carbine, Sten, Mk I. The name Sten, the popular story goes, was derived from the initials of Shepherd and Turpin’s surnames, plus the first two letters of Enfield.

Workers at ROF (Royal Ordnance Factory) Fazakerley in Liverpool, England, assemble breech blocks for the Sten. (Imperial War Museums)

The Sten gun broke all the rules. Basically, it was little more than a steel tube fitted with a barrel, bolt, magazine, recoil spring, and trigger most of its parts could be made with ultra cheap and fast stamping and welding processes. Only the gun’s barrel and bolt required precision machining. As a bonus, it used readily available ammunition: the 9 x 19mm Parabellum. The simple blowback mechanism fired at a cyclical rate of 550 rpm and was fed from a side-mounted magazine—a direct copy of the Germans’ MP 38/MP 40—to aid prone firing. Weighing seven pounds without the magazine and nine pounds with it, there was no wood anywhere on the gun. With just 59 metal parts, the Sten was purposely designed to be churned out by the tens of thousands. The Mk I initially had some frills—a “spoonbill” flash hider, wooden handguard, and vertical folding foregrip—but these were quickly jettisoned to produce the guns in ever larger numbers. Still, the new weapon proved too complicated, requiring up to 12 man-hours to produce, and by the late spring of 1941 a new prototype, the Mk II, was adopted. British prime minister Winston Churchill visited the test facility at Shoeburyness, Essex, on June 13, 1941, and personally test fired the Mk II.

THE MK II WAS AN UGLY GUN, MORE AKIN TO JUNKYARD OFFCUTS THAN A MILITARY-GRADE WEAPON, with a tubular profile, blobs of welding, and a simple skeleton stock. But that was the point: It was the perfect gun for emergency wartime production. And it was stunningly cheap: each gun cost about $10 to manufacture as opposed to $70 for a Thompson. From start to finish, the Mk II took just five and a half hours to make. The challenge now was to mass-produce it.

Given the shortage of precision machine tools in Britain at the time, plus the continuing stress on British manufacturing companies, the Sten was designed for stamping and pressing processes that could be performed in the humblest of workshops. Stables, lofts, even hen houses or the garrets of private homes became improvised Sten gun factories. Various Sten subassemblies were also farmed out to hundreds of small industrial operations scattered across the United Kingdom, often to companies with no experience in weapons manufacturing.

Nor was production just a British affair. The huge Small Arms Ltd. production plant in Toronto, Canada, manufactured 104,553 Mk IIs it also made 1.1 million Sten magazines. New Zealand chipped in with another 1,000 Stens. Australia, always stubbornly independent, preferred to develop its own variation—the Owen submachine gun, which was heavier, had a wooden stock, and was rated far superior to the Mk II.

Innovations streamed in from all corners of the United Kingdom. One of the most important of them came from Walter W. Hackett, the joint managing director of Accles & Pollock, a tube-making firm in Birmingham. The War Ministry had asked Hackett how Sten barrels could be produced more efficiently. He pioneered a method in which cold hammer-forged barrels were manufactured using hardened steel mandrels, obviating the need for expensive boring and rifling machines. Hackett’s process prevented delays of up to a year in Sten production and saved 1.4 million feet of metal tubing at a time when resources were precious. Using Hackett’s method, one Sten barrel could be made every 10 seconds. Sir Claude Gibb, an engineer who oversaw British weapons manufacturing during World War II, said later that Hackett “made the greatest contribution to the production of small arms during the whole of the war”: in all, an astonishing number of Sten guns—some 4.5 million in all—were manufactured.

In the second half of 1941, soldiers began using the Sten gun in combat. Some of the early recipients had less than encouraging responses to their new weapons—first impressions not helped by its industrial crudity, especially when compared with the polished wood and high-grade steel of the long-serving Lee-Enfield rifle. “They were said to cost thirty shillings each and I do not doubt it,” one officer of the Home Guard remarked. “It is inaccurate over fifty yards and apt to be dangerous in the hands of an untrained man.” But British parachutist Alan Lee gave the Sten a qualified endorsement: “When you went into a village or went into a house, whatever it was, it was a reliable weapon. It wasn’t a reliable instrument for anything over 100 yards, but for anything close-quarters it was very reliable.”

One of the first recipients of the Mk II—and certainly the most prominent—was King George VI of Britain, who as honorary colonel in chief of the Home Guard carried his weapon around with him in a custom-built wooden briefcase. (Every night, when he and Queen Elizabeth made the 25-mile trip in a bulletproof vehicle from Buckingham Palace to Windsor Castle, the Sten gun went with them.) The king even had a shooting range installed in the gardens at Buckingham Palace and in 1940 arranged for Princess Elizabeth, age 14, and Princess Margaret, age 10, to be given shooting lessons there.

Like the British, many European resistance groups produced their own Sten guns but often, necessarily, in furtive and frequently interrupted turns in clandestine workshops. The Danish resistance made 1,000 or so Stens, adding to the 3,500 air dropped to them by the British and the 1,000 brought in by boat from Sweden. The Norwegians made about 800 Stens in basement workshops and secret rooms in Oslo. Polish resistance groups manufactured 1,300 Stens, many of them virtually handmade by local blacksmiths, machinists, and other skilled craftsmen.

The Sten became the weapon of choice of numerous resistance operations throughout Europe, from shock ambushes in narrow French lanes to heavier use in the Warsaw uprising of August–October 1944. It could be disassembled in a matter of seconds, the pieces then packed conveniently into a parachute drop box or quickly hidden behind a false wall or under floorboards. It took almost no formal training to use a Sten once a resistance fighter learned the basic loading and unloading procedure, he had only to point it in the right direction and pull the trigger. The Sten offered the additional advantage of firing the same 9mm Parabellum bullets the Germans used, so resistance fighters could supplement their own precious supply of bullets with ammunition captured from the enemy.

For the Germans in the occupied territories, finding a Sten, or parts of a Sten, was a clear signal of organized British-­supported resistance, and their retribution was swift. In 1942 the discovery of a parachute-dropped Sten hanging from a tree in Norway led Reichskommissar Josef Terboven to decree that anyone found in possession of a Sten would be summarily executed. Sometimes even less evidence brought doom. British special operations teams in France, for example, had to take utmost caution not to leave any evidence of their passing in French farmhouses, where they often made overnight stops. In one instance, German troops inspecting a haystack found a single British-­made round for a Sten gun, and on the basis of that flimsy evidence killed the French family living there and burned the farm to the ground.

ONE OF THE STEN GUN’S FIRST MAJOR TESTS CAME ON AUGUST 19, 1942, when 6,000 Allied (mostly Canadian) infantry launched an exploratory amphibious operation against the German-occupied port of Dieppe, France. The operation was a fairly emphatic disaster, with some 60 percent of the attacking force killed, wounded, or captured, and the Sten proved unwieldy and inaccurate on the battlefield. Many reports from surviving Canadians spoke of Stens jamming at the worst possible moments. The problems were not entirely with the Sten’s design. The weapons had been issued immediately before the raid, and many were still clogged with packing grease when they were taken into action. Shortages of ammunition also meant that many of the Canadian soldiers had not had the chance to conduct live-fire training with the Sten before going into combat. The failures at Dieppe gave Allied planners some much-needed lessons as they began preparing for the D-Day landings, but it was not a promising early combat trial for the new gun.

Nor would the Sten’s failures at Dieppe be isolated instances. The gun was generally regarded as “unpredictable,” to use one of the more charitable terms British soldiers applied. Sometimes when an uncocked Sten was inadvertently knocked or dropped, its bolt bounced backward just enough to clear the magazine well, at which point the recoil spring would drive the bolt forward, chamber a round, and fire. This issue was particularly serious for paratroops, whose very method of deployment was an exercise in bumps and jolts. During a jump by the 1st Parachute Battalion near Tunis on November 16, 1942, four parachutists were wounded by a single runaway Sten the 3rd Parachute Battalion suffered its only fatality when a trooper accidentally shot himself with his Sten. The failures were mainly attributable to the Sten’s magazine, whose double-stack-to-single-feed configuration was prone to jamming, a problem that was never entirely resolved. There are numerous reports of British or Commonwealth soldiers taking a bead on enemy troops, pulling the Sten’s trigger, and hearing nothing more than the bolt slapping the back of the breech with a metallic clang. Little wonder that the Sten gun earned a variety of wry nicknames.

One of the Sten’s most famous malfunctions occurred on May 27, 1942, when Jozef Gabčík, a commando in the Czechoslovak army, stepped in front of SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich’s open-topped Mercedes-Benz touring car near Bulovka Hospital in Prague. Gabčík was to fire the opening rounds in a two-man assassination attempt on the much-hated Nazi officer, one of the key architects of the Holocaust. When Gabčík pulled the trigger, nothing happened—the Sten had jammed. Gabčík’s partner, Jan Kubis, stepped into the breach, tossing a modified antitank grenade at Heydrich’s vehicle. The subsequent explosion severely wounded Heydrich, peppering his side with shrapnel and bits of upholstery that ultimately led to a case of fatal blood poisoning. The SS hunted down Gabčík and Kubis, killing them and several compatriots in a six-hour gun battle at a Prague cathedral. (They remain Czech heroes to this day.)

Workers at ROF (Royal Ordnance Factory) Fazakerley in Liverpool, England inspect the finished guns. (Imperial War Musuems)

British airborne troops spearheading the invasion of Italy in September 1943 had their own misadventures with the balky weapon. Trooper Ron Kent of the 21st Independent Parachute Company recalled that the Sten often proved more dangerous to its users than to the enemy. Men in Kent’s company suffered several injuries because of the old model Sten’s instability. “Sid Humphries sustained a nasty nick below the knee cap,” Kent said, “when his section sergeant, rounding some rocks, accidentally caught the toe of his boot against the butt of a Sten leaning against a stone and pointing straight at where Sid was busy cooking for his section. The miserable weapon fired a nine millimeter bullet at Sid’s leg.” British parachutists and glider-borne troops carried Stens into combat during the D-Day invasion, where the bitter hand-to-hand fighting in the hedgerows and small-town streets of Normandy was precisely the sort of close-in action for which the Sten was designed.

British sergeant major Stanley Hollis, who landed at Gold Beach on D-Day, rushed to suppress a German battery at Mont Fleury. His company commander pointed out an enemy pillbox. “It was very well camouflaged,” Hollis said, “and I saw these guns moving around in the slits and I got my Sten gun and I rushed at it, spraying it hosepipe fashion. They fired back at me and they missed. I don’t know whether they were more panic-stricken than me, but they must have been.” Hollis went around to the rear of the pillbox, where he found two soldiers dead and several who “were quite willing to forget all about the war.” For his gallantry in silencing the Mont Fleury battery, Hollis received a Victoria Cross, the only one awarded for a D-Day exploit.

During the subsequent Normandy campaign British paratroops carried Stens along with rifles. The Stens went to platoon commanders and their batmen, as well as signalers, pioneers, and other auxiliary troops. In the fighting to seize and hold the vital Orne River bridge and canal bridges, Lieutenant Richard “Sandy” Smith of No. 14 Platoon, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, was leading his men across the bridge when a German threw a grenade at him. “I was very lucky,” Smith recalled. “I don’t really know what happened. I just felt this smack. I didn’t see him throw the stick grenade. I saw him climbing over the wall to get to the other side and I shot him as he was going over—I made certain too. I gave him quite a lot of rounds, firing from the hip—it was very close range.” Smith received the Military Cross for his role in the mission.

Private John Butler of the 7th Parachute Battalion was not impressed with the Sten’s lack of stopping power. “I was kneeling back looking at the top of the slope with my Sten gun pointing,” Butler later recalled. “Suddenly, a Jerry came in view with his rifle pointing towards me and I pressed the trigger of my Sten, but to my horror the man didn’t fall down as I expected and just stood there looking at me, and I was in absolute terror. Then the magazine ran out, it had been about half full, twelve to fourteen rounds, and probably took about two to two and a half seconds to fire off. And then the man came at me, collapsing on top of me and his bayonet pierced my left thigh, hit the bone and flipped out again, and the left side of my smock was covered in blood.” To Butler’s relief, he quickly saw that the German was dead—“the thud of the bullets in his chest had held him for those few seconds, though at the time I did not realize this.”

The men in the British 1st Airborne Division received new Mk V Stens before the ill-starred Market Garden operation at Arnhem, in the Netherlands, in September 1944. Though the operation was an unmitigated catastrophe for the Allies, the Mk V performed better than the Mk II. Lieutenant Jimmy Cleminson of No. 5 Platoon, B Company, 3rd Parachute Battalion, encountered a German armored vehicle on the first day of the operation. “I got up into a house and found myself behind the German vehicle,” he later recalled. “I was joined by [Major] Peter Waddy. I shot a German soldier in the garden below me with my Sten and wondered what I could do to get rid of our armored visitor.” Cleminson was wounded and captured and was later awarded the Military Cross for his service at Arnhem.

Major Erick Mackay of the 1st Parachute Squadron, Royal Engineers, took shelter in a two-story schoolhouse close to the bridge at Arnhem, only to discover that the building was surrounded by 60 German soldiers unaware the British troops were hiding only yards away. “On a signal, [grenades] were dropped on the heads below, followed instantly by bursts from all our six Brens and fourteen Stens,” Mackay later recalled. “Disdaining cover, the boys stood up on the window-sills, firing from the hip. The night dissolved into a hideous din as the heavy crash of the Brens mixed with the high-pitched rattle of the Stens, the cries of wounded men, and the sharp explosions of grenades.”

When the Sten worked, which it did more often than not, it could be a fearsome weapon. Lance Corporal Dennis Longmate of the 4th Battalion, Dorsetshire Regiment, recalled using his Sten following a brutal combat crossing of the Rhine in late 1944: “We were debating what we were going to do when a German patrol appeared, about a dozen men coming in our direction. ‘Are we going to kill or be killed? It’s them or us.’ It was pretty poor odds with a dozen of them and three of us. But I told the other two to hold their fire and when the patrol came in range I fired the Sten. I’d never killed at such close quarters before, literally seeing the whites of the eyes. I saw the bullets hit, saw them go down, all of them.”

Such accounts demonstrate that the Sten was every bit as lethal as the German MP 40, and it largely corrected the imbalance between German and British forces in the struggle of fire superiority under 100 yards. The reported problems with the Sten also must be weighed against the vast scale of its production and distribution. Hundreds of thousands of troops took the Sten into action. Many units found that, as with most weapons, proper training and maintenance were the most significant factors in keeping the Stens functional.

DESPITE ITS DRAWBACKS, THE STEN GUN WOULD HAVE A LONG LIFE IN THE POSTWAR WORLD. British troops continued to use the Sten Mk V until the late 1950s in Cyprus, Korea, Malaya, Kenya, and Suez, before the Sterling SMG (submachine gun) replaced it. Surplus World War II Stens were a standard weapon in both pre- and post-independence Israel, providing Israeli insurgents and later the fledgling Israel Defense Forces with an SMG until the indigenous arms industry produced the Uzi. Stens also cropped up in the Vietnam War, with U.S. Special Operations Group forces using the Mk II(S) for quiet ambushes or prisoner snatches. The Irish Republican Army once raided the largest British Army barracks in Northern Ireland and made off with 50 Sten guns, among other weapons. Even today, Stens occasionally make an unwelcome appearance in terrorist or criminal hands in the Middle East or the Balkans.

In 1949 Reginald Shepherd, who had retired from the military with the rank of major, went before Britain’s Royal Commission on Awards to Inventors to seek remuneration for having invented parts of the Sten gun. (He and Turpin had been denied British patents for their work on the weapon.) Though Shepherd told members of the commission that the “en” in Sten stood for England, not Enfield, the mythology surrounding the gun’s name persists to this day.

The Sten was not a perfect gun, but it was the right gun for its time and place. For all its shortcomings, the Sten had two crowning strengths: It worked (for the most part), and it was available. Those might not sound like the most superior of virtues, but in a country that was facing a clear and present threat to its very survival, they were the most important virtues of all.

As Canadian soldier S. N. Teed apostrophized poetically: “You wicked piece of vicious tin! / Call you a gun? Don’t make me grin. / You’re just a bloated piece of pipe. / You couldn’t hit a hunk of tripe. / But when you’re with me in the night, / I’ll tell you, pal, you’re just alright!” MHQ

Chris McNab is a military historian based in the United Kingdom. His most recent book is The Samurai Warrior Operations Manual (Haynes Publishing, 2019).

This article appears in the Autumn 2019 issue (Vol. 32, No. 1) of MHQ—The Quarterly Journal of Military History with the headline: Cheap Shot

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Widespread Use

Alan Lee, a member of the Parachute Regiment during the war, said the weapon was best used for close-quarters combat. In a section of ten men in the Paras, Lee said the sergeant and corporal always carried a Sten gun, as did most of the officers.

“When you went into a village or went into a house, whatever it was, it was a reliable weapon,” he said in a video interview that’s part of an oral history of World War II compiled by the National Army Museum in London. “It wasn’t a reliable instrument for anything over 100 yards, but for anything close-quarters it was very reliable.”

The British Special Operations Executive provided thousands of Sten Guns to partisan groups and resistance fighters as well. The weapons were distributed widely throughout Europe and the Middle East. In fact, Sten Guns were captured as part of al-Qaeda weapons caches in Iraq as late as 2010.

DIY Stens

While tens of thousands of Stens were airdropped into Nazi-occupied Europe by the Allies, underground movements actually set up secret workshops to manufacture their own copies of the weapon. Danish, French and Norwegian partisans built hundreds of domestic duplicates, while the Polish engineered several improvised versions right under the Nazis’ noses.

Owen SMG (Owen Machine Carbine)

Authored By: Staff Writer | Last Edited: 06/03/2019 | Content © | The following text is exclusive to this site.

Despite its obvious battlefield value today, world militaries took some time to warm up to the idea of procuring and fielding submachine guns in quantity alongside their trusted and true bolt-action service rifles and support machine guns. A few submachine guns were available in the years following World War 1, chief among these being the famous American M1 Thompson gun while the first "true" submachine gun - the German Bergmann MP18 - was fielded at the end of World War 1 and saw service until 1945.

Prior to World War 2, the Empire of Japan had become a military-minded regional power and their invasion of the Asian mainland preceded their eventual expansion across the South Pacific towards Australia proper. Naturally, there was a certain uneasy feeling about the Japanese military setting up bases of operation so close to the mainland and Australia was therefore forced to create a military war industry that was - essentially - not in existence at the time. It would rely largely on the Commonwealth and America for her protection from a Japanese invasion - which was a very real threat.

Australian Evelyn Owen (1915-1949) was born an inventor and took a shine to firearms of all sorts, designing and building them from an early age. When Germany invaded Poland in September of 1939, and following British policy, Australia formally declared war on the European power. What this did was force the nation of Australia to modernize much of its infrastructure including that of heavy industry. As the Australian military lacked much in the way of producing their own weapons at the outset, they took on deliveries of foreign-developed aircraft, tanks and guns to stock their war-making inventory.

Throughout the 1930s, Owen worked on a compact automatic weapon chambered for the .22 caliber cartridge. In July of 1939, he showcased the weapon to representatives of the Australian Army but little interest in his creation was garnered. As the Australian politicians committed to the war effort against the Axis, so too did regular Australians fighting for various reasons. In turn, Owen himself had committed to the war, now as a private in the Australian Army that rejected his weapon.

The Owen prototype sat unnoticed for some time until the gun was found by neighbor Vincent Wardell who happened to manage the John Lysaght Factories. Wardell saw the value of the weapon's design and construction and made it possible for Owens to be reassigned to the Army Inventions Board. Much convincing lay ahead for the Australian government was banking on the receiving thousands of the excellent Sten systems from Britain but work on the Owen proceeded nonetheless.

As such, Owen continued development of his gun while the Australian government finally took notice - the Army still being skeptical. The Owen gun was further developed into several similar yet distinct prototypes chambered to fire a different caliber cartridge for evaluation. The testing also pitted the Owen design against the tried-and-true American M1 Thompson and British Sten submachine guns, all three being exposed to the rigors of what might be expected on the battlefield. Of all the testing and all the cartridges fired under strain, the Owen design came out on top. As the Australian Army could not agree on the caliber for the Owen system, the government stepped in and decided on the 9x19mm Parabellum - a cartridge proven to work well for submachine gun type weapons and pistols within listed ranges. With history now set, the Owen weapon became known simply as the "Owen Submachine Gun" and formal acceptance into service occurred in 1940 as the "Owen Machine Carbine".

The Owen Submachine Gun sported a highly utilitarian appearance - certainly not the most beautiful firearm ever made. However, it was very functional, robust, reliable and required little training to operate with any level of effectiveness. The Owen was a simple weapon with simple construction, allowing for the mass production that the burgeoning Australian military required. Design was essentially a tubular, featureless receiver capped by a removable barrel assembly. The stock was skeletal to save on weight and construction material though some versions were also fitted with an all-wood stock and others with a "mutt" design featuring both wood and a metal frame. The lower portion of the receiver was "hollowed out" to which a simple pistol grip and trigger unit was affixed. The magazine feed was set across the forward upper end of the tubular receiver and fed by a vertical spring-loaded magazine (an early form utilized a drum-style magazine but this was later dropped in favor of a detachable box). This installation made for a very reliable feed mechanism for the cartridges therein were aided by both the magazine spring itself and gravity - the detachable box magazines fed 32 x 9mm cartridges in succession. There was a forward pistol grip for a firm two-point hold and this further showcased finger grooves for basic ergonomics. The barrel was rather nondescript and an early form showcased cooling fins at the base near the receiver though this design element was later dropped. Interestingly, the barrel was also designed to be "quick-changing" which prevented overheating under heavy sustained fire conditions - a design quality more akin to light machine guns than submachine guns. Sights were iron in their design and offset to the side of the receiver, this forced by the position of the vertical magazine. The firing action was the typical "blowback" system utilizing an open bolt. The internal compartmentalized arrangement of the receiver was such that it kept the integral components clear of debris that would have otherwise impeded the function. Overall, the Owen SMG weighed in at about 9lb and sported a 32 inch running length with a near-10 inch barrel assembly. Rate-of-fire was listed at 700 rounds per minute with a muzzle velocity of 1,380 feet per second and an effective range out to 135 yards.

Once accepted into service - and deliveries from Britain of Sten guns less likely - production of the Own SMG began out of the John Lysaght facilities and this was further bolstered by involvement of the Lithgow Small Arms Factory to which over 50,000 total examples were ultimately produced from a span of 1941 to 1945. The full production rate was limited to 2,000 units a month simply because the Australians lacked the facilities to produce more. The initial batches were hampered in their use for the promised ammunition supply was of the incorrect caliber. After logistics were settled, Australian soldiers could make effective use of their Owens against the Japanese, the weapon proving its inherent value across the often unforgiving nature of the jungle environment. The weapon was also seen in various camouflage paint schemes to reflect the fighting environment in question and some were also witnessed with short bayonets added alongside the barrels. The weapon was perfect for the close-range fighting required of Australian troops against the fanatical Japanese who often charged positions in suicidal actions. Additionally, special operations elements could utilize the more compact design in their clandestine missions or for scouting enemy positions prior to assault. Regardless of the abuses brought upon the Owen frame, the gun - more often times than not - refused to quit and earned her the nickname of "Digger's Darling". The gun could be dropped in rivers, lathered in mud and take on dust - only for its firing action to remain as new. In time, the forces of neighboring New Zealand were also using the weapon and the Owen gun even caught the interest of the United States, United Kingdom and the Netherlands. It is said that within the Australian Army, soldiers preferred nothing less than their homegrown Owen SMGs for, if the system held one fault, it was in her generally heavy overall weight that surpassing that of her contemporaries. However, a sure two-hand hold and use of the shoulder stock helped to alleviate such a fault.

All told, the Owen was produced in just two distinct forms - the basic model designated as the Mark 1 (1/42) and appearing in 1943 and the wooden butt model designated as the Mark 1 (1/43) appearing in 1943. The Mark 2 was to be a simplified production version but only appeared in prototype form by war's end. The US Army in Australia contracted for 60,000 Owen submachine guns themselves but the request was never fulfilled due to a lack of Australian machinery infrastructure and raw war materials.

With World War 2 coming to a close by September of 1945, the Owen SMG continued to soldier on in the post-war years. When full-scale fighting erupted on the Korean peninsula in the North invasion of the South, the Owen SMG went to war with Australian forces once more. In 1952, many Owens were completely rebuilt to help extend their service lives and a longer bayonet was added. Australian involvement in the Vietnam War also brought the Owen back into play, the old girl not a stranger to jungle warfare.

Amazingly, the "little submachine gun that could" survived her various global conflicts and served with Australian forces until the 1960s to which it was ultimately replaced by the F1 Submachine Gun series entering service in 1963. This weapon also saw service in the Vietnam War with Australian forces, utilized the 9x19 Parabellum cartridge, made use of a vertical magazine and served up until 1991.

Aftermarket Sten Magazines

During World War II there were an estimated forty-two million magazines produced for the British Sten submachine gun. Today, Sten magazines are very easy to find on the surplus market and usually very inexpensive. Because of their availability and low price, Sten magazines have been adopted for use in a number of modern firearms, both as issued and in modified form. With such a proliferation of Sten magazines one has to wonder just why anyone would choose to make new ones.

During 1940, the British were in dire need of small arms. The British Lanchester submachine gun and its magazine were a close copy of the German MP28 II submachine gun. The reason for choosing that particular weapon was the manufacturing drawings had been made earlier from two weapons that were in British hands. The existing German magazine and the submachine gun were copied instead of designing a new one to save precious time. The German&rsquos MP28II magazine was the same basic configuration later used for their MP38-MP40 magazines. A similar magazine, in a 32-round configuration, was adopted for the British Sten submachine gun for the same reason. The double-stack single-feed magazine design is a configuration that requires a strong spring in order to force the cartridges into a single row at the top. The spring makes the single feed magazine difficult to load by hand, requiring the use of a loading tool, and places a lot of force on the magazine feed lips. The double-stack double-feed design, as was used in the Thompson submachine gun, is far more reliable and much easier to load by hand.

Sten magazines were produced by a large number of contractors and subcontractors. The magazines were fabricated from sheet metal, with the manufacturing process of the body varying slightly by manufacturer. A thick steel collar was spot welded to the top of the magazine&rsquos body to form the feed lips. The floor plate was made of sheet metal and bent to slide onto the rails formed on the bottom of the magazine body. The floor plate was held in place by a protrusion on a plate attached to the bottom of the magazine spring.

Early Sten magazines proved problematic and were redesigned by eliminating the holes in the rear of the magazine (used to determine how many rounds were in the magazine) and adding a cross brace to connect the legs of the follower to keep them from spreading apart and dragging on the magazine body. The new magazines were designated as the Mk2 design. Many of the earlier magazines were upgraded when processed through a British Factory Thorough Repair program (FTR).

The primary contributing factor of the Sten magazine&rsquos functioning problems is the feed lips&rsquo propensity to spread apart when loaded, changing the critical feed angle of the top cartridge. The condition exists because of the stiff spring inherent of the design.

After Market Sten Magazines

This brings us back to the question of just why aftermarket Sten magazines exist. One of the primary problems with original Sten magazines is that they are 70 plus years old. Springs have a finite life, and the sheet metal parts can suffer from metal fatigue and corrosion. The new manufacture Sten magazines are made of modern materials and to closer tolerances than possible during World War II. When the Sten magazine conversions for the M11/Nine submachine gun were introduced, there was a small run of Sten new magazine springs produced in an attempt to make the magazines more reliable. As a general rule, aftermarket magazines are not as reliable as original factory production. However, the reproduction Sten magazines seem to be the exception. Currently there are two known sources for new manufacture Sten magazines.

TAPCO is a well-known wholesale company based in Georgia that specializes in the accessory market for firearms. One of the products the company offers is a U.S. made, 32-round Sten magazine made from a modern composite polymer material. The spring is made of corrosion resistant stainless steel, the floor plate is steel and the follower is made from the same polymer as the body. The magazines were originally designed for MasterPiece Arms&rsquo 9mm Defender Series of semiautomatic MAC type pistols. The Defender pistols were originally designed to use metal Sten magazines, but as suitable surplus magazines could no longer be found in the quantity needed, the Company persuaded TAPCO to manufacture new ones. They also offer a magazine loader, although the magazines used in the evaluation could be loaded with an original Sten box type loading tool. According to their website, all TAPCO products have a lifetime guarantee.

The second source of new manufacture Sten magazines is an online company called The company, in business since 2002, is located in southern Maryland and sells firearms, firearm accessories, military surplus and ammunition. The Sten magazines offered by Keep Shooting are all steel and exact reproductions of the originals. The company website states: &ldquoThe magazines are guaranteed to fit and function reliably in any Sten submachine gun, including the Sten Mk I and each of its many variants. This magazine is also compatible with the MPA-30. The body of the magazine, which is designed to hold and feed 32-rounds of 9x19mm Parabellum ammunition to your firearm, is constructed from hardened steel that has been fully heat treated. It also boasts a black Teflon-based finish for enhanced protection against rust and corrosion. Additionally, both the steel spring and follower are precision manufactured to provide for reliable feeds on a consistent basis. The Sten magazine is a reproduction of the original Sten magazine, which was a direct copy of the MP-38 magazine. As such, it may still suffer from the reliability issues characteristic of the original design, as our modern manufacturing techniques are not capable of correcting inherent design flaws. If properly maintained, your Sten magazine should perform well.&rdquo

As advertised, the Sten magazines appear to be very well made. The company website lists the manufacturer as the products house-brand. Several efforts were made to contact the company by both phone and email to inquire where the magazines were manufactured. No one answering the phone at the company knew the answer, nor could locate anyone that did. There were no replies to several emails. Judging from the construction and finish of the magazines an educated guess would be South Korea, based on features and construction of other magazines known to be produced there. There are some magazines advertised on the Keep Shooting website that specifically state &ldquonot Korean made.&rdquo The Sten magazines ad on the site did not include that statement. These particular Sten magazines seem to be only available from this company, so not revealing their source is understandable.

The Field Test

Both the TAPCO and Keep Shooting magazines were tested in a British Mark II Sten, Mark V Sten, Sterling and a Lanchester submachine gun &ndash weapons all designed to use Sten magazines. Ammunition for the test varied from reloads to new full metal jacket with a variety of 115, 125 and 147 grain bullets.

The Lanchester submachine gun could not be used for the operational test because none of the aftermarket magazines being evaluated would fit into the brass magazine well. Original World War II manufactured 32-round Sten and 50-round Lanchester magazines fit with no problem. During World War II, Sten submachine guns and magazines were assembled from parts supplied by numerous manufacturers both large companies and small workshops. As such the parts were made to generous tolerances. To expand the magazine fit-test beyond the four test guns, the new magazines were then checked in several Sten magazine housings from parts sets and the magazines fit with no problem. One of the magazine housings was from a Lanchester part set. The Keep Shooting magazines fit, but the TAPCO mags did not.

As stated earlier, the primary problem with original Sten magazines is the spreading of the feed lips, which changes the feed angle and leads to failure to feed stoppages. Loading the magazines to full capacity will aggravate this condition. If you leave original Sten magazines fully loaded over an extended period of time, you will probably encounter functioning problems. The feed lips of the new magazines were measured and the feed angle checked. The magazines were then loaded to capacity and stored for several months. The magazines were removed from storage and measured again. The feed lips of all the magazines remained in spec. The acid test was to test fire them. Seven of the Keep Shooting and four of the TAPCO magazines were loaded and tested twice. They were fired in two different Sten variants and a Sterling submachine gun. There were a few stoppages encountered in firing 700-plus rounds, but none could be directly attributed to a magazine malfunction.

The aftermarket magazines functioned very well in the test they proved to be more reliable than original World War II magazines. The cost of the new manufacture magazines is comparable with original 32-round surplus mags, and there is no storage grease or Cosmoline to remove.

Keep Shooting
Phone (877) 703-2767

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V19N6 (July 2015)
and was posted online on May 22, 2015

The Australian Owen SMG

The Australian-designed Owen submachine gun is a weapon with quite a story behind it. The Owen is arguably the best subgun used during WWII, and also probably the ugliest. Its mere existence was a drawn out struggle between the inventor and manufacturer and the Australian Army bureaucracy, and yet it saw service through into the Vietnam War.

Owen SMG cutaway diagram (click to enlarge)


The Owen gun story begins with a young 23-year-old Evelyn Owen and his incessant tinkering with guns. In 1938 he perfected (well, sort of) a homemade full auto carbine firing .22LR from a drum-type magazine. It used a thumb trigger instead of the normal type, and was thoroughly unfit for military use. He showed the gun to a some Australian Army officers in 1939, and was (not surprisingly) turned away – the Army was not interested in new submachine guns in general nor Owen’s contraption in particular. By 1940 Owen had lost enthusiasm for the gun, and enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force.

That would have been the end of the story if not for a happy accident. Shortly before deploying for military service, Owen haphazardly left his prototype gun in a burlap sack leaning against the house – where it was subsequently found be a neighbor (Vincent Wardell) who just happened to be manager of Lysaght Works, a metal fabrication firm. Wardell was curious, discussed the gun with Owen, and convinced him to demonstrate it to the newly formed Army Central Inventions Board. The Board commander , a Captain Cecil Dyer, was interested (the Battle of France having been recently lost, and Britain’s ability to prevent German invasion in serious doubt), and the result of the demonstration was Lysaght’s agreeing to develop an improved centerfire version. Owen left for his deployment, and development of the gun was undertaken by Vincent Wardell, his brother Gerard, and a gunsmith in their employ named Freddie Kunzler.

At this time, most of the Australian Army officialdom was anticipating adoption of the Sten gun, plans and models for which had been promised to them by the British government. The Sten was purported to be a much better gun than experience would eventually show, and the establishment didn’t want to muddy the waters with competing designs with no provenance. In an effort to scuttle the newcomer, the Army told Lysaght to provide a sample gun for testing, chambered in .38 S&W (and neither ammunition nor a barrel was to be provided for factory use). The specification of a rimmed cartridge was expected to stump the Wardells, and was indeed a challenge not undertaken by any previous successful SMG design. So they sidestepped it, and made the gun in .32ACP instead, using a section of an SMLE barrel. This prototype was delivered to the Army in January 30, 1940 – after just 3 weeks of development. It fired effectively and reliably, and the Army requested a 10,000-round endurance test. They would not supply the ammunition, and in wartime Australia that quantity was effectively impossible for the factory to acquire. Instead, Lysaght’s built another gun in .45 ACP, having been assured that plenty of ammunition would be available for this (they assumed it would be from stocks supplied for Australian Army Thompson guns). But when the ammunition arrived at the factory, it turned out to be .455 Webley ammunition instead – so they went back again and retrofitted the gun using a section of old Martini-Henry barrel.

Around this time Evelyn Owen was recalled from field duty and assigned to work with Lysaght on the gun development, although it is unclear when design elements were his contributions and which were brought by Wardell and Kunzler. The Army efforts at scuttling the Owen gun continued, and it was only through Vincent Wardell’s persistence and willingness to go directly to civilian politicians that the gun finally came to be accepted. It had passed mud and dust testing with exceptional results in both .455 Webley and .38 S&W (the first 100-gun order was again demanded to be in .38 S&W by the brass). Only in early September 1941 was a 9mm version authorized, and this by a civilian official tired of Army obstructions.

The turning point for the Owen was a competitive trial at the end of September 1941, in which it (in both 9mm Parabellum and .45ACP) was pitted against a newly-arrived Sten and a Thompson. The Thompsons did well when clean but not so well when dirty, and the Sten quickly failed in sand and mud tests. The Owen passed with flying colors, in both calibers. This led to an order for 2,000 9mm Owen guns for field trials, and the rather impertinent sending of Owen gun samples and drawings to England, with the suggestion that the Sten be discontinued in favor of it (and in a 1943 English test, the Owen beat all comers, including the Austen, Sten, and Sterling).


The Owen was a fairly simple open-bolt design, but it incorporated a number of creative elements that made it superior to other contemporary guns.

Owen SMG, major components (click to enlarge)

First of all, it utilized a top-mounted magazine, which gave several benefits. It allowed gravity to assist both feeding and ejection (although the Owen will function when held upside-down). Since the ejection port was on the bottom of the receiver tube, dirt which might enter form the magazine or through the magwell would often just fall right through, having no place to collect.

Second, the Owen used a two-chamber receiver. The bolt cycles in the front chamber (with a relatively short travel), and the charging handle is located in a separate chamber in the rear of the receiver. Only a small hole between the two allows the charging handle to connect to the recoil spring guide. As a result, and dirt entering through the charging handle slot is confined to the rear section, where it cannot do much to impede the gun’s function. There is no way for gunk to get behind the bolt, where it is most apt to cause problems.

Because of this design, disassembly is done from the front – unlike most open bolt subguns. The barrel is easily removed by pulling up on the barrel pin at the front of the receiver. The rear end of the barrel and the front of the receiver tube are machined with tapers, so the barrel is easily seated in place. Once the barrel is removed, the bolt and recoil spring slide out the front of the tube. In most guns, this would be obstructed by the ejector, but in the Owen the ejector is made part of the magazine rather than integral to the gun itself. As the bolt extracts a fired case, it holds the ammunition in the magazine down (well, up, given the top-feed arrangement). After enough rearward travel, the rim of the empty case hits the ejector tab at the rear of the magazine, which tips it out of the extractor to drop free of the gun. Pressure from the next round in the magazine, now pushing directly on the empty case, provides additional ejection force.

Owen SMG magazine


The Owen is a very clumsy looking gun, but handles better than you might expect. The grips are well placed, the weight (9.5-10.5 pounds, depending on the version) and built-in compensator at the muzzle help to keep the gun controllable. The safety and magazine catch are both simple and effective (although the original fire selector apparently had a tendency to allow bursts when in semiauto mode). To allow for the top-mounted magazine, the sights are offset to the left side of the gun – not a problem for a right-handed shooter, but a bit of a handicap for lefties.

The stock design is not particularly ideal, and is somewhat reminiscent of the Thompson (I have no evidence to prove it, but I would suspect this was deliberate, since the Thompson was the SMG in official Australian service when the Owen was being designed). Combining the Owen’s positive features with a stock design more in line with the bore could have made for a very interesting gun (in fact, the Australian F1 SMG that eventually replaced the Owen did this to some degree).

The Owen went through several changes, although the basic mechanism remained the same throughout production. The main goal of the changes was to reduce the weight of the gun, and they were able to take more than a full pound off of it this way. Guns made during WWII were painted with a camo scheme of green and yellow for jungle use, which is often seen on guns today. After the war, guns that were arsenal refurbished had the paint stripped off and were parkerized.

The two main versions are the Mk1 (roughly 12,000 made) and Mk1* (roughly 33,000 made). A MkII version was designed, but only a few hundred made. In theory, parts between all the Mk1 and Mk1* guns are interchangeable, although factory QC was not always tight enough to make this true in closely fitted parts like barrels. Over the course of war use and several decades of official adoption, many existing Owen guns will have a mixture of parts from different official types.

The main parts that were changed were the trigger housings, barrels, and buttstocks.

The early barrels were quite heavy, and finned to aid cooling. Over the course of production they were lightened and the fins discarded. The slotted muzzle compensator remained a feature of all versions, though.

Trigger housings began as solid units, and were later lightened with cutouts to remove unnecessary material.

The original buttstock design was made of bent strip steel, and a later version was made with a clip to hold an oil bottle. Wooden stocks were also made, both solid and with lightening cuts and both with and without traps to hold cleaning equipment.

Top – Early Owen with camo paint, metal stock, and finned barrel
Center – Factory rebuilt Owen with Parkerized finish, plain light barrel, and wood stock
Bottom – Austen SMG


The Owen was taken out of production in 1944, with 45,433 guns built. They would remain in Australian service until replaced by the F1 submachine gun (which we will cover in another article) in the late 1960s. Owens saw use in Korea and Vietnam, and were generally well liked by troops who carried them. The gun may have been heavy, but it was rugged and dependable.

Evelyn Owen, unfortunately, did not lead a happy life after the war. He became addicted to alcohol, and died a bachelor in April 1949. Aside from employment and salary, he received payment of about £10,000 pounds for his part in the Owen gun production (royalties and patent rights sales), which he used to set up a lumber mill. He did continue to tinker with firearms until his death.

Evelyn Owen and his gun Evelyn Owen with his guns

The Lysaght Works began the Owen gun project as a patriotic endeavor to help ensure Australia’s survival through the war. Until the first major order for 100 guns in April 1941, the company funded all the development and prototype construction itself, not asking for reimbursement. When mass production was contracted, payment was agreed at cost plus 4%…but government payments were perpetually late, and Lysaght was not paid in full until 1947, three years after production ended. After making additional interest payments on loans that could not be paid on time because of Army delays in payment, the company ended up making approximately a mere 1.5% profit on the project.

Technical Specs

Caliber: 9吏 Parabellum
Mechanism: Unlocked (blowback)
Overall length: 32in (813mm)
Barrel length: 9.7in (247mm)
Weight (late): 9.3lb (4.2kg)
Magazine capacity: 32 (some sources say 33) rounds
Rate of fire: 700-800 rpm


We have a copy of a 1943 Australian submachine gun manual, which covers the Owen as well as the Austen and the Thompson. It is short, but includes quite a bit of good information (note how doctrine at the time included shooting from the hip). You can down load it in PDF format here:

Small Arms Training Vol 1 No 15 – Austen, Owen, Thompson (English, 1943)