AUSTEN SUBMACHINE GUN

At the beginning of the Second World War the Australian Army, much like Britain, lacked a standard issue submachine gun. Following Britain’s lead a small number of Thompson submachine guns were ordered for trials purposes in early 1941. The Australian military eventually purchased 18,382 Thompson M1928A1s, however, it was realised that an indigenously produced weapon was needed.

1941 saw extensive testing and development of Evelyn Owen’s submachine gun, at the same time technical drawings for the Sten arrived from Britain. The Australian engineers that examined the Sten believed that it was too rudimentary for Australian needs. In September 1941, the Melbourne-based Die Casters Ltd. were contracted by the Ordnance Production Directorate to investigate improving the Sten. W.T. Carmichael & Sons Ltd were also interested in producing submachine guns and both Carmichael and Die Casters were contracted to produce the improved Australian Sten gun.

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Austen-armed Paratrooper from the Australian parachute battalion training centre, c.1945. The Austen’s folding stock made issue to paratroops one of the few roles that the Austen was better suited to than the Owen gun (AWM)

The Austen was based upon the MkII Sten, however, substantial changes to the design were made. These included a new folding stock based upon the German MP38/40 stock, an added forward pistol grip and a cocking handle slot which ran almost the full length of the tub receiver. This longer slot opened allowed greater ingress of mud and dirt. The most significant internal change was the use of the MP40’s bolt and telescoping return spring. The magazine housing was die cast while the rest of the weapon’s parts were stamped steel. Some aborted attempts by Die Casters Ltd to incorporate die casting production methods lead to early failures but by early 1942 the weapon was ready for production.

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A close up of the Austen’s Diecast magazine housing (RIA

Like the Sten, the Austen was a simple blowback submachine gun, chambered in 9x19mm and feeding from a 32-round magazine which fed horizontally from the left. With its stock folded it was 52cm long and weighed 3.9kg (8.8lb) unloaded. By contrast the heavier but more reliable Owen weighed 4.2kg (9.3lb). The Austen’s fixed rear aperture sight was fixed at 100 yards.

The new folding stock increased the weight of the Austen, it was also slightly longer than ideal in order for the butt plate to clear the forward handgrip. Some troops complained that this made the weapon’s length of pull too long. In general the Austen required more parts and was more expensive and complex to manufacture. Some Sten parts were interchangeable with the Austen, as were Sten magazines. Like the Owen it appears that at least some Austens were fitted with suppressors similar to that of the Sten MkII(S) and MkVI.

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The photograph above shows Lt.Colonel Tucker, commanding officer of the 2/23 Infantry Battalion, testing a suppressed Austen in Borneo in September 1945. Note also the suppressed Owen Gun in the background (AWM)

As Australia was in desperate need of submachine guns both the Owen and Austen were ordered into production. The Austen, however, suffered from a series of delays and quality control issues. As a result only 2,100 Austens had been issued, out of over 16,000 made, to troops by early 1943. In total 19,914 Austens are thought to have been built, most of these were factory spray painted with a camouflage pattern (see image #3)  In contrast 45,400 Owen guns were produced by June 1945. The Owen was certainly favoured by troops in the field. A report written following troop trials with 300 Austens noted that the weapon’s working parts were exposed, it didn’t function as well as the Owen after submersion in mud and water, it lacked a flash-hider, its stock was too long and was less accurate than the Owen. The Owen, while heavier, was appreciated for its reliability, ergonomics and balance.

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Australian women war workers pose with an Austen (AWM)

Attempts were made to produce an improved MkII Austen, which used more die cast parts, however, this was not adopted and only 200 were made. By the end of the war the Austen had been removed from frontline service and placed in reserve. Dutch troops in the Dutch East Indies (present day Indonesia) also used a number of Austens during the Netherlands’ period of decolonisation in the region between 1945-1949. The Owen Gun continued to be used into the 1960s, seeing action in Korea, Malaya and Vietnam before it was replaced by the F1 submachine gun.

Technical Specifications:

Length (stock unfolded): 73cm (29in)
Weight (unloaded): 4kg (8.8lb)
Barrel Length: 20cm (7.8in)
Action: Blowback, open bolt
Calibre: 9x19mm
Feed: 32-round box magazine
Cyclic Rate: ~500rpm


Bibliography:

‘Australian SMGs During WWII’, The Armourer, K. Driscoll

The Sten Gun, L. Thompson (2012)

Owen and Austen – The WW 2 ‘Aussie’ Machine Carbine Story, G. Barber, (source)

The Owen Gun, W. Wardman, (1991)

Maxim-Tokarev Light Machine Gun

Matt recently had the opportunity to visit the excellent Menorcan Military Museum at Es Castell, on the Spanish Balearic Island of Menorca. The museum is well worth a visit and the Maxim-Tokarev was one of the very rare and extremely interesting weapons they have on display. 

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Soviet troops disassembling an MT light machine gun, note the hinged stock pivoted down to allow access to the action (source)
The Maxim-Tokarev (MT) Light Machine Gun was developed at the request of the Soviet military high command in the early 1920s, following the end of the Russian Civil War. Influenced by the German MG08/15, Tokarev set out to lighten the Maxim M1910. The MT was one of two designs submitted for testing. Designed by Fedor Tokarev, at the Tula Arms Factory, the MT was tested along side Ivan Kolesnikov’s similar Maxim-Kolesnikov light machine gun. Development ended in 1924 and the MT went into initial production in 1925 with the first weapons successfully tested against the Maxim-Kolesnikov.

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The MT’s principle rival the Maxim-Kolesnikov, note the unconventional butt stock (from Chinn’s The Machine Gun Vol.2)
Production continued until at least 1928, while many sources suggest 1927, the example featured in the video dates from 1928. Sources suggest Tula produced 3,500, however, this number does not match with the suggested export numbers and the featured example is serial number 5283.

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Tokarev, and his son, posing with several MT light machine guns, c.1925 (source)
The MT is based upon the Russian M1910 Maxim gun, using the same short recoil, toggle locked action. It was hoped that established tooling would be able to make some of the new light machine gun’s parts. The weapon weighed 12.9kg unloaded and Tokarev made extensive efforts to lighten the weapon with the the water-cooled barrel jacket replaced by a perforated shroud to allow air cooling. The receiver also has a large number of lightening cuts to shave off weight.

In his 1952 book ‘The Machine Gun Vol.2, Pt. VII’, George Chinn suggested that the Tokarev may have been influenced by an earlier design patented in 1909, by Vickers Sons & Maxim Ltd. designers Arthur Dawson and George Buckham. The patent shows a Maxim-derived light machine gun with a very similar layout to the MT.

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Dawson & Buckham’s patent for a Maxim light machine gun (Patent)
The M1910’s spade grips were replaced by a wooden butt stock and a new trigger mechanism and a non-adjustable bi-pod was added at the muzzle. The butt-plate was hinged to offer additional stability and the weapon’s barrel could be changed in the field.

The MT fed from a 100-round canvas belt and chambered the standard Russian 7.62x54mmR cartridge. The belt was held in a drum suspended beneath the weapon and when loaded weighed approximately 15kg. Following troop trials a number of changes were suggested, some improvements were made but the decision was made to move away from the MT.

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Spanish Republican troops defend a barricade with an MT (source)
The MT was eventually replaced in Russian service in the late 1920s by the Degtyaryov-designed DP-28 light machine gun. The remaining MTs were sold to Spain and China during the 1930s. These guns saw extensive use during the Spanish and Chinese Civil Wars.

Technical Specifications:

Length: 130cm (51in)
Weight (unloaded): 12.9kg (28lb 4oz)
Barrel Length: 65cm (25.5in)
Action: Short recoil, toggle locked
Calibre: 7.62x54mmR
Feed: 100-round belt
Cyclic Rate: ~600rpm


Bibliography:

The Machine Gun Volume 2, Part VII, G.M. Chinn (1952)

Kangzhan: Guide to Chinese Ground Forces 1937–45, L. Ness & B. Shih (2016)

Hammer and Rifle: The Militarization of the Soviet Union, 1926-1933, D.R. Stone (2000)

‘Automatic Gun’, US Patent #942167, A.T. Dawson & G.T. Buckham, 7 Dec. 1909, (source)

 

X11 Belt-Fed Bren Derivative

At the end of the Second World War the British Army had two primary infantry machine guns: the Bren light machine gun and the Vickers medium machine gun. These weapons had proved their worth, the Bren was especially well liked and the venerable Vickers continued to be a reliable workhorse.

In the late 1940s, the British Army recognised the Soviet threat to Western Europe. In 1947, Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, the newly appointed Chief of the Imperial General Staff wrote a paper outlining rearmament plans based on intelligence estimates of how quickly the Soviet Union was likely to be ready for another full-scale war. Montgomery believed that Britain had just 10 years to develop new weapons and begin rearmament before the Soviet Union had recovered enough to launch an invasion of Western Europe. As such the British Army felt that rearmament needed to be complete by the late 1950s.

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Two Vickers medium machine guns in action in Wesel, 1945 (IWM)
A number of large budget programmes were launched while small arms projects were also undertaken. These included the Infantry Personal Weapon programme which sought to develop a new intermediate calibre infantry rifle – the IPW programme later yielded Stefan Janson’s EM-2, a bullpup chambered in .280, which was briefly adopted as the Rifle No.9. The FN FAL was later adopted due to changes in political circumstances – a long, fascinating story for another article. The companion to the IPW programme was the development of a Sustained Fire Machine Gun also chambered in .280.  The TADEN, a belt-fed derivative of the Bren firing the new .280 round was designed by Harold Turpin (‘T’), the Armament Design Establishment (‘AD’) and Enfield (‘EN’). With the abandonment of the IPW the TADEN was also abandoned but its design greatly influenced the later X11.

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.280 TADEN SFMG mounted on a tripod (Royal Armouries)
Another major small arms programme was the search for a new machine carbine (or submachine gun). This saw the testing of designs from Sterling, BSA and Madsen – with the Sterling finally adopted as the L2.

The other major small arms project was the programme to find a new section level machine gun. The German MG34 and MG42 had impressed the Allies during the war, so much so the US went as far as to clone it with the T24. After the abandonment of the EM-2 and TADEN machine gun the British issued a new specification for a lightweight sustained fire machine gun, chambered in the 7.62x51mm round recently adopted by NATO, in the mid-1950s.

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US T24, MG42 clone, complete with US-pattern bipod (Springfield Armory)
The design team at the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield developed a belt-fed derivative of the Bren light machine gun. The X11 series of prototypes sought to convert the Bren’s proven design into a weapon capable of sustained fire. The X11 made a number of changes to the Bren included the addition of a detachable butt/grip/trigger assembly which could be swapped for a pair of spade grips and a paddle trigger for static sustained fire from a tripod. This resulted in the pistol grip being located much further back than the traditional Bren’s.

Centrefire automatic machine gun - Experimental SFMG (about 1956)
The X11E2 set up for the sustained fire role on a tripod with the spade grips and an optical sight similar to the UNIT sight. (Royal Armouries)
It appears that during the mid-1950s British military parlance described the General Purpose Machine Gun as a Sustained Fire Machine Gun (SFMG). From the available photographs it appears that the L4 and X11 use the same barrel with its distinct flash hider. The receivers of all the prototypes appear to be milled to attach the optical long range sight seen above.

The main drawback with the X11 was its feed mechanism. The feed slide was indexed by a rotating vertical feed shaft which was driven by the gas piston’s recoil. This created a considerable amount of friction within the action. It had the effect of causing failures to feed during adverse conditions testing and elevated firing tests. A series of four X11 prototypes were developed with Harold Turpin (co-designer of the STEN gun and later TADEN) working on the new gun. Each prototype appears to have a sightly different trigger configuration. The most interesting of these is a two-finger double-crescent trigger reminiscent of the MG-34’s – from the photographs it appears that the conventional selector lever, used in the X11E2, was replaced with a fire-selector system similar to the MG-34’s (upper crescent – semi-auto, lower crescent – full-auto). However, the trigger of the example of the X11E4 examined by Vic (serial number #11) was fully automatic only, despite its crescent shape. 

Below are photographs of examples of the three types held at the Royal Armouries:

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X11E2, note the large cutout in the receiver in front of the trigger group (Royal Armouries)

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X11E3 (Bren Gun Saga, Dugelby)

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X11E4, note double-crescent trigger (Royal Armouries)
The X11 was tested against the M60, French AA-52, Swiss MG51, Danish Madsen-Saetter, German MG-3, and the Belgian FN MAG. The FN MAG, designated the X15E1 by the British, fared best in the trials with the X11 coming second due to its feeding issues. In January 1958, the British abandoned the X11 and moved to adopt the X15E1 general purpose machine gun, negotiating a license for its manufacture. The weapon was finally adopted as the L7A1 in 1961, with production at Enfield beginning in 1963. It seems that the Birmingham Small Arms Company were a latecomer to the competition having developed the another belt-fed Bren gun derivative known as the X16.

The Bren did continue in service after the switch to 7.62x51mm. In 1954, before beginning work on the X11, Enfield had developed the X10E1. Taking a Canadian manufactured 7.92x57mm Bren breech block and converting it to cycle the new round. The X10E1 was formally adopted as the L4. The L4 remained in service, alongside the L7, into the early 1990s. The L7 GPMG continues to be used by the British Army.

 


Bibliography:

The Bren Gun Saga, T. B. Dugelby (1999)