A week or two ago (April 2022) we had the chance to catch up with friends from the MECo. group at the Soviet Threat event at the Hack Green Secret Bunker in Cheshire. Allen and Simon had an excellent display of weapons, uniform and personal kit from the Malayan Emergency (1948-1960) period and kindly talked us through it!
Thank you to Simon and Allen for giving us a detailed rundown of the display and kit. I find personal kit absolutely fascinating and MECo. are extremely knowledgeable and always put on an interesting display. In terms of weapons the display included a Bren Mk3, a Rifle No.5 and a very nice example of an Owen Gun. Below is another photograph of the Owen Gun and its magazine pouches, Allen had both a wooden and metal buttstock on display with the weapon.
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Before its adoption by the British Army in 1954 the Patchett Machine Carbine, later better known as the Sterling submachine gun, was extensively tested all over the world. The Patchett went through nearly a decade of testing, evaluation and refinement. It was tested by British troops around the world, from West Germany to Africa, from the middle east to Malaya.
Today, we’re going to examine a unique Patchett/Sterling prototype assembled in Malaya. The gun we’re examining is officially a MkII Patchett Machine Carbine, but as the guns are better known as the Sterling we will refer to it as such from here on out. This prototype has been specially adapted with a shotgun style rib sight to help aiming in jungle conditions.
It was in Malaya that the specially adapted but short-lived prototype improvement emerged. As early as December 1952, British troops were testing the gun during operations against communist insurgents in Malaya. The harsh jungle conditions were a challenge for any weapon but an early report testing a single prototype noted that the weapon performed well but one of the issues identified was that the rear aperture sight was found to be “smaller than was desirable” and the report suggested that the aperture be widened to 0.098 inches 2.5mm – the same as the Owen gun. The report also noted that the front sight “did not stand out well in relation to the front sight protectors”.
It seems that when a batch of 75 trials guns arrived in 1953, a number of them were specially adapted in theatre. It was hoped that the shotgun-style rib sight fitted along the length of the receiver would aid snap shooting in the jungle. It was intended to enable users to engage fleeting targets quicker and improve ‘first shot hit’ probability in thick jungle and heavy rainstorms.
During operations in Malaya and Borneo, many scouts and point men carried shotguns such as the semi-automatic Browning Auto-5. Shotguns were favoured during jungle operations because of the ease with which they could be quickly and instinctively aimed and their exceptional close-range firepower.
The modification saw the complete removal of the standard front and rear sights and the razing on of a rib sight running along the length of the top of the gun from the muzzle to the rear sight. It appears an armourer cut down and removed the front and rear sight assemblies and used them as mounting points. The first few inches of the rib are stippled to minimise glare and a brass front sight bead has been added to help sight acquisition.
The simpler sight rib also helped with another issue that was identified during early jungle testing, it removed the problem of the sights getting clogged with mud. It is unknown just how many were adapted but at least three are known to survive. The jungle-specific modifications were short-lived and not formerly adopted because the rib sight offered poor longer range accuracy.
Here are some more detail photographs of the rib sight prototype:
With the adoption of the Patchett as the L2A1, in 1954, a list of modifications based on trials recommendations was drawn up in June 1953, one of the suggestions was the enlargement of the rear sight aperture to 0.1, (2.5mm) 0.15 (3.8mm) or 0.2 inches (5mm). In August 1953, the infantry board decided that the 100 yard aperture would be 0.15 (3.8mm) in diameter while the 200 yard would be 0.1, (2.5mm). The spacing of the rear sight protectors was also subsequently widened to 0.55 inches (14mm). With these changes made the Sterling saw service in the jungles of Malaya and Borneo for over a decade during the Malayan Emergency and Indonesian Confrontation.
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‘Operational Research Section, Singapore, Technical Note No.5 – Technical Notes on Initial Trials of the Patchett Carbine in Malaya’, Maj. R.St.G. Maxwell, 1th December, 1952, Royal Armouries Library
‘Minutes of a Meeting held at the war office on Friday 7th August, 1953, to decide whether the Patchett sub-machine gun be introduced into the Service as a replacement for the Sten sub-mahcine gun’, Royal Armouries Library
I have written a book for Osprey’s Weapon series looking at the development, use and significance of the Sterling, it’s available now, you can find out more about it here.