In this episode we bring you our first live fire and slow motion footage! Matt had the opportunity to fire a British L2A3 Sterling submachine gun and Vic captured some great video. The Sterling was adopted by the British military in 1954 and standardised as the L2A3 in 1956.
Designed by George Patchett, at the Sterling Armaments Company, development began towards the end of the Second World War. After a decade of development and testing the British Army adopted the Sterling. It remained in service into the 1990s and Sterling produced and sold the gun overseas until the company closed in the late 1980s. Licensed versions of the Sterling were made in Canada and production continues today in India.
While the Sterling Armaments Company, the original developers and manufacturer of the gun, produced L2A3s for the government and the commercial market most of the British Army’s Sterlings were made by the government owned Royal Ordnance Factory in Fazakerly near Liverpool.
The gun featured in the video is a Fazakerly-made British Army L2A3, the magazine is also of the slightly simplified government pattern.
In this episode we look at the firing cycle of the L2A3 and how the weapon works. The Sterling uses a standard blowback action and this footage shows it firing in semi-automatic. We can see the breech block travel forward, strip a round from the magazine and chamber it. The round is fired and the breech block then travels rearward again before repeating the cycle.
In future videos we will discuss in-depth the design, development and history of the Sterling.
We would like to thank Graham over at www.slomocamco.com for the loan of the brilliant slow motion camera which captured this great footage!
Last summer I was lucky enough to visit the vast Fortalesa Isabel II which defended the port of Mahon, in Menorca. One of the fort’s most impressive sights is its huge 15 inch gun battery.
The Spanish island of Menorca, in the Balearic Islands, has a long and storied military history. The strategically important harbour of Mahon was historically the envy of the British, Spanish and French and was the reason for Fortalesa Isabel II’s construction. The for was the last major fortification built on the island, with the Spanish military beginning construction in 1850. A second phase of major improvements was made during 1853-1864. Work to improve and modernise the fort continued into the 20th century.
The Fortress is built on a beautiful rocky headland of La Mola at the mouth of the harbour and covers about a square kilometre. Construction was a massive undertaking and took over twenty years to complete, costing over nine million pesetas. The fortifications are some of the Mediterranean’s most impressive of the period.
The fort is a maze of tunnels, galleries, casements and buildings surrounded by a deep, dry moat. The fort’s first line of defence consisted of a moat 9 metres (30 feet) deep covered by rifle loop holes for infantrymen and embrasures for artillery. Interlocking fields of fire defend the landward approach to the fort’s main entrance, the Queen’s Gate.
Designed to dominate the entrance to the harbour the fortress was intended to hold 160 artillery pieces of various sizes, including Krupp guns and howitzers, many of these protected by strong stone casements. The fort’s armaments evolved overtime from muzzle-loaders to faster firing breech-loaders.
The Spanish continued to upgrade the fort’s guns over the decades mounting rifled guns and howitzers of various calibres ranging from 15cm to 30.5cm. In addition to the fort’s guns the defences also included mines in the harbour mouth and later a battery of shore launched torpedoes.
By the early 20th century the fort’s guns were increasingly obsolete against the backdrop of the naval revolution that saw Dreadnoughts come to dominate maritime warfare. With advances in naval architecture, armour and guns the Spanish government decided to purchase a number of massive 15 inch naval guns that could fire a 1,895 lb (860kg) shell up to 22 miles.
Spain purchased 18 of these massive guns made by the British Vickers company, they had originally been designed for the cancelled Brazilian battleship Riachuelo. In Spanish service the guns were officially designated the Costa de 38.1cm Modelo 1926. During the 1930s the new coastal guns were installed on both the Spanish mainland and Menorca. Two guns placed in the Castillitos Battery, defending Cartagena, opened fire on a Spanish Nationalist fleet, during the dying days of the Spanish Civil War. While Menorca’s guns never fired a shot in anger, they acted as a deterrent.
The first guns reached Mahon in 1932, with a second arriving in 1936, these were mounted on the cliffs of Cape Espero on the La Mola peninsular. The guns were so huge they had to be transported to the fort on a specially built railway pulled by hand and traction engine. These formidable new guns brought Fortalesa Isabel II’s armament up to date, enabling it to protect Mahon from any modern warship.
The 15 inch (or 381mm) Vickers battery at the fort was positioned 70m above sea level and commanded the entrance to the harbour. Six guns were eventually sent to Menorca with two placed on La Mola, two more installed in a battery at Favaritx (the remains of which can be seen here) in the north of the island and a pair at a battery near Llucalari in the south of the island.
While the guns at Favaritx were later removed, the guns at Llucalari remain. The fact that six of these massive and expensive naval guns were placed on Menorca shows its strategic value during the period.
The guns were mounted in barbettes which allowed the guns to traverse up to 300 degrees. The gun housing of the turret was armoured but while it would not protect the crew from a direct hit, it would protect against shrapnel. Below the guns were magazine stores for both cordite charge bags and projectiles, the machinery needed to rotate and move the gun and the motors to power it. Inside the turret were controls to open and close the breech, lift and lower the loading tray and aim the gun. The guns had a potential maximum range of 35km or 22 miles, however, the guns at La Mola lacked the necessary range-finding equipment to achieve this range.
The ancillary buildings for the battery on La Mola are built just behind the two gun emplacements with offices, stores and barracks built in an old quarry. As well as the two main guns the battery was supported by four faster firing 6 inch Vickers guns.
With the eruption of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, Menorca was initially held by the Republicans. But in 1939, the island fell to General Franco’s Nationalists and the fort’s military prison was used to house a number of prominent Republican prisoners. Throughout the Cold War the fort continued to be used by the Spanish Army as a training centre but the rise of air power, the invention of the cruise missile and nuclear weapons rendered the fort and its guns increasingly obsolete.
The last of Spain’s 15 inch guns were finally decommissioned in the mid-2000s, after nearly 80 years in service. Fortalesa Isabel II and her two massive guns never saw action, and today the site is maintained as an impressive museum which is well worth a visit.
Length: 18m or 59 feet
Weight: 86.9 tons
Calibre: 15 inch or 381mm
Elevation -5 / +40 degrees
Traverse: 300 degrees
Rate of fire: 2 rounds per minute
The Fortress of Isabel II on La Mola in Mahon Harbour (19th 7 20th Century), F. Fornals (2007)
The Conquests and Reconquests of Menorca, M. Mata (1984)
The Australian military adopted the F1 submachine gun in 1962, with the first guns reaching troops in April 1963, it replaced the venerable Owen gun. Like the earlier Owen the F1 had a top-mounted magazine – a position that lent itself to prone firing and more comfortable carrying when slung. But it also shared some similarities with the British L2A3 Sterling.
The F1 entered service alongside the Australian L1A1 (self-loading rifle/FN FAL), it shared the rifles butt plate and pistol grip – slightly minimising additional unique parts needed by the submachine gun. Australian Ordnance had begun searching for a replacement for the ageing Owen gun after the Korean War. The Owen had been made quickly and cheaply during the Second World War and while it was well liked by Australian troops it was felt it could be improved upon. Maintenance of the older Owen guns proved difficult as each weapon had been hand fitted to speed up production and some parts proved not to be interchangeable.
A number of designs were developed including one designated the ‘Kokoda’ (presumably after the Kokoda Trail campaign fought by Australian troops in 1942). This design was lighter than the Owen but suffered from overheating problems. A series of designs from the Australian Design Establishment, designated the ‘X’ series, were then developed. These weapons incorporated elements from both the Owen and the British Sterling. Including the Sterling’s perforated barrel jacket and magazine and the Owen’s bolt, magazine orientation and forward pistol grip – a feature many troops with experience with both the Owen and F1 lamented to loss of with the adoption of the F1. The first two ‘X’ series weapons developed into the X3 which in 1962, after successful trials, became the F1.
The F1 used a standard blowback action with a non-reciprocating charging handle. The charging/cocking handle was positioned on the left side of the receiver with its slot protected from the ingress of dirt by a dust cover. The F1 has a two-position fire selector with up for ‘safe’ and down for ‘fire’. The trigger mechanism allowed for firing single shots by pulling the trigger to the half-way point, this allowed the sear to trip into the semi-automatic position (see the diagram below).
Chambered in 9x19mm, the F1 fed from a 34-round curved magazine, although it could use straight, single-feed, Sten or Owen magazines. In the 1960s, in order to achieve commonality with Britain and other Commonwealth nations, that used the Sterling Submachine Gun, the Australian government contacted the Sterling Armaments Company to enquire how much a license to produce Sterling’s magazines would cost, only to be quoted an exorbitant fee. The Australian government were unwilling to pay for the license and produced them anyway. And as Sterling could not afford to take legal action were able to continue to do so – with the understanding they would not sell any commercially. The Australian government would later purchase a number of suppressed Mark 5 Sterling-Patchetts, also adopted by the British army as the L34A1.
The weapon’s ejection port was located on the bottom of the receiver ahead of the trigger guard. A small piece of metal was added in front of the ejection port, as a hand stop, to prevent the operator from inadvertently moving their hand over the port. The F1 had an in-line stock fitting into the rear of the tube receiver. The sights were offset to the right, the rear peep sight folded against the receiver when not in use while the front sight, rather than over the muzzle, projected from the right side of the magazine housing. The F1 could also mount the L1A1 self-loading rifle’s standard L1A2 sword bayonet.
The F1 weighed just over 7lbs (3.2kg), was 28 inches long and had a cyclic rate of approximately 600 rounds per minute. It had a solid butt stock, unlike the Sterling which had a folding stock. The F1 was produced solely by the Lithgow Small Arms Factory with most sources suggesting 25,000 were produced for the Australian military between 1963 and 1973. The Lithgow Small Arms Factory Museum were kind enough to look into the exact number made for us, and reported that there is some uncertainty surrounding the exact number produced with production report totals varying, giving a total of either 21,916 or 24,828.
The F1s saw extensive service in Vietnam and later with Australian peacekeeping troops through to the 1990s. It was issued to rear echelon troops, ACP and aircraft crews and to infantry sections. While the F1 was appreciated for its reliability, for those troops who had experience with the venerable Owen Gun, the F1 lacked a certain something. Colonel Warren Feakes noted that “every time I picked up an F1 I had the feeling that something was missing.” Another Australian veteran, Warrant Officer Kevin Konemann, who served in Vietnam in 1966-67, recalled: “It was awkward to fire from the shoulder and more awkward to fire from the hip” and that “the F1 wasn’t popular. Soldiers found it more difficult to point and bring on target than the OMC [Owen Gun] and firing from the shoulder… was decidedly more difficult without the front hand grip.”
Despite the shortcomings identified by some troops the F1 remained in service alongside the L1A1 self-loading rifle into the early 1990s, when both were phased out of use as the 5.56x45mm F88 (Steyr AUG) was adopted.
This is the first instalment of what will hopefully become a regular feature where we discuss some of the books we use when researching the guns we feature in our videos. We’ll give an overview of what the books cover, how they approach subjects and how good a resource they are.
With Vic’s recent special episode on the AR-10, I’ve been using Joseph Putnam Evans’ book ‘The ArmaLite AR-10: The World’s Best Battle Rifle‘ to help write the accompanying blog posts. While not without its flaws Evans’ book is without doubt the best published source on the AR-10 currently available.
For many years the published material on the AR-10 was confined to both contemporary gun magazine articles on the ‘new’ rifle and a handful of retrospective articles published later. Very little was written about their surprisingly extensive combat use or even the nuances of the design changes. Even the Black Rifle books, also published by Collector Grade, lacked the context of where the AR-15 evolved from. ArmaLite AR-10 is well worth reading, and a great base for further research.
During our first research trip last spring I had the opportunity to examine an unusual ‘hybrid’ Sten submachine gun. The weapon combined a MkII Sten’s receiver with a MkIII’s magazine housing. Added to this was a proprietary folding stock and a new fire control group and pistol grip.
Very little is known about the hybrid Sten with Peter Laidler’s book The Sten Machine Carbine mentioning it and the later Osprey book by Leroy Thompson sharing a photograph and brief caption which calls it an “experimental version of the Mk III.” It is also unclear exactly when it was built.
Below are some photographs I took of the Sten, lets look at some of the interesting features of the Hybrid Sten.
No production Variant of the Sten was fitted with an under-folding stock, the Australian Austen, however, directly copied the MP38/40. The entire weapon is covered by a layer of textured, crackle paint finish, this was commonly used on commercial Sterling Mk4 submachine guns. The weapon has a short, 3.5 inch, perforated fore-end welded onto the front of the tube receiver that appears to be from a Lanchester.
The under folding stock is rudimentary but effective, the butt plate swivels free but the lock up is quite secure. It uses the receiver main spring-loaded return-spring cap. The folding stock attaches to the pistol grip assembly (which can be seen detached below).
The proprietary rectangular trigger group housing brazed onto the tub receiver is unlike any other Sten and lacks a fire-selector.
The pistol grip itself is made from paxoline, a form of early resin plastic. The shape shape of the pistol grip does not resemble any production or prototype Sten grip. A simple hand-stop, made from a bent piece of sheet metal, has also been added in front of the weapon’s ejection port to prevent the user’s hand moving back and fingers being caught if gripped by the forend.
While the origins of the hybrid Sten remain unclear I don’t believe it was an officially made prototype. While impressive it is relatively crudely assembled and does not match the Sten prototypes made by Enfield, such as the VI. Intriguingly, the magazine housing of the weapon has been stamped ‘PILOT’ below the usual ‘STEN MkIII’ stamp. I suspect that the weapon may have been put together by a unit armourer, perhaps authorised by a superior officer to suggest improvements or as an unofficial project gun.
UPDATE: Their is some evidence emerging that this Hybrid Sten may be related to the T42 Sten prototype, part of the Sten MkIV development program. Where this hybrid fits into the story is not yet clear but the similarities are striking, when we have more information we will revisit this weapon.
In 1968 Heckler & Koch launched the HK33, chambered in 5.56x45mm, to compete with Colt’s AR-15/M16. The HK33, and later HK53, used the same roller-delayed blowback action developed for the G3 in the mid 1950s. However, few major contracts were forthcoming with the German military opting to continue using the 7.62x51mm G3.
Due to the modularity of the HK33′s design users could replace the butt of the standard rifle with a collapsible telescopic metal stock. H&K also subsequently designed a carbine version of the full-length HK33, the HK33K with a telescopic metal stock and 12.7 inch barrel. In the mid-1970s H&K began development an even shorter version. The result was essentially an intermediate calibre submachine gun similar to the Colt Commando and the Soviet AKS-74U. H&K designated this new weapon the HK53, it used the same telescopic stock as the HK33K and MP5 and a cut down 11 inch barrel, the HK53 also utilised a polymer forearm similar to the MP5s.
Like the HK33, the HK53 fed from 25, 30 or 40 round box magazines. The weapon weighed just over 3kg (7lb), almost a 1 kg less than its parent rifle the HK33. Unlike the HK33, the HK53 has a four prong flash hider. A number of police forces and militaries adopted the HK53 for a variety of roles. Special forces units around the world including the British SAS, Royal Military Police Close Protection Unit and Royal Marines, designated the L101A1 in British service, who typically used it during close protection duties and operations involving close quarter battle.
As shown in various MoD Equipment Failure Reports dating from the early 1990s the HK53’s in British service suffered from repeated damage and failure of the carbines’ locking rollers. This issue arose when using a number of different ammunition types including brass cased blank ammunition (H&K recommend the use of their proprietary blank cartridges). Following a meeting between the Army Technical Support Agency’s Directorate of Engineering and H&K a new design for the locking pieces were developed. These changes “increased the roll of blowback force during the unlocking phase… in turn this will reduce the mean energy of the recoiling mass of breech block and carrier” this was intended to reduce bolt bounce. The Royal Military Police Close Protection Unit’s L101A1’s were also fitted with a new two stage buffer within a fixed stock. In British service the L101 was replaced by the L22A2 carbine and the L119A1 (C8 Carbine).
Due to its short length the HK53 also found itself pressed into the port-firing weapon role. Designated the HK53 MICV in this role the foregrip and stock was removed and a specially designed endcap and a spent case bag could be attachment. During its service life the HK53 went through a series of changes to furniture mouldings, buttstock types and fire selector options. It remained in production into the early 2000s, when Heckler & Koch replaced the HK33 and HK53 with the G36 and G36K.
The 1960s and 70s saw Chile was racked by political turmoil with a military junta, led by General Augusto Pinochet, taking control in September 1973. Pinochet’s Junta took control of the country via a bloody coup, overthrowing President Salvador Allende, and as a result all export of small arms from Britain to Chile ceased. In the early 1970s, before the coup d’etat, The records of the Sterling Armaments Company show Chile purchased an example of the company’s Mk4 submachine guns and no less than 101 suppressed Mk5 Sterling-Patchetts.
With the import of small arms from the UK and other countries banned by an embargo Chile’s government were eager to increase their self-sufficiency. As a result in the mid-1970s the state-owned firearms manufacturer Fábricas y Maestranzas del Ejército (FAMAE) experimented with copying the Sterling Mk4 in an effort to minimise development costs.
The resulting 9x19mm submachine gun was dubbed the PAF or ‘Pistola Ametralladora FAMAE’. It took the basic Sterling design and simplified it. The PAF lacks the Mk4’s perforated barrel jacket and instead has an exposed barrel, tipped with a rudimentary spoon-shaped compensator. It also lacked the Sterling’s folding stock, instead it had a simple collapsing stock. As a result, the disassembly catch has been moved 90-degrees to the left side of the receiver.
Like the original, the Chilean copy retained the dirt-clearing grooves cut into the weapon’s breech block. The PAF’s plastic charging handle and butt stock shape are reminiscent of the Heckler & Koch MP5 – although much cheaper feeling in quality. The profile of the PAF’s pistol grip is slightly different but the weapon still fed from standard 34-round Sterling magazines. Interestingly, unlike the Sterling’s screwed-in-place barrel, the PAF’s was held in place by a machined barrel nut – in terms of production this is a much simpler system, no doubt borrowed from the Uzi.
left-side view of the PAF with stock collapsed (Matthew Moss)
Mag housing, front sight hood and barrel nut (Matthew Moss)
Magazine Housing (Matthew Moss)
The Chilean copy weighs significantly less than the British original, 2.5kg (5.5 lbs) and reportedly has a much higher 800 rounds-per-minute rate of fire. In general the PAF looks much like Sterling’s own later Para Pistol model, the Mk7.
Some sources suggest that only a small number of toolroom prototypes were made, although the relatively high serial number, #00748, of the example we looked at may indicate a limited production run may have been produced. It is clear, however, that the PAF did not go into general production. Instead, FAMAE later focused on weapons derived from Swiss small arms including the SIG SG 510 and SIG SG 540, and the SAF submachine gun introduced in the 1990s.
Note: The PAF was the last weapon we filmed during this particular research trip and we did not have time to film or photograph the PAF’s internals (we filmed a lot of videos that day and were pressed for time). Rest assured if and when we get the opportunity we will update this article with photographs of the weapon disassembled!