Call of Duty: WWII’s Sterling SMG

During a recent discussion over on the HF Twitter page, I was informed to my surprise that the Sterling submachine gun had been added as a DLC weapon to Call of Duty WW2. I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the model used in the game and see how historically accurate it is. I recently finished writing a book about the Sterling and have done some research into the theories of the Patchett prototypes seeing some action during the war.

The model that Sledgehammer Games, the developer, have used appears to be a mix of the early prototypes and the later production Sterlings. In terms of historical accuracy the gun should be correctly referred to as the Patchett Machine Carbine – after its designer George Patchett. It only began to be called the Sterling, after the company that manufactured it in the 1955.

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Developer’s model of the COD: WW2 Sterling SMG (courtesy of Activision/Sledgehammer Games)

The model appears to share some similarities with the original Patchett prototype, including the step in the welded together receiver – the result of using left over Lanchester machine carbine receiver tubes, which was also built by Sterling. The position of the stock hinge point also appears to be in the correct place (it was later moved forward when the stock was modified). However, it appears to be feeding from a much later curved commercial pattern Sterling magazine (you can tell by the zigzag outline on the rear of the magazine and of course the curve – although seemingly not quite as curved as the real thing.) In reality the Patchett prototypes fed from Sten magazines, it wasn’t until after the war that Patchett designed his excellent 34-round magazine.

Here’s a photo of the Patchett’s original tool room prototype that I took last year while researching:

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Patchett’s Original Toolroom prototype (Matthew Moss)

Note how they even replicated the slanted brazed on rear sight that was added after the first trials. The game developers, however, added a metal guard tab just in front of the ejection port – something that wasn’t added until later and they also gave the gun markings on the magazine housing that mimic the later commercial Sterling markings.

The game model also has the Sterling’s helical grooves on its breech block, something the early prototypes did not have. It seems the developers mashed together the Patchett prototype with later production Sterling L2A3/Mk4s.

Did the Patchett See Action During WWII?

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A grainy photograph, sadly lacking provenance, that appears to show members of the Free French SAS with two Patchett prototypes during Operation Amherst, April 1945 (source)

While the early Patchett prototypes may have seen action in late 1944 – 1945 with one or two prototypes possibly making it into the hands of specialist troops there is no solid evidence to support this. There is a tantalising grainy photograph of what is believed to be members of the Free French SAS on operations in the Netherlands in April 1945 (during Operation Amherst). The photo above shows what appear to be two Patchetts during a meeting with local resistance members. There is also an uncorroborated story that one prototype was carried by Lt.Col. Robert Dawson, officer commanding No.4 Commando, during Operation Infatuate but there is no documentary evidence to support this. I discuss these and several other pieces of evidence that support the idea that the Patchett/Sterling saw action in my new book on the Sterling.

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.

Shotgun sight Sterling SMG Prototype

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.

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Right side profile of the jungle rib sight Patchett prototype (Matthew Moss)

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.

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British troops patrolling the Malayan jungle, 1957 (National Army Museum)

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.

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Left side profile of the jungle rib sight Patchett prototype (Matthew Moss)

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.


 

Bibliography

Primary Sources:

‘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.

Live Fire: L2A3 Sterling SMG

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.

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Frame from the slow motion footage showing a spent 9x19mm case being ejected from the L2A3 (TAB)

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!