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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.