The Sten Gun, Its Name and the Men Behind It

The Sten is one of Britain’s iconic Second World War Small arms. Two men are principally responsible for its development Colonel Reginal Vernon Shepherd and Mr. Harold John Turpin a pair of small arms and engineering experts with considerable experience.

Turpin was born in Kent in 1893, served his apprenticeship as a draughtsman in Erith and in 1922, he joined the drawing office at the Royal Small Arms Factory Enfield – Britain’s principal state small arms centre.

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British Army manual illustration

Reginald Shepherd was born in 1892, received an Bachelor of Science Degree from Leeds University in 1912. In October 1914, he joined the West Yorkshire Regiment as a second lieutenant, serving in Gallipoli and Egypt. After the war, with his engineering background, he assigned as 2nd Assistant Superintendent at the Design Department at RSAF Enfield in December 1922, and promoted to captain.

The two men found themselves joining Enfield at around the same time. In November 1933, Shepherd, now a major, was appointed Inspector of Small-Arms (Class 2) at Enfield and assisted in getting the Bren light machine gun into service. He remained at Enfield until 1936, when he retired from the army and spent a short spell at BSA before being recalled. In late 1939, Major Shepherd returned to active service and once again took up the position of Inspector of Armaments, this time at the Ministry of Supply Design Department at Woolwich Arsenal.

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Inside RSAF Enfield (Royal Armouries)

By the outbreak of the Second World War Turpin had become the senior draughtsman at Enfield and when the development of the Lanchester Machine Carbine began he was paired with Major Shepherd to draw up technical drawings for the gun’s production.

The two men decided that a simpler, cheaper submachine gun could be produced and in December 1940 set about designing it, with Turpin in the lead. During the Winter of 1940-41 the first prototypes were built. Development of the first Sten – the T40, was completed on 8th January 1941, taking just 36 days.

14 pilot models were ordered but only two were completed by engineers at the Philco Radio Works in Middlesex: T-40/1 and T-40/2. The gun was initially designated the ‘T-40’ or Turpin, 1940. By the end of January 1941, it had become known as the ‘ST Machine Carbine’. The ‘Carbine, Machine, STEN, MkI’ was approved for issue on 7th March, 1941, with 100,000 guns ordered.

How did the gun become known as the ‘STEN’ and what did Sten stand for?

We know that the ‘S’ stands for Shepherd and the ‘T’ for Turpin, but what about the ‘EN’ – it is generally accepted to represent ‘Enfield’. Why? Because RSAF Enfield is synonymous with British military firearms. Additionally the Bren light machine gun’s name is a portmanteau of ‘BR’ from Brno, the location of the Czech factory the zb.26/30 originated from, and ‘EN’ for Enfield, the British factory that anglicised the design for British manufacture and service.

Enfield, however, wasn’t where the Sten was designed. Turpin and Shepherd claimed that most of the work on the design had been done out of hours. Additionally, during the winter of 1940, the Armament Design Department was relocated, from Enfield to a former Drill Hall in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire to escape the bombing of London.

While the Sten may not have been designed at Enfield, the first prototype was partially assembled there with work also done at Turpin’s own home workshop. A further 46 pre-production pilot models were later ordered from RSAF Enfield, in February 1941.

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Intriguingly, early accounts suggest that ‘EN’ may have stood for ‘England’ – not ‘Enfield’. In October 1942, the fifth instalment of ‘Know Your Weapons’, a semi-official series of weapons manuals printed by the publisher Nicholson & Watson, explains that ‘EN’ did in fact stand for ‘England’.

In June 1943, Turpin penned a semi-anonymous article for ‘The Model Engineer’, about the design and development of the gun, which repeated this claim. An October 1943, article in the US Popular Mechanics magazine, entitled ‘Machine Guns from Backyard’, includes a supposed quote from the inventors explaining that the “E and N stood for England.”

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‘The Sten Carbine’, Model Engineer, Turpin, June 1943

A more official account came in June 1949, at a hearing of the Board of the Royal Commission Awards to Inventors (a board set up to reward inventors who had done important war work). One of the board members Lord Justice Sir Lionel Cohen asked Shepherd: “Why was it called the Sten?” The colonel replied: “It was called the Sten by the then Director General of Artillery. The ‘S’ was from my name, the ‘T’ from Mr. Turpin, who was my draughtsman and who did a very large amount of the design, and the ‘EN’ was for England. That is the origin of the name, for which I accept no responsibility.” This suggests that the ‘EN’ standing for ‘England’ may have originated from the upper echelons.

Sadly, there was no officially published explanation of the name as official manuals rarely go into superfluous detail. In 1948, however, Ian Hay published R.O.F. The story of the Royal Ordnance Factories, 1939-1948 in which he stated the ‘EN’ was a reference to the Enfield factory. Similarly, another early published account, D.M. Ward’s 1946 The Other Battle, a history of BSA, also suggested it represented the factory name.

In truth it is difficult to know exactly what the ‘EN’ stood for. It may be that both Enfield and England were discussed and used by various individuals and offices. There may have been an element of propaganda to including ‘England’ in a weapon’s name which led senior officers to push this in the press and direct the gun’s inventors to suggest this was the case too. Of course the authors of those earlier books may have mistakenly believed ‘EN’ stood for Enfield, as it does in Bren. Personally, I’m inclined to follow the primary sources attributed to the two men responsible for the design, and believe it initially stood for England.

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The Other Battle, D.M. Ward, (1946)

Shepherd was awarded an OBE in January 1942, and became the Assistant Chief Engineer Armament Design (A/CEAD), he was promoted to Lt. Colonel in August 1943. He retired from active duty at the age of 55, in January 1947, and was removed from the reserve list. He was granted the honourary rank of colonel. He died in April 1950, aged 58. Turpin retired from RSAF Enfield in 1953, and died in April 1967, aged 74.

Beyond a pair of discretionary payments, £1,500 to Shepherd and a small payment of £200 to Turpin, neither man was officially rewarded as they were deemed to have essentially done what they were paid for, designing small arms. Scant reward and recognition for a weapon which became one of the key wartime small arms of the British and Commonwealth forces.

Our thanks also to Jonathan Ferguson, of the Royal Armouries, for sharing his thoughts on the ‘Enfield’ vs ‘England’ debate.


Bibliography

The Sten Machine Carbine, P. Laidler, (2000)
R.O.F. – The Story of the Royal Ordnance Factories, 1939-1948, I. Hay, (1949)
The Other Battle, D.M. Ward, (1946)
The Sterling Submachine Gun, M.J. Moss, (2018)
The Sten Gun, L. Thompson, (2012)
‘Sten & Bren Guns’, Know Your Weapon #5, (Oct. 1942)
‘The Sten Carbine’, Model Engineer, 3 Jun. 1943, H.J. Turpin
Board of the Royal Commission Awards to Inventors – 1946-49
‘Machine Guns From Backyard’, Popular Mechanics, Oct. 1943


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Steyr MPi 81

Developed in the late 1960s and introduced in 1969/70 the MPi 69 was Steyr’s entry into an already crowded European submachine gun market. Heavily influenced by the Israeli Uzi it had a bolt which telescoped over the barrel and fed from a box magazine that was inserted through a magazine well-come-pistol grip.

The MPi 69 weighed 6.5lbs (2.93kg) unloaded and had a polymer lower receiver into which a stamped metal upper inserted. Unlike the Uzi it had a collapsing, rather than folding stock, similar to the M3 submachine gun’s, and was cocked not by a handle but by pulling the sling (which was acted on the bolt) to the rear.

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Steyr MPi 69 (Rock Island Auction Company)

The MPi 69 remained in production into the early 1980s when it was replaced by the improved MPi 81. Moving away from the slick-cocking ‘gimmick’ the MPi 81 had a conventional, non-reciprocating, charging handle on the left side of the receiver. The MPi’s polymer lower allows it to be a pound lighter despite being slightly longer as a result it also balances better than the standard Uzi carbine.

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Steyr MPi 69 diagram (Steyr Manual)

The MPi submachine guns fed from 25 or 32 round box magazines and both guns had a heel-type magazine release paddle in the base of the pistol grip. They also shared their magazines with the AUG 9x19mm submachine gun conversion. Check out our earlier video on the Steyr AUG conversion here.

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Steyr MPi 81 (Rock Island Auction Company)

The MPi submachine guns fire from an open bolt and had a 10in barrel and has a push through safety with settings for safe, semi and full auto and unlike the Uzi it does not have a grip safety – simplifying manufacture.

The MPi also has a progressive trigger which when set to full-auto will allow the user to fire semi when pulled to the first stage and full when pulled fully to the rear. While the MPi 69 had a cyclic rate of around 500 per minute, the MPi 81 increased this rate to ~750rpm.

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Steyr MPi 69 disassembly diagram (Steyr Manual)

The MPi can be field stripped by simply rotating the receiver end cap up 90-degrees and pulling the bolt out the rear. The gun can be further stripped but the moulded polymer lower receiver can be difficult to remove from the upper. Like the Uzi the barrel nut is unscrewed to remove the barrel.

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The MPi 81 fully disassembled (Vic Tuff)

It is unclear just how many MPi submachine guns were produced but they didn’t see any significant contracts beyond a few small sales to police forces and militaries.

The MPi 81 remained in production into the early 1990s when it was replaced by the smaller and more compact Steyr TMP in 1992. In turn the TMP design was sold to B&T a decade later.

Our thanks to the collection that let us take a look at this MPi 81 and to our friend Miles Vining for sharing some of his shooting footage of the MPi 81 with us, check out his video here and more of his work at www.silahreport.com.


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Specifications (from Steyr brochure):

Overall Length: Deployed – 26.6in (67.5cm) / Collapsed – 18.3in (46.5cm)
Barrel Length: 10.2in (26cm)
Weight (empty): 6.28lbs (2.85kg)
Action: Blowback
Capacity: 25 or 32-round box magazines
Calibre: 9×19mm
Rate of Fire: ~750 rpm


Bibliography:

Steyr MPi 69 Manual (source)

Steyr MPi 81 Manual (source)

 

How to Deploy the Hotchkiss Universel

Here’s a short video looking at how the unusual Hotchkiss Universel deploys from its compact, folded position. The whole process takes just seconds. Impressive engineering but within a couple of years the Universel would be surpassed by far more compact, ergonomic and serviceable designs like the Uzi and PM-63.

Check out our full video and article on the Universel here.

Hotchkiss Type Universal

 

The need for compact weapons capable of being carried with ease by troops who would be getting in and out of vehicles, jumping from planes and fighting in close quarters had been proven during World War Two.  While it may look unusual the Hotchkiss ‘Type Universel’ was an extraordinary attempt at creating an extremely compact submachine gun.

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Right-side Hotchkiss Type Universel (Matthew Moss)

Submachine guns had proven themselves to be an useful weapon during the war, their small size and high rate of fire made them invaluable, especially in close-quarter situations. The post-war French army found itself armed with a plethora of surplus submachine guns, which included: the German MP40, the British STEN and the American Thompson as well as their own pre-war MAS-38s, in 7.65x20mm Longue, which had been designed before the war. By 1946 they had already begun the process of selecting a new, more compact submachine gun. Seeking to standardise on a single weapon and calibre they selected 9x19mm and launched a programme to find a new submachine gun or Pistolet Mitrailleur.

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MAS-38 (Rock Island Auction Company)

The French War Ministry launched a call for state arsenals and civilian manufacturers, such a Hotchkiss and Gevelot/Gevarm, to submit submachine guns for trials. Hotchkiss submitted the Type 010 or Type Universel, often anglicised as Universal, despite this the guns are typically marked ‘CMH2’ – ‘Carabine Mitrailleuse Hotchkiss’.

Chambered in 9x19mm, the Hotchkiss fed from MP40-pattern magazines, used the ubiquitous blowback action, it fired from a closed bolt and had a cyclic rate of approximately 650-rounds per minute. The Hotchkiss is select fire with a push through selector that allows for semi and full-auto fire. It appears that the weapon’s only safety mechanism is to close the ejection port cover and lock the bolt in place – much like a US M3 Grease Gun.

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Right side collapsed Hotchkiss Type Universel (Matthew Moss)

Designers went to extraordinary lengths to minimise the size of the Universel. Not only did the stock fold beneath the barrel but the magazine well and magazine could be rotated forward to sit beneath the barrel with the magazine fitting between a U-shaped cut-out in the butt stock. The weapon is a curious mix of stamped metal and complex machining with a difficult to machine bolt and barrel contrasting with a stamped sheet metal lower receiver and wide stamped trigger.

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Left side collapsed Hotchkiss Type Universel (Matthew Moss)

In 1950 Hotchkiss sales material described their weapon as “the individual defense weapon meeting the requirements of the most modern Armies and Police. Folded up, it is very compact, easy to transport, conceal and parachute. It is quick to set up and comes unfolded in the form of a carabiner…”

The weapon’s pistol grip was hollow and when folding up the stock, the grip folds forward to cover the trigger. The Universel’s most interesting feature is its telescoping barrel which retracts several inches inside the receiver. These features brought the Hotchkiss’ length down from 30.6 inches (77.6cm) when the stock was extended, to 22 inches (54cm) with the stock folded, and an impressive 17.25 inches (43.5cm) when fully collapsed. The nature of how the pistol grip folded with the stock meant the weapon could not be fired with its stock collapsed. When fully collapsed the weapons’ depth was just 6 inches or 15.3cm.

Centrefire automatic submachine gun - Hotchkiss Universal (about 1949-1952) (1)
A partially collapsed Hotchkiss, with magazine in folded position and barrel extended (Royal Armouries)

To Deploy:

First we unfold the stock by pushing the knurled collar forward to unhook it from the base of the magazine well. When fully unfolded a spring detent locks into the rear of the receiver.

At the same time the pistol grip also unfolds. If we had a magazine loaded into the weapon we would deploy the barrel first – in order to allow the magazine to slide back through the magazine well and fold down to lock into position. The bolt follows the barrel forward so once the magazine is locked into position the weapon has to he be charged to chamber a round.

The collapse the weapon again, first fold the stock, then depress the lever just behind the trunnion to unlock the barrel, push the barrel assembly and bolt to the rear until it locks.

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Left side Hotchkiss Type Universel (Matthew Moss)

The Universel’s extreme compactness was both its best and worst feature, the complexity of having every protruding part fold or retract made the weapon expensive to produce. It also gave the weapon poor ergonomics with a narrow butt, an uncomfortable pistol grip and narrow sights which weren’t ideal for quick target acquisition.

The Hotchkiss was one of a whole host of compact folding submachine guns developed after World War Two. These included the MAS MLE 1948, the MAC Mle 1947 and of course the MAT-49 from French state-arsenals. The French guns were by no means the first to have folding magazines, that concept dates back to submachine guns like the SIG MKMO. Incidentally, SIG’s last developmental iteration of their submachine guns, the MP48, was also developed in the late 1940s and retained the MKMO’s folding magazine housing.

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Close up of the Hotchkiss Type Universel’s receiver (Matthew Moss)

A 2001 article from the Gazette des Armes, by Michel Malberbe, includes an account from a Legionnaire sergeant who describes using the Hotchkiss in Indochina:

“I saw for the first time the submachine gun Hotchkiss in ‘Indo’. We were responsible for the security of the RC4 [Route Coloniale 4], and the staff sent us wooden cases containing these famous submachine guns. As the documents were not very complete, our company commander… had trouble explaining how it worked. It was quite funny, because folded, this submachine gun did not look very serious. It was like a rectangular scrap metal package… We used it for the first time on the Lang Son side, during a serious collision between the Viets and a convoy… I remember that this machine worked very well. But it lacked a little precision. Anyway, it was much better than the small MAS-38 submachine gun, whose magazine always blocked [jammed] at the wrong time! On the other hand, I think I remember that the Hotchkiss did not stand up to mud and that it was misery to clean it. In addition it was quite difficult to unfold because of the buttons found everywhere. We never knew which one to press. We, in any case, always transported them in the firing position…”

While the Type Universel definitely wouldn’t win any prizes for its aesthetics, it was a ambitiously-engineered and well-built submachine gun. Despite this the design was simply too complex, as we have heard troops in the field rarely took advantage of its compact features preferring to carry the weapon at the ready. The Universel sacrificed a lot to achieve its compactness and the ergonomics of the weapon leave a lot to be desired with an extremely small butt and a hollow pistol grip that just feels wrong.

It is believed that in total just 7,000 Hotchkiss Universels were produced between 1948 and 1952. The French military rejected the Hotchkiss feeling the weapons was too complex and too expensive to manufacture. Instead, the MAT-49 submachine gun, designed by Tulle, was eventually adopted. The MAT-49 also had a folding magazine housing making it almost as compact as the Universel but without its complexities.

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Close up of right side of the Hotchkiss Type Universel’s receiver (Matthew Moss)

While it underwent some field testing with the French in Indochina no major military contracts were won but small numbers were purchased by the French police, the colonial police in Morocco and some were sold to the military of Venezuela. The Universel would be one of the last firearms produced by Hotchkiss et Cie, who had built numerous armaments for the French army during the 19th and 20th centuries, before it closed its weapons manufacturing arm in the early 1950s refocusing on automobile manufacture.

Special thanks to Battlefield Vegas for allowing us to take a look at their Hotchkiss.


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Specifications:

Overall Length: Deployed – 30.6in (77.6cm) / Collapsed – 17.25in (43.5cm)
Barrel Length: 10.6in (27cm)
Weight: 7.6lbs (3.4kg)
Action: Blowback, closed bolt
Capacity: 32-round box magazines
Calibre: 9×19mm
Rate of Fire: ~650 rpm


Bibliography:

‘La Carabine Mitrailleuse: Hotchkiss Modele 010’, Gazette des Armes #256, R. Out

‘Carabine Mitrailleuse Hotchkiss (CMH2) Type Universel’, Gazette des Armes #321, M. Malberbe

Hotchkiss Submachine Guns, Small Arms Review, J. Huon (source)

Submachine Guns, M. Popenker & A.G. Williams (2011)

Chinese Type 64 Suppressed Submachine Gun

The Type 64 is an integrally suppressed submachine gun designed in China in the early 1960s, taking several design elements from other Combloc small arms. The guns were manufactured at one of China’s State Factories (with the factory’s ‘66’ in a triangle marking in the left side of the receiver – this indicates the factory number, although available sources differ on which it refers to, either 66, 626 or 366).

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Right side of the Type 64, with stock folded (Matthew Moss)

Designed concurrently with the Type 64 suppressed pistol during the 1960s, the Type 64 SMG was developed for Communist China’s special forces for use in clandestine operations. Chambered in the standard 7.62×25 ComBloc pistol round, the Type 64 functioned best with Type 64 subsonic ammunition, a special subsonic spitzer projectile variation of the standard 7.62mm pistol round. It did not chamber the low power 7.65x17mm round used by the Type 64/67 pistols.

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A close up of the weapon’s markings, including the State Factory 66 stamping (Matthew Moss)

The Type 64 fed from 20 or 30 round double stack magazines which were reportedly developed from or at least influenced by the Soviet PPS-43’s double stack, double feed magazines. The weapon used a conventional blowback action and fired from an open bolt. Its maximum effective range was approximately 200 metres with two position flip up sights ranging out at 100 and 200 metres.

The Type 64 had a milled receiver with lightening cuts and weighed in at 7.6lb or 3.5kg unloaded. It took its bolt from the Russian PPS-43 submachine gun and a trigger group inspired by the ZB vz.26 light machine gun’s, which was well liked by the Chinese military.

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The suppressor housing is unscrewed at the trunnion with an interrupted thread (Matthew Moss)

The Type 64 shared a number of external similarities with the standard Type 56 AK-clone including its pistol grip, safety lever and under-folding stock (which is similar but slightly different to the Type 56-I’s under-folding stock).

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The Type 64’s fire selector (Matthew Moss)

The weapon has a number different controls including a conventional AK-style safety-come-dust cover, on the right side of the receiver – which blocks the travel of the bolt. On the opposite side of the receiver it has a two-position fire selector for semi and full-auto – you can just about reach these when the stock is folded. The forward position is for semi and the rearward position is full-auto. Finally, the 64 also has an additional trigger block safety, taken from the SKS, which pivots forward to prevent the trigger from being pulled.

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A close up of the magazine release, trigger block safety and lever safety (Matthew Moss)

According to a report written in October 1971, by the Small Arms Systems Lab of the US Army Weapons Command Research and Engineering Directorate, the weapon has an extremely high rate of fire of over 1,300 rpm.

A cyclic rate that high was the result of a combination of back pressure from the suppressor, the ammunition used and its blowback action. The Type 64’s chamber was fluted with three longitudinal cuts to aid extraction at its high rates of fire. It should be noted, however, that the 1971 US army tests were carried out with standard velocity ammunition – rather than the specialised subsonic Type 64.

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The Type 64 with stock deployed, left & right profiles (Matthew Moss)

The top cover is removed by pushing in what at first appears to be a spring-loaded detent, but is actually the recoil spring guide rod. The front of the top cover is held in the receiver by a lip which fits into a slot just above the breech. The top cover itself is a thin piece of stamped sheet metal with the serial number stamped at the rear.

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With the receiver cover removed and the action cocked. The Type 64 fires from an open bolt. Note the buffer at the rear of the receiver (Matthew Moss)

With the top cover removed we can see inside the action. The 64 has a single recoil spring held in place by a guide rod. At the rear of the receiver is a small plastic buffer, designed to both soak up some of the recoil energy and to help reduce action cycling noise. There is an ejector on the left side of the receiver and guide rails along which the bolt moves. To remove the bolt it is pulled fully to the rear and then tilt it upwards.

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A close up of the bolt face (Matthew Moss)

The Type 64 is a pretty compact weapon despite the length of its suppressor. It has an under-folding stock, with two spring-loaded buttons at the rear of the receiver which have to be pushed in to fold and unfold the stock. When folded the weapon is 25in (or 63.5cm) long, with the stock adding 8 inches when it is deployed. The weapon can be used with the stock folded, although some of its controls are partially obscured.

The suppressor is contained by a housing which attaches to the receiver by an interrupted thread. The Type 64’s barrel was ported with 36, 3mm vents at the muzzle-end while the suppressor has 12 metal dished baffles held captive on a pair of guide rods. The weapon’s sights are mounted on the suppressor housing which attaches to the receiver by an interrupted thread. Sadly, I didn’t have time to strip the suppressor itself but the photos below, from my friend Chuck over at Gunlab, show the Type 64’s ported barrel and baffles well.

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With the suppressor housing and baffle system removed. Note the series of holes in the barrel (GunLab)

The 1971 Small Arms Systems Lab report found that the audible report of the gun, was 150db at the rear of the receiver and 157db 12 feet down range, however, this is probably not the best indication of the Type 64’s capabilities as the report states that the gun was tested with Chinese Type 51 standard velocity 7.62x25mm ammunition. Ideally, the weapon would have been used with subsonic Type 64 ammo specially developed for China’s suppressed pistol-calibre weapons. Chinese sources reportedly put the weapons noise level at 84db when using subsonic ammunition. The US report did note that while its noise suppression wasn’t outstanding, it very effectively hid its muzzle flash.

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The baffle system held together a pair of guide rods (GunLab)

It appears to have been primarily used by Chinese scouts and special forces and saw action during the 1979 Sino-Vietnamese War. In the late 80s the Chinese replaced the Type 64 with the suppressed version of the Type 85 submachine gun, also chambered in 7.62x25mm, which used the same magazines, the Type 85 had a tube metal and stamped receiver which was simpler to manufacture than the 64’s machined receiver. The Type 85 has subsequently been superseded by guns like the bullpup Type 05.

Special thanks to the collection that holds this weapon for allowing me to take a look at it. As always guys thank you for watching. If you enjoyed the video please share it with friends and help us


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Specifications:

Overall Length: 33.2in w/stock deployed
Barrel Length: 9.6in
Weight: 7.6 lbs
Action: Blowback, open bolt
Capacity: 20 or 30-round box magazines
Calibre: 7.62x25mm


Bibliography

Primary Sources:

‘Technical Notes: Chinese Communist 7.62mm Type 64, Silenced Submachine Gun’, US Army Weapons Command Research & Engineering Directorate Small Arms Systems Laboratory, J.J. Boccarossa, 27/09/1971

Secondary Sources:

Chinese Type 64 SMG, Small Arms Review, F. Iannamico (source)

Type 64 submachine gun (PR China), Modern Firearms, (source)

Chinese Type 64 suppressed SMG, ForgottenWeapons.com (source)

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.

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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



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