After the British Expeditionary Force’s retreat from Dunkirk in June 1940, Germany was expected to attempt a full-scale invasion of Britain. In order to accomplish this, they would need to eliminate the Royal Air Force, and as such, the RAF’s airfields were at serious risk. The RAF wanted a Schmeisser-type submachine gun issued to their personnel in the event of an attack from German paratroopers. The Navy had already ordered 2000 Smith & Wesson 9mm carbines and the Army, who by now had realized that they had vastly underestimated the military effectiveness of the submachine gun, began buying Thompsons from the United States.
The Biwarip machine carbine, an early precursor to the Sten made in 1938 and tested by the Small Arms Committee. Remarkably modern for its time.
The RAF initially examined captured MP-38s and ordered 10,000 British-made copies, but there were complications that resulted not only in the weapons being changed from copies of the MP-38 to the MP-28, but also the order being increased to 50,000 to satisfy the Navy as well, who had been forced to abandon the S&W carbines due to serious malfunctions. Sterling Armaments Co. was contracted to produce the initial prototypes of the MP-28 copy. The resultant weapon was finished, in the form of two pilot guns, in late 1940 and demonstrated on the 8th of November. The pilot guns were designed by George Lanchester and thus were named after him.
Lanchester Pilot Gun 3. For whatever reason, this model appears to have no rear sights. It was tested in November 1940.
Lanchester Pilot Gun 4. This is the model used for endurance trials and was essentially the finished product. Tested on the 28th of November 1940.
The Lanchester pilot guns were tested again on the 13th of November 1940 and were tested with a variety of 9x19mm catridges, including Winchester flat-nose, ICI, Bergmann, Beretta, and German military issue. The first pilot gun failed to discharge the Winchester and ICI ammunition, but the second did not run into any major issues and was considered on-par with the German MP-38.
On November 28th, further trials of the Lanchester pilot guns took place in the presence of both George Lanchester and Major Reginald V. Shepherd of the Design Department at RSAF Enfield. The Lanchester was now in its fourth pilot gun form and fired 5204 rounds with 26 stoppages. It passed all the mandatory tests but did not function when loaded with Beretta-made ammunition. Otherwise it was considered good to go and production rights were handed over to the Royal Navy for immediate manufacture as the Lanchester Mk.I. This weapon was issued to the Air Force and Navy until 1941, when it was simplified as the Mk.I*, which had no fire selector and fixed iron sights.
The Lanchester Mk.I. Known as the “British Schmeisser”. It was heavy, sturdy, and solidly built - typical of Naval manufacture.
The Lanchester Mk.I*. Fully-automatic only with fixed iron sights. Many Mk.I*s were simply modified Mk.Is, but were not marked as such.
The Lanchester was good but production costs were too high to equip the army. Something cheaper and quicker to manufacture was sought. In January 1941, an extremely simplified model was designed by George Lanchester and demonstrated at Enfield on the 10th of January 1941, and at Hythe on the 21st. The prototype was essentially a Lanchester stripped down to the bare minimum. It consisted of a simple tubular body made from steel and grips made from Tufnel. It was supposed to have a folding buttstock but for whatever reason this was never fitted. The only real change to the base design was the inclusion of a fire selector just in front of the trigger grouping. Otherwise it was internally the same as the Lanchester Mk.I.
A second simplified prototype was also conceived by George Lanchester and differed in that the cocking slot was now on the left side of the gun and had a much lighter bolt which was about an inch shorter than the original. The grips were redesigned to be more ergonomic, and a simple single-strut stock was fitted to the rear of the pistol grip.
The first simplified Lanchester prototype. Essentially the forerunner to the Sten. The cocking slot has a safety recess.
The second simplified Lanchester prototype. This version had left-hand cocking and a three-position fire selector.
Both simplified prototypes of the Lanchester were tested but rejected. But from this concept, the Sten was born. It was developed in early 1941 by Major Shepherd and Harold J. Turpin, who worked at the Design Department at Enfield. Thus the weapon was christened the STEN (Shepherd, Turpin, ENfield). The design was an incredibly simple blowback system based on the Lanchester with a fixed firing pin and simple cylindrical bolt. The first version of the Sten, the Mk.I, had wooden furniture, a conical flash hider, and a hinged fore grip, a feature not seen on any of the subsequent models. The Mk.I was cheaper than the Lanchester but still too expensive; it was simplified further as the Mk.I* in late 1941. The Mk.I* ditched the wooden embellishments, the flash hider and the fore grip feature. Throughout 1941, over 100,000 Mk.I and Mk.I* Stens were produced and issued to the army.
The Sten Mk.I. The original model of the Sten, with features such as a folding fore grip and a flash hider that were not seen in later models.
The Sten Mk.I*. The first of many steps to simplifying an already very basic gun. Although production was somewhat brief, thousands were made.
In mid-1941, the Mk.II Sten was designed. It was a bare-bones version of a gun which was already very basic. The main difference between the Mk.I and the Mk.II Stens was that the Mk.II had a new barrel that could not be interchanged with the original Mk.I barrel. The Mk.II barrel had only two grooves whereas the Mk.I had six. Externally, the Mk.II was incredibly minimalist. There were two main versions of the Mk.II produced: one with a wireframe stock and one with a single-strut stock. Neither were particularly pleasant to shoot, owing to the poor ergonomics. The upshot of all this was that the Mk.II Sten was incredibly cheap to produce en masse for the army and, as an added bonus, proved very easy for anti-Nazi partisans to copy in workshops.
The Mk.II Sten was tested at Pendine on from the 7th to the 25th of August 1941 and a glaring fault was discovered. The magazines were made from stamped sheet metal, which meant that the feed lips were prone to failure. If the magazine feed lips were misaligned even slightly with the magazine well, the gun would jam. The magazines were also highly susceptible to dirt and sand. All of this basically meant that the Mk.II Sten was highly unreliable if not handled with care, and even then it was probably inevitable that it would fail at some point during the heat of battle. But the army was faced with a choice between a mass of unreliable Mk.IIs, or a handful of Thompsons, Lanchesters and Mk.I Stens. They opted for the former.
The Sten Mk.II. The most successful version of the Sten, with several millions being manufactured during the war and used by various countries.
The Sten Mk.II with bayonet and single-strut stock.
Prototype T42 submachine gun, based on the Sten Mk.II. It had a single-column magazine and a redesigned trigger group.
Sten Mk.II with SMLE stock. This was made as an experimental model only and never issued.
Sten Mk.II with wireframe pistol grip, designed for paratroopers.
Copy of the Sten Mk.II made in a workshop by Danish partisans.
The Mk.II Sten was by far the most successful model of the Sten gun, with over 2,000,000 being produced throughout World War II. It was first issued to British and Canadian troops during the raid on Dieppe on the 19th of August 1942 and continued to be issued until 1945. It was also issued in considerable numbers to the Free French Forces, including the French Resistance.
In 1943, the toy manufacturer Line Brothers Ltd. were contracted to produce the Mk.III Sten, which was made from a single, riveted sheet metal tube that was welded at the top. The ejection also had an extra safety precaution that consisted of a simple finger guard. The barrel was fixed inside the tubular body, which could not be disassembled. In Canada, the Mk.III was manufactured by Long Branch Arsenal.
The Sten Mk.III. Manufactured by Line Bros. Yet another simplification to lower the cost of manufacture.
On the other hand, this prototype Mk.III with a wooden SMLE-style stock would have been substantially more expensive to manufacture.
An experimental Mk.III made at Enfield. The trigger grouping is level with the ejection and the cocking handle is on top.
The Mk.IV was the only one of the Sten “marks” not to be issued to the army. In fact, it never evolved past the prototype stage. It was designed in 1943 with paratroopers in mind, with a shorter barrel and folding stock. The first version of the Mk.IV had a conical flash hider and a very unusual pistol grip and trigger guard arrangement that was designed to facilitate for thick winter gloves. It was a mere 27 inches in length. After it was trialed at Pendine at rejected for improvements, a second version known as the Mk.IVB was developed which was designed to be fired with one hand. To achieve this, the balance of the weapon was changed by moving the trigger grouping forward to the middle of the gun. The trigger mechanism had to be completely redesigned to allow this. It was 24 inches in length but uncomfortable to fire. Besides its flaws, there was no immediate requirement for the Mk.IV model so it was never developed any further.
The Sten Mk.IV. Produced as a prototype only. It was designed for paratroopers and soldiers operating in cold weather conditions.
The Sten Mk.IVB. Designed to be fired one-handed. The shortest version of the Sten by far, it was more a machine pistol than a submachine gun.
The Sten Mk.IVS. A silenced prototype of which only one was ever made.
In 1944, the Mk.V Sten appeared. It was a much more presentable weapon and a far cry from the crude Mk.II The Mk.V featured a wooden butt, pistol grip and fore grip. The fore grip was ditched in later models. The front sights were also redesigned and lifted from the No.4 SMLE service rifle. Internally, the bolt was improved with a cutaway that cleared the trigger disconnector when the bolt came over the sear. The resultant weapon was of excellent quality and made to a much higher standard than its precursors. Unfortunately, cheaply-made magazine were still being issued and consequently the Mk.V was still just as liable to failure as the earlier models, although this was not the fault of the gun itself.
The Mk.V Sten was issued extensively to paratroopers after D-Day and saw considerable use during Operation Market Garden in Arnhem, and issue of the Mk.V continued until the war in Europe ended in May 1945.
An early model Mk.V. This version had a fore grip which was not seen on later models. The stock could be detached for paratroopers.
The Sten Mk.V. The most polished version of the Sten manufactured during the war. It was much more reliable than the Mk.II and was issued in 1944.
Many variations of silenced Sten guns were also developed. British interest in silenced weapons began in 1940 when British Commandos demanded a quiet gun for eliminating lone sentries during covert raids. Initially they were issued silenced Thompsons made by RSAF Enfield, but these were too heavy and expensive to deploy in any numbers. When the Sten Mk.II appeared, Enfield developed a suppressed model called the Mk.IIS. It was designed by a Polish exile who was now serving with the Special Operations Executive, Lt. Kulikowski. The suppressor consisted of a series of metal cups wrapped around and in front of the barrel, with a rubber plug at the end. When the weapon was fired, the gases seeped out the sidewall of the barrel and their energy dissipated. The bullet traveled through the metal cups and penetrated the plug, which prevented the gases from escaping. These metal cups were encased in a perforated jacket which was surrounded by an additional jacket.
Prototype Mk.IIS. The silencer contained 24 baffles. With so much weight at the front end and so little in the stock, it would have been awkward to handle.
The Sten Mk.IIS. The most successful silenced weapon of World War II.
The Mk.IIS was issued to Commandos, the SOE, and other British special forces units, as well as resistance fighters across Europe. It was designed to be fired in single shots. Reportedly, the sound of the bolt was louder than the gunshot itself. The main drawback of the Mk.IIS was that it had an effective range of only 100 meters.
Sten Mk.II with an SOE-made silencer and basic wooden stock, issued to special agents in France.
The Sten Mk.VI. Basically the Mk.IIS principle applied to the Sten Mk.V. It replaced the Mk.IIS late in the war.
Late in the war, the Mk.V Sten was successfully silenced using a similar principle and this model was called the Mk.VI. It did not see as much use as the Mk.IIS but was probably, all factors considered, the best silenced weapon of the war. It was succeeded by the Sterling L34A1 silent submachine gun.
Designed by Reginald V. Shepherd and Harold J. Turpin c.1940 - issued between 1942 and 1955 to the British Special Forces. 9x19mm Parabellum 32-round removable box magazine, open bolt blowback select fire, folding skeleton stock, regular issue insulating leather foregrip, integral suppressor. This looks a lot cooler than it actually was considering you couldn’t fire it in full automatic without ruining the suppressor.
I like having a little header title rather than just nothing, anyway back on to a gunpost, I’ve been requested to do the stamped steel Sten and here we go.
So the Sten gun, it’s an iconic weapon nowadays, one of the cheapest guns of WWII and yet also one of the most heavily used and made, with roughly 5 million Sten guns made, now we get to how this icon of resistance began.
So as I said in the Thompson post, the British were using the M1928 Thompson for most of the early years of WWII, but there was a giant problem, cost. Thompsons were really expensive guns and in 1941 with the US entrance in the war, that made them even more expensive and with fear of a German invasion on the horizon, RSAF Enfield was ordered to make a design that was cheap and easy to mass produce.
So the main two men behind the design of the Sten were Major R. V. Shepherd, the Inspector of Armaments at The Woolwich Royal Arsenal and Mr Harold Turpin, a designer at RSAF Enfield. They looked at a previous design, the Lanchester SMG that was used by the Royal Navy.
What they effectively did was simplify the Lanchester SMG, removing the wood furniture and swapping it with metal, modified and removed the barrel jacket, ditched the flat muzzle, made the sights simpler and boom, the Sten was born.
Made of stamped steel fittings and using a mixture of fitted and welded parts, a Sten gun is usually made of only 60 main parts, something most pistols have more of. It wasn’t accurate, but it was cheap, reliable and easy to mass produce. Within a couple of years, the entire British military standardized on the Sten series. Before I continue, the name Sten was based off the first letter of it’s two designers, Turpin and Shepard and where it was made, Enfield.
The entire English commonwealth went to the Sten gun in a matter of years, excluding Australia and the Owen gun. It was used by the British, The Canadians, the Indians and so many more. It was cheaper than most guns, could feed from it’s own mags, German MP40 mags and even older Lanchester mags, fed anything you could give it and wouldn’t stop working.
And it’s cheap construction made it one of the best insurgent weapons ever made. Many were parachuted into Europe to arm resistance groups from Poland to France used them. Poland made the now famous Błyskawica Sten copy, France made them and as the war went on, more and more copies of the Stens showed up in Europe, British made and otherwise
In a twist of fate, the Nazi Germans actually began copying Sten guns as the Gerat Potsdam project and later MP3008 to arm the German Volksturmm.
Following WWII, the Sten gun continued on as a stable of the militia force. It was used by the Commonwealth until the 1950′s when it was replaced by the Sterline, it was used by the Israelis during the Israeli War of Independence, it was used by the IRA against the British in Northern Ireland, the US MAC-V SOG units used the Sten Mark IIS suppressed version in Vietnam. It’s a common weapon used as a base for a number of homemade submachine guns from Brazil to Australia and despite being a 70 year old design, shows no sign in a popularity drop for those who need a submachine gun.
It’s an icon of resistance on par with the AK-47. When all hope seems lost, you can make one out of pipe, and when the Gestapo come knocking, you can show them a Sten. A gun this iconic is destined to be a film icon.
With it’s history in the arms of resistance fighters, the British commonwealth and criminals abroad, the Sten’s a common sight. It’s skeleton stock, side mounted magazine and sheet construction make it very noticable in films, and from the River Kwai to the Sands of Arabia, the Sten is an icon, and with a history this long, you know video games flash it off.
The Sten’s a relatively common sight, with the popularity of World War II shooters in the early 2000′s. It’s usually seen as the British’s version of the US Thompson, usually differentiated by being held by the side-mounted magazine, something never advised as doing so can lead to misfeeding. Rare versions like the Sten Mark IIS and the Błyskawica appear every so often, and even the post apocalypse of the Metro franchise isn’t safe from the Sten, as the “Bastard” carbine in the game looks just a bit too similar to the British sub-gun.
And that’s the tale of the Sten gun, born out of a desire for cheap guns and becoming an icon in the process. The Sten is as English as tea and imperialism, and yet the Sten has an air of resistance to it. It’s a cheap gun, but it doesn’t need anything fancy, it just needs to work. From France to Australia, it’s the kingpin of the cheap gun world, and will be used and made for years to come.
The Military Carbine Experimental Model (MCEM) project was initiated by RSAF Enfield in 1942, and officially ended in 1947. The goal of the project was to design a suitable replacement for the STEN gun, which the British Army had no desire to keep in service after World War II. RSAF Enfield had competition from commercial businesses, such as Birmingham Small Arms, Sterling Armaments, and the Danish company DISA.
When the project began, there was an influx of Czech, Polish and Belgian engineers who had fled their native countries and emigrated to Britain, and put their skills to use at Enfield. Thus, Enfield had separated their design staff into several different departments based on nationality. Reportedly there was quite a lot of rivalry between the native British designers and the Polish emigres, who were both tasked with submitting their own MCEM designs by 1945.
The British team, headed by Harold J. Turpin, designer of the STEN, submitted their design first, hence it was dubbed the MCEM-1. It was basically a STEN in a flashier new body, with a reworked magazine feed, wooden stock and right-hand cocking. A unique feature of the MCEM-1 was its magazine, which was actually two 20-round magazines welded together side-by-side, in a similar fashion to the popular method of taping magazines together “jungle style”.
The Polish team, headed by Lieutenant Jerzey Podsenkowski, created a totally new design the likes of which had never really been seen before, especially not on a military level. Their idea was to create a light, compact SMG with a high rate of fire that could be fired with one hand. Since it was the second design, it was dubbed the MCEM-2. The bolt assembly was in a hollow cylinder 8 1⁄4 inches long, with a fixed firing pin that was 1 ½ inches from the rear end. When fired, 7 inches of the 8-inch barrel were inside the bolt, and behind the bolt a fixed rod ejected protruded through the bolt face as the bolt returned. The magazine well was in the pistol grip and there was a removable shoulder stock to improve accuracy.
The MCEM-2 ejected from a port in front of the trigger guard, making it awkward to handle two-handed, but it was the designer’s intention that it be fired with one hand. Ordnance Board officials did not like this idea. When the MCEM-1 and MCEM-2 were tested against each other in September 1946, all praise went to the MCEM-1. The MCEM-2 was criticized for having an “excessive” fire rate of 1000 rounds per minute, which did prove problematic since it only had an 18-round magazine.
Suggestions for improvements were made for both weapons. Whilst the British and Polish teams were hard at work developing their revised weapons, Major S. Hall of the Australian Army came over to England to showcase his new design based on the Owen gun. His weapon was, rather confusingly, also called the MCEM-1. It was designed in response to results from a survey that asked Australian combat veterans what their ideal weapon would be.
By 1946, the British team had finished improvements to their MCEM-1 design, and since it was the third submission from Enfield to the Ordnance Board trials, it was named the MCEM-3. It was pretty much the same as the MCEM-1 but with some minor tweaks; bayonet fittings were added, the magazine was curved, and the safety was improved. It was tested by the Ordnance Board, who gave it a good write-up and were confident that it could be a serious contender for a service weapon.
The Australian MCEM-1, on the other hand, didn’t fare as well. During testing, it overheated several times and the body fractured under intensive usage. It was sent back to Australia for improvements, but Major Hall decided to stay at Enfield to work on a prototype 7mm rifle.
The MCEM-6, the improved version of the MCEM-2, was completed by the Polish team in late 1946, with the help of Lt. Ichnatowicz. The MCEM-6 had a bayonet lug, required by the General Staff Specifications, and a heavier bolt to decrease the rate of fire to about 600 rounds per minute. Despite this, the Ordnance Board still wasn’t interested. Enfield shelved the MCEM-6 and gave the remainder of the funding to the British team.
When the 1947 trials came around, the MCEM-3 and an improved version of the Australian MCEM-1, called the MCEM-2, competed against the BSA Mk.II, the Patchett gun, and the Madsen M50. The MCEM-3 and the Australian MCEM-2 were the least favorable in the eyes of the Ordnance Board; the MCEM-3 suffered overheating problems and burned the hand of a firer. It was obvious that the Patchett, Madsen and BSA were miles ahead. After this, the MCEM project was scrapped, Enfield gave up on a submachine gun contract with the Army, and all attention was turned to the EM rifle project.
The MCEM-4 and the MCEM-5 remain a mystery. They were completed some time between the MCEM-3 and the MCEM-6, what they looked like and how they functioned is unknown. The MCEM-4 has been referred to as the “Sparc”, and the MCEM-5 was designed by Lt. Kulikowski, designer of the silenced STEN, indicating that it may have been a suppressed version of the MCEM-2. Nothing is certain, however, and probably never will be.