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In-depth: the Patchett gun

George William Patchett of the Sterling Armaments Corp. demonstrated the first prototype of the Patchett gun to the Ordnance Board on the 25th of September 1942. It was described in OB Proceeding 19930 as “essentially, with the exception of the trigger mechanism, a Lanchester without butt or sights”. There were also similarities drawn between it and the earlier Biwarip machine carbine that was tested in 1938. Like the Biwarip, it was intended to be hip-fired, hence the lack of sights. The self-contained trigger mechanism included a fire selector which would lock the breech block forward when safety was applied. It was a overall well-balanced weapon and performed very well; the Ordnance Board showed considerable interest and suggested Mr. Patchett improve the weapon for military trials.

Patchett experimental model No.1. These were the first prototypes made in 1943. Only five of these guns were made.

In February 1943, the improved Patchett gun was trialed against Sten Mk.IVA and Birmingham Small Arm’s Welgun, which had been commissioned by the SOE. The trials took place at the Proof and Experimental Establishment at Pendine and the Lanchester Mk.I and Sten Mk.II were used as test controls. There were three Welguns and Sten Mk.IVAs tested but only one Patchett gun, since no others had been produced at this point. The results of the trials showed that the Patchett gun was inferior to the Welgun and the Sten in terms of accuracy and performed poorly in harsh conditions. Overall the Sten came out best and the Patchett was returned to Sterling for improvements.

From September 22nd to October 5th 1943, further trials were conducted at Pendine. The weapons tested were the Welgun, the Patchett No.1, the Sten Mk.IVB, the Austen Mk.II, the Owen Mk.II, and the BSA Andrews. The Owen came out best, followed by the Patchett. The same weapons were again re-trailed at Bisley in November by the Small Arms School, along with a new contender, the Veseley V43. The Small Arms School preferred the Veseley. The general conclusion drawn from these trials was that wartime production limitations would make it nonviable to act on design improvements, so further testing would likely have to wait until after the war. However, the Ordnance Board considered the Patchett the most viable for production.

The Patchett Mk.I, model No.1. The first prototype of the Mk.I.

In January 1944, the General Staff Specifications for submachine guns were issued. The specifications demanded a submachine gun chambered in 9x19mm, about 6lb in weight, a fire rate of no more than 500rpm, with good accuracy at 100yds. In response, the Patchett gun was redesigned to meet these specifications and the new and improved Patchett, known as the Mk.I, was tested at Pendine. It had a new ribbed bolt that improved its performance in mud tests. The Ordnance Board ordered 20 Patchett Mk.Is on January 12th and these were delivered in April. These pilot guns were briefly tested at Pendine before another order of 100 Patchett Mk.Is was made for troop trials. These trials took place in early September, again at Pendine, and the conclusion drawn from them was that the Patchett Mk.I was a viable service weapon. Among the 100 Patchetts tested at Pendine was the “Carbinette” model intended for paratroopers.

The Patchett Carbinette, designed for paratroopers. The spring-loaded bayonet was catch-held.

Since they were considered acceptable for service, the 100 Patchett Mk.Is were issued to the 1st Airborne Division in Arnhem and the 6th Airborne Division stationed in Normandy. Whether or not they saw any combat use is unknown.

The Patchett Mk.I, model No.62. Note the relocated cocking slot, protruding muzzle and shrouded sights.

After the war, the British Army announced it was looking for a replacement for the Sten gun. Many contenders emerged, and the Patchett was already under serious consideration by the Ordnance Board. Sterling improved the Patchett in preparation for the trials. The new model, known as the Patchett Mk.II, had a fixed striker instead of the individual firing pin of the Mk.I and a second recoil spring that increased the fire rate. Military trials commenced in September 1947 and the weapons tested were the BSA Mk.II, the MCEM-3, the Patchett Mk.II, and the Australian MCEM-1. The Patchett Mk.II’s trigger mechanism exhibited faults that bruised the firer’s finger. This was because the single-fire mode caused the sear to come in contact with the trigger, and the force of the breech block against the sear could be felt by the firer as a consequence. The fire rate was also considered excessive. The BSA Mk.II was the preferred weapon of the Army.

The Patchett Pioneer. The Pioneer was a Mk.I designed for commercial sale. It had a redesigned trigger and cheek plate on the butt stock. It was never marketed.

Further military trials took place in May 1951. The weapons tested were the Madsen M50, the BSA Mk.III, the Patchett Mk.II and the Australian MCEM-2. Since the last trials, the General Staff Specifications had been updated and bayonet fittings were now a requirement. This negatively affected the BSA, which had to be completely redesigned as the Mk.III, since the cocking sleeve wrapped around the barrel and thus bayonet fittings were impossible without a radical redesign. The Patchett did not require such modifications. This time, the Patchett easily came out best. The MCEM-2 broke and the Madsen was susceptible to sand and mud. The BSA Mk.III had potential for improvements but the Ordnance Board considered it would not be worth investigating the weapon any further since improvements would only bring it up to par with the already-excellent Patchett gun.

The Patchett Mk.2, model No.1. This model used the Mk.I’s straight magazine, whereas subsequent Mk.2s had curved magazines.

The Army decided that the Patchett was the best weapon for adoption. However, since rifle trials were still ongoing, the Patchett was not adopted for another two years. The Army considered that if the EM-2 rifle was successful, there would be no need for the Patchett gun and instead the Madsen would be issued to certain units such as vehicle crew. The reason for this was probably down to cost. However, the FN FAL was instead adopted as the L1A1. Consequently, the Patchett Mk.II was adopted as the L2A1 on September 18th 1953. Despite being officially listed as the “Patchett L2A1″, the gun quickly became known as the “Sterling” by troops after its manufacturer.

The Patchett Mk.2, evaluation model No.251. The L2A1 is clearly beginning to take shape.

By April 15th 1955, the L2A1 had been officially replaced by the L2A2, which in turn was replaced by the L2A3 less than a month later. An L2A4 prototype was also made, but never adopted. The L2A3 was the weapon that would remain in service with the British Army as their standard-issue submachine gun for the next few decades.

George Patchett would later issue a writ against the Ministry of Defence in 1955 because the Royal Ordnance Factory at Fazackerly had used Patchett’s patents and refused to pay for them. He won his case and was awarded £116,975.

The Patchett Mk.3, adopted as the L2A2. This version lifted the cheek plate from the earlier Pioneer model.

The Patchett Mk.4, adopted as the L2A3. This is the version that would stay in British service for a considerable period of time. The redesigned trigger was another element borrowed from the Pioneer.

Prototype L2A4. This model was never adopted by the Army.

Much like the Sten that came before it, there were several attempts to create a suppressed L2A3. In 1956, RSAF Enfield designed a prototype which was not adopted. Two years later, they produced a similar weapon based on a design by Saben & Harts. In 1964, Patchett designed a suppressed version which would be successfully adopted as the L34A1. It was used by the Royal Marines in the Falklands War, and some were captured by the Argentinians.

Prototype suppressed L2A3 made by the Design and Development Department at RSAF Enfield.

Saben & Harts prototype produced at the Enfield Tool Room.

Prototype L34A1 made by George Patchett. The gun used for this prototype was actually an L2A2, whereas the finished L34A1 was based on the L2A3.

Design sketch of the L34A1. This was the version adopted by the British Army.

Cross-section of the L34A1′s suppressor.

In 1970, the Chief Designer at Sterling, Frank Waters, designed a simplified version of the L2A3 called the S11. It was made from stamped steel and was cheaper to produce, and incorporated some modifications such as grip safety. Only one prototype was made.

The S11 prototype designed by Frank Waters. Decidedly more modern-looking, although actually cheaper to produce than the L2A3.

Despite adoption by the British Army, international sales of the Sterling gun were slow. Some were sold to South American countries, including, ironically, Argentina. Otherwise, efforts to arouse commercial interest were largely unsuccessful. Long-barreled models were marketed to police forces in the United States, but sales were poor. The 16-inch barrels only contained 9 inches of rifling, and thus accuracy suffered. In addition, these models were semi-automatic only, which was not a strong selling point in the US. The initial prototype was in fact constructed by welding three standard-length barrels together.

Prototype police model. This model was intended as a proof-of-concept design.

The finished product that was marketed to US police forces. It was largely unsuccessful though existing examples are now rare and sought after in the US civilian market.

Canadian C1, based on the L2A3. The trigger guard was modified to facilitate for thick winter gloves.

CETME C2, chambered for 9x23mm Largo and designed in Spain.

The number of Sterling L2A3s manufactured totaled at about 163,475 units. Sterling Armaments Corp. was bought out by Paul Escaré Engineering Ltd. in 1972 and closed in 1988.


The MCEM-2

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.