“Most Favoured by Terrorists and Insurgents”

sten_mk_IIThe following is the forward by Lieut. Gen. Sir Frank King KCB MBE, General Officer Commanding-In-Chief, Northern Ireland to FWA Hobart’s Pictorial History of the Sub-Machine Gun. The pictorial history dates to 1973, so it’s over 40 years old, and the submachinegun stood in a different place in history of the time. But Sir Frank’s take on it is quite idiosyncratic:

As a young officer I will remember the introduction of the first British Sub-Machine Gun – the Sten – to the British Army. It was heralded with especial ecstasy in many newly formed Battle Schools, by Senior Officers who extolled its easy production, cheapness, simplicity, and devastating firepower at short range. Indeed, there were many enthusiasts who described these advantages as decisive, and likely to change quickly the course of the war. This did not happen. The Germans possessed a similar weapon. And with its relatively short effective range the SMG became merely one of the family of arms required by infantry to cover the requirements of their particular battle field.

Notwithstanding this it had, and indeed it has, a very effective military role to play and deserves a high place in the gratings of usefulness of weapons. Above all, it is perhaps most favoured by terrorists and insurgents, particularly when operating in urban or jungle environments where its undoubted excellence as a short range and powerful destroyer is accentuated by the ease with which it can be produced or procured, concealed, distributed and used. it has deservedly earned an important place in the history of small arms

It may seem strange that the story of the Sub–Machine Gun should be related by a retired Gunner. Major Hobart saw through at an early age, the complex and at times almost ritualistic façade which obscures the relatively simple problems of field gunnery, and for many years now has devoted his considerable energy and enquiring mind to the more precise and intimate science that embraces small arms. There are few officers better suited or qualified for this task. He has produced a comprehensive, knowledgeable and authoritative history and his book must commend itself to every student of Infantry soldiers and of Small Arms design.

While the most famous 3rd-generation SMG is the UZI, the Czech Vz23-26 were arguably fielded first. This is a Vz26 (7.62x25, folding stock).

While the most famous 3rd-generation SMG is the UZI, the Czech Vz23-26 were arguably fielded first. This is a Vz26 (7.62×25, folding stock).

While we chuckled at the “terrorists and insurgents” remark, Sir Frank was on to something. For another ten or so years, terrorists very frequently appeared with submachine guns, with some favorites being the Uzi, the Vz. 61 Škorpion, and the older Czech Vz 23-26 series. But by 1973, these weapons were already on the way out, with the similarly compact but much more powerful AKM replacing them. and the fact of the matter is, insurgents are armed with whatever they can arm themselves with. The two principal sources of rhymes for insurgents are always external sponsorship, and internal battlefield recovery. In both cases the arms of the insurgents wind up looking a lot like the arms of armies; the armies of either their friends or enemies respectively.


11 thoughts on ““Most Favoured by Terrorists and Insurgents”

  1. OBob

    While certainly there are better arms for most applications, the smg can be awesome when used in its niche. I think they’ll be around for a while with insurgents due to the fact that they’re effective, concealable, and available, and can easily be whipped up in basement shops if not. Broken down the longest piece is 13″ and with a pistol grip could easily fit under a jacket.

    I love my Long Branch MK IIS Sten (shot if just yesterday). It’s design elegance lies in its merger of ingenuity and necessity. Take some auto exhaust tubing, a British mattress spring, very few machined parts, and the rest can be bent, stamped, or filed in cottage workshops across the country that are so distributed as to be immune to bombing and you’ve got a winner. I recall that 1928A1s cost $225 at the start of the war, the M1 Thompson was $70, and the M1A1 Thompson went for $40. Mine was made in 1944 for $12.50 Canadian.

    MK II Stens were eventually being made in just 5 man hours and were made across occupied Europe. Even the Germans made 10,000 for police use and a few years back I read of a narco-gang in Sydney making their own along with Owen guns. I suppose they determined it was easier to just make their own than to smuggle arms even through they were already bringing in other products. When a competent man can use mostly hand tools to crank out a functional if crude smg in not much more time than it takes to watch Monday Night Football most gun control schemes are doomed.

    1. Hognose Post author

      Funny, I was just looking at stens on gunbroker. (I swear, I was just looking at a picture for the post). Cheap access to the world of 9mm SMG fun.

      We had MkIIS’s at 10th Group (just a couple of them) and they weren’t very quiet. Imagine my surprise on cleaning them to discover that the “metallic discs” inside the suppressor were actually made of screen… they just had 40 years of carbon in ’em. They were a lot quieter after that.

      The MkII was crude but well engineered. The Madsen M46/50, conversely, is just crude.

      1. OBob

        I shot my first Sten in the Army many years ago and was thoroughly disenchanted. I had to walk the rounds on target by shooting the ground to see hits with the less than helpful sights. As I wised up I appreciated it from an engineering perspective as it (like the AK, high praise indeed in my book) does exactly what it was designed to do.

        I misspoke above and meant that the longest piece of a disassembled Sten is 13″. I know that because I’m building a crate for mine now. With a pistol grip and shooting from the hip it is still easy to get 50yd hits on man sized targets at 50 yards with a 5-6 round burst and I’m far, far from an expert w/a smg.

        Peter Laidler’s exceptional “The Sten Machine Carbine” is a trove of information about the design and history. I highly recommend it as it is clear that this book was a labor of love by a true expert and I can’t begin to estimate the hours it must have taken. As Hognose pointed out in a recent post the best of the best books in this field are such.

        While the gun was easy to make the magazines were the tough part. As related in Peter’s book the Norwegians asked the Brits to supply mags but the British weren’t convinced the Norwegian underground could make useful SMGs. Norwegian fishermen smuggled out some copies and the King of Norway in exile himself demonstrated their effectiveness to the army, after which magazines were air dropped. I agree that ammo and magazine controls are the future of legislative efforts as it isn’t possible to limit imaginative minds.

        To digress even further afield from the original topic (apologies here), Stens are fairly affordable as NFA toys in the US go. They’ve certainly got panache and history in spades, but the best deal going right now to me is the M11/9 and M11A1 (got two now) MACs. CRUDE guns without the excuse of a world war in stock form, but with about $1200-1300 of replacement parts from Lage MFG and using soumi 73 round 9mm drums or the elegant Finish or Swiss quad-stack 50 round mags they’ll outshoot an MP5 or Thompson, and it truly grates on my soul to admit that.

  2. Stefan van der Borght

    “When a competent man can use mostly hand tools to crank out a functional if crude smg in not much more time than it takes to watch Monday Night Football most gun control schemes are doomed.”

    That’s where the ammo control schemes start…

  3. Paul from Canada

    A couple of years back I was visiting friends in Scandinavia and I visited the Resistance Museum in Oslo. There is a really interesting exhibit about clandestine STEN factories.

    It seems that SOE was willing to supply weapons etc on a scale suitable for resistance and sabotage, but not for an “Army of the Interior” style organization. It was expected that Nazi occupied Norway would fall on in due course. The Norwegians disagreed and started their own clandestine factories, in case the Nazi occupiers turned nasty(er) at the end, or decided to use Norway as a final redoubt.

    I had always assumed that most, if not all home-made/resistance made STENs were smooth-bore. Apparently not, since one of the items on exhibit at the museum was the jig for rifling the barrels. It consisted of a flat board of wood, with a curved slot cut into it. The curved slot guided a cutting tool attached to a rod with a handle. You ran the cutting tool down the barrel a few times, guided by the slot in the board, gave the barrel a quarter turn, and repeated till you has the number and depth of grooves you needed. Fascinating and instructive!

    I wonder how much better the STEN would have been if a two position feed magazine would have been designed, (copied from the Italian SMGs of the time rather than than the German ones).

    1. Bill K

      Wouldn’t handmade rifling such as you describe be rather imprecise, and the variation in lands and grooves, not to mention the twist rate, result in somewhat erratic spin & bullet physics? Would you still get a significant improvement over smoothbore?

      1. Hognose Post author

        Rifling isn’t rocket surgery. John Browning used a wooden rifling machine (of the type used by frontier riflesmiths in the 18th Century) on his prototypes in his Utah shop. Now, some ways of doing rifling are capital-intensive and energy-demanding. Hammer forging and button rifling need machinery with some power (although a hand press can do button rifling, it needs to be a powerful press), but cut and broached rifling is easier.

        Note that selective laser sintering can print the rifling into a bore accurately enough, in several materials.

  4. Stefan van der Borght

    The de-luxe Sten with double column feed became the Sterling (iirc it was the Patchett?). Not sure off the top of my head if the Lanchester had double column, I think rather not since it was able to take German MP28 mags….but I’m discombobulated over whether the MP28 had dc. Anyway, off to the hospital to visit Mum, not sure what I’ll find.

    1. Hognose Post author

      Best of luck to you and Mater, Stef.

      And yes, the Patchett became the Sterling, and it can be described as a much improved, evolved Sten, but really it’s a simplified copy of the Lanchester.

  5. Stefan van der Borght

    Thanks mate, she’s rallying and in the hands of a very good Doc and nursing team. Thankful to The Lord for every day anyway, but He reinforces the lesson. This is good, even though being disciplined is never fun whether by God or man. We learn and remember, even and especially me.

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