The Sten Gun

Discussion in 'Weapons, Technology & Equipment' started by Jet_Black_Dan, Apr 26, 2005.

  1. Don Juan

    Don Juan Well-Known Member

    Files in the National Archives on the Sten here.

    There isn't much that indicates any kind of official concern about the Sten. Interesting files look to be:

    WO 291/476 Comparison of rifle, bren and sten guns (1944)
    WO 233/34 Replacement of the Sten gun by a machine carbine in airborne units: minutes of meetings, specifications and connected correspondence (1943 Oct.-1944 Dec.)
    DSIR 27/41/ID4 Time-displacement relations of the Sten gun. By A.G. Tarrant (Nov. 1941)
    AVIA 22/1616 Sten gun improvements. Brig. G. Temple, Major R.V. Shepherd and H.J. Turpin (1941-1947)

    A couple of oddly-titled ones (20mm Sten?):

    DSIR 27/41/ID10 Motion study of No. 2 Sten 20 mm. gun. By A.G. Tarrant (Jan. 1942)
    DSIR 27/44/MAP27 Suggestion for the design of a variable rate device for the Sten 20 mm. gun. By A.G. Tarrant (Feb. 1942)

    Could the "Sten" in the last two be referring to Polstens?

    Anyway, the first file WO 291/476 is an Operational Research paper, so that is probably the best bet for finding an objective contemporary assessment of the weapon.
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  2. Don Juan

    Don Juan Well-Known Member

    From 21 Army Group Interim Report on Equipment, 10th Aug 1944, WO 32/11019:

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  3. Richard G

    Richard G Junior Member

    If trials by other countries count then the Sten was found to be unsatisfactory in Australian tests, which led to the adoption of the superior Owen gun. Which was super reliable and cheap to make, I've used one in training if that counts and found it instinctive to use and aim on the run. It would have been preferable for practical and historical reasons to adopt the Sten but it was found to be just not good enough to give to a soldier risking his life for his country.
  4. Dave55

    Dave55 Atlanta, USA Patron

    Wow. That was a good catch. That cartridge looks way too long to be a 9mm Parabellum but that is the only round they were chambered for, isn't it. Probably just an odd view of it.

    Very dangerous, that's for sure.
  5. canuck

    canuck Closed Account

    Distilled from the Battle Experience Questionnaires filled out by combat infantry officers of the Canadian Army in 1944 and 1945. 161 of the 300 questionnaires completed were by infantry or airborne officers.

    "Weapons that could produce significant fire effects or high volumes of fire tended to be selected as “outstandingly effective” on this question. The Bren light machine-gun was
    noted as especially effective in 54 surveys, the 3-inch Mortar in 44, the No. 36 “Mills bomb” grenade in 33, and the standard-issue Rifle in 15 surveys. Officers seemed to
    have a striking confidence in the reliability, consistency, and volume of small arms fire being generated by their infantry units.
    Perhaps even more noteworthy is the reaction of many officers to the perceived “ineffective” weapons. Officers typically listed weapons as “ineffective” for several
    reasons: mechanical difficulties inherent to the weapon, a perceived lack of “stopping power,” or because troops had no confidence in the weapon and did not use it. The Sten
    sub-machine gun, for example, received over one-third of all complaints (45 officers listed the Sten as “ineffective,” 67 officers complained about all other weapons),
    and for a combination of all three reasons. Mechanically the Sten was consistently regarded as very unreliable. Lieutenant-Colonel P.W. Bennett noted the Sten as ineffective, “due to
    liability to jam due to dirt, troops have no confidence in it,” and Major Cyril Wrightman said that in his experience troops and officers threw their Stens away in favour of
    American-made automatic weapons. “Never very safe,” Wrightman said of the Sten, “will let you down when most needed.”
    “Failure to fire when needed (frequent),” was Captain F.W. Grafton's comment on the Sten.
    Dozens of other Canadian officers made similar notes about the mechanical unreliability of the Sten, and a number also reported that the weapon did not have sufficient killing power, particularly when compared to the sub-machine guns available to the other Allied armies. “Not enough stopping power,”
    reported Captain Orest Dutchak of the Algonquin Regiment, “Thompson Sub[-machine gun] preferred.”
    Captain Tennant likewise claimed that, in his experience, the Sten was, “NOT hard enough hitting,” and that, “man can still fight after being hit.”
    Major Ostiguy pointed out the same thing about the lack of killing power, noting that the Sten was so mistrusted that, “men preferred rifles.”
    The officers reported in some detail other weapons that they found to be ineffective, though the Sten sub-machine gun was far and away considered the least
    usable weapon, and the rest varied considerably according to experience."

    The PIAT was listed as being “outstandingly effective” far more than any other weapon (it was listed as such in 74
    surveys).This was due not only to its tank-killing power, but also owing to the fact that its high-explosive bomb could also be put to good use against “soft” infantry targets,
    either in direct or indirect roles, making it a good source of suppressing fire.
    Furthermore, only three officers listed the PIAT as being an “ineffective” weapon. Weapons that could produce significant fire effects or high volumes of fire tended to be
    selected as “outstandingly effective” on this question. The Bren light machine-gun was noted as especially effective in 54 surveys, the 3-inch Mortar in 44, the No. 36 “Mills
    bomb” grenade in 33, and the standard-issue Rifle in 15 surveys
    The officers' standard-issue .38 caliber pistol was also treated with some degree of scorn. It was the second-most mentioned weapon for “ineffectiveness” in
    the surveys after the Sten, with 20 officer complaints, and seems to have generally been considered to have been of “No use” in combat."
    Pages 98-101
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  6. Combover

    Combover Guest

    The lack of stopping power in the Sten is nonsense. I'm sure a hit from a Schmeisser could not cause their men to get back up and carry on fighting, in most cases.

    Incidentally, the sten is more powerful that the Tommy gun in terms of muzzle energy and muzzle velocity.
  7. canuck

    canuck Closed Account

    I am not a ballistics expert but my understanding has been that the round being used is as important as muzzle velocity in the "stopping power" assessment. Anecdotally, I have seen a strong preference for the .45 round in terms of knocking a man down and keeping him down.

    In any event, some credence must be given to a broad questionnaire of experienced combat infantry officers who were surveyed shortly after their time in action. That reflects a broad cross section of units..
  8. rockape252

    rockape252 Senior Member

    Hi Dave55,

    At first glance that Sten Round does look a bit elongated, but is it not possible that the magazine lips as viewed in my grab and enlargement plus the light has made the Round "appear" to be longer and thinner than it is ?

    Also, the Round appears to be forward in the magazine, again making it appear non standard ?

    Regards, Mick D.

    Attached Files:

  9. Combover

    Combover Guest

    That's why I put 'Muzzle Energy' first. Fact of the matter is that the 9mm is a bloody powerful round.

    In any event, context is the key here. We have no idea what their pre-acquired preferences for weapons was. Credence must be given to the question that if the Sten gun was so inadequate, why did they make 7 million of them?
  10. canuck

    canuck Closed Account


    I think that is two separate conversations. Ford made over 3 million Pinto's through the seventies so a bad user experience will not necessarily influence production. There are many philosophical, political, economic, labour and personal ego influences on the decision to manufacture a given product. Supplying a high quality, effective and reliable weapon for the troops may not have been the primary objective. Only 1.5 million of the highly regarded .45 cal. Thompson's were manufactured in the same period so cost may well have been a deciding factor.

    As for the "stopping power" issue, that has been actively debated, even in civilian circles, for decades. As of today, there is no clear consensus, "Although higher caliber has traditionally been widely associated with higher stopping power, the physics involved are multi factorial, with caliber, muzzle velocity, bullet mass, bullet shape, and bullet material all contributing." Another school of thought discounts the ballistics variables and focuses purely on stopping power being a function of where the target is hit and what tissue damage has occurred. In the end, it may all be subjective and subject to myth and legend. Right or wrong, the soldiers at the sharp end of the stick needed to have confidence in the weapons they carried. Any post war analysis or assessment does not carry the life or death consequences that the Commonwealth soldiers dealt with.

    Interestingly, the Piat, which has received it's own share of criticism and scorn, fared surprisingly well in the survey albeit not for the purpose for which it was intended. That implies some ability to adapt and adjust and find some effectiveness and utility in the weapons they had to fight with.
  11. Combover

    Combover Guest

    Ignoring the rest of your quote because you're never going to change your mind (no matter how we look at this), let's look at this last point. There are veterans on here that would tell you how terrible the PIAT was, yet there are others who said it was great. Linked to my first point, it all goes to show that it's down to personal preference and more often than not, not about learning to adapt to something which was terrible.
  12. canuck

    canuck Closed Account

    Just for clarity, I am always ready to change my position on any given subject if new information is forthcoming. I simply have not seen any compelling evidence which is sufficient for me to discount the overwhelming view of the Sten by the majority of veterans. Perhaps I place too much weight on their opinion but they actually used them, daily, under combat conditions so that, in my view, counts for more than statistics and specifications.
    I happen to own a 1943 model (made in Canada at Long Branch) and it is rudimentary at best.

    The Piat was clearly not the best of breed in the hollow-charge weapon category but the troops found a way to utilize them in alternate ways. I think the difference in the depth of feeling on the issue was that ones life was more likely to be at risk by the unreliability of a personal weapon vs a support weapon.
  13. Don Juan

    Don Juan Well-Known Member

    Extract from Report On Weapons by the Director of Infantry, War Office, on a visit to Korea, December 1951:


    This correlates almost exactly with the D-Day report on the Sten I uploaded in post #133.

    Both of these primary source documents correlate with the views of the Canadians that canuck has posted - that the Sten was perceived as an unsatisfactory weapon.

    I'm normally someone who has a tendency to defend Allied weaponry against unfair criticism, and in most cases a robust defence can be made (for example with the PIAT), but with the Sten it seems increasingly clear to me that such a defence can't really be made. The Sten was genuinely problematic and unpopular.
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  14. Tom OBrien

    Tom OBrien Senior Member


    I found the following 'evidence' re Sten guns in the war diary of 22 Transport Column for 1944 (WO171/2233) and thought it might be of interest:
    If there is any more on the Sten I will put it up here.


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  15. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter Patron 1940 Obsessive

    Having survived the war with 94th LAA, my Dad's brother was transferred to CMP - 52nd Division Provost - in August 1945. This is an extract from his death certificate following a gunshot wound to the head in February 1946 :-


    Cause of death on 25th May 1946 is stated as :-

    "Broncho pneumonia following an operation on his brain in respect of head injuries sustained by deceased and caused by accidental firing by him of a sten gun when on military duty."

    I find it interesting that the Coroner saw fit to mention the model of gun by name.

    His Casualty Card states :-

    "Perf. G.S.W. Brain
    AFA2. On duty NOT to blame"

    It puzzles me slightly that a man who had served since June 1940 (He volunteered for KRRC on hearing that his elder brother had been captured at Calais) and who was now with a Military Police unit could not have been held to blame for an accidental discharge unless there was a known fault with the weapon.

    Needless to say, the sten was never a popular thing in our house if it came up in conversation.
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  16. Tom OBrien

    Tom OBrien Senior Member


    I'm not surprised that the Sten was not popular - how terribly sad to have gone through the war and then died in such a way. I suppose that saying that your uncle was not to blame was also a way of softening the blow for his family?


  17. Rich Payne

    Rich Payne Rivet Counter Patron 1940 Obsessive

    I don't know if they were told, Tom. Dad is the only one still alive and he was serving in Germany at the time too so what he knows was hearsay. We've only seen the comment since I persuaded Dad to apply for his service records. I don't think that they were intended to be seen by anyone else.
  18. Don Juan

    Don Juan Well-Known Member

    I note that on Tom's post, the issues identified by 22 Transport Column pertain to the Mk.II and Mk.III Sten, but the Mk.V is not mentioned.

    Also, has anyone ever seen the magazine dust covers, that keep being mentioned in contemporary sources?
  19. canuck

    canuck Closed Account


    The obvious conclusion I draw from the points raised by LT COL J W CLEMENT, is that the degree of care, cleaning and attention required to maintain the weapon in a safe condition is highly unlikely to occur when troops are in a continuous combat scenario. The mud of the Scheldt comes to mind. Normal usage could also lead to the failure of key components (i.e. main spring, magazine). Equally, unless a soldier was issued a completely new model Sten, he would be unlikely to know what previous mishandling or lack of maintenance may have occurred to the weapon he was carrying.
    Interestingly, the Ross rifle was replaced by the Lee-Enfield for Canadian soldiers in WW1. The reasons cited bear a striking similarity to the described issues with the Sten.
    " the Ross was not suited to dirty, rough-and-tumble trench warfare. They (Canadians) preferred the robust Lee-Enfield carried by their British comrades, picking them up from the battlefield when they could". It was considered irresponsible at the time to send men into battle with a weapon which was totally unsuited to the environment in which it would have to operate in!!
  20. Don Juan

    Don Juan Well-Known Member

    Yes, and that's why it appears that the Sten was only flagged up as problem just after D-Day.

    It is often supposed that it was the early Stens that were problematic, and that the gun was improved as the war continued. However, the reports from Normandy tend to suggest that it was actually a surprise to the British that the Sten was problematic. However, prior to D-Day the Sten was only used in action by a few tank crews in Tunisia, and Resistance and SOE personnel on the Continent - none of whom would have been sending back detailed equipment reports.

    For all intents and purposes the Sten made its combat debut in Normandy, and it was only then (i.e. mid-44) that the problems with it began to be apparent to the War Office and Ministry of Supply as a whole.

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