The Sten Gun

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

  1. canuck

    canuck Token Colonial Patron

    Post #65 makes reference to the Sten being issued to Canadian units prior to Dieppe, in 1942, and noting that armourers needed to perform modifications in order for them to work properly.
  2. Don Juan

    Don Juan Well-Known Member

    Fair enough. But for the British Army, Overlord was the first time that the Sten was used en masse, as far as I can tell. The D-Day report I posted above tends to suggest that the problems with the Sten were "new" to the War Office, rather than wearily being expected.
  3. Tom OBrien

    Tom OBrien Senior Member

    Further to official records of "problems" with the Sten Gun I found the following extracts in the wary diary of 1 Corps DDME for June 1944 (W171/274):

    24 Jun 44:
    Considerable casualties reported by 51 Div due to Sten guns which fire at the least provocation. Action being taken to obtain Mk V cocking handles.

    25 Jun 44:
    CREME 51(H) Div visited this HQ in connection with the Sten gun trouble. It is hoped that the Mk V cocking handles (referred to in yesterday’s War Diary) will be obtained from UK by air. In meantime unit armourers have been instructed to carry out one small drilling operation to allow of immediate fitting of the cocking handles and other parts on arrival. These troubles with the Sten gun point to a lack of co-operation between the SAS Hythe and the CIA.

    If I find anything more I will post here.


  4. horsapassenger

    horsapassenger Senior Member

    The sten was first flagged up as a problem by Browning after the 1st Airborne's experiences of it whilst serving in N Africa in 1942/43. Browning was perhaps instrumental in trials being undertaken to find a suitable alternative and, since September 1943, had been advocating for the VAP SMG to be issued as a replacement for Airborne forces. It was perhaps from these trials that the myth of the Patchet being issued to Airborne Forces at Arnhem came about.

    Attached Files:

  5. horsapassenger

    horsapassenger Senior Member

    I cannot speak for the Sten but this exact same thing happened to a number of us at Bulford ranges in the early 80's using Sterling SMGs belonging to the Royal Military Police stationed there. We were practising for a shooting competition and that evening had been joined by officers from Avon and Somerset Police who had brought their own 9mm ammunition. We loaded the magazines with police ammunition and, under strict instruction from the Range Officer (an RMP RSM), set the guns to single shot. After firing just two rounds my magazine continued to empty itself with my finger completely off the trigger. The same thing happened to the others firing at the same time. The RSM was purple in the face, jumping up and down on his beret and ordered us immediately to lay the weapons on the ground and step away from them. He inspected each one in turn to ensure they were safe and set to single shot. He then took one of them, loaded it with the same ammunition and proceeded to fire. Once again the same thing happened. An armourer was called who checked the guns and it was decided that it was the ammunition, not the guns, that was at fault. When we continued later, using military issue ammunition, all the guns behaved perfectly.
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  6. BrianM59

    BrianM59 Senior Member

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  7. First of all I must confess that I know very little about guns.

    This allows me to venture a probably idiotic idea that perhaps a cartridge with less propellant would induce a lesser blowback (or recoil or whatever it is called) of the bolt, so that the bolt does not travel far enough backwards to engage the "stop" (again, not sure about the correct term) supposed to prevent it from going forward again to fire the next shot, but still far enough to eject the spent cartridge and engage the next one? This would explain the repeating fire in spite of the "single shot" position.

    Having once had the opportunity to partially disassemble a Sten, the bolt seemed quite heavy, and probably much heavier than the recoiling part of a pistol of the same calibre. Therefore, ammo suitable for pistol might not be always OK for SMGs?

  8. Don Juan

    Don Juan Well-Known Member

    On the subject of Sten Ammo, the attached memo may be of interest - It was held by Duncan Sandys, who was the Parliamentary Secretary at the Ministry of Supply, but originated elsewhere, probably the Director of Artillery.

    Note that this confirms that there were instances of runaway, and given that we already have primary source evidence of Stens discharging when dropped, I think this means that a dropped Sten + full discharge was indeed possible.

    Sten Ammo.jpg
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  9. Dave55

    Dave55 Atlanta, USA Patron

    Uzi's too

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  10. Arty

    Arty Member


    Are you looking at the Uzi or Jamie Lee Curtis' famous attributes???

    Back on subject, of the Sten that is, I'm just adding a tad more...

    I was listening to an online IWM interview recently. This was Lt Wilfred Lacy, Platoon Commander of 16 Pl, 1st Bn South Lancs. This interview (13931) was conducted in 1993 when Wilfred was still a young chap of 70ish. Amongst his fairly detailed recollections is that of being run down by his own LCA on D-Day, and, he mentions the Sten…

    I’m not quoting directly here but he talks about being trained on Thompson’s only to be issued with a Sten Gun to go to war with – which he refers to as being less robust, less accurate and less reliable than the American weapon.

    Bleedin' obvious. It was a second rate piece of crap.

    Last edited: Nov 23, 2017
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  11. Don Juan

    Don Juan Well-Known Member

    On the subject of crapness:

    I think the cheapness of the Sten is a bit of a red herring personally. A country that could afford to build Mulberry harbours, Grand Slams and Disney Bombs could easily have afforded to make a much better SMG than the Sten.

    However, by the mid-war period I don't think it would have been able to source the skilled labour, machine tools and plant to be able to build such a weapon. Therefore, I think the attraction of the Sten was that it could be made by sectors of industry (toy makers etc.) that were otherwise lost to the war effort. Which is to say that the Sten was kind of the Armstrong-Whitworth Albemarle of small arms.

    The performance of the Sten in action tends to suggest that this attempt in conservation of industrial capacity did not pay off on the battlefield, but I can understand why it was undertaken.
  12. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

    It has been a while since there has been any activity on this thread, but I am here with a serious question provoked by a discussion on our sister forum.
    Does anyone know how often accidental discharges occurred not only with the Sten but with the other SMGs in British service during the war, namely the Thompson, the Lanchester, and the US M3 (yes, it was issued to some units in Italy). I assume somebody (RAMC?) must have been keeping records of accidents and if those are accessible and broken down by type then we might be able to put some numbers into the discussion. We are having a bit of a blue about the M3 at ww2f, which is why I ask about the comparable Sten here.
    Last edited: Feb 12, 2019
  13. Dave55

    Dave55 Atlanta, USA Patron

    Here is a good clip about the danger of accidental discharge from open bolt designs like Sten, M3, Thompson and most other full auto weapons of WWII. I've never fired an open bolt weapon of any kind so it was news to me.

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  14. Don Juan

    Don Juan Well-Known Member

    Thinking about it, I would be very surprised if the number of Soviet soldiers who died from accidental PPSh41 discharges was not horrendous.
  15. Gary Kennedy

    Gary Kennedy Member

    I haven't read through the whole thread, so this may have been said, and is indeed referenced to a degree by the Sandys memo posted above. However the mention of ammunition rather than weapons causing problems reminded me of something I'd recently seen.

    "Some criticism has been received about the Sten machine carbine. In nearly every case any defect that has been substantiated has been due to the use of British ammunition of early manufacture and American WCC amn (Western Cartridge Company).

    "The MkIII Sten is now being issued to Field Force Units and when American WRA (Winchester Repeating Arms Co.) or British V.1250 amn is used this gun should be 100% satisfactory when firing automatic and give only an occasional "double tap" when set for single shots. Any guns which are not up to this standard should be exchanged immediately. The WRA and British V.1250 amn boxes can be identified by the following stencillings. WRA (Winchester Repeating Arms Co.) SAA British V.1250."

    That's from Progress Bulletin (Infantry) No.1 dated 11th July 1943. I can't be sure but I think Infantry Notes might mention V.1250 amn in some respect as well.

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  16. Dave55

    Dave55 Atlanta, USA Patron

    Looks like Western had some labor strikes around the time the Sten was coming on line. Maybe that messed up quality control. Haven't heard of problems with other types of Winchester-Western ammo during the war though.

    Labor relations
    The company faced union activity and strikes in 1941 and 1942, at a time when it held $8.5 million in defense contracts.[10][11][12]

    Civil rights activist Clarence M. Mitchell noted in 1944 that the company did not hire African-American workers.[13] Franklin Roosevelt's Committee on Fair Employment Practice had held hearings and tried to have the company hire black workers in 1943, but the community, owners and white employees refused.[14]

    Western Cartridge Company - Wikipedia
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  17. Don Juan

    Don Juan Well-Known Member

    There were issues with the ammunition for the Thompson SMG in Italy. This is from a June 1944 report by the Director of Artillery (E.M.C. Clarke) after a personal visit to the theatre:

    EMC 1.jpg

    Note that on this occasion, it is Winchester who are in the frame. Clarke also noted that there was a general problem with magazine-fed weapons in dusty conditions:

    EMC 2.jpg

    This is reminiscent of the proposals to provide cloth covers for Sten magazines.

    So the question now is - to what degree was the unreliability of the Sten innate? Faulty ammunition should not be counted against it, while it may not have been any more prone to ambient dust than other magazine-fed weapons.
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  18. canuck

    canuck Token Colonial Patron

    The various aspects of the Sten discussion are eerily reminiscent of the Ross rifle controversy:

    "The Canadian manufactured Mark 2 Ross rifle was adopted by the Canadian military in 1911, and in that year work began on the Mark 3. Tens of thousands of Canadian soldiers who fought in France and Belgium in the early years of WW1 carried the Ross rifle into battle – and many hated the weapon for its unreliability in combat.
    With its long barrel, the Ross was an excellent hunting rifle, and a fine sniper weapon. But it wasn't tough enough for the hardships and demands of the Western Front, including the dirt and mud of the trenches, and the robust requirements of fighting with bayonets. The Ross also had a tendency to jam when firing – partly a result of the poorly-made British ammunition that worked fine in the more forgiving Lee-Enfields, but was unsuited to the Ross. Many Canadian troops threw away their Ross rifles in disgust and went searching for Lee-Enfield replacements."

    There was no criticism of the Ross with respect to design or quality. It simply wasn't suited to trench warfare conditions and combined with incompatible ammunition, didn't function as required for the front line infantry. Given the chronology of events with the Ross, they might be forgiven for failing to anticipate the subsequent ammunition issue under combat conditions.

    If one accepts that the basic Sten was an acceptable weapon, then the degree of care, cleaning, attention and ammunition quality required to maintain the weapon in a safe/reliable condition renders it in the same category as the Ross. Unsuitable for the conditions of use.
  19. Don Juan

    Don Juan Well-Known Member

    Dunno really. I personally don't feel in a position to draw any firm conclusions yet.
  20. canuck

    canuck Token Colonial Patron

    We should try and wrap it up soon though. It's coming up on 75 years. :)

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