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Sten Gun

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Author Topic: Sten Gun  (Read 2457 times)
Mike Blais CD
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« on: April 25, 2009, 05:51:12 pm »

  Sten Gun

The Sten Gun was the first purpose built submachine gun to be built by Canada and issued in large numbers, and was first used by Canadian units on the Dieppe Raid of 19 August 1942. It eventually came to be issued to all units going into North-west Europe from D-Day onwards.

Primarily the weapon of infantry section commanders, they were also commonly carried by other troops such as officers, vehicle crews, weapons crews, despatch riders, and anyone for whom the rifle was considered unwieldy and/or unnecessary. The weapon was not well liked, and constant criticisms from the field were met with the official response that the weapon was intended to be a "throwaway" given the inexpensive nature of the weapon. Concerns about accidental discharges (including the accidental firing of entire magazines of ammunition at once) were likewise met with the official response that these incidents were due to user error.


The British Army entered the Second World War without an adequate submachine gun of its own. During the battles on the Continent in 1940, the need for one was made apparent. At the time, only US Thompsons were available. A British copy of the German MP 28, called the Lanchester, was rushed into service, but it was complicated and not easily built in large numbers.

In early 1941, a prototype was put forth by the Royal Small Arms Factory in England, inspired by captured German MP40s. It was named by using the initials of its its designers, Major RV Shepherd and Mister HJ Turpin, and adding them to the first two letters of Enfield, the location of a small arms factory and arsenal. The Sten Gun was first used at Dieppe by Canadian troops. It completely replaced the Thompson in Northwest Europe by the time of the Normandy landings in June 1944.

The Sten was not used in Italy, possibly due to supply concerns (.45 calibre ammunition was already being shipped to that theatre in large quantities due to US use of the M1911 pistol and Thompson submachine gun, making the use of 9mm weapons by Commonwealth troops an additional burden to an already thinly stretched shipping service).



The Mark I Sten, which featured a flash hider, wooden furniture, and folding hand grip, was quickly replaced by the Sten Mark II, which saw widespread issue. Two million examples of this Mark were produced. The Sten was a very simply built weapon, manufactured from just 47 parts, mainly stamped from steel and welded, sweated, pressed or riveted together. The only machined parts were the bolt and barrel.

The Sten's compact size, simplicity of manufacture, and ease of dismantling (and hiding) made it a favourite among Resistance groups on the Continent. As well, it could use captured German 9mm ammunition. In fact, the magazine was a very close copy of the German MP40 magazine, which unfortunately meant that like the German version, it was prone to jamming. The Sten Mark II could even be fitted with a silencer, becoming the very first silenced SMG. Large numbers of the silenced version were made.

Mark II Sten Guns, showing the attachment of the sling as well as alternate styles of butt stocks. The Sten at top also shows how the magazine housing could be rotated. The bottom stock was officially for the Mk I Sten. Artifacts from the collection of Sergeant Dennis Russell.

The weapon was light and easy to carry, though firing the weapon could sometimes be awkward due to the configuration of the magazine. A correct firing stance was with the forward hand grasping the barrel jacket, not the magazine or magazine housing. Due to its weight and compact size, the Sten was issued to vehicle crews, despatch riders, and those who had no need for a long range weapon. In the main, however, it was issued to infantry battalions, especially platoon sergeants and section commanders in infantry platoons.

By 1944, there were enough weapons in production that infantry battalions in northwest Europe found they could pool "extra" weapons and issue them out for special missions. Many officers also carried them; on the night of 8-9 June 1944, during confused fighting in the town of Bretteville, a German despatch rider, thinking the town had been secured by his unit, rode past the battalion headquarters of the Regina Rifles. No less a person than the Commanding Officer personally brought the despatch rider down with his Sten gun. Another Canadian battalion commander in Normandy is also noted to have personally hunted down a German sniper who grazed his nose, tracked him to a barn, and personally "gunned the bastard down" with his Sten.1

The production of Sten Guns ceased in Canada in 1944, with British manufacturers switching completely to the production of the Mark V.2 The Mark V was a precision made weapon, with factories taking 12 hours to complete a single gun, build to much higher standards than the previous marks.3

The first combat use of the Sten occurred at Dieppe in Aug 1942. In the weeks prior to the raid, Canadian soldiers found that many parts had to be filed, adjusted, and tested in order for the Stens to work properly. A lot of time was spent getting their new weapons battle-worthy. When the raid was cancelled in Jul, the Sten Guns were withdrawn. A day before the remounting of the raid, brand new Sten Guns, crated and packed in grease, were issued out to some very disgusted soldiers.

Sten Mark III

The Mark III was an even simpler version introduced by Lines Brothers, a firm of toy makers, and was issued out by the time of the Normandy landings. While possibly the best version of the Sten, it was not produced in large numbers. It's main feature was a fixed barrel and all-in-one body and casing.

Sten Mark V

The Sten Mark V was introduced for airborne troops, though no real improvements were made. Cosmetically, a wooden butt, a pistol grip, and a fore grip were added, along with a bayonet lug (to accept the spike bayonet of the No. 4 rifle).4

Sten Guns were not used by Canadians in Italy, as the British Eighth Army to which they were attached continued to use the .45 calibre Thompson SMG instead.

The guns were again issued for the Korean War, but were again not well liked and often replaced with American weapons were possible. The gun remained in service until replaced with the C1 Submachine Gun (a Canadian version of the Stirling) which was similar in many respects.

The Sten could fire automatic or single shots up to of 200 yards. The fixed aperture sight was set to 100 yards.

The Sten could be fired from the waist while standing or from the shoulder; these were the two officially sanctioned firing positions. The weapon had an extremely short effective range. Standard practice was also not to overwork the springs in the magazine by filling them to full capacity. The images at right come from a 1942 manual on the Sten Gun, showing the correct method of holding the weapon in the two approved firing positions, with the left hand cradled under the cooling jacket instead of clutching the magazine housing. The weapon had a crude battle sight though they were probably used little owing to the weapon's rate of fire and short range.


The Sten Gun was not popular among troops, who called it the "Plumber's Nightmare" or "Plumber's Abortion" (in reference to its' ungainly appearance and resembling to a piece of tubing). In addition to jamming, it was also very prone to accidentally discharging, especially if dropped. Many Canadians were injured by Sten Guns in training and in battle.

Ode to a Sten Gun

By Gunner. S.N. Teed

You wicked piece of vicious tin!
Call you a gun? Don't make me grin.
You're just a bloated piece of pipe.
You couldn't hit a hunk of tripe.
But when you're with me in the night,
I'll tell you pal, you're just alright!

Each day I wipe you free of dirt.
Your dratted corners tear my shirt.
I cuss at you and call you names,
You're much more trouble than my dames.
But boy, do I love to hear you yammer
When you 're spitting lead in a business manner.

You conceited pile of salvage junk.
I think this prowess talk is bunk.
Yet if I want a wall of lead
Thrown at some Jerry's head
It is to you I raise my hat;
You're a damn good pal...

You silly gat!
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1977-1RCR  Italy PL, B Coy, Mortars
                   Pioneers, Delta Coy
                   CFB London

1979-3RCR  M Coy 12C,  Sigs, Pipes&Drums
                   CFB Baden WG

1982 1RCR  Mortars 51B, Dukes, BBC (Cyp)
                   Mortars, WO-Sgts Mess,
                   CFB London

2008            President. Niagara Branch
                   The Royal Canadian Regiment

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« Reply #1 on: July 10, 2009, 07:02:59 pm »

"Standard practice was not to fill the magazine . . ." had as much to do with the temperamental spring as anything else.  I recall that the spring would often get hung up in the mag and not feed.  Loading the magazine was a chore as the spring got progressively harder the more it was compressed, such that toward the end of its time in service, the Sten came issued with a magazine loader . . . a sort of reverse can-opener that fit over the mag and you used a rotating handle to push the last few rounds into it.  The balls of your thumbs would get so sore after loading a couple of mags that you eventually just put in 20 rounds, rather than the allowable 30.  Even for one who came to the Sten at the end of its life, it was not a very reliable weapon, was prone to getting dirt into it and, all-in-all, more trouble than it was worth.  aldi
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« Reply #2 on: July 11, 2009, 06:03:46 pm »

I never saw the Sten, and it sounds like i should be glad of that..heheh..thanks for the info on it Mike and aldi..rong
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