4040 C F : The Sterling Submachine Gun LASSIC … · of these experimental 9mm guns were used by...
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By John MarshallThis classic submachine gun was developed by
the British in the early 1940s. While early experi-mental models saw action in World War II, theSterling served the U.K. armed forces officiallyfrom 1953 to 1988. It has been regarded by expertsas perhaps the most reliable subgun ever made,and it garnered a reputation for excellent accuracyas well. Officially declared obsolete in the Britishservice with the advent of the trouble-plagued5.56mm L85A1 assault rifle, it could still be foundin unit armories through the early 1990s.
The Sterling Engineering Company, located inDagenham, Essex, began its work in firearms bymaking the Lanchester submachine gun for theBritish Navy in WWII. Its chiefdesigner was
ett, and hesought to
improve upon thethen-standard Sten
submachine gun, whichwas a hastily contrived
piece conceived to be cheapand easy to manufacture if not
totally reliable. Around 1942,Patchett had developed prototypes which werethen known as Patchett Machine Carbines. Someof these experimental 9mm guns were used byBritish paratroops in September 1944 at the Arn-hem Bridge during Operation Market Garden. Asthe Sten gun was plentiful after WWII, not a greatdeal of attention was paid to a possible replace-ment in spite of the Sten’s crudeness and lack ofcomplete reliability. However, in 1947, the Britishgovernment conducted trials pitting the Patchettdesign against others from BSA, Enfield Armory,and the Australians. Although no decision wasmade at that time, further development of thePatchett resulted in its eventual selection in 1951to replace the Sten. The first guns were deliveredin 1953 and were known as the SubmachineGun, L2A1. Inasmuch as the gun was developedat Sterling, it was commonly referred to as theSterling. The firm became Sterling ArmamentsCompany, Limited, and was at that time the solesupplier of the new guns.
While externally somewhat resembling the Stenwith its tubular receiver and side-mounted maga-zine, the Sterling provided some much-neededimprovements. The Sten magazine was a double-column design with a single feed position. The
“traffic jam” of two columns merging into onefeed point was responsible for too many malfunc-tions. The Sterling solution was a 34-round curveddouble-column double-feed magazine. The car-tridges fed into the chamber from each columnalternately and smoothly. This was the system usedby the Thompson submachine gun, and it workedquite reliably. Anotherimprovement on the mag-azine was theunique follower.Instead of itbeing a singlepiece
made from a stamping or cast-ing, the Sterling follower used a double roller
device which provided even smoother feeding.Magazines made by Sterling are stamped andwelded, while government-made mags areextruded with one-piece bodies. All govern-ment-made military magazines were marked“L2A1.” Sten magazines can usually be used ina Sterling, although some may not fit perfectly.
The Sterling fires from the open-bolt position forbetter cooling. It uses a fixed firing pin whichignites the primer just before the bolt reaches homeon its forward stroke. This gives momentum resist-ance during firing and helps to insure that the bul-let is well out of the 7.7” barrel before case extrac-tion. The bolt has four spiral grooves integrated intoits outer surface, giving smoother bolt travel andforcing any accumulated dirt and fouling forwardand down under the barrel. The bolt, bolt springand barrel are all easily removed from the rear formaintenance and cleaning. The buttstock folds for-ward under the barrel for compactness when need-ed, and is exceptionally rigid when deployed,probably more so than any known design. Theoperating handle reciprocates with the bolt whenfiring. A selector switch on the left side of the pistolgrip allows for either semi-automatic or full auto-matic fire as well as serving as a safety lever. The
srfyharrfor any operation of theg
ptt1aters. There is only one sling swivel on this arm; it’soSbioleft side. The final model of the subgun was knownaLv(Scu
4040 CCLLAASSSSIICC FFIIRREEAARRMMSS:: TThhee SStterling Submachine Gun
“While externally somewhat resembling the Sten with its tubular receiver and side-mounted magazine, the Sterling provided
some much-needed improvements.”
August 11 Blue Press Section 2 6/14/11 9:59 AM Page 40