The Diggers’ Dismay: Austen Mk I SMG


Hi guys, thanks for tuning into another
video on ForgottenWeapons.com. I’m Ian McCollum, and I’m here today at the National Firearms Centre, part of the British Royal Armouries in Leeds. And we’re taking a look at an Australian submachine gun from World War Two. This is the one that the Australians would prefer not to remember, as opposed to the Owen, which was a fantastic submachine gun. This is the Austen. This is specifically the Austen Mark I. There was a Mark II which will be a later video. So, basically what’s going on here is when World War Two started Australia wasn’t in any real direct danger. There was no threat of invasion, you know, the Germans aren’t going to invade Australia, but they might just invade the UK. So Australia sent a whole lot of guns to help defend
the UK, to help equip British basically citizen militias. In fact the United States did the same thing,
we sent a lot of guns over to aid the Brits. And that was just fine until December of
1941 when Japan enters World War Two, and Australia declares war on Japan and vice-versa. And there’s a lot more imminent threat of Japan
invading Australia than there ever was of Germany. So now things get a little bit tense, because
when Australia went into … World War Two … they had apparently a grand
total of three submarine guns. One of them was an MP18 from World War One
that was in a regimental museum somewhere, one of them was a Thompson gun that an Australian
captain, I believe, had brought back from somewhere, and one of them was a German MP38 that had somehow
been confiscated by Australian Customs in Sydney Harbour. So that’s what they had to work with. Now during this time before Japan entered
the war they did start to work on the Owen gun, and that was pretty much all a private
endeavour until it was accepted by the military. So … before the … Austen even exists the
Owen is going through a development process, and that would be a big part of the
reason why it was such a better gun is it actually went through a development process to
have bugs worked out, to have the design improved, and the manufacturing figured out and so on. Anyway, once Japan enters the war, as I said,
things get little more serious for the Australians. And they in April of 1942, couple of months later, they finally get a sample of the Mark I
and a sample of the Mark II Sten, as well as mostly complete technical
packages for their production from the British. And they had been told, “Hey, we’ll send you … all of
what you need to make Sten guns, the Sten gun’s great.” … They imply that it’s gone through like a year of
design and testing and evaluation and, you know, we’ve really optimised it. And so
when a Sten Mark I and a Sten Mark II show up in Australia, the Australians
are really quite underwhelmed. Like, … this? This really? This is what
you’ve spent a year developing? Okay…” But they needed submachine guns, and so they
… ultimately put in an order for 20,000 of them. To be produced split between two different firms,
Australian firms, one in Melbourne and one in Sydney. Now these companies actually kind of specialised in
die casting, or at least they had tooling for die casting, and they also figured the Sten is a
piece of crap. We can make it better. Famous last words, right? But of course, the only gun… They had a
Thompson and they had an MP38 to work with. And so they ended up basically copying a
couple of major elements off the MP38. And there’s actually a lot of mechanical
difference between the Austen and the regular Sten. So let’s take this apart and let
me show you how the two differ. So the major differences, of course, between the Austen and
the regular Sten, which we have an example of right here, are going to be the grips, the stock, the bolt (although you can’t really see that from the
outside), and some of the manufacturing techniques. So like I said, the companies that produced the Austen
had tooling (I don’t know if expertise is quite the right term), but they had the setup to do die casting.
And so this whole front assembly, the grip and magazine well and all, that
is a single die cast part. And the idea was we can easily make that and then
just slide it onto a receiver tube. And by the way, that is where the markings on the
gun are. So DC is the manufacturer, Austen Mark I. This one is really a very early one, number 160. Being in the Royal Armouries collection, it’s
probably a gun that was sent back to the British as, you know, look we improved
your design, here’s what we did. Anyway that die casting process would take a lot
longer to get really sorted out than they expected. And that was part of what led to
some production delays on the gun. The entire trigger mechanism is directly
interchangeable and identical to the Sten. And, in fact, the barrel and barrel nut are also interchangeable.
The one difference with the barrel nut being this pivoting rotary sling swivel which is not on the regular
Sten. However, despite that, these parts will interchange. As you can see here, the Austen receiver is a little bit
longer. In order to leave the trigger mechanism in place, keep the trigger assembly and components all
identical, but have room for this rear vertical pistol grip (which would sit like right here on the regular Sten).
So they extended the receiver tube length to do that. Despite the problems with the Austen I have to
say that the vertical grips, the rear one in particular, but also the front one are a marked definite
improvement over the regular Sten. That’s really one of my big gripes with
the Sten is how poor the grip is on the thing. At any rate, that’s one of the very few improvements.
They went ahead and added an MP38 style folding stock. The latching mechanism here is totally different
than the MP38, but the stock itself is very similar. In order to fold this you just push the
button in, and then it’ll rotate down. The length of pull is quite long because
the stock arms had to be long enough so that the butt plate could
loop over the front pistol grip. One neat thing is that they added a couple of pieces
to the stock. They added a screwdriver, with an “S”. There’s that guy. Which is relevant for the retention screws
on the trigger cover plate and the grip panel screws. I’m not sure this is all that important. Like, if you
consider the purpose of the Sten to be an extremely rapid and cheap gun to manufacture. Is it really
all that important to be putting screwdrivers into it? Maybe not. This one has gotten tight, there
we go. The other side they put in a cleaning rod. Also a good idea, but you know if you
need to make a lot of guns very quickly, maybe it’s easier to make a separate cleaning rod
by itself, and just have people throw it in a pack rather than add it as a special extra feature on the gun. So there’s your cleaning rod
threaded into the rear strut of the stock. The stock comes off the same way as on a
regular Sten gun, so we push in the rear cap (there we go), we can then pull off the
end cap, and pull out the bolt assembly. Now the Sten would have a loose recoil spring in
here, and a fixed firing pin, and a very simple sort of open … bolt blowback mechanism. This is also
open bolt and blowback, but they have copied the German [MP38] system of having the
recoil spring completely contained in its own telescoping tube,
with a separate firing pin in there, and then the bolt, of course,
has a hole for the firing pin. The sear surface, the sear engagement
on this bolt, is identical to the regular Sten so that the trigger mechanism can be the
same. But they went and added this, and presumably they figured that it would make the gun
more reliable by not having the spring open to the elements. But in reality, when they went through and developed all of these improved assemblies,
every single one of them actually it has more parts and takes more time and money to
manufacture than the original standard Sten. The stock very obviously so.
There’s a lot of stuff in here beyond the very simple stock of a Mark II Sten. Like, here’s option one. It’s probably one,
two, three, four pieces welded together. Here’s option two. It’s something like 22 different components,
including several springs, several threaded pieces, it’s got bearing surfaces. Yeah,
this is gonna be a lot more expensive. And again, option one. We have a spring,
three very simple pieces, and a solid bolt. Option two. We have to build this whole assembly
with threaded bits up here, and retaining pins, and a relatively fragile firing pin there, and enough, you know, extra retaining pins to
properly control the spring in there. And then, of course, you have an extra fitted component.
Because the firing pin has to be fitted just right into the bolt to make sure that your firing pin protrusion
is neither too long, for pierced primers, nor too short, in which case it won’t reliably fire. Whereas on the regular Sten the firing pin’s
machined into the bolt face. Much simpler to do. So another place where the Australians, these companies,
thought they were improving the gun and they really weren’t. One last interesting differentiation
here are the magazines. The Austen will use a standard Sten
magazine. They’re perfectly compatible. However, the Australians did not make standard
Sten magazines, they made Austen magazines. There are a couple differences here.
First off, different manufacturing processes. So rather than having these stamped over-travel guides, instead they braised an entire collar
onto the outside of the magazine body. So this mag is actually noticeably a
little heavier than the standard Sten. They also reduced the length of the magazine just
slightly, and where the Sten was a 32 round magazine, the Austen is a 30 round magazine with, I believe, the general
habit was to only load it to 28 rounds to improve reliability. They did also interestingly get rid of the
witness holes that you find on Sten mags. So a little harder to keep track of
exactly how many you have in the mag. They went ahead and marked the name of the gun
on the magazine, interesting that they put it in quotes. Like this is the “Austen” magazine. And then the manufacturing
company, and then on the other side we have a calibre and capacity,
which is a little bit unusual to find. So the Austen would never be a
popular gun in Australian service. It was constantly and completely overshadowed
by the Owen, which was really better in every way. In fact, in most ways the regular Sten
gun is actually better than the Austen. It’s more reliable, and it was a lot
easier to actually put into production. Where these Australian companies thought they could
improve the Sten, it really kind of backfired on them by making these elements, these assemblies,
actually more expensive and more complex. And on top of that, the Austen was put into production
before it had really undergone any substantial trials, and before there had been a whole lot of work put into
figuring out exactly how to efficiently mass produce the gun. So even though they went into
production at about the same time, the Owen would far outstrip the Austen
in production after only a couple of months. In total 19,914 of these Austen
Mark I guns were manufactured. They would also do a couple hundred
Mark IIs, but we’ll cover those in a separate video. These were actually pulled out of
combat service in August of 1944, which should tell you something about how well
they were liked, or how much they were disliked. They were put back into reserve use
with Home Guard type units in Australia. Ultimately in the late 1960s everything that was still in Australian
inventory in warehouses was finally just destroyed for scrap, because no one (except collectors
today), would want Austens. As a result of that, of course, these
are quite rare guns to find today. So I’m much indebted to the Royal Armouries
for giving me the chance to come here and take this very nice condition, very
early Austen Mark I and show it to you guys. Hopefully you enjoyed the video. If you would like
to come visit the National Firearms Centre yourself, they have a big museum open to the
public, that’s the Royal Armouries Museum. The collection of the NFC is not open to the general
public, but it is available by appointment to researchers. So if you have work that you are doing, either text
or in other media on interesting and unusual firearms, definitely get in contact with them
through the link in the description below, and set up a time to come and visit the Armouries. Thanks for watching.

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