In 1941, George Lanchester Busted His Ass Making a Lighter Submachine Gun
But the British military wasn’t interested
by MATTHEW MOSS
In 1940 the British military successfully tested a new submachine gun from the Sterling Armaments Company. Developed by George Lanchester, the Lanchester Machine Carbine was a loose copy of Germany’s Bergman MP28.
The Royal Navy and Royal Air Force ordered 50,000 Lanchester Mk. Is in 1941 and more than 40,000 more in subsequent batches. Naval landing parties and airfield defense troops often carried the weapon.
The Lanchester was a tough, reliable gun, but it was also slow and expensive to manufacture. After the Dunkirk evacuation, the British military needed more weapons — and fast. Sterling introduced an improved version, the Lanchester Mk. I*, but production still lagged.
By December 1940, the famously simple and cheap STEN was also in development. Desperate not to be outdone, Lanchester scrambled to develop a lighter, more cost-effective version of his own weapon.
Lanchester’s first lightened prototype was little more than a Lanchester Mk. I without its wooden stock and barrel shroud. He also shaved some metal off the receiver and replaced the brass magazine housing with a steel one.
The first prototype had a removable tubular butt stock that locked in place by way of a catch. The front sight came from the Pattern 14 rifle. Lanchester also added an unusual grooved cylindrical wooden grip under the magazine housing. The weapon’s pistol grip was made of Tufnol plastic.
The second lightened prototype was externally very similar to the first lightened version. But in the second prototype Lanchester used a modified STEN bolt with a claw extractor, which required him to relocate the cocking handle to the left side of the weapon. The front grip had a new — and frankly strange — ergonomic shape.
Interestingly, the third lightened Lanchester strongly resembled George Patchett’s submachine guns, which Sterling was developing at the same time. Lanchester’s third lightened pattern was much more refined than the earlier prototypes were.
Lanchester made a number of improvements, adding a barrel shroud — similar to the Lanchester Mk. I′s — along with a bayonet lug. It also featured a double-hinged folding stock, which Sterling later used on its ill-fated experimental S11.
On the third lightened prototype, Lanchester moved the grip and trigger mechanism closer to the weapon’s center of gravity and molded the grip out of Paxolin, a sort of polymer-impregnated paper or linen. Finally, the third weapon’s fire selector included a new safety setting, which the earlier Lanchesters lacked.
In his book The Guns of Dagenham, Peter Laidler suggests that the Ministry of Supply felt that Lanchester had overstepped his original mandate.
Production of the Lanchester Mk. I* ceased in October 1943, after approximately 100,000 guns had been manufactured. Patchett’s submachine gun, by contrast, underwent extensive testing and the British Army finally adopted it in 1953 as the L2A1. Sterling marketed the weapon commercially into the 1980s.
The last Lanchesters left Royal Navy service in the 1970s.
Originally published at www.historicalfirearms.info.