Paramilitaries in Northern Ireland Manufactured Their Own, Crude Submachine Guns
Shipyard Specials could cause horrific wounds
by MATTHEW MOSS
At the height of The Troubles in Northern Ireland, both the Republicans and Loyalists were desperate for any weapons they could lay their hands on.
These weapons ranged from smuggled AR-18s — infamously nicknamed Widowmakers — to crude but ingenious improvised weapons such as the submachine gun pictured above.
These improvised weapons took the STEN as their basis. They were simple but deadly, open-bolt submachine guns that any semi-skilled armorer could make quickly with only basic tooling.
The weapon pictured above was made by a Loyalist paramilitary force in Northern Ireland — perhaps the Ulster Volunteer Force or the Ulster Defense Association.
Chambered in nine-by-19-millimeter, it bears a passing resemblance to the Sterling L2 submachine gun that British troops stationed in Northern Ireland routinely carried. The improvised submachine gun features a simple, square, tube-steel receiver — reportedly fashioned from metal table legs — and feeds from a horizontal magazine. Other examples used metal piping and had round receivers.
The magazine housing is designed to fit a standard Sterling magazine but uses the STEN’s simpler magazine release. The weapon features a blowback action and has a square bolt to match its box section receiver.
It includes crudely drilled serrations in the barrel shroud and does not have sights. The pistol grip is rudimentary and the trigger appears to be made from a piece of metal rod that the armorer simply bent into shape.
Interestingly, the example pictured above has a number of features not common to all of the homemade submachine guns. Not only is its barrel crudely rifled, but it also includes a safety-selector just above the trigger.
Parts for this homemade submachine gun were made in the machine shops of the famous Harland & Wolff shipyard in Belfast. These secretly-produced guns became known as Shipyard Specials. They often dispensed with sights and stocks and their barrels were usually unrifled.
The smoothbore barrels, while inaccurate, were more than adequate for close-quarter gunfights and had the added “benefit” of causing the projectiles to tumble, resulting in horrific wounds.
The homemade submachine gun featured here was confiscated in Ulster by security forces in 1974 and is now part of the Royal Armouries’ collection.