The second-generation Sterling never got past the prototype stage
by MATTHEW MOSS
In 1965, the Sterling Armaments Company developed a new version of its successful submachine gun. The S11 represents the company’s effort to modernize the reliable Sterling submachine gun and compete with the new Heckler & Koch MP5.
While George Patchett, the Sterling’s original designer, was still working with the company in 1965, Frank Water and David Howroyd — Sterling’s chief designer and works director, respectively — oversaw the S11's design. The designers took cues from the Israeli Uzi, a contemporary of Sterling’s original weapon.
Unlike the original Sterling submachine gun, which the British Army adopted in 1953 as the L2A1, the S11 has a stamped box receiver rather than a tubular receiver.
For that reason, the S11 takes on an Uzi-like appearance. However, it retains the L2A1′s excellent, curved, side-loading magazine. For the S11, Water and Howroyd moved the position of charging handle from the right side to the top of the receiver — and also apparently added a sliding dust cover, possibly to prevent the ingress of sand and dirt.
The designers added a plastic foregrip, replacing the earlier weapon’s perforated barrel jacket. The new foregrip makes it possible to attach an L1A1 rifle bayonet. It also appears that the stock folds into a recess in the grip.
In a break from the original Sterling, the S11's barrel is fixed in the receiver by a barrel nut, similar to the one on the Uzi.
The S11′s sights are offset to the left to clear the folding stock. The box receiver necessitated a new stock design with two pivoting points on either side. The S11, like commercial Sterlings, is parkerized and painted in black crackle-texture paint.
The S11 retains the Sterling’s trigger and fire-selector mechanisms and features a similar pistol-grip profile. However, the weapon has a new type of plastic grip incorporating what appears to be a prominent grip safety — again, similar to the Uzi’s own safety.
The experimental S11 suffers a series of defects and interconnected problems, none of which are unfixable. These include a loose top cover, feeding problems and trigger failures. Sterling decided that rather than sink money into fixing the S11′s defects and retooling for manufacture, it would be more cost-effective to retain the current design.
A lack of military and commercial interest scuppered the project. Sterling gradually lost market-share as more modern designs overtook the original Sterling submachine gun.
Sterling produced a single S11 prototype, serial number EXP 001, which the company gifted to the British defense ministry’s Pattern Room in 1989. Today the S11 is in the Royal Armouries’ collection.
Originally published at Historical Firearms.