Gnome et Rhône R5: A Foiled Communist Arms Plan

The R-5 was a French-made copy of the Sten produced after the 1944 liberation of France. It was built by Gnome et Rhône, a French company best known for making aircraft engines. The Sten was familiar to French forces, as many had been supplied as military aid to the Free French as well as Resistance organizations – and it was also a simple and cheap weapon to make.

In the aftermath of Liberation, there was a lot of political jockeying for power in France. Many different factions had armed themselves during occupation, form the far right to the far left, and everyone wanted to be in a position of power in post-war France. Gnome et Rhône was contracted to make 20,000 of the R-5 submachine guns specifically for the PCF, the French Communist Party (Parti communiste français). The Gaullist government found out about the production and took the guns for itself before any reached the PCF.

The R-5 (named because it was produced in Limoges, in the 5th Region of France as organized during the Resistance) was parts-interchangeable with the standard British MkII Sten, despite having a number of unique features. The R5 used a barrel 60mm (2.5 inches) longer than the standard Sten barrel, a solid wooden stock of the same shape as the MkII, and a vertical front grip inspired by the Thompson. Although missing on this example, it also had a rotating receiver cover that could be used to lock the bolt in the forward position.

Of the 20,000 R-5s ordered, only 8,000 were delivered as best we can tell today. They were used by the military within France and also in Indochina and even into Algeria. In the immediate postwar years France was heavily dependent on US and UK war material, but wanted to equip a larger force than the Anglo-American allies were planning to supply. The R-5 made a useful interim weapon while the French arms industry reestablished itself and eventually developed the MAS-49 rifle family and the MAT-49 submachine gun.

The R-5s were mostly used until utterly worn out, and are extremely rare today. I am grateful for the cooperation of the IRCGN (Institut de Recherche Criminelle de la Gendarmerie Nationale) in having access to film this example for you!


    • The MK V also had a TSMG style vertical foregrip. It had an annoying habit of breaking off, and most users ended up discarding it and using the barrel jacket as a place for the off hand as on the MK II and MK III.



    • I was going to say that but from another vg type. Which was not the Sten… Seems from ze Gerrys though, that, in some form; copied.

        • Mk4 Brit helmet looks similar; I could see them copying Nazi Germany, as oppose the DDR… Meaning the DDR helmet was of the same origin.

          Both sort of… Not stylish… Really, so like some sort of science one assumes is behind them.

          • “The DDR being new; hence nothing to copy, maybe… As oppose not wishing too”

            But Nazi Helmets, had been shot at etc a fair amount, it is fair to say… So like if they designed the odd sort of DDR helmet, could see us, sort of trying to “nick” it.

            Might be a coincidence.

  1. Michel is saying that the R5 was used before the end of the war by the Free French, and then until the 1960s by customs officers.

    Are French customs officers still tooled up with SMGs?

    • “Are French customs officers still tooled up with SMGs?”

      they’ve probably got the latest and the best guns that are available.

      it seems to be a similar sort of truism to there always being enough tarmac for speed bumps but never enough to fix the potholes

      however deep the budget cuts anywhere else, Les Duanes are always going to be well funded.

      • les douainiers francais sont equipes actuellement de mp5 et mp7 hk, mais il y a peu de temps il y a 1 ou 2 ans j ai appercus un pm gevarm dans les mains d’un douainier avec une crosse trombone comme le m3 americain dans les annees 60 la douane francaise avait des gevarm premiere version avec crosse en bois et poignee thomson,cette version resemblait beaucuoup au r5

  2. Michel is saying that French Customs are now tooled up with HK MP5s and MP7s. In the recent past he has seen them with Gevarm SMGs with wire stocks, but in the 1960s they also used the earlier pattern of Gevarm SMG with wood stocks and front grips.

    I must admit I was unaware of the Gevarm SMG, which looks like a perfectly competent simple blowback design. I assume that Customs could not get hold of MAT49s, maybe they were needed by the Army and Gendarmerie.

    French Customs do seem well tooled up. Smugglers beware.

  3. This piece is a straight copy of a Sten made by a bona fide company. I wonder if Enfield got any royalties? Doubt it.

    • Did Enfield patent anything in the first place…?

      I vaguely recall a conversation I had with a guy, years ago, about the difficulties he’d had coming up with the design for a new tube to take advantage of all the STEN kits coming in. Reverse-engineering it was bit of a pain, and I asked why he hadn’t gone to the patent drawings for information, whereupon he told me that there weren’t any, the STEN not being patented… I’ve no idea at all about the truth of that, but that’s what I remember him saying. I’m not enough of a STEN guy to tell you one way or another, off the top of my head.

      • Kirk:
        Was the Sten patented? Thinking about the circumstances of its creation, probably not. 1940/1 was a difficult time in Britain. Post war commercial exploitation of the Sten design was unlikely to have been a priority.

        There must be technical drawings of the piece. Maybe the Royal Armouries in Leeds could help? Mr Ferguson seems like a friendly fellow.

        I am wondering why a bona fide commercial company like Gnome et Rhone would have been making bootleg Stens for the benefit of the Communists? Maybe they were made an offer they could not refuse? I think they may have made aero engines for the Germans, however unwillingly. No doubt the Communists could have just called them collaborators and shot the owners, if they did not come up with a few thousand Stens. Lots of people were shot after the liberation, and not all of them deserved it.

        • Sten FCG is actually patented…
          but, maybe inventors signed the possible royalties to UK government? if its a patent made by them working for military, etc.

        • @John K,

          Time frame we’re talking here, back during the mid-1980s, the fact that the Pattern Room even existed, let alone as a research source, was far beyond the average guy here in the US. I’d vaguely heard of it; the vast majority of the gun-enthusiast public had no idea it even existed.

          What the guy I talked to was doing was trying to recreate the receiver tube for the STEN, in order to use the parts kits they were bringing in back then. As I said, he was unable to locate blueprints or other documents, and when I suggested patents, he gave a high, mad laugh, and said that nothing he needed was patented, so he’d had to reverse-engineer the whole thing and the doing of that was not at all pretty. I gather there was a lot of trial and error…

  4. Kirk:

    Of all the things which ought to be simple, you would thing a Sten tube would be it. But you live and learn. I suppose this all predated the black day in 1986?

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