Shooting the AuSTEN MkI – Not Actually So Bad!

This is Lot 1019 in the upcoming October Morphy Extraordinary auction.

I have read much about the Australian dislike for the Austen submachine gun, but until now I never had the chance to actually try shooting one. I did not have very high expectations, but the gun is actually pretty darn reasonable! It doesn’t climb like I expected the stock would cause it to, and the pistol grips are a huge improvement over the Sten. The sights are not ideal, and the stock does wobble – but I didn’t find anything that seems like it would justify the intense dislike for the gun in Australian military service. Now I’m curious to dig into this gun more and find out just what was at the root of the Aussie complaints. Perhaps it was simply a matter of reliability in less-then-ideal circumstances?

13 Comments

  1. I have never understood why there was so much hating on the Austen. It seems to me to be more like a Sten MkV than a Sten MkII, hence much more comfortable to use.

  2. Contd/

    The length of the stock, due to the requirements of folding, may have been an issue for some soldiers, but even that does not quite make sense of why the Aussies hated it. Perhaps they loved their Owens so much that they rejected any substitutes?

    I am sure a lot of Tommies would have gladly swapped a Sten for an Austen if they had been given the chance.

  3. The major factor with the AuSten seems to have been that its combination of MP40 stock and recoil spring system plus Sten MK II structure made it more expensive and slower to produce than the actual Sten.

    The Owen, even with its machined rather than stamped parts, could be made about as fast as the Sten MK II and a bit cheaper than the AuSten. Its brute reliability didn’t hurt the typical soldier’s feelings, either.

    cheers

    eon

  4. What is not said is the Owen and the AUSTEN were built in similar quantities, but the Owen (and the Thompson) came along first and so were issued to those in combat, the AUSTEN issued to the Home Army, ie. those troops within Australia and the Mandated Territories, Papua, New Guinea and the islands to the North and East of Australian administered New Guinea. This purely to alleviate the logistics problems.

    Austens were issued and widely used by the branches of SAO – Special Operations Australia, the two Holding Units (non operational) M Special Force and Z Special Force, which held the combat units for a. within the , b. without the Mandated Territories. In which they proved popular and effective weapons in operation’s from Dutch New Guinea (now West Papua), through the East Indies (Dutch and British), Malaya, Indo-China and Siam, and the Philippine’s..

    Also issued to RAAF units in the operations to the north of Australia and the RAN. In this case the smaller vessels such as Fairmile B, landing craft etc. Larger war vessels such as Corvettes and above used the Lanchester.

    Post War several thousand went to the Philippine Armed forces fighting the HUK guerrilla’s, and to the Federated Malayan Police (such as the Jungle Squads and the Home Guard).

    In my opinion it had a much maligned reputation which it did not deserve, it was much cheaper to manufacture than the Owen. In 1977 it was used as a dissimilar instructional weapon for those undergoing the Warrant Officer Promotion Course at the School of Infantry, so students used it for individual lessons and then onto the range. Students still used the M16, M60 and the Browning Pistol, and such as the M203, M79, M72, L14 Carl Gustav, and the M2A1-7 Flame Thrower (which the Australian Army had used very successful in South Viet Nam).

    • In the Official War history; Australia in the War of 1939–1945. Series 4 – Civil Volume IV – War Economy, 1942–1945 (1st edition, 1977) and used as the reference in SMITH Kevin. The Owen Gun Files An Australian Wartime Controversy. Turton & Armstrong, Sydney, 1994. It is shown that the AUSTEN was eight shillings (then USD1.80 cents) cheaper to manufacture than the Owen. There is a great deal of misinformation put up on the internet re the AUSTEN, such as the number manufactured, and none of the various articles give any information as to its actual combat usage. It did suffer from lax quality control, which required weapons received from the manufacturer in Melbourne, having remedial work at the Base Workshop in Bandiana. Also it is incorrect to consider it a clone of the UK Sten Gun, it was designed in Australia using the Sten and the German MP38 as the reference to develop it. The M Special Force troops drawn from the Pacific Islands Regiment and the Papua and New Guinea Constabulary, used it to great effect in their unknown campaign to destroy the Japanese forces. And SINCLAIR, JAMES. To Find a Path. The Life and Times of the Royal Pacific Islands Regiment. Volume I – Yesterday’s Heroes 1885-1950. gives a glowing report on the weapons use against the Japanese by these native troops.

  5. The Austen was good enough for Z Special Unit troops and it had one advantage over the Owen: A folding stock.

    As a stand alone SMG, it was probably a very good weapon, but it suffered from Blameys arrogant championing of it over the Owen and the fact the Owen Gun was so bloody good in the theater the Australian Army was fighting.

    “Always the Bridesmaid, never the Bride” is very apt.

  6. What are the actual sources that badmouth Austen ?

    Its not that the gun was not good, its that Owen set the standard somewhat higher, in same fashion if Owen was developed in UK, regular Sten would be hated even more.

    • In essence the whole thing was comparing the hand-me-down weapon to the in-house weapon that handled better in nasty conditions. It’s rather like getting the keys to the patched-up clunker car (that somehow has a chance of literally losing the entire engine out of its mounting mid-ride due to the previous owner’s neglect) when you were told to expect something new. It feels insulting.

  7. Hi Ian a year ago I was given a MkII in mint condition with three mags (they by the way are marked 28 Rounds),and a mag loader the gun is great to shoot but the mags and loader are not to the standard of the rest of the weapon. If you come to Australia I will arrange for you to shoot it.

  8. The length of the stock in order to fold it around the grips wouldn’t suit me, or anyone short either, I’d expect. I must say I like the grips. The time I fired a Sten Mk.II I found the muzzle nut to be a tad too close to the reciprocating bolt and the ejection port–The Mk.III’s longer handguard and little finger stop would have been welcome. If forced to lug a Sten gun, I’d want the Mk.I with all the wooden furniture and fold-down front grip and spoon-shaped flash hider/muzzle brake. Or perhaps the Gnome et Rhône French version with wood stock, front foregrip, and extra safety features added.

    As for anything with an under-folding stock? Meh, maybe the Yugoslavian JNA M56 7.62x25mm? People I know who’ve fired MP40s tend to rate them highly as far as open bolt SMGs go…

    • Dave:

      Maybe copying the MP40 folding stock was a mistake. A simple sliding stock as on the grease gun would have been simpler and cheaper, and allowed a slightly shorter stock.

      I still think the Austen was an improvement on any Sten except, perhaps, the MkV.

  9. You are advancing to contact through wait-a-bit thorn on a steep and slippery slope.
    The Austen needs to be turned sideways, ejection port up, to maintain barrel direction, and then the thorns hook into your right hand while your left hand clutches trees for support. The Owen balances better one-handed, and when you open fire the rounds exit with more energy but less pop, and further away from your ears.
    Little things matter. Saving 10 shillings on a weapon then shipped a thousand miles and humped over the Owen-Stanleys does not.

  10. Since Ian has always liked the literature and bibliography, here’s what the U.S. Ordnance Dept. thought of the Australian SMGs it tested:

    From the Record of Developmental and Experimental Ordnance Vol. 17, The Sub-Machine Gun (Wash. D.C.: Office of the Chief of Ordnance, Research and Development Service, n.d.)

    IF 22
    “AUSTEN, Mk.I–This 9 mm gun (Fig. 20) is the Australian version of the British Sten and is very similar to that weapon. It is equipped with a foregrip, lacking on the Sten, and a folding stock. The bolt-operating handle, instead of being detachable like that of the Sten, is integral with the bolt. The bolt slot is extended through the receiver to permit the bolt to be withrdrawn in disassembly.

    In the standard submachine gun test at Aberdeen on 25-27 November 1942 the Austen gave a very satisfactory performance, as did the majority of the 9 mm weapons tested. The general functioning was considered excellent except for recurrent doublets in semi-automatic fire.

    ACCURACY–From machine rest at 100 yards, ten shots on each of three targets showed the following averages:
    Semi-automatic …. 11.06″ EHD 10.49″ EVD 12.72″ ES
    Full-automatic …. 9.86″ EHD 12.09″ EVD 13.10″ ES
    In offhand full-automatic fire at 50 yards the Austen placed 98 of 100 shots on the 6’x6′ target. The gun was very stable and showed no tendency to climb.

    The average of 100 shots, semi-automatic, fired off-hand at 100 yards, was as follows: 21.95″ EHD 19.89″ EVD 27.74″ ES

    ENDURANCE TESTS–Only one malfunction–a light firing pin blow–occurred during the firing of 2,500 rounds full-automatic. The average cyclic rate recorded was 575 rounds per minute and the gun was not oiled during the firing.

    There were 75 doublets recorded during the firing of 2,500 rounds semi-automatic but only one malfunction, a failure to eject.

    The gun’s performance in those tests was excellent.
    DUST TEST–After exposure to dust for 2 1/2 minutes the Austen fired only one round from a dusted magazine before the carrier [sic] jammed. A clean magazine fired without incident.
    MUD TEST–The gun would not fire with a muddy magazine, the dirty cartridges failing to seat in the chamber. A clean magazine was inserted and 30 rounds fired with one light blow recorded.”

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