Sterling S11: Donkey in a Thoroughbred Race

In the 1960s, the Sterling company began to worry about the prospects of continued sales of the Sterling (Patchett) SMG, especially in light of new competitors like the H&K MP5. Its chief design engineer, Frank Waters, created the S11 as a gun to replace the classic Sterling. The S11 was based on a simple stamped/folded steel receiver, and was intended to have a lower unit cost that the Sterling. It kept the excellent Patchett magazine, but had a barrel and sights offset to the left side, and offered two separate bayonet lugs – one for the No5 rifle and one for the L1A1/FAL.

Unfortunately for Sterling, it was determined that the tooling cost would have made the S11 actually more expensive that the existing guns, whose tooling costs had been long since covered. Also, the S11 was just not a very good or very reliable design – a “donkey in a thoroughbred race” to quote one Sterling manager. This one prototype was the only example ever made, and the project was shelved in 1967 in favor of expanding into more civilian models of the original Sterling.

Many thanks to the Royal Armouries for allowing me to film and disassemble this one of a kind submachine gun! The NFC collection there – perhaps the best military small arms collection in Western Europe – is available by appointment to researchers. You can browse the various Armouries collections online here.



  1. I wonder what it would be like to fire this thing – would the offset barrel be enough to make the gun recoil notably to the left?

  2. The only reason I can think of to have the barrel offset is so that the No5 Bayonet can fit the gun, attaching to the lug on the side.

    This seems a bit like the tail wagging the dog, and the whole concept of bayonets on SMGs must have been passe by 1965. Even so, the SLR bayonet fitting below the barrel would surely have been a good enough solution, as by 1965 No5 rifles would not have been common, whereas the SLR was the standard rifle of the Commonwealth. If the stamped Sterling had ever progressed beyond one example, I think they may have gone on to have a central barrel and just the SLR bayonet lug under the barrel.

    Sadly, nothing Sterling could have done by this stage would have helped them. Royal Ordnance was determined to bring them down after they were caught out making Sterlings themselves without paying royalties.

    A friend on mine had a Sterling pistol in the 1980s, but as we know, the British market even then was small, and is now non-existent. I don’t think any gun manufacturer can survive without some sort of home market and Sterling sadly could not.

    Another great insight into a truly forgotten weapon.

    • With a round reciever the mag might be further away, than with a square one; happen it was some sort of adjustment for the prachett mag. Can’t see them doing it for a bayonet lug; why not just alter the lug.

      • Here magwell actually looks longer than in sterling, as it needs to stick out more due to the barrel offset to the left. If they placed a barrel in the center of square receiver, magwell would be probably almost the same as in the sterling,
        so its still puzzling why the offset.

        Maybe ultimatively they wanted to make a smg with magazine on the underside, something like walther mpl ??
        In that configuration shortening the receiver side – barrel center would be beneficial, especially if you went with L shaped bolt like in walther.

  3. Uzi-ised Sterling? Why? Little disappointing; they could have easily kept original tubular receivers; nothing wrong with that. If they wanted something radically new they could have looked at Italian or Czech developments. Or even Spanish Star for that matter.

    Before Ian opened the top, well, part of those offset sights, not bad. But, once I saw that “unruly” spring… oy-oy-oy… my taste was over. Yet, they could have nicely stowed guided, self-contained recoil unit on side of barrel.

    And to be fair – those picks look menacing, except on short weapon like this they do not bring any special benefit. You an as well keep it at your belt.

    • About the only reason for a bayonet on a weapon this short is weapon retention in house clearing. You do a quiet entry through a door, some gent on the other side tries to grab the barrel to get the weapon away from you, and instead grabs a foot or so of very sharp steel.

      Other than that, the bayonet is largely useless even on full length weapons, and has been since Antietam.



      • Nonsense, FIX BAYONETS!! Gets the chaps in the mood* to impale a Hun, which is why revolvers should have them; hence the Pritchard.
        Everyone should be involved.

        *= To kill; which is the name of the “game” in war, even if they end up using a rock.

          • Hi PDB

            Hmm, yeah
            I knew someone who’d got the job of sticking a Fairbairn Sykes knife into a French girl (there were two knives stuck in two girls in that town that evening) for the sin of spreading “French” diseases to allied troops. The Girls didn’t recover; neither did the guy who I got to know quarter of a century later.

            Now as for the fictional 1914 game of pass the Belgian baby from bayonet to bayonet, or the equally fictional clearing of babies out of Kuwaiti incubators in 1990, so the incubators could allegedly go to Baghdad…

            It was ’84 when the abysmable SA80 was officially adopted (and Sterling were never asked about their prior production experience with the parent AR18)

            So everything from the war to make the world safe for Mao, Cearcescu, pol pot, Kim, Joseph Stalin…
            Was to be fought with a big heavy recoiling rifle and a 9mm smg in the hands of the Rupert for suppressive fire.

            And in the Falklands war,
            The ships carrying both the ammunition and the troop transport got sunk.

            So the battles were fought by knackered professionals with extremely limited ammunition (and the Ruperts armed with SMGs) against terrified teenage conscripts, who were armed with rusty, worn out FALs.

            And bayonets played their part.

            Then came the SA80 (oh dear! Was a donkey really such a bad thing?)

            I guess that due to inflation by the banksters, we can probably add a zero to the end of any 1980s prices to reach today’s pricec. I think it cost £8M in 1980s money to develop the POS cast bayonet for the SA80.

            And I’m also guessing that it has probably been needed (a lot) more than once with that fully jamamatic rifle.

            Austerity Britain, a new SMG, and things like girls with “French” diseases for a military to deal with down back alleys.

            Yeah, it probably made sense to have the backup of a variety of bayonets.

        • Thats how we won WW1, you shoot 5 and when the other one pulls puppy dog eyes at you*; use the Pritchard straight through the eye, then shoot a 6th. And win.

          *= Without using a white flag via having enough time to remove their knickers if they are a German man.

        • “FIX BAYONETS!!”
          But the whole point of sub-machine gun introduction during Great War was to provide big volume of fire at close ranges. Note that MP 18 – which influenced many inter-war design – had not bayonet socket, so far I know.

      • The Bayonet is the making of modern disciplined armies; Culloden, each soldier must trust the next man to follow orders and kill that fellow for you and vice versa etc.

      • I would not even bother with bayonets, especially not on bull-pups; they look ridiculous. Their place was taken over with general utility knife, for which there are more than the most evident application.

        Entry into close space are best done by something very short. There are number of tricks how to disarm someone with SMG using his sling. Here pistols certainly retain their role. And do not hold them too far ahead of you 🙂

        • There’s a lot to be said for the steep grip angle and bent arm firing stance of both British and central and eastern European (OK, Russian) pistols.

          It’s a lesson that the American troops didn’t get taught until they met the Moros in the fidlypines.

          There aren’t many people’s who’ll fight by riding around you on horses

          Instead, there are quite a few who’ll get in close and personal, and who’ll dismiss a few bullets in their torso as “’tis merely a flesh wound”

          When that happens, and tool that originated for hunting wild pigs, becomes valuable

      • Bayonets on very short weapons like SMGs are really best thought of for guard duty, particularly guarding prisoners.

        People are less likely to think about going all Die Hard and try to disarm you if the best place to grab has a pointy, slicey thing right about where their hands need to be. It’s more about psychological intimidation than practical use as a weapon on such a short weapon (Hell, bayonets are most effective as psychological weapons to attack the will, even if mounted on a full length rifle like an FAL!)

        Frankly, l I wouldn’t bother trying to hard to mount a bayonet on something so short, especially since you really ought to mount it to something that won;t bend out of recognition if the bayonet is actually used. But if you can incorporate a bayonet lug easily and cheaply, why not> especially if your ordnance fellows were also smart enough to adopt a bayonet that is really a sturdy field knife that happens to have bayonet mounting bits. After all, every soldier ought to have a field knife anyway — why not make it dual purpose, if it doesn’t cost too much or compromise it’s use in the 99.99%+ situations it’s actually going to be used?

    • Was a prototype… Smgs, had kind of gone by then due to the fallacious belief in my view that the assualt rifle was a do all solution; modular if you will “yuk; f35” When the Ppsh is much better 90% of the time, and it looks a great club.

      • The Mp5 was a carbine,Britain kept Sterlings going while using Mp5’s but not as smgs “might be other reasons for that” but the Mp5 is a good 9mm carbine & smg, if needed.

      • Trouble was, both the American top brass and that mud blood / half breed, Winston Churchill, were against the EM2.

        So apart from a few M16s bought for use in Asia

        British were stuck with the combination of a 9mmp SMG in the hands of their Ruperts, and an SMLE, No4 or a FAL in the hands of their squaddies (and probably with inadequate ammunition for either!)

        And that situation continued up to at least the middle to late 80s.

        After that, things got even worse

        The replacement for both guns, didn’t work anything like as well as either (any) of its predecessors

        Whatever the official story was (remember that Handgunner magazine got shut down for publishing the true story about the SA80!), it doesn’t matter,

        a bayonet has always been a useful tool to have

        • Keith:

          Do spill the beans on this Handgunner story.

          It was a great magazine, and I still have nearly every copy. It was my impression that it and Guns Review fell victim to our various gun bans of the 80s and 90s, probably as a result of loss of advertisers than loss of readers.

          • Handgunner magazine got disappeared by the British authorities for almost a year for publishing and article titled “Service Rifle Snafu” that spilled the beans about the problems with the SA80.

            Apparently sharing the problems with its readership had endangered national security

            The magazine eventually really appeared.

            I’m not sure of the reasons for its eventual demise.

            Jan Stevenson, the founder and editor had been very badly injured after a car ran off the road and hit him, when he was on foot. IIRC, there weren’t many issues after that.

            The demise of Guns Review is a lot more sordid.

            In the run up to the 1997 general election, Guns Review was highly critical of the policy responses to the mass shooting in the Dunblane primary school.

            The Magazine was bought by the publishing company owned by Senior Tory party member, Michael Hestletine, and the long serving editor, Colin Greenwood, was replaced. The magazine didn’t last long after that.

            Greenwood was a retired police superintendent, and veteran researcher into the use of guns in crime, and the lack of effect / unintended consequences of “gun control” legislation.

            To use recent terminology, dear old Colin Greenwood was “de-platformed” for political reasons.

            Within the same time period, Philip Luty, received five years in a high security prison with the tough dangerous hardened criminals

            For his first offense of demonstrating that guns (and especially submachine guns) can easily be built from scratch, using readily available materials and common household DIY tools, like a hacksaw and a hand drill.

            Luty was later disappeared for 3 months by British police, who acted in contravention of a UN Declaration, condemning political disappearances, that the British state is a signatory to.

            Rule of law?
            Or rogue banana republic?

        • “Whatever the official story was (remember that Handgunner magazine got shut down for publishing the true story about the SA80!), it doesn’t matter.”

          Not familiar with what this references. Did Handgunner run a negative story on the SA80 or L85 or something?

  4. Looking at this thing again – it occurred to me – this could be a bullpup with maximum barrel length or even more compact form, IF the bolt has telescoping form with smaller mass in the back just to carry firing pin and extractor. There is space left on RH side for return mechanism. And, if magazine had to move back that is fine, it would be sitting right across chest of operator instead of underarm, in reach for changes. This was already done to some extent on FG 42.
    What a missed opportunity!

    • Put the mag sticking down behind the grip at an angle, and you basically have a 9mm blowback version of the Colt IMP “arm gun” that later evolved into the Bushmaster;

      Stick a rotating rest on the rear end like a High Standard Model 10 bullpup shotgun, and you’d have a 9mm SMG that could be handled pretty much like a conventional pistol, but with considerably greater firepower.



      • Hmm, yeah…. but if you want to shoulder it, you need some standoff. That is unless you want to get mag-full, I meant mouth-full 🙂

        Thus some abbreviated non-collapsible stock would serve reasonably well. It could even have a shock attenuator built into it and potentially quash MP5.

    • Bullpup?
      We have a car, ok, lets not “miss an opportunity” (lol!) to design a truck out of it.
      Why not add wings and better engine, it could be an aeroplane also 🙂

  5. Some features of this smg are under thought and dubious, like why they did not use original Uzi barrel retention system (or like walther mpl has, or franchi lf 57), that pulls barrel from the front, meaning you do not need stupid procedure of removing a screw fixed ejector – not field friendly. I understand in original sterling barrel with its inbus screws was not so easily removable, and thats ok, but why go so halfway here?

    Also, topcover removal permits easier access to receiver insides, yet here receiver with its double U design (very much similar to failed single stamping part receiver tube plus trigger pack experimental STEN )
    and lots of nooks and crannies and small parts sticking everywhere, meaning that actually you could clean more easy regular round tube sterling, as the dirt has fewer place to hide.

    I wont even try to start to comment on bayonets, its a waste of time and effort, others covered it.

    Ian unfortunately did not explain (if he knows) how the grip safety works if the trigger pack is the same.

  6. Wonderful again, Ian. As to the asymmetry if the bolt, may I propose a theory? The bolt needs a certain amount of mass and extending it to the side reduces length and extending it to the right side only balances the left side mounted magazine to some extent. Thoughts? Thanks again for such great work!

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