With the impending Japanese threat to Australia, and its allies in the United States and Britain tied up with other pressing issues all their own, it fell to local ingenuity and industry to provide defensive-minded measures against invasion. Such was the backdrop to the birth of the AUSTEN submachine gun, a hurried mass-production-friendly work based largely on the British STEN submachine gun series which were just being delivered from abroad. The name "AUSTEN" was nothing more than a contracted version of the words - "Australian STEN". Work on the type began in 1941.
To facilitate development (and subsequent serial production), key components of the STEN Mk II were retained including its basic frame, barrel assembly and trigger group. To this was added the twin-strut, forward-folding shoulder stock, internal bolt and pistol grip of the German MP38/MP40 submachine gun. A foregrip was also added for controlled fire, this under the forward portion of the receiver. The amalgam became a crude, though effective, offering with the STEN and MP38 origins clearly identifiable to the keen observer. Even the side-mounted STEN magazine was retained as was its blowback form of operation. The weapon utilized a select fire mechanism to allow for single shot and full automatic fire as required. Overall weight was 4 kilograms and a length of 732mm with the stock extended (552mm when folded). Manufacture of AUSTEN guns was handled by Diecasters Ltd of Melbourne and Carmichael Ltd of Sydney. Production spanned from 1942 into 1945.
The AUSTEN was chambered for the widely accepted and available 9x19mm Parabellum pistol cartridge, a proven manstopper at short-to-medium ranges. The weapon gave a 500 round-per-minute rate-of-fire which was sufficient for close quarters combat. Muzzle velocity was listed at 1,200 feet per second. Each magazine held 28 rounds of 9mm ammunition.
Initial production models were known as AUSTEN Mk I and some 19,914 of these were produced, making them the definitive mark in the line. In practice, the weapon was generally well-received despite its appearance though it never surpassed the popularity nor the available numbers of the competing (and quite excellent) Owen submachine gun with its top-mounted vertical magazine less prone to snagging. An attempt to improve upon the Mk I emerged in time as the AUSTEN Mk II but these only varied through greater use of diecasting and incorporated a bayonet fitting at the muzzle. Against the near 20,000 Mk I units came just 200 Mk II examples. A specialized suppressed AUSTEN was also made for the combined Australian/New Zealand/Dutch/British "Z Special Unit" special forces group in limited quantities.
With its restrained, the AUSTEN submachine gun faded into World War 2 history, particularly by the end of the conflict in 1945. By this time, the Owen submachine gun had proven its worth in countless jungle engagements and various other small arms became readily available from Australian allies. Beyond its use in World War 2, some AUSTEN guns managed to find their way to the south of Africa and used during the Rhodesian Bush War (1964-1979).
Manufacturing Diecasters Ltd / Carmichael Ltd - Australia
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