We bring you a closer look at one hot, affordable Sterling! Check out some aspects of the design and our favorite features!
The Sterling Submachine Gun was designed during World War II, and based on the specifications of the British General Staff. The 1944 specifications were, to some extent, based on experience with the Sten SMG during the war. Although the Sten had been inexpensive to produce and had allowed the British to arm a large number of troops and Home Guards with a weapon quickly, there had also been some problems with it. Problems included the rudimentary safety notch on earlier Stens, which made negligent discharges all too common.
The primary design specs for the Sterling were that it should weigh less than 6 lbs, be chambered for the 9mm cartridge, have a cyclic rate of no more than 500 rounds per minute, and be able to put five rounds fired individually on a one-foot square target at 100 yards. To satisfy these requirements, Sterling Armament’s chief designer George William Patchett developed a new SMG that was initially known by his name as the “Patchett.” Prototypes were more reliable, safer, and more accurate than the Sten, so 120 Patchetts were ordered for field trials.
Upon entering production, the arm came to be called the Sterling. Among its most appealing features were helical grooves in the bolt which actually removed dirt and fouling from inside the receiver, greatly enhancing reliability. It utilized a blowback design which fired from an open bolt. Whereas the Sten had to have the stock removed for ease of use by paratroopers, the Sterling had an underfolding stock. Another factor which had adversely affected reliability of the Sten was its magazine design, which used a double column that had to merge at the top. The Sterling magazine used a magazine which incorporated a pair of rollers at the top of the magazine, thus reducing friction and enhancing reliability. A selector switch on the left side just behind the trigger offered a more reliable safety than the notch used on the Sten.
Despite the fact that the Sterling was a definite improvement on the Sten, there were so many Stens available after the war that its replacement was not given a high priority. Thus, it wasn’t until 1953 that the Sterling began to replace the Sten. Eventually, more than 400,000 Sterlings were produced, and it remained in service with British armed forces until the 1980s (and later).
The suppressed version remained in use even longer, and prior to the widespread use of the HK MP5SD over the last quarter century, was the most widely used suppressed SMG among western Special Forces units. I had fired many hundreds of rounds through suppressed Sterlings before I ever encountered a non-suppressed one.
CENTURY’S TYPE II STERLING
I always liked the Sterling when I had a chance to fire one so when I saw that Century had a semi auto, closed bolt carbine version of the Sterling available, I definitely wanted to give it a try. I specifically wanted to try Century’s Type II Sterling Carbine as it has a ventilated hand guard that covers the barrel for its full length. Though longer than a Sterling SMG because of the 16 inch barrel, the full-length shroud keeps the basic appearance of the Sterling. The Century Type I keep the standard length barrel shroud with the rest of the barrel protruding from the shroud.
Other features of the Century Sterling Carbine are the same as the Sterling SMG. The thumb safety/selector has only safe and semi auto positions, but it is well located to allow operation with the thumb of the shooting hand. The rear sight is an L-shaped flip-up with apertures for 100 and 200 meters. The front sight is a post. Both front and rear sights have protective ears. The folding stock needs to be deployed and collapsed a few times to get used to its operation.
When the stock is folded, the butt plate, which hooks into one of the holes on the barrel shroud, has to be rotated to free it. Then, the butt is rotated upward while the back cap latch is pushed inward. When the stock locks in place the butt frame is opened to form a triangle. To close the stock, the process is reversed. It takes some thinking about the process the first few times, but soon becomes natural.
One nice thing about the Century Sterling is that it retains the original MK4 (L2A3) markings. That version of the Sterling adopted in 1956 was the last version adopted by the British armed forces.
The mag release is a good-sized round button on top of the magazine well. Although it is possible to hit it with the thumb of the support hand while stripping out an empty magazine, so far I have not gotten really facile at doing this. The magazine really should not be used as a horizontal pistol grip. The proper placement of the support hand is on the ventilated handguard.
Stay tuned for our experience firing the Sterling Type II!
Story & Photos by Leroy Thompson