By Robert Bruce, SAR Military Affairs Editor
The Aussies have their own way of doing things and Army Private Evelyn Ernest Owen’s clever improvement over the cheap and crude but mostly serviceable STEN submachine gun is definitely a case in point.
In order to encourage SAR’s readers to do further research, what’s presented here is a selection of archive photos depicting a few highlights of the simple, reliable and effective Owen Machine Carbine’s distinguished service with Australian forces from 1942 into the 1960s.
The Owen was developed and manufactured in Australia and is distributed throughout Southeast Asia. It is unusual in that it has a quick-detachable barrel. The Owen can be found with several different types of buttstocks. This submachine gun is recognized by its top-mounted magazine, prominent barrel lock, and compensator on the muzzle.Department of the Army Pamphlet 381-10, Weapons And Equipment Recognizing Guide, Southeast Asia, March 1969
18 May 42. A dapper Evelyn Owen (right), the 27-year-old inventor of the Owen Gun, discusses its features with D. West, a sight setter and gun tester at the Lysaght factory where Owen’s invention is being mass produced.
Internal workings of the first production model of Owen’s innovative subgun are revealed in this instructional chart.
18 May 1942. “The various parts of an Owen Gun fit together by simple bayonet catches. Since the guns are precision made, a damaged part may be replaced in a few seconds.”
18 May 42. New South Wales, Australia. With her practiced eye intent on detecting even small flaws, this inspector makes sure a newly manufactured Owen Gun is worthy of rough combat service.
26 April 1945. New Guinea. Private R.F. Gaudry, 2/3 Infantry Battalion, in a forward pit at Kalimboa Village. By then, more than two years after introduction, the Owen has proven to be tough, reliable and effective under the harshest battle conditions.
25 January 1945, Bougainville Island. The Owen’s mechanical and operational simplicity made it well suited for primitive native troops who joined the fight against Japanese invaders. Sergeant R.J. Trott, Armorer of “A” Company, 1st New Guinea Infantry Battalion, inspecting the barrel assembly of Private Koro’s Owen Gun.
6 May 1944, Queensland. Taking note of the inevitable when soldiers would tape mags together for fast reloading in combat action, Private L.N. Shoemark of the 2/2ND Infantry Battalion demonstrates the new improved double magazine for the Owen Gun. It was tested by the unit and adopted after being modified by Captain Andrew Watson, “C” Company Commander.
10 September 1945, Tarakan Island, Borneo. Major A. J. Anderson, General Services Equipment Field Section, 9th Division, demonstrating and Owen Gun fitted with a new type of silencer which is to be issued to 2/23RD Infantry Battalion.
14 May 1953. Royal Australian Regiment (3RAR) Private Eddie Wright of Albert Park, Victoria, uses a pull-through to clean the detached barrel of his Owen gun.
November 1966-11. Captain Brian Ledan, 5 Battalion the Royal Australian Regiment (5RAR), pointing to a dent in his Owen sub machine gun made by an enemy bullet during action in Operation Ingham. The sturdy subgun is likely to have sustained the hit without failing.
July 1967 Queensland. “Stand to!” 8 Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment Corporal Les Lindsay is alert with his Lithgow-made F1 sub-machine carbine. About 1500 troops are intensively training before they depart for service in Malaysia later this year. Sporting the now-familiar top mounted magazine, the F1 is a “new and improved” version of the venerable Owen and British Sterling.
11-9-1943, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. The US Ordnance Department found the unusual Australian Owen to be of more than passing interest. Note in the technical photo of the left side of the gun that the selector tab of the semi and full auto sub is rotated down in the full auto position. Credit: US Army Ordnance Training Support Facility