7.8.42

[Hugh Slater is very despondent about the war. He says that at the rate at which the Russians have been retreating it is not possible that Timoshenko has really got his army away intact, as reported. He also says that the tone if the Moscow press and wireless shows that morale in Russia must be very bad.] Like almost everyone I know, except Warburg, Hugh Slater considers that there isn’t going to be any Second Front. This is the inference everyone draws from Churchill’s visit to Moscow. [1] People say, “Why should he go to Moscow to tell them we’re going to [2] open a second front? He must have gone there to tell them we can’t do it”. Everyone agrees with my suggestion that it would be a good job if Churchill were sunk of the way back, like Kitchener. [3] [Of course the possibility remains that Churchill isn’t in Moscow.]

Last night for the first time took a Sten gun to pieces. [4] There is almost nothing to learn in it. [No spare parts. If the gun goes seriously wrong you simply chuck it away and get another.] Weight of the gun without magazine is 5 ½ pounds – [weight of the Tommy gun would be 12-15 lb. Estimated price is not 50/- as I had imagined, but 18/-.] I can see a million or two million of these things, each with 500 cartridges and a book of instructions, floating down all over Europe on little parachutes. If the Government had the guts to do that they would really have burned their boats.

[1] The following passage is crossed through in the manuscript: ‘The question asked on every side is, “If the Second Front is going to be opened, what point is there in Churchill going to Moscow? He must have gone there to tell them we can’t do it.’”

[2] The manuscripts originally had ‘we can’t,’ but this crossed through and altered to read as in typescript.

[3] Field Marshall Horatio Herbert Kitchener (1850-1916; 1st Earl Kitchener), who had reconquered the Sudan (1896-98) and was successful against the Boers in the South African War (1900-02), was regarded as a hero by the British populace. At the outbreak of World War 1 he was appointed Secretary of State for War. He was drowned when HMS Hampshire, taking him on a mission to Russia, struck a mine. He realised earlier than most the need to raise a large army and rapidly increased the strength of ‘Kitchener’s Army,’ as it was called, from twenty to seventy divisions. He found co-operative work difficult and was less popular with Cabinet colleagues than with the general public. Orwell’s second published work, when still at preparatory school, was a poem on the subject of the loss of Kitchener; see CW, X, p. 24.

[4] In 1940 the only sub-machine-gun available to the British army was the American Thompson, but at least 100,000 were lost at sea on the way from the USA causing an urgent need for a cheap home-produced automatic. The Sten, named after its designers, Major R. Vernon Sheppard and Harold J. Turpin, and the place of manufacture, Enfield, cost only £2 10s. It did not rely on machined parts and had no wooden stock. The magazine, based on the German 9mm MP 40, had a tendency to jam or fire single shots unexpectedly. But the Sten proved highly successful and was much favoured by resistance fighters. 

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3 Responses to 7.8.42

  1. Pingback: Sten Mk II vs. MP-40 - Page 3

  2. Medawar says:

    Contrary to a lot of post-war mythology, the Sten was pretty accurate. It had a longer barrel than the post-war Sterling, (which is still made, in India). A new Sten, impossible to find after 1952, of course, was reliable, too. The problem was wear and mishandling. Especially using the magazine as a hand-grip, which wasn’t good for an MP38/40 either. The main thing about the Sterling, was that it was designed for peacetime and therefore made to last. As Orwell realized, you were supposed to throw a broken sten gun away, and most of the reliability gripes probably came from troops whose officers didn’t approve of this logic.

    The Lancaster Machine Carbine was designed, a couple of years before the Sten, for the RAF, which also arranged to buy 200,000 Tommy Guns, but was frustrated by the Treasury saying that the RAF was only authorized to buy “defensive” small arms. See Air Vice Marshal Don Bennet’s book, “Pathfinder” and his understandable belief that HM Treasury worked tirelessly for a Nazi victory throughout the war..
    The Lancaster Carbine used a bigger magazine (50 rounds) but of the same basic type as the Sten ended up with and had a wooden stock and bayonet fitting (same as Lee Enfield Rifle). the RAF’s order ended up in the hands of the Royal Navy, who used it well into the post war period. It is strictly accurate to say it wasn’t available to the British Army, but thousands of them were in the Navy’s hands before the Sten was even thought of. The British army didn’t have sub-machineguns because it didn’t WANT them, prior to the summer of 1940, and the German Army hadn’t been interested in them, either (they thought they were only useful to policemen!) until Germany annexed Austria and German soldiers began to train alongside Austrians equipped with the same MP18 that had inspired the Lancaster Carbine. As the designation suggests, getting the MP38/40 into the hands of frontline German troops for the invasion of France in 1940, was something of a rush job.

    In both 1943 and 1944, annual Commonwealth Sten Gun production (Britain and Canada) exceeded the number of MP40s made by the Germans during the whole of WW2. Contrary to what we’re told in these days, it wasn’t entirely AMERICAN war production which overwhelmed the fascist powers.

    The original Tommy gun fired heavier cartridges (normally .45″ APC or .38″ Colt Super in one batch sold to Russia) at about twice the rate of the sten gun. No wonder Orwell thought the new sten was vibration and noise-free by comparison! The Tommy gun was conceived during WW1 as a sort of substitute for a Lewis gun that you could sprint across no-man’s land with to attack a trench or pillbox, and it was never meant to be a “machine pistol” or anything like it. It was designed as a portable massacre, which is exactly how Al Capone used it.

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