The British Lanchester Submachine gun

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Looking as if its right out of a steampunk nightmare, the very British Lanchester submachine gun actually has a rather Teutonic past. But we promise that doesn't make it any less interesting.

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Why was it created?

In 1940 the Brits needed a bunch of guns. Like yesterday. In June of that year, the nation found itself standing alone against Hitler and Mussolini, with France, Denmark, Poland, Holland, Belgium, Norway, and Luxembourg all under German occupation. Further, the Brits had lost a metric tons of arms and equipment when they evacuated from the continent in the Miracle of Dunkirk.

With guns being ordered from every factory they had access to as well as orders being placed in the then-neutral US, the British military needed a neat little room broom that could be used to arm guards, airfield defense units, auxiliary soldiers, navy troops, and the like.

George Herbert Lanchester, an engineer with the Sterling Armaments Company in Great Britain, came up with something that was just the trick.


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Instead of working from scratch, Lanchester took an existing design-- that of the German made MP28, and improved upon it. The MP28 was a simple open-bolt blowback submachine gun that had been produced by German Haenel Co. in Suhl, under the supervision of Hugo Schmeisser. If Schmeisser sounds familiar, he is the same guy that came up with the German StG44 (the first true assault rifle) and other designs. The MP28 proved popular with German police and was exported to a number of third world countries.

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Effectively cloning the gun, Lanchester used a tubular receiver that could be machined fast due to its simplicity, mounted on a sturdy wooden stock. The detachable box magazine held 50-rounds which could feed the gun for about five seconds when firing fully automatic at some 600-rounds per minute. The Lanchester was solidly built using heavy machined steel with the use of brass for the magazine well, had a bayonet mount for the standard Enfield rifle's pig sticker, and was hefty enough to give solid service.

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Both the magazine and the bolt of the MP28 could be used in the Lanchester, although by most accounts the British gun was better built. Its overall length was 33.5-inches (about as long as a Hi Point carbine), but its heavy wooden stock brought its unloaded weight to well over 9-pounds.

The Lanchester, due to its weight and 9mm caliber, is easy to control even on full auto


Rushed into production by 1941, some 95,469 Lanchester were made by four different British factories during World War Two. Most of these (some 78 percent) were made by Sterling at two different factories, one in Dagenham and the other in Northampton. The balance were made by Boss and Greener, both well-known British shotgun makers (Hemingway was a huge fan of Boss shotguns). They were produced in two variants, the Mk.1 and Mk.1*, the latter being full-auto only whereas the original design incorporated a select-fire switch.

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These guns proved popular with British and Commonwealth commando units, Royal Marines, and others during the war. By 1944 they were being pulled from frontline service, replaced by the new, cheaper and lighter British STEN gun (although the 32-shot STEN mag could fit the Lanchester's well). Finally after the war the Sterling Company introduced their own upgraded all-metal and plastic subgun, which put the final nails in the Lanchester's coffin.

Nevertheless, the Royal Navy kept a few of them around for ship-side use until as late as the 1970s due to their reliability.

Getting your own

Since less than 100,000 of these guns were made, they are not very common. IMA sells display guns on dummy receivers for around $400. A few parts kits are out there from I/O and others for those who want to take a stab at building their own (all NFA rules apply!).

Then of course there are a few original Class III guns out there that start at about $7K.

And who wouldn't love one of those.

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