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Local Boy Saves Nation: The Australian Owen SMG


Hi guys, thanks for tuning in to another
video on ForgottenWeapons.com. I’m Ian McCollum, and I am here today at Movie Armaments Group up in Toronto, Canada, taking a look at possibly the ugliest submachine gun ever conceived by humankind. However, interestingly, also one of the best. One of the really good submachine guns of World War Two, despite its looks. This is a Mark 1 Owen Gun, and it was adopted by the Australian military in 1941, and actually
remained in service there through the Vietnam War. So, this is named after basically a kid named
Evelyn Owen, who lived in New South Wales, and liked tinkering with stuff that was
masculine, bombs, guns, that sort of thing. And he goofed around building himself a
full-auto submachine gun in the late 1930s. And it was marginal, like it worked. It wasn’t licensed,
it wasn’t regulated, it wasn’t allowed to be done. And when it came time for Evelyn Owen to enlist
in the army and go off to fight in World War Two, he left this thing in a bag leaning against the garage
of his house (or his parents house I think at the time), and thought no more of it. Well, the neighbour
was a guy named Vincent Wardell, who was supervisor of a rather substantial metalwork
factory, Lysaght Works in New South Wales, and he found this thing sitting in a bag against
the side of his neighbour’s house and pulled it out and looked at it and went, huh, this is an unusual
weird-looking homemade machine gun. And apparently Owen’s parents were very apologetic that
you know, oops, our kid left his machine gun lying around. But Wardell thought there was some potential in
this, and at this point (we’re talking about 1940 here), Australia’s in serious peril, like the Japanese
might legitimately invade Australia. This is about the same time period when we would see
development of things like the Charlton automatic rifles, trying to turn old Lee-Enfields into light machine
guns. And so Wardell went back to his shop and enlisted the help of one of his engineers,
a guy by the name of Freddie Kunzler, and together they put a bunch more
development into this submachine gun. And they got it to the point where it was pretty
good, and they presented it to the Australian military. And for the better part of a year the
Australian military basically just rebuffed them, blew them off,
like we don’t need your crap. In large part this was because the Australian
government was expecting to get a bunch of Sten guns from the British. Which, by
the way, they were anticipating to be much better guns than the
Sten actually turned out to be. Well, the reason that this is I think still so
heavily associated with Evelyn Owen today is that part of the campaign that Kunzler and
Wardell put together to try and get their gun actually tested by the military was to
kind of make a publicity issue out of it. Look, this is hometown boy develops
machine gun that will save Australia. You know, we’re desperately short of
arms and, you know, it’s produced here, one of our glorious lads figured this thing out.
And these guys were were taking their case to the media, to newspapers, to politicians, every
time the army rebuffed them. And so eventually after getting the run-around several times. First
they were told to develop this in .38 Smith & Wesson, with a rimmed cartridge, and by the way, no, we
won’t give you a barrel or any ammunition to do it with. So they did that, they actually put it together
in .32 Auto using a piece of old Enfield barrel, and they came back, and the Army went, well
actually, no, we want it in .45 and so they figured, ah, well, you know there’s not a lot of .32 or .38
ammo floating around Australia for military purposes so they probably want it, like, we’ve got Thompson
guns, the military’s probably got a lot of .45 Auto, so OK, they took it back and they rebuilt the
gun, reworked it into .45 Auto, submitted it to the military again. And the military came back and
“Oh, I’m sorry. Did you say you made it in .45 Auto? No, no, no, we meant .455 Webley.”
So they went back again, they reworked it again with an old Martini-Henry
piece of barrel. And remarkably these guys … … I think, as much as I hate to neglect Evelyn Owen
who came up with the original core of the gun, it was Wardell and Kunzler who are really the talented
gunsmiths and engineers who made this gun a reality. And made it so good, as good as it turned out
to be. And they managed to make this thing run in .455 Webley, with a big rimmed cartridge. At that point
finally … like their publicity campaign on the side took hold, and civilian elements of the government
basically said, “Alright, enough of this nonsense, we do actually need some submachine guns
and this could actually be a really good one. So you guys make it in 9mm, and you guys
over in the Army give it a fair hearing.” And they did, in September of 1941.
They tested this alongside a German MP38, (MP40? I think it was a MP38), and a Thompson
Gun, and a Sten Gun that was now available. And lo and behold, the Owen did better than all of them. It turns out to be a fantastically reliable
gun, a very comfortable gun to shoot. And through its entire career with the Australian military
it would be a very highly prized and well regarded gun. Now there are a couple reasons for that, despite
the fact that it looks like some industrial accident. It is very well balanced, the the
gun balances right on the rear grip. This top feed arrangement looks stupid, but it
means you have gravity assisting in your feeding. It means the ejection port is on the very
bottom, so dirt can’t fall into the ejection port. Anything that’s gonna fall in, just
falls out down out the bottom of the gun. And then there’s a really clever, like, two
chamber system to the inner workings of the gun. So there’s more to this thing than just
the tube receiver that meets the eye. So let me show you the cool innards of the Owen gun. So looking at the Owen gun here. We have a charging handle in the back, ejection port on the bottom right there. Magazine, of course on the top. The magazine holds 33 rounds. It is a double stack, double
feed magazine and it has one particular unique feature, which is this tab in the middle on the
back. And that is actually the ejector. There’s no ejector built into the gun, because actually
it would make the gun very difficult to disassemble, for reasons you’ll see in a moment. So
instead they stuck the ejector right there. By the way, this magazine is green because
during World War Two a lot of these guns were painted in a yellow and green camouflage
scheme for use in the jungles in the South Pacific, and the gun has been refinished, or
repainted, but the magazine has not. Now there were a couple patterns of
these. There was a Mark 1, and a Mark 1*. About … the first 12,000 of these were Mark 1,
and the subsequent 33,000 were Mark 1*. Couple changes that were made
over the course of this production. The early guns actually had cooling
fins on the back end of the barrel. This is a Mark 1, but it has a smooth barrel,
that was done just for simplification. All of the guns will have this four slot
compensator on the muzzle, right there. It is very interesting to me that the sights… Obviously they’re offset because you’ve got a magazine well
in the middle, what’s funny is the sights are offset to the right. Which is ideal for a left-hander, and not so ideal
for a right-hander. It does work fine right-handed, you just roll your face over the side of the stock
and you can get a sight picture without a problem, But why they … didn’t put the sights on
the other side is really a mystery to me. There’s the rear sight. It is an aperture,
and rolled off the right side of the gun. The other major variations that you’ll find
are in the trigger frame here and the stock. So the early guns had a solid metal
trigger frame, … later on in production they would cut this out just to lighten up the gun a
little bit. And there are no actual working parts in here. So this isn’t a problem for dirt or debris, like,
something gets in there it doesn’t matter. And then the stocks: early on they
actually used a wire frame stock, and then they later switched to
a wooden stock like this one. Presumably, I don’t know if it … might weigh a little bit
less, but it’s probably a lot simpler and cheaper to make. Just to get the stock out of the way we’ll go ahead
and take it off, and you do that by pushing this lever in, which unlocks the stock, and we can pull it right out. (Spring loaded lever there.) Over on this side we have both of the sling
swivels, right there, and the selector lever. This is safe, semi and full-auto. So
full-auto down there, semi-auto and safe. These did have a bit of a reputation
for firing bursts in semi-auto. That may have just have been poor
quality control at the height of production. Serial number on this one is 28,775. And the frame markings here, Owen 9mm
Mark 1, 1943 production. These were made … through 1944, so this is middle/late,
both by that date and by the serial number. And made by Lysaght (I think I’m pronouncing
that correctly), in Australia, patent pending. Now the really clever bit about this gun is
how the bolt and the charging handle are set up. So the charging handle’s back here. Being an
open bolt gun it does lock all the way to the rear, (go ahead and drop that). And of course
you have your ejecting cases down here. However, what you’ve got going on, is you actually kind
of have a firewall here in the back end of the receiver. And there’s just a small diameter extension off
of the bolt that comes back through this firewall and connects to the handle here.
So while there’s a big open slot, there’s nothing back here, and it doesn’t
really matter if you get dirt into this. Just like it doesn’t matter if you get dirt into
these holes. The operating bits are right up here. So the spring is actually compressed between
this firewall and the back end of the bolt. So you can kind of see it here, that
silver bit, kind of in shadow, is the extension off of the end of the bolt. And we can make this a bit clearer by taking the bolt
assembly out. Now unlike most submachine guns, this disassembles out the front. So the first
thing we have to do is take this plug and lift it up, and then the barrel comes right out. That hole, by the way, is not supposed
to be there. On the top of the barrel is this big hole, which is supposed
to be there. That is a plug into which that pin sits, and that’s what locks the barrel
in position. So we need that in the upward position. Then what we do is pull this up and rotate it and
the bolt will come popping out the front of the gun There it goes. You’ll see why in a moment. So there’s our bolt. It looks like a typical
submachine gun bolt. It does have a fixed firing pin, it does not have any particular safety mechanism to prevent
the bolt from bouncing backward if the gun is dropped. For whatever reason … I haven’t read
any complaints about that. So we have a sear engagement surface here on the bottom. Extractor. It does sit in this configuration because remember,
it’s stripping a cartridge from a top mounted magazine. Extractor’s down here and the ejector is up here. So it’s kicking
empty cases downward out through this ejection port. The main spring is compressed between the bolt
and … the firewall right here. And then this hole… [Let] me back up a sec, let me take
the end-cap off the receiver here. This isn’t really a field strip part, but we can do it. Alright, with this end cap off (and this is
just a tension fit over the back of the tube), now you can see down the tube
and you can see the firewall, right right there, you can sort of see it. Alright, now with a flashlight there, you can
see that firewall in the back of the receiver tube. So this is a full diameter tube from here down and from here down inside the front. There’s just
that block welded about 3/4 of the way back, So what’s going on in there is our charging
handle here slides over the back end of the bolt. This pin locks it into that hole, and that
gives you the solid connection between … the charging handle and the bolt body itself.
The recoil spring is compressed inside here up between the … bolt and the firewall. So when you pull this back, the recoil spring here is
compressing together, and then expanding forward. But dirt that gets in here has … to go around this narrow diameter rod through the firewall to get into the main
working area of the gun. And this is a system that was basically very hygienic in
service, and made for a very reliable gun. Well there you have one completely field stripped Owen Gun. Horribly ugly, but actually a very high quality,
very reliable, very effective fighting submachine gun. In total about 45,500 of these were manufactured
by late 1944, when they stopped production of them. It would … remain the primary Australian
Army submachine gun until the early 1960s, when it was replaced by the F1 submachine gun,
which is kind of like a modification of the Stirling. The F1 was also pretty good. This would see service in Korea, it would see
service in Vietnam. It was well liked everywhere. Unfortunately, the story isn’t quite so happy
for the guys who actually designed it. So the Lysaght works, … Vincent Wardell’s
company, who actually produced this, they did all of the development work early on entirely
self-funded. It was really a patriotic program for them, like we really think we can help the
country and help the military in the war effort by developing this gun and we’ll pay for everything. When the military did adopt it and …
contracted with Lysaght for production, they … allowed them a 4% profit
margin on it, which is pretty minimal. You know, you look at things like the Thompson
Gun, the Thompson had a profit margin of like 300%. This was a tiny, tiny fraction of that. And then they
actually didn’t end up finally paying Lysaght in full until 1947, years after the war. And when all the accounting was
finally said and done, the actual realised profit margin on the Owen Gun for its
manufacturer was 1.5%. So they basically did all of this work at cost. So it did turn
out to be a patriotic project for them, perhaps even more than they had anticipated. As far as Evelyn Owen, he got a one-time payment
of 10,000 pounds for his contributions to the gun. He also, by the way, got out of the army, they
brought him back to take part in the production and supervise and oversee. And to be honest,
he didn’t really contribute a whole lot at that point. But he did get a one-time payment, he had all this
notoriety from, you know, hey local boy does good. He ended up an alcoholic, really quite unhappy,
he put his money into trying to open a lumber mill which didn’t really go all that well,
and he passed away in 1949. So worked great for the Australian Army, not such a happy
ending for everyone else who had been involved, so. That is pretty conclusively the story of the Owen Gun. Unfortunately, this particular one
has a poorly reactivated chamber and is not in firing condition, so
we won’t be able to shoot this one. I remain on the hunt for an Owen Gun that I can
actually take out to the range and shoot for you guys, because we have one piece of really old video
shooting an Owen, and I’d love to get new video on it. At any rate, I do need to give a big thanks to Movie
Armaments Group for letting me take apart their Owen. These are really quite rare guns
worldwide, so that was much appreciated. Hopefully you guys enjoyed the video. Thanks for watching.

100 thoughts on “Local Boy Saves Nation: The Australian Owen SMG

  1. New South Welshman here & I'd pronounce it Ly-sart. Great vid- we can see this in use in Papua in many contemporary videos. The profit margin? We thought we were fighting for our survival whereas the American manufacturers were fighting for profit. No offence intended- it's just how it was & is nothing to do with the fighting man.

  2. Oh, sorry you came into my yard and went through my kids bags to "stumble", across his belongings. Next time please feel free to just walk in the house next time.

  3. Is the right side sight so it lays flat on the left side? I haven't handled one but I imagine a right handed user would tend to lay it down barrel right with the left side down, good for service, transpo, and reducing damage.

  4. Im pretty sure when u took the gun apart by lifting the pin up . The other hole is so you can adjust the sight ?

  5. It's sad that Australia denies its subjects the right to bear arms. 😞 And yes I meant subjects, because citizens are allowed to be armed!

  6. I mean I totally believe this is Australian just by the fact that it looks like it came straight out of Mad Max.

  7. And now we have a country where a man can be arrested for pushing a pram with some drug in their system without a doctors prescription… we are not even communists! and we dont have a dictatorship… democratic and stuff… it is a country that really inspires, you will want to awaken each day and live a full and whole life!

  8. my grandparents lived in a house back in the early 60`s in Blacktown , Sydney, under the floorboards they found the blueprints to this gun

  9. sub-machine gun left leaning on the backyard fence, nowadays in Australia, if they catch you with an air gun, you`re in big trouble

  10. One of the ugliest SMGS?? Us Australians Take it proudly!
    That’s why nearly every country is jealous! Cause we are proud of our country!

  11. Talk about COOL Parents, My parents would NEVER have let me play w/ a subgun haha
    I was lucky to have a BB gun

  12. The complaints about the sten get tiresome. Its as accurate as most SMGs which mean it outshoots most people. Its like its the one gun people know they can shit on without getting called on it. Sights are as good as most SMGs, certainly as good as the Owen being gushed over here. Stens don't break parts, its basically an MP28 reduced to utter simplicity. The mags work although it shares the issue of any single feed mag of being a bitch to load. As for Owens, shot lots of them, I used to work at Armex during its heydey and we had lots of them. They got used all the way through Vietnam and so spare mags have always been hard to find.

  13. Great insight as alway's. Theres a new Australian Vietnam war movie that features the Owen Gun, along with other period correct weaponry. Well worth a look to all the history and firearms buffs https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_E0J11-rB7Q

  14. It just occurred to me the other day this gun has the same basic layout as the aug. could this be one of the reasons why the ADF adopted the aug as the standard service rifle?

  15. As an Australian, over the course of one's life, you can't help but hear one thing or another concerning the Owen Gun, by more than a few World War II veterans, especially by those very unfortunate Vets serving in Theatre, South-East Asia, and more especially New Guinea, eg. Kokoda Trail. One could easily assert the Owen Gun was specifically designed for places such as the latter, mud, dirt, water and anything else you could imagine, that any other weapon of this type would, with ease jam and become dysfunctional at the worst possible moment, not so with the Owen. This "ugly lump of metal" as you all so flippantly describe it, saved many, many lives. There is no point continuing to praise it, as others have more than adequately done so. I thought it appropriate however to re-tell a tale of Mr. Owen. As has already been described toward the very end of his life his alcoholism left him pretty much destitute and penniless. Whilst absent from his lodgings, such as they were, a thief happened upon his residence, the only thing observed to be of any value was an old radio, wireless as they were better known back in the day. Naturally the thief stole it, through various meetings and chats, the thief found out to whom said radio belonged. Whatever time between the initial theft and what was to follow is unknown, the thief had himself served in Sout-East Asia, and yes you guessed it, carried the Owen Gun, which itself had served above and beyond. The thief, when the time was right, returned the radio to Own's house. With it he left a scribbled note, apologising profusely, and offered his most heart felt gratitude for the many times Owen's gun had doubtless saved his and the lives of many others. Whether there is any truth to this story, to me is irrelevant, however I like to think it really was true.

  16. Typical Australian army. A bunch of tight miserable buggers. They used to starve their own troops even in Vietnam. The Americans took pity on our blokes and would give them US C rations which were greatly appreciated by our fellas.

    I bet there were a lot of scared rabbits around the Owens farm lol.

  17. Kids in Australia made SMG’s in the 1930’s

    Kids in Australia today cant own Paintball guns, Airsoft guns or own firearms as we get older. 😕

  18. Let’s go Australia

    Also…. kinda want to try make my own one XD just to see if I can engineer one similar on our farm

  19. There seems to be a bit of culture in Australia when it comes to passing along good ideas. In America, if a creative inventor comes up with a good design and no one buys it, they'll lock it away never to be seen again. Whereas in Australia, it seems more common for the the inventor to give the design away for free to someone that can actually do something with it.

    While I understand that wasn't EXACTLY the case here, I've met a few 3D printing enthusiasts that literally gave away designs to elaborate devices, simply because they had no interest in selling the products themselves. Just something interesting to note.

  20. Nothing about this gun had anything to do with saving the nation of Australia nor about changing the military history of the nation. It was an ugly gun and exploited for propaganda.

  21. The reason why those sites were on the right hand side was because they wanted the charging handle to be on the right hand side and then making the sights on the left-hand side would’ve made the gun even wider also for a right handed person hitting the dirt with something sticking out to the left-hand side that would’ve ended up sticking them in the face or in the chest. So you ended up with a weapon that was about an inch and a quarter narrower by having it on the right.

  22. "he goofed around, building himself an automatic submachine gun." Goddamn, when I was a kid I could barely build a Lego set.

  23. Without the stock the thing looks like a naked bearing 9, that’s probably just me but oh well. A lot of things are just me😂

  24. CANEL Nine sunday show did a special on him we requested a copey but they refused i would have paid good money as mum was at churchwhen it played war is eviland the people who start them

  25. wardell didnt own lysaghts, lysaghts was a part of the steel works (AIS-Australian Iron & Steel at the time) and was mainly responsible for making tin products such as roofing iron, so the owen gun was made there after an aerea was set up for the manufacture and the area is locally known, specially by those who worked there even some 40yrs later like myself, as the pickle line, and it was only done so after some prtacted negotiations by own and co and the army etc. The beauty of this gun is that it could be buried in mud, dirt, uunder water for any period of time and immediately be used without having to clean it, and could also be fired within those environments…owen lived in dapto NSW and the steelworks was located in Port Kembla, a short drive away

  26. Double stack, double feed magazine. If this magazine was used in a redesigned sten gun you would have…… a straight magazine sterling.

  27. Thanks for posting this vid on a great weapon. My father carried one of these in New Guinea during WW11 and always spoke of it fondly.

  28. The £10,000 Owen received in 1946 is roughly US$480,000 today, so he didn't do too bad. Sad that he suffered from alcoholism & his investment failed.

  29. This Aussie Sub-machine gun has got to be one of the coolest guns ever made. I love how the magazine is loaded from the top, very useful when fighting in the prone position. I also admire the reliability and simple design. Also the pistol and forward are years ahead of there time.

  30. I hope the kid lived long enough to see the base of his gun appear in the hands to the soldiers around him.

  31. Just another story of patriotic ppl trying to help their country in its time if need, just for their country to completely fucc them over! 🤦‍♂️🤦‍♂️🤦‍♂️🤦‍♂️😑😑.. almost sounds like America💯💯🤦‍♂️🤦‍♂️🤦‍♂️

  32. Cleaver firearms in Brisbane has three of these suckers up on the wall on display. I'd say from the beaten up look, the proper colour camo paint and missing parts on one they are all original too.

  33. Interesting that you didn’t hear stories about drop safety – my grandfather (2nd AIF) would tell a story about a officer who banged his Owen on a rock and it discharged straight up through his head (imagine going up an rocky incline). I don’t remember many particulars about the story but that stood out as you talked about this interesting firearm, they got a inexpensive firearm working but it was perhaps one corner cut too far.

  34. I would assume cost played a huge part in why this was selected over the MP-40? In seems like that's the only way that it would be superior.

  35. Unfortunately the Australian government is run by complete cucks and took away everyones firearms and destroyed a lot of valuable historical pieces and family heirlooms.

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