The Lanchester Mark I Submachine Gun: Stolen Designs, Done Right

Following the evacuation of Dunkirk in 1940, the prevailing attitude in Great Britain was one of panic as many believed the advancing Nazis stood poised to invade England at any moment.

This being the case, the Royal Air Force decided to quickly adopt a fresh submachine gun for airfield defense and with no time to spare for the development of something new or revolutionary, the Brits turned to an unlikely source of inspiration—their enemies— making copies of the German MP 28 for their own use. The RAF called little-known gun the Lanchester Mark 1 and times proved so desperate, that the British Admiralty joined the airforce and ordered copies for their own use.

Thanks for the Machine Gun Design, Chaps

The British copy of the German weapon was named after George H. Lanchester who was in charge of producing the gun at the Sterling Armament Company in Dagenham, England. It actually emerged from its British development program as an excellent firearm and sturdy enough for the rough use by boarding and raiding parties of the Royal Navy.

While it was an unabashed copy of the German MP 28 design, a few typically British refinements were added during its production run from 1941 to 1945. A catch on the top of the receiver aided field stripping and was a prominent feature on the very first model, officially known as the Machine Carbine Lanchester 9mm Mark 1.  A mounting rig was attached on the muzzle for long-bladed British bayonets and the rifling differed from the German gun in order to accommodate the different type of ammunition fired by the Lanchester: 9×19mm Parabellum versus 7.63×25mm Mauser.

The STEN Gun’s Wealthy Brother?

As opposed to its direct contemporary, the STEN gun, (which was manufactured expressly on the cheap with the end goal of simply producing as many functional weapons as possible), the Lanchester, meant for highly trained military men guarding airstrips and for close quarters combat on the water, was a masterfully built weapon, machined from some of the finest materials a resource strapped Britain could muster.

The Lanchester had a well-machined, one piece wooden buttstock based on the outline of the Lee-Enfield Number 1 Mark 3 rifle and its blowback mechanism was legendary, especially when held up against to the notoriously fickle STEN gun.  The submachine gun had very few moving parts, mitigating the chance of malfunctions in the field and its breech block was of machined metal and the magazine housing was fabricated from solid brass. Because of this the weapon was, to say the very least, strong but this also meant it was a heavy gun and, consequently, not well liked by everyone.

Like the STEN gun and other submachine guns of the day, the Lanchester’s magazine was loaded horizontally and held 50 rounds, capable of firing either single shots or fully automatic.  As the war raged, some production model Mark 1s saw conversion to full-automatic only fire, though most models retained the two options. Its rate of fire was right around 600 rounds per minute, with a muzzle velocity in the 1,200 feet per second range. Its overall length was 33.5 inches, and it had a eight-inch barrel.  Over 93,000 were produced.

WWII Service Record

In spite of its relative obscurity, by all accounts the Lanchester had an outstanding service record with the Royal Navy throughout the war years, with the very last example leaving the military in the early 1960s. The only apparent drawback to the weapon according to those who have experience using it, was that if the weapon were loaded and cocked, ready to fire, and the weapon were given a hard knock or jar, the weapon had the potential to discharge. Aside from that little disconcerting bit of information, it was an excellent firearm, eventually exported to the Canadian military.


Today it is a collector’s item, though you’re more likely to find one at auctions in the United Kingdom of Canada than the United States. That said, I have seen examples at gun shows here in the states sell for about $200 and with the Internet, all things are possible. That really is a bargain price to pay for such a unique weapon, one that is sure to go up in value in the years ahead.

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