The Owen machine carbine was a submachine gun of Australian origin.
The Owen submachine gun was rejected at first, because before WW2 the Australian Army like the British didn't see the tactical advantage of an SMG. When WW2 began, the Owen was reconsidered. It went into production about mid 1941, with about 50,000 produced by 1945. The Owen was the most reliable submachine gun of WW2 as it was highly ergonomic/ambidextrous, maintainable, cost effective, simple, rugged in harsh environments and notably outed the Sten/Austen, Thompson, Sterling and MP40 in 1943 trials. Later on it saw use in the Korean war, the Malayan emergency and Vietnam. In 1963, the Owen was officially replaced by the F1 Submachine Gun.
In 2004, A raid against illegal weapons was conducted against a underground weapons factory in Melbourne. Many of the Guns seized were newly manufactured Owens, with built in suppressors. It is thought that these guns would be directed to be sold to gangs with connections to the drug trade.
Owen, an inventor from Wollongong, was 24 years old in July 1939 when he demonstrated his prototype .22 calibre "Machine Carbine" to Australian Army ordnance officers at Victoria Barracks in Sydney. The gun was rejected for two reasons. The first was because the Australian army, at the time, did not recognise the value of submachine guns. The second was the basic construction of the prototype was completely unsuited as a military weapon, especially as it lacked a proper trigger or any safety device, was of small calibre, and the "magazine" was effectively a giant revolver cylinder which could not be exchanged to reload. Following the outbreak of war, Owen joined the Australian Army as a private.
In September 1940, Owen's neighbour, Vincent Wardell, discovered Owen's prototype in a sugar bag. Wardell was manager of a large steel products factory at Port Kembla. He showed it to Owen's father who was distressed at his son’s carelessness, but explained the history of the weapon. Wardell was impressed by the simplicity of Owen's design. Wardell arranged to have Owen transferred to the Army Inventions Board, to re-commence work on the gun. The army continued to view the weapon in a negative light, but the government took an increasingly favourable view. The prototype was equipped with a "magazine" which consisted of a steel ring made from a harmonic balancer drilled with 44 holes for .22 cartridges, and this was revolved through the action using the power of a gramophone spring. This arrangement later gave way to a top-mounted box magazine. This better allowed shooting while prone. The choice of calibre took some time to be settled. As large quantities of Colt .45 ACP cartridges were available, it was decided to adopt the Owen Gun for it. Official trials were organised, and the John Lysaght factory made three versions in 9×19mm, .38-200 and .45 ACP. Sten and Thompson submachine guns were used as benchmarks. As part of the testing, all of the guns were immersed in mud and covered with sand to simulate the harshest environments in which they would be used. The Owen was the only gun that still operated after the treatment. Although the test showed the Owen's capability, the army could not decide on a calibre, and it was only after intervention from the higher levels of government that the army ordered the 9 mm variant. During the gun's life, its reliability earned it the nickname "Digger's Darling" by Australian troops and it was rumoured to be highly favoured by US troops. General Douglas MacArthur proposed placing an order for some 45,000.
The Owen went into production at the John Lysaght factories at Port Kembla and Newcastle. Between March 1942 and February 1943, Lysaght's produced 28,000 Owen Guns. However, the initial batch of ammunition turned out to be the wrong type and 10,000 of the guns could not be supplied with ammunition. Once again the government overrode military bureaucracy, and took the ammunition through the final production stages and into the hands of Australian troops, at that time fighting Japanese forces in New Guinea. Approximately 45,000 Owens were produced from 1942 to 1944. During the war the average cost to manufacture the Owen submachine gun was $30. Although it was somewhat bulky, the Owen became very popular with soldiers because of its reliability. It was so successful that it was also ordered by the United States and New Zealand. New Zealanders fighting in the Guadacanal and Solomon Islands campaigns swapped their Thompson submachine guns for Owens, as they found the Australian weapons to be more reliable. The Owen was later used by Australian troops in the Korean and Vietnam Wars, particularly the scouts in infantry sections. It remained a standard weapon of the Australian Army until the mid-1960s, when it was replaced by the F1 submachine gun. The gun was also used in Malaya by British troops, and was among their favourites for jungle fighting.
The Owen has a simple blowback design, firing from an open bolt. It was designed to be fired either from the shoulder or the hip. It is easily recognisable, owing to its unconventional appearance, including the top-mounted magazine, and the side-mounted sight required to allow the firer to aim past it. The placement of the magazine allows gravity to assist the magazine spring in pushing cartridges down to the breech, which improves feeding reliability. Another unusual feature is the separate compartment inside the receiver, which isolates the small-diameter bolt from its retracting handle by means of a small bulkhead. This prevents dirt and mud from jamming the bolt, and makes the Owen a highly reliable weapon. Foreign dirt entering the gun would collect at the back of the receiver, where it will drain or be expelled out through a small opening. When tested, the Owen gun was able to continue firing despite being dipped in mud and drenched with sand, while a Sten gun and a Thompson also tested stopped functioning at once. In jungle warfare where both mud and sand were frequent problems, the Owen gun was highly regarded by the soldiers. To facilitate cleaning, the ejector is built into the magazine, rather than the body of the gun. This allows the barrel to be removed rapidly, by pulling up a spring-loaded plunger in front of the magazine housing. After removing the barrel, the bolt and return spring are removed in a forward direction, completely dismantling the gun. Like the Sten, and Austen, the Owen had a non-folding wire buttstock, but also had pistol grips.
Prototype .22 Owen Sub-machine Gun. There are no markings on this weapon which appears to have been made from a semi-automatic .22 calibre rifle. The wooden stock has been cut down to behind the magazine slot and a wood pistol grip attached. The trigger mechanism, bolt and magazine are missing. There are no sights. Two slotted, cheese head screws have been remanufactured by the Australian War Memorial Objects Laboratory to bolt the stock and action together. This weapon was supposedly made in Wollongong by a friend of Evelyn Owen, the inventor of the Owen Sub-machine gun. It came to be known when Mr Kevin Smith of Sydney, New South Wales was researching his book The Owen Gun Files, published 1994.
The early prototype was made mainly from .22 rifle parts, had an unusual cylinder made from a harmonic balancer operated by a coil spring from a gramophone that takes 44 cartridges and had a trigger made from a piece of spring steel above the stock wrist.
Experimental Owen Sub-machine Gun. It has a wooden butt and pistol grip but the foregrip is a dark red plastic screwed to the barrel. The .32 calibre barrel with its muzzle compensator is held in place by a spring clip on the underside of the action body although there is a provision for it be held in place with a threaded sleeve. The magazine, that takes 30 rounds, is mounted on the left side and is angled towards the rear. The butt and trigger mechanism can be released by a spring clip on the right side of the action body.
Experimental Owen sub-machine gun fourth model. The trigger assembly is stamped OWEN .38 LYSAGHT P.K. PATENT PENDING 4. The action and barrel are similar to the third model with the cocking handle and magazine slot on the top of the action. The calibre is .38 inch. The butt is wood and has Lee-Enfield sling swivels attached to the left side and front pistol grip. A web sling is attached to the swivels. The two pistol grips are made from a brown 'plastic' compound. The sights are offset to the right.
Experimental Owen Sub-machine Gun. This weapon has no markings. The action has the cocking handle and the magazine feed on the top necessitating offset sights to the right. The barrel is in .45 inch calibre, which is secured to the action by a spring loaded locking pin, and has a fluted knox form and a muzzle compensator. The butt is wood and the two pistol grips are made from brown 'plastic' compound. The barrel is made from a Martini Henry rifle barrel.