A British AK 47 – a STEN gun’s (very incomplete) story

RICHARD MADDOX

LOOK AT ANY NEWS PICTURE OF ARMED ‘INSURGENTS’ – or ‘terrorists’ or ‘freedom fighters, depending who is telling the story and you will see it.

Watch most ‘action’ films (movies) or play many video games and it will probably be there.

THE ICONIC KALASHNIKOV AUTOMATIC RIFLE (1947) automatic rifle 1947. This example was captured from insurgents during the 1964-1967 Aden Emergency. IWM catalogue reference FIR 6129. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30029320.

THE ICONIC KALASHNIKOV AUTOMATIC RIFLE (1947) automatic rifle 1947. This example was captured from insurgents during the 1964-1967 Aden Emergency. IWM catalogue reference FIR 6129. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30029320.

Its characteristic banana-shaped magazine gives it away.

The Kalishnikov automatic rifle 1947 (Автомат Калашниова 1947) was designed by Russian soldier Mikhail Timofeyevich Kalashnikov while recovering in hospital in 1941. (1)

The weapon he produced – simply designed, rugged and easy to use – essential qualities in the huge Soviet army became its standard infantry rifle in 1949. Since then it has been copied – both legally and illegally – to the extent that there are estimates of up to 100,000,000 individual weapons produced in the last 70 years. (2)

But before the AK 47 was the British STEN gun.

Designed in the aftermath of the British evacuation of Dunkirk – when tons of equipment from aircraft to small arms and around 40,000 British troops as well as their French and Belgian comrades-in-arms – it was named after its two designers and the place it was first manufactured (Major Reginald Shepherd, Mr Harold Turpin and the Royal Ordnance Factory, Enfield, Essex, England). (3)

The weapon was envisaged as cheap and easy to manufacture, rugged and simple to use.

Its size made it easy to drop by RAF supply aircraft and once received relatively easy to hide.

It could also fire German ammunition – useful if any was stolen from German sources.

In fact the Germans produced a version of the STEN.

The MP 3008 was seen as an inexpensive and easy to operate weapon for the Volkssturm – the German home defence force – in the final months of the Second World War.(4)

More than 4 million STENs were produced. (5)

Like the AK 47 the design was copied and modified.

THIS UNOFFICALLTHIS UNOFFICALLY MODIFIED example of the British STEN gun was seized from members of EOKA (Ethnikí Orgánosis Kipriakoú Agónos - The National Organisation of Cypriot Struggle) during the Cyprus Emergency of 1955-1959. IWM catalogue reference FIR 6163. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30029340.Y MODIFIED example of the British STEN gun was seized from members of EOKA (Ethnikí Orgánosis Kipriakoú Agónos - The National Organisation of Cypriot Struggle) during the Cyprus Emergency of 1955-1959. It was found to have been used in an attack on the Kyrenia police station on 8 September 1956. IWM catalogue reference FIR 6163. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30029340.

THIS UNOFFICIALLY MODIFIED example of the British STEN gun was seized from members of EOKA (Ethnikí Orgánosis Kipriakoú Agónos – The National Organisation of Cypriot Struggle) during the Cyprus Emergency of 1955-1959. IWM catalogue reference FIR 6163. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30029340.

EOKA was formed to end the British presence in Cyprus and sought Enosis, that is to ally the island – which has a mixed Turkish and Greek Cypriot population – with mainland Greece.

A particular source of friction was the presence of a variety of British military facilities on the island.

In 1960 Cyprus ceased to be a British Crown Colony and became a republic and the Republic of Cyprus,  Britain, Greece and Turkey agreed that it should be administered jointly as Protectorate. At this time British Sovereign Base Areas (SBAs) were formed.

This would in turn – like so many civil wars – spark division and armed conflict between the two different heritages on the island.

Following a coup by the Cypriot National Guard with the co-operation of a military government on mainland Greece overthrew the Cypriot government, aiming to bring about Enosis.

This prompted the Turkish military invasion of the island in 1974, and Turkey claimed jurisdiction over an area in the north of the island, now known as Northern Turkey.

Today the island is still divided by the ‘Green Line’ – first established in 1963 – in an attempt to ease tension between the two communities. (6)

Since the 1974 Turkish action it has become a demilitarised separation zone which is patrolled by a UNFICYP, a United Nations Peacekeeping force. (7) (8) (9) (10) (11)

The STEN gun shown above was used by members of EOKA in an attack on the police station at Kyrenia in the north of the island on 8 September 1956.

It has been modified with a replacement cocking handle and the magazine housing fixed so it could not be rotated.

For EOKA police stations represented not only British authority but also a place where locally engaged policemen – ‘enemy’ Turkish Cypriot and ‘treacherous’ Greek Cypriots – operated from.

With weapons scarce EOKA carried out raids on British military and police facilities with the aim of acquiring them.

Sadly IWM’s collection has a number of weapons that were stolen from either British or other sources and used in attacks on the security forces in Cyprus, as well as a number of home-made guns and other improvised arms.

Sources

(1)https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/russia/kalashnikov.htm – retrieved 6 March 2019.

(2) https://www.oxfam.org/sites/www.oxfam.org/files/ak-47.pdf – retrieved 6 March 2019.

(3) https://medium.com/war-is-boring/the-world-war-ii-sten-gun-was-cheap-and-dirty-42767cfe2513 – retrieved 6 March 2019.

(4) https://www.militaryfactory.com/smallarms/detail.asp?smallarms_id=668 – retrieved 6 March 2019.

(5) http://norfolktankmuseum.co.uk/sten-machine-carbine/ – retrieved 6 March 2019.

(6) https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/europe/cy-green-line.htm – retrieved 6 March 2019.

(7) https://www.lonelyplanet.com/cyprus/travel-tips-and-articles/tracing-history-across-nicosias-green-line/40625c8c-8a11-5710-a052-1479d27689e5 – retrieved 6 March 2019.

(8) https://peacekeeping.un.org/en/mission/unficyp – retrieved 6 March 2019.

(9) http://blogs.reuters.com/photographers-blog/2014/04/10/los-in-time-the-cyprus-buffer-zone/ – retrieved 6 March 2019.

(10) https://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2014/04/frozen-in-time-the-cyprus-buffer-zone/100714/ – retrieved 6 March 2019.

(11) https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/what-caused-the-division-of-the-island-of-cyprus – retrieved 6 March 2019.

Italy’s Resistance Fighters

Richard Maddox

WEARING HIS fazzoletto rosso – the red neckerchief often associated with the Brigate Garibaldi (Garibaldi Brigade) resistance units – and an arm band in the Italian national colours, the anti-Fascist partisan is seen in an image captured by British Army Captain Alfred Reuben Tanner, an official photographer.

The Brigate Garibaldi units were mainly composed of individuals with Communist and left-wing ideals or sympathies, many of whom had fought in the Spanish Civil War against Generalissimo Francisco Franco’s Nationalist forces which were supported by the German-equipped and manned Legion Condor.

An Italian anti-Fascist partisan in Florence on 14 August 1944 pausing during operations to clear snipers that were covering the evacuation of German forces from the city, which had begun three days before. Image by Captain A R Tanner. Image Copyright © IWM. IWM Catalogue reference TR 2282. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205124003.

An Italian anti-Fascist partisan in Florence on 14 August 1944 pausing during operations to clear snipers that were covering the evacuation of German forces from the city, which had begun three days before. Image by Captain A R Tanner. Image Copyright © IWM. IWM Catalogue reference TR 2282. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205124003.

As in other countries in Occupied Europe – and indeed in Germany itself – there were many resistance groups spanning the political spectrum from communists to monarchists, from factory workers to priests.

And again as in some counties (such as France where Résistance groups were hunted by conventional German forces and the Milice, who were French nationals), the local anti-fascist partisans were mirrored by Italians who supported the Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.

Following the deposition of Mussolini in July 1943, the Allied invasion of Italy the subsequent establishment of the Social Republic by the German military occupation of northern and central Italy, King Victor Emmanuel III signed the Cassabile Armistice in September 1943.

This ended the military alliance with Germany and Italy’s part in the war against the Allies and Italy entered a bitter civil war as well as joining the Allied cause against Hitler’s Germany.

The newly formed Co-Belligerent forces worked with the Allies and anti-Fascist partisan groups against their countrymen in what was now called the National Republican Army of the Italian Socialist Republic, in much the same way as French Vichy forces and the Germans were opposed by Free French units wiorking alongside Allied military.

In both countries two wars were being fought, one against the German occupier and another – often more brutal – against fellow countrymen.

But unlike France where the enmities of eighty years ago – although still present – are covered with layers of time, those in Italy are nearer the surface.

The image of the partisan is still very powerful in the Italy of today.

A contemporary image painted on a garage door in Via del Prattello in the west of Bologna showing Brigate Garibaldi partisans. Image Copyright © R. Maddox 2019. image painted on a garage door in Via del Prattello in the west of Bologna showing Brigate Garibaldi partisans. Image Copyright © R. Maddox 2019.

A contemporary image painted on a garage door in Via del Prattello in the west of Bologna showing Brigate Garibaldi partisans. Image Copyright © R. Maddox 2019.

In the city of Bologna – a place awarded the country’s Medaglia d’Oro per Valore Militare for its part in the Second World War – some 2052 individual partigiani are commemorated on a single memorial in the centre of the city.

The spot – called the Sacrario and located outside the Sala Borsa in the Piazza del Nettuno – is where starting on 9 July 1944, the bodies of resistants were exhibited as a warning to the general population.

After the city was liberated it became a place of rememberance as people placed flowers and photographs of those they had lost during Bologna’s war.

Images of some of those commemorated on the Sacario in Bologna glimpsed through the protective barriers erected to enable the memorial to be repaired. Image Copyright © R. Maddox 2019.

On 25 April this year, on the eve of the national Liberation Day, this and other memorials in Italy – often erected in the immediate post-war years – were vandalised with those on the political left and right blaming each other for these acts. (1)

Very close by in the Piazza del Nettuno is a memorial to the Bologna Centrale railway station terrorist attack which killed more than 80 and wounded almost 200 people when a bomb placed in a suitcase exploded at 10.25 on 2 August 1980.

The bombing was been attributed to the Nuclei Armati Rivoluzionari a fascist group. (2)

A number of its members were jailed for the attack although the NAR denied responsibitity.

In August 2019 it was proposed that a new enquiry be tasked with clarifying which group or groups had carried out the attack. (3)

Sources

(1) https://www.thelocal.it/20190426/memorials-to-italian-resistance-vandalized-on-liberation-day

(2) https://www.efe.com/efe/english/life/hundreds-mark-anniversary-of-train-station-bombing-in-italy-s-bologna/50000263-3709296

(3) https://www.thelocal.it/20190802/bologna-massacre-38-years-on-questions-remain

No. 75 Squadron’s ‘Soda Siphon’ Wellington bomber – a little about Pilot Officer Ted Wilcox and photographer P H F ‘Bill’ Tovey.

Richard Maddox

No. 75 (NZ) SQUADRON RAF has the distinction of being the first Commonwealth squadron created by the RAF during the Second World War.

In May 1938 the new Royal New Zealand Air Force placed an order with Vickers Armstrong for 30 Wellington bombers and sent air and ground crew to England to be trained on the aircraft. The aircraft would then be ferried back to New Zealand in flights of six. The first of these flights – covering 13000 miles – was planned to leave Britain on 1 October 1939.

After Britain declared war on Germany on 3 September 1939, the New Zealand government very generously offered the aircraft and crews to the RAF. (1)

Vickers Wellington 1C R1162 AA-Y was probably attached to the No.75 (NZ) Squadron RAF in December 1940. (2)

The aircraft’s first operation flight was the night of 1 January 1941 against Bremen. Flying as the rear gunner was Pilot Officer E T (Ted) Wilcox. (3)

Wilcox was already an experienced airman on his way to completing his operational tour of 25 missions. Before he did so Ted – a commercial artist by training – created a unique piece of artwork for R1162.

The reason why a soda siphon was chosen to be painted on the aircraft has been lost. But the artwork stayed with the aircraft while it served on the squadron.

R1162 flew 24 missions with No.75 (NZ) Squadron RAF.

VICKERS WELLINGTON 1C R1162 AA-Y of No. 75 (New Zealand) Squadron RAF at Feltwell, Norfolk, showing its unusual nose art - an 'RAF' soda-syphon spraying bombs. Image Copyright © IWM. IWM Catalogue reference CH 2718. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205210064.

VICKERS WELLINGTON 1C R1162 AA-Y of No. 75 (New Zealand) Squadron RAF at Feltwell, Norfolk, showing its unusual nose art – an ‘RAF’ soda-syphon spraying bombs. Image Copyright © IWM. IWM Catalogue reference CH 2718. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205210064.

The image is credited to Mr P H F Tovey, who although credited as an offical RAF photographer is not given a rank.

This is almost certainly because before his call-up he was a press photographer working for a British national newspaper and was classified as ‘CC’- a non-specialist civilian in RAF employment, who when he was mobilised would be commissioned. (4) 

In 1941 he is shown as a Pilot Officer in the RAF Reserve, class ‘CC’ in the Air Force List with a seniority of 25 September 1941. (5) 

Given this, he was probably aged about 40 as the National Services (Armed Forces Act) required men of this age to register for military service in June 1941. (6) 

A man with the last name of Tovey and the initials P H F served in the First World War as a Lieutenant in the British Army’s Middlesex Regiment and was awarded the Military Cross in 1919. (7) 

He stayed with the Army after the conflict and was granted the rank of Captain in the same regiment in 1921. (8) 

At some point P H F ‘Bill’ Tovey became a professional photographer and covered the Spanish Civil War in 1936 for the British ‘Daily Express‘ newspaper.

According to his memoir ‘Action with a Click‘ published in 1940 he had come across faked war scenes for the international press to photograph.

Upon being told this by a Francoist official, he resolved to expose the fakery but was recalled to London before he could do so. (9) 

Interestingly the ‘Soda Siphon’ image and much of his work in the care of IWM is shot on glass plates – a method considered old fashioned even in 1939.

Ted Wilcox was posted from No. 75 (NZ) Squadron on 2 February 1941. Initially he went to No. 18 Operational Training Unit RAF and then joined No. 27 Operational Training Unit RAF at RAF Litchfield in April 1941.

Four months later in August 1941 R1162 was also assigned to No. 27 OTU. (10)

On the night of 25 June 1942 the aircraft took part in the third ‘One Thousand Bomber’ raid on Bremen and failed to return. (11) (12)

It was one of 23 aircraft from No. 27 OTU that was lost that night. (13)

Further information

For much, much more on Ted Howell’s service career and the ‘Soda Syphon’ see the following link –

https://75nzsquadron.wordpress.com/2019/06/06/pilot-officer-ted-wilcox-and-the-famous-soda-siphon-spitting-bombs/ – retrieved 13 June 2019.

Sources

(1) https://75nzsquadron.wordpress.com/the-new-zealand-squadron-june-august-1939/ – retrieved 13 June 2019.

(2) https://75nzsquadron.wordpress.com/wellington/ – retrieved 13 June 2019.

(3) https://75nzsquadronremembered.wordpress.com/1941-2/ – retrieved 13 June 2019.

(4) https://www.rafmuseum.org.uk/documents/Research/RAF-Historical-Society-Journals/Journal-29A-Seminar-Reserve-Auxiliary-Forces.pdf – retrieved 13 June 2019.

(5) https://digital.nls.uk/british-military-lists/archive/96301386 – retrieved 13 June 2019.

(6) http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/timeline/factfiles/nonflash/a1138664.shtml – retrieved 13 June 2019.

(7) https://ww1.alleyns.org.uk/boys-t-v/tovey-phf – retrieved 13 June 2019.

(8) https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/32507/supplement/8710/data.pdf – retrieved 13 June 2019.

(9) http://www.photographers.it/articoli/cd_capa/img/fallingsoldier2007.pdf – retrieved 13 June 2019.

(10) https://75nzsquadronremembered.wordpress.com/1941-2/ – retrieved 13 June 2019.

(11) https://aviation-safety.net/wikibase/wiki.php?id=205304 – retrieved 13 June 2019.

(12) https://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20070706054659/http://www.raf.mod.uk/bombercommand/jun42.html – retrieved 13 June 2019.

(13) https://75nzsquadron.wordpress.com/tag/r1162-aa-y/ – retrieved 13 June 2019.