Owen Gun

The Owen Gun, which was known officially as the Owen Machine Carbine, was an Australian submachine gun designed by Evelyn (Evo) Owen in 1939. The Owen was the only entirely Australian-designed and main service submachine gun of World War II and was used by the Australian Army from 1943 until the mid-1960s.

Owen Gun
Class Manportable
Type Machine Guns
Manufacturer Lysaght
Production Period 1942 - 1944
Origin Australia
Country Name Origin Year
Australia 1942
Country Name Operational Year Retirement Year
Australia 1942 View
Indonesia View
Laos View
Netherlands View
United Kingdom - UK (Great Britain) View
United States of America View
Zimbabwe (Rhodesia) View
New Zealand View
ManufacturerName Production From Production To Quantity
Lysaght 1942 1944 45000 View

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 drilled with 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 9×19mm 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.

Type Submachine gun
Place of origin Australia
Service history
In service 1942–1960s
Wars World War II
Malayan Emergency
Korean War
Vietnam War
Laotian Civil War
Rhodesian Bush War
Production history
Designer Evelyn Owen
Designed 1931–1939
Manufacturer Lysaght’s Works
Produced 1942–1944
Number built ~45,000
Weight 4.21 kg (9.28 lb)
Length 806 mm (31.7 in)
Barrel length 247 mm (9.72 in)
Cartridge 9×19mm Parabellum
Action blowback, open bolt
Rate of fire 700 rounds/min
Muzzle velocity 420 m/s (1,380 ft/s)
Effective firing range 123 metres (135 yd)
Feed system 33-round detachable magazine
Sights Iron sights

End notes