In the August issue, I wrote about the Sten gun. Now I’ll examine the Century International Arms semiauto version of the weapon that replaced the Sten—the Sterling. I think most British troops who used the Sten and then the Sterling would have rated the Sterling an improvement.
Although the Sterling was initially designed in 1944, it was not adopted by the British Army until 1951 and didn’t really start coming into service (as the L2A1) until 1953, at least partially because there were so many Stens still in service.
A 9x19mm blowback design, the Sterling incorporates a folding stock, selector switch, bolt with helical cuts to carry dirt and fouling out of the chamber (thus increasing reliability), and 34-round curved magazine that employs a pair of rollers on the follower to reduce friction and improve reliability. Reliability was quite good with the Sterling and, given that it fires from an open bolt, so was accuracy.
There was also a suppressed version of the Sterling designated the L34A1. Prior to the introduction of the HK MP5SD, the L34A1 was the most widely used suppressed SMG among special ops units, and still remains in service with some. It is known for being very quiet and reliable. In fact, a friend who was with the Rhodesian Selous Scouts and then the South African Recce Commandos used one on cross-border ops and recalled that when taking out sentries, all he heard were the African night sounds and the bolt operating. I actually have done a lot more shooting with the L34A1 than with non-suppressed Sterlings and found the same to be true.
I hadn’t shot a Sterling for some years but recently had a chance to test the semi-auto Sterling Type II carbine from Century Arms. The Type II has a full-length barrel shroud, which covers the 16.25-inch barrel, while the Type I version leaves the extended barrel sticking out of the standard-length barrel shroud. The Type I would be best for someone planning to register it as an SBR, but for use with the 16.25-inch barrel, I find the full-length shroud much more aesthetically pleasing. I would also make the point that if a canvas sleeve were fabricated for the Type II Sterling and slid over the extended barrel shroud, the carbine would look very much like an L34A1.
I try to test as many semi-auto SMG or LMG kit guns as I can because I find them interesting, and I know a lot of readers have considered purchasing one or more. I have returned a few without reviewing them because they performed so poorly, but each one I’ve tested from Century Arms has performed well. The problems that generally arise in reliability with some kit guns are related to conversion from an open-bolt SMG to a closed-bolt semi-auto carbine, or feed problems. The conversion from full-auto to semi-auto also sometimes results in an extremely heavy trigger pull.
I found none of these problems with the Century Arms Sterling Type II. In fact, I would rate it the best of the semiauto kit carbines I’ve tested and certainly my favorite among them. I’ve now put 400 rounds through it in three sessions and it has functioned almost 100% reliably. I had two malfunctions early on because I hadn’t lubricated the carbine when I unpacked it, but a few drops of oil and it ran fine. I also had one malfunction because I didn’t pull the cocking handle all the way to the rear. As with other semi-auto closed-bolt carbine conversions, it takes some effort to pull the bolt back.
At 9.15 pounds, the carbine is a little heavy, but not too bad if held properly: don’t grasp the magazine, but place the support hand on the barrel shroud. This allows the carbine to balance better— though not as well as a true Sterling SMG with 7.7-inch barrel—but also does not adversely affect reliability as using the magazine as a gripping point can do. Trigger pull is pretty good, which is exceptional for an open- to closed-bolt conversion.
The under-folding stock takes a little bit of knowledge to manipulate. When it is folded, a latch affixes to a cut in the barrel shroud. This latch is released by rotating the buttstock. Opening and locking the stock into place requires three manipulations, two of which must be performed simultaneously. To lock the stock in place, a catch on the bottom of the receiver and a button on the receiver’s end cap must be depressed. Then the butt plate can be pulled into the locked position. When collapsing the stock, the butt plate must first be folded by depressing a spring inside it, then the opening procedure is reversed. If you take it slowly and do it a few times, it becomes quite simple to open or close the stock.
Sights are rudimentary, consisting of a front post and flip-up rear with apertures for 100 and 200 yards. They’re quite usable and fast to acquire. And they were close to on with 124-grain NATO 9x19mm ammo. The selector switch located on the left side in front of the pistol grip may be operated comfortably with the thumb of the shooting hand.
I was especially impressed with the accuracy of the Sterling Type II. A friend shot a 25-yard, five-shot, one-inch group on a bullseye target with it. At 50 yards, I fired half a magazine at a police silhou-ette target and put them all in the neck/ chin area. I also did quite a bit of firing at hanging plates, mostly between 15 and 50 yards, but a few rounds at 100 yards.
Given that balance on the Sterling with the extended barrel and shroud isn’t optimum, I did really well. Finding the exact placement for the support hand was a big aid in balance—a few inches in front of the mag well worked best for me. I shot some plates from the prone position to take advantage of the Sterling’s side-feed magazine, which allows you to get very low.
Speaking of the mag well, the Sterling uses a button release above the mag well that is easy to operate with the support hand while grasping an empty magazine to withdraw it. Two of the very reliable 34-round roller magazines are supplied with the Sterling carbine from Century. Additional magazines can usually be found in the $30 to $40 range at major gun shows.
I like the Sterling Type II carbine a lot. It’s fun to shoot and could certainly function as a self-defense carbine for someone who also uses a 9x19mm handgun. Plus it offers a chance to get the feel for a weapon that has been used by 50 or more countries and is still in use with some.
I have really enjoyed the Sterling carbine and intend to continue enjoying it. Since it’s out of the safe for examination while writing this article, I’ve put it with the guns that go shooting with me tomorrow. Suggested retail is in the $400 range.