THE OWEN GUN

 

CHRONOLOGICAL BIBLIOGRAPHY AND CATALOGUE OF MEMORABILIA AND PUBLISHED DOCUMENTS

 

ALAN STEIN

 

28 OCTOBER 2008

 

067341

The following is an edited version of Alan Stein’s original listing as distributed to various libraries and archives during October 2008. It was the result of decades of research by the then 84 year old Mr. Stein. The list has here been rearranged chronologically, plus all dates standardised along with author citations. No other changes have been made to Mr. Stein’s original document – a brief biography of Evelyn Owen has also been inserted, taken from the Australian War Memorial web site - Michael Organ, 1 December 2008

 

Brief Biography of Lieutenant Evelyn Ernest Owen

Date of birth: 15 May 1915
Place of birth: Wollongong, NSW
Date of death: 1 April 1949
Place of death: Wollongong, NSW

Inventor of the Owen sub-machine gun, Evelyn Owen was born on 15 May 1915 in Wollongong, New South Wales. Despite the considerable efforts of his parents to steer him towards less dangerous pursuits, the young Owen was obsessed with guns; with making them, modifying them and firing them. At the age of eight he began his experiments by building his own shotguns from which he would fire stones at rubbish heaps. Over the ensuing years Owen pursued his hobby with great passion. At one stage he transferred his interest to bomb making, once being wounded in the stomach by shrapnel from one of his explosives. On another occasion he shot himself in the stomach while trying out a new kind of bolt in an old rifle. He then turned his interest to sub-machine guns, making each of the prototypes himself, having learned metal and lathe work in the workshop of a family friend. The weapon that would eventually bear his name, the Owen sub-machine gun, had its genesis in 1931, but he did not perfect it until 1938. Repeated testing proved that little could jam or interrupt the gun's rate of fire, making it superior to the Thompson gun. But the following year when he attempted to interest the military, Owen was rebuffed, being told that neither the Australian or British armies had any need for such a weapon. Owen enlisted in the AIF in May 1940 but, just before embarking for the Middle East with his unit, he managed to interest the manager of the Port Kembla plant of Lysaght's Newcastle Works, Vincent A. Wardell, in the gun. Wardell spoke to Sir Percy Spender, Minister for the Army, who had Owen transferred to the Central Inventions Board. In June of 1941 Owen was discharged from the AIF and began work at Lysaght who manufactured his gun. In September 1941 Owen's gun was ready for testing against similar weapons; the Thompson, the Sten and the German Burgman. In the first test the Owen proved more accurate and able to group its shots better. Having then been variously immersed in water, mud and sand, the Owen proved itself almost impossible to jam while the other weapons faltered and eventually became unworkable. Those present at the test agreed that the Owen was the simplest, cheapest and toughest of sub-machine guns. By late 1942 the Owen was being used in jungle fighting against the Japanese in New Guinea. More than 45,000 Owen guns were produced during the Second World War and they continued in use during the Korean War, the Malayan Emergency and in the early years of the Vietnam War. Owen received £10,000 in royalties and from the sale of patent rights, and used the money to establish a sawmill near Wollongong, where he lived alone. A heavy drinker, Owen was admitted to Wollongong hospital where he died from a ruptured gastric ulcer on 1 April 1949 at the age of 33.

 

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1939

 

W.C. Wentworth, Demand for Defence: Being a Plan to Keep Australia White and Free, Sydney, January 1939.

 

1941

 

[Various] File of memos recording the transfer of machined and heat treated parts from Lysaght's Newcastle plant to the Owen Gun annex at Lysaght’s Port Kembla works. Approximately 100 memos, dated June 1941 to November 1942. Lysaght Archive, item no. 5G1 0.2-03. The policy was to allow 2% loss for spoilt or defective work in the machining and heat treatment. For example, when 2000 guns were ordered by the Ordinance Department, the Port Kembla administration wrote orders on Lysaght's No.3 machine shop at Newcastle for 2040 units of each part. The file containing copies of these inter-works memos was left in a cupboard for more than 30 years until retrieved about 1974. It is now in the Lysaght Archives, Blue Scope Steel Ltd.

 

Evelyn Ernest Owen, Improvements relating to firearms, Australian Patent No. 115974, 22 July 1941. 18 columns + 2 sheets of drawings.

 

[Various] Album of over 500 photographs recording progress in the development and manufacture of the Owen gun. Most of the photographs were taken by David Brown, a trainee metallurgist at the Port Kembla branch of Lysaght's. The original album is now held in the museum of the Small Arms Factory, Lithgow, New South Wales, with a copy in Wollongong City Library and a second copy in the Australian War Memorial Library, Canberra.

 

[Various] Album of 50 -100 photographs of machines and workforce carrying out the precision machining and heat treatment of parts in NO.3 machine shop at the Newcastle works of Lysaghts. This album was the property of Barry Cooper, Morgan Street, Merewether, about 1980. Present owner and location are not known. A procedure is under way to locate it and have it preserved in the archives of University of Newcastle.

 

[Various] On completion of the Owen Gun project, a cabinet containing each development model and the 9mm production model was presented to the Australian War Memorial, Canberra. This collection no longer exists as an integrated record of their development and production. The ten (10) guns have been used to build other collections including a travelling exhibition.

 

[Anonymous] Laudatory address to the management of Lysaghts from the workforce of the Owen gun annex at Port Kembla, expressing gratitude for the opportunity to work on such an important project. Framed. Illustrated by Ruby Buist. For text of address see (16). Lysaght archives. BlueScope Steel Ltd. library, Port Kembla.

 

V.A. Wardell, Owen gun - Notes on development., 27 October 1941, 10p. Typescript. Mitchell Library, Sydney. Copies in the Australian War Memorial Library and in the Lysaght Archives. Revised 1942 and 1943. Smith provided a valuable insight by publishing in full the original typescript dated 27 October 1941.

 

V.A. Wardell, Copies of at least 20 letters on the Owen Gun project, 1941 -1944. Most of these letters are not in the Australian archives. Mitchell Library, Sydney. The file includes a copy of a letter (pp 4) to P.C. Spender dated 12th July, 1944, on how the STEN and AUSTEN were promoted by other interested parties.

 

[Various] Collection of 44 files including letters to V.A. Wardell and copies of letters from V.A. Wardell; also copies of reports etc. Some items are copies of material deposited in the Mitchell Library. The collection is held in the estate of V.A. Wardell. Catalogued by G.R. Hart with copy of catalogue to A.W. Stein.

 

Australian inventor creates new miracle gun. Fox Movietone [film]. 29 September 1941.

 

Owen gun passes world's most searching test. Fox Movietone [film]. Copies of at least two of these films are held in the Australian Film and Sound Archive, Canberra. Copies of at least two of these films are held in the Lysaght Archives, c/o BlueScope Steel Ltd and in the Owen Gun Archive deposited in the Archive Department of the University of Newcastle. These copies are recorded in both VHF and Beta format. Copies of two films are also held by the Wollongong Rifle Club.

 

K. Schapel, Owen gun hold-up to end, Daily Telegraph, 5 November 1941. See also Editorial (presumably by Brian Penton) of the same day. The series of articles in the Daily Telegraph was a consequence of discussions between V.A Wardell and Brian Penton, editor of the Daily Telegraph. The discussions commenced about October 1941, probably at the Union Club, Sydney. Vincent Wardell withheld his consent for publication of (1a) for several days. Although a letter from the Secretary for the Army dated 13th October 1941 stated that the 9mm Owen gun had been adopted, a re-design by Ordnance Production Directorate was in progress. Lysaghts received details of the re-design on the 24th October. Vincent Wardell did not support this approach but was prepared to wait a short time for the Army and O.P.O. to change their attitude towards the G.S. Wardell design which had been proved in controlled tests. When no constructive communication was received, he approved the text of Ken Schapel's article for publication on the 5th November, 1941. The press reports were reviewed, with quotations, by Wardman (4), Smith (5) and Morton (6).

 

Finey, Gad, There's no ramrod. [Cartoon] Daily Telegraph. 19 November 1941.

 

Finey, Gad, I'm sure it won't work. [Cartoon] Daily Telegraph. 20 November 1941. Both cartoons were reproduced by Wardman (4, p.54) The original art works, signed by Finey for both cartoons (a) and (b), were deposited in the Lysaght Archives.

 

"[Adolph Hitler] When you've finished playing with it, let me have it." Caption attributed to Adolph Hitler, looking through window. [Cartoon] Sydney Sun. n.d.

 

K. Schapel, The army stalled for two years, Daily Telegraph, 21 November 1941.

 

R. Hughes, This man knew his gun was good, Daily Telegraph, 21 November 1941.

 

Demonstration of the Owen gun (and other guns). Fox Movietone [film]. 22 December 1941. Randwick rifle range, in the presence of Lt. Colonel L. M. Cosgrave, Trade Commissioner for Canada. Reference (3) p. 21.

 

1942

 

Evelyn Ernest Owen. Improvements relating to sub-machine guns. Australian Patent No. 116434. 13 January 1942. 12 columns. 2 sheets of drawings.

 

V.A. Wardell, Owen gun - Notes on development., First revision July 1942. 26p.. Typescript. Mitchell Library, Sydney.

 

Owen gun delay explained. Daily Telegraph, 29 October 1942.

 

9mm Owen gun - Notes for armourers. pp. approx 10. Illustrated. Australian Military Forces. November, 1942. This was written, Wholly set up, and printed by Lysaghts in their basic printing shop in the Port Kembla branch of Lysaghts Works, in response to Order 1\10. PS623 dated 4th November, 1942, for 1000 copies (3, Appendix 11) presumably issued by the Ordnance Production Dept. Copies endorsed "Not to be published". It is a serious reflection on the level of interest developed by the officers of the Australian Defence Forces that they had insufficient knowledge of the weapon's operation to write and publish this booklet within the resources of the military forces and the O.P.O. At least one re-print was ordered. Copies in the Lysaght Archives 5G 10.2 -A2.

 

1943

 

V.A. Wardell, Owen gun - Notes on development, Second revision 22 March 1943, pp.26 + 6. Typescript. Mitchell Library, Sydney.

 

For better or worse. Mr and Mrs Pott. [Cartoon] Smith's Weekly. 4 September 1943.

 

Letterhead for Evelyn Owen's timber milling business at Tongarra which commenced in November, 1943. pp1 J blank. The Owen Gun project. University of Newcastle archives.

 

Letter from V.A. Wardell to the Hon. F.M. Forde, Minister for the Army, advising Evelyn Owen's resignation from the Lysaght staff on Thursday, 18 November 1943, to operate a timber mill and continue development of an automatic pistol. 13th November, 1943. pp1. Mitchell Library collection.

 

1944

 

So long, Owen gun. Report of dinner, Friday 1st September 1944, by Mr Dolvey, journalist for the Illawarra Mercury. The Illawarra District and South Coast Advance. New series No. 633. Wollongong. Thursday, 14th September, 1944. pp. 1, 2. The occasion was the successful completion of orders for the Owen gun. The Lysaght management was host to all of the workforce in the Port Kembla Owen gun annex.

 

1946

 

D.I. Cameron, Lysaght's silver jubilee. 1921-1946. see pages 91-93. Lysaght's Works Pty. Ltd. 1946. No author statement. pp115. Illus. The author was Donald Ian Cameron, M.A (Cantab) b. 3rd April 1910. d. September, 1969. Chief Research Officer for Lysaght Works Pty. Ltd., then Research Superintendent 1955-1969. The authority for this is AW. Stein who shared the office with D.I. Cameron when he was writing the ms for Lysaght's Silver Jubilee, at the end of 1945, for publication before the 4th April, 1946, which was the date of the jubilee. Norman J. MacLeod contributed to the chapters on the Port Kembla works.

 

1958

 

D.P. Mellor, Small arms and machine guns. Chapter 15 of The Role of Science and Industry, Vol. 5 in Series 4, ‘Civil’, in Australia in the War of 1939-1945, Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 1958, pp.325-332 and illustration facing p. 309.

 

Owen, Evelyn Ernest The Australian Encyclopaedia. 2nd ed. Sydney. Angus and Robertson. 1958. Volume 6, p. 429. This entry was deleted from the 4th edition, 1983, published by the Grolier Society of Australia, then reinstated in the 5th and 6th editions.

 

1968

 

J. Lorenc, The story of the Owen gun. The Lysaght Gazette. Vol. 19. No. 15. May, 1968. Illustrated. The Lysaght Gazette was the monthly in-house journal for the Newcastle works of John Lysaght (Australia) Ltd.

 

1978

 

I.V. Hogg and J. Batchelor, The Submachine Gun. Sydney. 1978.

 

1981

 

Mary Smith, [Owen Gun], Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, Sydney. 1981. pp 2. 5 references. 1 illustration. No title recorded for this introductory leaflet.

 

1982

 

Beale, E. The development of young EVO. IIlawarra Historical Society Bulletin. Part 1: July, 1982 pp 36 -38 and Part 2: August, 1982 pp 45 -48.

 

G.S. Wardell, The development and manufacture of the Owen gun. 2nd edition. illustrated. Published by A.W. Stein, Central Library, John Lysaght (Australia) Ltd., November 1982, 32p.

 

G.S. Wardell, The Owen gun story in brief. Introduction, one page only. IIlawarra Historical Society Bulletin. November 1982. p. 71.

 

G.S. Wardell, History of the Owen gun. Manuscript written 1941 -44 and extended in 1982. Typescript, pp. 75 approx plus supplementary papers. 4 copies in G. S. Wardell estate. 1 copy in Lysaght archives. 1 copy held by A Stein. Item 3a is a condensed version published in 1982 with about 100 copies distributed, gratis.

 

1984

 

G.S. Wardell, The Owen gun - An analysis of events, May 1984. AW. Stein, Jamberoo, NSW, 13p.

 

G.S. Wardell, The Owen gun - Notes on design, May 1984. A.W. Stein, 5p. Published with (3b) as a single volume.

 

1986

 

Andrews, Eric. Fight for a defence industry. Review of A.T. Ross Armed and ready: The industrial development and defence of Australia 1900 -1945. Turton and Armstrong. pp 436. The Newcastle Herald n. d. probably 1983 -1986.

 

A.T. Ross, The arming of Australia: The politics and administration of Australia's self containment strategy for munitions supply 1901-1945. Thesis admitted for degree of Doctor of Philosophy at the ADF college of the University of NSW. 1986. Approx. 620 pages including appendix of approx. 400 pages. One copy (bound) is in the Lysaght archives, c/o BlueScope Steel Ltd, Item 5G1 0.2 -H6. For discussion on the Owen gun, see pp. 344 -370 The design of sub-machine guns. See also Lysaght archive. Item No. 902 -H1.

 

1987

 

R.G. Haycock and A.T. Ross, The Owen gun scandal, War and Society. 5 (2) 1987. University of N.S.W. and Defence Force Academy, Canberra. pp17.

 

1989

 

I.D. Skennerton, 100 years of Australian service machine guns. Private publication by 1.0. Skennerton. Margate, 1989.

 

I.D. Skennerton, Australian service machine guns. Ian Skennerton. P.O. Box 56. Margate, Queensland. 4019. n.d. pp. 122. Approx. 200 illustrations.

 

1991

 

Wayne Wardman, The Owen gun. W. Wardman, Curtin, ACT, 1991, 209p. Index. Illustrated. Bibliography. Biographical data for V.A and G.S. Wardell (pp 123 129). See also pp.201-203. Wardman (pp.205-209) provided additional bibliographic data to 1991, also an index to nine documents in the Australian archives.

 

1992

 

P.N. Richards, Lysaght Enterprise. B.H.P. Co. Ltd, Sheet and Coil Products Division. Port Kembla. N.S.W. 2505.1992. pp 303 plus appendix A-E. Illustrated. 53 fig. 34 tables. pp 59-62.

 

1993

 

Cornish, Paul. Dept. of exhibits and firearms, Imperial War Museum, Lambeth Rd., London. SEI 6HZ. Review for Journal of the Historical Breech Loading Small Arms Society. No bibliographic details. c. October 1993 - early 1994. Laudatory review of W. Wardman, The Owen Gun, 1991. Copy enclosed with letter from Paul Cornish to Jenny Wardell, 16th September, 1993.

 

1994

 

Kevin Smith, The Owen gun files - An Australian wartime controversy. Turton and Armstrong, 21 Lister St. Wahroonga, NSW, 1994. pp.273, 250 references. Index. Illustrated.

 

1995

 

A.T. Ross, Armed and Ready. The Industrial Development and Defence of Australia 1900-1945. Turton and Armstrong. 1995. pp. 371-381.

 

1998

 

Norm Barney, Girls going great guns. The Newcastle Herald - weekend edition. Saturday, August 29, 1998. Illustrated. p.7

 

2003

 

Clive Morton, The Evo Owen story. April 2003. The longer edition (sic) published by the author, June, 2006. pp 132. Illustrated. Copies available from C. Morton. P.O. Box 166, Gordonvale, Queensland. 4865.

 

2005

 

William Verity, A tortured genius. Illawarra Mercury - The Weekender, Saturday, 14 May 2005. Supplement to IIlawarra Mercury pp.58, 59.

 

2006

 

Eric Carpenter, Gratitude: The last casualty of war. Wartime. Issue 35. July 2006. Illustrated. pp 44-46.

 

2008

 

Stein, Alan. Precision machining and heat treatment of parts for the Owen gun at Lysaght's Newcastle plant during World War 11. Orange, NSW. Published by the author with 15 copies distributed, gratis. pp 12. 16 refs. Appendix. lIIus. Diagram of heat treatment plant. May, 2008. This important aspect of the Owen gun project did not receive adequate coverage in the published literature.

 

 

Undated

 

The Owen Gun project. Lysaght Archives, c/o BlueScope Steel Ltd. 47 documents. Catalogue No. 5G 10.2.

 

The Owen Gun project. University of Newcastle archives. About 20 documents donated by Alan Stein, including copies of Wardman (4) and Smith (5).

 

Photograph of Evelyn Owen. Enlarged, tinted. Approx. 60 X 80 cm. Lysaght archives. BlueScope Steel Ltd. Library, Port Kembla.

 

Biography of Vincent Andrew Wardell (1903 -1990). Text submitted to Australian Dictionary of Biography for publication in (approximately) 2010.

 

Biography of Gerald Stanislaus Wardell (1904 -1992). Text submitted to Australian Dictionary of Biography for publication in (approximately) 2017.

 

Owen, Evelyn Ernest (1915 -1949) Australian Dictionary of Biography. Canberra. The Australian National University. Volume 15. p. 549.