By: Marc Kelley
Syndicated by: Montana News
The holidays alway remind me of the time I spent growing up on the banks of the Missouri River, in Great Falls, Montana. My Grandparents had a large acreage on which they built a motel, gas station and convenience store. Surrounding the buildings were large fields, stands of deciduous trees and gently flowing backwaters, filled with waterfowl. To a young boy in the early 1960's, there could not be a better place to grow-up, or a better place to live out romantic notions of the old west or stave off the inevitable invasion of our country by the Communist Red Army. All of these things, we did largely without supervision, yet somehow we not only managed to survive, but make it back home, in time for dinner.
Using our imaginations to entertain ourselves, we built forts and tree houses, assembled home made go-carts and believed we had the means to protect our country; knowing, we were well armed, with the infamous Daisy, Red Rider BB Gun. We did what kids did back then, and on more than one occasion, endured the scolding from my Grandmother, as she warned us, "the Devil makes work for idle hands." Many of you I am sure, can relate to this message, and it is here, where our story truly begins.
In 1939, the real Nazi's were doing their best to conquer the free world and bring to life, their vision of a pure Aryan race. While Hitler's SS Troops, rounded up millions of Jews in an attempt at ethnic cleansing, they also targeted anyone who would dare to speak out against their political beliefs. Freedom of Speech, has always been the first casualty of any atrocity and in turn, will always serve as the motivation, to fight against anyone who would try to suppress it. Sadly, many young people today have not learned the lessons taught in WWII, because our universities have traded the lessons of education, for the ideology of indoctrination. Tearing down monuments, attempting to re-write history, and shouting down anyone who does not conform to the group think mentality of Socialism, has become commonplace. Try as they may, the radical left Socialists, are destined to fail, for one simple reason. No hardship, no punishment, and no amount of violence, will ever be sufficient, to silence the voices of a free people.
One such voice would be heard clearly, in 1938, when a young Australian boy, who's main interest's were chasing girls, drinking beer and surfing, would tell his friends, he was designing and building a new gun, which would strike fear into the heart of every Nazi who encounter it. The young boy had no formal education, no experience in a machine shop and could not tell you one end of a blue print from the other. Yet, working with old car parts, a broken record player, a barrel he removed from his brothers' 22 cal rifle, and the iron will to succeed, he managed to produce a prototype for what would eventually be called, the most reliable sub machine-gun ever designed.
The prototype for this new weapon, bore little resemblance to the sleek, sexy machine-guns produced by the likes of John Browning or John T. Thompson. In fact this gun was ugly, rudimentary in design, roughly finished and employed iron oxide scale, for blueing. The firearm was fed by a large steel ring, drilled out to fit 22 cal ammunition and powered by a spring removed from an early record player, call a gramophone. The weapon had no trigger, but rather used a thumb pressure activated lever, which unlocked the open bolt configuration, causing it to strike the cartridge and harnessing the energy produced by the expended round. The weapon cycled utilizing a simple blow-back design, and as long as the actuator was depressed, the weapon would fire. When the actuator was released the bolt would return to the open position and the energy was stored by the gramophone spring.
After completing his project our young inventor called his buddies together and he, along with his posse, took the weapon, wrapped in an old sugar bag and head to the beach to surf. Just as he had predicted, the weapon functioned exactly as it was designed and the only issue the boys encountered that day was a shortage of ammunition. With their ammo supply exhausted the weapon was tossed back into their vehicle, only to be removed and stored alongside other rusting items, which laid outside the garage at his home. Two years later, as luck would have it, the weapon would be found by a neighbor who would take it to the young boys Father, asking who made the weapon. If this would happen today, there would be no manner of hell, to pay for such careless behavior. However, rather than requesting the boy be punished for his carelessness, the neighbor asked if he could speak with the young man who made the weapon. The three sat down at the kitchen table and discussed exactly how the weapon functioned. After only one meeting, the neighbor, who was actually a machinist, working with weapon designers at the Lysaght's Newcastle Weapons Factory, invited Evelyn Owen, the young weapons designer, to collaborate on the development of his design for presentation to the Australian Military.
After several changes were made to the weapon, including the replacement of the circular magazine with a detachable, top mounted, gravity fed, 32 round stick magazine, the Owen Gun was officially ready for production. The changes made to Owens original design, proved to be so innovative, many of the features found in todays "bullpup" configured weapons, continue to utilize these features. The top feed magazine allowed gravity to feed fresh rounds into the weapon, virtually eliminating all of the feeding problems associated with other magazine fed sub machine guns. The bottom ejection port protected the open bolt mechanism from the accumulation of dirt and debris and the addition of a quick change barrel system allowed for sustained rates of fire. Chambered in 9mm Luger and using a lightweight bolt design, The Owen Gun achieved a blistering 700 rounds per min cyclic rate with an effective range of 135 yards.
The process of choosing the 9mm Luger cartridge resulted in the Australian Army conducting official trials of the Owen Gun. Competition included the American Thompson, chambered in 45 ACP and the British Sten Gun chambered in 9mm. During this testing the three weapons were immersed in water, covered in mud and sand and then tested for reliability and function. At the completion of the trials, the only weapon which did not have a single malfunction, was the Owen Gun. During its service in the Pacific Theater, the Owen Gun became the weapon of choice for the Australian Troops known as "Diggers". Immediately recognizable by their slough hats and Owen Guns, the troops referred to their sub gun, as the "Diggers Darling". So impressed by the reliability and efficacy of the weapon, General Douglas MacArthur requested 45,000 be provided to his troops in the Philippines. However, when MacArthur was forced to withdraw from the Philippines, the order was never filled.
In what was begun as a privately funded project of national pride, Lysaght Works produced 45,433 Owen Guns from 1942 until 1944 with an average cost of $ 30.00 per unit. Owen Guns would see service in both Korea and Viet Nam, even though they were heavy, the weapon was loved by the troops that carried it, because they had come to trust in the weapons reliably.
As is the case with so many great spirits, Evelyn Owen's life would be cut short by his own hand. After the war, he resumed his "party" lifestyle. He became a severe alcoholic and died at the age of 33 from cardiac failure, secondary to alcoholism.
No one knows for sure just what innovations, Evelyn "Evo" Owen may have made to modern firearms, if he had lived. What is clear, is this young man from Australia was proud of his country and willing to give his full attention to preserving it.
Today, we are lectured on the evils of capitalism and free market strategies. Yet, time and time again, our people have produced some of the worlds greatest advancements in the last 200 years.
Evelyn Owen did not allow his lack of education or blue collar economic status, to stop him from achieving success.
We should all take time to consider the words of the German physicist, who fled the fascist regime of the Nazi's in 1933, when he said, " Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition, from mediocre minds".