Book Review: The Sterling Years: Small Arms and the Men
By Dean Roxby

The Sterling Years: Small Arms and the Men
By James Edmiston
First published 1992
This printing 2011
Paperback, 146 pages
Pen and Sword Military
47 Church Street
South Yorkshire
S70 2AS

In spite of the title, this book is not primarily concerned with the Sterling submachine gun itself. Rather, it is an autobiography of the one-time owner of Sterling Armament Company. Other than the picture on the front cover, there are no photographs at all of the Sterling SMG. Likewise, there are no service manual extracts, sketches, data tables, etc. Instead, it is the story of how James Edmiston came to own the private company that manufactured the legendary gun at only 28 years of age, for a mere 81,000 English pounds.

He often goes into a long list of countries traveled to, and various people met along the way. I found the name-dropping a bit excessive, and would have preferred more information on the design, testing, and improvements made to the product.

I did find the parts detailing the dealings with various governments interesting. In many countries he would be approached by what he refers to as Mr. Fixits, smooth talking sharpies that are somehow able to arrange meetings and deals, all for a sizable commission of course. But his greatest criticism is for the British government and the Ministry of Defence. The MOD employs a “Preferred Source Policy” that makes it impossible to compete with the current vendor. He wonders about the long term ramifications of destroying private enterprise in Britain.

One odd marketing decision of Sterling was to not sell semiautomatic civilian guns in the UK, as they “felt that it was in everybody’s interest not to sell these weapons in Britain.” Yet the very next page deals with Sterling’s efforts to sell the same item into the USA. Another comment that caught my attention was from the chief designer, who was comfortable creating military weapons, but would not consider designing a sporting shotgun as he didn’t want any part of harming animals.

The common theme throughout is that while Edmiston truly enjoyed and respected the people working for him, creating a quality product, he endured no end of aggravation from bureaucrats in various countries, most notably his own. He believes it is no longer possible to be a truly private military arms maker, even in America. This is something that current firearms inventors may want to consider carefully.

Overall, this book gives an interesting insight into one facet of the arms trade, provided that you are not looking for technical details of the gun itself.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V15N2 (November 2011)
and was posted online on November 1, 2011


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