Thompson submachine gunSubmachine Gun, Caliber .45, M1
Thompson M1A1 on display at Virginia War Museum Type Submachine gunPlace of origin United StatesService history In service 1938–1971 (officially, U.S. military) Used by U.S. military, FBI, Swedish Army, British Army, Canadian Army, Australian Army, National Revolutionary ArmyWars World War II, Korean War, First Indochina War, Vietnam War, Chinese Civil WarProduction history Designer John T. ThompsonDesigned 1917–1919 Manufacturer Auto-Ordnance Company (originally), Colt, Savage ArmsProduced 1921–present (replicas) Number built 1,700,000 approx. Variants Persuader & Annihilator, M1921A1, M1927, M1928A1, M1A1 Specifications Weight 10.8 lb(4.9 kg) empty (M1928A1)
10.6 lb(4.8 kg) empty (M1A1) Length 33.5 in(851 mm) (M1918A1)
32 in(813 mm) (M1/A1) Cartridge.45 ACP(11.43 × 23 mm) ActionBlowbackRate of fire600-1200 rpm, depending upon model Effective range 75 m (83 yd) Maximum range 150 m (165 yd) Feed system 20 or 30-round detachable box magazine
50 or 100-round drum
The Thompson submachine gun is an American submachine gun that became infamous during the Prohibition era. It was a common sight of the time, being used by both law enforcement officers and criminals. The Thompson was also known as the "Tommy Gun", "Chopper", "Chicago Typewriter","The Trench Broom" and "Chicago Piano". The Thompson was favored by soldiers and civilians alike for its compactness, large .45 ACP bullet, and high volume of automatic fire.
- 1 History and service
- 2 Operating characteristics
- 3 Variants
- 4 Civilian ownership in the United States
- 5 See also
- 6 Notes
- 7 References
- 8 External links
History and service
The Thompson Submachine Gun was designed by General John T. Thompson, who was inspired by the trench warfare of World War I to develop a "one-man, hand-held machine gun", firing a rifle caliber round. While searching for a way to allow such a weapon to operate safely, Thompson came across a patent issued to John Bell Blish. Thompson found a financial backer, Thomas Fortune Ryan, and started the Auto-Ordnance Corporation in 1916 for the purpose of developing his weapon. The principal designers were Theodore H. Eickhoff, Oscar V. Payne, and George E. Goll. By late 1917, the limits of the Blish lock were discovered, and it had been found that the only cartridge currently in U.S. service suitable for use with the lock was the .45 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol). The project was then titled "Annihilator I", and by 1918, most of the design issues had been resolved. However, the war ended before prototypes could be shipped to Europe.
At an Auto-Ordnance board meeting in 1919 to discuss the marketing of the "Annihilator", with the war over, the weapon was officially renamed the "Thompson Submachine Gun". While other weapons had been developed shortly prior with similar objectives in mind, the Thompson was the first weapon to be labeled and marketed as a "submachine gun".
The Thompson first entered production as the Model of 1921. It was available to civilians, though its high price resulted in few sales. Model of 1921 Thompsons were first sold in small quantities to the U.S. Post Office (to protect the mail from a spate of robberies), followed by several police departments in the United States and minor international sales to various armies and constabulary forces, chiefly in Central and South America. The U.S. Post Office also gave Thompsons to the U.S. Marine Corps in 1922 when Marines were assigned to protect against mail robberies, with the Marines putting them to use in the Banana Wars and in China.It was popular with the Marines as a point-defense weapon for countering ambush by Sandinista guerrillas and led to the organisation of 4 man fire teams with as much firepower as a 9 man rifle squad.A lance corporal of the East Surrey Regiment, British Army equipped with a Thompson M1928 submachine gun (drum magazine), 25 November 1940 Thompson Drum Magazine
The Thompson achieved most of its early notoriety in the hands of Prohibition and Depression-era gangsters and in Hollywood films, most notably in the St Valentine's Day Massacre. It was often referred to as the "gun that made the twenties roar."When Jack Benny attended a White House function a security guard asked him what was in his violin case. Benny replied "A Thompson sub-machine gun" with the guard supposedly saying "That's a relief, I thought it was your violin".
In 1938, the Thompson submachine gun was adopted by the U.S. military, serving during World War II and later into the Korean War, as well as early stages of the Vietnam War. Other Allied countries purchased the Thompson as well, notably the United Kingdom and France. Modifications to simplify production and reduce cost were made in 1942, resulting in the M1 and M1A1 models, which were commonly carried by both non-commissioned and commissioned officers.
There were two military types of Thompson SMG. The M1928A1 used a 20- and later 30-round box magazine, or 50- and 100-round drums (the drum magazines were rarely used in combat situations because of their tendency to rattle). It had cooling fins on the barrel, and its cocking handle was on the top of the receiver. The M1 and M1A1 had a plain barrel without cooling fins, a simplified rear sight, a 20- and later 30-round box magazine, and the cocking handle was on the side of the receiver. The M1928A1 along with the regular M1928 was the choice of the Marines. The M1A1 was the choice of the Army. Thompson intended the weapon as an automatic 'trench-broom' to sweep enemy troops from the trenches, filling a role the BAR had proved incapable of. Ironically, this concept was adopted by German troops using their own submachine guns in concert with sturmtruppen tactics.
The Thompson found particular utility in World War II in the hands of Allied troops as a weapon for scouts, non-commissioned officers, and patrol leaders. In the European theater, the gun was widely utilized in British and Canadian Commando units, as well as U.S. paratroop and Ranger battalions. A Swedish variant of the M1928A1, called Kulsprutepistol m/40 ("Submachine Gun m/40" [Directly translated "Bullet spurt pistol"]), served in the Swedish Army between 1940 and 1951. Through Lend-Lease, the Soviet Union also used the Thompson, but this practice was not widespread.
In the Pacific Theater, Australian Army infantry and other Commonwealth forces initially used the Thompson extensively in jungle patrols and ambushes, where it was prized for its firepower, though its hefty weight and difficulties in supply eventually led to its replacement by other submachine guns such as the Owen and Austen. The U.S. Marines also used the Thompson as a limited-issue weapon, especially during their later island assaults. The Thompson was soon found to have limited effect in heavy jungle cover, where the low-velocity .45 bullet would not penetrate most small-diameter trees, or Japanese helmets or protective vests (in 1923, the Army had rejected the .45 Remington-Thompson, which had twice the energy of the .45ACP). In the U.S. Army, many Pacific War jungle patrols were originally equipped with Thompsons in the early phases of the New Guinea and Guadalcanal campaigns, but soon began employing the BAR in its place, especially at front (point) and rear (tail) positions, as a point defense weapon.
By the time of the Korean War, the Thompson had been withdrawn from service as a standard-issue submachine gun with U.S. forces. It was replaced by the M3/M3A1 submachine gun, and the M1/M2 carbine. Many Thompsons were distributed to Chinese armed forces as military aid before the fall of Chiang Kai-Shek's government to Mao Zedong's Communist forces in 1949. During the Korean War, American troops were surprised to encounter Chinese Communist troops heavily armed with Thompsons, especially during surprise night assaults. The gun's ability to deliver large quantities of short-range automatic assault fire proved very useful in both defense and assault during the early part of the conflict. Many of these weapons were recaptured and placed back into service with American soldiers and Marines for the balance of the war.Serb paramilitaries during the Siege of Sarajevo. An M1A1 Thompson submachine gun is being held in the background. Photo by Mikhail Evstafiev
During the Vietnam War, some South Vietnamese army units and defense militia were armed with Thompson submachine guns, and a few of these weapons were used by reconnaissance units, advisors, and other American troops. It was later replaced by the M16. Not only did some U.S. soldiers have use of them in Vietnam, but they encountered it as well. The Vietcong liked the weapon, and used both captured models as well as manufacturing their own copies in small jungle workshops.
The Thompson was also used by U.S. and overseas law enforcement and police forces, most prominently by the FBI. The FBI used Thompsons until 1976, when it was declared obsolete. All Thompsons in U.S. government possession were destroyed, except for a few token museum pieces and training models.
The Thompson, or copies of the gun, are still seen from time to time in modern day conflicts, such as the Bosnian War.
Operating characteristicsThompson SMG Model M1928A1, field stripped for cleaning Thompson SMG Model M1A1, field stripped for cleaning
The Thompson, especially the early Model 1921, has a fairly high rate of fire at 900+ rounds per minute (rpm), higher than many other submachine guns of smaller caliber. This rate of fire, combined with a rather heavy trigger pull and a stock with excessive drop, increases the tendency of the gun to climb off target in automatic fire. Compared to modern 9mm submachine guns, the .45 Thompson is quite heavy. By the standards of the day the Thompson was one of the most effective and reliable submachine guns available.
Because of its gangster-era and World War II connections, Thompsons are highly sought as collector's items. An original Model 1928 in working condition can easily fetch US$20,000 or more. Semi-automatic versions are currently produced by Auto-Ordnance Company, a division of Kahr Arms. Approximately 1,700,000 of these weapons were produced by Auto-Ordnance, Savage Arms, and Colt, with 1,387,134 being the simplified World War II M1 and M1A1 variants (without the Blish lock and oiling system).
Persuader and Annihilator
There were two main experimental models of the Thompson. The Persuader was a belt-fed version developed in 1918, and the Annihilator was fed from a 20 or 30-round box magazine, which was an improved model developed in 1918 and 1919. Additionally, the 50- and 100-round drum magazines were developed.
Model of 1919
The Model 1919 was limited to about 40 units, with many variations noted throughout. The weapons had very high cyclic rates around 1,500 rpm. This was the weapon Brigadier General Thompson demonstrated at Camp Perry in 1920. Almost all M1919s were made without buttstocks and front sights, and the final version closely resembled the later Model 1921. The City of New York Police Department was the largest purchaser of the M1919. This model was designed as an automatic Colt .45 to "sweep" trenches with bullets.
- Caliber: .45ACP (11.4x23mm), .22LR, .32ACP, .38ACP, and 9mmP
- Weight (empty): 3.75 kilograms (8 lb 4 oz)
- Length: 808 millimeters (31.8 in)
- Barrel length: 267 millimeters (10.5 in)
- Cyclic rate of fire: 1,500 rpm (actual delivered, about 700)
- Capacity: 20- or 30-round box; 50 or 100-round drum; 18 rounds .45 Peters-Thompson shot cartridges
- Range: 55 yd (50 m)
Model of 1921The "Anti-Bandit Gun": 1920s ad of the Thompson Model of 1921 for United States law enforcement forces
M1921 was the first major production model. Fifteen thousand were produced by Colt for Auto-Ordnance. In its original design, it was finished more like a sporting weapon, with a blued, finned barrel and vertical foregrip and the Blish lock. The M1921 was quite expensive to manufacture, with the original retail cost around $225, because of its high quality wood furniture and finely-machined parts. The Model 1921 was famous throughout its career with police and criminals and in motion pictures. The weapon had a relatively high 800+ rpm rate of fire.
Model of 1923Firing 1921 Thompson
The Model 1923 was introduced to potentially expand the Auto-Ordnance product line and was demonstrated for the U.S. Army. It fired the .45 Remington-Thompson cartridge from a 14-inch (35.5 cm) barrel, with greater range and power than the .45 ACP. It introduced a horizontal forearm, sling, bipod and bayonet lug. The M1923 was intended to fill the role of the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR), but the Army was satisfied with the BAR and did not give the Model 1923 much consideration, so it was not adopted.
In an attempt to expand interest and sales overseas, Auto-Ordnance partnered with and licensed Birmingham Small Arms Company (BSA) in England to produce a European model. These were produced in small quantities and have a different appearance than the classic style. The BSA 1926 was manufactured in 9 mm and 7.63 Mauser calibre and were tested by various governments, including France in the mid 1920s. It was never adopted by any military force, and only a small number were produced.
Model of 1927
The M1927 was the semi-automatic-only version of the Model 1921. It was made by modifying an existing M1921, including replacing certain parts. The "Thompson Submachine Gun" inscription was machined over to replace it with "Thompson Semi-Automatic Carbine", and the "Model of 1921" inscription was also machined over to replace it with "Model of 1927." Although the Model 1927 was semi-automatic only, it was easily converted to fully automatic by utilizing certain M1921 parts, and is classified as a machine gun under the National Firearms Act of 1934.
Model of 1928
The Model 1928 was the first type widely used by military forces, with the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps as major buyers through the 1930s. The original M1928s were M1921s with weight added to the actuator, which slowed down the cyclic rate of fire, a U.S. Navy requirement. With the start of World War II, major contracts from Britain and France saved the manufacturer from bankruptcy. This model was standardized as the M1928.
M1928A1M1928A1 at Fort Knox, Kentucky, June 1942
The M1928A1 variant entered mass production before the attack on Pearl Harbor, as on-hand stocks ran out. Changes included a horizontal forend, in place of the distinctive vertical foregrip ("pistol grip"), and a provision for a military sling. Despite new U.S. contracts for Lend-Lease shipments abroad to China, France, and the United Kingdom, as well as the needs of American armed forces, only two factories supplied M1928A1 Thompsons during the early years of World War II. The weapon was mostly used in the U.S. military by the Marine units in the Pacific Theater. Though it could use both the 50-round drum and the 20- or 30-round magazines, active service showed the drums were more prone to jamming and extremely heavy and bulky, especially on long patrols. 562,511 were made. Wartime production variants had a fixed rear sight with out the triangular sight guard wings and a non-ribbed barrel both like that found on the M1/M1A1.
In addition, the Soviet Union received M1928A1s, included as standard equipment with the M3 light tanks obtained through Lend-Lease. The weapons were never issued to the Red Army, however, because of a lack of .45 ACP ammunition on the Eastern Front, and were simply put in storage. As of September 2006, limited numbers of these weapons have been re-imported from Russia to the United States as disassembled "spare parts kits", the entire weapon less the receiver (as required by Federal law).
M1Fire Controls MI Thompson Front lever is selector switch set for full auto.
The M1, formally adopted as the United States Submachine Gun, Cal. .45, M1, was a result of further simplification. The bolt was modified and rate of fire was also reduced to approximately 600-700 rpm. The M1 utilized a simple blowback operation, the charging handle was moved to the side, and the flip-up adjustable rear sight replaced with a fixed aperture (peep sight). The slots adjoining the magazine well allowing use of the drum magazine were removed, as were the Cutts compensator, the barrel cooling flanges, and the Blish lock.
The less expensive and more-easily manufactured "stick" magazines were used exclusively in this version, with a new 30-round version joining the familiar 20-round type. Wartime production variants omitted the triangular rear sight guard wings.
The M1 also has a permanently attached buttstock, and was first issued in 1942.
M1A1Both sides of the Thompson M1A1
The multi-piece firing pin of the M1 was supplanted by a simplified firing pin machined into the face of the bolt. The 30-round magazine was very common. Wartime production variants omitted the triangular rear sight guard wings.
The M1A1, formally adopted as the United States Submachine Gun, Cal. .45, M1A1, could be produced in half the time of the M1928A1, and at a much lower cost. In 1939, a Thompson cost the government $209. By the spring of 1942, cost reduction design changes had brought this down to $70. In February 1944, the M1A1 reached a low price of $45 each, including accessories and spare parts. By the end of 1944, the M1A1 was replaced with the even lower-cost M3 (commonly called "Grease Gun").
The Model 1927A1 is a semi-automatic only version of the Thompson, produced by Auto-Ordnance (West Hurley, New York) for the civilian gun market from 1974 to 1999. It is officially known as the "Thompson Semi-Automatic Carbine, Model of 1927A1." The internal design is completely different and operates from the closed bolt. It has been produced since 1999 by Kahr Arms of Worcester, Massachusetts. This weapon should not be confused with the earlier M1927 produced by Colt for Auto-Ordnance, although its name and designation references the earlier weapon.
The Model 1927A3 is a semi-automatic, .22 caliber version of the Thompson produced by Auto-Ordnance in West Hurley.
The Model 1927A5 is a semi-automatic, .45ACP version of the Thompson produced by Auto-Ordnance in West Hurley. It featured an aluminum receiver to reduce its weight, since it has no buttstock.
Civilian ownership in the United States
Because of the perceived popularity of submachine guns such as the Thompson with gangsters in the 1920s and 1930s, the United States Congress passed the National Firearms Act in 1934. Among its provisions, all owners of any fully-automatic firearm were required to register them with the predecessor agency of the modern Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). The law also placed severe restrictions on the possession, transfer and transport of the weapons.
There are several U.S. made semi-automatic variants. These are less regulated at the federal level but are still banned in several states because of their resemblance to the fully-automatic version.
- ^ Ray Bearse, "The Thompson Submachine Gun: Weapon of War and Peace", in Murtz, Gun Digest Treasury (DBI Books, 1994), p.210
- ^ Development of the Thompson Submachine gun 1996-2006, Gary James
- ^ Fitzsimons, Bernard. Encyclopedia of Weapons and Warfare (Phoebus, 1977), Volume 23, p.2487
- ^ p.14 Rottman, Gordon U.S. Marine Corps 1941-1945 Ospery 1995
- ^ Fitzsimons, ibid.
- ^ Thompson Model 1928 Submachine Gun. National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved on 2008-06-12.
- ^ JACK BENNY Radio LP LINDBERG HITLER HINDENBERG JURYS - (eBay.ca item 280210468697 end time 17-Jun-08 13:25:04 EDT)
- ^ Fitzsimons, op. cit., Volume 3, p.272
- ^ Gudmundsson, Bruce, Storm trooper Tactics: Innovation in the German Army, 1914-1918, Praeger Press, 1995
- ^ Bishop, Chris (1998), The Encyclopedia of Weapons of World War II, New York: Orbis Publiishing Ltd, ISBN 0-7607-1022-8 .
- ^ Bearse, op. cit., p.213
- ^ Dunlap, Roy F., Ordnance Went Up Front, Samworth Press, 1948
- ^ George, John (Lt.Col), Shots Fired In Anger, Samworth press, 1948
- ^ Dunlap, Roy F., Ordnance Went Up Front, Samworth Press, 1948
- ^ George, John (Lt.Col), Shots Fired In Anger, Samworth press, 1948
- ^ Fitzsimons, op. cit., Volume 23, p.2488
- ^ Bearse, in Amber, p.210.
- ^ Fitzsimons, Volume 23, p.2487, "Thompson".
- ^ Submachine guns of UK - BSA Thompson 1926 - Thompson 1928A1 - Lanchester - Sten and Sterling
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- Iannamico, Frank. (2000). American Thunder: The Military Thompson Submachine Gun. Moose Lake Publishing.
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- Johnson, Melvin M. and Haven, Charles J. (1941). Automatic Arms. William Morrow and Co.
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- (Portuguese) Olive, Ronaldo. (1996). Guia Internacional de Submetralhadoras. Editora Magnum Ltda.
- Sharpe, Philip B. "The Thompson Sub-Machine Gun (in Police Science)" Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology (1931-1951), Vol. 23, No. 6. (Mar. - Apr., 1933), pp. 1098-1114.
- Smith, Charles H. A brief story of Auto-Ordnance Company.
- Weeks, John. (1980). World War II Small Arms. Galahad Books.
- Wilson, R.K. (1943). Textbook of Automatic Pistols. Small Arms Technical Publishing Company.
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