Monday, July 27, 2009

Iconic Guns- Part 2- Thompson Submachine Gun

The Thompson Submachine gun, designed in 1919 by Brigadier General John T. Thompson. One of the most recognizable guns in history, the Thompson was known by many names throughout the Roaring '20s, the Great Depression and WWII. The Tommy gun, the Chicago Typewriter or just the Chopper, just to name a few.

Just to show that it seems some people can make the right decisions on things, lets look into the career of the General and the development of the Thompson. During the Spanish American War, Gen. Thompson put together the first specialized Gating Gun unit which later took an important part in the Battle of San Juan Hill, also serving to expose modern technology and tactics to the rather inflexible and dogmatic Army Officer Corps. After the Spanish American War, Thompson was appointed chief of the Small Arms Division for the Ordnance Department of the US Army. While there, he supervised development of the 1903 Springfield Rifle and also chaired the ordnance board that approved the M1911 pistol. It is rumored that during testing for the 1911, he implemented rather unusual and macabe tests involving firing the weapon at donated human cadavers and live cattle to assess ammunition effectiveness.

As a result of the new trench warfare tactics of WWI, Thompson decided that a man portable automatic weapon was needed to clear enemy trenches. Hence the term, "Trench Broom". After discarding a .30-06 Autorifle design as overpowered, he turned to the .45 ACP and a delayed blowback design by Navy Commander John Blish. Thompson and his Auto Ordinance Company purchased the patent, and in 1920 the first Thompson machine guns were patented.

The Thompson was produced in several different variants throughout the years. Above is the 1928 version with the ribbed barrel, vertical grip fore end, 50 round drum magazine and Cutts Compensator. Below is the wartime simplified version, the M1A1, with a simple blowback action, rate of fire reduced from around 800 rounds per minute to about 600, 30 round stick magazine, straight fore end and sling.

The Thompson was technically out of date at the start of WWII, and the Ordinance Department, despite buying a great many of them, was looking for a replacement. The manufacturing process for the Thompson was expensive, needed highly skilled operators and was fairly slow. What the Government wanted was a weapon like the British STEN or German MP40 that was made of of stamped and welded parts, unlike the heavy machined steel and lathed hardwood of the Thompson. The end result was the creation and adoption of the M3 "Grease Gun". An uglier and cheaper weapon could not be imagined. They did their job however, and these were in inventory as late as the 1991 Gulf War for some Combat Engineer units. The Thompson was used for the whole of WWII in American, British, Commonwealth and even Soviet hands. It went on to serve in Korea and even Vietnam. U.S. Thompsons were still in use in some conflicts around the world at the close of the 20th Century in the Balkan Wars.

Thompson 1928 and M1 sub machine guns

The Thompson, while heavy, has excellent balance and erognomics and the weight serves to eliminate almost all the recoil of the heavy .45 ACP cartridge. This in addition to the slower rate of fire on the wartime variants makes the weapon very accurate and easy to control when fired in bursts. Extremely durable and reliable, the Thompson was used in every climate and condition in WWII and was well liked and even fought over by the troops. Thompsons are highly sought after today and even modern, long barreled, semi auto copies are worth a couple thousand dollars.


  1. wow,ur blog is cool!!!i like thompson sub mach gun too!!!and m1 garand,carbine!!!anyways,i like ww2!

  2. i like all guns i think they are sooo cool i love miniguns the most and ive been on one it feels sooo nice