Calibre/Item: Featured Article
Make: Tommy Gun
Licence Number: Informative Article Only
Comment: The Thompson (named Thompson submachine gun by the maker) is an American submachine gun, invented by John T. Thompson in 1918, that became infamous during the Prohibition era. It was a common sight in the media of the time, being used by both law enforcement officers and criminals. The Thompson was also known informally as: the "Tommy Gun", "Trench Broom", "Trench Sweeper", "Chicago Typewriter", "Chicago Piano", "Chicago Style", "Chicago Organ Grinder", and "The Chopper".
The Thompson was favored by soldiers, criminals, police and civilians alike for its ergonomics, compactness, large .45 ACP cartridge, reliability, and high volume of automatic fire. It has since gained popularity among civilian collectors for its historical significance.
The Thompson Submachine Gun was developed by General John T. Thompson who originally envisioned an auto rifle (semi-automatic rifle) to replace the bolt action service rifles then in use. While searching for a way to allow such a weapon to operate safely without the complexity of a recoil or gas operated mechanism, Thompson came across a patent issued to John Bell Blish in 1915 based on adhesion of inclined metal surfaces under pressure. Thompson found a financial backer, Thomas F. Ryan, and started the Auto-Ordnance Company in 1916 for the purpose of developing his auto rifle. It was primarily developed in Newport, Kentucky. The principal designers were Theodore H. Eickhoff, Oscar V. Payne, and George E. Goll. By late 1917, the limits of the Blish Principle were discovered: rather than working as a locked breech, it functioned as a friction-delayed blowback action. It was found that the only cartridge currently in U.S. service suitable for use with the lock was the .45 ACP round. Thompson then envisioned a "one-man, hand-held machine gun" in .45 ACP as a "trench broom" for use in the on-going trench warfare of World War I. Payne designed the gun itself and its stick and drum magazines. 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". Thompson intended the weapon as an automatic `trench-broom` to sweep enemy troops from the trenches, filling a role for which the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) had been proven ill-suited. This concept had already been developed by German troops using their own Bergmann MP18, the world`s first submachine gun, in concert with sturmtruppen tactics.
The Thompson first entered production as the M1921. It was available to civilians, though its high price resulted in few sales. (A Thompson with one Type XX 20 shot "stick" magazine was priced at $200.00 in 1921 (adjusted for inflation $2613.15 as of October 2013) at a time when a Ford automobile sold for $400.00.) M1921 Thompsons were sold in small quantities to the United States Postal Inspection Service (to protect the mail from a spate of robberies) and to the United States Marine Corps. Federal sales were followed by sales to several police departments in the US and minor international sales to various armies and constabulary forces, chiefly in Central and South America. The Marines used their Thompsons in the Banana Wars and in China. It was popular with the Marines as a point-defense weapon for countering ambush by Nicaraguan guerrillas, and led to the organization of four-man fire teams with as much firepower as a nine-man rifle squad. The major complaints against the Thompson were its weight, inaccuracy at ranges over 50 yards (46 m), and the lack of penetrating power of the .45 ACP pistol cartridge.
Some of the first batches of Thompsons were bought in America by agents of the Irish Republic, notably Harry Boland. The first test of a Thompson in Ireland was performed by West Cork Brigade commander Tom Barry in presence of IRA leader Michael Collins. A total of 653 were purchased, but 495 were seized by US customs authorities in New York in June 1921. The remainder made their way to the Irish Republican Army by way of Liverpool and were used in the last month of the Irish War of Independence (1919–21). After a truce with the British in July 1921, the IRA imported more Thompsons and they were used in the subsequent Irish Civil War (1922–23). They were not found to be very effective in Ireland; in only 32% of actions where it was used did the Thompson cause serious casualties (death or serious injury) to those attacked.
The Thompson achieved most of its early notoriety in the hands of Prohibition and Depression-era gangsters, motorized bandits and the lawmen who pursued them, and in Hollywood films about their exploits, most notably in the St Valentine`s Day Massacre. It has been referred to by one researcher as the "gun that made the twenties roar.
In 1926, the Cutts Compensator (a recoil brake) was offered as an option for the M1921; Thompsons with the compensator were cataloged as No. 21AC at the original price of $200.00, with the plain M1921 designated No. 21A at a reduced price of $175.00.
In 1928, Federal Laboratories took over distribution of the weapon from Thompson`s Auto Ordnance Corporation. The cost at this time was US$225 per weapon, with $5 per 50-round drum and $3 for 20-round magazine.
Nationalist China acquired a quantity for use against Japanese land forces, and eventually began producing copies of the Thompson in small quantities for use by its armies and militias. In the 1930s, Taiyuan Arsenal produced copies of the Thompson for Yan Xishan, the warlord of Shanxi province.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation first acquired Thompsons in 1933 following the Kansas City Massacre. In 1938, the Thompson submachine gun was adopted by the U.S. military, serving during World War II and beyond. There were two military types of Thompson SMG.
The M1928A1 had provisions for box and drum magazines. It had a Cutts compensator, cooling fins on the barrel, employed a delayed blowback action and its charging handle was on the top of the receiver.
The M1 and M1A1 had a barrel without cooling fins, a simplified rear sight, provisions only for box magazines, employed a straight blowback action and the charging handle was on the side of the receiver. Over 1.5 million military Thompson submachine guns were produced during World War II.
Military users of the M1928A1 had complaints about the "L" fifty round drum magazine; the British Army officially criticised "their excessive weight, the rattling sound they made...." and shipped thousands back to the U.S. in exchange for box magazines. The Thompson had to be cocked, bolt retracted ready to fire, to attach the drum. It attached and detached by sliding sideways which made magazine changes slow and also created difficulty in clearing a cartridge malfunction ("jam"). Reloading an empty drum with cartridges was an involved process.
In contrast, the "XX" twenty round box magazine was light and compact, it tended not to rattle, and could be inserted with the bolt safely closed. It was quickly attached and detached, and was removed downward making clearing jams easier. The box tripped the bolt open lock when empty, facilitating magazine changes. An empty box was easily reloaded with loose rounds. However, users complained it was limited in capacity. In the field, users frequently taped two "XX" magazines together to speed magazine changes.
Two alternatives to the "L" drum and "XX" box magazines were tested December 6, 1941 at Fort Knox: an extended thirty round box magazine and a forty round magazine made by welding two 20-round magazines face to face, jungle style. Testers considered both superior to either the "XX" box or "L" drum. The 30-round box was approved as standard in December 1941 to replace the "XX" and "L" magazines. (The concept of welding two box magazines face-to-face was carried over with the UD 42 submachine gun.)
The staff of Savage Arms looked for ways to simplify the M1928A1, producing a prototype in Feb 1942 which was tested at Aberdeen Proving Ground in March 1942; Army Ordnance approved adoption as the M1 in April 1942. M1s were made by Savage Arms and by Auto-Ordnance. M1s were issued with the 30-round box magazine and would accept the earlier 20-round box, but would not accept the drum magazine.
The Thompson was used in World War II in the hands of Allied troops as a weapon for scouts, non-commissioned officers (corporal, sergeant and higher ranking), and patrol leaders. In the European theater, the gun was widely utilized in British and Canadian Commando units, as well as in the U.S. Army paratrooper and Ranger battalions, where it was issued more frequently than in line infantry units because of its high rate of fire and its stopping power, which made it very effective in the kinds of close combat these special operations troops were expected to undertake. A Swedish variant of the M1928A1, called Kulsprutepistol m/40 (meaning "submachine gun model 40"), served in the Swedish Army between 1940 and 1951. Through Lend-Lease, the Soviet Union also received the Thompson, but due to a shortage of appropriate ammunition in the Soviet Union, usage was not widespread.
In the Malayan Campaign, the Burma Campaign and the Pacific Theater, the Indian Army, Australian Army infantry and other Commonwealth forces used the Thompson extensively in jungle patrols and ambushes, where it was prized for its firepower, though its hefty weight of over 10 pounds and difficulties in supply eventually led to its replacement in Australian units 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 protective armor vests. (In 1923, the Army had rejected the .45 Remington-Thompson, which had twice the energy of the .45 ACP). 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 (trail) positions, as a point defense weapon.
The Army introduced the U.S. M3 and M3A1 submachine guns in 1943 with plans to produce the latter in numbers sufficient to cancel future orders for the Thompson, while gradually withdrawing it from first-line service. However, due to unforeseen production delays and requests for modifications, the M3/M3A1 never replaced the Thompson, and purchases continued until February 1944. At the end of World War II, the Thompson, with a total wartime production of over 1.5 million, outnumbered the M3/M3A1 submachine guns in service by nearly three to one.
Thompson submachine guns were used by both sides during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. Following the war, Thompsons were issued to members of Israel’s elite Unit 101, upon the formation of that unit in 1953.
During the Greek Civil War, the Thompson submachine gun was used by both sides. The Hellenic Armed Forces, gendarmerie and police units were equipped with Thompson submachine guns supplied by the British and later in the war by the United States. The opposing Communist fighters of the Democratic Army of Greece were also using Thompson submachine guns, either captured from government forces or inherited from ELAS. ELAS was the strongest of the resistance forces during the period of Greek Resistance against the Germans and Italians, and were supplied with arms from both the British and the United States. After the demobilization of ELAS, an unspecified number of arms were not surrendered to the government but kept hidden, and were later used by the Democratic Army of Greece.
By the time of the Korean War, the Thompson had seen much use by the U.S. and South Korean military, even though Thompson had been replaced as standard issue by the M3/M3A1. With huge numbers of guns available in army ordnance arsenals, the Thompson remained classed as Limited Standard or Substitute Standard long after the standardization of the M3/M3A1. 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 Chinese Civil War. 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 captured and placed into service with American soldiers and Marines for the balance of the war. During the Cuban Revolution, the Thompson submachine gun was used by some of Fidel Castro`s guerrillas.
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 assault rifle. Not only did some U.S. soldiers have use of them in Vietnam, but they encountered them as well. The Viet Cong liked the weapon, and used both captured models as well as manufacturing their own copies in small jungle workshops.
In the conflict in Northern Ireland, known as `The Troubles` (1969–1998), the Thompson was again used by the Irish Republican paramilitiaries. According to historian Peter Hart, "The Thompson remained a key part of both the Official IRA and Provisional IRA arsenals until well into the 1970s when it was superseded by the Armalite and the AK-47.
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 they were declared obsolete and ordered destroyed in the early 1970s. The Thompson, or copies of the gun, are still seen from time to time in modern day conflicts, such as the Bosnian War.