Gun of the Month: The Tommy Gun

Discussion in 'General Firearms Forum' started by SHOOTER13, Sep 15, 2013.

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  1. SHOOTER13

    SHOOTER13 RETIRED MODERATOR Lifetime Supporter

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    The Thompson is an American sub-machine gun, invented by John T. Thompson (1860- 1940) in 1919, 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 Gunâ€, “Trench Broomâ€, “Trench Sweeperâ€, and “Chicago Typewriterâ€. 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.


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    It was during Thompson’s career in the military, around the time of the Spanish-American War (1898) that he met 2nd Lt. John H. Parker, who had learned that Thompson’s unit, based in Tampa, Florida, had fifteen Gatling guns with no orders as to how they were to be disposed. Parker not only wanted to use them in the war, but also planned to create a new Gatling gun detachment and prove the effectiveness of rapid-fire weapons (an ambitious undertaking, given that the US Army had been reluctant to even upgrade its antique single-shot Springfield rifle).

    Thompson was very receptive to Parker’s idea and not only gave him the guns but a large supply of ammunition. Parker went onto make a name for himself at the Battle of San Juan Hill but Thompson decided to try and correct the sorry state of American small arms. He was the first Army Ordnance Department officer to recognise the need for fully automatic pistols and rifles. As the years went by, Thompson grew tired of fighting the Army about the need to adopt automatic weapons, so he surprised everyone and retired in 1914, on the eve of the Great War. He took a job at the Remington Arms Corporation managing the construction of the world’s largest rifle factory at Eddystone, Pennsylvania, built to support the war in Europe. At its height, it produced 2,000 rifles a day. These included the .303in Pattern 1914 Enfield for the British Army and the 7.62mm Mosin Nagant rifle for the Russian Army.

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    With success in managing the Eddystone Factory, Thompson decided to continue his quest for a fully automatic weapon, attempting to design and build a weapon in his spare time, using his own capital and then submit it to the Army as a civilian inventor. Thompson hoped that his weapon would not only shorten the war in Europe but also earn him a lot of money. There were three main designs at the time, none of which quite met his requirements. The recoil system was mainly used in medium and heavy machineguns, however there were many moving parts and reliability could be a problem. The gas system had the same drawbacks as the recoil system but whereas in the recoil system, it is the barrel’s rearward movement that cycles the weapon, in the gas system a hole is tapped in the barrel which bleeds gas off after a round is fired, to drive a piston that cycles the system. The third design is the blowback system, mainly used in semi-automatic handguns and relies on the propellant gas pressure to literally ‘blow’ the bolt rearward. This action powers the sequence of ejecting the spent cartridge and chambering a new one. This type of weapon is pretty simple as they do not have a locking breech, but depend on the forward inertia of a heavy bolt, driven by a recoil spring, to keep the breech closed at the point of maximum pressure. Such a system would seem to be ideal for a lightweight, fully automatic weapon due to the lack of moving parts, reliability and its simplicity, but in practice it’s only usable with low-powered pistol ammunition, as high-powered rifle ammunition creates very high chamber pressures, overcoming the inertia in the bolt and blowing it back prematurely.

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    To build a personal sub-machinegun, Thompson had to find a way of making a simple but effective breech lock. For over a year, this technical problem was insurmountable, until he came across Patent No. 1,131,319 at the US Patent Office – “A Breech Closure for Firearmsâ€, granted to a retired US Navy Commander, John B. Blish. The ‘Blish Lock’ was a breech locking mechanism that could be used with a blowback system. It delayed the blowback of the bolt until the chamber pressure had dropped to an acceptable level. Thompson could now produce his gun – he had realised that few would accept a pure blowback system and it would help sales to say that the Blish Lock held the chamber closed until pressure dropped to a safe level. The design came from the observations Blish had on large naval guns, where guns firing relatively light charges tended to have their breech blocks unscrew and fly open, while those that had relatively large charges tended to remain shut. Blish concluded that certain metals had a tendency to adhere to each other when subjected to very high pressure, with a force that was greater than just normal friction. This principle of metal adherence has since become known as the Blish Principle. In late 1915, Thompson contacted Blish, who was excited to learn about Thompson’s work and was positive that the lock would be suitable. Thompson worked out an arrangement where he would use the lock in exchange for a percentage of stock in the company Thompson was planning to start. Thompson found financial backing for his company from the Tobacco tycoon, Thomas F. Ryan and in 1916, Auto Ordnance Corporation was founded. Ryan was given a controlling interest in the company with around 18,000 out of 40,000 shares, while Blish was given 1,500 for the use of his patent and another 10,000 divided up amongst Thompson’s family.
     
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2013
  2. SHOOTER13

    SHOOTER13 RETIRED MODERATOR Lifetime Supporter

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    Theodore H. Eickhoff and George E. Goll joined the company, which initially had to contract out all of the prototypes and machine work to a company Thompson knew, the Warner & Swasey Co. Eventually, AOC moved into office space in the Meriam Building on Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio and the machining operations at the Sabin Machine Company on Carneige Avenue. With over a year of testing, it was found that the lock would only work with the .45 ACP round and so dropping the idea of an automatic rifle (in 30-06), Thompson decided to concentrate on a small, lightweight, personal machinegun and by the summer 1918, all the major design difficulties had been solved. The Annihilator I as it was codenamed could empty a 20-round magazine in less than a second but the first shipment of prototypes destined for Europe arrived at the docks in New York City in 11 November 1918. With the First World War over, what would the company do? In 1919, Thompson gave the company the mission of adapting the weapon for non-military applications. Thompson also wanted to call the weapon something that would distinguish it from its larger, more cumbersome brethren. They considered the names ‘autogun’ and ‘machine pistol’ (a name that would find favour in later years) but finally chose ‘sub-machinegun’. At a meeting of the AOC Board of Directors, the weapon was officially classified as a sub-machinegun and to honour the man responsible for its creation, it was named the Thompson Sub-Machinegun.

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    With hostilities over, the company realised that significant sales to the military were unlikely, but they continued nonetheless to try and attract both the US Army and the US Navy, hoping that the weapon would be accepted as standard issue. The first public demonstration of the weapon was in August 1920 at the National Matches held in Camp Perry, Ohio and everyone who saw it was amazed at its rate of fire – 1,500 rounds per minute, emptying a drum of 100 rounds in about four seconds. Pleased with the public reaction to the new sub-machinegun, Thompson approached the Colt Firearms Co. with a proposal to manufacture it under license. Thompson hoped that the Colt name, along with its ties to the military, would help get it accepted into service. However, the unexpected happened – Colt was so impressed with the weapon after a thorough evaluation, it offered to purchase all the rights to the weapon for a cool $1,000,000. However, Ryan advised that if the weapon was worth one million dollars to Colt, it was worth more than that to AOC. The Colt offer was rejected and a contract signed for the production of 15,000 firing mechanisms ($680,705) as well as spare parts ($9,105). Contracts were also signed with the Remington Arms Co. for walnut butt stocks, pistol grips and foregrips ($65,456) and the Lyman Gun Sight Corporation for adjustable sights ($69,063) and after 1926, the Cutts Compensator. AOC then shut down its R&D operation in Cleveland and moved it to a rented building on Colt’s grounds to oversee production. The first guns came off the production line towards the end of March 1921. These weapons were given to AOC salesmen and demonstrated to the US Army and US Marine Corps, as well as various armed forces across Europe. Despite an enthusiastic response initial sales were low. Not only was the weapon ahead of its time, most of the major powers were seeking a peace dividend and substantially reducing their defence spending, leaving tight budgets that gave little room to buy semi-experimental weapons with no combat record. Even the US Army was more disposed to ignore the bargain basement price of $225 and pay $650 for a Lewis Gun.

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    Given this low demand, AOC refocused their efforts on Local and State Law Enforcement. They took advantage of the public’s concern over gangsters who would ‘hit-and-run’ – robbing a bank then driving away as quickly as possible, often exchanging gunfire with the Police. A number were also bought by the IRA (around 500) in 1921. Even with sales to the Police Departments of New York City, Boston and San Francisco as well as the State Police of Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, West Virginia, Connecticut and Michigan, sales to this sector were still lower than expected. With just over 3,000 units sold by 1925, AOC resorted to advertising the Thompson sub-machinegun as the solution to most of the problems one would need a firearm to solve. It is hard to believe, but in those days, almost anyone could purchase such a weapon if they had $225, either by mail order or popping into a gun shop or sporting goods store. In fact, it wouldn’t be until 1934 that machineguns and various other classes of firearms or accessories, such as suppressors / silencers, short-barrelled rifles and shotguns were placed under strict Federal regulation with the National Firearms Act (NFA). In the meantime, AOC quickly became aware of the damage these weapons could do if they got into the wrong hands and so formulated an agreement with its dealers to restrict sales to only those parties that were on the right side of the law. Unfortunately, not all of its dealers abided with this agreement. Stepping back a bit, a major turning point in American history is 16 January 1920 which saw the enactment of the Volstead Act, whereby the US Government banned the import, manufacture and sale of alcoholic drinks. Criminals quickly realised the profit potential of providing the public with the alcohol it craved, bringing them into direct conflict with local, state and federal law enforcement. It also provided a foundation for the establishment of organised crime in the USA. To protect their operations, the gangsters bought the Thompson sub-machinegun and eventually, a number of gangsters became associated with the weapon, such as Al Capone, John Dillinger and ‘Machine Gun’ Kelly. It is interesting that, even though the Thompson could be sold to anyone on the open market, they commanded high prices in the criminal underworld, commanding anywhere between $1,000 and $2,000 apiece, probably due to the crackdown on unscrupulous dealers.

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    Ironically, it was about this time that the Thompson was finally accepted for service by an official branch of the United States Armed Forces. The US Coast Guard began issuing weapons to patrols sailing off the East Coast while the US Post Office bought a consignment to equip the US Marines protecting the mail trucks which were frequent targets for heists. In 1927, these same guns were used by the US Marines in the jungles of Nicaragua, so successfully that the Corps bought another 200. The popularity of the Thompson and is usefulness in close quarter fighting led the Corps to adopt the Thompson in 1930, years ahead of the Army.
     
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2013

  3. SHOOTER13

    SHOOTER13 RETIRED MODERATOR Lifetime Supporter

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    In 1928, the Navy re-evaluated the weapon and decided to adopt it on their gunboats, if the company addressed two issues – the rate of fire (which was judged to be too high) and the vertical foregrip (which was judged to be too delicate for service use and would complicate training as none of their other weapons featured a foregrip). The company responded and replaced the vertical foregrip with a straight horizontal one, while reducing the strength of the spring and increasing the weight of the actuator, thus dropping the rate of fire down to about 600 rounds per minute. The new Navy model was designated the ‘US Navy Model of 1928′, the number 8 being stamped over the 1 on the Model 1921 guns that were converted. Finally, in March 1932, AOC finally managed to persuade the US Army to adopt their weapon as a ‘non-essential limited procurement’ for use in armoured vehicles belonging to the cavalry. This was upgraded in 1936 from ‘limited’ to ‘standard’ and in 1938 it received an official designation of ‘Submachine Gun, Caliber .45 M1928A1′. Although the Army orders were important for AOC, they were only small – the company still had 4,000 of the original 15,000 guns in stock and AOC was in trouble financially.

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    By 1939, things were looking bleak for AOC, with a power struggle to gain control of the company, the resultant change of management and sluggish sales of the weapon. All this was about to change however, with first, Germany’s invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939 and second, the British and French declaration of war on 3 September. This led to the French placing an order for 3,000 units on 1 November 1939 (worth $750,000) and the British making enquiries over a similar order. This would mean AOC could finally sell off their remaining inventory of Colt-manufactured weapons but would also mean them having to make new ones. They tried to interest Colt but the company were fully committed to making other weapons (such as the BAR) and had not forgotten the bad publicity that had come from all those Thompsons, with the Colt logo on them, winding up in the hands of gangsters, and so turned down the offer. AOC then signed a contract with the Savage Arms Company of Utica, NY. Very soon, the war created an overwhelming demand for sub-machineguns, fuelled by the large-scale use of such weapons as the Maschinen Pistole (MP) 38 and 40 by the Wehrmacht during the early campaigns.

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    Between February and December 1940, the company received orders from France for another 3,000 units (March), from the US Army for 20,450 (December) and a total of thirteen orders from the UK for a total of 107,500 weapons (totalling $21,502,758). Knowing that the demand would only increase, AOC leased an old brake relining plant in Bridgeport, Connecticut in August 1940. Converting it to produce Thompsons, the first weapons started rolling off the production lines a year later (August 1941) just in time for a massive order from the US Army for 319,000 guns. In fact, AOC only built the upper and lower receivers and assembled the weapons at Bridgeport, all the other components were manufactured by sub-contractors, including Savage Arms. By February 1942, AOC had delivered its 500,000th weapon. By the summer of that year, the combined output from both AOC’s and Savage’s plants totalled 90,000 guns per month. By the time production stopped in late 1944 (to make way for the M3 and M3A1 sub-machineguns) over 1,750,000 Thompsons had been produced, with spare parts to make an estimated 250,000 weapons. Most of these were made at the Savage facility (approximately 1,250,000) which can be identified as they have an ‘S’ prefix before the serial number on the left side of the upper receiver, compared to the ‘A.O.’ prefix on the weapons coming from AOC’s Bridgeport plant.

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    After the start of the Second World War, the US Army finally realised that it needed a sub-machinegun and that, in reality, the Thompson was already approaching obsolescence. When compared to other SMGs, such as the MP38 and 40, it was heavier, harder to mass produce and more costly, but it did have one enormous advantage – it was the only such weapon being mass produced in any Allied country. While the US Government started to look around at alternatives that could be made faster and cheaper, the Thompson, to give it credit, evolved. The weapon had already changed once, from the M1928 to the M1928A1, the version bought by the US Navy.
     
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2013
  4. SHOOTER13

    SHOOTER13 RETIRED MODERATOR Lifetime Supporter

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    However, more was to come. The finely machined Lyman sight was removed and replaced by a simple L-shaped battle sight, later protected by ‘ears’ to stop it snagging on soldiers’ cloths and equipment. Then, the fancy checkering on the Fire Selector and Safety switches and the Actuator knob was removed, as were the finely finished barrel fins. Savage however, went even further. They took out the Blish lock (which incidentally, had proven to be unnecessary in a sub-machinegun) and converted it to a straight blowback design. This removed the need for the separate Actuator and ‘H’ piece, and allowed the cocking handle to be mounted directly on the bolt, moving from the top of the weapon to the right-hand side. Other changes were made that meant the butt stock was permanently attached to the receiver, both the 50-round and 100-round drum magazines could no longer be used and the Cutt’s compensator was removed. The new weapon was designated the Submachine Gun, Caliber .45, M1 in April 1942. In October 1942, even this version was simplified again, with the M1A1 having the firing pin and hammer removed and in its place, a fixed firing pin was machined into the face of the bolt. To replace the 50-round drum magazine, a 30-round box magazine was introduced. As a measure of these changes, the M1A1 could be produced in half the time of an M1928A1 and at almost a quarter of the cost. The M1928A1 cost $209 each, the M1 cost $70 while the M1A1 cost $45. The weapon that supplanted it, the M3, cost even less.

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    The main users of the Thompson during the Second World War, were, in the European Theatre, the British, American and Canadian forces, primarily airborne, commando and ranger units but were also used in other units such as armour, artillery and the infantry, mainly for NCOs and patrol leaders. In the Pacific Theatre, the Australian and British Armies used the Thompson initially but difficulties in obtaining ammunition led the Australians to gradually move over to the Owen and Austen SMGs, although it was still used in large numbers by the US Army and US Marine Corps, even after the introduction of the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR). While in later years, it was substantially replaced by the Sten Gun in regular army use, the first contract was signed on 1 February 1940. However, it’s inventor did not live to see the day his weapon was finally accepted by the military at large.

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    Specification (M1)
    Calibre: .45 ACP
    Length: 32 inches
    Length of Barrel: 10.5 inches
    Weight Loaded: 10.45 lbs
    Magazine: 20 or 30-round box
    Rate of Fire: 700 rpm
    Muzzle Velocity: 920 fps
     
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2013
  5. SHOOTER13

    SHOOTER13 RETIRED MODERATOR Lifetime Supporter

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    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. 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.

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    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 spraying 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.

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    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.

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    Last edited: Oct 16, 2013
  6. SHOOTER13

    SHOOTER13 RETIRED MODERATOR Lifetime Supporter

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    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.

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    The Thompson was also used in limited issue by the U.S. Marine Corps (carrying over from their Post Office service) as the M1928 in a series of interventions in Central America, particularly Nicaragua, where it was popular with the Marines as a point-defense weapon for countering ambush by Sandinista guerrillas.

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    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.

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    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.


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    Last edited: Oct 16, 2013
  7. SHOOTER13

    SHOOTER13 RETIRED MODERATOR Lifetime Supporter

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    Bump..........................
     
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