Let’s get away from revolvers and look at another iconic piece of American patriotism. The Trench Sweeper, The Chicago Typewriter, The Chopper, or just the Thompson, it’s one of the most iconic guns in history. It’s the Thompson Submachinegun. This is gonna be a long one.
The history of this trench broom begins with US Army General John Taliaferro Thompson. Former chief of the Small Arms division of the Ordnance Department, Thompson was sympathetic to the Allies, as were most Americans. And while working at Remington, heading the Remington plant at Eddystone, Pennsylvania. Having heard of the horrible trench fighting that beset most of World War 1, Thompson was determined to make something to give Allies an edge. He found a patent by John Bell Blish for a delayed blowback breech system and him and Blish founded Auto-Ordnance.
The original idea was for an automatic rifle in a full sized rifle cartridge, what we know know as the Thompson Auto-Rifle. This design went nowhere, so Thompson got the idea to instead make a similar idea in .45 ACP. And after reports of the German’s Bergmann MP18 came back, Thompson began working on making his design into an SMG.
The initial prototypes were slightly similar to the gun we all know and love, but were too late for WWI. With all military contracts dried up, Auto-Ordnance and Colt, who had bought the rights to also make it began eyeing the law enforcement side. And besides being bought by law enforcement, it became a common weapon for gangsters.
From Bonnie And Clyde to John Dillinger, the Thompson became an icon overnight. Gangsters across the 50 states used them, as they were reasonably accurate, had a very high rate of fire and thus came the other models. In 1928, Thompson was fired from his position in Auto-Ordnance during a period of low sales, but also released the updated M1928 version of the Thompson.
Yes I know it looks a lot like the M1921 above, but the M1928 was the first step in making the Thompson a military weapon. The bluing of the original was cut down, the rate of fire was reduced via heavier actuators and less powerful recoil springs. They also began to have horizontal foregrips instead of the pistol grip. This modification helped get the Thompson military contracts, first with the US Military during the Banana Wars, then world militaries from England to the warlords of China. Some of the first Thompsons were extensively by the IRA during the Irish Civil War. And WWII put the Thompson on the map.
The Thompson’s saw it’s biggest use in the largest conflict in World history. The original M1928 was the standard SMG for the British Military and the US and quickly expanded to be one of the most common SMG’s for the Allied military. It’s high rate of fire and reliability were offset by it’s high price, something that led the British to adopt the STEN gun in it’s place. But that still didn’t stop Thompsons from being used by the British, Free French, US, and many many other Allied forces in WWII and afterwards into Korea and even into Vietnam.
The final versions of the Thompson, the M1928A1, The M1 and the M1A1 were made in responce to the guns relatively high cost in manufacturing. While the US Military tried to replace it with the cheaper M3 “Grease Gun”, nothing could really dislodge the Thompson from it’s spot. And even with the rise of the assault rifle, the Thompson’s final days in the US Military were in the jungles of Vietnam, where it’s power in close quarters made it a loved weapon by LRRP operators and MAC-V SOG and SEALS.
And that is the Thompson’s legacy, from the gangster classic to the War Hero, it’s a gun for the everyman, and almost 100 years after the first M1921′s creation, they still see service. And you know damn well a gun this iconic is in more movies than you could shake a stick at.
Ever since the 1930′s, The Thompson’s been a common sight in film. It’s heavy usage by the gangsters of the 1920′s and 1930′s to it being standard US Army issue for 30+ years makes it a Hollywood legend. From films set during the Roaring 20′s, the dark days of WWII to even modern day or sci-fi futures, A Thompson will show up. It’s big, loud, heavy and makes quite a glorious muzzle flash with the Cutts compensator.
You know how this goes by now, don’t you, from the silver screen to the computer screen.
The rise of the WWII shooter in the early 2000′s made the M1A1 Thompson a staple of many FPS games, with it arming the British and US forces just like it did in real life. With the first video game portrayal of a Thompson in 1997′s Blood, it’s been a long video game line, from the undersea in Bioshock to the zombie-filled streets of Killing Floor. Even the post-apocalypse has room for a Thompson, with one if Fallout 2, Tactics and New Vegas as well as a couple of Mafia appearances. It’s big, heavy and fires big bullets, it’s as iconic on the video game scene as it is in the movie scene and in real life.
And that is the tale of the Thompson Submachine gun, from the arsenals of gangsters and police to the hands of every GI from Saipan to Berlin, it’s a classic in every sense of the word. Whether stuffed in a violin case ready for use, rattling the streets of Dublin, firing into the night from Biafra to Bucharest or hanging on a wall, it’s a piece of history and will keep shooting on for years to come.
“From Ireland to Lebanon, from Palestine and Berkeley…”