The Thompson Submachine Gun: The Trench Sweeper

Thompson Submachine Gun Photo Album

In the above scene from the 1972 Academy Award-winning film “The Godfather,” Sonny Corleone, eldest son of New York City’s Corleone crime family, stops at a tollbooth en route to exact revenge on Carlo Rizzi. Rizzi has been beating his wife, Sonny’s sister Connie. Suddenly, armed men surround Corleone’s car and open fire with “tommy guns,” riddling his body with bullets.

Notorious for its usage by gangsters and lawmen during the prohibition era and the Great Depression, the Thompson submachine gun, or “tommy gun” was issued to the U.S. Army in the late 1930’s and was in active service until the early 1970’s.

The front cover of a 1920’s brochure selling Thompsons, “the gun that bandits fear most.”

The front cover of a 1920’s brochure selling Thompsons: “the gun that bandits fear most.”

In 1915, Gen. John T. Thompson began searching for a way to improve upon the bolt-action rifles that were standard-issue for the army, envisioning a semi-automatic rifle. By 1917, this vision had morphed into a fully-automatic “trench broom” capable of cleaning enemy soldiers out of WWI trenches. However, the war ended in 1918 before prototypes could be sent to Europe. The end of the war also signaled the end of the gun’s given name – Annihilator – as it now had to be marketed toward civilians and law enforcement. As the M1921, it became iconic in the hands of the police and gangsters as “the gun that made the twenties roar.”

In 1928, the M1921 underwent a few small changes and became the Model 1928, the first type widely distributed to the U.S. military (prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, this model was designated the M1928A1). When the U.S. entered WWII, the military called for production simplification, resulting in the M1 in April 1942, and the M1A1 in October 1942, though these were not issued en masse until 1943.

This is a photo of a Thompson M1A1 submachine gun.

A real Thompson M1A1 submachine gun.

The M1928A1 was compatible with both stick and drum magazines, which could hold up to 100 rounds. The M1 and M1A1 Thompsons did not have the option of a drum magazine, so the 30-round stick magazine was used.  The Thompson was fully automatic and could fire 600 to 1,200 rounds per minute (rpm), depending on the model. The earlier the weapon was produced, the higher the rate of fire was. The M1921 operated at 850 rpm, the M1928 at 720 rpm and the M1 and M1A1 at 600 rpm. All models had an effective range of about 50 meters. It was very effective in close combat, but due to the power of the same .45 ACP round used in the Colt pistol, anything other than short bursts of fire resulted in a wide spray of bullets.

A screenshot photo of the Thompson M1A1 submachine gun used in Medal of Honor: Allied Assault (MOHAA).

The Thompson submachine gun used in MOH: AA.

The Thompson used in MOH: AA is an M1A1 model, and Capt. Richards carries one in Lighting the Torch, which occurs in November 1942. Although the M1A1 was not issued to the army until 1943, it is possible that Richards’ Thompson is an M1, or he has been issued one in advance. As it is supposed to, it fires at 600 rpm, and is hard to control while fully automatic. In extremely close quarters, however, automatic fire is devastating.

It also appears as the main weapon used by Capt. Ramsey on Omaha Beach and afterward, in the bocage. It’s used by Powell and other officers throughout most of the game.

Ammunition can be found in green boxes labeled “Wehrmacht Eigentum,” which means “property of the German Army.” These boxes can also refill the MP40, which is inaccurate. The MP40 used the 9x19mm Parabellum round, which was 2mm smaller than the .45 ACP. Is it simpler to have one box refill all submachine guns? Maybe. Is it correct? Not at all.


~ by John on August 10, 2011.

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