The Thompson M1A1 Submachine Gun (Full Auto)

A British soldier equipped with a Thompson M1928 submachine gun (drum magazine), November 25, 1940
A British soldier equipped with a Thompson M1928 submachine gun (drum magazine), November 25, 1940

Black and white gangster movies from the 1930’s were, and still are, hugely popular. The weapon of choice in these movies is almost always the Thompson submachine gun aka Tommy gun. Another famous character who chose this as his weapon of choice was ‘Machine Gun Kelly’ who was a world famous bootlegger. A little-known fact about this weapon is that an American General was the one who came up with the idea for this weapon.

The Thompson submachine gun or M1921, was the very first model produced and this was done in 1921 by Colt. The weapon was super impressive for its time and could easily fire 800 rounds per minute using .45 caliber bullets. A total of 15.000 guns were produced. Sales did not go well even though the gun was an impressive weapon to use in these times.

A better, more improved version was created to try and boost sales and create more demand – this was the M1928, and was considered one of the best guns made to date, yet sales were still very poor. The biggest issue that was found with the Tommy gun was the price asked for; it cost $200 for an M1928 (approx $2,300 in today’s market).

The US Army introduced a new range of submachine guns (the M3 and M3A1) in 1943 and planned to manufacture enough so that Thompson guns could be withdrawn slowly from use on the front-line.

Tommy guns are not used in service anymore and are very much collector’s items. A gun in working condition that has been maintained well can fetch as much as $25,000.

In this episode of TFBTV, see the guys do some shooting with the M1A1 variant.

Joris Nieuwint

Joris Nieuwint is a battlefield guide for the Operation Market Garden area. His primary focus is on the Allied operations from September 17th, 1944 onwards. Having lived in the Market Garden area for 25 years, he has been studying the events for nearly as long. He has a deep understanding of the history and a passion for sharing the stories of the men who are no longer with us.