Firearms

My Dream Gun… the Full Auto Thompson Submachine Gun

CTD Suzanne shooting a fully automatic Thompson submachine gun.

We all have one. That one gun we would love to own one day. There are many reasons why you still don’t have it in your possession—its über expensive, hard to find, you have to jump through hoops to own one, or you live in California. Your reasoning behind wanting to own one is irrelevant, because usually your dream gun is the one that absolutely serves no purpose but to be straight up damn cool.

For the longest time my dream gun has been the Thompson. And not a wimpy semi-automatic one either. Is it because I have shot one and it just blew my mind? No. It is because I am nostalgic for a day I never knew. The days when owning a fully automatic Thompson didn’t require a Class III license. In fact, when production of the Thompson submachine fell just short of WWI, Auto-Ordnance marketed the Thompson to the public. You could buy a Thompson just about everywhere, even through mail order or your local hardware store. I also romanticize life in the roaring 20s. Thanks to Hollywood, my imagined 1920s was full of flapper dresses, underground jazz music and where bootlegged liquor and gambling didn’t actually cause as much death and violence as it did. Plus, the Thompson, with its vertical foregrip, finned barrel, and large drum magazine is one of the most iconic firearms in history. Show any anyone a picture of the Thompson and they are going to say, “Oh! That’s a Tommy gun.”

Belt feds aside, I believe the Thompson is one of the finest and meanest looking guns ever. Its stamped steel, simple rectangle-shaped receiver is all business, while the smooth polished wood of its buttstock, foregrip, and pistol grip highlight the gun’s classic side.

General John Thompson and his Tommy Gun
General John Thompson and his Tommy Gun

General John Taliaferro Thompson—a West Point graduate, pivotal player in the U.S. Army’s adoption of the Springfield M1903, and aide in .45 ACP caliber development—came up with the idea of a hand-held, fully automatic firearm. General Thompson believed that “a one-man, hand-held machine gun. A trench broom!” would be the future weapon of war (Auto-Ordnance.com). General Thompson did not believe that any of the other weapons systems, gas-operated, recoil-operated, and blowback would be suitable for the gun he had in mind. He came across John Bell Blish’s invention, the Blish Locking System that allowed a simple blowback-operated firearm to incorporate a breech locking system. General Thompson made a deal with Blish, offering him shares into the Auto-Ordnance company in trade for the permission to use the Blish Locking System.

General Thompson then hired Theodore Eickhoff and Oscar Payne to be his main designers in developing the firearm. The gun finally came into production in 1919, General Thompson called it a submachine gun, a term we now designate any rifle or carbine that fires a pistol caliber. Originally, General Thompson had planned to market the gun to the military, but it fell short in making it into WWI. However, in the 1920s, the U.S. Coast Guard adopted the Thompson and in 1928, the Navy requested a version of the Thompson for use by Marines. Shortly thereafter, after WWII began Auto-Ordnance supplied the Thompson submachine gun to Army troops.

The Thompson was the preferred gun over the M1 Carbine and during the War it proved itself an excellent close-quarters combat weapon. At 600 rounds of .45 ACP per minute, no other country’s military had that kind of firepower.

As far as gangsters go the most notorious such as Pretty Boy Floyd and John Dillinger did own Thompsons, they were not as popular with the gangster set as Hollywood like us to believe. The Thompson is heavy, weighing in over 10 pounds; it’s long, making the gun very difficult to conceal, hence why gangsters would remove their Tommy gun’s buttstock. A full-sized Tommy gun looks great on film, though, and that is why we get the notion that gangsters and villains brandished and favored the gun.

Kahr Arms now owns the rights to Auto-Ordnance and currently produces 15 different versions of the Thompson long gun and 2 models of Thompson pistol. Kahr expertly studied the original Thompson blueprints to recreate an exact replica of the iconic firearm. Made in the USA, current production

semi-automatic model Thompsons range in price from just under $1,000 to almost $1,400.

In all these years I’ve been admiring the fully automatic Thompson, I have never had a chance to shoot one until recently. On June 23 and June 24, 2012, I went to the Oklahoma Full Auto Shoot and Trade Show (O.F.A.S.T.S.) where vendors, individuals, and retailers converge to rent out their machine guns and blow up cars. Albeit at a price, there really are not that many opportunities to have so many Class III weapons at your disposal. With my limited funds, it was hard to choose between shooting something you know will be awesome, like the H&K MP5, or one of the more exotic Class III such as the Lahiti, Mini Gun, or WWI Maxim. Fortunately, my friend reminded me that the Thompson was my dream gun, so that’s the one I ended up choosing.

CTD Suzanne shooting a fully automatic Thompson submachine gun.
CTD Suzanne shooting a fully automatic Thompson submachine gun.

I opted for two 50-round drum magazines. O.F.A.S.T.S prices are set at $30 per magazine for regular calibers and $17 for your second magazine. It was worth it to spend the extra for another magazine. If you have ever shot full auto, you know how quickly 50 rounds go! I did not get a chance to ask the owner of the Thompson I shot which model it was, however judging by the picture, it is a classic full auto model with the Cutts compensator, and finned and threaded barrel. O.F.A.S.T.S does not put out traditional paper targets, but cars, airplanes, refrigerators, stoves, and other such “targets.” Yes, I said airplanes. I aimed in the general direction of a stove that was the closest item to me and let her rip. I have no idea if I hit that stove or not, but who cares? Once I get a lot more time behind full autos, then I can start focusing on hitting something. Since this was only my second time to shoot full auto, my main concern was keeping control of the weapon. Athough the Thompson is a very heavy weapon, for me anyway, weighing about 10 pounds, I was very pleasantly surprised how controllable it is. It may have been because of the adrenaline, but the recoil was unnoticeable and the muzzle was extremely easy to control. I had no problems with climb. Was the Thompson all I imagined it would be? Sure. Especially since I felt like a complete badass while shooting it. My friend who was with me, after seeing my incredibly large grin, smiled back and said, “You need one now, right?” I responded, “of course!” So, if you ever ask me, “why own a full auto?” Because they are damned fun. That’s why.

What is your dream gun? I would love to hear about it.

 

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Comments (33)

  1. I have shot the fully auto Thompson and it is DEFINTELY fun to shoot. One year when I was sighting in my rifle a guy walked up to me and the wife and asked if I wanted to shoot a full auto weapon. He handed me a Thompson 45 and I fell in love with it. The only thing I regret is that I didn’t ask him if he wanted to sell it. I now own a Thompson semi-auto and love it too. Good thing about it is that I can shoot in in our indoor shooting range because it is a 45ACP pistol caliber.

  2. HOWDY. I WAS IN KOREA AS A RADIO OPERATOR FOR A FORWORD OBSERVER, PLUS A SQUAD OF MACHINE GUNNERS. MY RADIO WAS 40 LB’S SO MY RIFLE WAS A THOMPSON, FULL AUTO…HAD TWO 30 RD CLIPS TAPED TOGETHER FOR 60 ROUNDS. ….HAD A CHANCE TO BRING IT HOME, BUT IT SEEMED TO DISAPPEAR WHILE I WAS AT A MASH UNIT. BOUGHT ONE THRU EBAY MY BROTHER TRADED ME OUT OF IT, SO I SENT FOR ANOTHER ONE WITH A POSTAL MONEY ORDER TO THE GUY WHO SELLS THEM ON EBAY. BUT,,,,,,,, HE CASHED MY MONEY ORDER, AND DID NOT SEND A THOMPSON. CANNOT REMEMBER THE COMPANY BUT IS WAS OWNED BY JASON WELLS OF COURTLAND, OHIO.DID NOT THINK THERE WERE ANY A—HOLES AROUND LIKE THAT, AND HE DENIED GETTING IT, HE SIGNED FOR IT TO BE DEPOSITIED IN HIS ACC# 149261241. HOPE HE INJOYS MY $259.20. STILL LOOKING FOR ANOTHER, BUT WIFE SAYS AT 81 YEARS OLD YOU DON’T NEED IT. LOL

  3. Just came across your article, like you my favorite gun was always the Thompson, so one day (22 years ago) I just went ahead and bought one. I have an original 1928A1 auto ordinance full auto “heavy” Thompson with three 30-round mags, and one 50-round drum. It has worked flawlessly from day one and never a problem with jamming, or misfire. Pulled it out of the safe after sitting for last 7 years, so my 13-year-old grandson could fire his first automatic weapon. Started him off on single shots so he could get use to the feel and heavy weight of the Thompson. Then showed him how to do three shot burst, for three magazines. He was able to handle it just fine, so I let him burn through a 50 round drum, needless to say it only took about three seconds to empty it. With the cut compensator there is hardly any muzzle rise or any recoil. The look and ear-to-ear smile on his face and I knew he was hooked and a Thompson fan for life. I let him blow through about 700 rounds before we called it quits, now he wants to take it every week when we go to the range. I don’t know if he realizes or cares how expensive all that .45 cal ammo is, it’s just fun to him. With that being said, I’m considering putting my Thompson up for sale, I have two other automatics. After being paralized from the waist down and in a wheelchair from an auto accident 15 years ago, I have just been shooting pistol, the Thompson is just too heavy and hard to balance for me now. If you or any of your readers are interested in a great condition Thompson, e-mail me at bman1209@msn.com and I’ll send pictures and discuss it with you.

  4. I was so excited to have bought my first Thompson September 1st 2012. I finally got the grown kids and myself a weekend we were all off, Sun the 9th. We left out for the firing range. We set up the targets 30 feet away, I got my new Thompson out of its gun case. I had pre loaded the drum with 50 rounds of .45 APC.
    I stepped up to the line pulled the trigger and “bang”, the first round through my new Thompson S-A rifle. At that moment I was a kid watching the old Gangster movies in my head.
    ‘BUT” sorry to say it was my first jam as well. I racked the slid back and pulled the trigger and “bang” the second round down range but also the second jam.
    But this time, it was one round half way in the barrel and a second round right up against the primmer of the first round of the double jam. It took my grown Son and me holding the rifle while my nephew removed the jam.
    At that point my dream was crushed the second round that I fired,the firing pen punched a hole through the primmer leaving a hole in the hull. We also discovered the extractor had been destroyed. Upon farther inspection the drum had got bent where the second jam caused the doubled round to be jammed into the back of the drum, causing it to get bent, and it now had the ammo that was still loaded to be at a an angle to the barrel of about 20% left. I took the Thompson back to the store “Cheaper than dirt” I ask the clerk at the register If I could talk to the Owner or the manager. The clerk made the meet happed really fast. We went into his office and I told him what had happened and he seamed to get very agitated. But he never showed me any disrespect, he ask if I had brought the gun with me I told him I would bring it in. He told me to he has heard all the stories, and this made me think he believed I was being untrue full. But when I opened the case and showed him the shell casing I had fired and put a hole in, and the second bullet that had jammed and got dented he seemed to maybe realize I was being truthful. He made a full refund to me and I left MY dream lying on the counter as I walked out. But the way they handled the situation was fantastic I will go back and tell my friends how well I was treated at “Cheaper than Dirt”.
    My dreams had been shattered.But maybe one day I will buy another, if I can find an original Auto-Ordinance Thompson.

  5. Thompsons were never stamped, the receiver was machined. Also every gun that shoots a pistol caliber round is not designated a “submachinegun”. Other than that this was a well researched and written article. Thanks for supporting full auto ownership.

  6. Yeah; since when has a Thompson receiver been stamped? It’s heavy and expensive milled receiver led to the development of the much cheaper M3 “Grease Gun”. But yeah; I still want a Thompson. We just need to repeal the NFA.

  7. I OWN 2 TOMMY GUNS. THE SECOND ONE WAS BOUGHT FROM CHEAPER THAN DIRT A YEAR AGO. I HAVE BEEN A GUN COLLECTOR FOR OVER 40 YEARS, BUT THIS IS TOP CLASS. IN CLOSE RANGE IT’S ON THE MONEY. THE PART OF THIS GUN I LOVE THE MOST IS IT’S HISTORY,SITTING SIDE BY SIDE WITH MY M1 CARBINE & 1945 M1 GARAND. IF I CAN FIND A 30.06 BAR AT A PRICE I COULD HANDLE, THIS COLLECTION WOULD BE COMPLETE.

  8. The weapon you shot appears to be an early-war WWII variant of the M1928A1, since it still has the vertical grip, finned barrel and Cutts compensator, but it has the unprotected “L” type rear sight.

  9. I’ve had my fair share of guns over the years but the one I’ve fallen in love with is the AK-74. My added love of bullpup style rifles has now made me want an AK-74 Bullpup more than ever. These things are REALLY hard to find in my neck of the world. hint hint…anyone willing to sell one? 🙂

  10. I too was at OFASTS this year (and last) and once again rented my favorite – the BAR! Even with that dinky 20 round magazine and ultra heavy weight, it is such a hoot to shoot .30 ’06 full auto from the shoulder and have it controllable! My son and I are starting an annual tradition of hitting OFASTS together.

    Oh and you rented from L&L, they are the ones with the $30 first magazine, and $17 every mag thereafter for the box magazine fed guns. So you could have shot your MP5 or a P90 for another $17…

    Oh and they (L&L) had a transferrable, pre WWII Thompson for sale for the price of a decent used car – $12,500. If I’d had that much disposable cash, I would be waiting on the ATF for the license today!

  11. I blame Vic Morrow (SGT Saunders) for my facination with Thompsons. I have recently taken to watching COMBAT! again over the internet. I’m about 1/2 way through season 1, and he has lost 3 (THREE)!

  12. OK my favorite gun would be my Glock 19 with the 31 round magazine that was purchased from Cheaper than Dirt, with that i could shoot you multiple times!

  13. I am fortunate to have several weapons of choice and being somewhat of a history and nostalgia buff I would love to own a Thompson full auto.

  14. Greetings CheaperThanDirt, Having read your article about the Thompson Machine Gun, it brought back fun memories of my young being a member of a NRA supported rifle club. The president of the club was the chief of police and a childhood friend of my fathers. He took several of us to a military range to shoot varied rifles. One was a Thompson machine gun. I had a chance to shoot it. Well, the first thing that impressed me was its heavy weight. But to my surprise, it handled well. I do not remember the model; it did not matter to me. To shoot something like this was a dream. I do remember having a smile on my face for the next 5 days. Could not think or anything else. A dream gun to be sure.

  15. As a Vietnamese advisor, I carried one for a year 67/68. You can run out of ammo very quickly even with 7 20round mags. I chose not to use drums as they are very bulky. Like the Ak 47; the thompson has a very distinctive sound. When you hit something with a 45 it usually goes down or is highly dammaged. For close quarter engagement it is outstanding.

  16. Thompsons, even the -A1 versions, have machined Steel receivers.

    None of that cheap AK stamped mess.

  17. My time in the U.S. Army put me in contact with many T. O. and E. weapons. M-1, M-1 Carbine, M-14, M-16, M-60, 1911 sidearm and many others, but my favorite was the venerable Thompson. Like you said, this weapon gave you that since of ultimate power. The Thompsons that I handled were very accurate at fairly close range, they had very little problem with rise, if one was experienced at firing this weapon, you knew how to fire in short bursts and watching where your rounds hit, adjusting your aim, usually from the hip, as you moved. Oh! To own one now. But needless to say, when you live on the left coast, you can only dream of yesteryear.

  18. I have the semi auto version I LOVE IT I get fifty yards away from a milk jug it’s so easy to walk the jug!!

  19. What is my dream gun, you ask. I am a 64 year old shooter who was presented his first firearm at age 6. It was a .22LR rifle chosen by my Dad. It would be four months before I was allowed ammo. That came only when my father (a trainer) was absolutely sure I fully understood firearm safety, and the responsibility that came with owning a gun.

    Since age 13 my favorite gun has always been a quality Combat style 1911, in .45ACP. I am not wealthy, never was and the needs of my family always came first; but the dream of someday owning one never left me! A short while ago my doctors diagnosed me as having a life ending disease. With my prognosis of 18 months began a stream of medical expense that finally crushed my dream. At best I was able to obtain a pocket Kel-Tec 3AT for home and self protection.

    The word having spread that I must have some pretty strong pain killers, introduced me to a new risk. Here in PHX it is Home Invaison that pose a big a risk to those with medical problems. Dear God how I wish that my dream had come true! I have accepted my mortality; I just want to keep it at bay as long as possible.

    An armed society, is a polite society!

  20. So true of how the Thompson brings back a feeling of true nostalgia! I love the old FBI/Gangster movies (Bonnie & Clyde first comes to mind but there was a plethora)from that era as well as the dress,etc…Ironically and in many ways a far simpler time then today.

    -Cheers

  21. The Thompson is the coolest gun ever! Someday I would like to have one to call my own.The cost of shooting that bad boy is daunting at 600 rounds per minute!I’ve held one and enjoyed the feel of it.I love the Stainless 1911 pistols in 45 ACP also.I’m saving up for one of these in the near future.

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