Thompson Submachine Gun
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Basic Information

The Thompson submachine-gun, or "Tommy Gun", was the iconic weapon of the Prohibition Era. It was invented by General John T. Thomspson in 1919 as a replacement for the bolt action service rifles then in use. His idea was that it would be used as a "Trench Broom" to "sweep" out enemy trenches; but the war ended before his design could be put into production.

Although the United States Marine Corps bought a small quantity of Thompsons, which were used in small bush wars during the 1920s, and others were sold to local police forces, the Tommy Gun received it's chief notoriety in the hands of Prohibition and Depression-Era gangsters. (See also Mafia and Gun Moll.)

Although the iconic Tommy Gun from the 1930s gangster movies featured a distinctive drum-style ammunition magazine, the Thompson also came in models utilizing a stick-type magazine, which many soldiers preferred because the drum had a tendency to rattle and to jam as well as adding considerable weight to an already heavy weapon. The drum magazines came in 50 or 100 round versions and the box magazines in 20 or 30 round, all models exclusively in .45ACP.

The Thompson was used by Allied forces during World War II for scouts, NCO's and patrol leaders, mostly in the redesigned and simplified M1 and M1A1 models1. It was also used frequently by commandos because of it's compactness, it's high rate of fire and stopping power. It's penetration, however, left something to be desired; it was heavy, and not terribly accurate; and eventually the gun was superseded by lighter, more powerful semi-automatic rifles. Even during the war, cheaper alternative submachineguns were developed to supplement and supersede it.

Still the Thompson turned up in hot spots around the globe throughout the 20th Century. The IRA bought some of the first Thompsons made and used them throughout "The Troubles" in Northern Ireland. Chinese Communist forces used them during the Korean War and so did Viet Cong forces during the Vietnam War. They were also used by the FBI until 1976. Even in the present day, a small number of replica weapons, mostly copies of the M1928, are made for collectors - typically in semi-automatic action designs to account for more oppressive modern firearms laws.

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Game and Story Use

  • Any Pulp-Era campaign absolutely has to feature Tommy Guns. The traditional way to carry them is in a violin case, although the weapon needs to be unloaded and dismantled to be carried in this way, making it a poor choice if the user needs to deploy it quickly.
  • Later users, at least those who use them through choice, are likely to do so for aesthetic reasons rather than ones of practicality. Most of these users prefer the more elegant, albeit fussier, 1921 model or the early military M1928.
    • Otherwise, like most WW2 production weapons, they can pop up all over the place for decades - it is entirely probable that there are examples coming on a century old still in action in Africa and Central and South East Asia.
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