The Last Thompson

By Frank Iannamico

Despite Its High Cost, Millions Were Made for the U.S. and the Allies in WWII

The Thompson submachine gun was conceived by U.S. Army General John Thompson as a weapon to assault and clear out enemy trenches during World War I. Thompson formed the Auto-Ordnance Corporation to develop his submachine gun. World War I ended before the weapon went into production. After the post-war design was finalized, Auto-Ordnance, which had no facilities for mass production, subcontracted with Colt to manufacture the Thompson submachine gun. A total of 15,000 Thompson submachine guns were produced by Colt from 1921 to 1922. Sales were very disappointing; for all intents and purposes the concept was a failure though criminals of the day recognized the Thompson’s value. Police departments began to purchase Thompsons just so they would not be outgunned by gangsters. Many gangland shootings made the headlines in all the newspapers; the Thompson submachine gun was getting a very tainted reputation.

By early 1939 when it appeared World War II was imminent, the Thompson submachine gun was nearly 20 years old. An entrepreneur by the name of Russell Maguire sensed that there would be a need for weapons when war came. Through some dubious tactics, Mr. Maguire was able to gain controlling interest in the floundering Auto-Ordnance Corporation.

World War II was a more fluid conflict than World War I had been. It would be a war where the submachine gun would play a significant role. Despite the design being over 20 years old, it was the only proven weapon that could be fielded quickly. However, once again Auto-Ordnance had no manufacturing capabilities. A forward-thinking Russell Maguire contracted with the Savage Arms Company to manufacture the Thompson for Auto-Ordnance. The first Thompsons made by Savage were similar to those made by Colt. Savage delivered the first completed guns to Auto-Ordnance in April 1940. Savage also manufactured many parts to supply Auto-Ordnance’s own factory in Bridgeport, Connecticut, that began manufacturing the M1928A1 model in August 1941.

The British Army, despite their resistance to what they referred to as “gangster guns,” was one of the first...

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V23N2 (February 2019)
and was posted online on December 14, 2018


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