Thompson Machine Carbine (Submachine Gun)
Image Collection 8
Gavin K. Watt
Canada and Britain entered the war without a machine carbine (SMG) in their arsenals and it soon became obvious that one was required. The American designed and manufactured Thompson had obvious disadvantages, such as high cost and excessive weight, and would introduce a new calibre (.45 ACP) into the system; however, it was viewed as a proven system and was immediately available in quantity.
Initial shipments were of the M-1928 pattern, which accepted a 50-round drum magazine and 20-round sticks. (a 100-round drum was found utterly impracticable) In turn, the 50-round drum was found awkward and added too much weight to the firearm. Replacement supplies settled on 20-round stick magazines. For some unknown reason, Commonwealth forces chose not to adopt the 30-round stick design when it later was accepted as standard by U.S. forces.
British small arms’ authorities made a very sensible modification to the 28 Thompson’s furniture by repositioning the sling swivels on the butt stock and fore-grip to allow more efficient carriage of the firearm in combat. U.S. forces did not follow suit.
Many changes were made to the Thompson design to reduce cost by eliminating features that had been found to contribute little to the 28’s performance – eg. finned barrel; flash and recoil compensator; micrometer rear sight; quick-remove buttstock and an elaborate firing mechanism. Commonwealth forces received large supplies of the cheaper M-1 version and, by the time of the invasion of Italy, the model was in heavy utilization. Photographic evidence suggests that British Ordnance did not alter the sling swivel positioning of most M-1’s. Possibly, replacement stocks were immediately dispersed and there was insufficient time to make the adjustments. A final variant was the M-1A1, which added protection to the rear sight and simplified the firing pin. Thompsons were not officially employed by Canadian troops in NW Europe. When 2nd Canadian Corps transferred from Italy, virtually all Thompsons were returned to inventory and 9mm MkII Sten guns issued in their place on arrival in the new theatre.
Doug Knight, ed. & Clive M. Law, Tools of the Trade – Equipping the Canadian Army (Ottawa: Service Publications, 2005)
Thomas B. Nelson, The World’s Submachine Guns, Vol. 1 (Cologne: International Small Arms Publishers, 1963)
Edward Clinton Ezell & W.H.B. Smith, Small Arms of the World (Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 11th Revised edition, 1977)
1. A German prisoner in England after the Dieppe raid is escorted by a soldier carrying an M-1928 Thompson with vertical fore-grip, 19Aug42. As the firearm rests upright, the positioning of its lower sling swivel has been altered, as per British practice.
2. A Dispatch Rider (DonR) of 14th Armoured Regiment (The Calgary Regiment), 1CAB cradles an M-1928 with what appears to be a horizontal fore-grip at Villapiana, Italy, 18Sep43. The buttstock has been removed and a P37 sling wound around the receiver.
3. Changing of Guard ceremony of 1st Canadian Corps with a combined detachment of the Seaforth Highlanders, 1CID and the Lorne Scots, the Corps Defence Company, Mar44. The marker of the second rank of the infantry carries an M-1928 slung on his right shoulder. This Thompson has the lower sling swivel mounted in the British fashion so that the firearm rests upright.
4. The Perth Regiment, 5CAD lands at Naples, Italy. A sergeant comes down the gangplank carrying an M-1928 with a vertical fore-grip.
5. An M-1928 is carried by a 48th Highlander, 1CID at the Foglia River in the Gothic Line, Italy, 28Aug44.
6. A Queen’s Own Rifles, 3CID patrol in snowsuits with the file leader car-rying an M-1928 outside Nijmegen, Holland, 22Jan45. (NB: in NW Europe where no Thompsons were issued to Canadian troops other than 1CanPara)
7. A 48th Highlander, 1CID carries an M-1 TSMG with a U.S.-made sling at Caltagirone, Sicily, 02Aug43. More commonly, a ‘hookless’ Ptn 37 Bren sling was employed.
8. Men of the Loyal Edmonton Regiment, 1CID at Ortona, 21Dec43. The corporal has an M-1 TSMG slung over his shoulder on a Canadian sling.
9. Hastings & Prince Edward Regiment, 1CID soldier poses with a PIAT slung on his back and an M-1 TSMG in his hands with a Canadian sling mounted in the American fashion, Motta, Italy, 02Oct43.
10. Two Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantrymen, 1CID in a slit trench at Spinete, Italy, 22Oct43. An M-1 TSMG can be seen with the butt unscrewed. This was commonly done to reduce length and weight during night patrols, as most shooting was at extreme close range and the fire-arm acted as a fully-automatic pistol with a large capacity magazine.
Butts of the M-1928 versions were readily detached and re-attached using an integral push button; however, M-1 butts had to be unscrewed to remove.
11. A grouping of 48th Highlanders, 1CID pose at San Leonardo di Ortona, Italy, 10Dec43. Standing is a soldier with an M-1 TSMG.
12. Soldier of the West Nova Scotia Regiment, 1CID in a slit trench with his M-1 TSMG on the rim, Montelabbate, Italy, 30Aug44.
13. Men training at Shilo, Manitoba in Canadian snowsuits, 20Mar45. The soldier in foreground wields an M-1A1 TSMG. An obvious external difference between M-1 and M-1A1 TSMG’s was the protective wings around the rear sight of the latter.
14. The top buttstock shows the normal positioning of the sling swivel as supplied from the United States. The lower one shows the sling swivel removed and replaced by a neatly-machined wooden plug. On the bottom is a horizontal foregrip with the forward sling swivel removed and the cavity plugged. Note the pushbuttons for buttstock removal.