The Thompson M1A1 (Full Auto)

The American Thompson SMG is a gun that has been used by hero and villain alike, and countless film and television appearances have cemented its reputation as piece of Americana. But beyond its iconic status, the gun was a very effective piece of military hardware and was used to great effect in conflicts around the world until it fell into obsolescence. In this episode of TFBTV, we do some shooting with the M1A1 variant.

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Transcript …

(gun fires) (gun clanks) – Few things you can do with a firearm make you feel more badass than hip-firing a fully automatic Thompson submachine gun.

This example is an M1A1, a simplification of the M1, which was a simplification of the Blish Lock models.

The Thompsons you see in gangster movies used a complex operating method with an H-shaped translating piece of bronze, but also early Thompsons are beautifully made firearms with magnificent bluing, complex rear sights, thinned barrels, compensators, removable stocks, exquisite wood furniture, all things that could make them pass as an artwork, but that all came at a price.

Using an inflation calculator from the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics, in today’s dollars, original Thompsons were $2,500.

Obviously, during war time, resources, time, and money need to be conserved, so M1A1s were production simplified and the price was, again in today’s dollars, $616 in 1944.

To put this in perspective, the cost of an M4 carbine today, based on a 2013 government contract, is $642 per gun.

So the M1A1s make up the lowest rung of the Thompson hierarchy, but they’re still very neat firearms.

While simplified, they’re still effective.

One thing you can’t say about the Thompson is they’re ineffective as a combat weapon.

The rear sight features a peep and a notch on top for longer distance shooting.

The front sight is a simple post that’s not very susceptible to bending.

It’s very stout, and as you can see, reinforced on both sides.

The controls of the Thompson are actually quite good as well.

You use your right thumb to actuate the magazine release.

Magazines lock in positively, and it is easy to run a Thompson, all things considered.

The charging handle is reciprocating, of course, and is located on the right side of the receiver, although it is located on the top on earlier models.

To put the gun on safe for fire, you can actuate it with your thumb as well.

This is quite natural, and it does feel a bit like an AR-15, although the fire-selector for safe and semi is a different selector.

So let’s throw another mag in and get to shooting.

(gun clicks) (gun fires) (gun fires) (target clanks) It’s always funny when that happens.

(gun fires) One of the Thompson’s positives is that it does use a double-stack, double-feed magazine as opposed to an M3 grease gun, which is a single-feed magazine.

You can also see here how the bolt slams home, and then I switch it to auto real quick.

It does have a last round bolt hold open, which is great.

(gun fires) (gun fires) So at this point, I thought it might be interesting to do a quick accuracy test while kneeling at about 40 yards.

I set the gun on semi and fired two 5-shot groups.

This is where the Thompson’s heavy weight of 12 pounds, or 5.5 kilos loaded, helps the gun a bit.

The bolt slamming forward has less of an effect on accuracy due to the weight compared to other SMGs in its class, and this resulted in a pair of two, two and a half inch groups.

Not bad, all things considered.

The Thompson is also quick to bring up to your shoulder and lay rounds on target.

Again, the weight results in low recoil and great accuracy, but the stock’s aggressive downward slant makes it very odd to shoulder.

Mind you, I have a lot of experience with Thompsons, but most people I hand this gun off to find it quite awkward.

As for some final thoughts, the Thompson was showing its age in World War II, but even the war production M1A1s were very well-made firearms that a soldier could rely on.

While soldiers may have dreaded marching with the 12-pound amalgamation of milled steel and walnut, they knew that it was a weapon that wouldn’t let them down.

This is Alex C with TFB TV.

Thank you very much for watching.

(gun clicks) (gun fires)

Alex C.

Alex is a Senior Writer for The Firearm Blog and Director of TFBTV.


  • TheNotoriousIUD

    My father carried one of these for a short time in Vietnam during the disastrous introduction of the M-16 but ultimately traded it away because of the weight.
    He did say it was fun though.

  • Major Tom

    I’d rather carry that 12 lb beast of a sub gun than dare carry a STENch gun.

    • Trey

      M2 for me, Full Auto and 250 yard range.

      Yes .30 carbine is not a great rifle round but it is at least a Rifle Round.

      • JumpIf NotZero

        M2…. I’m pretty sure you count M2 as a full auto option, you have likely never fired one in auto.

        It’s a mistake of a setting.

        • M2 carbines are one of the shoother shooting select-fire guns I have played with.
          Very easy to keep on target, and with negligible recoil.

          • valorius

            I maintain that a fully modernized M1 carbine with a good 30rd mag design, rails, synthetic stoc, red dot and soft point ammo would be every bit as good as any modern assault rifle.

          • Richard Lutz

            Love the M1 Carbine, but members of the unorganized militia should be using an M4 variant like the FN 15 Military Collector M4 whenever possible to attain and maintain a high level of proficiency with it. If you like .30 calibre rounds you can get a .300 Blackout upper for it.

          • valorius

            .300 blkout doesnt do anything for me. I’d rather use a .45acp carbine than that caliber.

          • Richard Lutz

            The .300 Blackout will do anything the .30 Carbine round will do and more when loaded with lighter bullets at high velocity (I don’t much like the subsonic loads). The Bazooka Brothers make .45 ACP variants of the AR with lowers made to accept M3 ‘Grease Gun’ mags (they also make SBR uppers).

          • valorius

            .300 blackout is a niche cartridge, it’s not my thing.

            My original M1 carbine comment was for a general issue infantry weapon, not to get into comparing it to various other calibers.

            A .45 acp AR would be pretty cool, for sure.

          • st4

            Vid of that next plz!

        • DrewN

          We had a few when I was in the
          Philippines but we only had 1 magazine that worked in full auto,but it worked in every one. So a little magazine development (which no one has any inclination to do) would probably sort things out.

        • Trey

          I have never had the opportunity to fire an M2 carbine semi auto or full auto. My IBM production M1 carbine is quite enjoyable.

  • Anonymoose

    Alex C the headless Thompson gunner~

  • BrandonAKsALot

    I fired one at a rental range in Houston and it was my first full auto. It was an amazing experience. Very controllable as you’d expect with a heavy ass gun.

  • cheerdiver .

    It would be nice, if you clarified that full auto STATUES (laws only apply if your harm another) apply to CITIZENS (Black’s Law Dictionary 3rd ed property of the state, chattle). When you start filing paper work, you engage in a contract. These contracts are not meant to benefit you, only hold you accountable.
    It’s sad to see articles written to deceive people out of their natural rights.

    • What the hell are you talking about dude?

      • Joseph Goins

        Sovereign citizen, if you ask me.

        • cheerdiver .

          You clearly don’t comprehend the words you’re using. That statement is an oxymoron, you’re either one or the other.
          What’s the difference between the fed gov and the mafia?
          The mafia doesn’t get to indoctrinate you, as a child, for 15,000hrs to convince you what they are doing is not illegal.
          I have a strong feeling, if you have to censor me, you’re just modern slaves doing your masters bidding. So fair well, I can’t change your mind, that is up to you.

          • Dan Atwater


          • Math & Physics

            Ignorant people usually laugh at things the don’t comprehend. I’m willing to bet you’re so dumb, you still think airliners hit the twin towers. Even basic ballistics shows how dumb the MSM considers the general public. Teenagers, 150yrs ago, knew cannonballs bounced off ironclad ships. And that was iron, not high strength steel. It’s velocity that penetrates, and if you think the velocity of a child’s air rifle if fast enough, you don’t know jack crap about ballistics.

            Aluminum in free space will NOT penetrate a larger piece of rigid structural grade building steel at subsonic speed (STP@SL).

            There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true. The other is to refuse to accept what is true.~ Soren Kierkegaard

            The highest form of ignorance is when you reject something you don’t know anything about.~ W. Dyer

            Prof can be seen in history, as a B-25 Mitchell struck the
            Empire State building July 28th, 1945. The facade of the ESB is
            granite, and masonry has negligible tensile strength(<1Ksi).
            Tensile strength is what keeps a material from being pulled apart
            (penetrated, such as Kevlar vest) and structural building steel will
            withstand over 88Ksi (THE strongest tensile strength building
            material used in quantity, even today). The aircraft punched a 18ft x 20ft hole in the facade, yet the wing span is over 67 feet. Many publication try to avoid discussing the air frame, as it fell to a lower roof terrace and the street level. Victims inside stated “The building swung like a pendulum for thirty seconds… we had trouble keeping our feet under us, as we ran for cover.”

            To arrive at a contradiction is to confess an error in one's thinking; to maintain a contradiction is to abdicate one's mind and to evict oneself from the realm of reality.~ Ayn Rand

            The crisis of today is the joke of tomorrow.~ H. G. Wells

            Having shot a steel car rim with a handgun (44mag), this
            is a clear example of how penetration is not possible. The bullet is 10x the density of water and travels well above the speed of sound (about 1600ft/sec). But we are expected to believe an aluminum projectile that floats on water (Sully's airliner in the Hudson river, indicating .2 mass density compared to water) and can only travel about 500ft/sec, is able to perpetuate over 126 feet through steel without stopping. This is absurd, as it would only takes a constant force of 50G to stop any projectile moving 500ft/sec, in 63 feet. Formula 1 cars have recorded survived impacts from 85-140+G, crumpling the car body less than 2ft, in 200mph crashes.

            As the kinematic equation shows, 1/2 Mass(Velocity squared), the velocity is exponential compared to mass, a linear function. From the standpoint of metallurgy, the shear modules of aluminum is 25 Gpa, where as basic steel is 70 Gpa. Even the
            construction technique of using sheet metal to fabricate planes,
            lends itself to the dissipation of energy through crumpling.
            Examples can be seen in uni-body construction of cars to meet impact safety requirements, a practice started before 1980.

            In conclusion, the carppetbagger's hoax that commercial
            airliners hit the WTC, can easily be disproved by observation of
            physics and metallurgy. Even basic math shows the energy needed would be one thousand times greater than a commercial airliner could generate, that's three orders of magnitude. NOT PHYSICALLY POSSIBLE!

          • Dan Atwater


          • Math & Physics

            If I were face to face w/ you, I’d say you have a mental problem.

          • Dan Atwater

            You responded to three letters with 500 words of irrelevant nonsense, and I have mental problems? I want to poke you and see what you do next.

          • Anonymoose

            Chill out until Trump wins the election, brother. We’ll make America free again, no matter what. NFA needs to be repealed and education needs to be up to parents’ discretion. We know this, but this is an apolitical (or if you must have a single-issue, it’s pro-gun) blog. Anyone with any technical knowledge has the capability to stamp out SMGs or mill out lowers and pop in sears, but we’ll be damned if we let the authorities catch us doing that.

  • Harry’s Holsters

    Never had a chance to handle one but the controls seem very modern. Lighten it and add a 1913 rail for an optic and your in business. I’d never do that to such a beautiful gun.

    • Anonymoose

      Nevah bin dun befoh.

  • codfilet

    My mother impressed us kids deeply when she told us once that she had fired a Thompson SMG when she was in the Navy WAVES during WW2.

  • valorius

    Certainly one of the coolest looking weapons of all time.

  • KestrelBike

    Wow, 12lbs. And the Garand’s only 9.5!

  • John

    Polymer furniture, aluminum body, rail systems, an M4 buttstock mount, and chambers for different cartridges.

    Do all that, and they can be marketed as the Scorpion-killer.

    • iksnilol

      I doubt it could be made with an aluminum body?

      • Anonymoose

        Actually Auto-Ordnance makes most of their Thompsons with aluminum receivers now. If we’re talking modernizations, I’d prefer a straight-line detachable buttstock like on the Uzi over a fugly M4 stock, though, and maybe Mlok mounts on the sides of the forend. Bring back the adjustable sights or use something like the MBUS Pro rear sight, with a short rail for a red dot or low-power scope. Make the pistol grip, forward pistol grip, and stock out of nice wood (not black and not plastic), bring back the finned barrel, and chamber it for .45 Super or .460 Rowland and we’d have one heck of an awesome SMG.

        • iksnilol

          I checked it out.

          Auto Ordnance Thompsons with alu receivers are 9.5 lbs… AKA jsut as heavy as an M1 Garand. AKA pretty darn heavy for an SMG.

        • David169

          The earlier Thompsons had a ladder sight that will elevate to 600 yards. The sight is also adjustable for windage. As far as power the 45 ACP in a Thompson it gets another 150 fps over the same cartridge fired in a pistol due to the longer barrel. The older Thompsons with the Blish lock can fire +P and beyond ammunition without any modifications. When I was in bear country I used to shoot proof loads in my 1928. The Thompson 45 caliber cartridge was the equivalent of a 45 magnum and other than a magazine difference the standard early SMGs would fire the cartridge. I’m sure when a 21 Thompson with a “C” drum full of the old AP ammo like Remington Highway Master was used to stop a vehicle it was impressive.

    • DW

      You basically described a 9mm AR.

  • iksnilol

    I’ve always wanted one of those 1928 Thompsons and some 50 round drums.

    Then I remember that .45 acp is expensive.

    • DW

      Worry not comrade, there are some alternatives in yuropellets that provides similar flavors:
      1. Suomi KP-31. Wood, steel, drums, also accurate.
      2. PPSh-41. Wood, steel, drums to rain down communism
      3. Owen SMG. Wood, steel, no drum but topfed because everything is reversed in nopeland and earth is flat (NOT)

      • iksnilol

        I know, I know.

        But there’s something carnally capitalistic with a fedora, pinstripe and 1928.

        • Mike L

          The first full auto I shot was a Thompson. Heavy son of a gun but it could brutalize some punkins! As said before, the weight kept it right on target.
          Oddly enough it was owned by an attorney who worked for the atf. He was getting a divorce and offered to sell it to me. When I passed the paperwork!

    • Benjamin Goldstein

      Reload, and use cast lead 230 grain round nose….

      • iksnilol

        Time = money


        • Benjamin Goldstein

          = fun also….. And i’m getting old.. I need all the fun i can get…

          • iksnilol

            Ah, makes sense. I am a youngin so I can presumably afford to be a bit more economical.

          • Benjamin Goldstein

            Nah dont do it… Blow your dough on all the fun toys in life…. Move to a country now that you can own Full Auto, Suppressors, Hot Rods, Jet Boats, etc

          • iksnilol

            Uh, in Norway I can already own suppressors. In Bosnia I know people with full autos (slightly less legal but still).

            Hot rods are cool but not nearly useful enough for me to consider. No jet anything before I get a degree and good job 😛

            It’s easy to have such an optimistic outlook on life but first I need to buy a house. I need my freedom before I can go balls to the wall with fun stuff.

  • iksnilol

    Those people who’d rather shoot a cop than show a license?

    I’mma get the popcorn.

    • Richard Lutz

      Licenses? We don’t need no stinkin’ licenses!

      • iksnilol

        Driving license was what I was referring to.

  • What a magnificent beast of a bygone era; definitely on the Lottery List.

  • UnrepentantLib

    I came across a YouTube video the other night, “WWII Weapons in the Yugoslavian Wars 1991-1999.” A number of Thompsons showed in in the hands of various parties, along with the more expected German and Russian weapons.

    • iksnilol

      One of my uncles used an Thompson in the 90’s in Bosnia. He liked it due to the high ROF allowing it to punch through improvised body armor. Now I don’t know much about Thompsons so I don’t know which ones had the extra high ROF whilst being available.v

  • Deanmarsh22

    “Safe or semi” Did you mean full or semi?

  • Here let me help you on the journey out of here.

  • roguetechie

    My first full auto experience was with a suppressed MP5, almost directly followed by a Mac an Ak and an M16 all in the same day at a range in Utah…

    I came to multiple conclusions that day.

    1. The Mac is obviously some demented attempt at a close range antiaircraft gun.

    2. The MP5 is going to be an amazing assault rifle when it grows up.

    3. The Ak is outstanding provided you get on and off the trigger quickly and use great biomechanics.

    4. The M16 is even better provided you get on and off the trigger quickly and use great biomechanics.

    Now that I have the equivalent of probably 1500+ rounds of full auto experience over a variety of firearms and have a good idea how to run them passably well I’d absolutely love to put a couple boxes of ammo through one.

    Before now I don’t know that I’d have appreciated it fully, but boy am I jealous of the awesome toys you guys get to put through their paces!

  • Wanderlust

    While its cool from historic purposes, today its pretty much a toy.

  • MikeSanDiego

    Very good video. Could have been longer though (how often do you hear that about YouTube videos?). Also could have used watermelons, pumpkins, and cans of soda.

  • David169

    The biggest problem with all the Thompson SMGs as far as clumsiness is the length of pull. It is about 2.5 inches longer than the Springfield or the Garand. I own a 1928 and I bought a surplus stock and reduced the length of pull to match all the service rifles and it helped a lot. The accuracy of a Thompson is excellent for a SMG. I put a B-27 target at 600 yards and fired a 50 rd. drum at it semi-automatic with no sighters. Out of the fifty shots I had 37 hits that would incapacitate.