Forgotten Weapons Covers the Well-Remembered “Grease Guns”

I love it when Ian over at Forgotten Weapons falls off the actual “forgotten” weapons and delves into well-known and respected designs. His brain housing group is replete with an encyclopedia of facts and history on weapons and when applied to even well-known guns, I personally come away learning more.                 In this case, Ian takes a look at the M3 submachine gun fielded by the United States in World War 2 and slightly beyond. The M3, knick-named the “grease gun” for its external resemblance to

In this case, Ian takes a look at the M3 submachine gun fielded by the United States in World War 2 and slightly beyond. The M3, knick-named the “grease gun” for its external resemblance to a well-known mechanic’s tool. The weapons were fielded to replace the venerable Thompson, which while well-respected, had considerable manufacturing costs, even with features removed for the war effort.

Perhaps most interesting is the transition from the M3 to the M3A1, which on briefly made an impact on the war. The changes were relatively minor primarily to the charging handle, which moved from a pivoted design prone to break due to poor heat threat to a machined out cut in the bolt, where the soldier used a digit to cock the action.

Its further interesting to see the design choices to make a weapon as simple as possible. For the full details and to remember a not forgotten weapon, check out the video from Forgotten Weapons below:

Nathan S

One of TFB’s resident Jarheads, Nathan now works within the firearms industry. A consecutive Marine rifle and pistol expert, he enjoys local 3-gun, NFA, gunsmithing, MSR’s, & high-speed gear. Nathan has traveled to over 30 countries working with US DoD & foreign MoDs.

The above post is my opinion and does not reflect the views of any company or organization.


  • Erik Davis

    I want one of these so badly…

    • Big Daddy

      I liked mine a lot in the Army.

  • TheNotoriousIUD

    Delta used these as their primary weapon in the early years.

    • Moonman45

      nobody cares

      • valorius

        What’s with the douchery sir?

        • TheNotoriousIUD

          Life is easier when you block certain people.
          I cant even see anything he posts but he keeps at it bless his little heart.

      • Alex Yamach

        Says the bitter, bedwetting, and out of work Hillary blog troll.

    • valorius

      What on earth for?

      • TheNotoriousIUD

        CQB and anything else they were called for presumably.

        According to Eric Haney (founding member) Charlie Beckwith, back in the hand to mouth days, negotiated a deal with the CIA who had a warehouse full of them. They also used 1911’s for room clearing and assaulting hijacked planes.

      • demophilus

        I vaguely remember someone working out that there was a gap in allocated M3 series serial numbers, implying that those ## either weren’t issued, or had never been stamped, to be sterile. Sort of interesting that they still use “refurbished” and suppressed versions in the Philippines.

        IIRC, Delta (f.k.a. “Blue Light”) used suppressed versions because they had been used that way by MACV/SOG in Viêt Nam, with some success. Apart from being subsonic, .45 ACP punches through stuff like vegetation pretty good. Bear in mind that 9mm wasn’t general issue back then, and the issue 5.56mm load was M193 55 gr., and not barrier blind.

        A buddy of mine was in Blue Light way back then. He said some of them had customized 1911s with counterweights and compensaters for airplane takedowns. They practiced a lot of that. He also said the tail gunner(s) might carry an M3A1, as the jackhammer to their hammers.

        He also said they experimented with high density Lexan bullets, to limit collateral damage (to fuel and hydraulic lines, passengers, crew). He said the Lexan bullets shot well, but didn’t make general issue. There were also tubular bullets, but he never personally used them.

        IIRC, some of Schwarzkopf’s bodyguards carried M3A1s in GW1. Don’t know what they were stoked with.

        As I recall, a lot of people liked grease guns, but if you got one in poor shape, and/or beat up magazines, you didn’t feel the same way. Also bear in mind that about the time they finally got retired, the M9 was adopted, at least in part because it was easier to hit with.

  • Juggernaut

    What a piece of junk

    • John Eliyas

      such piece of junk my father, a airborne nco in WW2 and korea switched out hi Thompson for it.

    • Big Daddy

      You never carried one, shot one or used one in combat did you?

      • valorius

        I shot and handled them in the Army. I agree with Juggernaut.

        • Big Daddy

          Well sitting in the hatch of a M113 I found the M16A1 to be useless. The M3 was something I could shoot and drive with, holding the laterals with one hand. If I had to that is I never did, it had it uses and is still used in the Philippines with a supressor. Yes there are better option but the Army did not have them and as a driver I prefered it. Ya gotta look at the situation, one size does not fit all. They’re just tools and one tool does not do everything.They sure seemed to be popular from WWII to Vietnam for a reason. That being the military did not have anything better for that job.

          • valorius

            I can understand your perspective about being a 113 driver. A M16 would obviously be pretty useless in that role.

            When i was in our DATs were always telling us the Army was gonna adopt the Mp5 for tankers, but of course they were just dreaming.

  • codfilet

    When my nephew was in Iraq during 2005-2006, he found one of these greaseguns hidden along the Euphrates River, wrapped in a cloth. He tried to get it functioning again, because he wanted it for a turret gun in his vehicle, but it was too badly rusted, and he had no tools-so into the river it went.

  • TVOrZ6dw

    My Armored Cavalry unit still had these for the M60A3 crew members back in 1987. Most were the M3A1 version, but a few had the charging handle.
    Hard to imagine a simpler or more robust design.

    • Big Daddy

      I carried one in the Cav, early 1980s Germany. I liked because it was short and I could shoot it out of the drivers hatch if I had to, perfect for a driver. I wondered why they did not issue use some type of Colt Commando for that. Cheap Army at the time, Carter was president. Same for the M203, you cannot shoot it out of a hatch or cupola. They should have kept the M79 around for that.

      Again the M60 was great because it was short for a GPMG. Mech troops need weapons like that and the M16A1/M203 ain’t it.

  • mechamaster

    Slightly refined greasegun and it become something like Beretta BM12. ( the BM12 is 9x19mm )

  • Uniform223
  • Steven

    We had a small number in my Ranger company in Viet Nam. I could never hit anything reliably beyond 50 yards with one . 25 yards would have been better. Great gun for people that are more interested in looking cool than getting the job done.

  • Joe

    I still had 8 magazines on the shelf in my supply room in 2006.

  • Rusty S.

    I really regret not purchasing one a decade ago while they were still reasonable. Their average going price right now is around $25k!

    • Andrew Miller

      Because there’s fewer on the Registry than Thompsons, the US didn’t surplus too many of them out.

      • zeprin

        The Philippines report having multiple THOUSANDS of NOS M3’s warehoused for future issue. Supposedly the favorite weapon of the RPI SpecOps troops and Marines. Sort of a Magic Wand in jungle fighting and shipboard actions.

        • Bob Pante

          When I visited the Philippines many years ago. The friends i stayed with, had one. He was surprised I knew what it was. Apparently they were used against the Japanese.

  • bpegg72

    We had the M3A1s until late 1992 in the unit I was assigned to in Germany. They were still in good shape and easy to qualify with (using the stock extended)

  • Blackhawk

    The only time I remember shooting an M-60 MG and an M3A1 were on a range trip with our Recon Platoon when I was stationed in Korea in 1975. M3 was a fun gun to shoot; we could see the .45acp rounds going downrange.

  • valorius

    The DATs still got issued these when i was in the Army. Total junk.

    • marathag

      One upside is when they had to carry them for marches, leave the bolt behind and you had a nice, lightweight tube to hump

      • valorius

        LMAO very true.

  • The_Champ

    These World War SMGs designed to maximize production simplicity above all other characteristics are rather interesting. Wonderful simplicity.

  • Will

    I was issued an M3A1, as a crewman on an M60A1 tank, in 1964 in Germany. I really liked it. It would have been a great room clearing weapon. BUT if my tank had been disabled and I found myself suddenly transformed into an infantryman I would have immediately begged, borrowed or stolen an M14.

  • BlueMarlin Blues

    I love Ian’s videos, quick intro and right to the subject, doesn’t spend 5 minutes explaining what he’s going to talk about.

  • Charles J Lamb

    My first duty station was HHT 3/2 ACR in Amberg FRG. When I arrived there in early 1986 the M60 tank crews were still carrying these as well as .45 pistols. They went away after we transitioned to the M1.

    I drove the HHT commander in an M151. We didn’t get the first Hummers until after the M1 transition. Then the 311’s were swapped out for the first Bradley’s. This all happened from 1986-1988.

  • Geoff Timm

    Slightly beyond WWII? They were still issue in the 1980s to tankers, M88 crew and a few other slots. Geoff Who was a 45B in 1973.

    • bpegg72

      40th Engineer Bn, 1st AD still issued them until late 1992 (Baumholder Ger.). All recovery vehicles crews (wheeled and tracked) were issued at least one M3A1. We had to turn them in along with our 1911A1 pistols when they finally decided to issue us the M9

      • AlDeLarge

        I saw one of our mechanics with one in the field, in the early 90s, in Baumholder.
        4/29 FA

        • bpegg72

          He must have been part of the M88 crew then. I wasn’t sure if every unit still had them or it was just the 40th since we had just been re-flagged from 293rd Eng Bn, 18th Eng Bgd to 40th Eng Bn, 1st AD.

    • zeprin

      They were still issue items to armor crews in the First Gulf War!

  • Martingard

    Had a M3A1 in `nam for awhile, fun to play with. I wanted to try to bring it home with me but was convinced otherwise. I carried mine in the Huey just for fun.

  • Steve Mentis

    Our tank had one in Nam and for fun everyone played with it and it worked but none of us could hit a darn thing with it. If you were a driver you were suppose to be issued a 45 , but they were always short on them and even some NCO’s were give M16’s. I joined a reserve unit in 82 as the unit armor and they still had 6 in the arms room. One M3 and the rest were M3A1’s Who knows , they may still be there today LOL

  • jonp

    I was issued a grease gun when I joined the National Guards after leaving active duty and drove a tank. I had forgotten about them. Seemed a little flimsy to me at the time

  • Dave

    I was issued one in 1977 as armored crewman on the M60A1 at Ft. Knox, and shot “Expert” with it. It was not exactly a piece of junk, considering it was meant for a crewman exiting a disabled vehicle in uncertain circumstances. It was fairly lethal at 25 yards and sorta ok to 50 and that was all it was meant for. I remember a perceptible delay between pulling the trigger and firing, and a pretty slow rate of fire. 2-3 round bursts were the way to go and with a little practice you could do single shots. NOT a sniper weapon, not a target rifle, just a spray and pray noisemaker.

  • Darrell Elmore

    Much under rated for effectiveness and robust reliability I always loved the low cyclic rate of fire and controlability. I was in a unit where we designed a thumb safety as well. Heavy and a bit cumbersome I never carried one on patrol but used it for urban operations.

  • Charles Valenzuela

    Maybe you should consider reading the article one time before posting it, eh?
    Still had M3A1s in the company armory in 1980. That’s quite a bit more than “slightly beyond WWII”. Tankers had them beyond that!

  • Colonel K

    Very shortly after the failed rescue attempt in Iran in 1980, those of us attending professional development training at the Air University at Maxwell AFB, AL, were brought into the “big blue bedroom” (auditorium) for a classified briefing on the fiasco. For once, everyone remained awake and alert. In addition to our briefing, the news media were alive with film footage and photos coming out of Iranian press reports. That was 37 years ago, so forgive me if I don’t recall exactly which source presented it, but I do remember seeing a M3 or M3A1 sporting a long suppressed barrel among the items recovered from the wreckage of one aircraft. I believe most of those guns had been converted during WWII, so I was quite surprised to see one still being used 35 year later by our “elite” Delta Force. In retrospect, it is obvious that our joint forces were operating largely ad hoc, relying on quickly cobbled together command-and-control, and using whatever personnel, weapons, aircraft, and equipment were locally or regionally available to support the mission. The presence of a suppressed grease gun was simply a reflection of this fact.

  • Kodi

    In the early 70s US Marines still maintained individual unit armories even down to the level of aviation squadrons, instead of station or larger parent unit armories as they do today.
    We had a brief period when anti-war protestors and domestic terror groups were attempting to gain access to them in order to steal weapons and create havoc onboard some California bases.
    I was stationed at MCAS El Toro, CA in VMA-223, working on night crew in the ordnance division during one such attempt. Station & Wing commanders responded by an attempt on the J-3 (F4 Phantom recognizance squadron) armory and other reported breaches of the perimeter fence with armed patrols of flightiness, runways and other critical areas. Marines on duty at the time were ordered to report to Group HQ, assigned patrol sectors and issued weapons and vehicles.
    A close friend was the NCIOC of the J3 Ordnance Division and coincidentally on duty at the squadron armory that night. While my squadron issued M14 rifles, 1911 pistols and Remington 870 shotguns for roving patrols, he issued the M3 Sub-machine gun and 1911 pistols for internal security inside the hangar and armory.
    While aboard the USS Rockbridge APA-228 in 1966-68, the ships armory maintained and Gunners Mates plus Boatswain’s Mates (deck personnel) assigned ‘Repel Borders’ duties practiced with Thompson sub-machine guns, M1 Garand’s, M1918 Browning BAR, M1 Carbines as well as M14’s and other small arms.
    I was fortunate in four decades of service to train with many of these weapons no longer part of our active military in our modern military. While effective accuracy dropped fast beyond fifty yards, the M3 and M3A1 Sub-machine Gun (Grease Gun) was useful in urban CQB, especially clearing buildings. Cost effective, compact & simple with a rate of fire allowing easy control, it provided a powerful anti-personnel small arm for close combat.
    I still maintain proficiency with a variety of small arms including M16 platform derivatives, but I have never enjoyed them as much as I do my M1A (M14), M1 Garand, M1C (Carbine) and several other now so called obsolete weapons in the military part of my collection. Little is more satisfying than putting rounds into a 12″ bulls eye at 500 yards using standard issue iron sights on my 1903A3 Springfield rifle. At my age scopes, red dots and other optics have increased appeal to aging eyes, but nothing beats the satisfaction of open or iron sights and few small arms are as user friendly and instinctive as some of the old warriors.
    My favorite now obsolete weapon of all time is the M249 Grenade Launcher which always seemed like an extension of me and almost impossible to miss the target with. It just clicked for me and I could lay down grenade fire that surprised me with it’s accuracy. No machine gun emplacement or other enemy within range was safe from the bloop tubes big arc dropping right on top of them.

  • Alex Yamach

    Nice, detailed overview of the “grease gun”. Enjoyed it, and learned a lot.

    When I was a widdle kid, I had the Mattel Toys version of the “grease gun” (heaven forbid if they were sold today!). It was a cap gun that was fired by turning a crank as slowly or as quickly as you wanted.

    For added play value (noise), I recall that you could open the mag while you fired, and it made one hell of a racket. It hit the trash can when the hammer finally broke. It was a cool gun to a kid… I liked it as much as my Mattel Thompson…..

    Nowadays, you can see similar guns to the M3 being knocked out by the dozens by “backyard” gunsmiths in Mexico, the Philippines, and other Pacific Rim countries.

    Looking at the basic construction and simplicity of these grease guns, they make the dream of banning guns by the gun-hating cretins even more laughable.