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.

    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.