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 Thompson - history, and choice of modelguns.

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smootik
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PostSubject: Thompson - history, and choice of modelguns.   Mon Jan 31, 2011 5:09 pm

While working for a future Thompson modelgun review I just put together a long-ish firearm history, plus a list of available modelguns. I think it deserves a separate thread. Review of a particular model will be good on its own without repeating this information, especially that there are already good reviews of Hudson and MGC models.

Just plain text, and plenty of it, I hope it can be still a useful read :-)

Firearm history
Thompson submachine gun is one of the most iconic US firearms, alongside Colt SAA and Colt 1911. It is seen most often in WWII movies in the hands of US soldiers, as well as in movies featuring US mafia. It is known by a variety of nicknames: Tommy Gun, Chicago Typewriter or Trench Broom.

If not for the 20 years of problems with Auto-Ordnance company, life of general Thompson was a very successfull one. During his career in US Army he initiated program to copy Mauser rifle, result being a Springfield M1903 (and a lost process, so US government had to pay royalties to Mauser).
Later Thompson worked for Remington, building and supervising a new arms factory. As WWI broke out and US Army seriously lacked firearms, Thompson went back to the Army, bringin with him idea of an "automatic rifle". He founded Auto Ordnance company in 1916 to pursue that goal. Other founders were Thomas Ryan (financial shark) and John Blish (mathematician). Blish developed an idea for a "Blish lock", where high pressure was used to hold breech closed due to "Blish effect", also known as "static friction". As it was found out much later this didn't quite work as described, but the hype was here to promote the new design. Just as Ryan brought money, Blish brough this patent, and Thompson knowledge of the military.

Company employed Theodor Eickhoff to direct construction efforts, with George Goll and Oscar Payne engineering the new weapon. In 1917 they discovered that no bullet works correctly in their "Auto Rifle", except for the heavy .45 ACP. Thompson converted an issue into a feature and marketed Auto Rifle as "a high-capacity, small, light Trench Broom that fires pistol bullets and allows a single soldier to clean out trenches from a platoon of enemies".

Project was codenamed "Persuader" and it used ammo belts to jam constantly. Next was "Annihilator" with a box magazine (XX, 20-bullet capacity) that was too small for practical use, followed by "Annihilator II" and "III" with drum magazines (L, 50 bullets and C, 100 bullets). Drum construction was very innovative, as feeding of 100 cartridges (2kg!) was too much for a classic spring. Oscar Payne designed a sectioned drum, with a star rotor to move the cartridges.

Instead of "Blish effect" this firearm used in fact just normal friction and blowback effect. Eickhoff calculated a simple blowback bolt would work just as, but did not succeed in convincing Thompson to simplify the design.

Just as "Annihilator III" was ready, WWI was over, and Auto Ordnance was left without its target market. Weapon got a new name "Thompson Submachine Gun" as a marketing effort. Thompson did not construct the weapon, and everyone else called such firearms "Machine Pistols", so you can see that US marketing was already well developed even 100 years ago ;-) At the same time Oscar Payne never got publicity for his work on construction.
Colt offered to buy Auto Ordnance, but Thompson and Ryan did not sell, expecting more profits from their product. However nobody bought Thompson M1921, and thousands laid in magazines.

The first large batch was bought by IRA, Irish Republican Army, who wanted to ship it to Ireland to fight with British occupation. Most of 500 Thompsons were caught, but a few made it through and were used to attack British troop train in Dublin. It happened just as Marcellus Thompson (son of John) tried to sell his guns to British Army.

The other large customer also did not quite fit Thompsons marketing as "Anti Bandit Gun". Franck McEarlane invented "drive by" shooting, using Thompson in Chicago gang wars. Soon it was adopted by all important mafia gangsters, including Al Capone. Thompsons were heard constantly, christened "Chicago Typewriter" by local newspapers.

In 1922 Oscar Payne left the company, followed by Eickhoff two years later, and in 1925 John Thompson himself retired. Company was in a sore state. In 1926 a batch of Thompsons M1921 was imported to Poland for trials at Police, but it was decided that Auto Ordnance is too unstable financially to risk further purchases. In the same year Thompsons were given to Marines who guarded US Post wagons. Soon they bought more, happy with performance. Navy was interested in further purchases, but requested lower fire rate. Modifications were done by Oscar Payne, making it M1928. Things seemed to go forward, but Thomas Ryan died in 1928, and his successors did not want to have anything in common with "black PR" of Thompson submachine guns. License was given to Federal Laboratories, but it was removed by Ryan junior after he discovered that Thompsons are now used by gangsters employed by local governments to squash union strikes.

In 1925 Belgian Army wanted to buy Thompsons, but chambered in 9mm Parabellum. Colt did not want to make modifications, so conversion was outsourced to British BSA. Great Depression prevented Belgians from completing the purchase, and a few years later they went for Bergmann MP28. BSA converted Thompson not only to 9mm, but also several other calibers used in various armies (7.63x25, 7.65x32, 9x23, 9x25), none of them got orders.

In 1934 US government passed "National Firearms Act", and civilians could no longer buy a machine gun. Weapon transfer required a 200$ fee while Thompson M1921 costed 225$, so you can see state of that market.

Meanwhile Marcellus Thompson travelled on his own and marketed Thompson gun to various parties. He expected to recover money - he had 25% of actions in Auto Ordnannce, worthless unless Thompsons were sold! Unfortunately the only results was a broken marriage and lost health.

In July 1939 company was taken over by Russel Maguire, and Marcellus Thompson suffered a stroke.

Suddenly US Army began ordering Thompson submachine guns and M1928A1 variant was created. WWII broke out soon afterwards, Maguire became rich on his investment, as suddenly Thompson M1928A1 was the only such weapon available to the Allies. Meanwhile Marcellus Thompson died in October 1939 and John Thompson in June 1940, without seeing success of their weapon.

In preparation for war Maguire built his own factory (Bridgeport), and bought plenty of steel. Meanwhile the first batches of Thompsons were produced in Savage factory in Utica.

Thompson M1928A1 was too expensive and complicated to manufacture. Rear sight alone took over 45 minutes to make! It was modified to a simple fixed sight, protected by triangle ears. Blish bolt was replaced by a simple blowback bolt that worked just as good. This modification was done by Savage company, who threatened Maguire to do it regardless of his approval. In 1942 after many more simplifications gun was standardized as Thompson M1. A larger stick magazine (XXX, 30 cartridges) was introduced, while capability to use drum magazines (too heavy to carry and too awkward to load) was removed. A few months later a floating firing pin was replaced with one fixed on the bolt, making this M1A1 variant. Price was reduced form over 200$ to about 45$ in 1944.

Thompson was still too heavy, too time-consuming and expensive to produce. Sten, MP40 or PPSh were the top of the line, and Thompson was officially replaced by the simple M3 "Grease Gun" in 1943.

It is interesting to note that Thompsons M1928A1 were exported to Soviet Union during WWII, as a part of equipment of M3 tanks (Lend-Lease program). The were never used because there was no .45 ACP ammo on the eastern front.

Wikipedia information about Thompson submachine gun:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thompson_submachine_gun



Modelguns history
Thanks to its popularity in movies, Thompson submachine gun had a very strong base among modelgun makers: MGC started making a metal M1921 in 1970, CMC had a metal M1 too, just as Rokken did with M1928. A rare version by Kokusai can be sometimes seen on the market. CMC molds were taken over by Tanaka, who made another release under their own mark. The company that produced a Thompson for the longest time was Hudson, manufacturing an M1A1 variant. There is also a dummy version made by Denix, but of fairly low quality.

All of these models are made of metal, mainly zinc aluminum alloys.

Main visual (external) differences between real Thompson versions, also reflected in modelguns:
- M1921: stick/drum mag, Lymann rear sight, removeable stock, cooling fins, Cutt's compensator, bolt handle on top, vertical foregrip, wing levers
- M1928A1: like M1921 but horizontal foregrip. Wartime production had simple rear sight but without triangle ears
- M1: stick mag only, simple rear sight, fixed stock, no cooling fins, no compensator, bolt handle on right, horizontal foregrip
- M1A1: like M1 but: simple rear sight with triangle ears, stick levers
Please note that in real Thompsons barrels and other elements were interchangeable, so you can have for example an M1921 with horizontal foregrip and without Cutt's compensator.

A lot of information below is based on the following page, where you can also find pictures of different versions.
http://homepage3.nifty.com/nkoinuma/WW2A.htm

MGC
In 1970 MGC released a Thompson M1921 version which used paper caps in the older BLK cartridges. After MGC MP40 this was the first modelgun to use a blowback system. It also had an advantage of an open barrel, and became very popular. As this version was based on M1921, it featured stick magazine for 20 cartridges, but "Chicago" version with drum mag was also available. Law change in 1977 required metal modelguns to have fixed barrels, and Thompson was one of the very few models that survived this change - it originally uses a fixed barrel and did not require extensive and unrealistic modifications. I think it was at that time that the barrel got plugged though.
Some have criticized this model for not being 100% realistic due to lack of markings and several differences from the real weapon. In 1979 MGC released a special edition featuring original markings, also with walnut wooden parts.
Later on (1980s) design was modified to use CP cartridges, using a more reliable extractor/bolt design as well. As a tradeoff due to law change in 1977 the barrel was now blocked. After MGC was closed in early 1990s, molds were taken over by Taito and SNM (Shin-Nihon Mokei) and modelgun was still in production, modified for CP-HW cartridges, from 1996 until 2003 (or 2004).

There is an excellent page about MGC Thopmson M1921, listing characteristic points of each model (with pictures):
http://homepage3.nifty.com/skoinuma/M1921.htm

MGC Thompson also has a dedicated section in this forum:
http://mp40modelguns.forumotion.net/f18-mgc-thompson


CMC
CMC released their Thompson M1 in 1980, about the same time as Hudson did Thompson M1A1. While MGC concentrated on mechanism, CMC was focused on realism. It initially used paper caps in a 5-piece piston-type cartridge (much different from MGC BLK), later modified for modern caps. After CMC closed, molds were taken over by Tanaka, who re-released this modelgun in 1990. Originally Tanaka was a wood manufacturer and CMC subcontracted them making of wooden stocks.
CMC and Tanaka Thompson have their sections, even if at the moment there are only a few pictures from other websites:
http://mp40modelguns.forumotion.net/f30-cmc-thompson-modelgun
http://mp40modelguns.forumotion.net/f31-tanaka-thompson-m1-modelgun


Hudson
Hudson released Thompson M1A1 in 1980, and it became the most successfull Thompson modelgun, in production until Hudson's closure in 2009. In 1990s there was a "parkerized look" variant, and in 2003 also a special edition.
Hudson Thompson has a dedicated section here:
http://mp40modelguns.forumotion.net/f19-hudson-m1a1-thompson


Kokusai
Little is known about Kokusai Thompson, but you can find good pictures and comparison in the following review. It is made of metal, with open barrel. Model supports stick and drum magazine. Finish looks cleaner and better than on MGC version, also many details are closer to the original Thompson.
http://mp40modelguns.forumotion.net/t2595-review-coming-soon-a-teaser-kokusai-thompson-1928
There is also a separate category:
http://mp40modelguns.forumotion.net/t2093-kokusai-thompson-smg


Denix
Denix manufactures a dummy version of Thompson. It is low-priced, but apparently quality goes in pair with price:
http://mp40modelguns.forumotion.net/t818-denix-thompsons-any-good


Last edited by smootik on Mon Feb 07, 2011 2:54 pm; edited 5 times in total (Reason for editing : added Kokusai, clarified M1/M1A1 differences, added Denix)
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pitfighter
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PostSubject: Re: Thompson - history, and choice of modelguns.   Mon Jan 31, 2011 8:09 pm

Nice job!

Read it all before, but you have condensed it nicely, well done.

Dealing with a lot of real Thompsons at the moment - worth noting the often outstanding finish on the 1921 versions, really deep blue, and beautifully finished wood work - that pretty much went away with the 1928A1 variation.

These guys have some great stuff.

http://www.tommygunner.com/

JJ
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smootik
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PostSubject: Re: Thompson - history, and choice of modelguns.   Mon Jan 31, 2011 8:48 pm

Glad you like it :-)

There's plenty of Thompson information out there, including excellent books, but they all take time to read and digest. I looked for specific information that would allow me to show different models (1921/1928/M1) plus all these "trivia" bits to draw some interest ;-)
Your comment on the finish is a very interesting observation, showing well what happens when you go from the initial series (thousands) to full scale production (hundreds of thousands).

Thank you also for the link!
I looked for a website or forum on Thompsons, but just couldn't find any (don't you feel some days things hide pretty well in the Internet?). This one should be a good continuation for all interested ni additional information :-)
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PostSubject: Re: Thompson - history, and choice of modelguns.   Tue Feb 01, 2011 8:14 am

An excellent source of Thompson info cheers

8ace
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PostSubject: webiste   Wed Feb 02, 2011 8:02 pm

http://www.machinegunboards.com/

This site has become a resource for a whole lot of full auto stuff.

Has anyone tried to bring the really poor finish on the MGC Thompson 1921 back to life.
The ones I have at the moment can't even be used as background props, on a period film, the wood and bluing is really dull.

Is there a slightly more time efficient way to get them a rich blue again? I'm not interested in hand buffing them with 000 steel wool and then bluing, not enough time - any advice?

Really well written piece, BTW, didn't want my earlier comment to make small of the work you've done mapping out the history of this important weapon.

JJ
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PostSubject: Re: Thompson - history, and choice of modelguns.   Thu Feb 03, 2011 6:05 am

Advice on restoring finish would be good - I noticed that on mine it got ruined mainly in areas right next to wood. Probably due to some chemical reaction. I'll post photos in a separate thread to see if it is similar with others.
BTW: no worry - I did not take your comment in a wrong way :-)
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