February 14th usually prompts one of two responses in those of us in the Anglo-American parts of the world: “Oh my goodness will I get any cards” or “Eurk, stupid made up pile of crap just a bunch of nonsense to sell overpriced tat“. The camp you fall into may depend on how many of those overpriced pieces of tat fell through your letterbox yesterday…
If, like me, your head lives somewhere around the 1920s and 30s the actual first thing you might think of is the St Valentine’s Day Massacre. A 1929 battle between Capone’s and Moran’s gangs in Chicago which resulted in seven deaths (which frankly makes massacre a bit of an overstatement) and Capone’s loss of power on the south side. But, we’re not going to talk about that. Firstly it, even when stretching the limits of definition, isn’t really a war. Secondly, c’mon people you’ve seen the movies surely. Hollywood is obsessed with prohibition era Chicago. We are though, going to look at one of the components of the battle. Namely this baby…
A 1928A1 Thompson sub machine gun, photo by C.Corleis
Two rather elderly Thompson submachine guns still sit in the police department in Michigan, and were the weapons used in the aforementioned ‘massacre’ . A testement to the efficiency of the weapon, that in a face off between two not insignificant gangs, just a couple of these can remove seven people from life in a very short time frame.
Before the gangsters, and gangstas, before his name became a synonym for a gentleman’s most private possession there was Brigadier General John T Thompson. Like that other famous American Army man whose legacy lives on, Thompson was a Kentucky boy, and was assigned to the logistics section of the army. It was clearly a speciality he was born for as while the rest of the army spent the Spanish American war losing weapons and supplies, Thompson was so successful at supplying his part of the army that he was promoted. He then met the gun which was to change his life. The Gatling gun. He started to design small arms and after leaving the army formed the Auto-Ordnance company, and designed a world changing weapon.
The man himself, John Taliaferro Thompson, by George Goll
The Tommy Gun, was not only the weapon of choice for gangsters about town, but also, as the name suggests a standard front line soldiering tool across a range of conflicts; everything from the Irish revolution to the Bosnian war.
So why did this gun in particular supply armies, rebels and violin case wielders? Well firstly it is relatively straight forward to take apart and reassemble, which is an important consideration for hustlers and snipers alike. Secondly, it is damned efficient. Earlier models could reach a rounds per minute rate of over a thousand, but even after some user safety modifications and such the rate average was 600rpm. Even the speediest rifle loader would be hard pressed to beat that. However, for all its fame and reputation the Thompson has some drawbacks…It is heavy. So heavy that armies complained about the weight of the weapon and the cartridge drums. Heavy enough that it could move you quite significantly when firing. You know, every so often you’ll find yourself in a conversation with someone who wants to tell you about all the continuity errors in films? If the film in question is a gangster film they’ll tell you that people can’t stand like that to shoot guns, and if it is a a gangsta film they’ll tell you people can’t hold guns and shoot like that. And they’re right. If annoying. Where the Tommy Gun is concerned you probably don’t want to be trying it with one arm, and not do you want to be some fey little damsel in distress. It is though reliable. In warfare it was regarded as much more reliabe than many of its competitors.
American readers in desire of a menacing wall decoration can furnish themselves with a replica one from the Auto-Ordnance folks for around six Benjamins. For those who fancy furnishing their small plastic and metal friends with some Trench Dusters there are several machine gun sets available in a range of scales.
Is accurate arming important to your wargaming? Let us know your armoury of choice in the comments…