The Thompson submachine gun is a Second World War icon. Originally conceived of in the 1920s, it enjoyed a favorable reputation among law enforcement and outlaws alike. It was the weapon of choice of bootleggers, gangsters, and even some Depression-era folk heroes.
The qualities that made it superior to most other submachine guns was quickly appreciated by the United States military, and the Thompson was widely distributed though the American military machine. In some respects, it was one of, if not the best submachine gun of that war. Chambered in .45 ACP, it had better stopping power than most other nation’s submachine guns, which tended to be chambered in the smaller and less-powerful 9mm Luger pistol cartridge.
Despite the Thompson’s myriad qualities, it was incredibly expensive to manufacture—about $168. While that does not sound like an astronomical amount of money, the American Browning M1919 belt-fed machine gun cost a paltry $55.
The Poor Man’s Thompson
On paper at least, the poor man’s Thompson, a prototype known as the T2, had a few qualities in its favor. It was about two pounds lighter than the Thompson and featured a progressive trigger. A half pull allowed for semiautomatic firing, whereas a full trigger pull was needed for fully-automatic fire. The T2 could fire standard Thompson magazines, and had a simplified magazine release mechanism. In addition, the prototypes were chambered in .45 ACP and 9x19mm, though ultimately only the .45 ACP was tested.
The T2’s entire stock was just a single long wooden piece, with a wooden pistol grip fixed to it. One of the T2’s glaringly negative aspects was its steeply sloped buttplate. During full automatic firing, the T2 had a tendency to slip off the shooter’s shoulder, making it suited to semiautomatic firing only.
Oddly enough, the T2’s tubular receiver was fixed to the stock with two butterfly nuts. Not only would these have been less secure than the more typical crews or pins, but they also would have likely caught onto clothing or webbing and been inconvenient.
By and large, the T2 was not particularly reliable. During military testing, one of the prototypes suffered a cracked trigger housing after just 750 rounds had been fired and would suffer a number of other malfunctions. When it worked however, the T2 was accurate, even out to 100 yards. It performed well during mud and sand testing thanks to its closed bolt design which kept the action relatively free of debris.
Ultimately the T2 failed its Army trials and was passed over in favor of the M3 Grease Gun, a .45 ACP submachine gun optimized for mass production that the T2 just couldn’t compete with.
Caleb Larson is a Defense Writer with The National Interest. He holds a Master of Public Policy and covers U.S. and Russian security, European defense issues, and German politics and culture.