The Tommy Gun: Not Just for Gangsters

In an effort to curb the problems that teetotalers viewed was caused by the evils of alcohol, much like the ravages of the on going war on drugs, the United States government outlawed the sale and distribution of one of the oldest industries in the world.  The cost of prohibition was high enough that it was eventually overturned, but not before creating the symbol of the gangster era, the Tommy gun. I remember growing up seeing the big drum magazine, like a shield, in front of a cigar chomping Irish gangster, spraying bullets at the coppers as he gets away. The movie, Saving Private Ryan changed that for me, It became an instrument of war, designed for a new style of warfare that began in World War one, and was perfected in the second.  The ever growing technological advances in war meant that men were no longer sent rank and file to face their doom in front of enemies on an open field of battle. With the development of the bolt action came the necessity to cover the soldier from the onslaught of rapid firing rifles. The trench became the choice for fighting, with men holding ground while shooting at the enemy across the dreaded no mans land. This fighting style led to a protracted form of war, with barely an inch of ground moving between the two forces. Armies had to change the way they fought, and with that came the need for a smaller, faster firing gun. The automatic rifle was a new concept, in need of perfection; starting as bulky, too heavy for one man to carry, and firing rifle rounds that would batter a mans shoulder without mercy. The year 1914 saw the retiring of John Taliaferro Thompson as he began to work on perfecting the automatic rifle, an icon that would eventually bare his name. After strenuous testing of various handgun calibers, the .45 was adopted as the best. He put his future creation on hold to return to active duty during WWI, earning a distinguished service cross as a brigadier general. After the war he devoted his time once again to the production of a new type of automatic weapon. He saw the need for an intermediate type of gun, one that shared characteristics of the handgun, and the standard long rifle, and one that could be made cheaper.  By offering John Blish, shares in his newly formed Auto-Ordnance Company, he secured the patent he needed for a delayed blowback system that form the backbone of his new submachine gun. 1919 saw the development of the prototype that would become a classic, chambered in .45 caliber, and using a box magazine, it was soon brought under scrutiny from the U.S. Government for adoption into the ranks of military weapons. After firing 2,000 rounds through it with only minor problems, the gun was then sent to the Marine Corps for further tests, performing admirably with similar results to the first. Although gun tested so highly, it would not see the adoption into the military at that time. After not being picked for the military dance, the dark history of Thompson began, men like machine gun Kelly, john Dillinger, and pretty boy Floyd. Perhaps the most iconic use of the Thompson is the 1929 St. Valentines day massacre that saw the beginning of the end for the Irish combine, and the rise of the Italian mafia. At the beginning of WWII the prodigal son returned home, with Armies around the world ordering Thompsons in the thousands. Specialized warfare groups soon adopted it as the go to weapon for operations, and sealed in blood, the image of the Tommy gun as the icon of modern warfare.

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