Tag Archives: Thompson submachine gun

Vigilance, Since 1790

Happy 232nd birthday, USCG!

Official caption: “Somewhere on the Pacific, an alert Coast Guardsman scans the horizon as he clutches his machine gun, looking for trouble.” Released 29 September 1942.

USCG Photo via the National Archives 26-G-09-29-42(6)

Incidentally, the Coasties were, as far as I can tell, the longest user of the Thompson submachine gun. The service picked up some M1921 Colts during Prohibition to fight bootleggers and rumrunners and continued to have WWII-era M1 Thompsons in the small arms lockers of cutters well into the 1970s, with some tapping in on Market Time during Vietnam.

Seabees, still ready to Build & Fight After 80 Years

​Arising from a need to rapidly build bases on remote islands for the push across the Pacific during World War II, today’s Seabee force turns 80 this month.

Tracing their unofficial origins to 300 skilled artisans who built an advance base in 1813 for Captain David Porter’s squadron operating against the British along South America’s west coast, the Navy officially formed and christened its first Naval Construction Battalions in March 1942.

Recruited from tradesmen in 60 skilled trades– both “vertical” such as in building construction and “horizontal” such as in the construction of roads and airfields– the new “Seabees” were also trained to defend their positions as the islands and beaches they would land on would often still be very much in an active combat zone. Fitting the job, Rear Admiral Ben Moreell set their motto as “Construimus, Batuimus” roughly meaning “We Build, We Fight.”

Early members received only three weeks of training and were sent overseas. They carried at one time or another just about every rifle and pistol in the Navy’s inventory and pioneered such exotic arms as the Sedgley Glove Gun/Haight Fist Gun.

WWII Seabee posters
Seabee recruiting posters of the time, aimed at pulling often-draft-exempt skilled construction workers into the service, also emphasized the carpenters and heavy equipment operators would be expected to fight if needed, ready to leave the controls of their crane or grader, grab a carbine or Tommy gun, and get to work. 

Seabees marching WWII

“The Navy Seabees build a naval base in the South Pacific. These Navy Seabees march to work with rifles and bandoliers of ammunition. Seabees are trained to fight and work.” On numerous occasions, Seabees fought beside Marines in hand-to-hand combat against the Japanese troops, particularly on contested Henderson Field in Guadalcanal, then returned to their work once the attack was over. (Photo: Naval History and Heritage Command)

Seabees drill at a U.S. Navy base in Alaska.1943

“Seabees drill at a U.S. Navy base in Alaska. These sailors are training with guns and tools for construction duty under combat conditions, April 13, 1943.” Note the M1903 Springfield bolt-action rifles. (Photo: U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.)

Seabee Water Tender Second Class operating pump for water and manning an M1917 Browning machine gun in the Solomon Islands, 1944. 

Seabee Water Tender Second Class operating pump for water and manning an M1917 Browning machine gun in the Solomon Islands, 1944. 

Seabees unload pontoons and LSTs on Angaur in the Palau Islands,1944

“Seabees unload pontoons and LSTs on Angaur in the Palau Islands, converting the island into a formidable base. Also seen are bulldozers and cranes, photograph received 27 December 1944.” (U.S. Navy Photograph. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

“US Navy Seabees, who landed with the first wave of Marines, stand guard over a Japanese naval floatplane at Sasebo, Japan. Photographed by Private First Class C.O. Jones, September 1945.” Note the M1 Carbine. (Photo: National Museum of the U.S. Navy)

Seabees repair airstrip on Tarawa with heavy grading equipment and trucks. November 22, 1943

“Operation Galvanic, Invasion of Tarawa, November 1943. Seabees repair airstrip on Tarawa with heavy grading equipment and trucks. November 22, 1943.” (Photo: U.S. National Archives)

“Battle of Peleliu (Operation Stalemate), September-November 1944. Group of African-American Seabees acting as stretcher-bearers for the 7th Marines.” (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.)
Seabee sign Bougainville Island 1944
“This sign, near the Torokina fighter strip on Bougainville Island testifies to the U.S Marine Corps admiration for the Navy’s construction battalions.” (Photo: Naval History and Heritage Command)

Three U.S. B-29 Superfortresses roar over a Navy Seabee working on an unfinished section of the new U.S. base at Tinian

Three U.S. B-29 Superfortresses roar over a Navy Seabee working on an unfinished section of the new U.S. base at Tinian in the Marianas Islands. With their lumbering bulldozers and other heavy equipment, Seabees have enlarged and constructed airfields on Saipan, Guam, and Tinian, from which those huge planes are conducting large-scale attacks on industrial areas in Japan. (U.S. Navy Photograph. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

During World War II, some 350,000 men served in the Seabees, organized into no less than 315 regular and special construction battalions. They would construct over 400 advanced bases spanning from Iceland to New Guinea and Sicily to the Aleutian Islands, operating in all theaters. 

In the Pacific alone, they would build no less than 111 airstrips while suffering over 200 combat deaths. A further 500 Seabees were killed during their highly dangerous construction work under adverse field conditions. In addition to 33 Silver Stars and 5 Navy Crosses, ‘Bees also earned more than 2,000 Purple Hearts in WWII, the hard way. 

Korea and Vietnam

Drawn down to a force of just 3,300 by 1949, the Seabees remained a “Can Do” part of the Navy and Marines’ shore establishment and would rapidly expand to serve in the Korean War and Vietnam. During the latter conflict in Southeast Asia, the Seabees expanded to over 26,000 men in no less than 23 assorted Naval Mobile and Amphibious Construction Battalions by 1969.

In most cases, the bases in which Marines fought from during those conflicts were constructed and improved by Seabees, often, as in WWII, under threat from the enemy. 

The Cold War, Desert Storm, and Beyond

Besides service in Korea and Vietnam, the “Fighting Seabees” engaged in new frontiers around the world during the Cold War, constructing bases everywhere the Navy went including in remote Diego Garcia, Greece, Spain, Antarctica, the Caribbean, and elsewhere. They served in Desert Shield/Desert Storm, Restore Hope, in Bosnia, in Panama, in Iraq, and Afghanistan. 

Seabees Desert Storm
“Capt. Mel Hamm, left, commander, Fleet Hospital Operations and Training Command, and Lt. Vic Modeer of Reserve Naval Construction Battalion Hospital Unit 22 discuss the construction of Fleet Hospital Six during Operation Desert Shield.”

NavSeabee Det Sarajevo in blown up church. Feb 1996 Sarajevo, Bosnia Herzegovina

“NavSeabee Det Sarajevo in blown up church. Feb 1996 Sarajevo, Bosnia Herzegovina” (Photo: Naval History and Heritage Command)

“Deh Dadi TWO, Afghanistan (Feb. 28, 2011) Seabees assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 40 begin their journey back to homeport in Port Hueneme, Calif.” (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Michael B. Watkins/Released)

Seabees laying concrete in Djibouti 2011

“Djibouti (Jan. 20, 2011) Builder Constructionmen Diana Aceves, right, and Daniel Fuentes, both assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 74, Detail Horn of Africa, pour concrete during a construction project at Ecole 5 Primary School.” Note that Seabee construction rates have been open to women since 1973. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Michael Lindsey/Released)

The Seabees today still train to “build with rifles on their back.” 

Seabees with M240 machine gun Hunter Liggett, 2016
“Camp Hunter Liggett, Calif. (April 27, 2016) A Seabee assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 5 yells out enemy locations to his teammates during a simulated attack during a field training exercise. The exercise prepares and tests the battalion’s ability to enter hostile locations, build assigned construction projects and defend against enemy attacks using realistic scenarios while being evaluated.” (U.S. Navy photo by Utilitiesman 3rd Class Stephen Sisler/Released) 

Seabees Camp Shelby 2018 in a trench

“Camp Shelby, Miss. (Aug. 20, 2018) Seabees stand inside their fighting position during Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 133’s field training exercise (FTX) at Camp Shelby. FTX provides a robust training environment where Seabee forces plan and execute multiple mission essential tasks including convoy security, force protection, and camp buildup before deployment.” (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class George M. Bell/Released) 

Seabee jungle training Okinawa

“Okinawa, Japan (Jan. 12, 2016) Ensign Frank S. Sysko assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 3 holds his breath while he exits a mud-filled trench during a jungle warfare training evolution hosted by Marines with the Jungle Warfare Training Center (JWTC).”  (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Michael Gomez/Released) 

The unique Seabee Combat Warfare Specialist insignia, issued to qualified Naval Construction Force members since 1993, tells a bit of the unit’s history. 

Seabee Combat Warfare Specialist insignia
It incorporates the old-school WWII Seabee “We build, we fight” motto of the sailor bee with a Tommy gun as well as an M1903 Springfield (one of the few times the Springer makes it to patches or insignia) and a cutlass. Interestingly, Seabees often carried all three weapons in WWII, using M1928 and M1 Thompsons, the 1903A3, and, on occasion, ship’s cutlasses (the latter as machetes).


The Devil’s Own, Fighting All-Comers

1 September 1943: The Tommy gun-toting “Devil’s Own” a group of salty Australians of 2/5th Infantry Bn (6 Australian Division), who helped drive the Japanese from Mount Tambu, clearing the way for the advance on Salamaua, Papua New Guinea.

Left to Right (Back) Corporal Don Mather of South Yarra, Vic, Pte. Frank Mcgreevy of Redbank, Qld, Pte Frank Townsend, of Box Hill, Vic, Pte Eddie Watkins of Grafton, NSW, Pte Jim Mcgovern of Richmond, SA, Front Pte Ron Miller of Merino. Victoria, Pte. Walter Dudley, of Woy Woy, NSW and, Pte. Arthur Wallin of Seymour, Victoria. (AWM Photo 015639

Formed in Melbourne on 18 October 1939, the Diggers of 2/5th Battalion left for the Middle East early the next year– arriving in time to fight at Bardia and Tobruk before a “vacation” in Greece and fighting the Vichy French in Syria. Shipped back home to defend Australia after the Japanese entered the war, they landed at Milne Bay, in Papua, in early October 1942 and remained engaged against the Empire until VJ Day, most of it in the triple canopied mountains along the Torricelli and Prince Alexander ranges.

Disbanded at Puckapunyal in early February 1946, 2/5 had fought the French, Germans, Italians, and Japanese– across three continents– during the course of its short existence.

About Time, Fusiliers Marins edition

Earlier this month, the Chief of Staff of the French Navy, Admiral Christophe Prazuck announced the that the names of the nine French Marine units, the Fusiliers Marins et Commandos Marins, will moving forward be tied to historic officers of the names of key heroes from the Free French 1er BFM/BFMC (aka Commando Kieffer) and 1er RFM (Régiment de Fusiliers Marins).

Raised from volunteers abroad and members of the French Navy who ended their 1940 war in British ports– many from the old battleships Paris and Courbet— the brand-new Forces Navales Françaises Libres (Free French Naval Forces) forces under Admiral Emile Muselier, allied with then-renegade Maj Gen. Charles de Gaulle formed these commandos along British lines.

Taking part in the Dieppe Raid in August 1942, they landed in force at D-Day and continued on to the Alps, earning more than 200 Croix de Guerre and 32 Légion d’Honneur.

While elite frogmen units such as Commando Hubert have the names of famous (posthumously) officers who have led them, up until this month, the modern French marines had unit names such as the uninspired but descriptive details such as the Groupe des Marines de l’Atlantique (Atlantic Marines Group). Now, the Groupe des Marines de l’Atlantique, for example, is the Amyot d’Inville Marines Battalion, named after French navy CDR Amyot D’Inville who commanded the Free French Marines at Bir Hakeim and was killed on the Continent in 1944.

More here. 

The Far-Reaching UN Forces in Korea and the Things they Carried

With this month being the 70th anniversary of the rush by the Free World to help keep the fledgling Republic of Korea from forced incorporation by its Communist neighbor to the North, it should be pointed out that the UN forces that mustered to liberate Seoul and keep it so carried an interesting array of arms. Gathered ultimately from 21 countries you had a lot of WWII-era repeats such as No. 3 and No. 4 Enfields carried by Commonwealth troops as well as M1 Garands/Carbines toted by American and a host of Uncle Sam-supplied countries.

But there were most assuredly some oddball infantry weapons that were used as well.

One historical curiosity was the initial contingent supplied by the Royal Thai Army, who left for Korea in October 1950 wearing French Adrian-style “sun” helmets and armed with 8x52mm Type 66 Siamese Mausers that were actually versions of the bolt-action Japanese Type 38 Arisaka built before WWII at Japan’s Koishikawa arsenal.

Note their French-style helmets, U.S.-marked M36 packs, and Japanese Showa-period rifles. Ultimately, more than 10,000 Thai troops would serve in the Korean War alongside U.S. forces, fighting notably at the Battle of Pork Chop Hill. (Photo: UN News Archives)

More in my column at Guns.com. 

Loading up, 76 years ago today

Note Gorenc’s strapped down M1 Thompson SMG and fighting knife on his boot. Notably, he chose not to use a Griswold jump bag for his Tommy Gun, preferring to have it available immediately when landing (U.S. Army Signal Corps Photo)

“Sgt. Joseph F. Gorenc from Sheboygan, Wisconsin, the assistant S3 of HQ/3, 506th PIR, 101st Airborne Division climbing aboard the lead transport aircraft C-47 Dakota 8Y-S “Stoy Hora” of the 440th Troop Carrier Group at RAF Exeter Airfield, Devon, the UK on the night of 5/6th June 1944 for a drop behind Utah Beach on the Cotentin Peninsula of France near Cherbourg.

Sgt. Gorenc was taken prisoner on June 8th at St. Côme-du-Mont and reported as MIA. He apparently escaped from a Prison train in July and he was in action again at ‘Operation Market Garden’.

He returned home after the war, married, and had two daughters and at the age of 34 was an officer in a new startup manufacturing firm. While he, the owner, and another man were working late in the shop one night, an oil tank exploded. The young man; Joe and the owner were all injured but Joe’s injuries were life-threatening and he died two weeks later. (Taken from an account given by his sister Pat)”

Joseph F. Gorenc, born April 24, 1923 – died October 30, 1957, aged 34.

Tommy guns and Fusiliers, 73 years on

French villagers welcome French Naval Commandos (Commandos Marins) of the 1st BFMC (Battalion de Fusiliers Marins Commandos) who arrived in Normandy during the D-Day landings. Near Amfreville, Calvados, Lower Normandy, France. 17 June 1944. Note the Lend-Lease U.S. M1 Thompson submachine gun, Fairbairn–Sykes fighting knife tucked down the leg and British-style commando tabs on the sleeve.

The Naval Commandos were formed by Free French troops in exile in the U.K. and were modeled after the British Commandos, who were founded in 1940. They were formed mainly from Free French Navy Fusiliers-Marins (naval infantry) as well as a smattering of other Free French volunteers and trained at the Commando Basic Training Centre Achnacarry, Scotland.

Besides fighting in France, the 1st BFMC saw service in Holland where they ended the war. Immediatly after VE Day, the unit split, with the bulk heading to Indochina where the French remained very busy for another decade, and a cadre set up the Commando Training School, Siroco Center, Matifou Cape, in Algeria in 1946.

By 1947, the CM were set up in seven units, each named for a fallen WWII commando, and endure today.

Their motto is Honneur, Patrie, Valeur, Discipline.

One member who landed on D-Day remained standing tall as late as 2014:

Leon Gautier, 91, former member of Captain Philippe Kieffer’s 1er BFM Commando unit, attends a ceremony in Colleville-Montgomery, France. 4 June 2014. Gautier landed at Sword Beach with 1er BFM Commando on D-Day and was among the first Free French personnel to enter Paris.

We’re trading up, says St. Louis Metro PD as they cash out Tommy gun cache


From the 1920s through the 1960s, many civilian police forces, such as these cops in Tacoma, Wash, had a few Tommy guns on the racks “just in case” phasing them out after Vietnam with 1033 Program M16A1s

The St. Louis Metro Police Department is parting with most of its huge and historic Thompson submachine gun collection in a move to get a good deal on new duty guns.

Twenty-seven of the city’s 30 Tommy guns will be sold to Midwest Distributors for $22,000 apiece. All told, the Kentucky-based firm will pay $618,500 for the transferrable .45 ACP s sub guns and some other surplus weapons. This is on top of $597,000 paid by Minneapolis-based Bill Hicks & Co. for 1,748 used Beretta handguns currently carried by the department.

The money will go to offset the cost of new Berettas at $450 a pop to equip every officer with as well as a quantity of AR-15s to be used as patrol rifles.

More in my column at Guns.com.

Looking for a deal on a Tommy gun?

That stock comes off, you know?

Plymouth Borough, outside of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, isn’t big, but they have had a vintage and transferrable Tommy gun in their city’s arsenal since Prohibition that they want to get rid of if the price is right.

Furthermore, it’s not your average burp gun– it’s a Navy overstamp 1921 Colt-made Thompson.

Often thought of by militaria collectors as the holy grail of U.S. sub guns, the overstamp came about when Auto Ordnance moved to offload their stock of Colt-made M1921 Thompsons and, modifying them slightly by reducing their cyclic rate of fire from 800 rounds per minute to a more pedestrian 600, over-stamped the “1” in 1921 with an “8.”

The Title II/Class 3 weapon is listed on Gunbroker, with a current price of $28,000 and two days to go before the bidding ends.

In recent years several agencies have liquidated their stocks of aging Tommy guns including St.Louis PD who put a cool $1 million worth of the .45 ACP SMGs up for sale in 2014 and another North Carolina department who moved to swap a pair of Thompsons for 88 newer semi-auto Bushmasters.

In 2015, the town of Kinston, North Carolina, who had picked up an overstamp to ward off possible tobacco payroll robbers in 1935, sold their gun for $36,750, which is about average for the model.

I don’t always hunt monsters; but when I do, I do it underwater with a submachine gun

Official caption: Diver James P. Bodor, 23, finds a shotgun after he and officers dragged the bottom of the Cal-Sag canal at 107th Street and Archer Avenue looking for evidence in the Brink's Express robbery case on Aug. 5, 1949. Four men robbed the South Chicago Savings bank, located at 2959 E. 92nd Street, on June 25, 1949 and killed two Brink's Express guards, Joseph Den, 40, and Bruno Koziol, 36. The police had a confession from robber James Hoyland who fingered the other three bandits, Joseph Jakalski, Richard Tamborski, and David Edgerly. (Chicago Tribune historical photo)

Official caption: Diver James P. Bodor, 23, finds a shotgun after he and officers dragged the bottom of the Cal-Sag canal at 107th Street and Archer Avenue looking for evidence in the Brink’s Express robbery case on Aug. 5, 1949. Four men robbed the South Chicago Savings bank, located at 2959 E. 92nd Street, on June 25, 1949 and killed two Brink’s Express guards, Joseph Den, 40, and Bruno Koziol, 36. The police had a confession from robber James Hoyland who fingered the other three bandits, Joseph Jakalski, Richard Tamborski, and David Edgerly. (Chicago Tribune historical photo)

From the archives of the Chicago Tribune: A diver recovers a Thompson submachine gun from the Calumet-Saganashkee Channel in a photo that ran in the paper on Saturday, Aug. 6, 1949. The story that accompanied the photo reported the investigation of a holdup that led to the deaths of two guards in the course of a bank robbery. “Two revolvers taken from the slain guards had been recovered with magnets from the same spot Thursday,” the paper reported, “together with cartridges and two machine gun clips.” Three of the robbers were nabbed after a fourth named names; one of these identified the machine gun as the one used in the course of the crime.

Looks like a nice M1A1 GI Thompson from WWII of course, rather than a shotgun.

This image reminds me of Papa Hemingway and his predilection to hunt sharks (and U-boats) with his own Colt 1921 Tommy Gun.