Lend/Lease: Providing Arms for Allies in the Time of Need

"Grismer discovered an unknown British soldier still clutching a submachine gun affectionately known by G.I.s as the Tommy Gun. His body lay in the vicinity of 19 deceased German soldiers."

British soldiers with Thompson submachine guns.
British soldiers with Thompson submachine guns.ShootingIllustrated

In the dead of winter 1944, U.S. Navy officer Frank Grismer discovered an unknown British soldier who had perished on the beachfront of Anzio, Italy, still clutching a .45 caliber submachine gun affectionately known by G.I.s as the Tommy Gun. His body lay in the vicinity of 19 deceased German soldiers. Grismer was deployed as part of Operation SHINGLE, an assault force of 36,000 men lead by U.S. MG John P. Lucas that stormed the beaches of Anzio on Saturday, January 22, 1944. Initially, progress was swift with Army Rangers quickly capturing the port, paratroopers taking Nettuno, and the 3rd Infantry Division advancing three miles inland. The Brits were also on the move, with their 1st Infantry Division marching two miles toward the interior of the country. It was during one of these battles that Grismer stumbled upon the M1928A1 Thompson, bearing serial number #S-169807, in the hands the fallen Brit, as told by Shooting Illustrated The form was familiar to the American, but the sling swivels were in an unusual position. The one on the buttstock was opposite where it normally was, placed on the top as opposed to the bottom. The other was on the left side of the foregrip.

The M1928A1 Thompson found by Grismer.
The M1928A1 Thompson found by Grismer.ShootingIllustrated

All of the other familiar features were present, including the Lyman adjustable rear sight, heat-dissipating cooling fins and a Cutts compensator on the barrel. The unusual position of the sling swivels identified the Tommy Gun as part of the Lend-Lease program. America began providing significant assistance, including arms, to Allied Forces beginning in September 1940, even though the U.S. wouldn't enter the fray until December 1941. Most of this aid would go to the United Kingdom, which was embroiled in battle with the German Army, which would reach the English channel well before the U.S. would enter the war.

Shooting Illustrated informs us that the Thompson stamped with serial number #S-169807 was built as part of the Lend-Lease program, likely in 1941 or 1942. These guns are easily recognizable by 'CALIBRE' stamped on the barrel, using the Queen's spelling for our friends across the pond. John Taliaferro Thompson's Auto-Ordnance company was responsible for the development and initial production of the M1928A1, but had to contract out to keep up with demands. In World War I, Colt produced approximately 15,000. In WWII, Savage Arms stepped up and helped produce the more than 500,000 that were churned out by February 1942, including many that went to our allies.

A close look at the Thompson's markings.
A close look at the Thompson's markings.ShootingIllustrated

Perhaps the rapid advance lulled Lucas into a false sense of security. After the opening skirmishes the commander slowed the pace of the attacks, providing Germans with an opportunity to launch a counter offensive, which they did with vigor. Only three days later, some 40,000 German troops had the Allied forces surrounded. Ultimately, slowing the pace of the advance would prove to be the undoing of Operation SHINGLE. Allied troops failed to outflank the Gustav Line and open a route to Rome.

Later in the war, the Thompson would be replaced by the M3 Submachine Gun, or Grease Gun, also chambered in .45 ACP. The M3 was made of stamped sheet metal, making is easier, faster, and cheaper to produce than the Thompson, much like the British STEN gun. It wasn't as accurate at the Thompson, but it was at least two pounds lighter and featured a telescoping wire stock. Some early M3s were chambered in 9mm.