The Thompson Submachine Gun
The Second World War was the first widespread conflict where the submachine came into its own as a combat weapon. There are several on this list, but none is more iconic than the Thompson submachine gun. After first achieving notoriety in the Irish Civil War and in the hands of Prohibition gangsta and law enforcement, the Thompson was adopted by the U.S. Army just before the start of the war. Despite its weight (at over 10 lbs it was heftier than most submachine guns), it was a very popular weapon for scouts, non-commissioned officers, commandos, and paratroopers, who all valued its stopping power and rate of fire.
The weapon’s use was discontinued after the war, but Thompsons continued to pop up all over the world in the hands of armies and paramilitaries. It even saw action in the Bosnian War. For the soldiers who carried it in World War 2, it was an invaluable tool to keep them alive as they walked, ran, and fought their way across Europe and Asia.
Although it was never issued in large numbers to infantrymen, The German MP40 has become a ubiquitous symbol of the German WW2 solider and Nazis in general. It seems like every German in every war movie has one, but the MP40 was actually never standard issue for the common foot soldier. Usually used by paratroopers, squad leaders, and commandos, the MP40 saw service all over the war. It was especially useful in the Eastern Front against the Russians where the accuracy and power of long rifles was mostly wasted in the block by block street fighting. In fact, submachine guns like the MP40 were so effective that they made German planners rethink their reliance on bolt action or semi-automatic weapons, leading to the development of the first assault rifles. Still, the MP40 was one of the great submachine guns of the war, and became a symbol for the ruthless efficiency of the German soldier.
The M1 Garand
At the beginning of the war, nearly every infantryman in every major army was armed with a bolt action gun. They were accurate and reliable, but they required that after every shot the soldier manually removes the spent shell casing and reload the weapon by manipulating a bolt. This was fine for sniping and other long distance engagements, but significantly limited each individual’s rate of fire. Wanting to increase their soldier’s ability to fire as many bullets at the enemy as possible, the U.S. Army brought into service one of the most famous rifles of all the time, the M1 Garand. Patton called it “the greatest battle implement ever devised,” and it often lived up to that high praise.
It was easy to use and care for, quick to reload, and gave U.S. forces rate of fire superiority over every force they faced. The M1 became a stalwart of the U.S. military and was in active service until 1963. Even today, several forces around the world use it as a ceremonial weapon for drills and it is prized as a hunting weapon among civilians. But for the men who took on the Germans, Italians, and Japanese, it has been often the difference between life and death.