Military History

TOMMY’S OTHER GUNS

Brigadier General John T. Thompson was the inventor of the Thompson submachine gun, the iconic “Tommy gun” of so many gangster movies. Even people who are not historians, history buffs or gun enthusiasts give the Thompson recognition only a select few weapons earn. The Colt Model 1911, the Luger, the Uzi—the list is short.

One memorable namesake invention would be a fine legacy for most people, but in Thompson’s case it is a shame, because so much is left out. From ordnance officer during the Spanish-American War to developer of one of the most widely used rifle rounds in the world, Thompson was a giant in the manufacture of modern American military firearms. Only John Moses Browning had a hand in making more U.S. Army infantry weapons than Thompson.

John Taliaferro Thompson was the son of Army Lt. Col. James Thompson. Despite a childhood spent moving from post to post, John decided to follow in his father’s footsteps. He graduated 11th in West Point’s Class of 1882 and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the 2nd U.S. Artillery. After attending engineering and artillery schools, he joined the Ordnance Department in 1890, earning a reputation as an intelligent and steady officer. At the April 1898 onset of the Spanish-American War he was a gunnery and ordnance instructor at West Point, but the War Department promoted him to lieutenant colonel of volunteers and appointed him chief ordnance officer for Maj. Gen. William Rufus “Pecos Bill” Shafter, commanding the V Corps landing in Cuba. To his disappointment Thompson was instead ordered to Tampa, Fla., to sort out the enormous tangle of materiel being shipped there from across the nation. He was the man

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