|Guest Story Book|
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Well it all started the night my friend Bill and I wanted to shoot something up real big. So I found my grandfathers three Tommy guns. Bill and I went to my fathers farm in Attica. There was an old Chevy Nova. We loaded the L-drums and took our places. We downloaded 100 rounds in under 15 minutes. As we sat down we noticed that there was an old fire extinguisher. We pulled from what used to be an Chevy Nova and sat on the ground. We walked back away from it about fifty feet and opened fire. The extinguisher exploded in the middle of the open field. Now my friend and I shoot at fire extinguisher every Sunday.
LTC(RET) John T Herron
While serving in Somalia as the Deputy Chief of Logistics for the US component of the United Nations relief effort, I had as an additional responsibility the oversight of all captured weapons. As A long time collector of military weapons I was familiar with most of what we were capturing. A lot of which was WWII vintage equipment. In Jan 91 when we first got to Mogadishu we found, on the university complex we occupied, two sub machineguns hidden in a room. One was a British Sterling and the other an old Thompson 1928A1. I was asked to come to the office next door to mine, the operations office, and identify the Sterling. The finders of these two weapons had already figured out the Thompson by its classic look. I took a couple of pictures and then was handed the weapons and told "You're the Log guys, you take them". Captured weapons were somewhat of a pain in the backside. We had very strict orders about "no war souvenirs", and keeping or taking weapons home was a career ending move. I had the two guns transported to the captured weapons depot and forgot about them. Several days later I received a call for help at the captured weapons depot. A lot of captured weapons had shown up taken by our UN allies from all over Somalia and our crew could not identify half of them. (They got better quickly). After a perilous journey across Mogadishu I arrived at the depot. Truckloads of weapons had been recovered from the Clans. Within this mass of weapons were the unmistakable lines of Thompson SMGs, most of which were 28A1s used by the British with vertical foregrips and side mounted slings. There were also a mixture of M-1 and M-1As. We sorted through this great mess (I was secretly having fun) and slowly taught the crews what all these weapons were. I did get stumped from time to time but then we would cheat and bring out WHB Smiths Small Arms of the World, which I learned to bring with me after doing this same thing in Saudi Arabia. The number of Thompsons was pretty significant but I did not keep track of the quantity. I did take some more pictures when I had time. At first the amount of British and Italian weapons we recovered was a mystery till we got educated on Somalia's history. Half of which had been British and the other half Italian till after the end of WWII. Sadly (for me as a collector) we had to destroy the weapons after our alloted space for these things filled up. There was always more coming in. We would take them outside of Mogadishu, down the coast and dig great holes in the sand dunes. Our EOD would then put the weapons in the holes, pile captured ammo, mines, bombs etc. on top and then wire it all with C-4. We then backed away about two miles and detonated the whole thing. I kept telling my boss I should be allowed to wear a black arm band when we did this but he said it would clash with my uniform. I have two Thompsons of my own, (I know what your thinking. No, I did not bring anything home) and every time I handle them I remember the Tommies of Somalia. Rest in peace old friends.
My Uncle Ken was an infantry NCO and field-promoted to lieutenant in the European Theatre of Operations during WWII. During his combat tour he carried a Thompson Submachine Gun exclusively. It was his favorite weapon. He knew the gun well enough that he could take it apart and adjust the cyclic rate of fire to his personal tastes. When he was promoted to Lieutenant, they tried to take his beloved Tommy gun away from him. He did the only rational thing a soldier could do: refused the promotion. This caused quite a stir and came to the immediate attention of his colonel. The colonel thought highly enough of Ken that he talked him into accepting the promotion and made him a gift of his personal Thompson. The gun was a pristine older Thompson (of the fine machining and deep bluing). Ken immediate took it apart and adjusted the rate of fire and carried the gun for the duration of the war. Ken's love of the .45 Thompson leads into the story of the time my uncle used the Thompson as a counter-sniper weapon against a German sniper that had been harassing his unit. Those of you who know the Thompson know that this is stretching the capability of the weapon, but you would have to know Ken to understand.
Ken was one of those die-hard Americans. He spent a lifetime bow-hunting. He was a phenomenal archer and very skilled at woodcraft and stalking game. Even during the war he took time to hunt and varied the boring GI chow with rabbits and deer for his squad, though he still complained 30 years later about having to use a pistol for the task. The point here is that Ken always studied his quarry and was very deliberate in his hunting. He was a life-long smoker, but during the war he gave up smoking because of the odor and the fact one had to use a flame to light the cigarette. As a smoker, he understood the habit and that is central to the story.
The sniper began attacking his unit and the men normally used against snipers were unable to stop this guy. Uncle Ken took it upon himself to stop the German sniper and approached it the same way he did big-game hunting. He obviously knew the area of operations for the sniper and set about hunting him down. After several days, he caught the odor of German tobacco in the breeze. The German was a smoker. Their tobacco was extremely harsh by American standards and had a distinctive odor. He trailed the sniper by the smell of the tobacco.
Ken spotted a cave he assumed the German was using. Ken did not approach the cave, but set up about a hundred yards from the entrance and watched it for two solid days. The sniper knew what he was doing and stayed to the back of the cave where it was dark. Ken could not see inside to detect tell-tale movement or metallic reflections. The German sniper's fatal error was lighting a cigarette. The flair of the match in the back of the cave alerted Ken to the presence of the sniper. Ken set the sights of the Thompson on the spot he'd first seen the match patiently waited. Two hours later another match was lit. Ken fired a single semi-automatic shot at the match flame. I don't have the gruesome details, but the .45 ball killed the sniper. My uncle always said that the Thompson was more accurate than people ever gave it credit for and that smoking is hazardous to your health, especially in combat.
At the close of the war, Ken was in charge of a squad that took possession of one of the Nazi concentration camps. I think it was Dachau, but I really can't recall and Ken passed away a number of years ago. He said the guards of the camp were fanatical to the point of suicidal. The GI guards were armed with M-1 carbines for some reason. The Nazi inmates attempted breaking out regularly. One of Ken's men was killed when the .30 cal carbine bullets failed to stop the attack. Ken procured enough Thompsons to arm all his men. The next attempted escape happened almost immediately after the change to the .45 ACP Tommy guns. A single burst from a Thompson stopped the attack cold, one round struck the escapee in the head. There were no further escape attempts in that prison. I observed a head shot with any common military arm would have stopped the attacker, but Ken said the Nazis were very impressed with the Thompson and respected the power of the .45 cartridge.
James J. Besemer
I spent some time this week vacationing in the sunny People's Republic of California. Yeah, I know but I had family obligations...
Among other things, we toured Alcatraz prison, which turned out to be much more interesting than I expected. Alcratraz was designed to hold the toughest, most incorrigible prisoners in the nation. You had to be BAD to end up there.
Anyway, they told the story of a prison riot which was suppressed by a single guard with a Thompson. Oddly enough, although the prisoners each had their own cells they routinely ate all their meals together in a large mess hall. By design, the food was generally OK, but evidently one meal they regularly were served progressively got worse and worse. Finally the prisoners all agreed that the next time they served that damn spagetti they'd overturn all the tables. Sure enough, when the spagetti came up again, they all upended the tables and started raising hell.
The prisoners were locked in the mess hall, so they weren't going anywhere. But the guards had to regain control of the situation and they had to do it quickly, as the three unarmed guards who normally supervised mealtime were at risk.
A single, quick-acting guard grabbed a Thompson and entered the room. He slowly squezed off 3 rounds, one at a time, with a dramatic pause between each shot, taking out a different window each time. This got everyone's attention. Then he conspicuously flipped the selector to auto. Everbody in the room knew what THAT meant (many of them having operated that very gun themselves). Plus the huge .45" hole was familiar to all and supremely intimidating. Even though there were over 200 prisoners and only 50 or maybe 100 rounds in that gun, nobody wanted to mess with the guard. The prisoners immediately lined up and marched off to their cells like little lambs.
The mess hall was also equiped with tear gas dispensers which were never deployed in the history of the prison. Good thing, as the prisoners themselves admitted that it'd likely result in the immediate death of any and all hostages. I think there's a lesson here about the relative effectiveness of lethal vs. non-leathal responses. Even in their cells, prisoners were continously under armed guard. The "gun bulls" had their own caged cat-walk and each carried a "rifle" (M1, I presume) and a cocked and locked 1911. They said the guards were trained to draw their pistol and take out an errant prisoner in 6 seconds.
A sign near the entrance notified each prisoner that they are "entitled" to food, shelter, clothing and medical care. Everything else in prison is a privelege.
The prison was decommissioned by then Att'y General, Rob't Kennedy. Perhaps it was falling apart and would have been too costly or impractical to keep running. In any case, today's prison system could sure pick up a few pointers from "The Rock."
In all, a fascinating tour. If you ever find yourself in the bay area, I heartily recommend it.