The American ‘Tommy Gun’ In The Pak-Afghan Region

Updated: 1 day ago

The Thompson models 1928, 1928A1, M1 and M1A1 submachine guns, famously also nicknamed the ‘Tommy Gun’, are a heavy weight milled all-steel submachine gun design, chambered in the U.S. military’s then standard issue pistol round – the .45 ACP cartridge, and designed in the USA in the wake of World War One. They were first adopted by the U.S. military in a widely used capacity during the World War Two, eventually being supplanted by the cheaper and simpler M3 and M3A1 ‘Grease-Gun’ submachine guns. A small but significant number have also been seen in the Pak-Afghan Region.

Fig.1.1. (Source: A selection of Thompson submachine guns in Darra Adam Khel (Source: Khyber Amoury research & reference collection)

These submachine guns have been seen for sale in some quantity within Pakistan’s tribal arms markets in the ex-FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas) region of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province over the last few decades, mainly in the town of Darra Adam Khel and a few in the old arms markets in the town of Landi-Kotal close to the Pak-Afghan border. Only a limited amount are still available with only a handful seen by us during visits or shared with us in images. The price is at least 2-3 times that of the more readily available ‘Grease-Guns’ due to its limited availability and historical significance and curiosity. Multiple variants of the submachine guns, mainly the late M1 and further simplified, M1A1 are available in various conditions ranging from rather clean to more well-used.

Fig.1.2. A pair of Thompson submachine guns, top an M1A1 and below an M1928A1, still sporting the rare to find Cutts compensator on its muzzle (Source: Khyber Armoury research & reference collection)
Fig.1.3. Right face: An interesting M1A1 which aftermarket grip serrations/chequering added (Source: Khyber Armoury research & reference collection)
Fig.1.4. Left face: An interesting M1A1 which aftermarket grip serrations added (Source: Khyber Armoury research & reference collection)

We have only seen and examined a few of these pictured examples ourselves, however, it isn’t certain where the dealers acquired these guns from. We can point out the supply of certain arms by non-state and state actors to the Mujahideen as a possible source, as other US made weapons such as the 5.56×45mm M16 may have been supplied to them in some numbers, not including the STINGER missiles which we know were undoubtedly supplied. We’ve seen the Thompson submachine guns as well as M16A1 self-loading rifles in Mujahideen hands during the Soviet-Afghan conflict in a couple of instances. That being said, the large arms dealers who acquire such large amounts of arms aren’t so forthcoming with how they came into their possession. Whether they are from that time period or a more recent ‘import’ is unclear, so their route was into the region is just conjecture at this point. Something to be investigated further in the future.

Fig.1.5. A Soviet soldier posing with an M1/A1 captured from Afghan Mujahideen (Source: ARES CONMAT)

Due to the number of these now antiquated arms floating around Pakistan today, they are usually sold off relatively cheap. Although this is so, the ‘Tommy Gun’ still commands almost as much as an older and/or well used AK rifle. Many are left lying unwanted on shelves due to the unavailability of the ammunition so sold as wall-hangers and display pieces as they cannot compete with much more modern submachine gun designs of today, which as ever are sought after and widely catered to in the region.