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Americans’ adventures in the USSR. PART 1. Submachine guns

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Americans’ adventures in the USSR

PART 1. Submachine guns



Before the start of the Second World War, the goal of developing a new semiautomatic/full auto rifle was the main one in the Red Army. However, research and manufacture of submachine guns was also among major tasks since the 1920ies.

It was in the 1920ies that a batch of “Thompsons” was bought in the USA and handed over to the border troops of the Red Army. There is no precise data on its use. However it can be assumed, that “ Chicago Typewriter” showed to be quite effective, since the research and development of soviet submachine guns hadn’t slowed don’t, but on the contrary – were sped up. Moreover, one of the Thompsons participated in the comparison tests of soviet and foreign submachine guns, which took place in 1930.



Eventually, in 1934 USSR put into service its own submachine gun – Degtyareva and with this the story of imported submachine guns had temporarily come to an end.

However, after the start of the war, the legends of tons of German machinegunners  forced the Soviet commanders to start forming their own divisions, fully equipped with submachine guns. Even though the PPSh (Shpagin submachine gun), which was put into service in 1941, was quite simple and technologically acceptable in manufacture, it had a few “narrow places”, interfering with the increase of mass production. The manufacture of an even simpler Sudaev submachine gun had only been started at the end of 1942. In these circumstances, the submachine guns supplied according to the terms of Land Lease were of great help to the Red Army.

The major part of supply was still the Thompsons, which normally came as enginery (tanks etc) personell firearms. But being an important anti-nazi ally, “Uncle Sam” was also kept informed of the latest arms research. This is why Resising and the M3 “Grease gun” were also among the guns being tested at the Main Artillery Department test ground.

The Thompson submachine gun was tested as a “military” version with a box-type 20-round magazine. Its weight with an empty magazine was 5,125 kg.


The test results showed that Tommy gun’s single fire accuracy at 50, 100 and 200 meters was better than the Soviet submachine guns and was almost the same accuracy when firing full auto (short bursts 3-5 shots).



Type of fire



50 meters

100 meters

200 meters






PPSh (Shpagin)

PPS (Sudaev)


PPSh (Shpagin)

PPS (Sudaev)


PPSh (Shpagin)

PPS (Sudaev)






















Full auto






















Thompson was functioning quite reliably in different conditions.

Overall 18 288 rounds were fired through it during the tests with 986 misfires (5.32%).

As it was noted by the people involved, the Thompson submachine gun’s automatics was quite sensitive to dirt. In their opinion, Tommy gun was to be cleaned after each 1000 rounds.

The design of the gun, even in its simplified “war” version, was acknowledged to be far too complicated and not technological (production-wise).

This was also the opinion in the US, where they had launched the development of a simpler and cheaper submachine gun.

The feedback by the troops didnt add any optimism:

“The Thompson submachine gun is not popular among troops, who prefer the PPSh (Shpagin), fore the Tommy gun has high rate of misfire and is uncomfortable in use. Red Army was supplied with Thompsons on January 7th 1942 and already by January 10th 1942 was massively sent to the workshops due to high misfire. The reason for that was tight bolt action in the receiver (low clearance) and lubricant being stuck on them (most likely – cod liver oil), because it froze at -16 -20 degrees Celsius), just as well as the extra tension against cloth oil seals, which were soaked with the same lubricant (the lubricant was the factory-supplied and came in the gun’s buttstock). There were no cleaning accessories supplied, which gave extra difficulties in use.


Round magazine installation on the Tommy gun is uncomfortable and required special skills as there was no magazine stop. The mags were interchangeable. High oxidation (rust) resistance was noted compared to the PPSh. Magazine levers loss and wood stock burns were also common.”





The next one at the test facility was the Reising submachine gun. According to reports, it was not put thought the full cycle of tests. Construcstion study showed it to be overall complicated, however some parts – like the delayed blowback and the original trigger group, which functioned as the fire rate slowing mechanism, were highlighted in the report as noteworthy to the Soviet designers.

The bolt of the Reising was put through a separate study. Among all the imported guns according to the Land Lease, Reising was the only one with delayed blowback. The conclusion of Soviet officers was the following:

 “The delayed blowback allowed to reduce the weight of the moving parts, but made the system more complicated overall. It required usage of a special part – relatively complicated bolt carrier. Moreover, due to this fact, the disassembly and especially production of the Reising gun was more complicated, as it took a lot more precision in parts’ manufacture.”


The other overseas guest – the M3 Submachine gun was of much more interest. It was known to the Soviet military officials as soon as it was tested, at the special bulletin for the officers of the Main Artillery Department stated that simple and cheap, “British Stan-type submachine gun – the T20 was being researched and developed in the United States. Its was to be used  by the partisans and spies.”


It showed similar accuracy to the Tommy gun at 50, 100 and 200 meters range. Also, the M3 showed good operation reliability in different conditions. And finally, the stamina test – 12 300 shots were fired prior to the first part breakdown – the spring of reloading mechanism lever and 17 000 shots until the sear broke. The sealing level and dust resistance of the M3, which provided it with the above described level of reliability, was highly rated by the Soviet officers. The Soviet blowback operating guns (the PPSh Shpagin and the PPS Sudaev) down side was the moving parts hitting the receiver end plate. In the M3, according to estimations, the recoil spring absorbed 99.4% of the recoil energy, which led to higher accuracy.

It was the perfect result for a war-time simple design. In the conclusion of the test report it was stated:

“The M3 submachine gun test carried out in may 1944 showed, that the firearm, put into service in the United States army in may 1943, not only outranks all the previous American submachine guns (Thompson 1923 and 1928, M1 and M1F1, and also Reising), but in terms of its certain qualities can be among world’s best submachine guns.”




And finally, we can bypass one of the popular “legends”, related to the usage of American submachine guns by the Red Army. One of the versions, in particular, is written in the memoires of Dmitry Loza, who was one of the Sherman tank operators, supplied according to the Land Lease:

 “ Each Sherman tank was supplied with 2 Thompson guns. Caliber 11.43mm – huge cartdidge! But the gun was lousy. We had a few incidents. As a bet guys would put on 2 winter jackets, walked a bit away and then Thompsons would be fired at them. The bullet would get stuck in the jackets. That’s how sh..ty the gun was. Whereas we used to appreciate the German folding-stock submachine gun (referring here to the MP-40 made by Erma) for its compact size. Thompson was too big to be carried and used by the tank troops.”

It is very unlikely, that Dmitry Loza had personally witnessed these “experiments”, most likely he heard someone’s stories, which he told many years later on his memoires. In reality, the small arms in the USSR were also tested for penetrating power. World War Two times standard penetrating power test was carried out by firing at the wooden package, which consisted of the 25mm thick wooden blocks with 25 mm empty spaces between them. Thompson gun penetrated three wooden blocks with all 10 shots at 50, 100 and 200 meters distance and the next – fourth one, with 9 out of 10 bullets. Even at 300 meters the first wooden block was penetrated by 10 out of 10 shots. Two winter jackets are undoubtedly think, but very unlikely to be more bullet proof than the 1 inch wooden block.

However, it is possible, that there was some sense in legends like this one.

In the Main Archive of the Ministry of defense of Russian Federation, there is a report on the condition of 3 million of 11.43 mm American pistol ammo, delivered via Murmansk.

Initial visual examination showed that the ammo had residue and dirt under the cases, different primer depth and others flaws. The ammo was by different manufacturers and form different dates. The firing test showed the ammo to have had high percentage of defects, most common being the primers, which lead to gas blowback, case explosion, misfires, hard extraction and other abnormalities.

Most likely, this “soup” was manufactured before the US factories set up production of military orders. And, obviously, used in combat, this ammo didn’t do any good to the reputation of the Land Lease arms among the Red Army troops.

Perhaps, the reason was different – the ballistics of a large, heavy and slow .45ACP bullet. If sight adjustment or hold overs were not perfect, the bullets trivially didn’t even reach the target. The soldiers, after many rounds of misses, having being confident in their good aim, started to think of the bullets being weak.

A somewhat similar situation arose in the Korean war, where the landscape features provoked aiming and range finding errors. The soldiers equipped with M1 Garands, which had larger direct shot distance, were less sensitive to these errors, whereas the soldiers with M1 and M2 carbines started legends of the ineffectiveness of the .30 Carbine cartridge against the enemy in thick clothes. As a result , many of the US soldiers became disappointed with the intermediate cartridge.



 Andrey Ulanov.



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