The Third Savage Thompson
By Tom Davis

If Savage started production at serial number S-15041, then S-15043 would be the third Savage Thompson manufactured. Could Mike have purchased the third Savage Thompson? And as a shooter!

The Auto-Ordnance Corporation spent nearly twenty years trying to market the first production run of 15,000 Thompson submachine guns. Unfortunately, no one customer wanted enough of this new type of weapon at any one time to deplete the inventory. In 1939, two very important events transpired: the rumblings of another world war began in Europe and a new management team took over an almost failed Auto-Ordnance Corporation. The new president, J. Russell Maguire, had a fresh vision for Auto-Ordnance and the foresight to place the Thompson back in production - even before the old inventory of Thompson guns manufactured years ago by Colt’s Patent Firearms Manufacturing Company were sold. A deal was struck in December 1939 wherein the Savage Arms Company, Utica, New York, became the second subcontractor to manufacture the Thompson. The first Savage manufactured Thompsons rolled off the assembly line four months later for delivery to many new Auto-Ordnance customers.

When long time Thompson enthusiast Mike Wank first examined Savage Thompson submachine gun S-15043, he knew immediately the serial number was almost too good to be true. Serial number S-15043 was recorded on the ATF registration Form 4 and the numbers on the upper receiver and lower frame matched. Mike recognized something was probably amiss with this serial number; however, he purchased S-15043 because he found exactly what he wanted - a Tommy Gun at a good price.

No documentation has been uncovered that tells exactly what serial number Savage Arms used when Thompson production began. It is believed by many Thompson experts the serial numbering started exactly where the Colt manufactured Thompson’s stopped: No. 15041. To support this belief are documented Savage Model of 1928 Thompsons in the 15,000, 16,000 and 17,000 serial number ranges. The earliest production Savage Thompson known to exist is S-15651. Actually, it is the only Savage Thompson found by this author to exist in the 15,000 serial number range. As were many of the early Savage Thompsons, S-15651 was apparently sold to the British Purchasing Commission as evidenced by the British Broad Arrow markings on the left side of the receiver by the magazine well. The extreme need for guns by the British in early World War II may well explain why there are so few surviving examples of early Savage Thompsons. It is very likely many of these early guns were probably used until they could be used no more and discarded or simply just lost in battle.

If Savage started production at serial number S-15041, then S-15043 would be the third Savage Thompson manufactured. Could Mike have purchased the third Savage Thompson? And as a shooter!

Early production Savage Thompsons have a few characteristics that are quite different from the later production Savage Thompsons. The most common known difference is the New York, N.Y. U.S.A. address on the right side of the receiver. The great majority of Savage Thompsons have a Bridgeport, Connecticut U.S.A. address. Many Thompson enthusiasts have never seen a Savage Thompson with a New York address. The exact point where the address markings changed is unknown. Frank Iannamico’s excellent Thompson reference book, American Thunder II, places the address change somewhere between the 75,000 and 84,000 serial number ranges.

The second characteristic of early Savage production Thompsons is not so well known; it involves the patent markings on the right side of the receiver. Early Savage Thompsons have patent date markings that are identical to the markings on the late serial numbered Colt Thompsons. These are the patent date markings with the 1922 dates (identical to Colt Thompsons from serial No. 14500 to the end of the Colt production at No. 15040). The patent markings commonly found on the great majority of all Thompsons, including Savage Thompsons with a New York address, are patent numbers. As with the different addresses, above, it is also unknown at what point the patent date markings changed to the patent number markings. Research by the author has documented Savage Thompsons in the 25,000 and lower serial number ranges with the patent date markings; and documented Savage Thompsons in the 26,000 and higher serial number ranges with the patent number markings. Somewhere in between this range of serial numbers appears to be the change-over point - approximately 10,000 guns into production. However, this research was somewhat limited in scope because there are not a lot of very early Savage Thompsons to examine. As with all war time manufactured firearms, exceptions undoubtedly exist and will surface as research continues.

It is important to re-emphasize Savage receivers were still being marked with a New York address when the patent date markings changed to patent number markings. There are three known variations of address and patent markings on the Savage Thompson receiver:

  • The very early first type Savage receiver marked with a New York address and patent date markings (seldom encountered).
  • The second type Savage receiver marked with a New York address and patent number markings is the most commonly found Savage receiver with a New York address. The patent numbers were positioned in the same location as the patent dates.
  • The third type (and most commonly encored) Savage receiver is marked with a Bridgeport address and patent number markings.

A quick inspection of Mike’s Thompson revealed a Bridgeport, Connecticut address and patent number markings and is definitely a late production Savage receiver. Careful examination of the serial number area revealed some handy work by an enterprising person or company.

The matching serial number on the lower frame of S-15043 looks to be original. There is a very slight misalignment of the numbers, but this is common on Savage lower frames. Most important, all the numbers on the lower frame are machine stamped and appear unchanged and unaltered.

Mike filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request on S-15043 to learn more about the history of this Savage Thompson with the unusual serial number. From the redacted documents provided by ATF, it can be determined S-15043 began life on the National Firearms Act (NFA) Registry via an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Form 2 (Return of Firearms Manufactured, Imported, or Received by Manufacturer, Importer, Dealer (Other Than Pawnbroker), and Pawnbroker, under Chapter 25, Subchapter B, Internal Revenue Code), dated December 1, 1951. This registration date explained the reason for the handy work on the receiver and also told the exact origin of this Thompson. December 1, 1951, is believed to be the date George Numrich of The Numrich Arms Company (NAC) registered approximately 95 class three weapons that were included in the Thompson assets purchased from Frederic A. Willis and three of his associates on October 23, 1951. The class three weapons involved in this sale included Thompson submachine guns, prototype Thompson guns, Birmingham Small Arms (BSA) submachine guns, a .30-06 machine gun and a sufficient quantity of parts to assemble complete Thompsons. The small number of Thompsons registered by Numrich Arms Company in 1951 has come to be known by many in the Thompson community as the “NAC” or the “crate” Thompsons - because the complete Thompson business was packed away in crates when purchased by George Numrich. Continuing research has revealed several other NAC Thompsons also began life on the NFA Registry on December 1, 1951, with a documented transfer from former Thompson owner Frederic A. Willis to Numrich Arms Company.

Fortunately, the buttstock of S-15043 retained a property tag of one of the previous owners, The Village of Liberty. Internet research revealed such a city in the State of New York, very close to Mamaroneck, New York, the location of the Numrich Arms Company in 1951. Review of the FOIA redacted IRS/ATF forms indicated S-15043 had not been owned by a governmental agency for many years. A call to the police department located a retired officer who was for many years in charge of the Village of Liberty Police Department Firearm Training Division: Lt. Doug Lindsley.

Doug Lindsley began his career at the Village of Liberty Police Department in early 1971; he retired with the rank of Lieutenant in June 1995. Three times a year he attended the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) firearms training at Camp Smith, New York, and also assisted as a firearms instructor for the FBI special agents. In 1979, he was invited to attend the FBI’s annual qualification, barbecue, and competition shoot at Camp Smith. The shoot lasted three days and when the smoke cleared, Doug had finished first, ahead of the 186 FBI agents and 44 different state agency officers. Unfortunately, he could not accept the first place award because the competition was only for the agents... but he did manage a big smile for a long time afterward. The Thompson was used in many different phases of training at Camp Smith, but this only lasted for a couple of years. Doug recalled the Bureau began phasing out submachine gun training and started emphasizing the use of shotguns for the many small towns and rural areas in the State of New York. There are no known photographs of S-15043 while it was at the police department or any record of it ever being fired in the line of duty.

S-15043 was at the department when Doug became a police officer. A 50-round drum and two 20-round magazines accompanied the gun. Some excellent detective work by Doug produced a copy of the original IRS Form 5 (Firearms) tax exempt transfer document. This form shows August 15, 1952, as the date of transfer for S-15043 between the Village of Liberty Police Department and Numrich Arms Company. It is signed by “George R. Numrich, Jr., Individual Owner, 505 Halstead Avenue, Mamaroneck, New York.”

Doug believed S-15043 was sold back to Numrich Arms in the early 1980s and the money used to purchase shotguns. He was half-right; obtaining shotguns for the Liberty Police Department was the reason S-15043 was sold. But the purchasing dealer was Selective Fire Limited, a well known Class Three dealer now located in Marietta, Georgia.

The police patch shown in this story was the official department patch when S-15043 was in service with the Village of Liberty Police Department. Doug believed this patch should always be with S-15043 and proudly provided it to Mike.

Is Mike’s Thompson the third production Thompson submachine gun manufactured by Savage Arms Company in 1940? Yes and no. The receiver was definitely not produced in the early months of 1940. It is a late production Savage receiver that was probably surplus or rejected for some unknown reason and then never needed because production changed in 1942 from the Model of 1928 Thompson to the Model M1 Thompson. However, the lower frame appears to be original and at one time part of the original Savage S-15043 Thompson. Interviews of several former owners indicated S-15043 may have been parkerized after it was sold by the Village of Liberty Police Department. It is not hard to imagine how the original third Thompson manufactured by Savage could have been used in early quality control type testing that ultimately may have led to the receiver being destroyed or discarded. There is no doubt the lower frame of S-15043 was retained by Savage Arms (and later by Auto-Ordnance Bridgeport) and ultimately made its way to the Numrich Arms Company when George Numrich purchased the Thompson in 1951.

Review of other known “NAC” Thompsons with Savage receivers show the same serial numbering handy work as S-15043. The reversed numeral three in the serial number is just another example of the rudimentary Numrich Arms Company early markings. Careful examination of the receiver revealed what may have been a “NAC” or “NU” (for Numrich?) marking below the Numrich Arms Company stamped serial number; this marking was probably removed when this Thompson was refinished. Numrich Arms Company had to mark the serial numbers on the Thompson receivers in 1951 before registration with the Internal Revenue Service or the government would assign a serial number. The lower frame of S-15043 was obviously found in among the many Thompson parts and mated with a Savage receiver. A decision to mark this Thompson with the serial number of the lower frame was made and a new “NAC Thompson” was born. What happened to the “first” Savage S-15043 will probably never be known; however, the lower frame of this third Savage Thompson continues to live on as part of this “NAC” or “crate” Thompson.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V12N12 (September 2009)
and was posted online on June 1, 2012


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