The Thompson Submachine Gun ID Guide, Part IX: The Military Thompson Drum Magazine

By Frank Iannamico

The familiar drum style magazine is often viewed as an integral a part of the Thompson image, but the drum proved unsuited for a military application of the weapon. Although a large amount of drums were originally sold and issued with the military guns, their service was short lived. The drum magazine proved to be heavy, easily damaged, and rattled noisily when loaded. The drums were also difficult to load under field conditions, especially at night. Often troops would simply discard the drums after expending the cartridges in them. The fifty round capacity drum was designated as the “L” drum by the Auto-Ordnance Corporation, and was offered as an $18.00 option when first introduced commercially in 1921. The one hundred round capacity drum magazine was known as the “C” drum. The “C” drum was not a general issue magazine, but some were procured by the military for testing and evaluation purposes. The one hundred round “C” drum was found to be far too heavy and bulky for military use. The original retail cost of a “C” drum was $20.00. Oscar Payne designed both the L and C type drums during the days he was employed by the Auto-Ordnance Corporation in the early 1920’s.

During World War Two there were several private contractors that manufactured the fifty-round “L” drums under Ordnance Department contracts. The quality varied between the various wartime manufacturers, and was generally less than that of the commercial pre-war drums sold with the Colt guns. The fifty-round military L type drums were manufactured from sheet metal stampings approximately .030-inch thick. The drums were made up of four major components: the main body, the cover, rotor assembly and a winding key. The military drums had a dull blue or flat black oxide finish. As early as October 1941 Auto-Ordnance was very concerned with getting “stuck” with a large number of drum magazines, but was able to convince the U.S. Army to purchase 110,000 of them.

Fifty round drums supplied to U.S. Allies under the Lend-Lease program totaled 450,000 units. Suppliers of the Lend-Lease drums were Auto-Ordnance 110,000, The Crosby Company 150,000, and Seymour 190,000. The Worcester Pressed Steel Company and the Crosby Company both had manufactured drum magazines under direct contract with the British government prior to the enactment of the Lend Lease program in 1941.

The prices that Auto-Ordnance charged for drums and magazines, as well as the Thompson weapons, varied greatly. It seems as though the Auto-Ordnance Corporation would charge whatever they thought the prospective buyer would pay. Drum style magazines were sold for as much as $19.29 to the Coast Guard in small quantities (in 1942) to as little as $4.00 to the U.S. Ordnance Department in very large quantities.

As early as 1941 the Ordnance Department was beginning the testing of an increased capacity box style magazine. As a result a thirty-round version of the box magazine was recommended for adoption in December of 1941. In May of 1942 the Ordnance Department approved it as the Standard Type magazine for the Thompson. The simplified M1 version of the Thompson, adopted in mid-1942 had no provisions to utilize the drum style magazines.

Drum Contractors

The Auto-Ordnance Corporation
1437 Railroad Avenue
Bridgeport, Connecticut

Like the Thompson guns, the majority of the drums and magazines bearing the Auto-Ordnance name were produced by other companies. The prime subcontractor used by Auto-Ordnance to manufacture the magazines for their military contracts was the United Specialties Company of Chicago. The magazines were manufactured in two separate United Specialties factories. The United Specialties United Air Cleaner Division located in Chicago, Illinois and their Mitchell Division located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. United Specialties also used two unnamed subcontractors to assist with their production of the Thompson magazines. There were a number of variations of the markings on the New York and Bridgeport marked drums made for the Auto-Ordnance Corporation. The letter U stamped on the drums indicates that the United Specialties Company of Chicago manufactured the drums.

The WWII Bridgeport address drums are the most common variation encountered today in the United States. While the drums are marked with the Auto-Ordnance name most of them were manufactured by the United Specialties Company of Chicago. The outside of the drums were finished with a Du-Lite black oxide Type III finish, which was a flat black color, while the inside that was not sandblasted prior to the finish being applied was a dull blue color. There were several variations of the Auto-Ordnance marked WWII drums made, including some with Auto-Ordnance’s New York, or Bridgeport Connecticut addresses.

The Chicago Ordnance District was responsible for inspection and production follow-up only for the magazines produced at the Chicago location. The Philadelphia Ordnance District was responsible for overseeing production at the Philadelphia plant. The use of several different manufacturing facilities and subcontractors used to produce the magazines would explain the different variations of the Auto-Ordnance logo marked on the magazines.

The Charles Fischer Spring Company
242 Kent Avenue
Brooklyn, New York

The Charles Fischer Spring Company was listed in the U.S. Government’s ordnance contract records as a manufacturer of the twenty round box magazines, and fifty round drum magazines for the Thompson Submachine Gun. The Fischer Company was the first subcontractor outside of Auto-Ordnance, engaged by the U.S. Government to manufacture magazines. However, the Auto-Ordnance Corporation would not provide any current drawings of the Thompson gun or its accessories to the government. The government supplied Fischer with some obsolete magazine drawings that they had on file, and instructed the Fischer Company to “make the magazines in such a manner as to operate satisfactorily in the gun”. Inspectors from the New York Ordnance District eventually rejected all of the drums and magazines manufactured by the company. The contract was finally canceled in mid-1944, without cost to the government. All of the drum magazines manufactured by the Fischer Company were rejected by the New York Ordnance District inspectors, and subsequently destroyed. Surviving examples of the Fischer fifty round L drum are extremely rare.

The Charles Fischer Company did successfully manufacture a number of parts for the M1918A2 Browning Automatic Rifle including; buffer tubes, bipods, gas cylinders, change levers, stop levers and a number of various springs.

The Crosby Company
183 Pratt Street
Buffalo, New York

The Crosby contract for the fifty round drum magazines was Contract DA-W-740-Ord-2, with a dollar value of $420,000.00, and production of the drums began in July 1940. All of the Crosby drums were manufactured for Defense Aid contracts. The cost of Crosby drum magazines to the British Government was $4.50 each. Of all the WWII drums the Crosby drums, although they were functional, were the lowest quality of all the manufacturers. The Crosby drums were finished with a coat of black enamel paint or a black oxide.

The Crosby Company manufactured the fifty round drum magazines as well as the twenty and thirty round box style magazines. Crosby was under the jurisdiction of the Rochester, NY Ordnance District during WWII. All of the fifty round drums and twenty round magazines produced by Crosby were for foreign Defense Aid contracts. The British Government paid Crosby a $25,000 fee to tool up for the project. The thirty round magazines were made for both the U.S. Government and Defense Aid contracts. During the First World War the Crosby Company manufactured a number of stamped steel products including 469,968 M-1917 steel helmets. The Chairman of the company was H.W. Crosby, the President and General Manager was Mr. J.M. Smith.

Seymour Products Company
1937 Lightfoot Street
Seymour, Connecticut

The Seymour Products Company of Seymour, Connecticut was commended by the Springfield Ordnance District for quality and quantity of the small arms magazines manufactured by the company. The district stated that the Seymour Company produced Thompson box and drum magazines that rated excellent in all criteria upon which they may be graded, especially in reliability. Seymour was a relatively small company that employed 560 people, during the WWII years 54% of Seymour’s employees were woman. The company was awarded the Army-Navy Production award on 21 August 1943. The Seymour drums were originally finished in a dull blue color similar to that found on the box magazines. Although the Seymour drums functioned satisfactorily the quality of their construction wasn’t quite up to the same standard as the Auto-Ordnance, New York or Bridgeport marked drums.

Worcester Pressed Steel Company
100 Barber Avenue
Worcester, Massachusetts

The Worcester Pressed Steel Company was originally founded in 1868 as the Worcester Ferrule and Manufacturing Company. In 1904 the company was acquired by a group headed by John and Milton Higgins who organized the Worcester Pressed Steel Company. The company specialized in producing stampings of any metal or alloy that could be blanked or drawn in a press. During WWI the company facilities were 100% directed to manufacturing war goods for Great Britain, France and the United States. The company produced brass artillery cases, cartridge belt links, steel helmets, boosters, and booster jackets. During the 1930’s, The Worcester Pressed Steel Company had manufactured a number of pre-war Thompson drums for the Auto-Ordnance Corporation back in the 1930’s The earlier drums were marked with the Auto-Ordnance name and their New York address.

The entire lot of WWII era military contract drums made by Worcester Pressed Steel were made under direct contract for the British in 1940. All of the WWII fifty round drums manufactured by Worcester Pressed Steel were accepted by the British Government with no rejections. The British contract number was DA-W-241-ORD-726 for a total of 50,000 drums. The drums were marked W.P.S. CO. on the slide plate of the magazine body. The British contract W.P.S. marked drums are quite rare today, perhaps many were lost while enroute to England on ships that fell victim to German submarine attacks.

The Worcester plant was under the jurisdiction of the Boston Ordnance District. The Worcester Pressed Steel Company was later taken over by the Roe Corporation who declared bankruptcy in 1976.

Today, although most of the military drums are far from being considered rare, the prices have risen dramatically over the last few years. Even so collectors still diligently seek them, after all a Thompson isn’t really complete without a drum magazine.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V6N7 (April 2003)
and was posted online on November 29, 2013


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