Photos by Michael Anschuetz
Their mission was to seize German fortifications at Pointe du Hoc, a promontory with a 100-foot cliff overlooking the English Channel on the northwest coast of Normandy, France. It was the highest point between the American landings at Utah and Omaha beaches. The German army had installed concrete casemates and gun pits for fortification the year prior, but had yet to place their large guns. Under the cover of fire support from three Allied ships, Rangers scaled the cliffs using rope ladders that weren’t nearly long enough. Almost an hour later, members of the U.S. Army Ranger Assault Group reached the top, secured the battery area and defended against counter-attacks until they were relieved two days after on June 8, 1944.
A number of the 225 Rangers included scouts, staff- and non-commissioned officers, made the assault with a .45-caliber M1A1 Thompson. (Some historians believe that there were also 1928A1 and M1 Thompsons at the scene.) The M1A1 Thompson was the result of the 1942 simplification of the 1928A1, which was expensive and labor intensive. Developed with fewer features by the Savage Corporation, the design was submitted to the Ordnance Department, then tested and quickly put into production through Savage and Auto-Ordnance (AO). Though many parts were interchangable with the 1928A1, the M1 featured a new side-charging bolt, a redesigned pilot rod and recoil spring assembly, a trigger frame that required a redesign of the pistol grip, and a narrower magazine slot with a new magazine catch. Neither the M1 or M1A1 would accept drum magazines, which were largely phased out by D-Day. The rear notch-aperture sight was also simplified and given protection by triangular wings. The M1 featured a smooth, unfinned, 10.52-inch barrel that was not fitted for a compensating muzzle device. Early M1s used a milled paddle-style fire selector and safety levers, while the M1A1 received a pin-style selector and safety lever. (You’ll note that Auto-Ordnance’s semiautomatic M1A1 Thompson lacks the fire selector lever, but does have the appropriate pin-style safety.) The M1A1, adopted in October 1942, further simplified the bolt by eliminating the hammer assembly and fixing the firing pin in place.
Savage produced 722,794 M1 and M1A1 Thompsons, while Auto-Ordnance manufactured 110,602 M1s and M1A1s. Auto-Ordnance primarily built M1A1 models.
Auto-Ordnance Corporation was bought from Numrich Arms Corporation in 1999 by the parent company of Kahr Arms. They have built a strong reputation for semiautomatic Thompson carbines that resemble and handle like an original, though they don’t fire from an open bolt. Many variations are available, but their most recent introduction honors the U.S. Army Rangers who fought during Operation Overlord.
The Rangers’ Thompson fittingly features engravings that commemorate their role. On the right buttstock is part of President Ronald Reagan’s 40th Anniversary speech of the landing, along with an image of a Ranger, the Ranger patch and a grappling hook used to scale the cliffs. The date of the battle appears on the forearm, while the left side has Maj. Gen. Cota’s quote, “Rangers lead the way!” Images of Rangers, the Medal of Honor, and their leader Lt. Col. Rudder are on the stock. Each side of the grip wears a 75th Anniversary emblem. Applied by Outlaw Ordnance, the finish is Cerakote’s Olive Drab with controls finished in Patriot Brown. Armor Black fills the engravings.
Having a 161/2-inch barrel, 20- and 30-round magazines, a Kerr sling and three-mag pouch, it’s a fine salute to those men.