Tommy gun, sten gun, Bren gun - what were they all?

As per thread title - were they all WWII vintage? Where did the names come from? Where they all “machine guns”

All were WW2
They were all submachine guns which fire pistol cartridges. Machine guns fire rifle cartridges.
The Bren is a machine gun-.303 Enfield, the Sten fired the 9mm Parabelleum.

They were named after their inventors or manufacturers. You can read about them here.

The term “machine gun” covers a wide range of things. Generally, you can divide them into light, medium, and heavy machine guns.

A light machine gun is typically carried by a single soldier, and is used as part of a squad. It’s light enough that it only takes one person to carry it around and operate it. It’s still a fairly heavy weapon, though, at least compared to a standard infantry rifle. A light machine gun typically fires a cartridge that is smaller than a standard infantry rifle cartridge, since the recoil of an automatic rifle firing a rifle cartridge is a bit excessive for a single soldier to handle if not braced or supported in any way.

A medium machine gun typically fires a full sized rifle cartridge. Since this has much more recoil than a light machine gun, the medium machine gun usually needs to be supported by a bipod or tripod. Instead of just running around and shooting, like you can do with a light machine gun, a medium machine gun requires the soldiers to carry it, drop it down into a fortified position and set it up, then fire it from that stationary position.

A heavy machine gun is even bigger. It requires a crew to assemble, carry, and shoot it. So, more firepower, less portability. But a heavy machine gun can punch through vehicles and building walls, where a light or medium machine gun would not be effective.

There are also “submachine guns”. These fire pistol rounds, which makes them less powerful, but much lighter and much more controllable.

The “Tommy Gun” (properly called the Thompson Submachine Gun) is, as the name implies, a submachine gun, firing a pistol round, the .45 ACP cartridge in this case. It was designed around 1915 to 1920. It got a lot of notoriety in the 1920s due to its popularity with some gangsters, particularly in Chicago. Hence it’s nickname, the Chicago Typewriter. It saw use by the U.S. military in WWII, but was very expensive to produce. Still, they did end up making over a million of the things.

The Sten Gun was a British submachine gun, firing the 9×19mm pistol cartridge. The British produced the Sten Gun mostly because they couldn’t get enough Thompson submachine guns. The Sten Gun was based somewhat on the design of the German MP28. It was designed around 1940 and saw a lot of use in WWII.

The Bren Gun was a light machine gun, also designed and used by the British. It fired the British .303 cartridge, so it packed more of a punch than the Sten Gun, but was also heavier, harder to control, and the ammo weighed a lot more. It was designed in the 1930s and saw a lot of use in WWII.

They were all used in WWII, but they weren’t invented for it: The Tommy gun was the stereotypical weapon of choice for Prohibition-era gangsters.

Thompson was a real guy, and the famous “Chicago Typewriter” was already available for sale in the (19)20’s. “Sten” stands for Shepherd-Turpin, Enfield. It was a 1940s-vintage cheap 9mm submachine gun, better than nothing if you were a member of the Resistance. “Bren” is named after Brno+Enfield; the British Army adopted a suitable Czech light machine gun in 1935.

Actually, the Tommy gun was invented for WWI, but the war ended before they could get it into production.

Re–Sten Gun, from Wiki–

Not a weapon I’d choose.

The Sten was ridiculously easy to manufacture if you had basic engineering skills and a lathe. In the Israeli wars of independence, huge numbers of Stens were made from scratch in secret workshops by the Hagganah and other Jewish undergrounds.

The soldiers hated it, incidentally, which led to the invention of the Uzi as a response to all the complaints.

I can’t attest to is long term reliability or ease of use in combat. But I can say that it is a nice firing submachine gun. It has a low cyclical rate and I found it very easy to control. Ergonomics weren’t terrible, but not great.

If you ever have the chance to shoot one, jump at the opportunity. You won’t be disappointed.

Probably not the BAR, either. Intended for assault, and also used as a light machine gun, but was pretty ineffective, as it was magazine fed and cumbersome, and normally fired from the hip when carried. It was used most in WWII and Korea, with limited use in Vietnam.

I can’t think of a single example that fits that description. A look at wikipedia’s entry for LMG doesn’t give any examples that fit that description either. There are examples that I can think of that fire the same rounds as what has become the standard infantry rifle cartridge in the era of assault rifles. The M249 SAW (Squad Automatic Weapon) fires the same cartridge as the M16/M4 series rifles. There’s examples that fire the less powerful cartridges used in the AK47 and AK74 assault rifle families. That is about half power of what used to be the standard before we reduced the capability and power of the standard. Is that what you meant?

There’s still the issue that every LMG of them I can think of off hand has an integral bipod that you describe as a MMG feature. Were you thinking of something like the use of the M16 in the automatic rifleman role? In that role the automatic rifleman was issued a clip on bipod. They were trained to fulfill the machine gun role from the prone with the non-firing hand on top of the hand grips to press the bipod into the ground. The rest of the time they operated like their standard rifleman peers in the fire team. IME the M16 as automatic rifle is a shitty LMG. It’s too light to handle with much accuracy even prone with the bipod. It’s better than nothing but it can’t provide the same battlefield effects that an LMG/SAW can do. It’s effective range and rate of fire is just too limited.

You also left off the more common term in modern usage - general purpose machine gun. The aren’t as light to carry around as a true LMG/SAW. They are still light enough to perform that role. They can also fulfill the MMG role mounted on a tripod or vehicle. Those typically fire the old standard full power cartridges as opposed to the new lower power rifle cartridges.

I suspect that engineer_comp_geek was thinking of 7.62x51 mm cartridges as standard and that the SAW’s 5.56 mm cartridges are thus “lighter than standard.”

If that’s what happened, I agree that 5.56 mm is the NATO infantry standard, but I also follow the reasoning that calls it “lighter than standard” in the context of machine guns.

A submachine gun is a full or selective fire weapon that shoots pistol rounds. This is the accepted definition as given by General Thompson. However, some prefer to define SMGs by their general configuration, which is a full automatic firearm that’s more compact than a standard rifle and therefore allowing better utility in short-range engagement and close quarter combat. In fact, some so-called SMGs are simply cut-up versions of a standard rifle but still using the same rifle cartridge. Examples of these are the Colt XM177 and the AKS-74U.

Further blurring the definition is the rise of “self protection weapons” that are lighter and more compact than standard assault or battle rifles, and feature a wider range of cartridges not limited to those fired from pistols.

The term light machine gun was coined in WW1 when automatic weapons were simply too static, generally used in a fixed emplacement, with a rigid mounting on a tripod or pintle. Modifying that same 0.30 caliber weapon be man-carried, with a buttstock and bipod does the trick.

I’d like to share at this point my fascination for world war 1 engagements. Every kid likes to read about WW2 but WW1 was THE rifleman’s war. Or make that THE .30 caliber rifle round’s war. The weapons devised then persist in essence today. And the level of skill in using them exceed WW2, Korea, and Vietnam. Whereas .30 cal rifles in the great war had open sights calibrated out to 600 years, riflemen would start shooting at 1000 yards when the enemy is attacking and they scored hits. The .30 cal machine guns had sights calibrated out to 1,500 yards but shooters treated their MGs like light artillery; elevating muzzles so shots could reach out to 3,000 yards at times. This method too is still being practiced by the US Army.

Yep, of the submachine guns I’ve fired on full-auto*, the Sten was by FAR the most accurate. Outside of about 10 yards, you might as well throw the M3A1 at the enemy, the MP-40 and Thompson were more accurate than that, but still threw patterns like shotguns. The Sten actually put the rounds on target, mostly where you aimed.
(* - Thompson, M3A1 “Grease Gun”, Sten, and MP-40)

More of a historical reference, I think. Originally, from about 1900-ish through the end of WWII, armies used full sized rifle cartridges for their medium/light machine guns and rifles- the 7.62x54R, 8mm Mauser, .303 British, .30-06, and 7.7 Japanese are the primary ones used.

After the war, most countries moved to an “intermediate” cartridge, following the German example with the STG-44 firing the 7.92x33 cartridge. The Russians followed the most closely with the 7.62x39 cartridge fired by the SKS and AK-47/AKM. NATO kind of split the difference and went with the 7.62 NATO cartridge, which was shorter than the full-size cartridges, but was similarly powered. That’s why rifles like the M-14 and FN-FAL weren’t really “assault rifles”- they were just self-loading, box-magazine fed battle rifles- kind of like the M1 Garand, but with a box magazine.

At some point in the early 1960s, Eugene Stoner developed the AR-15 and chambered it in .223 Remington, which eventually evolved into the 5.56 NATO cartridge, and was used in the M-16 rifle, which evolved from the original AR-15.

However, medium machine guns fired (and still do) the 7.62 NATO cartridge, while eventually the US followed the lead of other NATO nations and started using the FN Minimi with some modifications as the M249 SAW light machine gun.

This US WWII training film shows differently among M3, Thompson and MP40. M3 put the most rounds in a target of the three. Doesn’t include Sten.

[quote=“Corry_El, post:17, topic:838154”]

This US WWII training film shows differently among M3, Thompson and MP40. M3 put the most rounds in a target of the three. Doesn’t include Sten.


All I know is that the one I fired was considerably less accurate than the others; easy to use, light and convenient, but not accurate in the least bit.

And presumably quite old. I think it’s probably better to stick with semi*-objective tests from the era in question as a reference, from my POV anyway.

*films like that could arguably have a ‘not invented here’ bias v the MP40 but if you look at the film it looks pretty legit.

Complete aside, but Thompson’s house used to be a legendary dive bar/live music space across the Ohio River from Cincy.