The M3A1 Grease Gun. Will Dabbs MD Photo
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Sergeant Eugene Colter slouched immobile alongside 27 of his mates inside the dark cavernous interior of the big C-47 cargo plane as it droned hypnotically through the predawn darkness toward occupied Europe. He was one of only three young paratroopers onboard the plane who was not chain smoking Camels, Chesterfields or Lucky Strikes. He had trained for nearly two years for this moment, and he was utterly terrified.

He was a member of the 101st Airborne—the Screaming Eagles—and he was about to take the fight to Hitler. As the plane started to buffet and tracers arced up into the night sky, he came to the sick realization that Hitler had been expecting them. Then there was a sound like gravel thrown against a metal building, and he realized the plane was taking fire. Suddenly, all he wanted to do was to get out.

The jump sequence was chaotic, much more so than even training had prepared them for. Colter struggled to stand encumbered as he was with a hundred pounds of gear inside a violently oscillating airplane. Before he realized it, he was leaping out into the cool night air above Normandy.

The plane was flying much lower and much faster than had ever been the case in training. He felt as though the opening shock was going to rip his legs off. It was then that he realized his rucksack with all of his food, explosives and support gear had been torn away in the violent slipstream. About the time that fact really registered, he slammed into the soft French dirt like a freight train.

It took SGT Colter half a minute to regain his wits. He peeled himself out of his chute and took stock. The only reason he remained prickly was that he had only recently been issued a weird pressed steel submachinegun that he had strapped directly to his chest. Everybody called the blocky weapon the Grease Gun after the familiar mechanic’s tool. With an M1911 .45 pistol, a jump knife, three frag grenades, that Greaser and seven loaded magazines, SGT Gene Colter struck off into the night looking for trouble.

Origin Story

The M3A1 Grease Gun saw action very late in World War II. The Army did not stock spare parts for the gun. If something broke you were to run over the weapon with a tank and draw a new one. Will Dabbs MD Photo

At the apogee of mass production during World War II, the streamlined M1A1 Thompson submachine gun cost Uncle Sam $70 to produce. It was bulky, heavy, inefficient and mean. By contrast, the stamped steel M3 Grease Gun only set the government back $18. I’ve run both, and the Greaser is hands down the better weapon.

The M3 began as an analysis by the U.S. Army Ordnance Board in 1941 that eventually pitted the British Sten against the German MP40 and American M1928A1 Thompson. The ultimate standard was to place 90% of the rounds fired on a 6×6-foot target at 50 yards. The resulting design was to be made predominantly from steel pressings with a minimum of machining reserved for the bolt and barrel. The finalized weapon first saw combat during the D-Day invasion.


The pistol grip on the Grease Gun is huge. The trigger and fire controls are all formed from pressed steel. Will Dabbs MD Photo

The design stipulations for the M3 mandated that it could be converted from its original .45 ACP chambering to 9mm via a drop-in conversion unit. Military planners envisioned airdropping these inexpensive SMGs by the thousands into occupied territory for use by resistance forces. They wanted the weapons to be able to use captured 9mm ammo if necessary. While the conversion kits worked fine, there never were very many of them produced.

The Grease Gun was built from a pair of stamped steel shells welded together along the seams. The bolt was undersized to provide ample clearance from dirt and grunge and rode on a pair of steel rods inside the weapon. The gun was full auto only and unnaturally reliable.

The pistol grip on the Greaser was too big for normal humans but nonetheless effective. The gun cycled at a comatose 450 rounds per minute and fed from a double-stack, single-feed 30-round box magazine. Early M3 guns incorporated an unnecessarily complicated ratcheting charging handle. The simplified M3 saw action at the very end of the war and dispensed with the complex charging system. Charging the subsequent M3A1 involved nothing more than hooking a finger in a divot on the bolt and pulling it to the rear.

The Grease Gun was a marvel of mass production and first saw action during the D-Day invasion. Will Dabbs MD Photo

All Grease Guns fired from the open bolt. The weapon’s sole safety was the ejection port cover. As was artfully explained in the epic David Ayer war movie Fury, closing the cover put the gun on safe. Opening it made the weapon hot.

The Grease Gun was ugly, awkward, uncomfortable, and cheap. However, it was also awesome. The weapon remained in production into the 1950s, and 655,363 copies were built. It remained in U.S .Army service as a defensive weapon for armored crews well into the 1990s. The Grease Gun was a marvel of American engineering prowess.

Special thanks to for the cool replica gear used in our pictures.

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  1. I can’t wait until the NFA is overturned. I’d like one in both .45 and 9mm please. It should be pretty cheap to produce these today for a company like PSA. I don’t see why they couldn’t price them at under $200 out the door.

        • uh…Wait? There is only one way to flush Gun Control and that is to Define Gun Control by its History. Until America reacts to Gun Control the same way America reacts to seeing Gun Control’s sidekick Mr. Noose I suggest you and the rest of the deadwood on this forum open your pieholes and start Defining.

        • to Debbie W.
          I would be comfortable going back to the days when black people, got their machine guns and ammo in the mail. Since no white owned business would sell to them.

      • Ifs ands butts art…And where were you when Civil War era monuments, books and songs were being vandalized, removed, destroyed or relocated? All of it in a effort to rewrite History and cleanse the democRat Party the party that owns the legacy of Slavery, lynching, Eugenics, Gun Control, etc.

        And worse during the time it was silence from so called 2A orgs. and gun talking blowbags who were so lame they sat on their thumbs and allowed the remaining biggest of them all symbol of Racism and nazism on the law books called the 1968 Gun Control Act to skate by without a scratch.
        And then comesThomas with Bruen and still dumbfuks cannot connect the dots and react accordingly…pathetic.

    • PSA should be spending their development dollars first on a M3A1 instead of that half-baked STG44. I’d probably pay as much as $1000 for a M3A1 and I wouldn’t think twice at $700.

    • 18 bucks in 1943 works out to $320.90 in today’s money.

      The NFA isn’t getting repealed (Scalia recognized that in ‘Heller’ with his “particularly-dangerous weapons” comment), but we damn sure can get the ‘Hughes’ amendment tossed and the select-fire registry reopened.

      Personally, I’d *love* to Form 4 a grease gun welded up from a parts kit. I’d upgrade it with a threaded barrel and a mag well that takes Glock mags. The same goes for a Sten or a MAC-11 in .45 ACP…

      • Cease blowing smoke when you and garbage like you assisted in removing a qualified man doing right for America and put the Gun Control buffoons biden and giggles behind the wheel. BTW…Until you see me put your name in my moniker proves I am not the one with the obsession…ain’t that right?

        • Just shut the fvck up, you nattering nit-wit.

          What a true horror it must be for whoever lives in your house… 🙂

        • trunk did a couple things i didn’t like.
          i can still prefer him as a candidate.
          grasp this.
          (ha, i said grasp this).

  2. The tommy gun was a first generation sub gun. Naturally, it wasn’t perfect. I agree that the grease gun was better. But it had the advantage of coming in gen 2.

    There are newer generations of sub guns in production now. When the NFA is history I will buy one.

      • In the post NFA world where lots of people have their own FA SBR’s, rifles, and subguns and are regularly shooting them the ammo manufacturers will step up and increase production to levels not seen since WW2 and perhaps even beyond. With modern technology and production methods combined with economies of scale the price of ammo will plummet.

        I, for one, thank the well-heeled shooters who have bought lots of guns and ammo up to this point and kept production up as well as research and development so that it trickles down as reasonable prices and supply for us common folks. It’s the same thanks we should give to the rich executives and other millionaires who first bought expensive “car phones” back in the early 80’s and later the ridiculous portable “bag phones” that drove cell phone technology from the sky-high priced horse and buggy era right past Henry Ford’s Model T Nokia candybar phones to the modern smartphones that even homeless people can afford today.

        Yes, I look forward to a lot of rich folks buying tons of ammo to feed their newly-legal FA Post-NFA/GCA machine guns. If we build it they will come.

        • “…the ammo manufacturers will step up and increase production to levels not seen since WW2 and perhaps even beyond.”

          If what I expect happens with the current 2A case the SCotUS judges are working on, we stand a *serious* shot at getting non-violent felons their 2A rights restored.

          That’s tens of MILLIONS of potential new gun owners eager to exercise their right. Ammo companies will be forced to build a few more ammo plants to meet the demand.

          (That reminds me, I better lay in some ammo purchases now, because ammo will be scarce for up to 5 years if that actually happens…)

    • Thanks for the input Bucephalus. I really enjoy these articles too. Will does a great job. I’ve asked him if he can do more like this and have some other writers working on some similar articles. We’re definitely working to get some more like this in the pipeline.

    • Indeed! Two points: I thought from previous reading that in the winter of the Korean War the M3 and the M1carbine were not the most reliable weapons while the M1 rifle performed admirably. And in the Pacific theater, particularly in New Guinea, the magificent Australian Owen SMG was so highly reliable and accurate that MacArthur pondered issuing them to American forces to replace our SMGs. Cost of production: $24-30 in 1942-43.

  3. Those were crude, but effective submachine guns. My Uncle Willie ended with one. He followed Patton for a while. Uncle Willie told me only time he knew he shot a German was a night in Belgium. He and another guy were in a fighting position. Two guys passed in the fog. Speaking German. Uncle Willie said they shot them down and looked at them after sunrise.

  4. Having fired the Thompson M1921, M1928 & the M1 along with the M3 and the MP40, the MP40 is the better and more accurate weapon. While heavy compared to modern SMG’s the MP40 will put down very accurate and concentrated fire. The M3A1 is next best though it’s small rear sight leaves much to be desired.

    The Tommy Guns are true choppers but very heavy and swapping out magazines is slow and difficult especially in low light.

    I understand that the M2 Submachinegun is supposed to be a pretty good weapon but I’ve never had the opportunity to pick up one.

  5. How odd! We called it, “Occupied Europe” when the Continent was “occupied” by Europeans in the 1940’s. Now that Europe is occupied by non-Europeans, what should we call it?

      • It’ll be all Saracen once they start purging non-muslims. I’m sure some yuros will be permitted to convert as long as they follow all rules of Sharia.

        Unfortunate but it is similar to Vampires -they can’t enter your home unless they are invited in. Yuro self-destructed when they opened their borders. The USA is only a half-generation behind them. It’s probably too late for us as well.

  6. I flew helicopters in Vietnam and turned in my issued M16 for a grease gun. I figured that if I ever needed to use it things would be up close and personal. It was very reliable and used the same ammo as my issued 1911. Good weapon and as a side note it was easy to fire single rounds with a bit of practice. Rick Taylor. 66-67

  7. It was just a matter of time before Dabbs started playing dress up again. It helps nothing in his articles to see his vast collection of costumes for Fudd Reinacting, just focus on the guns and save your face paint for the grandchildren.

    PS. I have an Urban Camo tip for Dabbs: to blend in you put your gear in a shopping cart with Hefty bags of garbage and dress like a filthy homeless person…nobody will
    l notice you…walked right past Rodney King rioters and shady earthquake crowds. A guy in camo with visible gear is called “food”…so get real, Willy.

    • Truly hate it that you hate it, brother. I collect the gear and uniforms and use them in my work simply because nobody else does. I like to think it adds a little flavor to what might otherwise come across as a bit dry. Not trying to live out any fantasies or compensate for anything. I just think it’s cool. Sorry that you don’t.


  8. The “gun community” supports the NFA. They like having class three weapons restricted. Folks need to be honest with themselves for a change.

    The “glock switch” is in the hands of mostly unsupervised, black teenage boys, from single motherhood homes.

    The libertarians liberals and the left all disagreed with the christians. Who said a father is necessary in the home. The three L’s don’t believe a father’s love and discipline are needed.

    They don’t believe he needs to provide an example of self control.


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