Mike Morton hits the garden range with the Legends M1A1 Legendary from Umarex – a BB blowback variant of the Thompson submachine gun.
While it’s great to see CO2 guns that are created from the ground up, plenty of shooters love getting their hands on pellet- or BB-firing historical replicas, with the Legends series from Umarex featuring a variety of guns from the Old West to the Cold War. The latest addition to the range, the M1A1 Legendary, is of course instantly recognisable as a copy of the Thompson submachine gun, and it’s a good one too.
The Thompson was first produced in 1921. It was an expensive design, with cooling fins around the barrel, a very high rate of fire and the ability to take the classic 50- or 100-round drum magazines that made it so popular with the gangsters of the Prohibition era.
The gun was subjected to a series of design changes over the years, with the military M1A1 variant that dates back to 1942 having a more manageable rate of fire, simplified sights and the ability to take only 20- or 30-round stick magazines rather than the cumbersome drum mag. It was produced by Auto-Ordnance and a number of other manufacturers.
Umarex Legends M1A1 Legendary – key specs
Gun supplied by: John Rothery Wholesale (www.bisley-uk.com)
Manufacturer: Umarex (www.umarex.com)
Model: M1A1 Legendary
Finish options: Black (on test) and Gold
Price: £344.95 for Black, £469.95 for Gold
Calibre: 4.5mm (.177)
Ammo type: BBs
Capacity: 30 rounds
Safety: Manual, ambidextrous
Powerplant: Two 12g CO2 capsules
Form And Features
Umarex has released two versions of the Legends M1A1 Legendary, in Black and Gold. If bling is your thing then you can go ahead and grab the Gold version, but I suspect most shooters will prefer the Black finish as seen on the test gun, as not even the self-admittedly ostentatious General George S Patton with his ivory-handled revolvers owned a gold Thompson. The distressed Black finish has been well executed, with just enough wear to look authentic.
While the working parts of the M1A1 are made of metal, the butt stock, grip and fore stock are made of plastic. We’ve seen Umarex use this material before as a stand-in for real wood, the Legends Cowboy Rifle being a good example.
Just like that gun, the “woodwork” has been extremely well done, and while proper wood would have been nicer, the synthetic grain does look realistic and it’s hard to tell the difference. Using plastic has probably helped make the M1A1 Legendary a more practical gun to shoot, as it weighs only 3.4kg unloaded compared with the hefty 4.5kg of the powder-burning, wooden-stocked SMG.
As with many other Legends guns, the controls on this BB-firing blowback mimic the originals as far as possible, with the mag release catch, safety catch and fire selector lever all carrying out the jobs they were intended to do, although for legal reasons the UK version of this gun cannot be set to Full Auto.
I have some minor criticisms, but these are based on the original Thompson design, so it’s testament to Umarex’s attention to detail that these niggles are present on the CO2 gun too. The fore stock looks like it was made from an uncomfortable off-cut block of wood, and the trigger guard has fairly sharp edges, with little effort having gone into rounding them off for soldier comfort. So if it’s authenticity you want – it’s there.
The gun is powered by two 12 gram CO2 capsules which are inserted back to back inside the magazine. The capsules are pierced by turning in a screw with the supplied hex key. You can just hear a little hiss as the capsule is pierced before the screw comes to a definite stop.
I’m not sure whether this was by chance or design, but during my tests only one of the capsules would actually end up being pierced. I was completely unaware of this the first time it happened as the gun performed brilliantly and I got a massive 90 shots before it was empty.
I’d have been more than happy to have got 90 shots out of two capsules, let alone one, so this actually turned out to be a bonus.
While the longer version of the WWII-era Thompson magazine was designed to hold 30 rounds of .45 ACP, the M1A1 Legendary’s magazine can take up to 30 BBs. A metal follower must be pulled down under some fairly stiff spring tension while the rounds are being fed into the magazine, and unfortunately there’s no gate to hold the follower in place while you do so. It’s also very small, making for some sore fingers.
Inserting and releasing an M1A1 magazine isn’t as straightforward as you might think. While it’s pretty common practice to slap a magazine into place, the correct technique with the original M1A1, according to the Auto-Ordnance manual, was to hold the mag release catch open while the magazine was being inserted, then release the catch, locking the mag in place once it was fully home.
I’m not sure how many soldiers followed that procedure, and while the correct technique worked with the M1A1 Legendary, this gun seemed perfectly happy with the “slap it in” approach.
Removing the magazine can be tricky – and that’s down to John T Thompson’s original design, not Umarex’s. The rocker catch is designed to be thumbed up at the back to release the magazine. I found this impossible with my leading hand, as my hand was too small to hold onto the mag while stretching my thumb back far enough to operate the catch, so I ended up thumbing the front of the catch backwards.
Ready For The Range
In keeping with the original design, the iron sights are fixed, but are easier to use than I was expecting. The rear sight is a circular cut-out, so aiming this Thompson is a case of setting the foresight blade in the middle of the circle while keeping eyes on the target.
Trigger-pull is also in keeping with the original gun at about 8lb. This may seem excessive, but the Thompson was designed for use by the armed forces (the initial concept being a rifle, rather than an SMG, incidentally) and military weapons of the era had heavy triggers by design to prevent accidental discharge.
Umarex recommends using its own brand of steel BB, which makes sense as this ammo is guaranteed to work in the gun, but at a reader’s request I tested it with two other types of ammo as well – H&N Excite Smart Shot BBs, which are copper-coated lead, and Dust Devil BBs, which are designed to self-destruct on impact, minimising the risk of ricochet.
While the original Thompson had an effective range of 150 metres, I began my test at a more modest 10 metres, with the gun initially being shot off a bench.
Results with the recommended Umarex steel BBs were impressive, with 10-shot groups measuring around 35mm – not bad at all for a smoothbore blowback. The Smart Shot ammo was a close second, while the Dust Devils produced far looser groups. Nevertheless, the M1A1 Legendary functioned perfectly well with all three types of BB.
My second round of tests was carried out at 20 metres, which was really too far for a gun of this type, so I reduced the range to 15 and switched back to the Dust Devils for some fast-fire action at a rabbit’s head spinner. Gun, sights and ammo were all well up the task, and it was fun to empty a full mag into the spinner from a kneeling stance.
I like this gun. It feels solid, is easy to shoot and is more than accurate enough for the type of shooting it was designed to do. I also like the fact that it needs to be cocked just like the original before it will fire, and won’t let you dry fire on an empty magazine.
So we’ve now had the MP 40 and the Thompson from Legends. What next, I wonder? A Sten or PPSh-41 would be great. My fingers are firmly crossed.
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