Winston Churchill liked his automatic weapons. In one of his most famous photos, he is wearing a pinstripe suit and chomping on his ever-present cigar as he holds a .45 caliber Thompson submachine gun with drum magazine and pistol grip fore-end. Adolf Hitler, historians say, despised Churchill with a venom exceeded only by the Prime Minister’s hatred of him. Hitler used the photo of Churchill with the “tommy gun” to claim the English leader was merely a clone of a stereotype American gangster.

Churchill was also an aficionado of Britain’s signature SMG, the Sten gun. He had his own Mark III Sten, which had been presented to him personally, as well as a Thompson in his own battery. He reportedly had one or the other in his limousine, depending on his conveyance of the day. And he shared his appreciation for buzz guns with others he knew were at risk of assassination.

In his excellent new book on the time of The Blitz, The Splendid and the Vile, Erik Larson focuses primarily on Churchill and those around him. Larson writes, “The queen began taking lessons in how to shoot a revolver. ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘I shall not go down like the others.’” (7)

Other sources say Churchill arranged for a Thompson — and competent instruction — to be delivered to all the Royal Family. All of them shot it: King George, his consort, and their daughters Elizabeth and Margaret, then 14 and 10 years of age. One source says the Queen Mother liked to shoot rats in the gardens of Buckingham Palace, though presumably not with the tommy gun.