The harrowing reality of trench warfare during World War I and II posed unique challenges, thrusting soldiers into the treacherous confines of intricate trench networks that stretched across the Western Front. As we examine its origins, we explore whether the lightweight, portable, rapid-firing weapon known as the “trench broom” truly lived up to its deadly reputation in the face of the many challenges of trench warfare.

Where Does the Slang Term Come From?

As the Great War raged across the battlefields of Europe, a new style of warfare emerged within the intricate network of trenches that stretched across the Western Front. These trenches became both defensive fortifications and perilous deathtraps. In such a brutal and confined environment, traditional weaponry struggled to meet the demands of combat.

Enter the “trench broom”—a weapon designed to sweep through enemy positions with rapid bursts of firepower, a concept that would forever alter the course of military engagements.

A US Marine aiming at a Japanese position using an M1 Thompson submachine gun circa 1945. (Image source: Wikimedia Commons)

Exemplars of Innovation

Several iconic trench brooms became emblematic of this innovative approach to combat. Among them, the legendary Thompson M1921 and M1928, famously known as the “Tommy Gun,” earned widespread recognition. Initially designed for law enforcement, the Tommy Gun’s adaptability and high rate of fire made it a favored choice among soldiers and gangsters alike.