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Guns of Pop Culture: “The Dirty Dozen” & the M3 Grease Gun

The Dirty Dozen is a fun WWII movie featuring an awesome ensemble cast with a ton of veterans of WWII on tap and the unique M3 Grease Gun.

Let’s talk about World War II movies. I tend to love classic WWII action flicks. Most tend to be pulpy and sometimes a little cheesy but fantastic. 

Lever (Stuart Cooper) with a Grease Gun
Stuart Cooper with a Grease Gun in Dirty Dozen

These classic films from the ‘50s and ‘60s often star men that fought in World War II. I tend to prefer those as they add a realness to them.

One of my favorite WWII film stars is Lee Marvin. 

Lee Marvin's Red Book picture
Lee Marvin in his Marine days

Lee Marvin fought in the pacific campaign as a Marine. He got shot with machine-gun fire in the back, and a rifle round hit his foot at the Battle of Saipan. He lived in Naval hospitals for over a year and was eventually medically discharged. 

After he became an actor, we saw him in tons of great films, with one of my favorites being The Dirty Dozen.

The Dirty Dozen tasked Lee’s character Major Reisman with training a dozen of the Army’s worst prisoners into commandos and carrying out a daring mission. A mission that is most certainly a suicide mission.

Lee Marvin in The Dirty Dozen
Lee Marvin in The Dirty Dozen

He whips them together, trains them up, and they execute their mission and take heavy casualties.

This commando team has a number of firearms they use to execute the raid, but the most common subject of today’s article is the M3 Grease Gun. 

The Old Grease Gun 

In World War II, the submachine gun shined. Every side of the war used them, and they couldn’t get enough of them.

The United States primarily used the Thompson, which was a great SMG, but it had problems. 

Thompson and his gun
Thompson and his gun

It weighed 10 pounds, was expensive to produce, and was somewhat complicated. America wanted a cheaper SMG, and thus the M3 was born. The name grease gun was applied because of the gun’s resemblance to the mechanic’s tool. 

It’s a very plain and very simple SMG with an industrial look to it.

The weapon fires the .45 ACP round and uses an open bolt design. To save money, the weapon was made from stamped steel and riveted and welded. 

.45 ACP (230gr)
.45 ACP (230gr)

Soldiers got a simple wire stock that collapsed when not in use.

The safety was a dust cover that covered the firing port and had a small protrusion that locked into a notch on the bolt to lock the bolt rearward or forward. 

M3 Grease Gun
M3 Grease Gun

A 450-round-per-minute firing rate made the gun plenty controllable. It was simple, cheap, and effective.

The Grease Gun quickly went into production, and eventually, an A1 model was produced that simplified the design even further by eliminating the cocking handle and making a number of small improvements based on soldier feedback. 

The M3 In Action 

In the film, the Dirty Dozen primarily wield the M3, and I wouldn’t say they wield them well. Don’t get me wrong, they kill a lot of Nazis, but they do it with almost no realistic gun handling. 

Almost all the fire is from the hip in long bursts with little recoil. The muzzle flashes are real, and blanks often don’t result in much recoil. These guys spray and pray in these scenes. 

Tassos Bravos (Al Mancini) holds his Grease Gun at the hip
Tassos Bravos (Al Mancini) holds his Grease Gun at the hip

Back in the day, aiming the gun would obscure the actor’s face, and we don’t want that. How else would people see the star’s face?

Maybe Lee Major knows a hip-firing technique none of us know. 

One of my favorite scenes is when Jefferson, played by Jim Brown, gets shot at by a Nazi sniper with a scoped rifle.

Jefferson (Jim Brown) fires at a German Sniper
Jefferson (Jim Brown) fires at a German Sniper

He turns, breaks from cover, and sprays his M3 at the window the sniper fired from. The sniper gets dead and even does a perfect front flip out of the window as he dies. 

Richard Jaeckel, playing Sergeant Clyde Bowren, has his own unique technique for firing from the hip. He holds his gun low and sideways to mow down Germans. I have no idea why he would do this, but that’s his style. 

Joseph Wladislaw (Charles Bronson) fires at a German sniper
Joseph Wladislaw (Charles Bronson) fires at a German sniper

A wounded Lee Marvin fires his M3 one-handed over the window of a commandeered half-track pretty decently. Heck, one of the few times we see aimed fire is when Marvin shoots at a rope to motivate a soldier to climb faster. 

The Dirty Dozen is a pulpy, fun movie with an awesome ensemble cast with a ton of veterans of WWII on tap. It’s a fun movie that deserves a watch if you have the time! 

What did you think of Dirty Dozen? Give us your thoughts in the comments below. For more Guns of Pop Culture, head to our Fun Category!

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4 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar

    "Maybe Lee Major knows a hip-firing technique none of us know."

    Pretty sure Lee Major wasn't in this flick 

    December 3, 2022 9:50 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Chuck Cochran

    As I'm a child of the 60's, the Dirty Dozen is a favorite in my personal DVD library. Good Acting, so so Special Effects (typical of the era really), and yes, a cheesy story line. It's still a great flick for when you want to distract yourself from the real world. Nothing like shooting up a bunch of Nasty Nazis.
    There's a whole slew of good WW 2 movies from the 50's, 60's and 70's. I think it'd be cool Travis, if you hilight one or two a month, with a nod towards a particular WW 2 era gun
    The Big Red One
    The Longest Day
    Battle of the Bulge
    Kelly's Heros
    to name a few,
    and the list goes on and on.
    Then you have the modern releases like
    Letters from Iwo Jima
    The Thin Red Line
    Saving Private Ryan
    Hacksaw Ridge

    Heck, even doing one or two articles a month, there's enough material to make the series go for 2 to 3 years just highlighting a particular weapon featured in a movie.

    December 1, 2022 8:31 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    Y'all should cover Big Red 1 at some point. Classic.

    November 30, 2022 5:01 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    Oh I loved the Dirty Dozen. So much so that I watched it atleast two times, once at the movies.
    Equally entertaining is the movie Von Ryan's Express. I am sure y'all know this already.

    Thanks a great walk down that memory lane y'all.

    November 30, 2022 4:12 pm
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