Written by Nick Jacobellis
Far too many people who are unfamiliar with the history, are unaware that Smith & Wesson firearms have served in the war, as well as in peace. This includes a sidearm for certain U.S. and Allied military personnel, as well as a handgun that was carried by on and off-duty law enforcement officers. Even in a day and age when CCW Licenses/Gun Permits were not widely issued, a number of law-abiding citizens utilized various Smith & Wesson handguns for personal protection.
In this article, we will discuss the Smith & Wesson firearms, that have been routinely carried in harm’s way by numerous armed professionals.
WORLD WAR 1
The Smith & Wesson Model 1917 is a six-shot .45 ACP caliber revolver, that was issued to certain U.S. troops in lieu of a 1911 .45 ACP caliber pistol. This large frame revolver had a 5.5-inch barrel and was loaded using two “half moon” shaped flat metal clips. Each of these “moon clips” contained 3 rounds of .45 ACP caliber ammunition. The use of these “half moon clips” was required because .45 ACP caliber ammunition was rimless.
Using these flat metal clips actually made loading and unloading a Model 1917 a relatively fast and easy process to execute. To load the half moon metal clips, all the operator had to do was snap .45 ACP ammunition into each of the three curved cutouts on the metal “half moon” clips. A curved metal tool was even designed, to make it easy to remove the empty/fired metal brass cases from the half moon metal clips.
When used without the half moon metal clips, fired/empty rimless .45 ACP ammunition cases could be removed by using an object like a pencil, to push the empty cases out of the cylinder. This was accomplished, by inserting a long thin object like a pencil through the front of the cylinder, to push the fired empty cases out of the back of the cylinder. This needed to be done because the extractor on the end of the extractor rod was unable to grab onto the empty/fired cases, due to their rimless design.
This created the need to use the thin metal “half moon” clips, to easily facilitate loading and unloading the Model 1917. Over 150,000 S&W Model 1917 revolvers were issued to U.S. troops during World War 1. The fact that these Smith & Wesson revolvers were effectively carried in the harsh operating conditions of trench warfare, is a testament to the ruggedness of the Model 1917 design.
During World War II, Smith & Wesson revolvers once again served as a military sidearm for both the U.S. Armed Forces and our British/Commonwealth Allies. In addition to reissuing thousands of .45 ACP caliber S&W Model 1917 .45 ACP revolvers, over 300,000 Smith & Wesson Military & Police revolvers, designated as the Victory Model, served during World War II.
The Smith & Wesson Victory Model that was issued to U.S. military personnel had a six-round cylinder capacity, was chambered in .38 Special caliber, a 4 inch barrel, a square butt (smooth finished) wooden grip, a lanyard ring, and a corrosive resistant Parkerized Finish. One of the largest end users of the .38 Special caliber Victory Model in the U.S. Armed Forces were U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Navy aviators. A limited number of Victory Models in .38 Special caliber with a 2-inch barrel were also made during the war years.
Almost 600,000 Smith & Wesson Victory Models with a six-round capacity chambered in .38/200 caliber, also known as .38 S&W, with a 4 or 5-inch barrel, were shipped to Europe under the Lend Lease Act. These particular Smith & Wesson Victory Model revolvers were widely used by our British and Commonwealth Allies.
After World War II, the now-famous Victory Model in .38 Special caliber transitioned back into its Military & Police designation. In the late 1950s, the Smith & Wesson Military & Police Models became known as the now famous .38 Special caliber Model 10. As they were developed, other models chambered in different calibers were given different numerical designations. Even though this was the case, the incredibly rugged W.W. II-era Victory Models with a Parkerized Finish remained in service for several decades. This included being issued to U.S. helicopter pilots during the Vietnam War.
During the Vietnam War, the Smith & Wesson Model 15 Combat Masterpiece was also issued to U.S. Air Force air/security police, K9 handlers, and combat aircrew personnel. The S&W Model 15 was basically a six-shot Model 10 with a four-inch barrel, a square butt wooden grip, chambered in .38 Special, that was fitted with a set of low profile adjustable sights.
It should also be noted, that from the early 1900s until 1955, it was common for Smith & Wesson revolvers to be manufactured with five screws holding critical parts in position. Post-1955 models required four screws.
S&W MAKES HISTORY WITH THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE FIRST US-MADE DA/SA 9MM PISTOL
The 1950s also saw the development of the first US-made 9mm pistol, which operated with a Double Action/Single Action trigger system. Even though the 9mm Smith & Wesson Model 39 was not adopted for widespread use by the U.S. Armed Forces, the Model 39, that accommodated an 8-round magazine, became a very popular commercially available firearm. The Model 39 was especially well received by sworn law enforcement officers, myself included.
One of the absolute best books ever written about firearms and weapons was authored by Kevin Dockery. In particular, Kevin Dockery’s fully illustrated book entitled: Weapons of the Navy SEALS is an in-depth history of the vast array of firearms and weapons that were tested, manufactured, and acquired for use by clandestine government personnel, including the Navy SEALS.
As documented by Kevin Dockery, the first service-issued handgun that was issued to the first SEAL team to be activated in 1962 was the Smith & Wesson Model 66 .38 Special/.357 Magnum revolver. The original request was for the blue steel S&W Model 19 with a 4-inch barrel. The stainless version known as the Model 66 made a lot more sense for personnel operating in and around salt water.
During the Vietnam War, U.S. Navy SEALs were also the first to utilize the highly modified S&W 9mm Model 39 known as the Mark 22 Mod O. The Mark 22 Mod O was a designed to be used with an issued suppressor, high viz fixed sights, as well as with a special waterproofing treatment, that met the needs of Navy SEALS. When the SEALs expressed the desire to have access to a 9mm pistol manufactured in stainless steel, that had a higher magazine capacity, Smith & Wesson once again went to work on this new project.
The higher capacity 9mm S&W pistol that was initially developed for U.S. Navy Special Warfare personnel ended up becoming commercially available as the Smith & Wesson Model 59. The DA/SA S&W Model 59 went on to become one of the most popular high capacity 9mm service pistols with a 15-round magazine capacity, that was widely used by U.S. law enforcement officers. As you will read, compact versions of the Model 59 became even more popular among U.S. law enforcement officers, including federal agents.
It was also during the Vietnam War, that the U.S. Navy approached Smith & Wesson to develop a 9mm submachine gun, that could be utilized with and without a suppressor. This solicitation was made when Sweden refused to supply their famous Carl Gustaf M45 9mm sub gun, known as the Swedish K to U.S. forces.
During the Vietnam War, the 9mm Swedish K submachine gun was incredibly popular and was used when available by various Special Forces personnel. Once Sweden clamped down on making deliveries of their M45s, Smith & Wesson accepted the solicitation from the U.S. Navy and produced the blowback-operated M76; a select-fire 9mm sub gun with a tubular metal frame, that fired from an open bolt, had a side-folding metal wire stock, utilized a 36 round box or “stick” magazine and weighed just under 9 pounds when fully loaded.
BACK IN THE DAY
When I served as a New York State Park Police Officer in the Bronx, New York, I was initially issued a blue steel six-shot Smith & Wesson Model 10 .38 Special revolver with a four-inch heavy barrel. My primary backup gun at that time was a five-shot Smith & Wesson Model 36 J Frame .38 Special caliber revolver. A short time later I was issued a six-shot Smith & Wesson Model 64 .38 Special service revolver with a 4-inch heavy barrel as my service handgun. The Model 64 was manufactured in stainless steel and was ideally suited to be carried in adverse weather conditions.
While serving in the New York District Attorney’s Office as an Investigator (Police Officer) I carried a 9mm S&W Model 39, in addition to various .38 Special revolvers. I carried my Model 39 with several spare single-column 8-round magazines, at a time when police officers in New York City were carrying a Smith & Wesson Model 10 service revolver.
One night while working with an informant who was buying illegal firearms in New York City, two armed gunmen engaged in a shootout across the hood of my unmarked car. After pursuing one of the gunmen in a foot chase and making an arrest, I pursued the second gunman into an apartment complex. When I emerged from the building with my 9mm S&W Model 39 in hand, some of the responding NYPD police officers thought that I recovered the perpetrator’s pistol. This is how rare it was at that time, for a law enforcement officer in NYC to be observed carrying a 9mm pistol.
When I joined the U.S. Customs Service as a Patrol Officer I was issued a stainless Smith & Wesson Model 66 .38 Special/.357 Magnum six-shot service revolver with a four-inch barrel and a stainless five-shot Smith & Wesson Model 60 Chief Special .38 caliber revolver as a backup/off-duty handgun. While training at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, Georgia, I won the Top Gun Award with my government-issued Model 66. I won the same Top Gun award when I went to Special Agent’s School and I competed with a government-issued S&W Model 686 .38 Special/.357 Magnum revolver with a three-inch barrel.
Shortly after I completed my initial training at FLETC, 9mm pistols were starting to be issued to U.S. Customs Service patrol officers and special agents. It was at this time that I traded my Model 66 for a government-issued stainless 9mm S&W Model 59. I carried the high capacity 9mm Model 59 until we were issued a more compact stainless S&W 9mm 6906 service pistol.
When I transferred to South Florida during the Miami Vice Era of the Drug War, I traded my issued stainless Model 60 in for an issued blued steel five-shot S&W Model 49 .38 Special revolver. I also carried various personally owned stainless 9mm S&W Model 639s, a compact 9mm 6906, and a compact (stainless) S&W 9mm 3913.
I actually preferred the different stainless Model 39 variants over the stainless Model 659s for two main reasons. First, I preferred the ergonomics that the more narrow grip on the Model 39s, that accommodated a single column 8 round magazine. Second, because I was used to serving in high crime areas, while armed with a five and six-shot Smith & Wesson .38 Special revolver, I was quite comfortable going in harm’s way, while armed with a DA/SA Smith & Wesson Model 39 pistol, that was loaded with 9 rounds of 9mm ammunition.
During my law enforcement career, I carried a number of blue steel and stainless steel personally owned and government-issued 9mm S&W Model 39/639s, 59s, 6906s, and 3913 pistols and NEVER EVER experienced a stoppage or a malfunction of any kind. I also found the various personally owned and government-issued S&W revolvers that I carried to be superbly accurate and flawlessly reliable. This included various Model 36s, 60s, two Model 49s, several different Model 10s, Model 19s, three different Model 64s, various Model 66s, a Model 625 in .45 ACP, and a Model 67 .38 Special revolver.
I also need to mention, that even the S&W pistols and revolvers that were constructed in blued steel remained fully operational when carried close to the body for years in adverse weather conditions. This included, the pair of five-shot S&W Model 49s that I carried when I worked undercover, as a U.S. Customs Agent based in Miami.
THE SMITH & WESSON MILITARY & POLICE PISTOLS
In 2005 Smith & Wesson introduced a new series of pistols that revitalized the pre-1960 era Military & Police or M&P designation. The 21st Century version of the Smith & Wesson M&P is a polymer-framed pistol, that utilizes a striker-fired trigger system. A striker-fired trigger provides a more consistent trigger pull, as opposed to a DA/SA trigger system, that requires a longer initial Double Action (DA) pull, with the remaining shots being fired with a shorter Single Action (SA) pull.
After I retired from my law enforcement career and I became a freelance writer, I ended up field testing and owning various 9mm, .40 S&W, .357 SIG, and .45 ACP caliber striker-fired S&W Military & Police Pistols. Every one of these S&W M&P pistols proved to be flawlessly reliable, very accurate, extremely well made, and comfortable to carry.
I also found Smith & Wesson M&P Pistols to be extremely comfortable to operate and shoot. This was the case for several reasons. In addition to having excellent weight and balance, the original Smith & Wesson M&P Pistols utilized a recoil spring assembly that provided enough tension to enable the slide to cycle with flawless reliability, while also enabling the operator to easily manually operate the slide. This isn’t the case with certain other brands of pistols. This is why some slides on certain pistols are “heavier” to manually operate for certain end-users.
Smith & Wesson also did a superb job when they designed the interchangeable back strap system, that makes it possible for shooters to configure their M&P pistol to better fit their hand size. In order to accomplish this, all M&P Pistols are supplied with an easy-to-remove and install a superbly contoured set of small, medium, and large size back straps. Once you install the back strap of your choosing on your M&P, the ergonomics of the pistol will suit the individual needs of the end-user.
As far as sights are concerned, the original M&P Pistols were available with excellent standard three-dot metal sights, as well as three-dot Tritium night sights. The original M&P variants were also designed to hold up to use in adverse weather conditions. This was accomplished by manufacturing M&P Pistols with a Melonite coated stainless steel slide. The polymer frames used on the original M&P model pistols also proved to hold up after long-term use, in all kinds of operating conditions.
In a future article, I hope to provide a detailed review of the Smith & Wesson Shield Series of Pistols, as well as a review of the Smith & Wesson Military & Police 2.0 series of pistols. The M&P 2.0 Series are truly 21st Century semi-autos, that are designed with a much-improved striker-fired trigger system, as well as other enhancements. These enhancements include different types of sights and factory-cut slides, that enable certain model M&P 2.0 Pistols to be operated with a slide-mounted red dot optic.
Nick Jacobellis is a Medically Retired U.S. Customs Agent and a former NY police officer who was physically disabled in the line of duty while working undercover as a federal agent. To date, the author has published 219 magazine articles and ten action-packed non-fiction, historical military fiction, and fiction police procedural books: Controlled Delivery Books One and Two, The Frontline Fugitives Books I, II, III, and IV, Buck Banderas U.S. Marshal Books One and Two, A Special Kind of Hero and The K9 Academy. These books have received 5 Star reviews and are available on Amazon.com (US), and (UK). Buck Banderas U.S. Marshal Book Three is the author’s 11th book. Buck Banderas U.S. Marshal Book Three is in the process of being formatted for publication on Amazon. The author is also in the process of publishing a Second Edition of The K9 Academy The author was born and raised in Flatbush section of Brooklyn N.Y. and has an BS Degree in Police Science from John Jay College of Criminal Justice.