Tag Archives: smith n frame

Great War Echos along the Copacabana

When the U.S. entered what was then termed the Great War and is now better known as World War I, the country’s Army went from an oversized border defense force to one capable of taking on the Kaiser. In April 1917, when Congress at the urging of President Woodrow Wilson declared war against Imperial Germany, the U.S. had a standing Army of just 127,500. By the end of the war the following November, this grew to a force of well over 4 million.

All those troops needed weapons, and they needed them fast.

Just as the M1917 “American Enfield” .30-06 manufactured by Remington, Eddystone, and Winchester augmented the standard M1903 Springfield rifle, the Army turned to Colt and Smith & Wesson to produce a revolver capable of firing the same .45 ACP rimless ammo that the standard M1911 Government used. For Colt, that meant a variant of its M1909 New Service chambered in .45 ACP. For Smith, this meant revamping the Hand Ejector 2nd Model from .44 Special or .455 Webley to the shorter .45 ACP.

While only something like 15,000 S&W 1st Model Hand Ejector revolvers – known as the Triple Lock because its cylinder locked up with the frame in three places – were made between 1908 and 1915, the simplified 2nd Model (which deleted the third lockup point) saw a bit more success. This was because the British government had ordered almost 70,000 modified guns chambered in their standard .455 Webley for use in the Great War before America joined the conflict. A quick redesign to allow the 2nd Model to run .45 ACP, and Smith soon had their M1917 revolver in production for the U.S. Army.

Over 160,000 S&W M1917s were delivered before the end of the war, and they were often standard issue for specialist soldiers such as dispatch riders, military police, and machine gunners, while the M1911 automatic was more traditionally issued to officers. (Photos: National Archives)

While over 160,000 were constructed for the U.S. Army, and they served through not only the Great War but also through WWII– making it the first truly popular S&W N-frame on the American market– the Brazilians really loved the big .45 ACP. Ordered as the Modelo 1937, the Exército Brasileiro took possession of 25,000 commercial grade M1917s before WWII, carried them to war in Italy, they bought another 12,000 in 1946– taking all Smith had in stock or could make.

The Brazilians liked the revolver so much that, while the 25,000-strong Brazilian Expeditionary Force that fought in Italy with the Allies in WWII was largely equipped with American small arms, its officers often carried their Modelo 1937s to war. (Photos: National Archives/Exército Brasileiro)

Brazil only fully replaced the Modelo 1937 in the late 1980s with Beretta/Taurus-made Model 92 9mm semi-autos, keeping them in service for some 50 years.

This Model 1917 is from Smith’s second batch sent to Brazil in 1946, as it has a serial number outside the original run, the commercial round bottom U-notch rear sighting notch, and the standard Modelo 1937 national crest. It wears a CAI ST AL VT (Century Arms International St Albans, VT) import mark on the bottom of the barrel, and was likely from the batch of 14,000 surplus guns brought in from Brazil in 1989-1990. (Photo: Chris Eger/Guns.com)

Speaking of keeping dated small arms in use, the Brazilians still run Great War-era bolt guns behind the scenes.

As a bit of a backgrounder, the Brazilians loved them some Mauser rifles. They started with the M1904 Mauser-Vergueiro rifle then went all-in with the Model 1908 rifle, similar to the Gew.98 with a 29-inch barrel. After WWI, in the 1930s Brazil bought the unlicenced Czech 08/34, a K98k clone with a 22-inch barrel chambered in 7mm as well as genuine Oberndorf-built M1935s.

Supplemented by a homegrown variant of the FAL made by the Itajubá-based IMBEL after 1964 and more recently by the IMBEL IA2 in 5.56, Brazil’s Mausers linger on as the homogenized “Mosquefal” M968, converted to 7.62 NATO, used in both training and parades.