The .38 Special At War!

Air Force

The old .38 Special began its life way back in 1898 as a black powder round. It’s evolved and remained a popular choice for revolver carriers. The now smokeless powder round finds its way into the most modern revolvers out there, often being the choice of the snubnose connoisseur. While it was immensely popular with police forces, the cartridge never got that big military contract. However, that doesn’t mean it didn’t see its fair share of military use. Today, we dive into the .38 Special at war! 

World War 1 and The .38 S&W Military & Police Model of 1905 4th Change 

It’s fairly common knowledge that the United States didn’t have enough 1911s to pass out when the AEF left for Europe. To fill the gap, revolvers were put in service. While the m1911 and the 45 ACP M1917 went to the front, lots of rear-based units carried .38 Special revolvers. The .38 S&W Military and Police Model of 1905 didn’t believe in brevity but did leave quite the legacy behind it. 

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Various military units fielded the guns for duties outside of the frontline. From Military Police and guards in the United States to Naval Officers aboard ships. If you weren’t in a fighting position but warranted a handgun, you might have gotten the Model of 1905. This six-shot K-Frame revolver is just one of the many evolutions of the .38 Hand ejector model of 1899. Of course, the series would famously go on to become the Model 10. 

World War 2 and the .38 Special 

America didn’t do a great job of learning from past mistakes, and no one could have really prepared to fight World War 2. The scale of World War 2 is absolutely absurd and fascinating. Much like the first go around, we didn’t have enough 1911s or M1917 revolvers. They turned to Colt and S&W to fill those gaps. 

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S&W provided the latest M&P Revolver with the famed V prefix. These became known as Victory models. This was another evolution of the origins. .38 Hand Ejector. These guns would be used by the United States Army and the OSS, as well as being sent en masse to allied and resistance forces. It was a K-Frame .38 Special with six shots in a robust and accurate package. 

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Colt provided the Commando, and I don’t mean the uber-short AR-15. The original Colt Commando was a six-shot, .38 Special revolver that was based on the Official Police. These Colt Commandos were primarily used for guarding facilities at home, including numerous defense plants, shipyards, and the like. The Commando was a cheaper, stripped-down version of the Colt official police. Very few made it overseas. 

The S&W and Colt M13 Aircrew Revolver 

After World War 2, the Air Force broke out from the Army and became their own branch. They immediately felt like they needed to be special. The M1911 was too heavy for their pilots, apparently, so for the sake of ounces equal to pounds, they wanted a lightweight revolver. This became the M13 Aircrew Revolver. 

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Both Colt and S&W produced Aircrew revolvers of roughly the same design. Smith used the Model 12 as their base gun, and Colt used the Cobra. They made massive changes, which included making the frame and cylinder from aluminum. This resulted in the gun’s breaking frequently, leading to the creation of a low-powered special load. The Caliber .38 M41 round didn’t solve the problem, and the idea was scrapped. 

S&W M15 K-38 Masterpiece 

The S&W M15, aka the K-38 Combat Masterpiece, is a fairly fancy version of the Model 10. The gun features adjustable sights, a six-shot cylinder, and a four-inch barrel. The M15 was adopted by the United States Air Force for the Air Force Security Forces, where it served from 1962 until 1992. 

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Beyond that, the M15 remained in the Air Force armory until the summer of 2022. It remained in the Armory for training K9s. The .38 Special made shooting blanks easy compared to a semi-auto pistol. The M15 is sadly gone from the Armory, ending an era of revolvers in the United States military. 

Vietnam and The S&W Model 10  

The Model 10 and its ancestors served in both World Wars and, much like the M1911, made its way to Vietnam. The Model 10 became the final form of the .38 Hand Ejector of 1899, and it was basically the police revolver of its era. This is a K-frame, six-shot, .38 Special revolver. Believe it or not, it was the Marines who wielded the Model 10 in Vietnam. 

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They used the weapon when they served as embassy guards around the world, including in Vietnam. The State Department armed the Marines, and their weapon of choice was the Model 10. In the State Department’s brilliant planning, they issued Marines a Model 10, with five rounds and no reloads…in an active warzone. The Marines did use the Model 10s alongside their Remington 870s and Beretta Model 12s to protect the embassy from heavy machine guns, rockets, recoilless rifles, and assault rifles. 

The .38 Special Went to War. 

While 9mm and 45 ACP have dominated the battlefield for over a century now, the .38 Special certainly reared its head here and there. While it was never a mainstream cartridge, the round served its country well and stood up when it was needed. 

Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine gunner who served with 2nd Bn 2nd Marines for 5 years. He deployed in 2009 to Afghanistan and again in 2011 with the 22nd MEU(SOC) during a record setting 11 months at sea. He’s trained with the Romanian Army, the Spanish Marines, the Emirate Marines and the Afghan National Army. He serves as an NRA certified pistol instructor and teaches concealed carry classes.