Happy birthday to the United States Marine Corps! I’d like to honor my friends in America’s worst funded branch of the military today by taking a look at some of their historical service weapons, specifically the Marine Corps revolvers.
The Blackpowder Era of Revolvers
Because they were founded in the 1700s, the Marines have a long history of revolver use in combat. This started with the 1851 and 1861 Colt Navy revolvers. These percussion revolvers used loose powder and a round or conical projectile. For many years the Marines didn’t have weapons separate from the Navy. They used whatever pistols the Navy acquired. This pattern continued with the Colt 1873 Single Action revolver, commonly called the Peacemaker. This gun was purchased in large quantities by the Navy and Army, and trickled into the Corps. This made it the first cartridge firing Marine Corps revolver.
The First Marine Corps Revolver
The first of several official Marine Corps revolvers was issued in 1905, when they adopted the Colt M1892. The M1892 was the first double action revolver with a swing-out cylinder that was issued to the US military, and was chambered in 38 Long Colt. The M1892 would famously see action in the hands of the US Army during the Philippine Insurrection, which resulted in tens of thousands of people on the internet thinking that it was replaced because the 38 rounds didn’t have enough “stopping power.” It’s telling that despite the Army replacing their M1892s with the Colt New Service, the Marine Corps adopted the 38 Long Colt revolver in 1905.
The M1917 Revolver
The Marines would make do with a hodgepodge of revolvers until they officially adopted the M1911 pistol. However, due to shortages in production, revolvers were still in front line service with the Marines during WW1 and WW2. Most notably the famous M1917 revolvers from Colt and Smith & Wesson.
Despite being made by two different companies, both the Colt and S&W revolvers were called the M1917. These were double action revolvers with 5.5 inch barrels chambered in 45 ACP. They used 3-round half-moon clips to hold the rounds in place, and were issued with a three pocket pouch that could hold 6 additional clips for another 18 shots. Approximately 300,000 of the M1917 revolvers were made. These continued in service in various capacities until after the Vietnam War.
Vietnam to Today
Speaking of the Vietnam War, this is the last place we find Marine Corps revolvers. The S&W Model 66 with a 2.75 inch barrel was a popular choice for aviators across all branches, and many were carried by Marine helicopter and fixed wing pilots. The S&W Model 10 was also issued up until the 1980s to certain military police units. But the era of the Marine Corps revolver eventually came to an end, as the last of the M1917s was retired from inventory and replaced across the board with the M1911.
Today, like all the other branches, the Marines are switching to a variant of the Sig P320 pistol, specifically the M18 that’s been adopted by the USAF and the Navy.