For anyone who doesn’t know it, several hundred thousand .38-caliber S&W revolvers were used throughout World War II. Originally derived from the K-Frame Military & Police Model of 1905, these .38s were first drawn into wartime service when the 9mm carbine Great Britain commissioned Smith &Wesson to design and build failed miserably, and the company negotiated to provide tens of thousands of service revolvers to pay the debt. England and S&W agreed that the revolvers would be based on the then-current .38 M&P and chambered in .38-200, a cartridge similar to the United States’s .38 S&W Special but loaded with a 200-grain bullet. (The two are not interchangeable.) By the end of the war, over a half-million had been built and shipped to England.
As America was drawn into the war, revolvers began being diverted to certain branches of the U.S. military, and myriad stamps and proof marks designating country and branch are commonly seen. When .38 M&P serial numbers hit 1,000,000, a new series was started using a “V” (for “Victory”) prefix. Approximately 240,000 were manufactured between 1942 and 1945 for several branches of the service.
The accidental death of a serviceman—a dropped Victory revolver impacted the hammer and fired, mortally wounding a Navy corpsman—resulted in a 1944 redesign of the hammerblock. Revolvers with the improved hammerblock safety are stamped with the serial prefix letters “VS.”
Less important updates included a change from polished blue—on very early pre-Victory .38 M&P revolvers—to a matte Parkerizing called sandblast blue, and finally to a simple sandblast finish termed “Black Magic.”
All Victory revolvers featured simple walnut stocks and a lanyard loop. Late wartime versions exhibit the efficient basic finish seen on most military arms manufactured during the peak of the war effort. That said, three parts on the Victory were color-casehardened: the hammer, trigger, and the lanyard loop.
Most Victory revolvers were built with a 4.0-inch barrel, but around 1,000 late-era versions were fitted with 2.0-inch barrels. In order to simplify ammo supply to the front lines, most of the .38-caliber Victory guns were issued to the U.S. Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard, as well as the Defense Supplies Corporation, and so forth. According to one source, most of those that found their way to the U.S. Army were allotted to the Air Corps.
Victory revolvers are not hard to find or expensive to purchase. However, many have been poorly maintained or modified.
Basically a Model 10 revolver, the Victory is a double-action/single-action, six-shot revolver. Pressing forward on the cylinder catch located on the left side of the frame allows the shooter to open the cylinder. Upend the revolver and press the ejector rod protruding from the front center of the cylinder to eject empty cartridge cases. Replace them with fresh cartridges, and close the cylinder.
In single-action mode, thumb-cocking the hammer releases the cylinder lock, rotates the cylinder until a fresh chamber is aligned with the bore, and relocks the cylinder. Squeeze the trigger to fire. Double-action mode accomplishes the same functions but employs the trigger as a lever to cock the hammer (with all the resulting mechanical reactions) before dropping it to fire the fresh cartridge.
Like other .38 M&P-type revolvers of the era, the Victory has robust, non-adjustable iron sights. The front is a half-round post on a squared base and is machined integral with the barrel. The rear is a notch machined into the topstrap.
Some have opined that when lowered, the hammer obstructs the sights, making aimed double-action fire difficult. Not true. The sights sit fractionally above the plane of the lowered hammer and do allow aiming.
The Victory revolver I used for this report has a rich history. Family tradition holds that it was originally issued to Navy Air Corps Ensign (later Lieutenant) Noble de Hart, who piloted an amphibious PBY Catalina patrol bomber in the Pacific Theatre. Among other battles, he participated in the attack on Paramushiro. His plane was riddled with bullets during at least one air battle, with “…bullets passing between his legs as well as over his head.”
Noble purchased his issue sidearm after the war and kept it and the issue holster in superb condition. He eventually handed it down to his son, who considers it a home-protection gun but also recognizes its significance as a family heirloom. I borrowed it for this column through son-in-law Ty Evans.
Resting the the revolver over a sandbag, I fired three, five-shot groups with four loadings of .38 Special ammunition on targets placed at 15 yards and then averaged the results, which are listed in the accompanying chart. Out of respect for the age and significance of the revolver, I avoided +P ammunition. Groups averaged between 1.50 and 3.50 inches.
The single-action trigger pull was clean and crisp and measured five pounds, two ounces—just about perfect for a combat handgun. Double action, the pull weight ran a smooth nine pounds, seven ounces.
With technical accuracy testing complete, I shot casually for some time, running informal drills, point shooting, and squeezing off 100-yard slow-fire shots. Reliability throughout was stellar.
Ergonomically, the Victory feels and points like an extension of my body, but the barrel is too light to provide an aim-stabilizing, weight-forward feel. Rather, the balance point sits right in the palm, enabling very fast target acquisition and fast transitions. It’s one of my favorite vintage guns to date.
I’ve been fortunate to handle and fire several very unique, historic firearms—rifles, shotguns, and handguns—but only twice have I experienced the awe and respect that washed over me when I first handled this Victory revolver. This very gun patrolled the South Pacific in an amphibious bomber plane during one of history’s most momentous conflicts, carried by a young man who loved his country so much that he was willing to lay his life on the line for it. Inspiring indeed.