M1917 Revolvers During the Great War

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Pat Holscher
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Dear all, recently I've been looking at the topic of M1917 revolvers, those being (as we all know) the Colt and Smith and Wesson revolvers that were put into production in .45 ACP during World War One in order to make up for shortages in M1911s.

My question is, who was actually issued those revolvers during World War One?

The whole handgun situation during WWI seems more complicated than I initially realized. For example, M1911s show up as a private purchase British arm more often than I would have supposed. T. E. Lawrence, one of Lawrence's brothers and Winston Churchill, for example, all bought M1911s. And yet at the same time the US was having to buy revolvers chambered in .45 ACP.

Did those revolvers see overseas use, or were they retained in the US? I know that they show up in photographs of cavalrymen a lot from the 1940 time frame and I also know that cavalrymen continued to use them to some extent during WWII while in the dismounted role. MPs also carried them. But what about during WWI?


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JV Puleo
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Many years ago I knew a WWI veteran named (believe it or not, his real name) Bill Smith. Mr. Smith had served with a Yankee Division engineer unit...he was a pattern maker by trade. He traded me his WWI .45 auto for a 1917 revolver because he'd' always wanted one. According to him the front line troops got the revolvers, especially if they might be called on to make a trench raid. So called "rear echelon" troops like the engineers got the automatics. I certainly can't vouch for the accuracy of what he said but I do know that revolvers were preferred by troops that might have to operate silently.
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Pat Holscher
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Thanks Joe.

I've found that information on the WWI use of the M1917 is surprisingly difficult to come by. It's actually a bit easier to find information regarding it and World War Two.

I posted this on a list and one individual who is somewhat of an authority indicated that it was relegated to troops in the US whereas the M1911 was given to units deploying overseas. That made some sense to me as some units that served in the US did use some substitute weapons. That made me wonder if M1917s might have been issued to the cavalry regiments that stayed on the border which might explain why quite a few M1917s show up in photographs of cavalrymen as late as World War Two.

However, after that a fellow on the list posted that his father had been a World Ware One Marine and he'd indicated that in his Marine Corps unit officers were issued M1911s where as enlisted men, if they were issued pistols, were issued M1917s. In thinking on that, I'm sure I've seen other accounts of M1917 revolvers being used in France.
Pat

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JV Puleo
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My friend Mr. Smith certainly was in France - he had a drawer full of photographs and showed me several souvenirs he'd brought home. I remember a German veterans decorated pipe and several of those unit reunion beer steins. They were in a drawer in his living room, still in the boxes he'd sent them home in! He was a sergeant... in fact, he gave me his uniform and an army issue sweater, telling me it was the warmest sweater he'd ever owned – "wore it the winter of 17". I know he had a .45 automatic because I ended up with it. He was also worried that if the army discovered he'd kept it, he could loose his pension. This was in the 1970s and he was in his 90s so I doubt that was going to happen.

When I brought the stuff home, my mom looked at the sweater (it was grey, made of unbleached wool) and asked; "where did I get the army sweater?" I asked how she knew what it was (since it was completely unmarked and wasn't olive drab). She told me that the government gave out wool to ladies who wanted to do something to help the war effort and that a friend of my grandmothers, Mrs. Morse, knit one of those sweaters every week through all of WWI and WWII.

jp
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Ralph Lovett
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A little off from the WW1 topic with Smith & Wesson M1917 45s, but my Father carried this revolver as late as 1968 as Infantry officer and later when he branch transferred to Armored Cavalry. At this point he was a Walker Bulldog PLT leader. He did not care for the M1911 Colt and as an alternative found the Smith & Wesson was still considered a substitute weapon in the inventory. He got the armorer to order one for him and he later private purchased it from the unit.
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Ralph Lovett wrote: Fri Apr 13, 2018 11:58 am A little off from the WW1 topic with Smith & Wesson M1917 45s, but my Father carried this revolver as late as 1968 as Infantry officer and later when he branch transferred to Armored Cavalry. At this point he was a Walker Bulldog PLT leader. He did not care for the M1911 Colt and as an alternative found the Smith & Wesson was still considered a substitute weapon in the inventory. He got the armorer to order one for him and he later private purchased it from the unit.
Wow. I'm amazed that any were in the inventory as late as 68!
Pat

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