Saturday, September 08, 2007

Smith & Wesson Model 22-1917

This year Smith & Wesson, in a move of near-brilliance, introduced their retro-line of revolvers. This is a reintroduction of some of their classic-discontinued handguns allowing the shooter to buy one that has benefited from the modern metallurgic processes, is safe to shoot with modern ammunition, and does not have the collector’s price tag that would be attached to an original specimen. Collectors can still hunt the gun shows and online auctions for an original to display, brag about, and keep locked in the safe. This reintroduction is a boon to those of us who want a shooting model that is true to the original and as long as we are willing to put up with that completely unnecessary internal lock that defaces the panel above the cylinder release latch. The only thing that puzzles me about their retro line offering is the lack of marketing behind this line. When I peruse the gun related magazines, and I subscribe to most of them, I see plenty of full page advertisements for their M&P line of polymer semi-automatic pistols and plenty of ad coverage for their light artillery hand-howitzers that launch the .500 caliber revolver cartridge. I cannot recall one instance of seeing an advertisement for the retro line. If you have not seen the complete line of retro revolvers, do yourself a favor and search them out on their website.
Two years ago Smith & Wesson brought out the Model 22 Thunder Ranch revolver in .45 ACP. 22 was the model designation for the model 1917 during its 1957 evolution. Thunder Ranch Firearms Instructor and gun scribe Clint Smith persuaded S&W to reintroduce the model 21 in .44 Special by convincing them that there was a market for a classic, large caliber fightin’ revolver. The model 21 hit dealer’s shelves in 2004. A year later, spurred on by Clint and the positive sales of the Model 21, Smith & Wesson reintroduced the Model 22. While this was a great move on their part there were many shooters, myself included, which wanted the revolver that went overseas with the doughboys of WWI.
The Model 1917
As many of you probably know, when Great War began General Blackjack Pershing, having studied the evolution of trench warfare from the American Civil War through the current stalemate in Europe, immediately realized the necessity of having his troops armed with a powerful, large caliber sidearm. Once you jumped into the enemy’s trench or he jumped into yours, the fighting got up close and personal real quickly and your four and a half foot long Springfield rifle with bayonet affixed became unwieldy and rather useless. Pershing made it known early on that he wanted every soldier to have the current military sidearm, the Colt Model 1911 in .45 ACP. The problem was that Colt did not have enough of the machinery tooled up to produce the semi-automatic pistol. Up to this point revolvers had been the bread and butter for both Colt and Smith & Wesson and they had the capability to produce revolvers in large quantities. The Colt New Service Revolver and the Smith & Wesson Hand Ejector were perfect solutions as they both were built on large frames and chambered for heaviest calibers available at the time. But there was one more hitch; the military knew from their experience in the Indian Wars that they could not logistically handle multiple calibers of ammunition.
During their frontier expeditions the Army was equipped with Colt single action revolvers chambered for the .45 Colt round (or .45 Long Colt as it is more commonly known) and the Smith & Wesson Schofield break-top revolver chambered for the shorter .45 Schofield cartridge. The Army found it nearly impossible to get the right round to the right troops so they finally decided that since the shorter .45 Schofield cartridge would fit in the Colt revolvers they would only procure the .45 Schofield ammunition. The Army did not buy the Schofield revolver in vast numbers, but purchased a lot of Schofield ammo. And that is why the Little Big Horn battle field is littered with Schofield casings even though the troops who fought and died there were equipped with the Colt Single Action Army revolver.
All of this lead the Army to specify that the supplemental revolvers be chambered in the .45 ACP round, the same round as their standard issue Model 1911 pistols. The problem was that revolvers required a pronounced rim at the base of the cartridge to keep the cartridge from falling through the chambers of the cylinder. The rim also was needed so that the extractor could eject the fired cartridges. Smith & Wesson found the answer to this problem by devising what became known as the half moon clip, a semi-circular arc of sheet metal stamped to hold three cartridges in place. It successfully kept the rounds snug in their chambers and eased the process of both loading and ejecting the cartridges. Therefore Colt and Smith & Wesson were able to chamber their New Service and Hand Ejector revolvers in .45 ACP and both became known as the Model 1917 with Smith & Wesson manufacturing 169,959 for the military which used the 1917 through WWII. The model 1917 was quickly accepted by the troops most of whom had extensive experience with revolvers but had never handled a new-fangled semi-automatic pistol.
Back in the mid 1980’s a number surplus model 1917s were located overseas, were imported back into the States and sold at fairly reasonable prices. I was smart enough to look at several of them and unknowledgeable enough to have passed on them.
Model 22-1917
Now S&W has brought the 1917 back to life and it is true to the original with a few exceptions; the internal safety lock has been added, a transfer bar and internal firing pin have replaced the hammer mounted firing pin on the originals, the grips are diamond checkered walnut as opposed to the smooth grips on the original military handgun, and in addition to the blued finish the new revolver is offered in nickel as well as with a case-color hardened frame.
Here are the technical specifications
Model: 22, Model of 1917
Caliber: .45ACP
Capacity: 6 Rounds
Barrel Length: 5 1/2"
Front Sight: Pinned Half Moon Service
Rear Sight: Service Grip: Altamont® Wood
Frame: Large
Finish: Nickel
Length: 10 7/8"
Material: Carbon Steel Frame and Cylinder
Weight Empty: 37.2 oz.
Prior to leaving Boise, Cliff (of Cliff’s Guns, Safes, and Reloading) was able to procure a Model 22-1917 for me that was nickel plated. I did not specify one in nickel, it was the only one he could get and, quite frankly, I have not seen another Model 22-1917 since then.
Upon first impression, the handgun was stunning. The grips were made of a lighter colored walnut, expertly checkered, and perfectly fitted to the frame and….they were extremely uncomfortable to shoot. Despite the size and weight of this revolver this handgun bucked pretty hard when fired driving the back of the grip frame painfully into the web of my hand. I thought a Tyler T-Grip adapter would give me more to hang onto thereby lessening the felt recoil. I was mistaken. The T-Grip adapter did nothing for the perceived recoil and it smashed my knuckles into the trigger guard. Fortunately, I found a set of Pachmayr Decellerator grips on the peg wall at Cliff’s and the Pachmayr grips not only made the revolver more shootable, it also improved my accuracy. The installation of the Pachmayr’s did require me to punch the lanyard retention pin out of the base of the grip frame so that the lanyard could be removed.

One of the features that surprised me was the sights. The rear sight is the standard S&W fixed sight milled into the top of the frame and the front sight was the standard half moon service sight. Nothing fancy at all however they provide an excellent sight picture, much better than I expected. It may have something to do with the contrast between the nickel plated rear sight and the front sight which is blued. As seen in the target below, which was shot at 21 feet from a standing two-handed hold, the revolver is capable of very decent accuracy.

I like this revolver quite a bit. It has a classic style, good accuracy, and a rather menacing appearance. What more could the soldiers of the Great War have wanted?