Gun Review: 1942 Smith & Wesson Victory Revolver

World War II sidearm. Which weapon springs to mind? 1911? Luger? These two pistols are arguably the most iconic pistols of that massive conflict. Revolvers? By the time the second half of the War to End All Wars rolled around, fighting six guns were relegated to historical footnotes. Living on only through the legends of John Wayne and Doc Holliday, right? Wrong. Smith & Wesson revolvers went to war. Smith & Wesson produced produced one gun less than 40,000 “Victory” revolvers for U.S. troops. And another 571,629 for the Commonwealth countries. I’m willing to bet that more than a few of our enemies back then would have told revolver naysayers that they were “dead wrong.” Although then as now, dead men tell no tales . . .

When I first received the Victory, I had no “real” knowledge of revolvers and no intention of ever carrying one. I was one of those guys who thought they were reserved for older guys who had failed to assimilate into the world of polymer and 15 round magazines. Why would you only want to have 6 rounds in your gun? It seemed like simple math to me.

History Lesson

At the beginning of the war S&W began producing their M&P revolver chambered in the British .38/200 cartridge for the Lend Lease Program, sending them off to the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. They added a “V” for victory to the serial number; this iteration thus became known as the Victory model. As we entered the fray, Smith starting adding V’s to the popular .38 special chambered M&P and producing them for US forces. Victory model revolvers were standard issue for Naval and Marine aviators as well as guards back in the states at defense installations and factories supporting the war effort.

It was from one of these factories that a Victory found its way into my collection. Made in 1942, it started its life as a sidearm issued to a guard at the ACCO company, which made the snow chains for US Army wheeled vehicles as well as the chains that kept landing craft secure on US Navy ships.

A good friend of mine, Tine Close, was given the pistol by her father (via someone he knew at that company I assume) to protect her as she drove from Connecticut to San Antonio, TX. She was driving to be with her husband, Bill “Doc” Close who was training to fly C-47’s in support of the invasion of Normandy. Tine kept it for 65 yrs before she passed it on to me. She made me promise never to get rid of it and I can tell you without a doubt this gun will be passed on with that promise though many more generations.

First Impressions

The Victory model was definitely made for Military and Police applications. Parkerized finish was standard, with a lanyard ring, smooth walnut grips and US Ordnance markings.

The Victory’s finish is rough around the edges—not unexpectedly so for a revolver this old. The grips are worn, but in a good way: just a little scuffed, not perfect. I’m pretty much a sucker for any gun with wood grips so that aspect immediately drew me in. I also have a Parkerizing fetish. There’s something about that no-nonsense, no-frills, no-maintenance finish that gets me all hot under the collar.

Holding the Victory in my hand, it feels like something is missing in the front strap, like my hand isn’t quite filled. [ED: I say nothing.] It’s more of an annoyance; it doesn’t affect the weapon’s shootability. But a Tyler T-Grip is definitely on the cards. As for the working parts, the revolver’s trigger as smooth as a snifter of Laphroaig on a cold winter’s night. The gun’s double action glides the whole way through. Single action has a clean even break. No stacking or gritty take up like I expected from a gun with 70 years on her frame.

The sights leave a little to be desired—compared to modern three-dots. The Victory’s front sight is a half moon at the end of the barrel. In single action, you line up with a groove that passes through the top of the receiver. Center the front sight in the groove and you have a sight picture.

Unless you’re firing double action. With the hammer up, the Victory’s sight picture pretty much disappears. It takes a little guesswork to figure out exactly how the front sight, rear groove and top of the hammer line up. About the best that can be said about the system is that it’s probably more than adequate in a combat situation (i.e. you’ll never use it).

The Victory’s weight and balance makes an Olympic figure skater look like a klutz. On paper, no. We’re talking a revolver that weighs At ~34 oz unloaded with a 4” tapered pencil barrel. In the real world, the Victory points like an Irish setter on a pheasant hunt. It offers a smooth well-balanced straight-line, not too heavy at either end. It points naturally at whatever you intend to destroy. Smith knew what they were doing when they designed this pistol.

Off to the Range

I picked up some Winchester 148 grain wadcutters and took the Victory out on the town. She loads like any SA/DA revolver. Press the cylinder release forward, swing out the cylinder and load six rounds of fun into the cylinder. When done, you again release the cylinder; tilt the gun to the rear, press the cylinder rod down and the extractor will do the rest.

Shooting the Victory requires acclimation. As someone who is used to taking a high, thumbs up grip on an automatic, I felt as if I had nowhere to put them on a revolver. I spent five cylinders of ammo figuring out my grip and getting the hang of the aforementioned sight issue. Once we got to know each other, everything clicked. I put the Victory through her paces; slow fire in double and single action, committed pairs and rapid fire.

Rapid fire produced consistent 3” groups at 15 yards. That’s more than acceptable in a self-defense application. Controlled double action produced groups like the one above with six rounds at 15 yards. I tended to throw a flyer on the first round, but the follow up shots more than made up for the wayward trajectory.

Function was impeccable (though camera focus regrettable). No hiccups. Every round fired and was right on target. There were no light primer strikes to indicate the seventy-year-old springs were wearing out. The double action plodded along with unnerving dependability, showing no signs of losing the excellent trigger pull I experienced during dry firing.

The one disappointment: at some point during the day the original right grip panel had cracked. To avoid any future damage I removed them, put them in the safe and sent off for something a little more modern and sexy.

Conclusions

There Victory’s design hearkens to a bygone era, when gun designs were simple, straightforward and uncomplicated. The Victory revolver’s tapered barrel, square butt and simple finish speak to me. This was the gun Smith and Wesson was born to make. Which is why its spawn, the Model 10 is still being made today.

Truth be told, I went to the church of S&W a skeptic and returned a believer. I was so happy with the shooting results, so enamored with the Victory, that it’s now in my carry rotation. Nestled in a Bianchi pancake holster, the Smith & Wesson Victory conceals better than my 1911. With a full cylinder plus two speed strips I can carry more ammo than two full magazines worth of .45ACP. That’s right, I carry a crappy gun and an old ass revolver.

I know: the definition of an optimist is a man in a gun fight with a revolver and speed strips. It doesn’t matter. Victory depends as much on confidence as it does on technology.

SPECIFICATIONS:

Caliber: .38 special
Barrel Length: 4”
Overall Length: 8.875”
Weight: 34 oz
Action: DA/SA
Finish: Parkerized
Capacity: 6
Price: Varies depending on condition

RATINGS (out of five)

Style * * * * *
She’s got class and style that would make most modern revolvers green with envy.

Ergonomics * * *
Balance is damn near perfect, but the sights in double action leave a lot to be desired and it needs some girth in the front strap.

Reliability * * * *
Short of shooting +P through her, you’d be hard pressed to get a malfunction.

Customizable *
Only thing you can really change is the grips and remove the lanyard ring.

Overall Rating * * * *
Elegant, simple and accurate. It’s sure to be a reliable workhorse for many years to come.

avatar

About Ryan Finn

Ryan Finn is the Director of Operations and an Associate Instructor for Montana Tactical Firearms Instruction as well as a contractor for Vanguard Security Consultants when he isn't writing for TTAG. In his free time he is a volunteer firefighter and enjoys spending time in the mountains with his family.

31 Responses to Gun Review: 1942 Smith & Wesson Victory Revolver

  1. avatarMartin Albright says:

    Hallelujah! Another convert!

    I know I’ve said it before, but where an automatic pistol can be a fine “machine”, a well made revolver is a work of ART.

    Also, Smith & Wesson K Frame revolvers are sort of like fine wine in that they get better with age. If you want this one to be a shooter, you might look at getting either a Hogue Monogrip or a Pachmayr. Either one will fill your hand and provide for better control. Best of all, you can restore it to classic configuration with just a few turns of a screwdriver.

  2. avatarsupton says:

    Nice! Is the cylinder recessed?

    I’ve thought that the 45acp version would be kinda cool to have.

  3. avatarmiforest says:

    These are one of my favorites. they were very popular when I was a kid. they shot well, were anvil dependable , and were fun . there were always plenty available that had been carried for years without amy real use, or had spent someones lifetime in a drawer. so they were cheapto buy and shoot. The best defensle load for these is probably the old FBI load, a 158gr lead hollow point. not a Jhp. great review.

  4. avatarMartin Albright says:

    There is one drawback to .38 cal revolvers, sadly: Ammo cost. Back in the day when virtually every cop in the nation carried a .38 or .357 revolver, ammo was plentiful and cheap (for those not savvy, the guns are actually the same caliber, the .357 cartridge is just longer, so a .357 revolver can chamber a .38 round but the reverse is not true.)

    However, now that the cops have largely switched over to semi autos (though you do see the occasional revolver, usually on the hip of a cop approaching retirement) ammo is much less common and much more expensive. The cheapest I’ve seen in years was $15/box at a local gun shop, and $18-$20 is the norm at the big box stores.

    Also, much of the cheap 9mm, .223, .40 and .45 ammo that is available is made in bulk in Eastern Bloc ammo factories and sold at fire-sale prices here. As of yet, the likes of Wolf, Tula, et al have yet to start cranking out .38 or .357 and unless there is a renaissance of interest in wheelguns, they are unlikely to do so.

    Having said that, if you shoot a lot of .38, that could be a good reason to get into reloading as the cartridge is dirt cheap to reload and empty cases can be acquired for almost nothing.

  5. avatarTexas deputy says:

    I purchased one of these from an ad in Gun Week for $25 prior to the GCA-68.
    It is the “Commonwealth” model in .38/200 (.38 S&W – NOT .38 Special). It shows some wear and is smooth as silk, and surprisingly accurate, despite crude sights. In researching this particular weapon, it was originally to be shipped to Australia (and has appropriate proof marks), but never made it there. Supposedly after Pearl Harbor it was rerouted to California where it was issued to civilian guards who were guarding dams and other civil projects.

    It is a lot of fun to shoot, and I have a stockpile of .38 S&W ammo for it, as well as some British .38/200. The .38/200 seems a lot hotter than the commercial .38 S&W ammo because there are a lot of antique guns chambered for the weaker .38 S&W.

    Several years ago I took one of my daughters to the gun club, and she fell in love with this weapon. While in high school she entered one of the Gun Club Saturday junior pistol matches, and did very well with it.

    Now that she is married and has a family of her own, I offered it to her, but her anti- husband (that is a story for another day) does not want her to have it.

    Today it sits in honor in the Browning ProSteel gun safe, and occasionally accompanies me to the gun club where it again demonstrates its capabilities.

    On duty I carry a Ruger 93 that has served me well for many years, and never had any failures of any kind; off duty I carry a Taurus 709 in a tuckable IWB holster. Even though it is now 70 years old, that old “Commonwealth” model could be carried today, and likely serve as well in 2011 as it did in 1941.

    Texas deputy, 2/3/11

  6. avatarRalph says:

    It’s a beautiful revolver, Ryan. Thanks for a great review of a piece of true Americana.

  7. avatarjim says:

    My first revolver … Had “CIVIL DEFENSE” Engraved on the left side of the frame … Hand loaded light with reversed HBWC … Then I got married … :(

    Got rid of her and am starting to renew my acquaintance with firearms …

  8. avatarChris Dumm says:

    At a gun show in my foolish younger days, I passed by a table full of S&W Victory revolvers priced at $120 or thereabouts. I may be off by a few bucks (they may have been cheaper) but the tears in my eyes and my profound sense of stupidity may be clogging my memory. I played with them for a few minutes and walked away.

    They had jewel-like triggers and bright bores, but they were chambered in .38 S&W and I was looking for a practical defense gun at the time. This may explain, in part, my foolish decision not to buy one. The .38 S&W is not substantially less powerful than the standard-pressure .38 Special, but it is substantially less convenient to purchase.

    Just like the days of $60 Mosin-Nagants, $80 Swedish Mausers and $100 SKS carbines, I don’t think I’ll see a bargain like that again.

    • avatarharp1034 says:

      Yeah I remember these at the gun shows 30 years ago for $100. Like you I didn’t want a .38 S&W. If only we could go back in time with what we know now.

  9. avatarSheriff Slim says:

    I love older wheelguns and my Victory model is my all-time favorite. I shoot better with it than any of my other handguns as it just feels “right” in my hand. It is somewhat unique in that a previous owner stripped the parkerizing (except for the lanyard ring) and did a beautiful bluing job. I’ve never been a fan of semi-autos, can’t hold them properly with my smallish hand, and figure it shouldn’t take more than 5 or six rounds to solve a problem.

  10. avatarJim Farmer says:

    I just love classic J, K, and N-Frame Smith and Wesson revolvers. I own three S&W
    K-Frames: a Model 15 .38 Special Combat Masterpiece 4″ barrel, a Model 19 .357 Combat Magnum with 4″ barrel, and also an S&W Model 66 “stainless” .357 Combat
    Magnum with 4″ barrel. And finally an S&W Model 28 Highway Patrolman .357 Magnum (N-Frame) with 6″ barrel. Both the Model 19 and 28 being 1960′s vintage have diamond walnut target grips. The Model 15 was imporved with Pachmayr combat rubber grips, while the Model 66-1 has the original Goncalo Alves target grips.
    So what can I say here! If limited to owning but one handgun only it would be my own
    S&W Model 66. An outstanding article titled: Smith and Wesson Military and Police
    Revolver, A Gun’s Autobiography” is an inspiring read indeed. Granted a six shot
    revolver doesn’t match a high capacity 9mm semi-automatic pistol for firepower. Yet,
    for many a .38 Special/.357 Magnum is more versatile, useful, and practical. Ex: A .38
    Special, especially the 148 grain lead target wadcutter: next to a .22 or .32, remains a
    dandy handgun for hunting small game: rabbit and squirrel. Or for dispatching varmints: raccoon, skunk, possum, etc. Not to mention being lethal on venomous snakes such as rattlers up close: CCI’s classic shot or “snake” load containing #9 shot
    encased inside a plastic tip capsule. For hiking, camping, fishing, picking wild berries
    in the woods, as a sidearm to supplement a high power rifle during deer and elk season,
    and for the outdoors the venerable .38 caliber revolver is hard to equal. For informal
    target shooting also. And naturally for self defense/house protection/homeland security the .38 Special defines cheap affordable life insurance and lethal protection.
    With a .38 or .357 inside the nightstand, dresser, or bureau drawer and a Bible and
    flashlight also in reach, the citizen can enjoy a sound peaceful sleep.

  11. avatarJack Fellows says:

    Well written: clean, succinct, and best of all, interesting. Keep it coming!

  12. avatarmark says:

    Sorry, but I find this amusing in a pleasant way-someone who has been shooting for some time just discovering the S&W revolver, and finding out what a real handgun gun is. In a way, I hope there are few of his generation who discover and buy old revolvers, as I am sure they will drive the prices up even beyond their current ridiculous levels. Us retired old timers on fixed incomes are already struggling to put enough by to be able to affort our old revolver habits.

    Stick with tupperware, son.

    mark

  13. avatarJerry G says:

    Great writeup for the old ‘Victory’ model. A truely under appreciated firearm. I remember passing these up in the 70′s – why spend $50 on ‘WWII surplus’ when a bright new shiny model 10 was only about $90. Then again, in those days, I sold a nice Ithaca 1911A1 for $60 – D’oh!

    The ‘Victory’ I have looks identical to your first picture. S&W tells me it was shipped to General Electric Co., Pittsfield, MA in February 1943. Haven’t shot it since . . . this morning – haha. It’s my ‘go-to-gun’ for the local Great Wars Pistol match. And for some bizzare reason, I bought some non+P self defense ammo for it – hmmm . . .

  14. avatarB R Wilson says:

    Yes the K frame is a work of art design to be put to work, I know, I have am 38spl and the last Patent on it is 1914 and my uncle had back about ’38′ and it came to him for an outlaw in Oklahoma who had it for a number of years. Some day I hope to trace the weapon back to the date of Mfg and where it was sold first. the grips are checked and in great condition, I also have the holster that it was carried in from the first owner I think. The action is smoother and tighter than the new police pistols. As a personal defense weapon I can do some real damage out to 50 yards with it, knockdown power is a little light, but for a 38spl I don’t think the untrained gun handler is going to wait and see if he is going to take one or all six rounds.

  15. avatarMichael Clegg says:

    My father died in 2005. He always kept his Victory .38 in his top drawer for self defense. He was an Army Vet in WW2 serving in New Guinea. He was as tough as nails. My inheritance was the gun and a Japanese rising sun flag that he captured. I have newer, more expensive guns in my collection, but none more sentimental than this gun that looks exactly like the one in your first picture. Thanks for the great article.

  16. avatar"gunner" says:

    i’ve owned a “victory” model in .38 special, and presently own a “5 screw” model 10, and as far as i’m concerned the “victory” gives points to the model 10 only for finish, though i don’t really consider parkerising a drawback. both guns were well made, sound and dependable, and i plan to keep the model 10, along with my m1911a1 until i go toes up, when both guns will go to my daughter.

  17. avatarSamuel Phillips says:

    I like the S&W model 14, the S&W classic revolver
    re-issue. The barrel is six inches and that makes it
    legal for Canada. It has all of the benefits of the older
    models and it is strong enough to shoot the
    + P ammunition.

  18. avatarEddie Powell says:

    I own an early victory converted by Cogswell & Harrison LTD.London. Serial V770xx.Wb stamped on the butt with ordinance marking. The barrel is 3 1/2 inches, and is marked 38 S&w Ctg. The cylinder takes a 38 special. The barrel also has a ramped target style sight. Did Csgwell & Harricon convert this pistol to 38 special??

  19. avatarWilliam K. Spielvogle says:

    Looks like I’m late to this party but I hope some people will read this. I have a S&W Special Model .38 Hand Ejector Military and Police Model of 1905, Fourth Change. This pistol was issued to Lt. James W. Newton in 1944 while he was training on the Norden bomb site. His statement reads he was issued this pistol by the U.S. Army Air Corps after it was modified by shortening the barrel to 3 inches and the swivel removed. The serial # is V670976 and was shipped to the Hartford Ordinance Depot, Springfield MA on Sept 11, 1944. Lt. Newcomb(retired as LTC Newcomb) states the pistol was shortened and swivel removed for weight reduction and for ease for entering the cramped space of the bombardier. Lt Newton flew bombing missions over Europe and Asia. His statement claims this pistol flew on all his bombing missions. Can anyone add any documentation to these facts? S&W states the modifications cannot be authenticated by S&W because they were done after market. Pictures-other pistols- anything

    l

  20. avatarRussell Smith says:

    Not a thing wrong with a “wheel gun” for aviators and others that need something close to the body that WILL NOT FAIL in a fight. I was a scout observer and sniper in D Co., 2/327th. 101st Airborne and we were required to carry both a sniper rifle (in my case an M21, and a secondary weapon as well. Many of our assigned chopper pilots carried Model 19 smith’s, and after having the privilege to hit the ranges with them a couple of times found myself liking it much more than a 1911. Always went bang with much more energy and authority. The Army forced me to have the M9 after the change came, but my model 19 always came with me as well.

  21. I have two (2) victory model S&W revolvers, I had them for about ten (10 ) years, they are beutiful,well made, smooth to shoot and handle. I don’t shoot them very much, mostly they are in my safe. They were made 1942- 1943, 38 special. I also have a Model 1917 revolver 45 acps beutiful, made about 1917, great shape , nice blue shinny color. I shoot 45 auto-rim or used the speed loaders with 45 acp. I reload for them, and used light loads, is best.

  22. avatarSteve Bond says:

    Hey buddy where did you get the new grips ( Brand/Maker ) ,hows the front strap fitment ? I have the .38 s&w British version with the 5 inch barrel, it was then given to the Austian police, but remains in great shape ($400 but I needed it for my WWII collection) . Geat artical, thanks.

  23. avatarBarry Corbin says:

    Great article, answered a lot of my questions!! Just received my Dad’s S&W .38 Victory Model [s/n V270209] that he carried as a Navy fighter pilot in WWII. He flew missions over Guam, Okinawa, and Iwo Jima with most of his action coming between1944-945 from air craft carriers and island air bases. What a great pistol! He loves this gun and wanted me to have it. Still has the shoulder holster with the the raised US stamp on it. The cartridge holders are pretty must gone though. I’ll never trade or sell it, needs to stay in the family. He survived air combat, anti-aircraft fire, a typhoon, kamikazes, etc. Still kicking at 92, although he’s currently spending time in a rehab facility after a fall [can't get him to slow down]. I have pictures of him on his carrier, in his flight gear with the revolver, with his squadron, etc. The .38 will be a great center piece in my den. Plus it is accurate when you get used to the sighting. The hammer doesn’t block the sight picture on the Navy model I have. Couldn’t believe how well it shoots and how balanced it is. I can hold steady on target and reacquire better with it than most semi-autos I’ve fired. The trigger is smooth as silk on double action. Single action, you have to keep your finger light or off until you’re ready to fight. The pull is very light, so it’s easy to squeeze off a round with out jerking the trigger. My uncle was a gunsmith when I was young, and I remember him working on Dad’s .38 to fix the firing pin. I think he also tuned the action. They took it out to the range and did some shooting. Pop was very pleased! Anyway, really enjoyed the article and insight on this fine weapon.

  24. avatarJaime Aguilar says:

    I have a revolver very similar to yours. Mine is a S&W Victory model 6 shot .38 special with a snub nose. Unfortunately I’m having trouble identifying the year she was made…her serial number is V253xxx, any info would be greatly appreciated. Thank you in advance for your time.

  25. avatarBrian K says:

    I own a model Victory that for some reason has been converted to a 22 magnum. It has proof markings on the barrel, frame, and on all 6 cylinder holes. BNP with the crown on top is the proof marks. Does anyone have any history on this revolver. Why was it converted and why the BNP proof.

  26. avatarJoe Fischer says:

    Last year I picked up a MINT S&W Victory Model .38 Special that after I sent a letter off to Smith & Wesson….found it was issued to a Military Factory in Texas…specifically the Cactus Ordinance Works…….I have searched the internet and found some information on the Facility….but have had no luck in obtaining Cloth Patches as would have been issued to the Guards that carried them……also have one question…..debating using it as a carry pistol…..have been told not to use +P ammo..?….is the consensus that that due to the age they cant handle the pressure..?…and if so….what hollow point ammuniton is suggested.?……Looking around i was lucky to find an Original Brown Leather Flap Holster…..I love the old pistol and am planning on carrying it hiking…..just would love some information on the “carry ammunition”………and appreciate anyone taking the time to answer…Best Regards…..Joe Fischer……in “Sunny-Tennessee”..

  27. avatarIan Rabig says:

    Just got hold of a S/W Victory in 38S&W. Dad carried one as a RAAF Pilot Officer during latter part of WW2 and I guess his attachment started there. During ’56 when the Myxo virus wiped out the rabbit plagues in SW Queensland, the Dingoes ate ALL 5,000 of our calves, plus horses, cows bullocks etc and anything else they could get hold of. They had bred up living on the rabbits. Dad shot, poisoned and trapped almost full time to keep the numbers down. He shot 1,000 dogs from the window of the ute by chasing them in one year alone. Someone asked how many so he had this bit of cardboard on the dash with a pencil tied to it and kept a tally. When he got to 1,000, he bought a S&W .357.

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