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.
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.
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.
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.
Caliber: .38 special
Barrel Length: 4”
Overall Length: 8.875”
Weight: 34 oz
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.
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.