Ruined .38

by
posted on March 20, 2013
wiley-clapp.jpg (2)

Guns are rarely worn out through normal use. Given reasonable care and shooting only with the proper ammunition, most quality handguns will last for decades. Abuse, on the other hand, can destroy a nice gun in very little time. And sometimes the abuse can be ill-conceived modifications to a gun that could not possibly be improved. Take the case of the Smith & Wesson M&P revolvers made for the United Kingdom forces during World War II. The British service revolver cartridge was the .38/200, which is interchangeable with the .38 S&W (not the same as the .38 Spl). Tens of thousands of these fine revolvers were made and shipped to Great Britain, used by various British Army forces and put in storage after the war. Some may have never been issued. Most of them eventually came home via the war surplus route. More than a few were absolutely ruined before they were sold to American handgunners.

That’s a positive statement but lamentably a true one. S&W was able to meet the demand for these guns because they were making them when the war started. The M&P revolver was a staple of the line in 1940, and was available in several calibers, including both .38 S&W and .38 S&W Spl. The .38 S&W is a short, thick rimmed revolver cartridge designed for the company’s top break revolvers, such as the Baby Russian model in 1877. The .38 S&W Spl. is a long, lean rimmed revolver cartridge intended for the M&P revolver in 1899. Neither is a true .38 caliber. The .38 S&W uses a .3604-inch barrel and the .38 S&W Special has a .3565-inch tube, as determined by recent measurement. Therefore, the two models not only had different bore dimensions, they also had different chamber specifications.

Of the two cartridges, the longer and thinner S&W .38 Spl. was the more powerful and therefore the more popular. When those .38 S&W revolvers came back into the country, the importers realized they would sell much better as .38 Spl. They employed technicians (undeserving of the title of gunsmith) to use .38 Spl. chambering reamers to lengthen the chambers, so that a .38 Spl. would fit. It as a loose slip fit, wide enough near the rim to cause a .38 Spl. to expand and stick in place. Worse, these bastardized chambers sometimes caused even good quality ammo to split, blowing gas and brass particles all over the place. It was a stupid thing to do and can only be corrected by installing a new .38 S&W cylinder or a new S&W .38 Spl. cylinder and barrel. These ruined guns are still in circulation—I have seen them at recent gun shows.

Latest

The Armed Citizen
The Armed Citizen

The Armed Citizen® July 22, 2024

Read today's "The Armed Citizen" entry for real stories of law-abiding citizens, past and present, who used their firearms to save lives.

Review: Chippa Little Badger TDX

Survival firearms come in many shapes and sizes, with the masses in utter disagreement upon ideal chambering—and even platform. But the Chiappa Little Badger TDX certainly fits the bill as a survival arm.

"Only Accurate Rifles Are Interesting."

"The only limitation to skill in marksmanship is that imposed by the rifle and its ammunition." Col. Townsend Whelen

Preview: The Rifle 2 | Back To The Battlefield

Read stories from the theaters of World War II, bolstered by veterans of the “Greatest Generation.” 

Review: Heritage Mfg. Roscoe

Heritage Mfg. is known for its line of Old West-style firearms, but with its new Roscoe revolver, based on Taurus' Model 85, the brand steps into the world of old-school detective work.

New For 2024: Hi-Point Firearms YC380

Hi-Point Firearms is expanding its next-generation "YEET Cannon" line of firearms with YC380 chambered for .380 ACP.

Interests



Get the best of American Rifleman delivered to your inbox.