The S&W Model 15 revolver that remains in service, largely as a K9 training tool, can trace its lineage all the way back to the S&W .38 Military and Police Model first issued to service members back in 1899. Now, some 122 years later, this tried and true revolver is finally headed out to pasture in favor of the Defense Department’s new pistol du jour, the Sig Sauer M17 and M18 series. The last remaining Model 15 revolvers in service will likely fire their final rounds by this coming summer, ending an era.
Revolvers are a different kind of cool. The classic sixgun may never be as efficient as an automatic pistol, but it’s tough to argue that they don’t carry a certain mystique. Revolvers have had a place in national militaries for over 200 years, starting with the Colt Dragoon. They were largely phased out of service with the adoption of the M1911, but a shortage of viable service pistols during both World Wars kept these contraptions in the hands of GI’s throughout. Believe it or not, the military has kept a single revolver in its arsenal until, well, very recently.
The Air Force’s Model 15 revolver has served honorably since 1956, and the gun can trace its lineage back to 1899.
Related: The strangest Spec-Ops firearms in SOCOM’s armory
The History of the Model 15
Let’s go back in time, and I mean, let’s start at the M15 and walk backward with it. The M15 was originally known as the K-38 Combat Masterpiece. In fact, the gun wore the K-38 moniker when it saw adoption by the Strategic Air Command Elite Guard of the United States Air Force. This wasn’t an Air Force wide purchase, but for a specific unit who apparently liked a revolver more than the M1911, the K-38 became their piece of preference. I can’t find clear evidence of why, but my assumption would be that the Air Force was likely having a tough time getting M1911s in a post-WW2 and Korean War world.
Why a Revolver?
Smith and Wesson had the K-38 as a COTS, or commercial off the shelf, product. While specialized hardware is great for the warfighter, COTS makes adoption easy. The K-38 gained its name from the medium frame that S&W designated as a K frame, and 38, which stood for the .38 Special caliber round it used. The K-38 then became the M15 when Smith and Wesson moved to number designations entirely.
Let’s keep walking back further. The K-38 Combat Masterpiece descended from the K-38 Target Masterpiece by trimming the barrel and changing the front sight. The K-38 Target Masterpiece became the Model 14, but it’s directly descended from the Smith and Wesson Model 10. The Target Masterpiece added a long six-inch barrel, a slight rib for a level sight plane, a Patridge front sight and a micrometer adjustable rear sight, with a short-throw hammer and an adjustable trigger.
Related: The 5 worst service weapons the US ever issued its troops
Roots in World War II
The K-38 Target Masterpiece’s legacy comes from the famed Model 10. The Model 10 is the classic .38 Special revolver. This six-shot, double-action / single-action design utilized a swing open cylinder and an exposed hammer. The Model 10 premiered after World War 2 and descended from the Victory Model.
The Victory Model by Smith and Wesson was produced from 1942 to 1944. The serial numbers had a V prefix. After a half million of these guns were produced and distributed under lend/lease programs during World War 2. Another 350,000 were produced for use by the United States during WW2.
A really long name
Before the V prefix and the Victory model designation, we had the S&W .38 Military and Police Model. The M&P 38 Special traces its lineage all the way back to 1899. The Army and Navy ordered three thousand S&W .38 Hand Ejector Models that year, chambered in .38 Long Colt. Smith and Wesson cashed in on some easy marketing after this order and renamed the pistol to the Military and Police model.
The 38 Long Colt tended to be anemic, so S&W developed the .38 S&W Special, aka the .38 Special. Over time the Military and Police model had various changes and improvements. So, the famed Model 15 that is still in some armories today descended directly from a revolver that was first fielded in 1899.
Related: Molotov Cocktail: The world’s most prevalent firebomb
Why the Model 15 revolved has stuck around so long
It worked, and Air Force security forces acted as police officers and worked in rather safe areas. The old M15 revolvers worked well, and they stuck around long after the adoption of the M1911. The M15 served with the U.S. Air Force police from 1962 up until 1992, when the Beretta M9 saw widespread adoption.
1992 is a long way from 2021, however, so why is it still in Air Force Armories? Well, it ties back to the Air Force’s Military Working Dog training program. This program trains K9s and the M15s are used with blanks to accustom the dogs to the sound of gunfire. There Beretta pistols did not have a blank firing adapter, and revolvers simply didn’t need them.
The M15 revolver was an easy choice and a smart financial one. Why replace what works? Well, since these guns have been issued longer than my Dad’s been alive, they are likely getting worn out. Even this long-serving revolver will eventually stop training K9s and have to go the way of Old Yeller itself.
Related: Why the M1 Carbine became an American legend
What’s Replacing the Model 15?
The SIG M17 and M18 series will replace or are in the process of replacing the M15 revolvers across the Air Force. Unlike the M9, these guns will have a blank firing system and will cycle blanks for training purposes. The adoption of the SIG M17 and M18 series will not be complete until August 2022. I doubt there is a huge rush to arm the K9 school, so it’s likely some Model 15s are still in use, or at least still in armories, and may be well into the coming year.
It’s fascinating that the Model 15 stuck around so long and that the design traces its lineage back to the service revolvers of 1899. Has anyone in the comments ever handle an M15 in service? Let us know what you think about it.
I was issued an M15 as a Law Enforcement Specialist in the Security Police when I arrived at my first duty station in December of 1990. Having trained with the M9 during the SP academy I was a bit disappointed to be issued a revolver. Not as flashy as an M9 but after exchanging the wood grips with a set of Pachmayrs it was “my”pistol. It was very accurate albeit well worn. I received my M9 within the next year and the M15 was retired. I was glad that I got to carry it. Now over 30 years later I own a model 15 and wouldn’t trade it for a Beretta 92. It is a joy to shoot!
Alan Hassell says
Hell… any of us who were aviators during the VIETNAM War flew missions with an M15 in our survival vest.
Rick S. says
I was an SP from 1972-1977. I had never shot anything bigger than a .22LR, and never any kind of handgun (or center fire anything) until training. I knew it was a “Combat Masterpiece” and a Model 15, but back then I didn’t know S&Ws had the whole dash thing going with the model number. So, I don’t know what model it was. I’m pretty sure they had larger grips, and a red front sight. For years I thought it had a 6″ barrel, but somewhere along the way I realized it had a 4″. For never having shot anything like that, I really did well with it. Even shot with the pistol team in Germany for a while.
“…and worked in rather safe areas.” Not everyone, that’s for sure. We trained with radio tapes from Tan Son Nhut Air Base during Tet of ’68. I was in once stationed at a (secret) place with Arab terrorists around, and we were responsible for base defense. We were never issued 1911s – I don’t know any units that were, although I suppose there could have been some. We were told the USAF bowed to pressure to not issue them because they were “inhumane” – that they would tear your arm off if you got shot with one. One of those stories that goes around. Anyway, the Smiths were more a badge of authority than a useful sidearm in most situations. If you have an M16 or a Rem 870, you’re not pulling your pistol.
JEFF CROUCH says
I carried the Smith 15 while in the USAF Security Police in the 1980’s. The ones state side were blued and the ones overseas (Korea) were parkerised. A fine example of a accurate dependable sidearm. The issue ammo had the bullet seated deeper than normal to raise the pressure and in-turn the velocity to near 357 magnum levels. Too bad that it looks like they were destroyed instead of put out for surplus. Would love to get one.
I have owned one for about 30 years. It is my favorite handgun to shoot. As stated in the article, it is very accurate and has low recoil. My wife also enjoys it. I paid $175 for it and was told that it was a police turn in.
P. Michael Phillips says
Like the S&W Model 10 before it, the S&W Model 15 was an excellent choice for pilots as their survival side arm: it was lighter, less bulky, and inherently more accurate than a rack-grade 1911, and there is no magazine to lose. This revolver’s lighter recoil made it easier to train with than the 1911, and its more slender magna stocks more easily fit those with smaller hands, for whom the 1911 might challenge. The latter quality, in fact, was the reason the U.S. Army Military Police maintained the K-38 alongside the 1911 well into the 1980s. Moreover, a well-made revolver is exceptionally reliable. In short, if an old school S&W revolver malfunctions, you’re pretty much out of Schlitz.
cialis without a doctor's prescription says
We’re a bunch of volunteers and starting a brand new scheme in our community.
Your website offered us with valuable information to work on. You’ve performed a
formidable process and our whole group shall be grateful
where to buy cialis cheap says
Hello Dear, are you really visiting this web site daily, if so
afterward you will absolutely take nice know-how.