Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Smith & Wesson Model 3

All in all, when looking at the Smith & Wesson Model 3. it was a single-action, cartridge-firing, top-break revolver that saw a production from 1870 to 1915. It was produced in several variations and sub-variations, and was extremely popular with just about everyone.

One version of the Smith & Wesson Model 3 eventually became known as the "American Model." Other versions became known as the "Russian Model," the "Schofield Model," and the "New Model" Model 3 which was said to be a favorite of none other than Wyatt Earp.

Unlike the "tip up," this was a "top-break" revolver. So realistically, a shooter could easily fire his last round, crack her open, dump the used shells, and reload. Later models actually had an ejector when it was opened so that the spent shells would automatically be tossed out.

The US Army adopted the Model 3 as the "Schofield" and used it throughout the Indian Wars of the West. This is large frame Smith & Wesson top-break revolver with a trigger guard, manufactured in three variations from 1870 to 1915. The Model 3 includes the American, the Russian, and the Schofield models.

As for the Smith&Wesson Model 3's that were produced in large numbers for the Russian Empire by special order. The first was the 1st Model Russian which was really no different than the Model 3 American. Because Russian Ordnance Inspectors demanded a number of improvements to the design, the 2nd Model Russian came about.

S&W Model 3 Russian
The final revision to the Russian design being known as the 3rd Model Russian came about after Smith&Wesson nearly went bankrupt as a result of their Russian Contract production. It's said that the Russian government had their own engineers and gunsmiths reverse-engineer Smith&Wesson's design. They then decided to produce copies of the revolver, both in their own arsenal at Tula and by contracting other manufacturers in Germany and even Great Britain.

This act of product piracy led to the Russian Imperial government not needing Smith&Wesson and subsequently cancelling the order of the revolvers which Smith&Wesson had already produced. Then to add insult to injury, the Russians refused to pay for the revolvers that they already received.

Years ago I read that it was the British gunmaker P. Webley & Son who was the first to develop the "top-break" system. But frankly, I don't believe that's true. In fact there's proof that Webley and others got the "tip up"  and the "top break" systems of reloading from Smith&Wesson.

From what I gather manufacturers coping each other was a common practice at the time for European and American gunsmiths. As for who copied who, let's just say that there were a lot of gunmakers who used that "top break" system after the 1870s. Among them were Webley & Scott, Harrington & Richardson, Iver Johnson, Forehand & Wadsworth, and others. 

The pistol above illustrates the top-break reloading system. The ejector rod extended to rid the pistol of its spent rounds. This auto-eject system was quite a technological break through. 

How popular was the Model 3? 

The Smith & Wesson Model 3 was produced in the newly developed .44 S&W caliber round in great numbers and the U.S. Army adopted the Model 3 American in 1870. That made it the first standard-issue cartridge-firing revolver in the history of the U.S. military. Most military pistols up until that point were black powder cap and ball revolvers.

But wait, I'm sure someone is going to write me to inform me that Colt's first metallic-cartridge revolver was produced in 1871 as an open-top revolver. They will probably inform me that that was a completely new design for Colt as the parts would not interchange with the older percussion pistols.

The caliber was .44 rimfire and it was submitted to the U.S. Army for testing in 1872. Actually, the U.S. Army rejected the Colt pistol. And yes, the Army did in fact ask Colt to come back with a more powerful caliber with a stronger frame if they wanted a contract. All which they did.

Colt redesigned their frame to incorporate a top-strap, which was strangely similar to the Remington revolvers that were already out at the time, and placed the rear sight on the rear of the frame. The first prototype was chambered in .44 rim fire, but the first model was in the new caliber known as the .45 Colt. That model Colt revolver was chosen by the U.S. Army in 1872. Their first order was for 8000 revolvers.

Shipping in the summer of 1873. the Colt Single Action Army or "Peacemaker" was born. And yes, it became one of the most prevalent firearms in the American West. 

In 1875, the U.S. Ordnance Board granted Smith &Wesson a contract to outfit the military with the new Model 3 Smith & Wesson revolver that incorporated the design improvements of Major George Schofield.

His improvements on the Model 3 made the Model 3 loading system that much more easier to use. The design became known as the Smith & Wesson Model 3 "Schofield" or simply the "Schofield revolver" as a tribute to the Major.



So why did I talk so much about Colt in an article about the S&W Model 3? 

Well, that's because of what happened next. Frankly the U.S. Army loved the new design of the S&W Model 3 but demanded that they make the new Model 3 Schofield revolvers chambered to the new .45 Colt round.

First, the new .45 Colt round was proven to be more potent than the .44 S&W caliber rimfire round that the Model 3 had been chambered for. And second, besides the issue of it being a more potent round, the Army had all sorts of .45 Colt ammo in it's supply chain.

Because the Army already had the .45 Colt Peacemakers in service, along with the .45 Colt ammunition to go with them, the U.S. Army working with the Navy and Marine Corps wanted to standardize their weapons. None of the branches could justify bringing in another pistol with a whole new cartridge to content with.

You would think that re-chambering their pistol's design to accommodate the longer .45 cartridge would not be that hard to do. All that Smith&Wesson had to do was to just re-chamber its design, then sell them by the thousands!

But no, instead of doing so, Smith&Wesson decided to develop their own slightly shorter .45 caliber round - it was called the ".45 Schofield."  Later it would be called the ".45 S&W." And yes, it was less potent than the .45 Colt.

When it became obvious to the U.S. Army that the .45 Colt and the .45 S&W, also known as the .45 Schofield, cartridges were not interchangeable between the Smith&Wesson Model 3 Schofield  and the Colt Peacemaker.

While both rounds did work in the Colt, Colt could shoot Schofield rounds but Schofield couldn't shoot Colt rounds.  The .45 Schofield cartridge was shorter than the .45 Colt. It could be used in both the Schofield and the Colt 45 Peacemaker, but the .45 Colt was too long to use in the Schofield.

According to a reader who was nice enough to send me additional information, the Army adopted a .45 cartridge that was a compromise between the .45 Colt and the .45 S&W Schofield round. It was designated the .45 US Ball cartridge of 1877. It had a rim diameter the same size as the .45 Colt but was short enough to fit in a S&W Schofield. And for you folks who are wondering, the .45 Colt round at that time will later become known as the ".45 Long Colt" after the .45 ACP round comes out for the M1911 pistol.

But wait a minute, why the Model 3 Schofield?


The Army adopted the Model 3 Schofield and was used by troops at the Battle of the Little Bighorn. I read where General Custer actually used a Webley. Also it should be noted that the effectiveness of the .45 S&W cartridge in battle, and its reputation for shootability and accuracy, led to the duplication of the cartridges' characteristics in the .45 ACP much later.

If the Army thought the .45 round used in the Army's S&W Model 3 Schofield cartridge was an inferior round to the .45 Colt, why did the U.S. Army adopt the inferior round?

Well it appears that Major George Schofield had patented his locking system used on the Schofield revolvers -- and earned a payment on each gun that Smith and Wesson sold. That it itself might not be illegal, but when the Army brass found out that his older brother, John M. Schofield, was the head of the Army Ordnance Board -- well that was not a good thing for Smith&Wesson and the Schofield revolver.

Imagine that! Having your brother on the Board that may approve the purchase of thousands of guns with your patented locking system might be seen as being inappropriate? Some might see it as an "unfair edge" to have your brother on the board approving the purchase of the equipment that you're selling?

While that maybe the case, it's a safe bet to say that's not what really killed the Model 3 Schofield for the Army.

You see despite the official change, old stock of the longer and more potent .45 Colt rounds were still in the supply line. This availability of a proven "man-stoppers" caused the Soldiers to stop using the new Schofields and go with the knock-down power of the .45 Colt Peacemakers.

So between the Soldiers not wanting the Schofields because of the lack of stopping power, and of course the potential scandal regarding the conduct of the Army Ordnance Board, though they did load easier, the U.S. Army ended their purchases of arms from Smith&Wesson.

The .45 S&W Schofield revolver was manufactured from 1875 to 1878 with just under 9000 manufactured. Supposedly, many Schofield revolvers saw service in the Indian Wars. And yes, there are even reports that some of them saw some small use in the Spanish-American War and Philippine-American War.

It is believed that Teddy Roosevelt used a Smith&Wesson .45 Schofield revolver in Cuba with the Rough Riders. As for the Schofield, well after the Spanish American War in 1898 -- the U.S. Army sold off all their surplus Schofield revolvers.

Personally, I can see why Teddy Roosevelt would have used the S&W Model 3 Schofield. It's ease to load, it's reliability, and it's ruggedness really make it a great pistol. But then again, I really believe that the .45 S&W round that it was chambered to use was anemic in comparison to the knockdown power of the .45 Colt.

And frankly, from what I've read about TR, I really don't know if he would want anything anemic in his arsenal. Of course, his choice in 1898 was more powerful than the U.S. Army's standard sidearm in 1898.

The Colt Army & Navy M1892 was the first general issue double-action with a swing-out cylinder revolver used by the U.S. military. Beginning in 1899, there were report from the Philippines campaign regarding the poor performance of the M1892's .38 caliber ammunition and it's lack of stopping power.
So yes, Teddy Roosevelt using a Model 3 Schofield with a .45 S&W round was definitely more stopping power than the anemic rounds the troops were saddled with. Fortunately, the Army would get rid of the completely inadequate .38 and they would end up returning to the .45 soon enough.

As stated before, the U.S. Army adopted the .44 S&W American caliber Smith&Wesson Model 3 revolver in 1870, making the Model 3 revolver the first standard-issue cartridge-firing revolver in US service. Prior to that, most military pistols until that point were black powder cap and ball revolvers.

S&W "New Model" Model 3 ( 1878 to 1915)
In 1877, Smith & Wesson discontinued production of its Model 3 variation's such as the American, Russian, and Schofield in favor a new improved design called the "New Model" Model 3 in 1878. The "New Model" Model 3 was their perfected single action top break revolver. It was smaller and lighter than previous models. And yes, because it was smaller and lighter, it was more concealable.

With the "New Model", Smith & Wesson returned to the original barrel latch system of the Model 3 American. The change is said to have stem mainly from the company's desire to stop paying royalties to George W Schofield.

It was one of the most popular revolver of the later frontier era. In fact, according to records, more Smith & Wesson "New Model" Model 3's were made than Colt Single Action Army pistols during the 19th century. But to be fair to the Peacemaker, the majority sales of the "New Model" went to foreign military contracts.

So why was the Model 3 so popular? 

Well, if one compares the loading procedure of the S&W Model 3 to that of the Colt Peacemaker, you will quickly learn why the Model 3 was a fan favorite of lawman, outlaws, and our military. 



Remember, as today, in the Old West, people wanted the firearm that gave them the best reliability and ease of reloading in a hurry. And while the the Colt was reliable, the Model 3 was a lot easier to reload to get back in the fight. 

In fact, the Model 3 was known to have been the preferred pistol of Jesse James, John Wesley Hardin, Pat Garrett, Virgil Earp, Wyatt Earp, Billy the Kid, and many others. In fact, the Smith &Wesson Model 3 was famously used by Wyatt Earp at the shootout near the OK Corral. 

Wyatt Earp's Model 3 was given to him by the mayor of Tombstone just a few days before the famous gunfight took place. It is believed that Wyatt Earp used a Smith&Wesson "New Model" Model 3 revolver during the OK Corral gunfight.

The Schofield was truly engineered ahead of its time. And while the Army purchased some 9000 Schofields, due to S&W not chambering their product to accommodate the Army, one of America's greatest firearms ceased production. And yes, that is sad indeed.
Above are Schofields offered by Uberti
Now as for some very good news, there are a number of gunmakers today who are again producing the Model 3 Schofield and even the Model 3 Russian. These gunmakers include Uberti, Cimarron, and Beretta. All are dedicated to making a Schofield that will feel like the original except now available in .45 Long Colt.

As for another bit of trivia, in 2002, Smith&Wesson produced and sold a Model 3 Schofield exactly like the one that the Army had asked for back in 1875 in .45 Long Colt. Too bad they were only 127 years late.

Since firing both a Colt Peacemaker and a Model 3 Schofield, it is my humble opinion that is that if Smith&Wesson had accommodated the Army -- the history of the Colt Peacemaker would have been very different, and maybe a lot shorter.

And yes, that's just the way I see it.

Tom Correa