The "United States Revolver, Caliber .45, M1917" was produced to fill a gap in the availability of the M1911 .45 automatic pistol, then the standard U.S. Army pistol. Colt and Remington were producing the M1911 at capacity, along with many other military arms, when the need for more pistols for World War I became urgent. Production of the M1911 could not meet all requirements, so orders were placed with both Colt and Smith & Wesson for a heavy frame revolver that would be compatible with the .45 ACP cartridge used by the M1911 automatic.
The revolvers chosen by the U.S. Army were the Colt New Service and the S&W Hand Ejector pistols, both being produced at the time for the British .455 Webley cartridge, to be modified for the .45 ACP. Designated the "United States Revolver, Caliber .45, M1917" for both weapons, Colt and S&W each delivered over 150,000 pistols to the U.S. Government.
The M1917 pistols were standard issue for all U.S. forces during World War I and up until World War II. The vastly greater number of troops and increased production of the M1911A1 automatic relegated the revolver to use by Military Police and security personnel during the war. They were phased out afterward, replaced by the M1911A1 in most roles.
Characteristics of the M1917 Revolvers
The M1917 revolvers are conventional design six-round double-action revolvers with swing-out cylinders. They were issued in various barrel lengths from two inches to six inches. Half-moon stamped metal clips (photo, left) were used to grip the rimless .45 ACP cartridges, primarily so they could be extracted in groups.
The Smith & Wesson Model 1917 was adapted from the Second Model .44 Hand Ejector, chambered and re-barreled for .45 ACP and with the cylinder slightly shortened to allow for the half-moon clips. A shoulder was machined into the cylinder to allow cartridges to be easily removed without the half-moon clips, a distinguishing feature vs. the Colt New Service based M1917.
The butt end has a lanyard ring in the center and the pistols were marked there with "US Army Model 1917- No. xxxx". "United States Property" is stamped on the bottom of the barrel or top of receiver.
The revolvers were originally blued, with plain walnut grips. Many M1917 revolvers were rebuilt during and after World War II. These may have a parkerized finish that was applied during arsenal rebuild or under a refurbish contract with the manufacturer.
The Field Manual is FM 23-35, Pistols and Revolvers.