The M1917 revolver has a pretty cool story, and I’ve written about it before. Basically, when the USA entered World War 1, there weren’t enough 1911 pistols, and nobody could gear up to make them fast enough. The solution was to contract the two largest revolver manufacturers in the nation (Colt and Smith & Wesson) to build revolvers chambered for the same ammo as the 1911.
This allowed manufacturers to use their existing tooling to build the guns, so they could make them faster. And interestingly, both the S&W and Colt guns were designated M1917.
While I’m more familiar with the Colt version, the one in this video is a Smith & Wesson. From an operational standpoint, the differences between them are 1) the chambers and 2) the manner in which the cylinder is unlatched.
Just as in more modern revolvers from the two companies, you open a S&W cylinder latch by pushing it forward; on a Colt, you pull it to the rear.
The 45 ACP cartridge is rimless and therefore headspaces on the case rim in a pistol barrel. S&W 1917s function similarly, due to a step machined into each chamber of the cylinder. This is a feature lacked by early Colt versions.
Extracting empty 45 ACP cases from a revolver can be a chore, especially in a dirty gun. They don’t always fall out as they generally do in the video. Moon clips were issued for this purpose; they allow for fast loading and unloading of the gun by keeping 3 or 6 rounds clipped together, and the clip itself is what the revolver’s extractor pushes on to remove spent cases from the cylinder.
I do take issue with the way Alex handles the 1917 in this video; more than once, he opens the cylinder with quite a snap. Dad taught me not to open a cylinder so violently, and if you’ve seen a much-used DA revolver that’s been treated that way, you know why. It will absolutely cause undue wear on the crane and frame, and begin to loosen things up. No bueno.
Anyhow, it’s a pleasure to learn a little history and watch the old wheel gun in action.