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1917 vis Victory model hammer block safety?

Discussion in 'Firearms Research' started by rcmodel, May 16, 2011.

  1. rcmodel

    rcmodel Member in memoriam

    I'm having a hard time getting my head around this one.

    Everyone is aware of the WWII sailer killed when he dropped a S&W .38 Spl revolver on a ships deck and it fired, killing him.

    That resulted in a quasi-panic over S&W drop safety, and the resulting redesign and modification of thousands of .38 Spl S&W Victory revolvers to include the new hammer block safety bar.

    By wars end, the drop safety bar was included in every new S&W made from then on, including the last of the commercial 1917's made from left-over parts after the war.

    My problem is with the orginial GI issue S&W 1917.
    It was made from 1917 until 1946.
    And the first 185,000 out of the total 209,791 production did not have a hammer block safety.
    And none in inventory that I know of were later modified to include one, as was done with all .38 Victory models still in inventory.

    I also never heard of a rash of dead solders killed from dropping loaded 1917's during WWI, WWII, or the period in between?

    I understand that the 1917 was obsolete by the time the Victory model accident happened, but they were still being issued in limited numbers, even after the WWII accident.
    My dad carried one in the Philippines during WWII as a Navy Seabee door-gunner on a road grader!

    Anyone know why the 1917 never had the reputation of being an accident waiting to happen that the pre-hammer block Victory model M&P had?

  2. dprice3844444

    dprice3844444 member

    ground forces were smarter than the squids
  3. rcmodel

    rcmodel Member in memoriam

    I don't know about that!
    I was an 11-Bravo ground pounder for 8 years.
    And I often thought those Navy guys were way smarter then I was.

    Sleeping in a dry bunk instead of a muddy hole.
    With a steel roof over their heads instead of a leaky poncho.
    And eating hot steak & eggs for breakfast instead of cold c-rats?

    Seems smarter to me then me!

  4. deadin

    deadin Well-Known Member

    Maybe the ground pounders coudn't find a steel deck to drop them on...:evil:

    MMCSRET Well-Known Member

    RC: I spent 23+ years walking those steel decks and I never heard the story, must have been one of those Atlantic Fleet pollywogs, their ocean is so small they never loose sight of land.
    I do know the story of the Ensign on board the DD in Long beach California that was Weapons dep't duty officer and was in the armory(small steel room below decks) inspecting duty weapons. He racked the slide on the old Ithaca 1911, them dropped the magazine out and then pulled the trigger and then said out loud "OH S***". and wished he had a place to hide. He got away intact with loss of hearing and was designated pay grade 0-1(Ensign) for the rest of his military obligation.
    How come we didn't get a magazine disconnect in all the 1911A1s the next week?
  6. Radagast

    Radagast Well-Known Member

    Quarter of a million victory models, one known fatality. Only a small percentage of guns retrofitted with the hammer block.

    185,000 Model of 1917, no known fatalities. Or maybe the one fatality in a quarter of a million guns occurred in Brazil, who also issued the M1917.

    Basically the chances of it occurring are slim to none, but there is still a chance, so I warn anyone asking about an old gun and tell them to load five instead of six. That way they can't become the one example that balances out the statistics for the two models.
    Last edited: May 19, 2011
  7. Jim K

    Jim K Well-Known Member

    It is often overlooked that S&W's DID have a hammer block safety at the time of the Victory Model fatality. But it was not of the "positive" type, meaning it was dependent on functioning on a spring (it was its own spring) and apparently either stuck due to dirt or grease, or the spring broke in the gun in question. The new type is positive; it must engage or the trigger can't move forward.

    S&W used three types of hammer block safety. The first was put into the M&P line in 1915, but was not put into the Model 1917. It had a plunger pushed back by the hand which in turn forced the hammer block sideways into the sideplate. The second type dated from about 1926; the plunger and spring were eliminated and the hammer block pushed out of the way by a ramp on the hand. That was the type that failed in the fatality.

    Contrary to what has been written, S&W has always used a hammer block; they have never used a transfer bar. While there are advantages to the transfer bar, one disadvantage is that it is subjected to a blow every time the gun is fired, and transfer bars are known to break, making the gun inoperable. A hammer block safety, on the other hand, is never normally struck by the hammer. If it is, it is only after some severe failure of other parts, such as a crushed rebound slide or a blow hard enough to distort the frame.

  8. Radagast

    Radagast Well-Known Member

    I've had two crushed rebound slides out of six Smith & Wessons, so maybe a transfer bar would be a better idea. :)
    Was the 1926 hammer block retrofitted to the Model 1917s that S&W was still assembling, or to the new manufacture Model 1917s for Brazil?
  9. Jim K

    Jim K Well-Known Member

    Two crushed rebound slides? How did that happen? The hammerblock safety will still work, though. S&W tested it to the point of shearing the hammer pin and distorting the frame, as well as crushing the rebound slide. But that is deliberate destruction, with heavy blows just about inconceivable in anything like normal use.

    I don't know when S&W began to put the second type hammer block safety into their Model 1917, but I think it was post-WWI. My Brazil contract gun has it, even though it is/was originally GI, with Army inspectors marks. They didn't put the third type into anything but the M&P until after WWII.

  10. Radagast

    Radagast Well-Known Member

    MIM parts, _lots_ of dryfire. No other damage done, quickly swapped out at the local S&W distributor and I was back in action. One was a Modfel 66, the other a Model 60. Both pre-lock with frame mounted firing pins.
  11. Slamfire

    Slamfire Well-Known Member

    The absence of records indicates nothing more than an absence of records.

    Pre Internet databases are on paper, not necessarily consolidated, and probably dumped decades ago.

    The military services are particularly sensitive to public criticism, they do not broadcast to the world, “hey we had another accidental shooting!”. Rule Number Two of the Government is to minimize scandal.

    To find any records of accidents would take real effort. Even today, it takes a lot of searching to find a data base of military negligent shootings. I found one on Navy shootings, did not bookmark it, never found it again. Some incidents were quite funny, guys playing quick draw and shooting each other.

    Because these events are just beyond living human memory, there is no one around who remembers anyone having negligent discharges with these revolvers and given the lack of written documents, one can make the incorrect assumption that such things did not happen.

    The fact that S&W changed the lockworks on these mechanisms indicates that accidental discharges were happening or S&W would not have bothered making a change.
    Last edited: May 27, 2011
  12. Jim K

    Jim K Well-Known Member

    Hi, Radagast, it is not that I don't believe you, but I don't understand how a rebound slide could be crushed in normal use, even in dry fire, even if it is MIM and even if the revolver is fired or dry fired thousands of times. In normal use, the hammer falling does not even touch the rebound slide; it serves only to cam the hammer back when the trigger is released. I wonder if you got any pictures.

  13. Radagast

    Radagast Well-Known Member

    G'day Jim. First, my bad, I've just looked up the schematic, it was the hammer block that failed, the top section was crushed so that the metal had flattened out to the sides. No pics, this occurred, IIRC in 2002, about six months apart on the two guns. The same part failed on both after tens of thousands of dry fires. Each time I took them into the Australian S&W distributor (at the time he was in the same club as me) he replaced the parts under warranty and showed me the damaged part. Both guns are long gone, these days I have a Model 66 & a Model 18 from the 70s with no problems. My fathers 617 is a post lock gun with thousands of rounds through itover six years, so far no problems.
  14. Jim K

    Jim K Well-Known Member

    Hi, Radagast, I am now really confused. Are you SURE the guns were S&W's and not, say, Rugers with transfer bars.

    The S&W hammer block is never hit by the hammer or anything else and there is no way it can be flattened by anything unless there is some serious damage to the revolver. It is pulled down out of the way by the rebound slide and is completely out of the way when the hammer falls. It really does nothing but ride up and down in its slot, moved by the little stud on the rebound slide.

  15. Slamfire

    Slamfire Well-Known Member

    Attached are pictures of the lockworks of a Victory Model S&W




    I believe this hammer blocking mechanism was replaced for several reasons.

    By examination you can see that a spring is part of the blocking mechanism.
    I have no doubt that dirt or grease could block the function of this spring. A badly tempered spring made out of defective material could break without disabling the firing function of the pistol. A worn spring or cylinder hand surface would also create the conditions for an over ride. “Fail Safe” is a design criteria followed by most modern designs, this mechanism can “fail unsafe”.

    When the transfer bar broke on my Ruger SuperBlack Hawk, it "failed safe". The revolver could not be fired as the hammer does not ever touch the firing pin. It was aggravating as that ended my range day with it , but from a safety viewpoint, I certainly was not going to have an accidental discharge.

    I do not a picture of the lockworks of my M1917 but I believe it relied on the rebound block to prevent the hammer from going forward.
  16. rcmodel

    rcmodel Member in memoriam

    Good info slamfire1.

  17. Jim K

    Jim K Well-Known Member

    Excellent photos, Slamfire1! That is the second type S&W hammer block and, as can be seen, the rear ramp on the hand pushes in on the tab of the block to move it back into the sideplate. And you gave a very good summary of the problem with it; it simply is not "positive" but depends on its integral spring. That is why Colt bragged about theiir hammer block safety, which was "positive"; they even used that term in the names of their revolvers - "Pocket Positive", "Police Positive" and so on.

    As for the Ruger transfer bar failure, look at it the other way. True, it "failed safe" so the gun could not fire if dropped accidentally. But that also meant the gun was out of action, and in a serious situation, that could get the user killed. While a Ruger SBH would not likely be used for personal defense or by security personnel, Ruger uses the transfer bar in its DA revolvers as well, and if it fails in one type of gun, it can fail in others.

    The S&W rebound slide can act as a hammer block, but that was never its purpose. In break top revolvers, the firing pin remained in the primer when the last shot was fired. But the gun could still be opened, since the upward movement of the cartridge cammed the hammer back. With a swing cylinder revolver, if the firing pin remains in the primer, the cylinder cannot be opened to reload. That is why swing cylinder revolvers have to have a mechanism to "rebound" the hammer, that is to move the hammer back and the firing pin out of the primer when the trigger is released. There have been several ways to do that, the S&W rebound slide is one way and works well.

    But a hard enough blow on the hammer can crush the rebound slide, shear the hammer pin, or even bend the frame enough to allow the firing pin to contact the primer. The hammer block is designed to prevent that contact even under the most catastrophic conditions. But except under those conditions, it is never touched by the hammer, is not pounded or battered, and won't break.

  18. Radagast

    Radagast Well-Known Member

    G'day Jim. Definitely S&Ws. I am obviously not a gunsmith, but looking at the schematic the hammer block is the part that matches my memory. Looking in the the gap between the hammer and firing pin, as I cock the gun there is a part that slides down, the visible section being an inverted L shape This is the hammer block I believe. On my current guns it operates freely. On the guns that broke I noticed that when I shook the gun it would move up and down within the works. I'm pretty sure it was the short leg of the L that looked crushed. It's been 9 years. Maybe it was the botton section that broke off?
    Next time I go into Grycol (S&W importer) I'll see if Stuart remembers and can give me the exact details of what went wrong. and if he does I'll come back to this thread.
    It'll probably be a necrothread by then as my current guns aren't broke. I've had 5 months off work after breaking my back, so I won't be buying any new ones for a while either.
    A 686SSR was going to be my christmas present to myself last year. *sigh* Maybe this year.
  19. Slamfire

    Slamfire Well-Known Member

    It is a trade off.

    The do or die elite combat types want "Combat Over rides" on every safety switch. These guys expect to be shot up and don't want a safety mechanism shutting down their hardware.

    Such attitudes keep Safety Engineers up at night. :uhoh:
  20. Jim K

    Jim K Well-Known Member

    Hi, Radagast,

    Sorry to hear of your injury, and I hope you are better soon.

    Hi, SlamFire1,

    I don't think I am a "elite combat type", and I do not play "combat" games. But if I carry a gun I do not do so for fun, or because it makes me feel macho. If I need that gun, I want it to work. Your idea of "fail safe" might be fine on the range or in some theoretical engineering class but by your standard all guns should be made not to fire so they will be safe.


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