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The Smith & Wesson Model 29 "Tunnel Gun"

Discussion in 'Handguns: Revolvers' started by rswartsell, Mar 23, 2010.

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  1. rswartsell

    rswartsell Member

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    RSWtunnelgun.jpg

    http://www.barthworks.com/military/guns/guns&wtunnelgun.htm

    I was looking for information about use of the S&W Model 15 in Vietnam. I saw a few there, as well as post war in some USAF applications. Then I stumbled across the posted reference to this little gem. It fired a specially designed shot cartridge, good toy for tunnel rats and something of an oddball in S&W history.

    Ever seen anything like this before, or do you know anything about Mod 15 use in Vietnam?
     
  2. rcmodel

    rcmodel Member in memoriam

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    It was not a .44 Magnum. And S&W didn't make them.
    Only based on the Model 29.
    It used a goofy .40/10mm cal round with a primer system that didn't work so hot in initial tests.

    Somebody somewhere might have seen or used one, but there were never enough of them made to be a standard issue item for tunnel rats, or anyone else.

    http://www.gunslot.com/pictures/smi...ial-purpose-revolver-qspr-tunnel-revolver-usa

    rc
     
  3. thunder173

    thunder173 Member

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    Went into a few of those holes. Never saw anything like that. We used either a Model 10 S&W 4" in 38 Spec,...or an issue 1911 in .45,..as anything bigger/badder and you'd be hurting if you used it. Even .38's and 45 ACP will ring your bell for a while when popped off in a tunnel. Pop a frag or two,...then if need be,..into the hole. Being skinny, young and stupid turned out to be not to my advantage. At one time, higher wanted us to use CS first,...but I never developed a taste for the stuff myself though,...and prefered not wearing a protective mask. The last thing I'd want would be bird shot rounds of any shot light enough to be used even in a 44 casing. just my .02..........
     
  4. RevolvingGarbage

    RevolvingGarbage Member

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  5. Oro

    Oro Member

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    The only widespread use of the 15 I know of was with the Air Force. They had adopted it as a sidearm prior to the war. Air crews had them in their squadron equipment rooms; pilots and other crew would take one with his survival gear when preparing for a mission. They were also in base armories for the base security forces.

    As an anecdote, I was recently reading Palace Cobra by Ed Rasimus - an outstanding combat memoir. He flew two tours in Vietnam, one in '66-'67 as a Thud pilot out of Korat RTAFB during Rolling Thunder (now that's not a healthy business to have been in!). They all used S&W 15s ("Combat Masterpieces") at that time. He returned in '72-'73 as an Phantom pilot, also at Korat. He commented at one point offhandedly that that the squadron weapons collection had grown a little more diverse by then, with the Combat Masterpieces supplement with some 1911a1s, S&W 29s, and even a Colt SAA in the mix. Most pilots still carried and used the "official" sidearm, which was the S&W 15.
     
    Last edited: Mar 24, 2010
  6. rswartsell

    rswartsell Member

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    rc,

    I didn't think it was .44 mag, nor did I think it was successful. The idea of incorporating a piston in the cartridge for sound and blast suppression was innovative and perhaps goofy also. Still an interesting oddity.

    Oro,

    That fits with what I saw as an 18 yr old weather spec. I was reading a book "The Element of Surprise" by a Navy Seal named Darryl Young. It's a rough memoir of his experience with the brown water Navy in the Mekong delta. He writes of his chosen armament being a Stoner light mg and a Model 15. I was trying to find any reference of Navy use of the 15 and came up empty. The 15 wouldn't be a bad choice, I think it's a fine revolver. A bit odd to chose it over the Mod 10 when getting muddy though.
     
  7. Oro

    Oro Member

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    Keep in mind, he's a Navy Seal. Also, it was Vietnam then and not Iraq now - the rules were looser in both cases about personal weapons. He could have traded a 1911 for it with a pilot when playing poker at a FOB or somewhere. There was a lot of interaction with many AF and Army pilots and special operations folks as they would fly them around and evac them, also the FACs who would operate out of the same bases and cover them in the field. Bottom line is there were a lot of S&W 15s floating around the theater. I recall reading the story either here or another forum of an infantry officer whose company found a downed C-130. All of the air crew were dead. They disarmed the aircraft and prepared the bodies for retrieval. He kept one of the S&W 15s as a personal sidearm.

    Or the Seal in question could have acquired it privately. As a Seal, he would have had easy access to a Victory model, a functional equivalent in most respects - but personally as a carry weapon I would prefer the 15, too. I find the sight picture quicker and more intuitive with the S&W adjustable sights than the fixed sights. Among the US handguns readily floating about the theater - the 1911's, Victories, and S&W 15s, the 15 would likely be the most inherently accurate and with the best sights, so it's not surprising why someone would opt for that.
     
  8. Confederate

    Confederate Member

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    When I see guns like that, it really makes me wonder why someone would butcher a gun like that. There comes a time when one reaches what my old economics professor called a point of diminishing marginal return. You can saw only so much off a barrel before you may as well not have one.

    The only exception is if you really want a flame thrower that packs a bullet! In a tunnel, I'd prefer flame and firepower over anything else.
     
  9. rswartsell

    rswartsell Member

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    Confederate,

    I get your point, but to REALLY understand the innovation (or goofyness if you will) of this SYSTEM not just the butchered Mod 29, read the links and see the elaborate completely outside the box cartridge it was designed for, as rcmodel correctly observed Smith and Wesson had nothing to do with it other than providing the body for the Dr. Frankensteins at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds or Huntsville or wherever.

    It's kind of like those 8 wing airplanes or gyrocopters that shook themselves to pieces on the road to developing fully functional aircraft. I would be willing to bet that a surviving copy (of the maximum 250 built, possibly as few as 25!) would be worth a fortune to S&W or oddball collectors.

    Thanks Oro,

    Helps me put the 15 in perspective. I hunted down a 15 for a friend recently and was so enamored with it I am shopping for one for my collection. A truly fine revolver.
     
  10. rswartsell

    rswartsell Member

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    p.s. thunder173,

    Thanks for your service! Brass balls my friend.
     
  11. rswartsell

    rswartsell Member

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    OK. my error was calling it a good toy for tunnel rats. It clearly wasn't. Mea culpa.
     
  12. Vern Humphrey

    Vern Humphrey Member

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    Smith and Wesson Model 15s and other .38 Special revolvers were issued to Army helicopter pilots and crews. Revolvers did not fare well in Viet Nam, where the humidity and general conditions quickly reduced them to junk.
     
  13. amd6547

    amd6547 Member

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    On the S&W forum, I have read several accounts by veterans that would disagree with that statement.
    The Victory model 10's seemed to survive the salt-water Pacific war OK.
     
  14. rmfnla

    rmfnla Member

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    Maybe that's where Taurus got the idea for "The Judge" .410 revolvers?

    Probably not.
     
  15. Vern Humphrey

    Vern Humphrey Member

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    How many of them actually took .38 revolvers into the jungle for extended periods?
     
  16. Hardballing

    Hardballing Member

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    IIRC, Guns and Ammo mag years ago did an article on the Smith 29 "tunnel rat" guns. Made a big deal of them, specs from Smith, antecdotal memory or three, etc.

    The letters they got in response condemning the things were hilarious. Most were admitting using the 1911a1 as tunnel duty.

    Memory could be wrong of course but Smith does do some goofy things in wartime (and some not so goofy things too). For an example of the former, do a Google search on "Smith & Wesson Light Rifle; WW2". :)
     
  17. rcmodel

    rcmodel Member in memoriam

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    As already stated, S&W didn't have a thing to do with it, except make the Model 29 .44 Magnums that were butchered by somebody else.

    The weapon concept was developed at US Army Land Warfare Laboratory at Aberdeen Proving Ground, in collaboration with AAI corporation. (Aircraft Armaments, Inc)

    rc
     
  18. Oro

    Oro Member

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    More than you would think. I know one person who was on the division armory staff for the 101st c. 1967/68. He carried personally and the staff supported a number of various S&W models for troops. They worked just as well as any other gun in the theater. I've read nor heard no one who actually used them in combat call them "junk."
     
  19. Vern Humphrey

    Vern Humphrey Member

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    Division staff is one thing, serving in a rifle company is another.
     
  20. amd6547

    amd6547 Member

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  21. wcwhitey

    wcwhitey Member

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    The SEALS had an early tradition of liking revolvers. At one point S&W model 66's were used by a few. In my Navy days I did not see a Model 15 in the armory which was pretty much all Korea and early Vietnam vintage (1911, M14, M1 Garand). A bunch of Victory Models, Model 10's and Ruger Service Six's for the gate guards were present. Again Special Operations has a good deal of latitude when it comes to weapons. That would be my guess!
     
  22. Manco

    Manco Member

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  23. rswartsell

    rswartsell Member

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    mcwhitey,

    Out of that armory I would have been tempted toward the 15 myself. If you have never handled one, its a damn fine revolver. With daily attention I have no doubt it would do well "in country".

    p.s. the caveat is "daily attention" I have no doubt that would be wise too if "getting muddy".
     
    Last edited: Mar 25, 2010
  24. MCgunner

    MCgunner Member

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    That thing looks deformed.

    Now, THAT'S pretty classy. :D
     
  25. joe_security

    joe_security Member

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    As a youth, I read a hard cover book about the tunnel rats. I no longer own the book so I cant quote the name and author. (Military Book Club) The latin moto: "Non gratas ratonas" ? was mentioned. (Not worth a rats ass) ? The book had black and white photos. The book mentioned two guys working through, staying far enough apart that grenades would not take out both men. Also mentioned was the fact that they found the 1911 deafening in the tunnels, and prefered 22LR revolvers, one for each man. The prefered technique was to have each man fire only 3 rounds from the .22, then trade revolvers so the guy in the rear would reload the spent 3 rounds and then trade back. The theory was to have the front man never caught with an empty gun when a threat presented. I wish I had kept that book !
     
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