Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Smith & Wesson Model 15-3



I was going to do a long blog about the S&W Model 15 Combat Masterpiece, but I found several other bloggers have “been there and done that” and they did it very well, so I’ll just paste some links and keep my remarks brief.

The revolver in the photo is a 1971 vintage
S&W Model 15-3, with the typical 4’’ barrel and .38 Special chambering. It is an old “cop gun”; one of many revolvers that some law enforcement agencies chose to trade in during their upgrade to semi-automatic pistols (many agencies chose to have their retired revolvers destroyed). Some agencies marked their service revolvers and some did not. This revolver has no identifying department markings so I have no idea where it served. It has some extraordinary holster wear, especially on the side-plate where it looks like a retention strap’s metal snap dragged every time the officer removed the revolver from its holster. Some of the gun’s bluing still has luster, but large areas along the barrel and trigger guard have been worn down to shiny metal. The grips show wear and are somewhat dry, but are still sound. The action of the gun was tight when I bought it, but some cylinder end-shake has developed because of my putting many +P rounds through it. I may send it in to have the end-shake and cylinder gap corrected, but I think I will leave the gun’s imperfect finish as it is, a testament to its years as a tool of law enforcement. For the $180 I paid for it, it was quite a bargain. I do not see too many of these old trade-ins on the gun store shelves anymore. My guess is that the days of readily finding one for less than $200 are gone. If you can find one for a decent price, they make great shooters and the .38 Special is a very adequate home defense / self-defense cartridge.
Click here to read Xavier’s range comparison of the S&W Model 15-3 Combat Masterpiece versus a Colt Diamondback.

Click here for Xavier’s explanation of what exactly makes The Combat Masterpiece a masterpiece.

EDIT 2/7/2011: CLICK HERE to visit the Fishing Musician and read about the stainless steel version of the Combat Masterpiece, the S&W Model 67

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14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Since the weapon has no identifable markings it may have used for the military. Most Security Policeman in the 70's and 80's carried these as duty weapons. The wear is possibly from turning the weapon in after duty every shift, they were secured in armories and reissued to the user for shift. Many of the wapons were even bought used by the USAF and often but not always stamped with US GOV or USAF and even US NAVY markings because they were carried by Navy pilots.Yet some had no markings at all.Once the military went to the standard grade nato 9mm cartiage weapon these weapons were abandoned or sold at reclomation auctions. I had first hand experience with this as I was a Law Enforcement specialist in the Air Force in the 70's and 80's and carried this very same sidearm. It was one of the best and finest weapons I've ever carried.

James A. Zachary Jr. said...

Thanks for that perspective! Very interesting information.

doyoulikeduckmeat said...

I just recently acquired one of these myself. Mine is nickel plated and was a service revolver also. It was carried by my uncle. He recently passed and I was fortunate to receive his gun collection which contained 23 firearms of all makes and models. Anyways, back to the model 15 the only markings I found on it besides the factory stamps was a serial number stamped on it, and my uncles name was also added to the weapon by the job.

Anonymous said...

I have model 10 that I was told was a Boeing security surplus piece that I bought for $140 about 15 years ago, and while it isn't nearly as nice as a model 15, it's still a wonderful gun (and is in damn fine shape considering it's about 50 years old).

Makes me wish I had bought a couple more of 'em at the time when I had the chance...

Anonymous said...

I have a Model 10 I bought about 15 years ago for $139.99 that I was told was a Boeing surplus piece, and while it's not as nice as a Model 15 it's still a pretty sweet piece that's plenty accurate (and it's still in fine shape even though it's about 50 years old).

glenrushh said...

hello all i just picked up a model 15-3 its a beauty but doesnt have original grips. i paid 300 for it and have always liked the style. its a keeper for me, i am gonna try to find some original grips. i wanted to check info on s&w site they want 50 bucks to research i guess by serial number i am thinking about it.

Anonymous said...

I love the S&W revolvers, just today I was out target shooting with my model 64 and just a word of advice DO NOT buy reloaded ammo from unknown scources (yard sales, swap meets etc)After firing 4 rounds today with reloaded ammo in my model 64 I heard a rather dull pop, seems one of the rounds had either no gun powder or very little gun powder, the bullet stuck inside the barrel, I used a screw driver and a hammer to tap the bullet out ! Thank God I was not using this weapon for self-defence as I would probably be dead by now ! So my words of advice DO NOT use reloads or very cheap ammo especially for self-defence and also NEVER EVER shoot out a plugged barrel !

Anonymous said...

Yes, these were used for law enforcement. In 1975 I bought one of these new for that use. That was the style of gun used back then. I sold it in 1980, as I was not in the force then. My wife said it had to go as we were starting a family, and sure didn't want that sitting around, or found when the kids got old enough to start snooping around. I sold it to my brother in law, and this past week, he brought it back to me and I bought it back. My wife said that you never know when you might need it as home invasions are not something I would like to deal with. It came in its original box and also the tools that came with it when I bought it from the store, new. It looks just the same way I sold it to him over 30 years ago. I am happy. :)

Anonymous said...

I was an officer in the U.S. Secret Service Uniformed Division. The S&W Model 15, with a 4" barrel was our issued sidearm. I never developed the love that some have for the 1911 while I was in the military, but I absolutely loved my Model 15. We carried 6 in the cylinder and two speedloaders on our duty belt for a grand total of 18 rounds. When we transitioned to the Sig Sauer P226, and ultimately to the P229 in .357 SIG, I was happy to get 12+1 without a reload. The first thing I noticed going from the Model 15 to the Sig was my range scores dropped. Apparently this was a common issue, and many of us wondered why we were not as accurate as we had been with the wheel guns. I don't know the answer, but I think it was a combination of the quality and balance in the Model 15, and that wheel guns just keep you honest when it comes to shooting and reloading under pressure.

I recently bought at Model 15-3 for $295. It was a police trade in, and I absolutely love having one again. I am happy carrying my P229, but now I can shoot my Model 15 when I feel nostalgic.

MSgt John DeLallo said...

I carried one of these fine wheel guns in the Air Force during the Vietnam War. After I retired, long after, I came across one new in box and never fired. Manufacture date is 1974, and it still had the original price tag of $125.00. I bought it around 2007 for $450.00, and its still new in original box, never fired. Likely one of the finest Smith and Wesson wheelguns ever produced, and I own plenty of Smith revolvers.

Anonymous said...

I had the pleasure of pruchasing my s&w 15 right from a US marshal I knew him for about 10 yyears and he knew that his gun would be going to a good home I got this for $125 which I could not pass up just for the sake it was a U.S.Marshalls peice I was even contemplating having his U S Marshalls status and name on it but have not sine it might detract from the value Iam not sure what this would be worth if you would know please reply
thanks rich

Gatofeo said...

I carried a Model 15 in the Air Force as a Security Policeman (Law Enforcement Specialist). Absolutely loved it. Qualified expert with it, but could barely qualify with the M16.
I joked to the rangemaster one day that, given 10 rounds for each, I could put more hits on a silhouette target with my .38 than my M16, at 100 yards. He said, "You're on!"
I put 7 well within the silhouette with my .38, and 5 with the M16. And I didn't cheat, either!
Magnificent revolver. I just won the bid on a 1964 like-new Model 15-3, nickel plated, on the net. Looking forward to refamiliarizing myself with it, and the nickel plating will make it easier to clean -- as well as add a little panache.
Now, I'm thinking of getting faux ivory grips for it, and having a Security Police badge scrimshawed in the right grip panel.
The Model 15 will be a wonderful desert-walkabou gun.

Gatofeo in Utah said...

I was a USAF Security Policeman (Law Enforcement Specialist) from 1975 to 1979. Every S&W Model 15 I saw was marked USAF on the left side of the frame, above the trigger.
It was a magnificent weapoon: light, reliable, wonderfully accurate, easily cleaned and maintained. It's only fault was the woefully weak military loads issued for it: 130 grain full metal jacket bullet at 750-800 fps or so. The 148 gr. wadcutters we qualified with had more knock-down than the service loads.
How weak was the service load? A sergeant told me that he fired upon a fleeing vehicle in the Phiilippines. He hit it four times, as I recall, and all bullets bounced off the trunk or rear window.
Another sergeant told me that he shot an NVA soldier at close range, twice in the chest, and the man still began raising his SKS. A third bullet in the face brought him down.
After that experience, the sergeant told me, he had a relative in the states send him a few boxes of reloads with a lead, semiwadcutter bullet loaded more powerfully. He didn't say how that worked; probably never got another chance to use it.
Heck of a thing to tell a young airman, though! "That load you're carrying ... upon which you depend to save your life ... it's no good."
Bad judgment on his part, if you ask me.
Speer once made a 150 gr. full metal jacket roundnosed bullet +P load. I bought a box in the mid 1970s. That's the load we should have carried.
But the platform itself, the M15, was a wonderful weapon. Everyone shot it well, and loved it. The 9mm that replaced it was more powerful, carried more rounds and was a wee bit faster to reload (though speedloaders make this point moot).
The M15 was issued to rear-line personnel in the first Gulf War. This was probably it's swan song. A military doctor told me he was issued one in Kuwait at an aid station, and liked it. He got a box of 50 cartridges with it.
I've since read that all those wonderful Model 15s were crushed and sold for scrap metal. A crime!
They should have been offered to the public, and Uncle Sam could have made some money on the side.
It was an undignified end to a weapon that served American forces well from 1962 to the early 1990s.

JeepJeep said...

I just picked one up for $150! a little rough shape but really not that bad, maybe a little touch up here and there but for that price, im not complaning.