The famous ".38 Special" revolver was the Smith & Wesson Model 10 which first appeared in 1899 and went on to see some 6 million produced and used across two World Wars and countless conflicts in between. The weapon was a no-frills design with a solid frame, six-shot capacity cylinder and double-action trigger system. The "double-action" quality signified the cocking and release of the hammer with a single trigger pull as opposed to the manual setting of the hammer prior to each firing seen in a "single-action" design. Beyond its use by US forces, the weapon served other national powers including Australia, Canada, China, France, Norway, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom and others for decades since its inception.
Origins of the Model 10 could be traced back to a US military requirement specifying a centerfire revolver sidearm. Smith & Wesson, the famous gun concern founded in 1852 by Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson, responded with their new offering which was accepted by way of a contract in 1899 - bringing about the Model 1899 "Hand Ejector" legacy, recognized formally to the US military as the ".38 Military and Police" ("M&P"). The revolver was offered with varying barrel lengths measuring 4", 5", 6" and 6.5" long. The M&P was chambered for the .38 Long Colt cartridge until actions during the Philippine-American War (1899-1902) proved the .38 Long Colt generally inadequate for military service. This then gave rise to the .38 S&W Special cartridge to which M&P guns were rechambered for. The cartridge also birthed the popular common name of ".38 Special" which has stood the test of time. The new .38 M&P (Second Model) was introduced in 1902. In 1905, the related S&W Model 1905 was released and production of these alone reached over 637,500 units.
Due to availability and issuance, the revolver was pressed into combat service during World War 1 (1914-1918) and proved itself a reliable and effective weapon despite the rise of semi-automatic types such as the Colt/Browning M1911. Revolvers were still highly valued during the period and more trusted than their semi-automatic brethren. Semi-automatic handguns were relatively new and incorporated more internal parts and movement which led many to consider them not as reliable when compared to the trusty old revolver design. This thinking allowed many revolvers to flourish as standard sidearms of many armies in World War 1 including those of the United States, Britain, France and Russia.
By the time of World War 2 (1939-1945), the semi-automatic sidearm had grown in popularity but large stocks of revolvers led to their continued use. Smith & Wesson continued production of their Hand Ejector line - the Model 10 - throughout the conflict. In 1942, they introduced the S&W Victory Model for military service, these denoted by their "V" prefix serial numbers. Some 570,000 units were manufactured and issued to American forces and allied armies. During the war, the revolver served frontline forces, security elements and partisan units equally as an effective man-stopper at close ranges.
Use of the Model 10 continued in the post-war years dominated by the Cold War decades. This led to their being used in the upcoming Korean War (1950-1953) and the Vietnam War (1955-1975). Despite their late-1800s origins, they were also used in the 1991 Gulf War - a conflict dominated by use of digital equipment and automatic weapon types. The Israeli military even copied the design in a 9x21mm form.
Over its lifetime, the Model 10 was seen with additional barrel lengths as short as 2". These snub-nosed versions were used by Criminal Investigation Division and counterintelligence personnel within the United States and elsewhere. On the whole, the Model 10 proved exceedingly popular in American law enforcement until the wider acceptance of semi-automatic types prevailed.