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Terminology

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Pistols

Canada employed a variety of military service pistols (handguns) throughout the 20th Century, some of which were acquired in relatively small numbers either as wartime expedients or for special purposes. With one exception (the MkVI Webley revolver,) the only handguns detailed here are "primary" issue martial side-arms officially utilized by the Canadian Army during the 20th Century. "Primary", in this context, is a somewhat relative term: for example, despite the comparatively small quantities of Boer War-era pistols, I am of the view that those models nevertheless qualify for this category, when considered in light of the number of Canadian troops engaged and the fact that these were the only "issue" handguns at that time. On the other hand, during the Second World War (and subsequently) several handgun models, which are not covered in detail here, were acquired in various quantities numbering up to the low thousands in more than one case; however, when compared with the very much larger numbers of "primary" pistols in service at the time, they truly remain "secondary" weapons.1

 


Preliminary Notes

  • Many people are not aware that, unlike our history of military longarms, Canada has never adopted any British pistol as a primary-issue military sidearm! Despite the common use of Webley, Enfield, and other British-made handguns throughout the British Empire and Commonwealth during the past 150 years or so, Canada's official military handguns - starting with the Colt 1851 "Navy" model cap-and-ball revolvers acquired in 1855 for issue to Militia Cavalry Troops - have always originated in the United States, with the exception of the "home-grown" Inglis High Power - and even it was designed primarily by John M. Browning.

  • Keep in mind that pistols are not wide-scale-issue firearms in the military. They are primarily an Officers' weapon, though also commonly issued to certain Other Ranks in specialized roles, who are deemed to require a firearm but for whom a rifle would be inappropriate, such as cavalry troopers, dispatch riders, armoured vehicle crews, and so on.

  • Officers were traditionally expected to provide their own kit (including personal sidearms) at their own expense, a state of affairs which continued through the First World War; even during the Second, it remained an option for Commissioned Officers to carry privately-purchased sidearms. Accordingly, a wide variety of pistols were carried; however, to maintain necessary military standardization, it was a requirement that they be chambered for approved service ammunition. During the First World War at least, many officers purchased their pistols from the "official models" in Government stores, and the great majority of Second World War officers settled for "issue" sidearms.

Colt Model 1878 Revolver

This was Canada's official military-issue handgun at the beginning of the Twentieth Century. A rather curious quantity of 1001 of these pistols had been hastily purchased in early 1885 to arm the military forces mobilized to deal with the North West Rebellion. No other pistol having been acquired by the Department of Militia and Defence since that date, this model was also the first handgun to go to war with Canadian Troops in the new century. It was issued to appropriate members of the First Contingent of the Canadian Special Service Force dispatched to South Africa in late 1899 for service during the Second Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902).

Configuration of Canadian-issue arms: Double-action revolver; nickel-plated finish; cast black grips; 7.5" barrel; chambered for the .45 Colt cartridge; 6 round capacity; fixed cylinder, with loading and extraction through a "gate" in the recoil shield on right side. In service 1885-1902.

(Webmaster's note: According to the Canadian War Museum, the usefulness of the pistol in South Africa was debatable. Lieutenant Colonel Lessard of the Royal Canadian Dragoons considered the weapon an unnecessary burden for the mounted infantryman, and had theirs returned to stores, while Lieutenant Colonel T.D.B. Evans of the Canadian Mounted Rifles considered the weapons quite useful, especially for scouting and house searches.)

Colt "New Service" Revolver

The next official military pistol acquired by Canada, to equip the Second Contingent sent for Boer War service, was also a Colt product, this particular model having been introduced by the company in 1898. A total of 943 were acquired.

Configuration of Canadian-issue arms: Double-action revolver; blued finish; cast black grips; 5.5" barrel; chambered for .45 Colt cartridge; 6 round capacity; cylinder swings out to left side for loading and extraction. In service 1900-1928. (The Colt New Service Revolver - chambered in .455 Eley - was also adopted as the official sidearm of the RNWMP in 1904, remaining in service with the Force until 1954.)

Colt Model 1911 Pistol

With the outbreak of the First World War Canada's military again found itself ill-equipped. The pistols acquired for the First Contingent of the Canadian Expeditionary Force were once more obtained from Colt: this time, the handgun adopted was that company's "state-of-the-art" Model 1911 semi-automatic pistol. A total of 5000 were acquired, all coming from Colt's 1914 "Commercial" production and thus having a beautiful high-polish "oven-blue" finish, with finely checkered walnut grips. (The example shown here was the personal sidearm of Maj. W.A. Mitchell, Canadian Army Service Corps, Officer Commanding No. 5 Company, 2nd Divisional Train, C.E.F. It was purchased from him in 1942 by newly-commissioned Lieut. K. B. Knox, from whom the author acquired it in 2002.)

Configuration of Canadian-issue arms: Self-loading ("semi-automatic") pistol; blued finish; walnut grips; 5" barrel; chambered for .45ACP cartridge; detachable magazine with 7-round capacity. In service 1914-1945. (Note: the "two-tone finish" of the magazine shown above is "correct" and was not caused by wear - it resulted from a heat-treatment process applied to the upper part of M1911 magazines manufactured at that time.)

Smith & Wesson 2nd Model "Hand Ejector" Revolver

All further official-issue pistols purchased for Canadian WWI service were this model of revolver (also referred to as the "New Century" model) chambered for the British .455 service cartridge. [Note: in the beginning, Smith & Wesson actually supplied, and Canada accepted, a number of "First Model" (or "Triple Lock") Hand Ejector revolvers.] A total of 14,500 S&W Hand Ejectors were acquired in 1915 and 1916, which makes this model Canada's primary Great War handgun. It was also designated a "substitute standard" sidearm by the British War Department, which acquired thousands of them to supplement inadequate supplies of the official Webley revolver (discussed below). (The example of S&W Hand ejector shown, though it has no Canadian acceptance or ownership stamps or proofmarks, is documented as having been shipped by Smith & Wesson on December 24, 1915, to "Canadian Government, Ottawa, Canada". The lack of official markings would suggest that it was purchased from the government by an Officer.)

Configuration of Canadian-issue arms: Double-action revolver; blued finish; walnut grips; 6.5" barrel; chambered for .455 British service cartridge; 6-round capacity; cylinder swings out to left side for loading and extraction. In service 1915-1951.

Webley Mark VI Revolver

This pistol is the "exception" mentioned in the introduction. As already indicated, Webley revolvers have never been primary issue Canadian sidearms. The Mk VI Webley was the final version (adopted in 1915) of a line of robust .455 revolvers which had been the official pistols of the British Army since 1887, and it was accordingly a popular choice for private purchase by Officers serving in the Canadian Expeditionary Force. Webley revolvers were also issued to Other Ranks in Canadian Units serving under British Lines of Communication. (This example was the personal sidearm of Lieut. S. W Seago, who sailed in 1916 with the 125th Battalion, but was serving with the 116th Battalion when he was wounded on August 8, 1918, the first day of the Canadian breakout during the Amiens Offensive, which began what became known as "Canada's Hundred Days", leading up to the Armistice.)

Configuration: Double-action revolver; blued finish; cast black grips; 6" barrel; chambered for .455 British service cartridge; 6-round capacity; top-break for loading and extraction.

Smith & Wesson "Military & Police" Revolver

In 1932, the British Army adopted a lighter top-break revolver - the Enfield No.2 Mk I - chambered for the new .380/200 service cartridge (a military loading of the .38 Smith & Wesson employing a somewhat heavier 200 grain bullet). During the 1930's, the fledgling RCAF obtained 585 of these British pistols, but with the outbreak of WWII, Canada elected to adopt the Smith & Wesson "Military & Police" model revolver (in effect, a lighter version of the "Hand Ejector") which, in .38S&W chambering, would accommodate the standard .380/200 British service cartridge. Over 118,000 of these revolvers were purchased from 1939 through 1943.

Configuration of Canadian-issue arms: Double-action revolver, ranged from early acquisitions with commercial polished blue finish and checkered walnut grips (such as the example shown here) through brushed blue to later "wartime finishes" of sandblast blue and sandblast parkerizing with smooth wood grips; 4", 5" and 6" barrels (5" most common); .38 caliber; 6-round capacity; cylinder swings out to the left for loading and extraction. In service, 1939-1964.

Inglis "High Power" Pistol

Fairly early in the Second World War, the government of China began making official requests to have some Western Allied nation commence production for them of the M1935 9mm Grande Puissance (High Power) semi-automatic pistol, adopted by them just a few years earlier but no longer obtainable from the owner of the design, Fabrique Nationale, following the German occupation of Belgium. By late 1943, it had been determined that the John Inglis Company of Toronto (already producing Bren Guns and other war materiel) would be authorized to manufacture these pistols in Canada. Production began in February 1944 and continued through to October 1945. The Chinese model, designated "Pistol No. 1", had a large, tangent-adjustable rear sight (graduated to an incredibly optimistic 500 meters) and a slot machined into the rear of the gripframe to accommodate a detachable wooden shoulderstock/ holster combination. During 1944, a simplified version, with a fixed rear sight and no provision for the shoulderstock, designated "Pistol No. 2" was adopted by Canada as its official military sidearm. Total Inglis production was 153,480 pistols of both models, of which Canada acquired 54,235 (including 5,535 of the "Chinese" model.)

Configuration of Canadian-issue arms: Self-loading ("semi-automatic") pistol; parkerized finish; black plastic grips; 118mm (approx. 4.65") barrel; chambered for 9mm Parabellum cartridge; detachable 13-round magazine. In service 1944-present.

Other Pistols

Other "secondary" handguns issued to Canadian military personnel during the Twentieth Century, but not illustrated here, have included:

Enfield No. 2 MkI Revolver

As mentioned above, this pistol was adopted as the primary British military handgun in 1932; chambered for .380/200 Service cartridge; smaller-frame top-break 6-shot revolver; 5" barrel; approximately 3,500 acquired; in service 1937-1964. Many of these revolvers were made without a hammer spur - supposedly to avoid the difficulty of the hammer snagging when entering or exiting armoured (and other) vehicles - example shown below right. As a result, any such pistol could not be manually cocked and fired "Single Action", rather it could only be fired in "Double Action' mode (i.e. pulling the trigger both cocks the hammer and then trips it to fire the pistol.)

Image:Eno2mk1b.jpg

Image:Eno2mk1s.jpg

Colt Police Positive

.22 Rimfire 6-shot revolver, 6" barrel, used for handgun training and target practice; 1,342 acquired; in service 1941-present.

Colt Model 1911A1

This was an "improved" version of the Model 1911semi-automatic pistol illustrated above, with modifications adopted by the U.S. Military during the 1920's. It has essentially the same features and appearance as described above, the most noticeable visual difference being a slightly "humped" configuration to the lower gripframe at the rear, introduced to improve "pointability" of the pistol; approximately 4000 acquired; issued mainly to WWII Airborne troops; in service 1942-1945.

FN-Browning Model 1910

Small 7.65mm 7-shot semi-automatic pistol; 192 acquired for issue to senior officers; in service 1970-present.

SIG-Sauer Model P225

9mm 8-shot semi-automatic pistol; 1,050 acquired in 1991, following a DND decision to standardize all Canadian military handguns in 9mm chambering. The role of this model is "non-standard issue", to personnel with small hands who cannot comfortably handle the Inglis, and to personnel carrying their pistol in a shoulder-holster. In service 1991-present.

Holsters

This section consists of a "photo essay" depicting the primary pistol holsters employed by Canadian military personnel during the Twentieth Century, with relatively brief text descriptions.
 

Leather Holster for "Sam Browne" Equipment

This is representative of the type of military revolver holster normally used by the British and Canadian Armies from perhaps the middle of the Nineteenth Century until adoption of the Pattern 1937 (P'37) Web Equipment. This particular holster accommodates a heavy large-frame revolver such as the .455 Webley MkVI or, in the Canadian context, the .455 S&W Hand Ejector. Various manufacturers - in the case of Commissioned Officers, it would be a "private purchase" item.

Web Holster for M1911 Colt

This is the holster pattern purchased by Canada in 1914 for issue with the 5000 Colt M1911 semi- automatic pistols acquired that same year. Manufactured by the Mills Equipment Company in the United States. The Mills holster for the M1911 is shown at right.

P'37 Web Holster for Large-Frame Revolver

Since many of the WWI-vintage .455 revolvers were still in use during WWII, a pattern of holster was made to accommodate such revolvers (e.g. the Canadian-issue .455 S&W Hand Ejector) with British/Commonwealth P'37 webbing. Made with an internal slot for a cleaning rod. Shown mounted on a P"37 web belt, with revolver cartridge pouch attached (which, in this configuration, would in turn be attached to the shoulder brace.) Various manufacturers - this example was made by Zephyr Loom and Textile Limited - Canada's primary WWII web equipment manufacturer; marked "Z. L. & T. Ltd" and dated 1942.

P'37 Web Holster for Small-Frame Revolver

Standard P'37 Web Equipment "pistol case", designed to fit the British .380 Enfield revolver and, in the Canadian context, our standard-issue .38/.380 S&W M&P revolvers. Made with an internal slot for a cleaning rod. Also known to have been used with the 9mm Inglis High Power. Various manufacturers - this particular example made by "Z. L. & T. Ltd" and dated 1940.

P'37 Web "Tanker" Holster

A special holster pattern introduced with the P'37 Equipment as the "Pistol Case R.A.C.", i.e. for use by Royal Armoured Corps personnel. Note the six cartridge loops and external cleaning rod slot. Also designed to accommodate the .38 caliber revolvers, it hung well below the waistbelt and was kept snug to the leg by the thigh strap; this configuration was intended to minimize interference in going through armoured vehicle hatches. Not a particularly successful or popular design, it was replaced by the shortened and simplified pattern shown below. Many of the earlier pattern were converted to this configuration, with the result that this type is now relatively scarce. Various manufacturers - this particular example, a first pattern holster, was made by "Z. L. & T. Ltd." and dated 1940.

Later Pattern P'37 "Tanker" Holster

This is the simplified, shortened version of the Armoured Corps holster mentioned above. Various manufacturers. This particular example is well used, and any maker stamp and date is no longer visible. (Note: this modified pattern holster appears to be non-Canadian manufacture, likely British. Canadian WWII web-equipment, though made to standard P'37 dimensions, is generally easily recognized by its noticeably more "golden" hue.)

First Pattern Web Holster for Inglis Pistol

"Holster No. 1" (made to specifications supplied by China) for the Inglis High Power pistols supplied to them. Internal compartments for cleaning rod and spare magazine. These holsters were also utilized by Canadian and other Commonwealth troops. They were not popular, being excessively stiff, and too tight - such that it was difficult to insert and remove the pistol, or even to secure the flap over the pistol. Made by "Z. L. & T. Ltd."; this example is dated 1944.

Second Pattern Web Hoslter for Inglis Pistol

Canadian-designed "Type F" or "No. 2" holster for Inglis semi-automatic pistol. Double flap closure, and also has internal compartments for cleaning rod and spare magazine. Manufactured by "Z. L. & T. Ltd."; this example is dated 1945.

Image:holstr08.jpg

Postwar Leather Military Police Holster for Inglis

Intended for use with the Inglis pistol, and in effect a leather version of the No. 2 web holster, three variations of this holster were issued Canadian Military Police from the 1950's until 1992. This is the final design - manufactured by "JELCO" (J. E. Lortie Company) and dated 1984. (NOTE: a white vinyl holster of almost identical pattern was designed in 1959 for use during RCAF dress parades, and was subsequently adopted by all branches of the Canadian Forces.)

Image:holstr09.jpg


P'51 Web Holster for Inglis Pistol

The olive drab holster for the standard-issue Inglis pistol, introduced with Canada's Pattern 1951 Web Equipment, differed considerably from the No. 2 holster. The flap leaves the lower part of the grips exposed, and the compartment for the spare magazine is affixed to the outside front.

[NOTE: There were two further standard Canadian holster designs, introduced with the Pattern 1964 Web Equipment and Pattern 1982 Web Equipment, respectively. The basic design of each of these more recent models is very similar to the P'51 holster, with the most obvious difference being the addition of a compartment, to the left of the magazine pouch, for a cylindrical Bakelite oil bottle. The P'64 was constructed of an oiled fabric of lighter weight and tighter weave than the previously used cotton webbing, and the P'82 is made of a synthetic fabric. These two patterns also exhibited variations in flap closure and method of belt attachment.

A black leather holster was also provided for the 9mm pistol as worn on the service belt worn by Military Police.

P'64 Holster for Inglis Pistol

There were two further standard Canadian holster designs, introduced with the Pattern 1964 Web Equipment and Pattern 1982 Web Equipment, respectively. The basic design of each of these more recent models is very similar to the P'51 holster, with the most obvious difference being the addition of a compartment, to the left of the magazine pouch, for a cylindrical Bakelite oil bottle. The P'64 was constructed of an oiled fabric of lighter weight and tighter weave than the previously used cotton webbing, and the P'82 is made of a synthetic fabric. These two patterns also exhibited variations in flap closure and method of belt attachment. the 1964 Pattern is shown at right.

A black leather holster was also provided for the 9mm pistol as worn on the service belt worn by Military Police, as shown below.2


P'82 Holster for Inglis Pistol

The 1982 pattern was very similar to the 1964 pattern, with the main exception being the use of nylon in its construction.

Shoulder Holster

A final type of holster illustrated below is the shoulder rig for combat use, with carriage for both the pistol and spare magazines.

Image:holster14.jpg Image:holster15.jpg Image:holster16.jpg

Shoulder Holster above courtesy of Lieutenant Kevin S. Winfield, CD, below Ed Storey collection.

(All of the "primary" pistols and all holsters shown in this article are from the author's collection - with the exception of the Model 1878 Colt revolver, and also both No.2 MkI Enfield revolvers and the SIG-Sauer P225 shown in the "Other Pistols" section - which are "file photographs".)

Notes

  1. Photos, artifacts and text on this page all by courtesy of Grant H. Rombough.

  2. Belt and '64 Pattern Holsters courtesy of Lieutenant Kevin S. Winfield, CD.


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