Today’s post is a guest article written by Mike Burns, taking a look at one of the S&W revolver copies made in Eibar for the French military. He compares it to a WWI .455-caliber S&W Hand Ejector and a WWII .38-caliber S&W Military & Police revolver. Thanks, Mike!
This is intended to be a technical article, however a brief potted history to set the stage is appropriate.
Once it was clear that the first world war would go on for some time, the French government needed to find alternative sources of handguns to supplement the “modern” Model 1892 Saint-Etienne revolvers, often mis-named “Lebel” revolvers, and the older Model 1873 revolvers still in service. To avoid supply issues, the French insisted that revolvers offered must chamber their 8mm M92 revolver cartridge. This cartridge propelled a 120gn .330” jacketed bullet at about 740fps, which by British and American standards is anaemic.
To respond to this need, many gunmakers in the Eibar valley in the Basque Country, started producing revolvers for the French. Since Smith & Wesson and Colt’s patent protection did not extend to Spain in that period, these makers had long been producing local versions of American revolvers, including the Smith & Wesson topbreaks, the solid-frame M&P, Colt New Model Army & Navy, and the Colt Police Positive.
The French government chose local versions of the Smith & Wesson M&P, of which the firms of Trocaola Aranzabal Y Cia, Garate y Anitua & Cia, Orbea Hermanos and others already had experience. In French service these were referred to as “Modèle 92 espagnols” – “Spanish Model 92s”, presumably making reference to the calibre designation, or indicating that they were a substitute standard to the “real” Model 92’s. Interestingly enough, the British government also purchased numbers of topbreak S&W clones in .455 Webley at the same time, although these appear to have been relegated to a training role.
This particular revolver is from Trocaola, and is in about 80% exterior condition with holster wear. However, the barrel and cylinder interiors look like it has hardly been fired.
To compare with a Smith and Wesson of the period, we shall look at how this revolver differs mechanically and in its construction from a Smith and Wesson Hand Ejector in .455 Webley of WW1 manufacture. For a general external appreciation, we’ll also compare with a late-WW2 commercial M&P in British configuration in .38 S&W calibre with a 5” barrel. This particular M&P is a whole story in and of itself, but that’s for another time.
Are these revolvers junk, as many claim? Let’s have a look at them from an engineering, design and practical perspective.
So, to start off, here’s the three revolvers:
The relationship between the designs is obvious, right down to the end of the ejector rod, which is very much of the period and was later changed as you can see from the M&P. Barrel length is 11cm (4 1/3 inches), a practical length for a military revolver which makes the 16.5cm (6 1/2 inches) of the Hand Ejector look frankly ridiculous.
The finish is somewhat thin, although there are some dings on the surface which have not removed the bluing. The first difference for economy is that the frame behind the trigger guard is not as rounded as the S&W, eliminating some machining here.
Since we’re still dealing with the outside aspects, let’s have a look at the sight pictures:
For the period, the Trocaola’s sights are excellent: well-proportioned for combat shooting, unlike the impractically-fine sights on the Hand Ejector. My only complaint is that the notch could be deeper and possibly squarer, like the M&P.
Another external aspect that is interesting is the shape of the cylinder latch, which is deeply curved and very heavily chequered.
Interestingly, Trocaola chose to keep the pivoting firing pin nose of the S&W, which they could quite easily have done away with as a manufacturing shortcut. Surprisingly, they used a flush-ground solid pin rather than the rollpin of the original, which is so well-fitted that you can hardly see it in the photograph.
Viewed now from above, we have an ergonomic feature that is clearly better than the original S&W:
The S&W hammer of the era, which is the same even on the WW2 M&P in the first picture, is made of a single slab of steel, and has the same thickness everywhere. The hammer spur on the Trocaola (left) is broader than the body of the hammer, making manipulation rather easier – even though this is a manufacturing complication! Like the S&W, the hammer is colour case hardened. You can also see from this photo that the sideplate fit is pretty good. Although you can tell that the S&W is made to higher tolerances than the Trocaola when you put it back on, since the Trocaola is quite tight.
Here we can see a major manufacturing shortcut – the cutouts on the inside of the sideplate on the Trocaola (bottom) have clearly been made with worn tooling, cut as fast as possible. But since they don’t come in contact with any moving parts, it doesn’t matter. Interestingly, the three digit number stamped on the sideplate is not part of the serial number, but appears also on the front face of the cylinder and under the barrel. The crane and the bottom of the grip frame carry the real serial number.
Another change is the ratchets:
The Trocaola ratchet (left) is much simpler, and much more rugged. It is also quite a lot thicker, to compensate for the comparatively soft metal used in the revolver’s construction. And the rumours about soft metal are true – the screws in particular are made of monkey metal, and the sideplate has a slight dent where someone (not me!) hit it too hard with something too pointed when putting it back on!
To go with this chunkier ratchet, the hand is also much thicker and more rugged:
From a military standpoint, the S&W hand is quite fine and relatively fragile – the British Textbook of Smallarms makes reference to the S&W having the finest and most fragile lockwork of the three main British service revolvers of the period (Webley, Colt, S&W). From this perspective, the Trocaola hand is much stronger, much more rugged, and can thus apply more force to the ratchet in case the revolver is full of mud. You can also see the deep cutout in the recoil shield to allow the thicker ratchet to pass.
At the other end of the cylinder we have another bit of ruggedisation. The forcing cone is long, and gently tapered. Bearing in mind that the bore is .327”, here’s a .361” bullet inserted base-first into the forcing cone:
This will tolerate enormous amounts of mud and fouling, as well as an incredible misalignment of the cylinder. The flash gap is .017”, about the same as the Hand Ejector (.015”), but much less than the later commercial M&P (.007”). Again, we’re going for reliability and tolerance of dirt here.
Let’s take a look at the lockwork now:
This is where it gets really interesting. On the left we have the classic S&W lockwork of the period, and on the right we have the extremely well-rationalised Trocaola lockwork.
The first thing you’ll notice is that the Trocaola is much simpler – there are only three major moving components: the trigger, the hand and the hammer. The trigger return slide has been deleted, reducing also the need to finely machine and finish the surfaces on which it runs. This removes quite a lot of parts and machining, since the trigger return slide also needs a post, a coil spring, and a connecting rod linking it with the trigger.
The mainspring is a single V-spring, which replaces three separate springs in the S&W: mainspring, trigger return spring and hand spring. One end of the V-spring is hooked onto a stirrup on the hammer, the same as the S&W. The other end terminates in a long finger which bears on an angled slot cut into the left face of the hand, pushing down on it. Since the slot is angled, this simultaneously pushes the hand down and cams it forward, and also pivots the trigger forward.
The parts are case-hardened where necessary, and the finish is every bit as good as the S&W where it matters. For ease of production, this rationalisation of the lock is very well thought-out.
Unfortunately, I can’t disassemble the lockwork further. That V-spring is a beast, and I suspect you need a clamp to un-tension it and take the lock parts out. But in any case, we can have a look at the lockworks in the resting and single-action positions (apologies for the camera glare):
The Trocaola lockwork thus functionally does everything the S&W’s does, but with far fewer components and far less precision machining and function-critical finishing. The hammer even withdraws properly when the trigger comes forward, without the benefit of the lug on the trigger return slide. The revolver is thus equally as safe to carry with the hammer down on a loaded chamber as the S&W.
You’ll also notice a rollpin on the grip frame. This doesn’t go all the way through the mainspring, but simply serves to keep the fold of the spring in position.
Something else they could have scrimped on but didn’t is the cylinder stop spring, which is still inserted down an angled bore from the outside and closed with a screw. Later S&W’s did away with this.
However, all this ruggedisation and simplicity comes at a cost:
Trigger pull. S&W are not stupid, and they put all that complexity and fine metalwork into their triggers to give an excellent pull.
With the Trocaola, the double-action is smooth, predictable and somewhat heavy. In fact, it is even a bit lighter than the 455 Hand Ejector with its original spring which is quite stiff. One improvement though is that there’s less “trigger stack” towards the end of the pull than the S&W.
Single-action – they’ve gone for a bit of safety, and the single action is quite long and creepy, and heavier than the S&W. They’ve cut a clear notch in the hammer, and you feel the hammer moving back during sear release. For a mass conscript army, this is probably not a bad thing. There apparently used to be a prejudice in the British army of the period that handguns were of more danger to their users than to the enemy, and there is probably more than a grain of truth to that assertion.
Both trigger modes are heavier and longer than my war finish Webley 38 Mk.IV. But if we compare them to contemporary Continental revolvers, are they bad at all? I’ve never handled a French Model 92, but compared to a Swiss M1882, the pulls on this Trocaola are lighter, although the M82 single action is crisper – it’s just extremely heavy. Unfortunately, as a modern shooter there’s not a lot you can do about the trigger pull. If I could find a replacement spring, I might try filing it a bit thinner across its width, but I suspect that the way the spring interracts with the hand to cam it forward needs it to be fairly fierce.
Compared to a tuned S&W, it’s clearly an inferior product in handling. But this is somewhat unfair, since it was designed as a cheap, mass-produced combat arm that had to be reliable in the hands of a muddy conscript. As for interchangeability with a real M&P, there is none. Not even the grip panels – the half-moon cutouts are a different size, the alignment pin is in a different place, and the grip needs a hole for the mainspring pin.
Overall, it appears that the revolver is a very serviceable military handgun, certainly in comparison with its continental contemporaries. It is certainly more practical than the side-gate loaded Swiss M1882, even if the quality of the materials and the finish is understandably poorer. However, the materials and finish are good where they need to be.
If anybody wants any detail photos of any specific aspects, let me know – I’ll be happy to oblige (if it can be seen without taking the mainspring out!)