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Smith & Wesson Model 15
File:S&WModel15-4 02.jpg
Smith & Wesson Model 15
Type Revolver
Place of origin United States
Cartridge .38 Special
Feed system 6-round cilinder

The Smith & Wesson K-38 Combat Masterpiece, Revolver Model 15 is a six-shot double action revolver, with adjustable open sights, built on the medium-size "K" frame. It is chambered for the .38 Special cartridge and is fitted with a 4-inch (100 mm) barrel, though additional barrel options have been offered at various times during its production. Originally known as the K-38 Combat Masterpiece, it was renamed the Model 15 in 1957 when all Smith & Wesson revolvers were given numerical model numbers. It is a shorter barrel version of the Smith & Wesson Model 14 Target Masterpiece and essentially an adjustable-sight version of the seminal Smith & Wesson Model 10 ("Military and Police") revolver with target shooting features. The main production run of the Model 15 was from 1949 through 1999. It was discontinued for approximately a decade until 2011, when a re-tooled version was re-released under S&W's Classics Revolvers line.


The Smith & Wesson K-38 Combat Masterpiece Revolver Model 15[1] is a derivative of the classic 1899 K-frame (medium frame) Military and Police .38 S&W Special (aka .38 Special) six-shot double action revolver. The M&P underwent steady evolution throughout the 20th century and S&W spun off several variations as separate models in the post World War II years. One of these was the K-38 Target Masterpiece, which began production in 1947. The Target Masterpiece included a number of new and/or special features, including a six-inch barrel with a narrow rib to provide a level sight plane, a Patridge front sight, a micrometer click rear sight, S&W’s .375” short-throw hammer, a trigger adjustment for overtravel, and improved grips.[2] Noting the accuracy of the Target Masterpiece, a number of police departments and the FBI soon requested the same revolver with a four inch barrel and a Baughman Quick Draw front sight. The result was the K-38 Combat Masterpiece. The major distinction between the K-38 Target Masterpiece and the K-38 Combat Masterpiece is the barrel length and the front sight.[3]

In 1957 the K-38 Combat Masterpiece was renamed the Model 15 when all Smith & Wesson revolvers were given numerical model numbers. (The Military & Police and the Target Masterpiece were renamed the Model 10 and Model 14 respectively.) The model number is stamped on the frame behind the cylinder yoke, so it is visible (only) when the cylinder is open. A number of production and engineering changes have been made throughout the years, some of which are noted by a dash number suffixed to the Model number (15-1, -2, -3). Over the years the Model 15 has been produced with several barrel lengths, with 4" (standard) and 2" (1964–1988) being the most common. In 1972 S&W released a stainless steel version as the Model 67. In 1997 the hammer and internal lockworks were modified from an on-the-hammer firing pin / internal hammer block to a floating firing pin / MIM flat hammer / transfer bar safety design. The Model 15 was a popular sidearm for law enforcement and was the standard issue sidearm of the U.S. Air Force Police from 1962 until 1992 when it was replaced by the Beretta M9 pistol. Production of the Model 15 was discontinued in 1999 when Smith & Wesson was purchased and reorganized, although a couple limited run “Heritage Series” models were released in 2001 and 2002. In 2011 Smith & Wesson re-introduced the Model 15 (15-10) under their Classics Revolvers line,[4] newly machined, with a shrouded redesigned barrel, and a built-in trigger lock (located just above the cylinder release thumbpiece on the left side).


  • Caliber: .38 S&W Special
  • Capacity: 6
  • Barrel: 4” (standard configuration)
  • Length Overall: 9 1/8” With 4” barrel
  • Weight Loaded: 34 oz. With 4” barrel
  • Sights: Front – 1/8” Baughman Quick Draw on plain ramp. Rear: S&W Micrometer Click Sight, adjustable for windage and elevation.
  • Frame: Square butt with grooved tangs.
  • Stocks: Checked walnut Service with S&W monograms
  • Finish: S&W blued carbon steel with sandblasting and serrations around sighting area to breakup light reflections.
  • Trigger: S&W grooving with adjustable trigger stop.
  • Ammunition: .38 S&W Special, .38 S&W Special Mid Range.

Engineering and Production Changes Timeline

Smith & Wesson Model 15-2
Flickr - ~Steve Z~ - PICT0004 (1).jpg

As the K-38 Combat Masterpiece Revolver Model 15 evolved the following Engineering and Production Changes were made:[6]

  • 1949: K-38 Combat Masterpiece Introduced
  • 1955: Delete upper sideplate screw.
  • 15 (1957): K-38 Combat Masterpiece continued as the Model 15. Stamping of model number
  • 15-1 (1959): Change extractor rod, right hand to left hand thread.
  • 15-2 (1961): Delete trigger guard screw, change cylinder stop.
  • 1964: Introduce 2” heavy barrel.
  • 15-3 (1967): Relocation of rear sight leaf screw.
  • 1968: Delete diamond grips.
  • 15-4 (1977): Change to put gas ring from yoke to cylinder.
  • 15-5 (1982) Pinned barrel eliminated
  • 1986: Introduction of 6” and 8-3/8” barrel.
  • 15-6 (1988): new yoke retention system/ radius stud package/hammer nose bushing.
  • 1988: Discontinue 8-3/8” and 2” barrel.
  • 1992: Discontinue 6” barrel, blue finish only.
  • 15-7 (1994): Synthetic grips introduced, drill and tap frame, change rear seat leaf, change extractor.
  • 1995-96: Delete square butt.
  • 1996: Begin shipments in blue plastic case.
  • 1997: 4” barrel only / Change to MIM thumbpiece / Shipped with master trigger locks / change to MIM trigger.
  • 15-8 (1997): Changes in frame design: cylinder stop stud eliminated / Eliminate serrated tangs / Change to MIM hammer with floating firing pin and change internal lockworks.
  • 1999: Model 15 discontinued Nov. 1999.
  • 2001: Limited run Lew Horton Heritage Series from the S&W Performance Center.
  • 15-9 (2002): Limited run Lew Horton Heritage Series McGivern Models from the S&W Performance Center. 3 Models commemorating Ed McGivern’s world speed records in 1934 with a revolver. All models have a Patridge front sight with Gold Bead, round butt frame with Altamount Fancy checkered service grips of that era, 6” barrel, Ed McGivern commemorative plate mounted on right side of frame, Heritage Series box.
  • 15-10 (2011):[7] Production re-commenced under Classics Revolvers line, re-tooled, shrouded redesigned barrel, internal trigger lock.

Military & Police usage

As the K-38 Combat Masterpiece, this revolver was first purchased in 1956 for the Strategic Air Command Elite Guard of the United States Air Force. From 1960 - 1969 the Air Force bought large numbers of Model 15-1, 15-2, and 15-3 revolvers with a 4" barrel. The only distinctive markings are "U.S.A.F" on the left side of the frame. Originally all were blued, though some were reparkerized while in Air Force Service.[8] The Model 15 was the standard issue sidearm of the U.S. Air Force Air/Security Police from 1962 until 1992. It was also issued to security personnel in other branches of the U.S. armed forces, including the Naval Security Forces.

The Air Force issued two types of .38 Special duty ammunition for the Model 15, originally the M41 .38 Special Ball (full metal jacket) cartridge, or the later-developed Caliber .38 Special, Ball, PGU-12/B High Velocity cartridge.[9] The M41 was a low pressure cartridge rated at 13,000 psi, originally designed for 158-grain ball ammunition, but loaded with a 130-grain FMJ bullet. The PGU-12/B, Issued only by the U.S. Air Force, had a greatly increased maxiumum allowable pressure rating of 20,000 psi, sufficient to propel the 130-grain FMJ bullet at 1,125 ft/s (343 m/s) from a solid 6-inch (150 mm) test barrel, and 950–980 ft/s (290–300 m/s) from a 4-inch (100 mm) revolver barrel.[10] The S&W Model 15 revolvers were replaced by the Beretta M9 pistol in 9x19mm caliber beginning in 1985, with complete turnover by the early 1990s. In addition to military use, the Model 15 was issued by many police departments across the United States as well as various federal law enforcement agencies.[11] In 1972 S&W produced a stainless steel version of the Model 15 which it termed the Model 67.

Law Enforcement Use

Agencies that used the Model 15

  • Los Angeles Police Department
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • United States Department of the Treasury
  • Nassau County Police Department
  • Royal Malaysian Police
  • Tennessee Highway Patrol
  • Sacramento County Sheriff's Department
  • Metropolitan Police Department of the District of Columbia
  • Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department
  • Florida Department of Corrections
  • Honolulu Police Department
  • Grosse Pointe Farms MI, Police

The LAPD's Model 15 revolvers (and department issued Model 36 5-shot, 2 inch barrelled snub nose Smith & Wesson revolvers for detectives, plainclothes, undercover and other officers' off duty carry) were modified to be fired double action only. This was accomplished by the department armorer who ground the full cock notch from the hammers. Officers were then trained to shoot combat style without ever cocking the weapons. This change was likely the result of unintended injuries and/or property damage, and of litigation against the LAPD after officers had cocked their weapons only to have them discharge inadvertently, possibly as a result of physical attacks or having been startled in the course of searching for suspects. In lawsuits, the principle of res ipsa loquitur was easily affirmed because "an inadvertent weapon discharge is a negligent discharge." Officers who wished to carry their own sidearms could do so with the department's approval as long as the revolvers met the LAPD's criteria, i.e. all steel, 2, 4 or 6 inch barrel, etc. LAPD revolvers were chambered for .38 Special only. (.357 Magnum revolvers will also chamber .38 Special, but these revolvers were not approved for department carry.) Officers seeking approval to carry their personal revolvers would submit them for the armorer's inspection and for modification to double action only.

See also

The Model 10 Military & Police (cornerstone of the S&W .38 Special line of revolvers)

The Model 14 Target Masterpiece (6" barrel predecessor to the Model 15)

The Model 18 Combat Masterpiece (.22 caliber version of the Model 15)

The Model 19 Combat Magnum (.357 magnum version of the model 15)

The Model 67 (stainless steel version of the Model 15)


  1. "K-38 Combat Masterpiece Revolver Model 15", designed by Flora Mitchell Van Orden, wife of Brig. Gen. George O. Van Orden, USMC, with the attention of Tiny Helwig at the S&W head office in 1949, is the full name as it appears on the cover of the S&W owners manual
  2. Standard Catalog of Smith & Wesson 3rd Edition, Jim Supica and Richard Hahas, 2006
  3. Standard Catalog of Smith & Wesson 3rd Edition, Jim Supica and Richard Hahas, 2006
  4. Smith & Wesson Customer Service
  5. Owner’s Manual K-38 Combat Masterpiece Revolver Model No. 15 (05-01-0177 S&W No. 5101A)
  6. Standard Catalog of Smith & Wesson 3rd Edition, Jim Supica and Richard Hahas, 2006
  7. Smith & Wesson Customer Service
  8. Standard Catalog of Smith & Wesson 3rd Edition, Jim Supica and Richard Hahas, 2006
  9. Military .38 Special Ammunition, The American Rifleman (March 1982), p. 68
  10. Military .38 Special Ammunition, The American Rifleman (March 1982), p. 68
  11. Supica and Nahas The Standard Catalog of Smith and Wesson. 3rd Edition. (2006)

External links

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