When talking about the Colt 1909 revolver it is essential to mention its forerunner, the Colt 1892 in .38 Long Colt caliber that fought with the US military in the Philippine War between 1898 and 1902. During this bloody conflict US officials were given the opportunity to recognize the low stopping power of the .38 Long Colt cartridge, in particular when Uncle Sam’s troops found themselves fighting against the Moros Juramentados, the implacable Filipino Islamic warriors who carried out suicide attacks, often under the influence of drugs. Although hit at short range by several bullets fired from .38 Long Colt revolvers, the Moros often managed to kill several soldiers and officers with their krisses and barongs before collapsing dead. The disastrous Philippine experience was decisive in convincing the US military to use a more powerful pistol caliber and this led to the designing and adoption of the .45 ACP and the Colt 1911.
Colt New Service: the revolver that lived twice
The simplest solution to the problem of the 38 Long Colt poor stopping power was actually at hand. Already on the market there were reliable and accurate double action, large-caliber revolvers, so in 1909 the General Staff decided to adopt the Colt New Service revolver in .45 Long Colt caliber, renaming it Model 1909 precisely.
The New Service 1909 revolver has the distinction of being the sidearm with the shortest operational life in the history of the US army, since already in 1911 – only two years after its adoption – in officers’ holsters it was replaced (or rather complemented by) the legendary Colt 1911 semi-automatic pistol in. 45 ACP.
Yet in 1917, when the United States was preparing to intervene in Europe against the Austro-Hungarian army, the shortage of semi-automatic 1911s led the US General Staff to re-enlist the "New Service" revolver, renamed as the Model 1917 and chambered in caliber .45 ACP this time. The cylinder of the Model 1917 had therefore to be loaded using “half moon” clips that held the bottom of the rimless cartridges. Actually, it was possible to fire the .45 ACP even without the half-moon clips, but in this case the spent brass had to be pushed out of the cylinder chamber with an improvised tool. The Colt 1917 Model remained with the US military for a long time: in the Second World War it was issued to tank drivers and artillerymen, and was also used in the Vietnam War.
The Colt New Service 1909 revolver in the US Navy and USMC versions
The Colt New Service is an impressively sized revolver featuring a 5 ½” barrel and a six-round cylinder, with a weight (unloaded) of over 38.8 oz / 1100 grams. Trigger is double action, with the firing pin riveted to the hammer. Sight are typical of early-XX century revolvers, with a notch rear sight machined into the frame, inspired by the "Peacemaker", and a fixed Partridge-type front sight. The grip is of the "square butt" variety with walnut grips without checkering and the usual oval-shaped lanyard ring. The Colt serial number is on the rear of the cylinder latch and on the frame, near the cylinder crane. The number was also marked in pencil on the inside of the grips. The left-swinging cylinder has six chambers and is opened by pulling back the classic bell-shaped latch that shows the serial number on its rear face.
A thousand 1909 .45 caliber Long Colt revolvers were also acquired by the United States Navy. They are easily recognizable by the anchor mark above the USN (United States Navy) roll-stamped on the frame, on the butt. On the latter we also find the navy serial number, in our case 484. It is a rather scarce variant, which we were lucky enough to photograph some time ago in a gun shop. Because of their small numbers, the 1909 US Navy revolvers are considered a rarity. In the USA an original example in good condition can sell for around 4000 euro.
Even more rare and sought after by collectors is the USMC (United States Marine Corps) version which was ordered in 1300 pieces with serial numbers between 23101 and 26300. The version requested by the Marines features a slightly round profile butt, checkered walnut grips and instead of the anchor the butt is roll-stamped “USMC” in two lines. in the US an original example in good condition can be worth up to 10,000 USD (8800 Euro).
With the retirement of the New Service model, the US army definitively abandoned the venerable .45 Long Colt caliber and the revolver concept in favor of the .45 ACP and semi-automatic pistol. The Colt 1909 model is certainly an excellent example of a product manufactured for the military, but that doesn’t mean that it’s done on the cheap. The finish on both models is in fact very neat, and after 110 years not everyone would look in such a good shape.