Key point: The Model 39 is a capable gun that earned its spot in American firearms history.
One of the earliest American nine-millimeter pistols was adopted for wartime service to take out enemy sentries… and barking dogs.
The Smith & Wesson Model 39 semi-automatic handgun served U.S. Navy SEALs during the Vietnam War and then went on to become one of the American nine-millimeter high capacity pistols, the Model 59.
The Smith & Wesson Model 39 had its roots in postwar America. U.S. troops, encountering the Walther P-38 on the battlefield, had a favorable impression of the German pistol. U.S. gunmaker Smith & Wesson decided to make an Americanized version of the P-38 for the domestic market, and borrowed heavily from Walther’s design. Internally, the Model 39 was very similar, to the point where magazines could almost be swapped between guns. Externally there were key differences, including a 1911-type full barrel slide removed with a twist of a barrel bushing. The Model 39 went on commercial sale in 1955.
The Model 39 was a double-action pistol. It was 7.44 inches long and weighed just 26.5 ounces empty with a four-inch barrel. It was a recoil-operated handgun using a modified version of the Colt/Browning locking system used on handguns such as the 1911. Like the Walther P-38 the slim metal, single stack magazine held eight rounds of 9-millimeter Parabellum.
During the 1960s the CIA had experimented on a suppressor for the Walther P-38, a pistol which in the Agency’s opinion combined reliability, firepower, and a distinctive non-American lineage. The suppressor greatly reduced the Walther’s report, particularly when combined with a slide lock that prevented the slide to fly backward. The use of a slide lock turned the pistol into a single-shot weapon and caused dramatic wear and tear on the handgun’s components, but the result was a very quiet pistol.
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