The US was a major source of handgun supply for the British Empire and Commonwealth in WWII, as it had been in the previous war. American revolvers and automatic pistols were obtained through at least three main sources:
1) The British Purchasing Commission, which handled cash-and-carry contracts
3) The American Committee for Defense of British Homes, which ran the "Guns for Britain" donation drive in the US
Besides this, some British stores stocked American weapons for private purchases, and God knows how many US weapons were still hanging around in various places after seeing British service in the Great War. Many colonial and dominion police forces had been using American weapons for years, e.g. in Canada, Shanghai, and Hong Kong. What with one thing and another, most major US handgun types saw some British service in WWII.
Some of these were so numerous as to be accepted substitute standard weapons, or virtually standard. The most common and accepted types were the Smith & Wesson M & P (K200 or Victory) in .38, the Colt M1911 series, the Colt New Service revolver (widely used by the Home Guard, RCMP, etc), and the Smith & Wesson New Century/Military Hand Ejector in .455.
There were many other types, too, though, and here the best sources are Skennerton and Charles Pate's fine book on US military handguns. The Colt Official Police revolver in .38 was purchased and used in pretty large numbers, but for some odd reason it never seems to have had the British reputation of the very similar S & W M & P. The Colt Pocket Auto in .32 and .380 ACP was also pretty common; the Shanghai and Hong Kong Police forces used it, and so did British airborne forces (at least according to an old book about them I read years ago).
As to other models...well, it's almost easier to say what the British didn't
use than to say what they did. According to Pate and Skennerton, the following were definitely part of the trawl:
1) Colt Police Positive revolver
2) Colt Officer's Model revolver
3) Colt Officer's Model Target revolver (a handful)
4) Colt Police Positive Special revolver (Unclear to me, but Pate's the expert)
5) Colt Single Action Army revolver (.45, .357, .38 Special)
6) S&W Regulation Police revolver (200 ordered for a mining firm)
7) Colt .38 Super (or Super Match?) automatic
8) Harrington & Richardson revolvers (.32, .38)
9) Iver Johnson revolvers (.32, .38)
Most of the revolvers were in .38 S&W, compatible with British .38 revolver ammunition, but some of the Colt New Service and SAA Army guns were in.38 Special, and sizable numbers of the S&W M&P were bought in the same caliber. The H & R and Iver Johnson guns are a bit murky when it comes to models. British police got a large order of H&R hinged-frame "Bobby" models in .32. A smaller number of H & R .38 hinged-frames were used as the Defender and there were a few .22's as well. The Iver Johnsons appear to have been mostly the so-called "Safety Automatic" hinged frame models. I have seen photos online of a standard Safety Auto in .32, and a Safety Auto Hammerless in .38, both with British markings. But H& R and Iver Johnson both made solid-frame revolvers too, so they may have thrown some other stuff into the grab-bag.
There are still more oddities, too. Pate mentions that the British Columbia Police and other Canadian police forces had the Smith & Wesson .38/44 Heavy Duty, a hell of a powerful pistol, and I think he also says somewhere that some Hi-Standard HD .22 automatics got into SOE hands through the OSS. And I seem to recall (Pate again?) that a few .25 Colt pocket autos made a similar journey.
Ian Fleming gave James Bond a Colt Detective Special early in his career so I thought the British might have had some during the war too, but I can't find any direct reference to them. The ever-reliable Wikipedia reports that the British got some .32 Colt Pocket Model revolvers as well, but offers no source for the assertion. Harry Palmer gets a ".32 Colt" revolver in The Ipcress File
, but a fictional spy is not a government purchasing order.
This is by no means exhaustive of this complex subject. I'm just sketching the outline for those who know even less than I, and appealing for further detail and information from those who know more. Thanks all.
Edited by TTH, 25 March 2012 - 09:52 PM.