Review: Smith and Wesson Combat Magnum

By Bob Campbell published on in Firearms, Reviews

The Smith and Wesson Combat Magnum .357 Magnum revolver, sometimes known as the Model 19 or Model 66, went into production in 1955 and was discontinued in 2005. At the time of its introduction, the Combat Magnum was the world’s lightest .357 Magnum revolver.

Smith and Wesson Combat Magnum with rubber grips in .357 Magnum

The new and reintroduced .357 Combat Magnum is a fine revolver.

A sensation when first introduced, the Combat Magnum became one of the most popular handguns of all time. The Combat Magnum was the revolver everyone wanted and arguably the finest service revolver ever fielded. In terms of power, accuracy, and fit and finish, few modern service pistols equal Smith and Wesson’s best revolver.

The .357 Magnum cartridge, originally introduced in a heavy frame handgun, was mated to the K frame revolver in the early 1950s. The revolver was a result of brainstorming among influential shooters. Carl Hellstrom, president of Smith and Wesson, approached Bill Jordan concerning Smith and Wesson service gun development. Jordan was an influential shooter, former Combat Marine, border patrolman, and exhibition shooter. Jordan recommended Smith and Wesson lengthen the cylinder of the .38 Combat Masterpiece to accept the .357 Magnum cartridge.

With target sights and a ramp front sight, this revolver would offer high visibility sights and all the accuracy needed. The revolver needed a shrouded ejector rod. The new short double action trigger was ideal for fast double action shooting. Jordan also recommended the revolver be supplied with target stocks to help control the recoil of the .357 Magnum cartridge.

Smith and Wesson Combat Magnum with wood grips

The basis of the legend—an original Combat Magnum.

Officers could practice with .38 Special ammunition and load the .357 Magnum for duty. Smith and Wesson studied metallurgy and determined that the K frame revolver could withstand the stress of the .357 Magnum cartridge. The result was the Smith and Wesson Combat Magnum. This is the revolver that Jordan called a peace officers dream. It was particularly well received by highway patrol agencies that traditionally needed more vehicle penetration than urban officers.

With its smooth double-action trigger and red insert front sight, the Combat Magnum offered excellent first shot hit probability. The shrouded ejector rod protected the ejector rod from damage. Hand filling stocks allowed excellent control. The .357 Magnum is an excellent man stopper, so there were no complaints there. In 1957, Smith and Wesson went to a numbering system for reference for handguns while keeping the original named models as well. The Combat Magnum was given the Model 19 designation and later stainless-steel revolvers were dubbed the Model 66. The Combat Magnum remained the premier service revolver for police agencies well into the 1980s.

When the Combat Magnum was introduced, Bill Jordan and others recommended the practice regimen should consist of 20 rounds of .38 Special for each .357 Magnum cartridge. Court cases and liability concerns, as well as a realistic look at police training, led to qualification with the duty load. Some agencies practiced on a monthly basis, a high standard. They were well armed, well qualified and seldom missed with their magnum revolvers. Wear and tear on the small parts and revolvers going out of time became common.

Smith and Wesson L frame, Model 69, .44 Magnum Combat Magnum

The L frame, Model 69, .44 Magnum Combat Magnum is a 5-shot .44 Magnum revolver.

Smith and Wesson instituted several fixes with a solid gas ring and other improvements. By the introduction of the 19-4—about 1975—the Combat Magnum was an improved revolver. The design of the frame—a cut out for the ejector rod—proved a weak point and there were cracked frames in this area in high round count handguns. Smith and Wesson introduced the L frame revolver. This was a revolver with a frame midway in size between the K frame and N frame revolver but with a grip frame the same size as the K frame revolver. The L frame was a good revolver but came on the scene as police agencies were making a wholesale move to self-loading pistols.

The Combat Magnum continued to enjoy popular use, especially among civilian shooters. During its long service life, the most popular issue revolver was the Model 66, a stainless steel Combat Magnum. This revolver is still in use with elite units based on its reliability, accuracy, and power. It is corrosion resistant and not dependent on perfect ammunition for function.

The Combat Magnum is a desirable handgun for home defense and those wishing to own the finest medium-frame revolver ever built. The .357 Magnum cartridge is a powerful number well suited to defense against man or beast. A decade or so ago, in 2005, the Model 19 and Model 66 were discontinued after a 50-year production run. Demand had lessened, and expense was another reason. All revolvers are increasingly expensive to manufacture, at least the quality variants are, and demand skill in hand fitting.

Loads for the Combat Magnum

.38 Special Speed
Buffalo Bore 158-grain SWC Outdoorsman 1,145 fps
Double Tap 110-grain JHP 1,100 fps
Federal MATCH 148-grain wadcutter 770 fps
Federal 129-grain Hydra-Shok +P 1,070 fps
.357 Magnum
Black Hills Ammunition 125-grain JHP 1,440 fps
Buffalo Bore Low Flash Low Recoil 158-grain JHP 1,252 fps
Buffalo Bore 180-grain Hard Cast FP 1,301 fps
Federal 125-grain JHP 1,430 fps
Federal 130-grain Hydra-Shok 1,480 fps
Federal Cast Core 180-grain 1,222 fps
Fiocchi 158-grain XTP 1,121 fps
Hornady 125-grain Critical Defense 1,383 fps
Winchester 145-grain Silvertip 1,290 fps
.44 Special Model 69 Combat Magnum
Buffalo Bore 200-grain JHP 990 fps
Winchester 240-grain lead flat point 780 fps

The L frame revolvers took the place in the lineup of the previous Combat Magnums. Today, the Model 66 has been reintroduced. This revolver features precision machining thanks to CNC technology. The new Model 66 features tight cylinders and cylinder throats and offers excellent accuracy potential. This revolver remains an excellent choice for all around use.

Smith and Wesson introduced a very different Combat Magnum, the Model 69. The Model 69 is actually an L frame revolver with a 5-shot cylinder chambered for the .44 Magnum cartridge. This handgun is best served with .44 Special loads. It remains a formidable handgun for specialized use, but in my opinion, not nearly as versatile and the .357 Magnum versions. As of 2018, the Combat Magnum is alive and well and very much appreciated.

Do you own, or have you shot, one of these legendary revolvers? Tell us about your experience in the comment section.

SLRule

Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice. Bob is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooter’s Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.

View all articles by Bob Campbell

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Comments (23)

  • Bill Long

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    The Model 19 was re-introduced in 2018 in a Classical model (4″ barrel and flat butt grip frame, and a Carry Comp model with a 3″ ported barrel, round butt grips and adjustable night sights. I just took delivery of the latter, which I had on order for five weeks. It is designed for concealed carry.

    I’m very excited about my new piece, and have lots to learn to become proficient with it.

    Reply

  • David

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    Started my LE career in 1981 with a M-66. Learned to shoot the double action revolver and you can shoot anything. Because you learn to control the pistol through the ark of the trigger press. This let you be able to handle da/sa, striker fire or single action guns. I still start new shooters on one of my 66s. Because they progress faster than starting on the semi auto

    Reply

  • Gunny Fritz King

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    I shot against a fellow agent who carried the Sig. we used an old vest at 25yds. He put three rounds in it, which stopped in the trauma plate. I put three rounds in it with my Smith. They went through the plate and the front panel and lodged in the back. I told him I was keeping my wheelgun!

    Reply

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