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Savage Model 1907 .45 acp Trials Pistol
This firearm is on exhibit at the NRA National Sporting Arms Museum in Springfield, MO.
Competing with the Browning-designed Colt Model 1905 in a 1907 military trial, the Savage Military Model 1907 pistol did poorly in field testing by cavalry troops and was never adopted. This example bears serial number 2 and was issued to the Board of Musketry for testing and evaluation.
The Philippine Insurrection of 1899 - 1901 proved beyond doubt that the U.S. Army's recently adopted .38 caliber revolvers were sadly lacking in knockdown power. In some cases, the venerable Colt .45 Single Action Army returned to service to address the deficiencies of its replacement. Recognizing the need for a more powerful sidearm, the Army's Ordnance Department began the search for a new .45 caliber military pistol. Among the designs represented in the trials that followed were entries from Luger, Bergmann, White-Merrill, Knoble, and, of course, the John Browning/Colt semi-auto that would later serve with U.S. forces for the next 75 years.
Another firm, Savage Arms, also produced a semi-automatic pistol for these series of trials that represented the company's first and only attempt at development of a military sidearm. This particular pistol, designated the "Model 1907 Savage Calibre .45 ACP" was one of two finalists in the competition eventually won by the Colt Model of 1911. The Savage Model 1907 had its origins three years earlier, when inventor Elbert H. Searle and his business partner, William D. Condit approached Savage about a single-action semi-automatic pistol that Searle had designed. Savage expressed an interest in working with Searle to develop his design. After the Army announced a series of military trials, Searle produced a .45 caliber version of the pistol. This arm contained only 34 parts and contained no screws or flat springs. A distinctive feature of the original design was the inclusion of checkered sheet metal stocks that were held in place by simple friction. The gun incorporated a hammer/cocking piece that was directly connected to the firing pin. This assembly was in turn housed within a modular breechblock that also contained the mainspring and a top-mounted notched extractor that doubled as a rear sight.
In later versions, the extractor also served as a loaded chamber indicator. A pivoting combination safety lever/slide lock was mounted on the left side of the frame, and a slide release lever was situated behind the trigger on the frame's right side. An ambidextrous magazine release was located in the center of the front grip strap. Actuated by pressure from the little finger, the staggered 8-round magazine could easily be removed from the pistol. A pivot-mounted lanyard loop could be folded into the magazine well when not in use. One of the more interesting features of Searle's design was its rotating barrel, which operated on a delayed blowback principle. A top-mounted barrel lug engaged an angled channel cut into the inside of the slide.
During recoil, the barrel rotated five degrees to the right, allowing it to move to the rear. The barrel's right-hand twist, coupled with the inertia of the bullet as it traveled through the bore, delayed the barrel rotation and theoretically prevented the slide from opening until the bullet had left the muzzle; however, testing showed that this concept did not work as intended. Initial trials were held in January 1907, during which 913 rounds were fired through the Savage pistol. Although the pistol was not without deficiencies, the Ordnance Department determined that this design, with some modifications, warranted additional testing.
Among the required changes were the addition of a loaded chamber indicator, replacement of the original metal stocks with checkered walnut grip panels, and the inclusion of a grip safety. The Army placed an order for 200 pistols for use in cavalry trials, at a unit cost of $65. Production began in October 1907, but a series of problems delayed completion of the order for over a year. Sixty-five of the guns underwent a series of tests at Springfield Armory, and Ordnance officers discovered a host of manufacturing defects and operational malfunctions. Among these were problems with the bolt stops, and magazines, as well as problems caused by jamming or the ejection of live rounds.
All 200 pistols were returned to Savage for repair, at which time the safety mechanisms on these pistols were stamped with the words "Safe" and "Fire." Five of these guns were lost in shipment, and the remaining 195 were returned to Springfield in March 1909. They were distributed to various cavalry units, as well as to the School of Musketry and to the Chief of Ordnance. A second round of testing uncovered additional problems and showed that many of the problems found during the initial round of testing still existed. Reports from the Infantry and Cavalry Board, as from cavalry units equipped with these arms, specifically stated that the Savage pistols were inferior to the competing entry from Colt. Captain James A. Cole of the 6th Cavalry stated that the Savage pistol "has a splendid grip, is easily and rapidly pointed, has tremendous powers and is very accurate."
Cole then listed various defects noted in the performance of the pistol, concluding his report with the statement, "I am convinced that this Savage model is unsuited for issue in the military service." This opinion was echoed in reports submitted by officers of other Army units involved in the testing and evaluation of military pistols. W. J. Green, the company's vice-president, believed that the Army was predisposed against automatic pistols in general, and the Savage Model 1907 in particular. The Army vigorously denied these charges, and ordered that the guns be returned to Savage for additional repairs. Seventy-two pistols were lost or stolen in transit, all of which were replaced by the manufacturer.
In February 1910, Savage notified the Ordnance Department of a series of improvements to the original Model 1907 pistol, including the addition of a thicker smooth-side walnut stocks, a heavier slide, a redesigned magazine, and a smaller ejector/rear sight. These pistols were designated the Savage Model 1910. As was the case with the originals, these pistols were also plagued by a series of problems, and Savage incorporated additional modifications into what became known as the Savage Model 1911. In a final series of tests, the Savage pistols experienced a number of jams, failures to eject, and failures to feed, as well as numerous broken parts. Ordnance reports also cited a number of additional problems. Based on these tests, the Army rejected the Savage pistol in favor of the Colt Model 1911. Of 288 manufactured, 185 Savage pistols remained in Army inventories after the conclusion of testing. Four were retained by the Army, and the remainder were returned to Savage for refurbishment, including removal of barrel markings, and eventual re-sale on the commercial market through Tryon of Philadelphia, PA.