Real Leather for Real Guns

By R.K. Campbell

The tools of the trade are often as interesting as the firearms. This author has always enjoyed quality leather holsters and possesses more than a few custom rigs including elephant skin, sharkskin, ostrich and the like. But there is also a fondness for original military gear. Some of these are remarkably well preserved, although showing wear. But they are expensive to simply hang on the belt when spelunking or as a companion to shooter grade pistols. World War Supply has solved a lot of problems for people like you and I (and those who make movies as well). They offer a wide selection of reproduction leather that is true to the original template; a good example being an exact reproduction of the first 1911 flap holster.

World War Supply also offers cleaning rods and other things of interest and value, including original historical items. Just the same, all of the gear is inexpensive for the quality and worth adding the proper slings and covers to your rifle and a good quality holster to your vintage handgun. Take the 1911 type full flap holster. It is doubtful many soldiers used the tie down but it is of the original type. This tie down was essential when on horseback to prevent the holster from flapping and beating the wearer in the ribs. When the flap is pulled back and folded the holster offers a reasonably fast draw. Folding the flap back and carrying the Colt cocked and locked was standard operating procedure during dangerous assignments for the U.S. Marines as outlined in a letter from the Commandant of the Marine Corps in 1926 during the period when the Marines acted as Mail Guards. This holster works great as a range holster and costs less than thirty dollars at World War Supply.

A Little History

In the days of flintlock pistols most were simply thrust into a belt or sash or worn on the pommel of a saddle. The first revolvers demanded flap holsters to protect percussion caps from weather. The flap holster was sometimes worn on the saddle but belt designs evolved and the flap holster changed little until well into the 20th Century. The holster illustrated for the 1911 is a good holster of the type that would have been familiar to a Union cavalryman serving under Custer; it is simply modified for the self loading pistol. Western settlers often used military flap holsters to carry their revolvers. Some of these men, in search of a faster draw, cut the flap from the holster. The half flap holster was a development of the flap holster that made for an easier draw. Civilian saddle makers developed the Slim Jim, the Mexican Loop and other designs and left the flap holster to the military. The finest flap holster ever used by the military, in my opinion, is the rig known as the Pershing style. Named after General John ‘Blackjack’ Pershing this is the holster first used during our punitive expedition into Mexico in 1916. This holster reeks of history and is still a great military and field holster.

In Europe, hard shell holsters often completely enclosed the handgun. The type illustrated is a reproduction identical to German issue for the Walther P38. The holster keeps the firearm free from scratches in the safe and offers a protective cover when using the pistol at the range. This holster also carried a spare magazine for the P38. It is a very neat and well made design.

During World War Two the Tanker holster or more properly the M3 and M7 Tank crew holster was issued. While most tanks were armed with Thompson submachine guns and later the M3 Grease gun, it was reasoned that tank crewmen forced to abandon the tank often would not have time to find and remove the SMG from the rack. A holstered 1911 had to be well out of the way of the gears, guns and radios in the tank’s tight quarters. The Tank Crew holster was a brilliant design that is still in use world wide. Not a concealed carry holster by any means but a combat holster that the Tank Crew wore on the chest rather than under the arm. While there are a number of excellent versions of the Tanker holster available today, it is interesting that sporting holsters often build upon the excellent design of the Tanker holsters. As an example, Diamonddcustomleather.com offers a first quality chest holster for use as a load bearing device for heavy Magnum revolvers. The Guide’s Choice is used by professional guides in the worst environments. A custom grade chest holster for service pistols is also available. Good designs never die and many of these holsters are presently in service with our young warriors.

Interestingly, a market exists for a first class high grade rendition of the tanker holster. While the quality reproductions are affordable and as well made as the original, most custom holster makers have made up renditions of the Tanker holster that costs up to several hundred dollars. The reasoning is simple: there is no better design for carrying a heavy handgun for long periods. Diamond D Custom Leather, as one example, offers a special holster called the Guide’s Choice. This holster carries a Magnum revolver when the guide is wearing heavy clothing in the harsh winter of Alaska or anywhere a heavy handgun might be needed. It is ideal for such use. The company also offers a quality chest rig for service pistols. These holsters are appreciated by many of our young soldiers serving overseas.

A maker of high quality western gear is well known for providing working cowboys, peace officers and concealed carry permit holders with first class gear. While Jack Gully, who runs K Bar J Leather Company, will build an exotic skin holster of ostrich or other material, he also hand crafts a modern version of the chest holster that works well. The chest holster keeps the handgun out of the way when on horseback, in a vehicle, or when working outdoors. Yet even when you are heavily bundled for inclement weather the handgun is accessible. These holsters are more complex than the original Tanker with far more adjustment range. On a side note his other shoulder holster design, intended for concealed carry, is peerless in the field.

The humble Tanker holster is far from outdated. It is still in use by professional guides, soldiers on the point in combat, and anyone in need of a hardy workmanlike rig for outdoors use. It is doubtful the original designers of the Tanker holster envisioned its use in helicopters but there is no better design anywhere for such use. In the end it is true that old soldiers never die. Their character and good traits keep serving.

World War Supply
P.O. Box 72
Ada, MI 49301
(616) 676-7277



This article first appeared in SmallArmsReview.com on November 8, 2013


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