Colt Automatic Pistol and Revolver Information - 25 years of Service to Colt Firearms Collectors

COLT MODELS Gun of the Month - April 2006
Colt Model M "U.S. PROPERTY" Marked .380 ACP
Serial Number 136542
Issued to Brigadier General Ralph A. Snavely (USAF)

Colt Model M .380 ACP serial number 136542 issued to Brigadier General Ralph A. Snavely.  Pistol has been engraved sometime after date of issue. 

General Officers did not often have their official sidearms embellished.  Engraving is a European style and was most likely done when General Snavely was Commanding General of Air Task Force and later 15th Army Group, both of which are in Austria.  The "U.S. PROPERTY" mark on the frame and even the ordnance wheel on the left side of the frame behind the thumb safety were carefully preserved by the engraver.

Brigadier General Ralph A. Snavely


5 January 1898 Born - Aurora, Missouri


12 December 1918 -
15 April 1919
Ensign U.S. Naval Reserve Force 12


"Daring to Excel" by Don Landon

BA from State Teachers College, Southwest, Missouri
Ralph Snavely, an STC student and veteran of World War I, owned a biplane which he kept on a corner of the football field northwest of the campus.

This information pertaining to General Snavely comes from a chapter in a history of Missouri State University, "Daring to Excel," by Don Landon. Snavely evidently kept his World War I "Jenny" at what was then State Teachers College. He later had an air strip near Phelps Grove Park, which gave way in 1928 to the first Springfield airport pm East Division.

5 January 1923
9 February 1923
2nd Lieutenant Air Service
Air Service Primary Flying School
Commissioned in the Air Corps in 1923
1924 Air Service Advanced Flying School, Bombardment Course
2 November 1927 1st Lieutenant Air Service
11 March 1935 -
31 July 1935
Captain (temp.)
1 August 1935 Captain
1936 Air Corps Tactical School
Rated: Command Pilot; Combat Observer
1937 Graduated from Command and General Staff School
July 1937 -
June 1938
Instructor at Air Corps Tactical School
September 1938 -
June 1939
Chief of the Bomb Section
July 1939 -
June 1940
Instructor in Bomb Aviation
11 March 1940 Major (temp.)
1 July 1940 vacated Major (temp.)
1 July 1940 Major
November 1940 -
May 1941
Instructor at the Command and General Staff School
7 November 1941
5 December 1941
Lieutenant Colonel (temp.)


Snavely flew in both World Wars and according to Roy Ellis, in WW II “he accumulated several difficult assignments because he was reputed to have conducted a commercial air service in an area where there was at the time no air service or airport.” By the end of WW II, Snavely was a Brigadier General in the Air Force, commanding the entire night flight training program, and supervising the training of pilots for the first U. S. jet fighter, the Air Comet.
September 1942 -
March 1943
Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence at Fourth Air Force
1943 Graduated from Army and Navy Staff College
25 March - 4 August 1943
8 December 1943 -
26 March 1944
Commanding Officer of Los Angeles Fighter Wing

[also see Col. Robert S. Israel, Jr, (later Brigadier General) Commanding Officer of Los Angeles Fighter Wing, 1942]

April - December 1944

Commanding Officer of 319th Night Fighter Wing
See: The United States Army Air Force in World War II
November 1944 Brigadier General
December 1944 -
February 1945
Commanding General of Air Task Force Austria
February 1945 -
March 1947
Commanding general of 15th Army Group in Austria
18 October 1948 - 20 November 1948

Fourteenth Air Force Commander
14th Air Force Flying Tigers
Vandenberg Air Force Base, California

The Fourteenth Air Force traces its roots to in the late 1930s when Claire L. Chennault organized a group of American civilian volunteer pilots to fight the Japanese in Burma and China. Throughout World War II, the Flying Tigers (known for the distinctive tiger shark paintings of their P-40’s) compiled one of the greatest war records against numerically superior forces. Following a post-war series of reorganizations and inactivations, the 14th Air Force became the 14th Aerospace Force (AEROF) in 1968, the first command dedicated to space surveillance and tracking. In 1993, the 14th Air Force was restructured in its space role, becoming a numbered Air Force for Air Force Space Command.


July 1953 Retired
10 February 1995 Died
Buried at: Section S Site 18-I
Ft. Sam Houston National Cemetery

Right side close-up of markings and engraving.

Left side close-up of markings and engraving.

Engraving of underside of frame, trigger guard and front grip strap.

Published September 27, 2004

Pilot provided distinctive promotion

Nova Babb stands beside the biplane in which he had his first plane ride in 1920 or 1921 at about age 7. Pilot Ralph Snavely is on the wing; Nova's dad, Thomas Babb, took the photo. The sign advertises bread.
Nova Babb
Springfieldian Nova Babb remembers seeing a biplane flown by Ralph Snavely take off from the State Teachers College football field in 1920 or 1921.

"He had the biplane on blocks in the football field. Some of us kids were running around there, and we watched him rev up the engine and someone pulled out the blocks.

"He took off and barely cleared the trees in the orchard," Babb said. "Later, I took a ride, sitting on my dad's lap in the front cockpit from a field near Phelps Grove Park."

The name "Snavely" struck a memory chord. Gen. Ralph Snavely was mentioned often in local aviation circles.

I'd never looked into his story until Babb mentioned riding in an open-cockpit biplane with his dad and with Snavely at the controls.

"I was about 7 years old," Babb recalled. "We took off from a field that I believe was south of Phelps Grove Park. I've driven around there, but I can't figure out exactly where it was."

Babb's father, Thomas, was dean of boys when I attended Pipkin Junior High School in the late 1930s. The elder Babb retired from that position. Nova Babb also taught school, in Springfield and in New Jersey, and now is retired here.

Babb doesn't recall how much his dad paid for the 10- to 15-minute flight, which he recalls as "very interesting." He said the view from the cockpit "was very thin — there wasn't much to see back then."

After that flight, Babb's next one was as a college student when he took a $5 ride in a Ford tri-motor at the old Springfield airport.

More details about Snavely come from a new book by Don Landon, sociology professor emeritus at SMS. "Daring to Excel," a history of the university, was a five-year labor of love by Landon.

In a passage headed "First 'air mail' delivery in southwest Missouri," Landon had this to say about Snavely:

"On June 21, 1921, the largest crowd ever assembled in Springfield up to that time gathered on the State Teachers College football field to witness the Centennial Pageant celebrating 100 years of Missouri statehood.

"Planned and directed by Arthur Briggs, the event featured a 1,200-voice choir and a 100-member band. ...

"But while the pageant itself was a spectacle, the manner in which it was promoted and publicized was perhaps yet more spectacular.

"Ralph Snavely, an STC student and veteran of World War I, owned a biplane which he kept on a corner of the football field northwest of the campus.

"Snavely volunteered to distribute 25,000 handbills advertising the Centennial Pageant over southwest Missouri. And he would do it by air!

"On Friday, June 17, Snavely climbed into his flying machine with 25,000 handbills and several free tickets to the pageant.

"With only 100 yards of runway space, Snavely revved the engine, released the brake and headed down the center of the football field. He cleared the treetops and power lines on the east side and swerved to miss the 125-foot smokestack beside the power house. ...

"Throughout the day, he flew at treetop level over Monett, Nichols Junction, Brookline, Republic, Marionville, Billings, Aurora, Verona, Sarcoxie, Mount Vernon, Miller, Greenfield, Everton, Walnut Grove, Ash Grove, Bois D' Arc and Springfield, dropping handbills and free tickets to startled observers below. His only stop was in Monett where he had lunch. ...

"Snavely was the first STC student to fly his own plane. He flew in both world wars and according to (SMS President) Roy Ellis, in WWII 'he accumulated several difficult assignments because he was reputed to have conducted a commercial air service in an area where there was at the time no air service or airport.'

"By the end of WWII, Snavely was a brigadier general in the Air Force, commanding the entire night flight training program and supervised the training of pilots for the first U.S. jet fighter."

Pilot pal Carl Warren believes the biplane in which Babb flew was a Jenny, a World War I trainer. "They sold them in crates as surplus after the war and you had to put them together," Carl said. They were used widely for barnstorming in the 1920s.

Snavely was mentioned in two "Good Old Days" columns by Lucile Morris Upton, preserved on News-Leader microfilm.

An April 30, 1972, column mentioned that 50 years earlier Snavely installed the city's first aircraft "filling station" at Snavely Field near Phelps Grove.

The same day gasoline was delivered, two DeHavilland biplanes from Oklahoma landed for refueling.

A column from March 30, 1975, told of Springfield businessman and aviation enthusiast Ben McDonald leasing 40 acres from the Carl McCluer farm on East Division. It became the Springfield Municipal Airport.

It was twice the size of Snavely Field. McDonald correctly figured a bigger airport would qualify the city for air-mail service. The airport continues under private ownership after the "new" Springfield airport was opened in 1945.

Contact Hank Billings at

31st Bomb Squadron group photo in front of a Douglas Y1B-7 with squadron commander Ralph A. Snavey (commander from 1932 - 1934)

Douglas Y1B-7 (ca. 1949)

Missing Plane Sighted in Alps, Says RAF Crew

Wives of 3 generals & an 11 year old girl among the passengers. Five passengers were injured seriously as reported by a radio transmission from the plane.

Temperature at crash site was about 20 degrees, bitter weather & fresh snowstorm where the transport went down were imperiling the survivors

Pilot Capt. Ralph H. Tate, JR
Crew members aboard: 2nd Lt Irving Matthews, Richmond, Va., co-pilot; Sgt. Souis Hill, Portales, N.M. and Staff Sgt. Wayne G. Folsom, Postville, Ia.
All were stationed at Tullin Field, Austria.
Passengers: Brig. Gen. Loyal Haynes; Mrs. Haynes; Col. William C. McMahon, recent chief of staff in Austria; Mrs. McMahon and their 11 year old daughter Alice Mary; Mrs. Ralph H. Tate, wife of Brig. Gen Ralph H. Tate; and Mrs. Alberta Snavely, wife of Brig. Gen. Ralph Snavely, head of the American Air Force in Austria.
Plane was on "administrative" flight from Vienna to Italy, via Munich and Istres Field at Marseille.

~Edwardsville Intelligencer, Edwardsville, ILL; November 20, 1946
~lengthy article was abstracted by S. Ferrall

The Blue Devil; Vol. 2, No. 24; 28 Nov 1946; pp 1,6.


The Blue Devil; Vol. 2, No. 24; 28 Nov 1946; pp 1,6.

150 88th Div. Men Enter Switz. As Rescue Party

All Passengers Survive Plane Crash;
Swiss Troops Effect Rescue

by Hy Crandell

Troops of the 88th Division made history last week when, with their efforts to help rescue the marooned occupants of a C-53 plane, they became the first foreign military troops to enter Switzerland as a unit, in several centuries. This is mainly due to the cooperation, mutual trust and good will between the United States and Switzerland. By allowing over 150 American troops to enter their country the Swiss showed that their is traditional trust and friendship between two of the oldest democracies in the world.

Much credit is due the Swiss troops for their courageous work in rescuing the survivors of the wrecked plane. The 88th Division troops had expected to accomplish that job, but after arriving learned that a Swiss rescue party was already in operation. The American troops, which came largely from the 1st Bn., 351st Inf., left Udine on 21 November at 1900 hours, accompanied by your "Blue Devil" reporter. After a train trip of over 24 hours they arrived in Interlaken, Switzerland. From Interlaken a picked number of men went by vehicle to Meiringen where they stayed all day on 23 November. While going back to Interlaken that night an accident occurred. A "weasel" ran through a fence and knocked down a tree. Two men suffered slight lacerations on the scalp. The men were Pfc Junior Rickman of Nashville, Tenn. and Pfc Earl Funderburg of Decatur, Tenn. Both men were from Regt'l Hq., 351st Inf.

It was thought miraculous that all the passengers of the plane were alive and well. Due to the cold and snow and lack of food it was expected that only a few of the stronger ones would survive. From the time the plane crashed on Tuesday afternoon until food was dropped on Friday night the survivors rationed themselves to half of a chocolate bar and a quarter of a bun a day. It was sheer luck that they had bought their PX rations before leaving Munich.

It was announced the following day by Brig. Gen. Ralph Tate, Deputy Commanding General of USFA [US Forces Austria], whose wife was on the plane and whose son piloted it, that the survivors would be brought down from the mountain by a small ski plane. Brig. Gen Snavely, Chief of Air Division of USFA, flew to the top of the mountain earlier that morning so that he could be with his wife who was also on board.

The first plane came into the airport near Meiringen at 1100 hours on 24 November. It brought Brig. Gen Loyal M. Haynes. He was carried by stretcher to the ambulance and then taken to the hospital train. The second plane landed at 1210 hours. On it was Pvt. Wayne G. Folsom who was the engineer on the plane. He had a broken leg. The third plane came in at 1318 hours. From it walked Col. William C. McMahon and Mrs. Marguerite L. Tate. Both looked very happy to be on the ground once more. From the fourth plane, which landed at 1415 hours, walked Mrs. Loyal M. Haynes and Sgt. Lewis Hill. Sergeant Hill was the radio operator who kept the signals going after the crash. Mrs. William C. McMahon and her daughter Alice came off the fifth plane which landed at 1445 hours. On the sixth plane (15 minutes later) General Snavely and his wife were passengers. Lt. Irving Mathews, the co-pilot, and Mr. George Harvey, a civilian working for the Army, landed in the seventh plane at 1555 hours. Mr. Harvey was not known to be on the plane. True to the spirit of the captain of his ship, Capt. Ralph Tate Jr. was the last to leave and landed at 1630 hours. With the arrival of his son, General Tate said, "This is the happiest day of my life. I've got my wife and son back.

Before the troops of the 88th left for Switzerland, a party of 18 men set out for Milan in the direction which had previously been given in hopes of finding the wreckage. Milan was the point from which communications were carried through to Italy. It was here also that many supplies were furnished to the 88th troops. Much credit should go to the 88th Quartermaster for the splendid job they did in rushing supplies and equipment for the rescue party. Special clothes and equipment were supplied the troops who participated in the expedition to Switzerland



Retired July 31, 1953. Died.

Ralph Adel Snavely was born in Aurora, Mo., in 1898. He served as an ensign in the U.S. Naval Reserve from December 1918 to April 1919 and graduated from Teachers' College of Missouri in 1921, after which he engaged in commercial aviation.

General Snavely was appointed a second lieutenant in the Air Service of the Regular Army Jan. 5, 1923, and assigned as a student officer at the Air Corps Primary Flying School, Brooks Field, Texas. After completing the course, he transferred to the Advanced Flying School at Kelly Field, Texas, from which he graduated with the rating of pilot in February 1924. Retained on duty at Kelly Field, he served as assistant engineer officer and operations officer of the 40th Squadron, and in May 1924 was assigned as flying instructor of the 10th School Group at that station.

General Snavely went to the Philippine Islands in July 1924 and, upon completion of his two-year tour, returned to Brooks Field as a student officer at the Flying Instructors School. In December 1926 he was transferred to Kelly Field where he became an instructor in the Bombardment Section of the Advanced Flying School. In September 1930 he went to Rockwell Field, Calif., for duty as engineering officer of the 11th Bombardment Squadron, and in October 1931 transferred with this organization to March Field, Calif. In June 1932, he was assigned to the 31st Bombardment Squadron, which he commanded at various times in addition to his duties as engineering officer.

In November 1934, General Snavely went to Maxwell Field, Ala., as post operations and ordnance officer, and then entered the Air Corps Tactical School there. Upon completion of the course in June 1936 he entered the Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. He graduated in June 1937 and returned to Maxwell Field as an instructor.

In July 1940, General Snavely was assigned to the Office of the Chief of Air Corps as assistant to the chief of the Training Section. Soon afterward he was transferred to Fort Leavenworth as an instructor at the Command and General Staff School. He went to London, England, in May 1941 where he became Special Assistant Army Observer at headquarters of the Special Army Observation Group, U.S. Army Forces in the European theater.

General Snavely became assistant chief of staff for operations of the Fourth Air Force in San Francisco, Calif., in September 1942, and in March 1943 was placed in command of the Los Angeles Air Wing. He later commanded the Los Angeles Fighter Wing, and in May 1944 assumed command of the 410th Air Force Base Unit in Los Angeles, retaining this position when the unit was later transferred to Hollywood, Calif. In August 1944, he was appointed commander of the 319th Wing of the Fourth Air Force with headquarters at Hammer Air Field, Calif.

In February 1945, General Snavely was assigned to headquarters of the Mediterranean Allied Air Force with the U.S. Group Control Council for Austria. He remained there until January 1947 when he was transferred to Air Force headquarters in Washington, D.C. On March 7, 1947, he was appointed deputy commanding general and chief of staff of the 11th Air Force at Harrisburg, Pa. In June 1948, he was named vice commander of the 14th Air Force with headquarters in Orlando Air Force Base, Fla., and retained that position when the 14th Air Force Headquarters was moved to Warner Robins AFB, Ga., in October 1949.

In December 1949, the general was appointed chief of the Joint U.S. Military Advisory Group at Copenhagen, Denmark.

General Snavely's decorations include the Legion of Merit and Bronze Star. He is rated a command pilot, combat observer, aircraft observer, and technical observer.

(Current as of June 1952)

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