Pistols Webley .455in, 0.38in Mk 4, Fosbery, Enfield No.2
Webley .455in revolver
Table of Contents
The 0.455-inch cartridge used by the Webley revolvers was actually 0.441 inch (11.2 mm) and the design reflected the experience of the colonial wars. The cartridge had been designed as a ‘man-stopper’ for use at short distances against attacking hordes of natives. Therefore, the heavy bullet and the powerful propellant were certainly suitable for this task.
The pistol, which was intended for use with this powerful cartridge, was built by Webley & Scott Limited in Birmingham. There the first .455in revolver was built in 1887.
This Webley & Scott Mk I was the forerunner of a series of largely similar models, many of which are still in use somewhere.
The Mk I had an upward opening frame, with an automatic ejection system that ejected the used cartridges when the frame was opened. The handle had a distinctive shape known as the ‘bird’s head’ and a key ring was considered indispensable for wearing.
A 4 inch (102 mm) long barrel was used, but later Mark versions also used 6 inch (152 mm) long barrels.
After the Mark I, numerous other Mark and sub-versions came with detail improvements or changes to the barrel length. The whole mechanism didn’t change much, though when the main model appeared during World War I, the butt shape changed and some changes were made to the aiming devices.
The Mark VI became the typical Webley .455in World War I revolver, but many of the previous Mark series continued to be used.
The Mark VI was a very well crafted and solid revolver. It was also very large and something like a handful of carrier bag that could be fired. The powerful cartridge caused an equally powerful recoil and it was recommended to use it only at a reasonable combat distance of a few yards (meters).
For the trench war this was ideal and no problem and the Webley became the preferred weapon for trench raids and close combat. Under these circumstances, the Webley had another great advantage because it was very frugal and had no problem with the dirt and mud in which it was often used. Even a jammed or empty Webley could still be used as an effective club.
This attribute was further enhanced when the ‘Pritchard-Greener revolver bayonet’ was introduced, which was a spike-type bayonet or trench knife pulled across the muzzle with a metal handle and pressed against the revolver frame. This frightening combination of pistol and bayonet was rarely used as it was never officially taken over by the British Army.
A more useful device, however, was a reloader, which allowed six cartridges to be inserted immediately into the open cylinder.
The Webley-Fosbery revolver was designed by Colonel G V Fosbery (awarded the Victoria Cross). The weapon is in a class of its own as it is an automatic revolver.
The original patent was accepted in 1896 and Webley & Scott started production, with the resulting pistols having chambers for the standard 0.455 inch cartridge (but actually 0.441 inch or 11.2 mm).
The function of the Webley-Fosbery revolver was unique. When shooting, the recoil pushed the barrel, cylinder and top frame back along a rail over the butt. This tensioned the trigger cock and a return spring inside the piston and this entire part of the weapon returned to its original position.
A pin ran inside the rail through an angled groove in the cylinder to rotate it to the next position with a new cartridge.
The system had a strong appeal to those who thought they only had to pull the trigger to fire one shot after the other. In practice, however, it was not so easy.
An immediate disadvantage was that the whole function included a lot of mechanical functions. The entire upper frame, which moved back and forth, increased the already considerable force by the violent recoil and made the pistol an unruly beast when shooting.
Another disadvantage was that the shooter had to hold the piston very tight, otherwise the whole system would not work, because the shooter’s butt served as the basis for the whole mechanism.
Nevertheless, the Webley-Fosbery revolver was sold in considerable numbers to British officers who had to bring their own handguns during the First World War. Many were also sold to the staff of the Royal Flying Corps, who believed that the automatic function would be of great advantage when it came to fighting enemy aircraft from the cockpit. They soon realized, however, that the considerable movements of the weapon during firing made in-flight use even more difficult than it already was.
For all these reasons, the Webley-Fosbery was never officially adopted by the British armed forces. This was a good thing, because when they were deployed in the trenches, their biggest disadvantage became even more obvious.
Since the whole function was based on a flowing movement through carefully machined grooves, clogging them with dirt, dust and mud led to a blockade. Since most of the grooves which were important for the function were completely open, they quickly became fully soiled by all sorts of trench warfare deposits and the user of the weapon had to constantly make sure it was clean. Many officers surrendered to this task and used less annoying pistols.
Webley .38in Mk 4 Revolver
The Webley .455 First World War revolver was an effective ‘man-stopper’, but also a heavy and powerful weapon that was generally only effective in the hands of a highly skilled shooter. Such men, however, could not be trained under the demands of war.
As a result, after World War I, the British Army re-evaluated the ballistics for revolvers and decided that it would be possible to achieve a sufficiently lethal result with a bullet of 200 grains (just under 13 grams) and 0.38 inches (9.65 mm).
Consequently, the company Webley & Scott, which had been the supplier of pistols for the British Army until then, developed a smaller model from the 0.455in revolver and offered it to the military. To Webley & Scott’s disappointment, the British military simply used the design, made a few minor modifications and put this weapon into production as an ‘official’ pistol under the name Enfield No.2 (see below) at the Royal Small Arms Factory in Enfield Lock in Middlesex.
This process took some time as Webley & Scott had offered their design in 1923 and it was modified in Enfield Lock until 1926. Webley & Scott was a little astonished about this process and started to sell its new 0.38-inch revolver Webley Mk 4 commercially all over the world with limited success. The handgun was mainly used worldwide by the police.
However, in 1941, when the British Army’s main expansion began, the Royal Small Arms Factory in Enfield was working to capacity to produce revolvers. In order to equip the larger numbers of troops, it was also necessary to involve commercial companies.
The company Webley & Scott was commissioned to manufacture its .38 revolver for the British armed forces and this was officially put into service in 1942.
Since the Enfield revolver was largely based on the Webley design, the differences between the two handguns were very small. These related to the trigger, which was attached through a slit in the bottom of the case instead of a separate side plate. The trigger guard was removable and secured by two screws, the cylinder stop was part of the trigger and the contour of the handles was slightly different and had the name ‘Webley’ engraved into the shape.
Although Enfield No. 2 and Webley .38in Mk 4, which was added to the British Armed Forces inventory during World War II, looked almost identical, they had too many minor differences in construction to allow the exchange of parts between the two weapons.
Both revolvers remained in service with the British armed forces until the 1960s and can still be found in various parts of the world.
Enfield No.2 Revolver
As already explained in the comments on the Webley revolver, the British Army began investigating the introduction of a .38 model in the 1920s.
The Webley & Scott pattern was generally suitable, but for reasons that undoubtedly seemed reasonable at the time, the lock mechanism was criticized. Based on the basic design of the Webley, the designers of the Royal Small Arms Factory developed their own model with a slightly different locking and release mechanism, which was finally adopted for troop service on 2 June 1932.
This Enfield Mark 1 was able to work as a single action or double action revolver. Among the main users, however, were the tank crews of the Royal Tank Regiment, and they turned against the long hammer spur or ‘comb’ which had the disturbing habit of getting caught on various parts of the combat vehicles as the crews got in and out. This was a potentially dangerous situation as the pistols were loaded.
As a result, the Enfield Mark 1* was approved on 22 June 1938. In this pattern with ‘asterisk’ (*) the entangled comb was removed. This prevented the hammer from being thumb-cocked, so the pistol could only be used in double action mode.
The main spring was weakened to reduce the trigger force from 13 to 15 lbs (5.9 to 6.8 kg) to 11 to 13 lbs (5.0 to 5.9 kg), the handle side parts were slightly modified to provide a better grip and a brass disc for embossing regimental plates was attached to the right handle.
This of course led to the problem that the armored troops always had to receive Mk 1* pistols, so that to simplify the situation the version Mark 1 was immediately declared obsolete and if these models were retracted for regular overhaul or repair, all revolvers were converted to Mark 1*. For this reason, the original Mark 1 pistols are extremely rare today.
The last change in the design was the introduction of the Mark 1** (with two ‘asterisks’) on 29 July 1942, a Mark 1* with no hammer safety stop and modification of one or two of the small lock components. This step was intended to simplify production and thus speed it up.
It did, but it also made the pistol susceptible to firing a blind shot when it fell on the hammer. However, this was an unlikely circumstance and the design, with its possible consequences, was accepted as a concession to the circumstances of war.
Once the war was over, all these models were recalled and adapted to Mark 1* safety standards.
The Webley and Enfield pistols were not often used in action, mainly due to the unwelcome attention their carriers received from enemy rifle men.
The Enfield revolver was also unpopular as the pure double-action function made precise and deliberate shooting almost impossible. The trigger for a single action revolver is generally 3 to 5 lbs (1.4 to 2.3 kg) of force, but the Enfield was never less than 11 lbs (5 kg), and this forefinger force corrupted any accurate targeting.
As a readily available firearm in an emergency, the pistol was sufficiently usable, but there have been no reports of outstanding combat actions.
Users: British and Commonwealth Forces.
Specifications British Revolvers
|Webley .455in Mk VI
|Webley .38in Mk 4
|0.441 in (11.2 mm)
|0.352 in (9.65 mm)
|11.25 in (28.6 cm)
|11 in (27.9 cm)
|10.5 in (26.7 cm)
|10.25 in (26.0 cm)
|2.4 lb (1.09 kg)
|2.755 lb (1.25 kg)
|1.7 lb (0.767 kg)
|6 in (15.2 cm)
|5 in (12.7 cm) with 7 grooves, right hand twist
|6 rounds chambered cylinder
|System of operation
|Single or Double Action
|Single or Double Action
|620 ft (189 m) per second
|600 ft (183 m) per second
|Webley .38in Mk 4
|Royal Small Arms Factory (Enfield Lock, Middlesex), Singer Sewing Machine Company (Clydebank, Scotland), Albion Motor Company (Glasgow, Scotland)
|main model Mk VI 1915
|private officers' weapon
|(in service until the 1960s)
|280,000 during WWI, total c.300,000
|Price per unit
References and literature
The Encyclopedia of Infantry Weapons of World War II (Ian V.Hogg)
Infanterie im 2. Weltkrieg (J.B.King, John Batchelor)
Illustriertes Lexikon der Waffen im 1. und 2. Weltkrieg (V. Dolinek, V. Francev, J. Sach)
The Encyclopedia of Weapons of World War II (Chris Bishop)