In July 1879, the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield was ordered to produce a self-extracting revolver to compete against foreign models for an upcoming British Army test. Enfield’s first handgun, it was accepted, but soon found “a clumsy weapon” and, within a decade was replaced by a Webley-pattern break top design.
The mighty Webley .455 Mark VI, seen here at the Berman Museum in Anniston, Alabama with an aftermarket Pritchard-Greener bayonet, was the standard British Army revolver of the Great War-era. (Photo: Chris Eger)
For the next almost 50 years, Webley had a lock on the British sidearm trade but, in 1932, this changed after Enfield was ordered to cough up a second revolver design in a short-cased .38 caliber chambering, and did so with a model that looked a lot like the Webley.
The Enfield No. 2 was born and was soon made worse by the Enfield No. 2 Mk. 1* standard.
More in my column at Guns.com.
Sergent Len “Happy” Knox, 2nd New Zealand Division, 2NZEF, cleans an old-school .455-caliber break action Webley revolver Maadi Camp, near Cairo, Egypt, around 1940-41.
Alan Blow Album PH-ALB-497, Collection of Auckland War Memorial Museum / Tāmaki Paenga Hira
2NZEF would spend all of WWII under the British Eighth Army, seeing the elephant in Greece and at Crete, the fighting at Minqar Qaim and El Alamein; and the end of the North African campaign. They then crossed the Med and fought up up the Sangro and Monte Cassino across central Italy, finishing the war on the Northern Adriatic.
By which time, Happy was probably ecstatic.
The Webley and Enfield series of top-break .455 and .38/200 wheelguns were the standard issue British officer’s kit from the 1880s through the early 1960s when they were finally replaced by the Browning HP.
Webley MK VI .455 Infantry Revolver, MK IV .38 SW short Police Revolver, Albion .38 SW Tankers Revolver.
These guns were even the subject of a popular after-market bayonet sold for the discerning English gentleman trench raider in the Great War.
The Webley with the 1915-era Pritchard-Greener Revolver Bayonet
British trench raider with Webley 455 and Pritchard-Greener Revolver Bayonet (Via Osprey)
In the end they remained in service into the next World War, even while England’s enemies all used semi-autos (Germany = Walther, Luger, Mauser; Italy= Beretta; Japan= Nambu) as did her Allies (U.S= 1911, Soviets= TT30, France= MAB and Modèle 1935 pistols).
A girl shooting a Webley under the instruction of British sailors, England, 1939
Mmmmmm, let it wash over you. Also note the Smith 1917 .455 wheelgun to the bottom left
A British officer aims his revolver at a smiling suspected Mau Mau during a night raid. 1952, Kenya note the trigger discipline trigger discipline and the similarity to the depiction from the Trenches above…some things never change
Found this image on the interwebs and was kind of fond of it, so I thought I would share.
(click to embiggen) and for the record, I am upset that there are no monocles visible..but their are swagger sticks aplenty.
The officer bottom left front, sports the badge of the 21st (Empress of India’s) Lancers (1901 – 1922) in his pith helmet. However this photo is of the 12th Royal Lancers (Prince of Wales own) Pistol Team in Cairo, Egypt, with the Duke of Connaught’s Cup in the 1930s. Revolvers of course are .455 caliber Webley MKVI’s. The cup was for a series of revolver matches run by the British army in Egypt and India from 1920 to 1939.
Founded in 1715, the 12th RL has an impressive lineage. The Duke of Wellington served with the regiment as a young subaltern before his rendezvous with Napoleon. In 1928, the 12th Lancers gave up their horses and were equipped with armoured cars (as the Brits say, rather than “armored cars”), taking over vehicles left in Egypt by two Royal Tank Corps armoured car units, so these very dashing cavalrymen pictured above were mounted on tin horses. They went on to fight in Europe in 1940 from inside hopelessly outgunned Morris CS9 armored cars, shielding the withdrawal at Dunkirk. They later fought at El Alamein with Montgomery and were amalgamated with the 9th Queen’s Royal Lancers to form the 9th/12th Royal Lancers in 1960. This unit still exists attached to the 7th Armoured Brigade, the Desert Rats.
As far as the Cup itself goes, Connaught was fond of promoting pistolcraft. As the Governor General of Canada in the 1912 he started an earlier revolver competition there, with the passing of a cup to the winner each year. This event remains today.
Perhaps no other revolver screams ‘British’ louder than the .455-caliber Webley six shooter. This wheelgun was the go-to sidearm of the King’s military for generations and once you look at it, you can see why.
The British Army had been in the revolver game for more than thirty years before the Webley came on the scene. Starting with the Adams revolver of the 1850s (models of which popped up in the US Civil War) and moving onto the disliked and slow to reload Enfield .476-caliber six-shooter, a reliable handgun was increasingly needed in the Victorian era. This was the days when young British officers on colonial duty in far off and exotic lands needed sturdy, and effective firepower to stop charges of irate local warrior types in situations where numbers were very much relative. For instance, in the Battle of Isandlwana in 1879, 1800 British and colonial troops faced 20,000 Zulu warriors and were overwhelmed.
The redcoats needed a capable handgun that could be reloaded ricky tick, so they turned to Webley…
Read the rest in my column at Firearms Talk.com