Please enlighten this Yank on British Army revolvers

Discussion in 'Weapons, Equipment & Rations' started by warmonger82, Oct 22, 2012.

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  1. My first brush with British revolvers came as a tike watching Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
    Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade - Internet Movie Firearms Database - Guns in Movies, TV and Video Games, and thus the die was cast and my love affair with large service revolvers began. I currently own 4 Smith and Wesson revolvers two of which are N frames (the largest size until the X frame in .500 came out last decade) one a model 28 and the other a model 629.

    To the point...

    Walking through gun show here in the western US I've seen a few Enfield's and RARELY a Webley MK VI. Ive always picked them up and fondled them and always taken a pass on actually purchasing one. The reason I don't take them home is

    #1 the Webley cylinders were cut to accept the American .45 auto cartridge which generates much more pressure than the original chambered .455 rounds generated, rendering the guns unsafe to fire

    #2 the Enfield's .38/200 round (known here as .38 S&W) is no longer readily available

    My questions to the old sweats here at ARRSE are as follows

    How durable were the Webleys? I've heard that while the .455 started life as a low velocity black powder round; the real secret to the durability of all British break action revolvers was that they were hardly ever used... something about two rounds per man per year for training.

    What was like to shoot both of the old guns? Ive heard that recoil in the .455 prompted the switch to .38/200, but how bad could the .455 really be if it so mild that .45 auto will blow the cylinders to smithereens.

    On the switch to .38... why in god's name was .38/200 selected over .38 special, not that .38 special is so great, but its a damn sight better than a cartridge that had been superseded for almost 40 years at the time of adoption

    Untold Thousands of Smith and Wesson revolvers in both .455 and .38/200 were purchased by HM government for both World Wars, Ive heard they were much preferred by British and Commonwealth personnel was this true, and if so, why?
    Better trigger pull? Durability?
     
  2. I have a Webley MKIV in .455 Webley, originally blackpowder it has a nitro proof stamp for the MKII round. It was my great grandad's, he was a Cavalry Officer from 1910 until 1922, India, Mesopotamia, the western front and later he was a colonial policeman in Kenya.
    It's currently at a German Gunsmith who is repairing the very slight play in the cylinder to improve the pistol's performance. The pistol has seen a lot of use in the last 122 years, until recently it was carried at hunt meets by various members of my family to deal with badly injured horses or hounds.

    It's a heavy revolver, but with the heaviest load it's 17.2 gr ball only delivered 337 ft/lbs. Most loads were around 250 ft/lbs. That means that you can fire the thing all day without getting tired. You can let your wife fire it without her subsequently shitting herself. The "Officer's hammer" was well liked and proved itself in trench fighting and in the colonies, despite the low velocity (you can see the ball fly) it does a lot of damage, the commitee who produced the recomendations leading to the specification for the .45ACP round trialled it and were impressed, it did more damage to animal carcasses than .45 long colt or any of the other rounds trialled.

    Supply of ammunition is a problem, it's now a pistol for reloading enthusiasts, which I am not. I buy commercial ammo when I can, in recent years from Fiocci. I couldn't ever part with it.

    That Americans mistrust the Webley revolvers is not a reflection on the make, its a reflection on your nation's Bubba-Gump pimp my arse amateur garage gunsmithing, absent legislation and the lack of a proof-house. I only know of one serious failure with a Webley, a .38 reloaded with shotgun powder by a fool, (well it looks the same and it's cheaper) he lost two fingers.
     
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  3. I had a Webley MkVI for decades, it was very durable and the recoil was comparable to the 45 ACP. The trigger pull was crisp and not too heavy in single action, the double action was a real lemon squeezer. As for the 38/200 it was considered that the recoil was more acceptable and that the heavy bullet was a man stopper. I have almost no experience of the 38 Webley, just a few rds through other peoples guns. As for blowing blowing the cylinder of the 455 to smitereens, the 45 ACP working pressure exceeds the proof pressure of the 455 rd. Perhaps not enough to turn a revolver into a grenade, but enough to crack the cylinder.
    I would love to buy another Webley, but German legislation makes it very difficult for me, I have reached the maximum number of handguns allowed without having to jump through large numbers of hoops.
     
  4. Cernunnos, in the 70s in UK Nobel shotguns powders were widely used for handgun cartridges, no problems. Red Dot, an American shotgun powder is still used for handguns cartridges, indeed it was only last year that I used my last few grains for 38 Spl. Blowing up weapons with reloaded ammo is usually a result of ignoring or not using the loading data. I always use the manufacturers data, even after 40 years. I still have all my fingers, eyes and other useful bits.
     
  5. Like I said, he was a fool, I suspect his loading data was a scientific wild arsed guess. As to what make of powder he used, I don't know, but it would have been cheap. he only ever used those stinking, swollen, rusty cased Sellier & bellot shotgun cartriges in the heady days when every second shot fired fused lumps of soft lead shot.
     
  6. Slightly off track. Sellier and Bellot = schlecht und billig?
     
  7. I dont know. Like most British people I have a spoon in my cutlery draw in my kitchen. I am next month applying for a licence to own a sharp fork, and next year maybe a knife.
     
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  8. My KFS are currently at Blades of Sheffield for a decoke and rebore, they have served me well since the Crimea.
     
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  9. They have improved since the iron curtains were taken down sent to the cleaners. I would now fire one!

    The first generation of S&B, rusty mishapen red waxed paper affairs, usually handed out by tight farmers with a woodpigeon problem, were dire indeed. The shot was filthy, uneven, clumped and not the hardened "chilled shot" we know and love and the charge / feltwad combination left the bore looking like a Kenyan wander-whore's back passage in the rainy season!
     
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  10. Right. The British shooting establishment believed that heavy-and-slow-and-soft beats light-and-fast-and-hard for stopping recalcitrant natives. Probably true.

    As for .38/200, Webley was already making the .38 Mk.IV in .38 S&W. That meant that Enfield could just rob the basic design, tweak the lockwork & claim it as their own, without having to lengthen the cylinder. Stick a nice almost-cylindrical 200gn soft lead bullet on it, and you've improved the terminal ballistics - probably better than a soft-lead 158gn .38Spl.

    Then adopt a substandard jacketed 174-grainer (IIRC) and knacker the terminal ballistics.
     
  11. Not called the "Wog Stopper " for nothing.
     
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  12. While, I totally concur that the heavy, slow, and soft school of terminal ballistics has a lot of merit, I was under the impression that the Hague Convention on small arms munitions mandated a jacketed slug for all cartridges. Wouldn't that make the .38/200 heavy, slow, and hard?

    Did the British Army maintain stocks of plain lead .38/200 for colonial purposes and jacketed ammo for a European conflict during the 1930s?
     
  13. I had a MkVI Webley in .455 on a collectors licence, and found it pleasing to shoot when I took out a second mortgage for a packet of ammo. I also had a MkIII in .38S&W which killed pigs ok. I once fired it at a can on the ground and after the bullet kicked up the dirt some mates and I could actually see it in the air. That's a slow moving round.
     
  14. TheIronDuke

    TheIronDuke LE Book Reviewer

    One hates to intrude because this is one of those interesting ARRSE threads where people are talking about something I am interested in, but know rock-all about. So I read and button it.... but....

    At the end of the day, isn't that the point of a gun?

    Carry on.
     
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  15. Duke,

    You are very correct that 99.9% of the time military small arms are carried and not actually fired. But in that .1% of the time firearms are called upon to be used they'd damn well better work or things can get a bit... sticky.

    Military handguns are probably an even more extreme case where one hopes that the personnel who are issued revolvers or semi auto pistols NEVER have to fire their weapons. (When one sees the officers and rear area types start pulling out their sidearms it's a pretty big hint things are going sideways in a hurry) The problem sidearms have in most military settings is that they are a rather low priority item in terms of unit maintenance and decades of training use do eventually add up. Witness the continual complaints about the L9A1 Browning Hi Power being a POS. I believe that the weapon is of a very sound design, I have had one now for years and put umpteen thousand rounds through it but I replace the recoil spring once a year and I have yet to have any issues with the piece.

    I guess that begs the question though, how often and with how many rounds do non SF British units train on either the Sig or Browning 9mm and what kind of standard parts replacement do these weapons receive?