The Webley MkVI Brutal Brit Manstopper
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 Webley revolver was a double action only design that opened in a top-break style. This was different from solid frame revolvers whose cylinder had to be removed by a pin to reload or rounds fed and removed one at a time through a hatch such as on the 1873 Colt. With the top-break action, the shooter simply undid a latch and pulled the barrel downward, opening the back of the cylinder.
(With its action open, the ejector instantly pushed out all six spent cartridges)
This motion worked a star-shaped extractor that pushed all of the spent casings out at the same time. Simply drop six more bullets in, close it up, and resume firing. A trained soldier could rip off as many as 30-aimed rounds from his Webley in less than 60 seconds. Moreover, what wonderful rounds they were...
What did it shoot?
The Webley was chambered in .455 caliber with 265-grains of lead over a blackpowder charge starting in 1891. By 1898, the blackpowder was replaced by smokeless and a new 218-grain dum dum bullet (a primitive hollowpoint) seated over it. While banned from warfare the following year at The Hague Convention as being too brutal against civilized armies, this round was still issued to police and troops fighting colonial wars (a 265-grain FMJ was issued to regular troops). This huge bullet was slow (700-800 fps) but imparted an impressive 300-ft.lbs of energy when it hit and was brutally effective. In fact, it was the British Army's success with this large caliber round that led to the US Army adopting the .45ACP a few years later.
Shooting the Webley MkVI double-fisted just the thing for breaking up a charge of natives or a German trench raiding party. The long barrel and heavy weight of the gun keeps recoil of this stout .455 down.
(For a gun designed to be used by horse cavalry, it remained in use for decades)
The best-known variant of the Webley was the MkVI. Produced from 1915-1923 it was the most numerous and the cumulative design, taking lessons learned from earlier guns made 1887-1914 and applying them. This gun had a squared grip for better ergonomics, a long six-inch barrel, and removable front sights. With an overall length of 11.34-inches, it tipped the scales at a healthy 38.7-ounces. That's two pounds of steel, nearly a foot long. The gun was so sturdy, in fact, that buttstocks and even bayonets were produced for it to turn it into a trench carbine for use on the Western Front in World War 1.
Although officially replaced by the .38 caliber Webley and Enfield revolvers in 1932, the gun continued to serve with British and Commonwealth forces throughout World War 2. Final stocks of these revolvers continued to float around in military service as late as the 1960s.
These classic old top break revolvers are extremely collectable. Perhaps the most recognizable revolver of either World War, they have appeared in hundreds of films, games, and television programs.
(These guns have appeared in any number of films, such as this capture from Legends of the Fall, courtesy of the IMFDB)
(It will be easy to identify all you need to know about a Webley from its markings, as they are covered with proofs, dates, and legends)
These guns range from $500-$800 on the open market as long as they haven't been converted in caliber. Fiocchi of Italy and Hornady still produce new .455 rounds but they are a little pricey, which leads most Webley shooters whose guns are in the original caliber to become reloaders. As such, dies and components are made for these rounds by most of the reloading companies.
Still, if you can lay your hands on one, it's a certified interesting addition to any collection.