When something goes bump in the night, many believers in the 2nd Amendment reach for something solid and reliable to arm themselves with before they investigate. Many of these believers reach for an old British 38, and for good reason. Two old popular surplus revolvers, the Webley MkIV and the No.2 Enfield, both "top break" .38 S&W weapons from the WWII-era, are chosen for many reasons.
They can always be picked up at gun shows and online firearms sellers such as Gunbroker and Gunsamerica for $200-$300, typically in great condition. Most Enfield's and Webley's found in the US show proof marks showing arsenal refinishing in the 1950s. They are curio and relics eligible unless they are too modified. The weapon is still carried by police forces in the former Commonwealth countries of Malaysia, Kenya, and India.
-The Enfield No.2 .38S&W revolver is a throwback to the days of Sherlock Holmes and Rudyard Kipling but it is a mild-shooter and is imminently controllable, delivering a soft lead bullet ballistically between a .380 Auto and a mild .38 Special.
Some 270,000 No.2 Enfield's were produced by the Royal Small Arms Factory in Enfield (hence the name) from 1932-1957. Only 27-ounces unloaded it is a natural shooter with a good point of aim. Many of these old warriors show up that have been modified into snub-nosed, 3" shorty's and sometimes, even chromed by Bubba. An estimated 500,000 Webley MkIVs were made my Webley and Scott 1932-1978. Webley's in good condition were sold at gun shows across the country in the early 1990s for as little as $75, and now go for three times that much. Still affordable for historic and very shoot-able pieces.
-The Webley MkIV is a sturdy .38S&W soldier that still packs a wallop and is very affordable, especially in the painted 'War Finish' models.
Quickly unloaded in a one-move action by breaking the revolver in half, they can be quickly recharged by a standard HKS or Safariland speedloader. These guns earlier cousin, the .455 Webley, used the world's first speedloader, the spring steel Prideaux device, and it shows. I have an older No.2 Tanker Enfield and with a little practice, I can break it open, remove six spent rounds, reload from a HKS Model 10 speedloader, close it, and be back on target within 5-seconds. This is arguably as fast as many can perform a magazine exchange on an automatic.
The truly neat thing about the old Brit 38s is their accuracy. With a long sight radius, very high front posts and wide rear sites, coupled with the flat trajectory and low-recoiling .38 S&W round, the Webley and Enfield are superbly accurate. The large sites provide rapid target acquisition at close ranges while still maintaining enough 'meat' to align for long range shots at the 25m mark.
38 S&W Ammunition
The 38 S&W loading in the Enfield/Webley break-top revolvers is an absolute joy to shoot. I have often shot mine on the range and had it mistaken for a 22LR or 32S&W cowboy load. Bobbed-hammer "Tanker" or "Commando" models, which are double action only, have a horrible trigger pull when compared to their DA/SA brothers, but still shoot well.
The mild recoil of the round, coupled with the reliability of a military-grade revolver, make for an ideal weapon for smaller statured shooters, the elderly and women. Overall it has lighter recoil and longer sight radius than a comparable 380, without any muzzle flip.
Often decried by modern shootists who insist that only a .44 Magnum with Super Shredder +P++ ammunition can be used for defense, the .38 S&W looks humble. The 38 Smith & Wesson, 145-grain lead round nose (LRN) generates a very modest 685fps at the muzzle and imparts 150-foot pounds (ft/lbs) of energy. When compared to other cartridges, this almost exactly duplicates low-power 38-special rounds such as the old school 158-grain semi-wadcutter as well as some of the hotter .380 Auto loadings. Considering that the .25ACP mouse-round still used by many for defense, produces around 75 ft/lbs of muzzle energy, the 38 Smith and Wesson is certainly not a magnum load, but is still credible.
The ammunition is currently manufactured by most leading companies including Magtech (in 146-grain LRN delivering 152 ft/lbs), Winchester (in 145-grain Super-X LRN), Remington (Express green box 146- grain LRN delivering 150 ft/lbs), as well as many overseas loads such as Prvi Partizan PPU and others. A current factory JHP load cannot be found, and that factor is troubling. However it should be noted that the British Tommy and Royal Marines used the same caliber round without a JHP throughout the Empire in as much 'real-world' service as could be imagined for a half century without notable complaints.
In British military service from 1922-1963, when replaced by the Browning HP in 9mm, a 200-grain soft lead bullet was used. In tests, the 200-grain slow mover generated 620-fps and delivered 176-foot pounds to its target. It was quoted that "In tests performed on cadavers and live animals, it was found that the lead bullet, being overly long and heavy for its caliber, become unstable after penetrating the target, somewhat increasing target effect. The relatively low velocity allowed all of the energy of the cartridge to be spent inside the human target, rather than penetrating completely." This cartridge, the old 38/200 ball load is still in factory production in India.
The round is well known to hand loaders who often make loads with 125-grain 30 caliber JHP bullets over a stout (but not +P) load, hitting 975fps. For plinking, 200-grain .360 cast bullets over about 3 grains of Unique nearly duplicate the old British loading. The old Brit loading, referred to as.380 Mk IIz 178-grain sometimes surfaces on the surplus markets and message boards (like Firearms Talk forums!)
In closing, these old Brit 38s are funky, and they shoot funny bullets, but they work, are affordable, and if needed could very well save your life.