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British Service Revolvers

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British Service Revolvers

Cartridge Revolvers

.450 Adams Revolver
ca. 1867~1882

Between 1865 and 1867, the British War Office adopted the .450 Adams Revolver, the first cartridge revolver to be issued to the British Army. Based on the patent of Robert Adams, the .450 was developed from the Beaumont-Adams percussion revolver. This gun was a solid frame, double action, six-shot revolver. Loading was through a gated loading port on the right side of the revolver's frame. The loading gate was opened and cartridges were loaded one at a time, while manually indexing the cylinder to bring the chambers in line with the loading port. A rod ejector was on the right underside of the barrel, in line with the loading gate. The ejector rod was not spring loaded, nor was it enclosed in a housing, such as was the Colt Single Action Army.

The .450 Revolver cartridge was of .45 caliber, having a 225 gr. lead bullet ahead of 13.0 grs. or black powder. Muzzle velocity was a stated 650 f.p.s., even then a very low powered round for a military cartridge.

The Adams revolver was unpopular with the British Army from the beginning, and frequent failures were cited during the Egyptian Campaign. These failures were not specified, but may have resulted from the exposed ejector rod. Declared obsolete in 1882, these revolvers continued in service for over a year until replacements could be produced and issued.

.455 Enfield Revolver
.455/476 Enfield Revolver

As a result of complaints concerning the Adams revolver, the British War Office turned to the Enfield Revolver as a replacement, officially adopted in 1882. The Enfield was designed by Owen Jones, an American designer working at the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield. The Enfield Revolver was a six-shot, double action revolver of an unusal break-open design. The barrel was unlatched and hinged down, while the cylinder slid forward on its axis. This forward movement pulled the cylinder away from the cartridges, which were held in place by a fixed extractor that held the cartridges by their rims. The forward travel of the cylinder was limited so that only empty (fired) cases were completely extracted and fell away by their own weight. Remaining loaded rounds were retained by their bullets remaining in the chamber. After emptying the revolver of fired cases, the barrel was closed and latched. Single cartridges were then loaded one at a time through an open loading gate, much the same as the Adams revolver. It will be noted the extraction system removes only fired cases, loaded rounds remaining. The only way to clear loaded rounds was to open the loading gate, point the muzzle upward and manually rotate the cylinder, allowing loaded rounds to fall out of their own weight. Sticking rounds, from oil or fouling, required finger nail extraction.

The Enfield Revolver was not too well received, the Webley and Smith & Wesson revolvers having superior extraction systems. Added to this was the problem that the revolver was issued to Army units before the .455 Enfield ammunition was put into production. Stores of .450 Adams ammunition had to be re-issued until the newer cartridges became available. The .455 Enfield cartridge had a 265 gr. lead bullet over 18.0 grs. of black powder, a somewhat more potent round than the previous .450 Revolver round.

Even with correct ammunition, problems continued. The rifling in the Enfield permitted considerable gas blow-by, robbing the revolver of both power and accuracy. In order to correct this, the .455 Mk. II round was issued. This round had a hollow base bullet with a clay expanding plug in its base. The expanding powder gas was to drive the plug deeper and expand the heel of the bullet for a better gas seal. That this didn't acheive its purpose is evidenced by the .476 Mk III cartridge introduce in 1885. This round used the same cartridge case, but had the diameter of the bullet increased just ahead of the case mouth, hence the .476" designation. In 1887 the British War Office gave up trying to fix a bad situation and declared the Enfield obsolete.

.455 Webley Revolvers

Webley and Scott submitted their Army Revolver for acceptance to the British War Office, and it was accepted in December 1887. The contract called for 10,000 revolvers, with 2,000 to be delivered within eight months. So began the long association between the British Army and Webley.

The Webley was a double action, six-shot, top-break revolver, of very sturdy construction. The barrel was latched with a stirrup latch that very securely locked the barrel extension lugs to the frame. The latch had a thumb extension conveniently located for ease of use. The cylinder had two series of notches for functioning. The rearmost pair were slots and were engaged by an extension of the trigger, which served to stop the cylinder's rotation. A locking bolt protruded through a frame opening and engaged the rectangular notches for solid lock-up of the cylinder during firing.

To open the revolver, the thumb latch was pressed and the barrel "broken" downward. The cylinder quill, or axle, was fixed to the barrel assembly and the cylinder moved with the barrel. As the gun was opened, a cam operated extractor extracted all the cartridges automatically. As the barrel assembly reached the end of its downward travel, the extractor was released and snapped own for reloading. Cartridges could then be inserted and the barrel closed and latched for firing.

The Webley Revolver took the .455 Enfield ammunition at first, including the .476 Mk III cartridge. The ammunition was modified as new powders were introduced. With Cordite, it was found that a smaller capacity case was more efficient, and the cartridge case was shortened. In time, nitrocellulose powder was incorporated into the ammunition. Also, the 265 gr. lead bullet was replaced by a 265gr. jacketed bullet to conform to military practice.

The .455 Webley revolver became as much a symbol of the British as did the Lee-Enfield rifle and the Spitfire fighter plane. The last model was the Mk VI, used in both World Wars and into the Korean War era. While there were modifications from the Mk I through the Mk VI, the modifications were not to correct short comings in the design, but to ease costs and/or production. Most modifications were cosmetic, as to grip shape, barrel length, etc. The only other non-cosmetic changes were the result of introduction of higher pressure smokeless powders. Production of the .455 Webley ceased in 1926.

.380 Enfield Revolver No.2

Beginning as early as 1932 or so, the British War Office sought a lighter replacement for the .455 revolvers in use. Webley was making a .38 caliber Metropolitan Police Revolver in patterened after the heavier .455. This revolver took a cartridge patterened after the American .38 Smith & Wesson round. Apparently the Army tested the Webley .380, but selected the Enfield Revolver No.2 instead. Webley sued the British for patent infringement, but lost their case.

The .380 Enfield was a top-break very similar to the Webley, but internally different. It also had a removable side-plate, not found on the Webley. The Enfield was a six-shot, double action revolver very much similar in operation to the Webley. This was adopted in 1939, and in use until the 9mm Browning was adopted in the 'fifties.

The .380 cartridge was identical to the 200 gr. Super Police loading of the .38 S&W cartridge, with the exception that it had the military style metal jacketed bullet.

The Enfield No. 2 Mk I had the traditional double action, with single action capability. However, it was claimed tan k crewmen complained about the hammer spur getting snagged in the close confines of a tank. A double action only model was issued, removing the single action sear notch and providing a smoothly rounded hammer. This was designated the No. 2 Mk I*.
(Mark one, star) Some of these were retrofitted with single action parts by unit armorers, and designated No. Mk I**.

The British affair with the revolver, firing a slow heavy bullet, ended with the NATO approved 9mm pistols in the 'fifties. There were many supplemental revolvers purchased during war-time mobilizations, but these have the more or less "Official" status.

Bob Wright
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