In the 1880’s, at around the same time the American West was steadily replacing its remaining percussion weapons with the now-standard Colt Single-Action revolvers, Winchester repeating rifles and any other weapons that utilized the self-contained ammunition, the British Empire was outfitting its services with similar weapons. The Royal Small Arms Factory (RSAF) as well as privately owned arms producers such as Webley & Scott were producing some legends of their own.
Near the turn of the century, many of these legends made their appearance on the firearms scene. The Short Magazine Lee-Enfield bolt-action rifle became the standard for decades to come, and was a mainstay success, lasting for decades. Accompanying this legendary British rifle was an equally successful revolver, the Webley revolver.
Moving forward from previous RSAF and private designs, Birmingham arms producer Webley & Scott introduced an upgrade to satisfy the British military demand for reliable sidearms, the Webley Mk IV revolver.
There are many models of the Webley, nearly all of them successful. Owing to the proliferation of the Mk IV, and its historical place in the British military for so many decades, I’m going to focus on this particular model for this posting. The Mk IV was a break-top revolver, originally chambered in .455 caliber, utilizing a 200 grain bullet. This came to be known as the Webley Mk IV .455/200, but is also well known as the “Boer War Revolver”. The Boer War lasted from 1899 to 1902.
Production of the Mk IV began in 1899, and was used by British troops in the 2nd Boer War against Dutch and Zulu combatants in South African Transvaal and Africaans regions. Using case-hardened steel, and stronger parts, the Mk IV replaced its predecessor, the Mk III. With a hinge on the revolver’s strong frame, the barrel and the cylinder could be opened, and swung downward, away from the hammer, exposing the ends of the bullets and extracting them at the same time, making for fast and easy reloading. The Mk IV was a double-action revolver, meaning that you could run it through the entire cycle, including firing, with a single trigger pull without needing to manually cock the hammer. This, in addition to the revolver’s compact size, durability, and reliability, even in muddy or sandy environments, made it a success that carried it clear up into the 1960’s.
In 1913, the Mk V was introduced just in time to see action in World War One, then known as the “Great War.” However, there were so many Mk IV revolvers in circulation that more of them were used in the war than the Mk V, because of supply issues caused by the sudden demands of the war.
After 1921, the Webley revolvers were produced by the Royal Small Arms Factory in the London suburb of Enfield. RSAF was a British government-owned arms producer. The privately owned Webley & Scott company continued to produce arms until 1979. After that, they were known for air guns and other sporting products. Today, products are still made under the Webley name.
Webley revolvers, in all their different models and calibers, continued to be used in World War Two, and remained in the service of the British Military until 1963-1964. I could not finish this article without mentioning that the Webley revolver was also a favorite with the fictional character, Indiana Jones, and can be seen in the popular adventure movies. You just can’t keep a good classic down. Who would want to? It goes without saying that the legendary Webley revolvers earned their respected place in history alongside their legendary rifle cousin, the Lee-Enfield SMLE. Like the famous bolt-action rifle, the Webley revolver is now a highly prized and beloved piece of firearms history, and sought by collectors.
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