Webley pistols

The only English-made automatic pistols which have been produced in considerable numbers are those made by Webley and Scott, Ltd. of Birmingham and London. An experimental model was built in 1903, based on a design patented in the same year by W. J. Whiting (Brit. Pat. No. 19,032 - 1903). This pistol was of the locked-breech type with recoiling barrel, under which was a spiral recoil spring. Only a few specimens were made as it was not considered a success.

Webley 1904 model-In 1904 Whiting produced a new design, covered by Brit. Pats. Nos. 3820, 17,856, and 25,028 (all of 1904). This pistol also employed a locked breech with recoiling barrel, with a locking system of the prop-up type. Unlike the 1903 prototype, however, a stiff V-shaped spring and recoil lever, located under the right hand grip piece, replaced the spiral spring. This idea came from the Webley revolvers, where such a spring had long been used.

This pistol was very heavy, was awkward in appearance, and consisted of too many parts, a number of which required exacting milling operations, making it expensive to produce. This model was never adopted for armed forces use and but few were made, there being no commercial market for such a weapon.

Webley Mark I-By 1913 an improved .455 caliber pistol had been developed and it was adopted in that year for use by all British Naval units and by the Royal Marines. This pistol also had the lockedbreech system, necessary for a pistol of this power. The mechanism, though excellently made to exacting specifications, was very complicated and consequently expensive to manufacture. Like the Model 1904, the recoil spring was of the V type, located under the right grip plate. These plates, usuaAy made of ebonite, were brittle and easily broken. As the spring was covered by this plate a broken plate led to trouble. On some specimens wood grip plates are to be found.

Other variants also appeared. Some pistols had grip safeties while other specimens show the safety to have been omitted. In the case of those that had the grip safety the hammer (always placed externally) is located on the grip, and pressure on the grip causes the whole lock assembly (hammer, sear, and sear lever) to move inwards. Other variants appear as to the type of sights used. All specimens show a lanyard ring.

The over-all length of the Mark I is 81/2" (216 mm.), barrel length 5" (127 mm.), height 51/2" (140 mm.), and weight 391/2 oz. (1120 grams), with empty magazine. The magazine capacity is 7 rounds. Whereas the .455 Webley revolver had 7 grooves with right hand twist of one turn in 20", the Mark I automatic has 6 grooves with right hand twist of one turn in 10".

When the magazine is pushed in partially, to a point where a „catch" holds it, the arm may be used as a single-shot pistol by inserting cartridges directly into the chamber, the action remaining open after each shot. Pushing the magazine all the way in converts the pistol into the conventional self loader.

Despite the excellent workmanship used in its manufacture, this pistol is not considered to be a satisfactory military arm. It is too complicated and has too many parts, many of which require very exacting milling and machining operations to insure the proper functioning of the weapon, all of which makes it an expensive arm to produce. In these respects it is the antithesis of the Russian Tokarev. While the Webley can be disassembled fairly easily for such a complicated weapon, this operation has to be performed all too frequently because a very small amount of foreign matter in the mechanism is likely to cause it to malfunction.

Webley .38 cal. model-The Webley .38 caliber model, introduced in 1910, was brought out to satisfy a natural demand for a lighter automatic pistol than the Mark 1. In general this new pistol was a copy of the Mark I, but it was furnished with an internal striker of the non-inertia type instead of the external hammer. Like its progenitor, it is prone to malfunction if dirt, dust, or too-heavy oil gets into the mechanism.

The pistol was 8" (203 mm.) in length, and weighed about 33 oz. (935 grams). This model was not long in production.

Webley 9 mm. „High Velocity" model-This model was designed to take the Belgian 9 mm. Browning Long cartridge and was introduced in 1913. While it resembles the .455 Mark I in having an external hammer and the same type of grip safety, the action is quite different, being of the blowback type with a stiff recoil spring. The use of the blowback principle, rather than the locked bolt, was possible because of the relatively weak cartridge used. Some specimens of this model are reported to be without the grip safety.

Like the other blowback pistols made by Webley and Scott, the barrel is held in position by the trigger guard. Disassembly is accomplished by inserting the finger in the trigger guard and pulling down and forward. The recoil spring is of the characteristic V type. The magazine holds 7 cartridges. In some specimens the magazine release catch will be found to be on the frame back of the trigger guard while in others it will be found at the bottom of the grip frame.

The over-all length is 8" (200 mm.), weight 32 oz. (ca. 907 grams), and the magazine capacity 7 cartridges. An interesting feature of this arm relates to the loading. As in many other automatics, when the last shot is fired the action remains open. In this pistol the magazine follower pushes the slide catch up and holds the slide in the open position. To load, the magazine is pushed all the way in and then a stud located on the top of the slide is pressed in, thus releasing the catch which holds the slide back, whereupon the slide (impelled by the compressed recoil spring) rushes forward stripping off the top cartridge and chambering it.

This pistol was adopted for use by the South African Police and reportedly was also used at one time by the Egyptian Police. It is often called the New Military and Police Model, but it is doubtful that this is official nomenclature.

Both the .38 cal. model and the 9 mm. High Velocity model have rectangular, fixed lanyard „loops," rather than the loose rings found on the .455 models.

Webley .32 cal. model-The .32 cal. model was first manufactured in 1906, following the design covered in British Patent No. 15,982 (1905). It became known as the Metropolitan Police Model, as it was so used for a number of years. It was supplanted by revolvers for police work and was discontinued many years ago.

The pistol is of the blowback type, having much the same lines as the larger-calibered models. It has the V-type spring and recoil lever, located under the right grip plate. It has an external hammer and spring-loaded inertia firing pin. A thumb safety is mounted on the frame below the slide back of the trigger guard.

To disassemble, the hammer is raised to full cock, the safety lever is turned to the „Safe" position, the magazine is withdrawn and, by placing a finger through the trigger guard and pulling it toward the muzzle, the barrel is freed. The barrel and breechblock can then be withdrawn.

The over-all length of the pistol is 61/4" (158 mm.), barrel length 31/2" (89 mm.), height 41/2" (114 mm.), weight (magazine empty) 20 oz. (567 grams), capacity of magazine 8 rounds. The front sight is semicircular in shape, and the rear sight (when present) is a simple notched type. Some were not supplied with any rear sight. The magazine catch is at the bottom of the grip, at the rear of the magazine, and is pushed in to release the magazine. Some specimens reportedly were made with a grip safety, but most were not. There is no provision for a lanyard on the .32 or .25 caliber models.

The .32 Harrington and Richardson automatic is a hammerless type based on this model, but possessing a modified firing system and a grip safety. It was made for only a short time as the demand for it was too limited.

Webley .380 model-This pistol is like the .32 cal. pistol just discussed but chambered for the .380 (9 mm. Short Browning) cartridge. The characteristics are the same except for the caliber and the magazine capacity, which is 7 instead of 8 rounds.

Webley .25 cal. model-The Webley .25 caliber pistol is practically a copy of the .32 cal. model. It appears in two forms, with and without external hammer. An undated Webley and Scott circular shows only the hammer model, and the ALFA Catalog of 1911 shows but this one model. An English (Personne) catalog, of about 1920, shows both the hammer and hammerless types. Presumably the hammer type was the first to be introduced. Specimens Nos. 83,423 and 133,249 have the external hammer. They also have a slide whose top is continuous for its entire length, except for a shell ejection port on the right side; and they have a finger grip pattern which consists of either 11 or 12 serrations. Specimens Nos. 107,781 and 139,534, however, do not have the external hammer. The top of the slide is not continuous from end to end, but is cut away for about one third of its length, exposing the top of the barrel (in much the same manner as with the Vest Pocket Sauer and the Stock pistols). This type has both front and rear sights, the hammer type has none. The serrations comprising the finger grip pattern are coarser and eight in number. This overlapping of serial numbers for the two types indicates that either (1) there was no abrupt change over from one type to the other and that both types were being made simultaneously in the same numbering system, or (2) that a separate numbering system was used for each type. The former conjecture appears more likely.

The .25 caliber types do not have grip safeties. Circular literature states that either the .32 or .25 cal. pistol, because of its efficient thumb safety, may be „carried at full cock without danger of accident." The hammer model permits the lowering of the hammer on a loaded chamber for additional safety, however. As with other hammer models of the Webley line this is a procedure which requires care because of the shape of the hammer, which is not well designed for this operation.

The over-all length of the .25 cal. pistol (hammer type) is 41/4" (108 mm.) ; barrel length, 21/8" (54 mm.) ; height, 31/8" (79 mm.); weight (without magazine) 11 oz. (ca. 312 grams); magazine capacity, 6 rounds. The dimensions of the hammerless type are approximately the same, but the weight is about 5 grams less.

Variants are to be found, particularly as to the design of the grip plates.

Webley and Scott, Ltd. do not now manufacture automatics but continue to manufacture revolvers.

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