Handguns: the first General Issue Service Revolvers

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Handguns: the first General Issue Service Revolvers

Postby Mark » 17 Nov 2008 18:35

I was once the proud owner of a deactivated First World War period .455 Webley & Scott MKVI Revolver. Sadly, with the approaching changes to the law regarding deativated firearms in the UK, I reluctantly gave it up and sold it to a dealer. However I always wanted a Boer War period Webley service revolver but never got around to buying one - and will never have the chance to own one now.

With this in mind it set me wondering what was the first actual "issue" revolver to the British Army during the Victorian period? Would I be correct in thinking it was a Webley? Does anyone have one? Does anyone have a photo of one?

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Re: The First General Issue Service Revolver?

Postby Isandlwana » 18 Nov 2008 08:57

Mark,

The Beaumont-Adams revolver was the first officially adopted revolver in 1856. Originally a percussion cap weapon, but as time progressed many were converted to rim-fire. They were replaced in 1880 by the Mark 1 Enfield revolver.

The only photograph that I have in mine own collection of the Beaumont-Adams is of an officer holding one, and in doing so he is obscuring much of the detail.

The Webley R.I.C. was around from 1868, many officers purchased this weapon both in the British Army and beyond. Perhaps the best known foreign purchaser being George Armstrong Custer.

The Webley 'Bulldog' was also favoured by some officers, including Henry Evelyn Wood, V.C., who carried one during the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879. Both of these were solid frame side loading pistols.

The Mark 1 Webley service revolver was officially adopted in 1887, this was a break-open pattern.

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Re: The First General Issue Service Revolver?

Postby Isandlwana » 19 Nov 2008 18:10

Posed Officer group 'playing at it', note the kneeling officer in the greatcoat with a Beaumont-Adams.

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Close-up on the pistol.

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Re: The First General Issue Service Revolver?

Postby Mark » 19 Nov 2008 18:24

Isandlwana

Fantastic photo - any ideas when it was taken and their regiment?

Thanks for the info above too, I have learned something today :)

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Re: The First General Issue Service Revolver?

Postby Isandlwana » 19 Nov 2008 18:51

Mark,

They are post-1866, but pre-1874. Photographed in Canterbury, Kent by J. B. Batemann.

I'd like to think that they're Buffs, but every bit of identifiable kit: shako plate; belt buckle & buttons are indistinguishable.

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Re: The First General Issue Service Revolver?

Postby GrantRCanada » 20 Nov 2008 20:59

As something of a revolver 'nut', and fortunate enough to own a few, I can hopefully add to this discussion. (I have a number of references in my library, but most of the specific information in this post was gleaned from an excellent general reference on the topic: "Revolvers of the British Services, 1854 - 1954", Chamberlain & Taylerson.)

First, as already noted, Officers were required to provide all of their kit (including arms) at personal expense, and as a result there was a very wide range of revolvers in use by them throughout the Victorian era. There were, however, official patterns adopted by the War Department for "issue" to Other Ranks - so it is those I will cover.

As Mark actually enquired about the first issue "revolver" (i.e. not necessarily limited to a cartridge weapon) the answer is actually the "Pistol, M.L., rifled, Revolver - Colt" (.36 cal Colt 'Navy' 6-shot percussion revolver, "London model") approximately 23,700 of which were acquired, starting in March of 1854. A return regarding these revolvers in February 1856, on the close of the Crimean hostilities, indicates that some 9,600 of them had been issued to the Navy, some for use by civilian dockyard police, about 5,000 to the Army, and some 9,000 remained in H.M. Tower of London, Ordnance Small Arms Dept.
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(The pre-Confederation Province of Canada acquired 800 such Colt revolvers in 1856, and this is one of those, marked to 'D' Troop, Upper Canada Volunteer Militia cavalry (1st York Troop).

During the Crimean War, and thereafter, (i.e. late 1855 and thereafter) Britain also acquired a significant number (over 30,000 in total) of Deane & Adams 5-shot percussion revolvers in both 54 Bore (nominal .442 cal.) and 38 Bore (nominal .50 cal.) commonly referred to as the Beaumont-Adams, as they incorporated the lock mechanism improvements of Lt. F.B.E. Beaumont -
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It is perhaps important to note that the majority of these revolvers remained in stores, as the primary handgun on issue to British troops (cavalry) was a .577 cal single shot muzzle-loading rifled pistol.

The first "issue" cartridge revolver model was the Mark I Adams (List of Changes 1738, 26 Nov 1868, "Dean [sic] & Adams' Revolver Pistol Converted to a Breech-Loader by Mr. J. Adams") - produced using existing 38 Bore Beaumont-Adams 5-shot percussion revolvers, it fired a rather underpowered cartridge loaded with a 225gr .455 dia. bullet and 13 grains of "pistol grade" black powder -
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Two 6-shot versions of the Adams revolver, made as cartridge revolvers, were subsequently approved in 1878 - the "Pistol, B.L. Revolver, Adams" (Mark II and Mark III, the latter incorporating an improved ejector-rod) -

Adams Mark II
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Adams Mark III
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I have a MkIII Adams revolver in my collection, albeit it is a commercial version:
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The Adams earned the reputation for being underpowered, and needed to be loaded and unloaded one cartridge at a time through the side gate, so the War Department asked Enfield Armoury a more powerful "self-extracting" revolver, which resulted in the adoption of the "Pistol, Revolver, B.L. Enfield (Mark I)" in 1880, followed by the somewhat modified Mark II in 1882. This is an 1884-dated MKII revolver in my collection, with documented North-West Mounted Police service:
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Although frequently referred to as .476 caliber, the Enfield was actually also effectively a .455 (only the MkIII cartridge for this revolver had a heeled bullet with a maximum diameter just ahead of the case mouth of .476" ...)

The Enfield was not a very successful or popular revolver - it was rather heavy and ungainly, and the self-extraction system devised by Enfield was odd to say the least, and not particularly effective. The revolver was a top-break, but rather than having an extraction star which rises from the cylinder to lift the cartridge cases out - such as was already used on Webleys and many other revolvers of the day - it has a extraction star which moves only slightly forward from the rear recoil shield and then stops, while the cylinder is drawn forward on the axis rod. This system (designed by a Welsh- American, Owen Jones) was intended to permit selective extraction - i.e so that only empty cartridge cases would be extracted far enough that they would fall clear, while the bullets in unexpended rounds would remain in the chambers and thus be retained in the cylinder -
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In actual practice, however, the relatively narrow cartridge rims easily slip off the extractor so that the weight of the bullet is likely to cause the cartridge to drop fully back into the chamber .... which is a definite problem because then the extractor is behind the rims of any such cartridge, and the revolver cannot be closed up until any such cartridges are removed - not an easy task at all. This system also requires that the revolver must be closed and fully latched to reload, since reloading must still be done one round at a time through a side loading gate.

The many problems of the Enfield design - the most serious of which were not (and could not) be eliminated in the MkII modifications - resulted in an early search for an improved Revolver, which resulted in the adoption of the first .455 Webley revolver, the Mark I, in 1887. A number of modifications (including a noticeable change in the upper rear profile of the grip) were introduced in the Mark II Webley adopted in 1895.
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Various other improvements were introduced in the Mark III (1897), Mark IV (1899) and Mark V (1913) - all of which looked pretty much identical to the Mark II shown above.

The last version of .455 Webley service revolver, the Mark VI (1915), was significantly changed, with a new grip shape and six inch barrel as standard -
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Re: The First General Issue Service Revolver?

Postby Berkshire Dragon » 09 Dec 2008 16:21

Grant,

A wonderful pictorial article which I think answers in spades the original question from Mark. Very interesting so see the 'evolution' of the personal side-arm in the Victorian armed forces which makes it so very much easier to imagine what officers/other ranks of the period would have taken into action with them. Thank you.


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Re: The First General Issue Service Revolver?

Postby agunchos » 22 Dec 2008 20:21

I've read the msgs posted but I can not find, among the photos, any revolver like mine. I was told that it is an Adams revolver 1854. Is it? Can anybody help me on this? i'm enclosing a photo of part ofmy gun collection, among which the "Adams" revolver. If useful, I can take and send a bigger picture of the revolver. Thank you very much.
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Re: The First General Issue Service Revolver?

Postby GrantRCanada » 08 Jan 2009 22:38

Agunchos:

Sorry, I didn't see your post for a while because I forgot to 'subscribe' to this topic, and just chanced across it again ..... :roll:

Anyway, although it is hard to tell from the photo you posted, that certainly looks like an Adams percussion revolver of that era .... If so, it should be five shot.

The majority of such revolvers one sees are based on Robert Adams's 1851 patent, but he did file a later patent in 1853 which incorporated some modifications to his design, and I suppose that is what has been referred to as the Model 1854.

Here is an image of a percussion revolver made under his 1851 patent. Keep in mind that the term 'model' in reference to such early non-military British percussion revolvers isn't quite appropriate, (the more commonly encountered term being "pattern", particularly in relation to military versions) because they were pretty much individually made by hand following a general pattern and incorporating the features of a particular design and/or patent - or, in the case of the military versions a "pattern" officially approved for military use. Commercial models will thus frequently exhibit various subtle (or not so subtle) differences from one to another ..... In any event, I'm sure you will note the very close similarity to your revolver -
(click to enlarge .....)
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I have been unable to locate a photo of a percussion revolver made under his 1853 patent, although my references do indicate that some such revolvers were made, before Beaumont's double-action improvements were introduced in 1855. I suspect that your revolver must indeed be one of those - for one thing, I note that the size and position of the hammer stop (the device mounted on the left of the frame between the cylinder and hammer) differ noticeably from the same item in any pictures I've seen of Adams revolvers of the 1851 pattern. In lieu of a photo, and for what it may be worth, here is a scan of some of the diagrams from Robert Adams' 1853 patent-
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By the way, although these various percussion Adams revolvers were produced under patents held by Robert Adams, the cartridge revolvers we were initially discussing in this thread were official-issue British military pistols (also sold commercially) designed and patented by his brother, John Adams. However, there is a definite connection - the first British military cartridge revolver was actually a conversion of the 5-shot percussion service revolver (Deane & Adams, aka Beaumont Adams) made under Robert Adams's patents. John Adams first patent in this regard was a means of converting those revolvers into 'breech-loading" cartridge revolvers, which was officially adopted by the War Department in 1868 under the LoC title of "Dean [sis] & Adams' Revolver Pistol Converted to a Breech-Loader by Mr. J. Adams".

If you go back to my first post, the second and third pictures (i.e. after the double view of the 1851 Colt) are the percussion "Beaumont-Adams" and then the 1868-adopted cartridge conversion under John Adams patent. The 6-shot MkII and MkIII versions next pictured were, as noted, both approved in 1878 ....
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Re: The First General Issue Service Revolver?

Postby GrantRCanada » 08 Jan 2009 22:47

Agunchos:

I forgot to mention that, as you may already be aware, the grip on your Adams is almost certainly a replacement, very likely home-made. All Adams percussion revolvers I've seen pictured have the grip shaped and checkered like in the first photo above .....

One other thought occurs to me - British revolver designs of that era were commonly copied outside of the UK, notably in Belgium, and frequently the most striking difference will be in the grips .... so it is possible that your revolver is such a copy. If British-made, it should have appropriate proof stamps and other marks. Can you make out any such marks and, if so, let us know what they are .... or, better yet, post good clear closeups of the marks?
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Re: Handguns: the first General Issue Service Revolvers

Postby Frogsmile » 29 Apr 2011 14:49

It fascinated me to learn that up until as late as the Great War many British officers engaged in Colonial warfare preferred the Lancaster Pistol to revolvers. Apparently its straightforward design made it more reliable, more robust for the conditions in which it was used and when damaged the simple parts were easy to manufacture locally in the bazaar.

Robustly but expensively made, these pistols weighed 2lb 8oz and cost £8, twice as much as a colt. Revolvers however, suffered especially from the inadequacies of black powder propellant so that after a brisk period of firing the fouling produced was apt to clog and jam the action. The freedom of the Lancaster from this vice was one of their major attractions. Another unique feature was the slightly ovaloid shape of the bore, which had just a slight twist towards the muzzle sufficient to impart spin, but which was devoid of the traditional lands or grooves that attracted fouling.

The barrels were hinged to the face of the breech and securely locked by a top lever. The construction was sturdy, and the internal action well protected from the elements. there was no revolving cylinder to jam through powder fouling; and the larger calibre weapons in the wide range offered were certainly man-stoppers. These advantages were clearly felt to outweigh the extra 2 shots of a revolving 6-shooter.

After the first Sudan Campaign a certain (and later well known) Major Kitchener wrote: "Lancaster pistols are made with either 2 or 4 barrels; they possess the following advantages over the revolver....Having no projecting parts they are safer; they shoot truer than the revolver, owing to there being no escape of gas between cylinder and barrel; for the same reason they may be supported on the left arm when firing, which cannot be done with safety with a revolver; they cannot jam; and lastly the mechanism, being well protected, is little, if at all, affected by sand, wet or dirt. These pistols were carried in Sudan by officers of the Royal Irish and others who all speak very highly of them".

In the second Sudan campaign a Daily Telegraph report included discouraging comments regarding the efficacy of revolvers: "This snapping of swords made the men lose all confidence. The sergeant major of our troop sheathed his sabre and took to his revolver, but this speedily clogged and missed fire, as did many of the revolvers used by the men, although they (.455 Double Action Adams) were only lately served out....As far as general reputation goes they are wretched shooting irons". This "general reputation" spread sufficiently widely among officers hardened in colonial campaigns for Lancasters to produce and sell some 9,000 of their massive, simple pistols in the last two decades of the Victorian era.

The death knell of all these weapons was perhaps symbolically heard in the rapid fusillade with which Lt Winston Churchill shot his way out of a desperate melee at Omdurman in 1898. His 7.63mm Mauser 'broomhandle' ushered in the new generation of efficient semi-automatic handguns, and revolvers, loaded with non-fouling smokeless powder cartridges.
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Re: Handguns: the first General Issue Service Revolvers

Postby Frogsmile » 05 May 2011 20:52

Incidentally and as a footnote to my post above, the iconic Colonel Fred Burnaby, of the Blues (RHG), was armed with a 4-barrel Lancaster when he fought and died in the Battle of Abu Klea in 1885. He was on horseback and became isolated outside the square whilst going to the aid of skirmishers, when with his Lancaster pistol emptied, and assailed by half a dozen Mahdists as he desperately wielded his sword, he was pierced in the throat, unhorsed and overwhelmed.
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Re: Handguns: the first General Issue Service Revolvers

Postby Dixie » 20 May 2011 12:20

It's interesting to see the flurry of variations that appear in the early victorian period, desperately trying to refine the pistol designs to perfection!

As far as I understand the first official pistol recommended by regulations was the Webley mark 1 in 1887? And before this the individual officer could pick a revolver of his own choice.

What about the American single action Colt 45's? would they have seen any action in the British army at all? They were the standard issue pistol for the American army around the 1881 mark I think. It would be interesting to know of any crossover between British and American pistols of the time, prior to the official recommendation.
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Re: Handguns: the first General Issue Service Revolvers

Postby Frogsmile » 20 May 2011 19:37

Dixie wrote:It's interesting to see the flurry of variations that appear in the early victorian period, desperately trying to refine the pistol designs to perfection!

As far as I understand the first official pistol recommended by regulations was the Webley mark 1 in 1887? And before this the individual officer could pick a revolver of his own choice.

What about the American single action Colt 45's? would they have seen any action in the British army at all? They were the standard issue pistol for the American army around the 1881 mark I think. It would be interesting to know of any crossover between British and American pistols of the time, prior to the official recommendation.


If you read the thread carefully you will see which was the first officially sanctioned revolver. It was not the Webley.

As regards the Colt 45 the over riding requirement of pistols purchased by officers is that they could be used with standard British issue pistol ammunition. I am not positive, but I am unaware of any colts made in the large calibre used by the British prior to the adoption of .38 before WW2.
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Re: Handguns: the first General Issue Service Revolvers

Postby GrantRCanada » 20 May 2011 21:15

Actually, Colt Model 1873 (i.e. "Single Action Army") revolvers were indeed produced and sold in various British calibers, including .450, .476 and .455 (which, based on case-mouth diameter are in reality all .455's!)

Such sales were primarily through the Agency which Colt maintained in London long after their earlier London factory producing percussion revolvers ceased to function.
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