The Crumbling Empire
The Webley Revolver (also known as the Webley Top-Break Revolver or Webley Self-Extracting Revolver) was, in various marks, the standard issue service pistol for the armed forces of the United Kingdom, the British Empire, and the Commonwealth from 1887 onwards.
The Webley is a top-break revolver with automatic extraction. That is, breaking the revolver open for reloading also operates the extractor. This removes the spent cartridges from the cylinder. The Webley Mk I service revolver was adopted in 1887. A later version, the Mk IV, rose to prominence during the Boer War of 1899–1902. However, the Mk VI, introduced in 1915 during the First World War, is perhaps the best-known model.
The British company Webley and Scott (P. Webley & Son before merger with W & C Scott in 1897) produced a range of revolvers from the mid 19th to late 20th centuries. As early as 1853 P. Webley and J. Webley began production of their first patented single action cap and ball revolvers. Later under the trade name of P. Webley and Son, manufacturing included their own .44cal rim-fire solid frame revolver as well as licensed copies of Smith & Wesson’s Tip up break action revolvers. The quintessential hinged frame, centre-fire revolvers for which the Webley name is best known first began production/development in the early 1870s most notably with the Webley-Pryse (1877) and Webley-Kaufman (1881) models. The W.G. or Webley-Government models produced from 1885 through to the early 1900s, (often incorrectly referred to as the Webley-Green) are the most popular of the commercial top break revolvers and many were the private purchase choice of English military officers and target shooters in the period, coming in a .476/.455 calibre. However other short-barrel solid-frame revolvers, including the Webley RIC (Royal Irish Constabulary) model and the British Bulldog revolver, designed to be carried in a coat pocket for self-defence were far more commonplace during the period. Today, undoubtedly best-known are the range of military revolvers, which were in service use across two World Wars and numerous colonial conflicts.
In 1887, the British Army was searching for a revolver to replace the largely unsatisfactory .476 Enfield Mk I & Mk II Revolvers, the Enfield having only replaced the solid frame Adams .450 revolver which was a late 1860s conversion of the cap and ball Beaumont-Adams revolver in 1880. Webley & Scott, who were already very well known makers of quality guns and had sold many pistols on a commercial basis to military officers and civilians alike, tendered the .455 calibre Webley Self-Extracting Revolver for trials. The military was suitably impressed with the revolver (it was seen as a vast improvement over the Enfield revolvers then in service, which American designed Owen extraction system did not prove particularly satisfactory in service), and it was adopted on 8 November 1887 as the “Pistol, Webley, Mk I”. The initial contract called for 10,000 Webley revolvers, at a price of £3/1/1 each, with at least 2,000 revolvers to be supplied within eight months.