At the start of the Second World War Great Britain found itself short of all the equipment needed to wage war. As well as rapidly expanding its own manufacturing capacity, the country turned to the USA to help fill the shortfall, using its currency reserves to buy weapons on a cash and carry basis from private suppliers. Amongst the weapons purchased were a large number of revolvers for use as personal side arms for officers and other troops who did not carry rifles, tonight we are looking at one of those weapons, a Smith and Wesson ‘Victory’ revolver:Over 570,000 victory revolvers were produced by Smith and Wesson in the war and they were supplied to the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. The Victory revolver was a standard Smith and Wesson Military and Police revolver, designed in 1899, re-chambered for standard British Empire .38/200 ammunition used in the Webley and Enfield revolvers already in service. It is a standard double action revolver made from carbon steel with a dual locked six round chamber. The revolver has a typical fixed blade foresight and a groove cut in the frame for a rear sight:The revolver has a large Smith and Wesson badge etched into its frame:And is clearly marked ‘Made in USA’:Unlike British revolvers which are top breaking, the Victory has a chamber that when released swings to the side for reloading:An ejector rod is mounted to the chamber and pushing this backward ejects the spent cartridges. The revolver has smooth walnut grips, in this case there is evidence of a very old repair to the grips that has been carried out with extreme skill:The butt of the revolver has a lanyard loop and the weapon’s serial number, prefixed by a ‘V’ showing that it is a Victory model:It is interesting to note that this particular Victory revolver has a much higher standard of finish than most which normally have a rough sandblasted or parkerised finish rather than the high quality blueing evident on my example. Drawing back the hammer reveals that the firing pin has been removed as part of the deactivation process to make the weapon legal to own in the UK:Of all the weapons in my collection, this one has the nicest finish to it. I must confess I prefer the Webley, but one cannot deny the quality of workmanship and finish on this weapon, nor the help the USA gave Britain and the Empire in the early days of WW2.
As a collector, I envy those who are disciplined enough to chose one area of collecting and stick rigidly to it. I have never been able to do, although my primary focus is British and Commonwealth militaria of the twentieth century, as regular readers will know I have a tendency to pick up foreign militaria, or items from outside this period if they particularly take my fancy. Today’s item is no exception, being foreign and from outside my normal eras of collecting- it is however (in my opinion) very interesting.
The nineteenth century saw many experiments in firearms technology, with designers trying to find something more successful than single shot flintlock weapons. One of these technological advances was the pinfire revolver. The pinfire system was one of the first self-contained cartridge systems that worked reliably enough to go into mass production. It was developed by Casimir Lefaucheux and was refined inn 1846 by Benjamin Houillier. In the pin-fire system the cartridge was made of brass with a pin protruding radially from the base of the cartridge. When the pin was struck by the hammer of the revolver this struck the primer and set off the main propellant, firing the projectile:
My example of a pin fire revolver is in poor condition, but has a lot of character:Who made it or when is a mystery, but I am guessing its French or Belgian and from about 1860. The chamber holds six cartridges, with small grooves radiating from each chamber to allow the pins to be positioned in the correct position relative to the hammer:A simple pin at the end of the barrel acts as a rudimentary sight:On the right side of the frame is a protruding mounting for the ejector, now sadly gone:This would have been sprung and was used manually to push each spent cartridge out of the chamber. The trigger is hinged to fold flat against the body of the gun so the gun can’t go off accidentally, this was very common in the nineteenth century and was used in place of the more familiar trigger guard:The thing which surprised me most when I received the revolver through the post was how small it was compared to my other WW2 revolvers, it is very much a pocket gun. As can be seen the gun is very rough, however it is 150 years old and was very cheap. I have found an example of an identical revolver, in much better condition, that sold a few years back for ten times the price I paid for mine:
With the introduction of reliable centre fire cartridges in the 1860s and 1870s, the pin fire revolver fell out of use and as such weapons like mine are classed as antiques and don’t need to be deactivated in the same way as a modern weapon using ammunition that can still be acquired. As I said at the start, this gun doesn’t really fit in with the rest of my collection, but its such an attractive little object that I really don’t care.
The British Army has long created bespoke pieces of equipment for troops with specialist roles. Where once cavalry had their own equipment optimised for warfare on horseback, by the Second World War tank crew had also received specialist clothing and equipment designed to help them fight as easily as possible in the tight confines of the inter-war tank. One area that needed to be addressed was that of side arms and their carriage. If a tank were to be hit and the crew forced to bail out, they would need some form of personal protection. The standard British Army revolver was chosen to fulfil this need, but the standard holsters worn on the belt were not ideal as they had a habit of catching on every protrusion going.
To get around this, a new ‘tankers’ holster was introduced that was worn low on the upper thigh and strapped to the leg in an attempt to prevent it snagging. This holster was still not ideal and many were modified by shortening the top strap so it rested closer to the hip and removing the securing strap so it hung lose. This unofficial modification was to become a standard type in 1943 and new holsters started being manufactured in this style. The official title for the holster, in British Army nomenclature is Case, Pistol, web, RAC, MkII. The modified pattern continued to be worn and produced after the war and my example is one from this post-war production:
The holster is made of standard webbing with an open top, the revolver being secured by a strap that fastened with a Newey Stud:The stud here is in black- during the war this had been brass, but this was altered in the late 40s or early 50s to a black bonderised fastener. On the body of the holster are six loops for additional ammunition, removing the need to carry an ammunition pouch:And a tube to hold a cleaning rod:The printed stores details and manufacturer’s information date the case to 1955, produced by CW&S Ltd (?) :
Apart from being able to hold six rounds of ammunition, one does wonder what benefit there was in continuing manufacture of the MkII holster as there was very little difference in its eventual position between the RAC holster and a standard 37 pattern example. A far more detailed history of the holster can be found as ever on Karkee Web.
The Webley .455 revolver had been the standard firearm of the British Army since 1887, with its powerful bullet designed to stop a charging native in his tracks. Following service throughout the First World War it was decided in the early 1930s to replace it with a smaller and lighter firearm firing a .38 cartridge which would be easier to train soldiers with as the recoil would be substantially reduced.Webley came up with a .38 version of their famous revolver and submitted it for trials, whereupon the British military took the revolver and gave it to the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield, who changed it enough to avoid infringing patents and the British Army adopted the Enfield made Revolver, No2 Mk1 in 1931. Webley sued and were awarded £2250. There the matter might have remained if not for the outbreak of the Second World War.
With the outbreak of the Second World War there was a massive shortfall in small arms for British Empire troops and manufacturers were encourages to maximize output, therefore Webley was officially contracted to produce their previously rejected .38 revolver for the British Army. This revolver was also classified as Revolver, No 2 Mk1 as were other .38 revolvers from the United States such as the Smith and Wesson Victory revolver. This led to the absurd situation where officially an armourer had a matching set of Revolver No2 Mk1 on stock, however they could be of four different patterns with no matching parts!
The gun itself is a top breaking revolver with a six cartridge capacity, it weighs 2.4lb unloaded and had an effective range of 50 yards. The manufacturers name is clearly visible moulded into the grips:The revolver is undated, but is marked ‘War Finish’ on the frame indicating it was manufactured for the War Department.This example has been deactivated by fitting a rod down the barrel, removing the firing pin and filling up the cylinder:On the base of the grip is a ring for attaching to a lanyard to prevent the revolver being lost or stolen:The Webley revolver was an iconic weapon and remained in service up until the widespread introduction of the Browning Automatic Pistol in 1963, many revolvers being in mint condition when withdrawn due to a lack of ammunition to fire!