Exclusive Web Extra: Handguns Of WWII Part 10

The Webley MK V1 .455.

Part 10 Of A 12-Part Series.

Some folks hold the Webley Mk VI .455 revolver in near reverence. I’m not one of them. To me it’s big, clunky, ugly, underpowered and worst of all I don’t think it is a very accurate handgun. Many attribute the weakness of its .455 cartridge as being necessitated by its top break design. That’s not actually the case because boat-loads of them were altered to fire more powerful .45 ACPs with no problems.

The Webley line of revolvers began as early as 1887 with the Mk I and its black powder ammunition. As ammunition technology and metallurgy progressed the design likewise evolved through various “marks” until the Mk VI arrived in 1915 during the “Great War.” Where the early versions had 4″ barrel lengths the short-lived Mk V and then the much longer lasting Mk VI had 6″ lengths.

That barrel is odd in form: machined flat on both sides, left round on the bottom, but with an integral rib machined atop it. The good thing about it is there’s a stud near the muzzle into which various heights of sighte blade can be attached by a single screw. Therefore, zeroing for elevation is simple if you have access to the various sight blades. There is no provision for zeroing a Mk VI for windage. As with many types of top break revolvers, the rear sight is a simple notch cut in the barrel release.

Handguns Part 10a

The Webley Mark VI .455 was adopted in 1915 and was supposed to have been
replaced by a .38 revolver in the late 1920s. But as the cartridge box printing shows,
the model stayed in service with all the British Commonwealth nations through World War II.

Handguns Part 10b

Close up of markings on Duke’s Webley Mk VI.

Using It

Operation of the Mk VI is likewise simple. Press the release lever on the left side of the frame’s rear and the barrel/cylinder assembly can be manually pushed downwards. As that happens the star-type extractor cams upwards ejecting all cartridges whether fired or not. As the barrel reaches its downward limit the extractor back falls into place so the chambers can be loaded once again. After they are the barrel is raised until the release lever engages it once again. (Does that release lever remind anyone else of a flush lever on a toilet?)

Then the revolver is ready for firing. Trigger manipulation can be either by single or double action mode. When the trigger is not pressed the cylinder has quite a bit of wobble in it. That is normal. When pressed the rotating hand presses on the cylinder ratchet, pushing it to the right and taking out most of the wobble. Hopefully the design is built so this right push centers the chambers with the barrel’s forcing cone and doesn’t make them off center when the round is fired.

Here’s one conundrum. In 1915 the British complained to Smith & Wesson that their Hand Ejector First Model was prone to malfunction in the mud and dirt of trench warfare. Supposedly the reason was the S&W’s ejector rod had a shroud enclosing it except on one side and its third lock mounted on the crane also fouled. Those may be, even probably were, viable problems. However, the Brits’ own Mk VI design has various parts of its extraction system setting outside the frame where any sort of crud can get into them.

Here’s a second conundrum. Why did the British use such a puny cartridge for this massive handgun? In the book Military Small Arms Of The 20th Century, by Ian V. Hogg and John S. Weeks, there are two .455 Webley military loads listed. The 265 gr. lead bullet version termed the Mk II is rated with a muzzle velocity of 580 fps. The Mk VI load with 265 gr. full-metal jacketed (FMJ) bullet is rated at 620 fps. For the purpose of comparison, the same source rates the U.S. military .45 ACP load as having a 230 grain FMJ bullet at 860 fps. (We’ll return to this comparison again shortly.)

handguns Part 10c

The revolver that was supposed to replace the big Webley .455 (left) in the
late 1920’s was the Enfield #2 .38 (right).


Many thousands of these Mk VI Webley revolvers have been converted to .45 ACP. In fact at modern gun shows it is much easier to find one of those converted Mk VIs than those still in the original chambering. The reason was.45 ACP military surplus ammunition was much more common in the ‘50s and ‘60s when Britain sold off their obsolete military handguns, mostly in the U.S. marketplace. The primary, maybe only, source of .455 Webley ammunition was from Canada so supplies were not overly common.

That has changed nowadays. Surplus .45 ACP ammunition is all but unobtainable while new factory loads for .455 Webley can be had either from Fiocchi (imported from Italy) or made domestically by Hornady. Handloaders have it even easier. Until just a few years ago handloaders had to alter .45 Colt cases by thinning the rims and cutting the cases down to .76 inch. Now they can just buy ready to load Hornady brass.

When I started to handload .455 Webley for my Mk VI I knew a variety of .45 Colt bullets would give more or less suitable results. No problem there, but brother was I surprised to find that RCBS catalogs a bullet mould specifically for .455 Webley shooters. In profile it duplicates the military 265 gr. FMJ bullet. The single cavity mould drops a hollowbase bullet weighing about 270 grains of a 1-20 tin to lead alloy. Those bullets look great but it’s actually not necessary to cast all your .455 bullets slowly in a single cavity mould.

I’ve found the .454″ diameter swaged lead 255 gr., .45 Colt bullets of roundnose/flatpoint form also shoot fine. Loading data for .455 Webley disappeared from most reloading manuals back in the 1960s but one of my old ones listed a powder charge of 3.0 grains of Bullseye for .455s. I use that with the 265 gr. bullets and 3.5 grs. with the 255 gr. Hornady bullets. The resulting velocities are 620 and 690 fps respectively. Hornady’s 265 gr. lead bullet factory load gave an exact 600 fps. All speeds are from the 6″ barrel of my Mk VI.

handguns part 10d

This photo shows Webley .455 ammunition from left to right: Fiocchi .455 factory
load with 262 gr. lead bullet, Hornady 265 gr. factory load with lead bullet, Hornady
255 gr. RN/FP bullet and Duke’s handload with same, and RCBS cast bullet #455-265
WEBLEY and Duke’s handload with same.

Handguns part 10e

These are World War II contemporary cartridges to the .455 Webley. From left to
right: Soviet 7.62x25mm, Germany and many other nations 9mm Parabellum,
British .380 Revolver, British .455 Webley and American .45 ACP.

Using .45 ACP

One day I hung a surplus U.S. steel army helmet on a post. From 20 feet I hit it with a 262 gr. bullet (Fiocchi factory load) from the .455 Webley. It made a small crease and ricocheted upwards. The helmet only wobbled. Hit with a 230 gr. FMJ bullet from my Colt Model 1917 .45 revolver, the side of the helmet caved in, it jumped off the post and rolled about 20 feet across the ground. Big Difference!

Adopted in 1915, the Mark VI served as standard issue to British forces until about 1928 when it was superseded by the .38 caliber No. 2 Enfield. However, so many hundreds of thousands of Mark VI .455s were on hand when Britain declared war on Germany in 1939 that they served for the duration. A Webley Mk VI was necessary to fill out my World War II handgun collection but it is far from my favorite pick.

Handguns Part 10f

Duke is not impressed with the accuracy level of his Webley Mk VI .455.
This is a group fired offhand at only 50 feet.

Handguns Part 10g

Neither is Duke impressed with the .455 Webley’s power. Note the mild crease
its 262 gr. lead bullet put in this surplus GI steel helmet compared to the deep
dent made by the 230 gr. FMJ .45 ACP as also fired from a revolver.

By Mike “Duke” Venturino
Photos By Yvonne Venturino

>> Click Here << To View The Handguns Of WWII Series

2 thoughts on “Exclusive Web Extra: Handguns Of WWII Part 10

  1. Peter Ryder

    Interesting article but I think you are being a little hard on the old Webley. In England, as a licensed collector, I now have to keep my Mk6 locked away and may not fire it. However, before the “pistol ban” I regularly used it in competition. 265g bullets were never terribly accurate but Naval bullets were (230g domed, almost flat) and manstoppers (218g hollow both ends) were best of all.

    A number of us now keep pistols in Switzerland and in my collection there I have a WS target (Mk6 frame 7.5in barrel). Shooting manstoppers at 50m I can hold a 6in group offhand, achieving scores similar to my SIG 210-6 and Hammerli 280 and a little ahead of my practicalised 1911. The load I use is 5.8g of Vihtavouri N340 (similar burning rate to Herco). I reckon a slower powder allows the bullet to stabilise better and for the base to fully expand into the rifling.

    As to stopping power – well I have no personal experience but it seems to have been well regarded across the Empire for several decades. I suspect the soft lead bullet, while it lacked penetration, was pretty good at dumping all it’s energy in a lightly clothed body. The jacketed bullets were never rated either for accuracy or stopping power.

    Lastly, a tip: to unload turn it upside down and rotate the grip end away from you, that way the cases drop onto the bench instead of flying off downrange.

  2. John Saia

    Mike: Please tell folks that shooting standard .45 ACP pressure loads in the converted or shaved Webleys is akin to shooting proof loads as there is a 7000 CUP pressure difference between .455 Webley and .45 ACP. These guns at best will be loosened up and at worst destroyed from the exceess pressure.

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