Exclusive Web Extra: Handguns Of WWII Part 3

The British Enfield No. 2 .38.

Part 3 Of A 12-Part Series.

A statement I’ll make about the British Enfield No. 2 Mk I .38 revolver is one I’m not willing to make about any other British weapons of World War II. That is, “It’s delightful.” By military handgun standards it is almost petite, but unfortunately so is its caliber. We’ll get to that point soon.

With a 5″ barrel and serrated (not checkered) two piece walnut grips, it weighs just a pound and three quarters. Think about that: 28 ounces is a weight designers of many modern handguns using synthetics would wish upon their brainstorms. According to the book “MILITARY HANDGUNS OF TWO WORLD WARS” by John Walter, the Brits adopted the Enfield No. 2 in June 1932. For nearly 50 years prior to that their issue sidearms had been one “mark” or another of the basic Webley .455, with the last being the Mk VI adopted in 1916. Also, according to Walter’s book, the reason for reducing caliber from .455 to .38 was that recruits had trouble handling the recoil of the larger round.

That seems odd to us American handgunners because the .455 round fired a 265 grain bullet at only 600 fps. It’s an extremely mild round and shouldn’t give beginners any trouble. However, I must stick this in as a jab at the British. In his new book “WORLD WAR II: A MILITARY HISTORY”, author Gordon Corrigan quotes one general as saying after the British Army was kicked out of Norway by the Germans in 1940, that their soldiers were “effeminate.” I’m just quoting here!

Anyway the new .38 cartridge the British adopted with the Enfield No. 2 was at first called the .380 Revolver Mk I. It used a 200 grain lead alloy bullet at a nominal speed of 550 fps. British ordnance officers insisted the .38/200, as it’s commonly called, had exactly the same stopping power as their .455 Mk VI with a 265 grain bullet at 620 fps (Figures taken from “MILITARY SMALL ARMS OF THE 20TH CENTURY: 7th EDITION” by Ian V. Hogg and John S. Weeks). Of course by the laws of physics that was impossible. Also the term “new” should not be applied to the Brit’s .38. Its case is nothing more than the .38 Smith & Wesson’s, which that handgun manufacturer introduced circa 1875.

enfield 1

Duke’s Enfield No. 2 .38 shown with a British Commando dagger

enfield 2

Close up Duke’s Enfield No. 2 .38 shows it marked RAF for Royal Air Force and dated 1936.

Get The Lead Out

The British started World War II with their Enfield No. 2 revolvers stoked with that lead bullet load, and of course the Germans captured oodles of them when they kicked the British army off the continent of Europe in 1940. Since lead alloy bullets were proscribed by the “laws of civilized” warfare, the Germans informed the Brits that anyone henceforth captured with lead bullets in their ammunition would be executed. This caused the Brits to come up with another version called the .380 Mark II. It used a 178 grain full metal jacketed (FMJ) bullet at 600 fps or thereabouts.

Let’s go back to my sample of an Enfield No. 2 revolver and why I think it’s delightful. Its basic design is top break, actuated by a thumb latch on the left side of the frame. As its barrel is moved downward, the ejector is cammed upward extracting all rounds, fired or unfired, out of all six chambers. To the best of my knowledge the Brits never developed a speed loader for their top-break revolvers so presumably six more loads were inserted singly.

The Enfield No. 2 Mk I is a double action, meaning it can be fired by pulling the trigger or cocking the hammer and then pulling the trigger. A version designated No. 2 Mk I* was developed with no hammer spur and could only be fired in the double action mode. This version was issued to crews of tanks and armored cars because it was felt the spur on the hammer of the prior version could hang up when getting in or out of vehicles.

That double action trigger pull is why I consider the Enfield No. 2 Mk I to be such a delight. The trigger moves less than three-quarters of an inch to fire double action. Combine that trigger pull with the extremely mild recoil of the .38 with either 178 or 200 grain bullets and directing a bullet to the target is easy.

enfield 3

The Enfield No. 2 .38 was much smaller than its predecessor, the huge Webley Mk VI .455.

enfield 4b

Shown for comparison: left is a .455 Webley, middle is .380 Revolver
Mk II and at right is 9mm Luger round.

Even Good Sights

The sights should be mentioned at this point. For their era, the Enfield No. 2 Mk I’s sights are good: meaning wide and visible. The front is about 3/16″ wide, tall and square. The rear is a likewise-wide and square notch cut into the barrel latch. A plus is the front sight sets in a groove in a stud forged integral with the barrel and is secured by a small screw. It’s changeable for height, meaning individual revolvers can be zeroed at least for elevation. Windage is not adjustable.

My particular specimen is marked RAF and dated 1936. RAF stands for Royal Air Force and this revolver presumably was issued to a pilot or air crew of bombers. Since it shows none of the ravages of weather its likely it was carried a bit and never used outdoors.

Having been made prior to World War II’s outbreak I also presume its front sight was the one used for the 200 grain Mk I .38 loading. That’s because it hits right to point of aim with my handload duplicating that one. It’s Lyman’s bullet mould number 358430, 200 grains of 1-20 tin to lead alloy, over 1.8 grains of Bullseye powder in new .38 S&W brass manufactured by Starline. Velocity of my load was clocked at 612 fps.

I enjoy shooting my Enfield No. 2 Mk, I but I wouldn’t want to tackle an adversary more ferocious than a ground squirrel with that .38/200 load!

enfield 5

In order for Duke’s Enfield No. 2 .38 to shoot to its sights, he loaded
his rounds with a 200 grain bullet from Lyman mould #358430.

enfield 6

Duke’s little .38 Enfield shoots reasonably well with his handloads
and furthermore, is a joy to shoot.

By Mike “Duke” Venturino
Photos Yvonne Venturino

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

9 thoughts on “Exclusive Web Extra: Handguns Of WWII Part 3

  1. KMacK

    One wonders why the British issued such puny rounds in their firearms? Both the .450 and the .380 Revolver mk I/II are very underloaded for the pistols they are in. These are the people who invented the Elephant Gun and Howdah pistol, so it isn’t like they don’t know how to make a hard hitting round.
    Even a 9mm Kurz (.380 ACP) is a harder hitting round than their revolver round, so it isn’t like other people couldn’t similar rounds with more zip.
    Just plain strange…

  2. John the decoy guy..

    My guess as to why the puny rounds somewhat cooincides with the quote in the article about the effeminate soldiers….The Brits class system drove men women and children to act in ways that correspond to their allotted station in life. Ladies are to be proper and gentlemen were to comport them selves in a certain manner befitting well…gentleman. A proper gentleman would not behave as if he were one of those brutish Americans with their rough manner and large pistols. No, a gentleman would a small Boxer or Adams pistol and use it as a last resort. AS a result, familiararity with pistols was lacking.

  3. Nick B.

    Duke pokes a little fun at the British with his quote, and why not ,we would do the same with an American quote.
    The handgun chosen is not a reflection on the manliness of the soldier but a reflection on the countries vision about how the next war will be fought and the role of that weapon in that war,
    otherwise German officers would not have armed themselves with 32s and Americans would not have downgraded to a 9mm (a 36 !).
    I believe one justification the American Army gave for the change was the inability of the recruits to master the 45.
    The British Army officered by those “Gentlemen” fought numerous wars from the 1700s to WWll using large heavy calibre handguns. Heavy calibre because the fighting was close and personal and the opponent difficult to stop. There is a well known quote (from a letter) where the writer comments on the death of a fellow officer who was unable to stop his sword wielding opponent with a cylinder full of shots from his Colt’s Navy Pistol where had he one of the Adam’s or Tranter pistols in .54 and above he may have survived.
    After the trenches of WWl and the vision of mobile warfare with modern weapons for WWll I suspect the need for those CQ weapons was seen to have diminished and a smaller lighter pistol was seen to be adequate.
    As an ex infantryman (although of limited service)I see nothing wrong with equipment that is smaller and lighter.

  4. Shane. j

    There actually was a speed loader for the Webley revolver, webley prideaux (speed loader). I’m not sure if one was ever adapted for the Enfield in .38 calibre. Google the Webley Prideaux and watch an amazing design in action. Sometimes I think it’s better than the modern ones!


    1. Peter Ryder

      Yes there were Prideaux loaders for the Enfield but very few – I have only ever seen one. They, along with spring clips (like for .45ACP revolvers), were also produced for the .38ACP version of the Fosbery (eight shot!)and again I have only ever seen one. Speed loaders were, of course, never issued – private purchase only.

      1. Mark Jackaman

        There were also Watson speed loaders for the Mk 1 – VI .455 Webleys. S&W K frame speed loaders fir the Webley and Enfield .38-200. No one has mentioned the heavy projectile and low velocity which often leads the 200 grain bullet to tumble on contact with meat. The 180 gr projectile results from German protests about the lead projectile and this phenomenon.

  5. Roy Jaruk

    Given the low power of this round — as one comment noted, a 90 grain .380 ACP is more powerful — I begin to suspect that the British Army had succumbed to the same disease as the German military: Pistol As A Badge Of Office. The overwhelming majority of pistols in British service were issued to Army officers, RAF pilots and combat aircrew. Or, in other words, individuals that would be unlikely to have to USE them.

    The Germans did the same thing across the Nazi culture. Combat officers had first call on 9mm handguns. The Nazis tended to go for the P-08 Luger; combat officers whose lives might depend on a pistol went for the P-38 and the Radom. Police, Party officials, second-line military and paramilitary organizations like the SA took what they could get, with or without waffenamt stamps. Most pistols in these formations were 9mm Kurz (.380 ACP) or 7.62mm (.32 ACP), and were carried to mark such people as legends in their own minds, because the general German population wasn’t allowed handguns.

    Seems curious to me the British would succumb to that. I have long wondered how many of the field grade officers who had been company grades in World War I held on to the Webley Mark VI pistols and carried them in World War II. Someone who had seen the elephant before would in my estimation be extremely unlikely to carry a popgun instead of a pistol that was at least nominally a man-stopper.

    Am I correct, Duke?

  6. DMangham

    My own “experiments” with actual Mk2Z 178g FMJ ammo (of relatively recent vintage Singaporean manufacture) and vintage Winchester “Super Police” 200g lead round nose ammo indicates that these loads would be much more effective in combat than most suppose.

    Lots of speculation and anecdotal evidence point towards these bullets being designed to tumble violently, soon after entering a soft target. Shooting at plastic milk jugs filled with water, that is precisely what I’ve seen. Low muzzle velocities in the 600fps range barely stabilize these bullets, so they destabilize and tumble very soon after target penetration, yet their high sectional density ensures a useful depth of penetration. The tumbling creates damage out of all proportion to the low velocity, even if it impacts only soft tissue; if a 200g soft lead bullet strikes bone, the results are supposed to be devastating. I believe it.

    The same bullet, driven at MV’s in excess of 700 fps, does not destabilize until it traverses much more tissue, and in many cases would not tumble until it had exited the target (enemy soldier); therefore, it would have a spotty “stopping power” effect similar to the rather notorious 158g LRN police load so widely used in US police service in the 20th century. Should the 200g slug impact bone at 700+ velocity, however, the effect would be even more dramatic than the low-vel version.

    So much for terminal ballistic effects–now a comment on the weapon system in the hands of actual wartime soldiers. They were, after all, the men for whom this weapon and ammo were specifically intended. The natural pointing qualities of the Mk2 Enfield pistol were a point of major interest during the design and testing phases (1920’s-’30’s). Think “ergonomics.” They were/are excellent. Recoil and report are mild, too, allowing soldiers to easily fire bursts of 2-3 rounds when engaging a target–a technique which was emphasized. In short, this weapon system was designed to be easy to shoot by hastily-trained soldiers, yet to hit harder than muzzle energy figures would indicate.

    I spent 24 years in the US Army in conventional units, where pistol training was essentially non-existent. At qualification time with the .45 Automatic, many officers couldn’t hit a target to save their souls–they would thrust the pistol toward the target and fire, a technique which commonly causes the M1911-series pistol to drill a round into the dirt about 10 yards in front of the firer! Others would try to aim & squeeze, but with poor technique and no training, unused to the recoil & trigger pull and ignorant of steady-hold techniques with pistols, they’d usually miss. People accustomed to firing pistols, however, could handily hit targets. Thus, the 1911 is the pistol praised for its accuracy by some, but cursed by others as being totally inaccurate.

    I think the British Army knew its business when it adopted the .380 Rim cartridge and the Enfield revolvers that used it. When Hague Convention concerns led them to adopt the 178g jacketed bullet in 1938, however, they found themselves facing the unpleasant reality that jacketed bullets at low velocities are a marginal and dangerous combination in handguns. Slight variances in manufacturing tolerances, firearm condition, or ammunition storage in extreme heat, could easily wind up leaving the bullet in the bore. Note that Speer Reloading Manual #13 specifically declines to prescribe jacketed bullet loads of 158g or heavier bullets in .38’s, even the .38 Special+P.

    I suspect British soldiers got good results when shooting unarmored targets with their .380 Rim revolvers when weapon-ammo functioned as designed. Even then, however, this combination was NOT designed to shoot thru barriers. Also, any combat soldier who could get his hands on a reliable auto pistol such as a 1911, Browning, or P-38, would have gladly done so to increase his rate of fire and speed of reloading, aka “firepower.” If he had witnessed any malfunctions of .380 revolvers as explained above, he would be even more eager to swap. And the fact that such autos used the same ammo as Sten or Thompson SMG’s would have made the decision even easier.

  7. Baz

    The line of thinking in WW-II was that it was better to wound your enemy than kill them. Wounding your opponent would mean that another soldier or two would be tied up getting help for the wounded while no resources were needed for a dead comrade.

    This is true even today.

Comments are closed.