Exclusive Web Extra: Handguns Of WWII Part 6

The Smith & Wesson Hand Ejector, 2nd Model .455 Webley.

Part 6 Of A 12-Part Series.

When Britain jumped into World War I and dragged Canada along, as usual their military outfits were woefully short of weapons. In those days the United States was a firearms manufacturing colossus, so Britain turned to various American arms factories for weapons. First was Smith & Wesson for revolvers. As early as 1887, Britain’s military handgun cartridge was the .455 Webley. By the outbreak of hostilities in 1914, smokeless powder had replaced black powder in that .76″ long case. Bullet weight was a hefty 265 grains, its shape was a rather odd conical roundnose and velocity was rated at only 580 fps. This was their Mark II cartridge (Source Military Small Arms Of The 20th Century, 7th Edition).

In 1907 Smith & Wesson introduced their first swing cylinder, large frame revolver. It was at first named the New Century, but collectors have come to term it the Hand Ejector, 1st Model. Most writers in the gun magazine business usually call it a “Triplelock.” Its introductory chambering was .44 Smith & Wesson Special, but before it was dropped, circa 1915, some were also made as .45 Colt, .44-40 and .38-40. To accommodate the British it was a simple matter for S&W engineers to alter “Triplelocks” to .455 Webley.

Although the Brits bought nearly 5,500 of the S&W .455s, they were not completely pleased with them. The Triplelock’s ejector rod housing was encased in a shroud on its right side. There was also a lock between the cylinder crane and frame that inspired its unique nickname. The Brits rightly feared the mud of trench warfare would gum up such intricate mechanisms.

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Duke’s Smith & Wesson Hand Ejector 2nd Model, .455 Webley. It factory-letters
to the Canadian government in 1916. With it is a box of .455 Webley military
ammunition dated 1943, also of Canadian manufacture. Along the way, this big
revolver gained a leather holster of Australian manufacture.

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A good boost to .455 Webley shooters has come from Hornady, with
new factory ammunition with 265 grain lead bullets.

2nd. Model

Therefore, in 1915 Smith & Wesson redesigned their big frame revolver, dropping both of the above-mentioned features. They offered this “2nd Model” for domestic sales in the four American calibers, and of course sold many thousands more to the British military in .455 Webley. These were all of a type. Barrels were 6 ½” long, weight was a fairly heavy three pounds, grips were two piece, finely checkered walnut and there was a lanyard ring on the butt. Finish was still Smith & Wesson’s elegant bright blue throughout, with hammer and trigger color case hardened. Sights were a simple groove down the frame’s topstrap with a large half-moon shaped front sight forged integral with the barrel. Before manufacture ceased in September, 1916, Smith & Wesson supplied just shy of 70,000 more .455 revolvers to the British. Here’s an interesting fact. All these handguns were sent to Remington/Union Metallic Cartridge Company’s New York office because that firm was Britain’s purchasing agent in the United States. From there they were forwarded either to Britain or to Canada.

To the government of Canada is where the S&W Hand Ejector, 2nd Model, .455 in my collection went in 1916. It received its proof marks and then disappeared into the maw of history. So how does all this pertain to World War II handguns? Many of these handguns stayed in the armories of their respective military purchasers and were pulled out for reissue in World War II. Somewhere along the way, my S&W .455 also gained an Australian-made military holster, complete with brass cleaning rod.

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These proof marks on Duke’s Smith & Wesson Hand Ejector 2nd Model
help prove its Canadian and British heritage.

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These are some of the .455 Webley loads Duke has been feeding his
Smith & Wesson over the years. From left: Fiocchi factory load with 262
grain lead bullet, Hornady factory load with 265 grain lead bullet,
Hornady 255 grain lead bullet and loaded round, and cast bullet from
RCBS special order mould #455-265WEBLEY and loaded round.

A New Load

Also that Mark II .455 loading was changed. It originally carried a lead alloy bullet which was against conventions of civilized warfare. The Mark VI loading replaced it with a 265 grain full metal jacketed bullet rated at 620 fps. At a gun show a few years back I encountered a British Webley Mark VI revolver accompanied by a 12-round box of the .455 Mark VI loads of Canadian manufacture dated 1943. I bought that Webley just to get that box of ammo to go with my Canadian-issued Smith & Wesson Hand Ejector 2nd Model .455!

When first introduced to shooting and then handloading .455 Webley, matters were slightly inconvenient. The only factory ammo came from Fiocchi of Italy and it was not commonly encountered. It chronographed 660 fps from the big S&W.

Other than the cases one could gather from shooting Fiocchi factory loads only brass cut and formed from .45 Colt cases was available to the reloader. Dies were easy, as both RCBS and Redding offer them, and to my great surprise RCBS even catalogs a .455 Webley bullet mould in their special order section. It is numbered 455-265-Webley and its design is conical, as with military bullets, and even hollowbase, as they were. Cast of 1/20 alloy they worked just fine when fired with 3.4 grains of Bullseye. Velocity as chronographed from my S&W was 616 fps about six feet from the muzzle.

Then things got easier. Hornady began offering .455 Webley factory loads and also cases for reloading. Also I gave Hornady’s 255-grain swaged lead .454″ bullets — ostensibly meant for .45 Colt cowboy action shooters — a try, in place of the RCBS bullets. They shot beautifully over 4 grains of Bullseye, giving a velocity of 714 fps. Although the RCBS cast bullets “look” better in my handloads, being hollowbased, they must be poured one at a time, so production is very slow. Also, the 255-grain Hornady swaged lead bullets printed exactly to point of aim when fired two-handed, standing at 50 feet distance.

Smith & Wesson helped in American efforts to pull Britain’s fat out of the fire in two world wars. They began with these big N-frame .455s. Then Smith & Wesson chimed in again starting circa 1940 with their K-frame .38 “Military & Police” revolvers. We’ll profile one of those soon.

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This photo gives a size comparison of military rounds for (from left to right):
.455 Webley, British 380 Revolver Mk II and 9mm Parabellum.

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With the Hornady 255-grain lead bullet and 3.0 grains of Bullseye,
Duke’s S&W .455 shoots right to its sights. Duke says flyer at right was his fault.

By Mike “Duke” Venturino
Photos By Yvonne Venturino

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One thought on “Exclusive Web Extra: Handguns Of WWII Part 6

  1. marvin souw

    Just wanted to say that I’ve followed your articles since the days of Shooting Times; I used to read the late great Skeeter Skelton and miss his writings dearly.
    I just read your musings on the .455 Webley cartridge and the guns that shoot it, namely the Webley Mk VI and was impressed by your experiences about both the gun and the cartridge. Having owned a Mk VI, obtained from an elderly woman whose husband had recently passed away (he was the previous owner and she didn’t know what to do with the gun; she brought it to Little John’s Auctions in So Cal and I gave Little John an offer on it, which he took), I must agree with you that it is one of the ugliest guns on the face of the planet! I had not given thought as to the power factor of the cartridge, but now after reading your articles, I too am a believer that it is one of the wimpiest cartridges ever developed; I have been turning it over in my head as whether to purchase a new gun for self defense, and was leaning on the fantastic Taurus Judge. Thanks to your informative article, I have finally made a major decision: I know of a steel foundry that offers $5 on the pound for steel for smelting and I have decided to submit that Webley Mk VI. As well, there is this old revolver, a RICK (RIC?) that has been lying around here, in some odd caliber like .450, and also a S&W .22 that I haven’t even shot since I got it years ago. At a gun show, some guy commented that it was something like a hand jecter 2nd model or some such and that it was made just before WW2. He wanted to buy it for, if I remember right, $4,000 because, according to him, they only made a few hundred of them; I figured that he was kidding since a quantity of a few would mean that there was something wrong with the item and that no one would want them. So I left as fast as I could. Like I said, it is a .22 and if .455 is wimpy and anemic, then it must be a total loser.
    I also saw in the article that you used a surplus helmet to demonstrate the difference of power between the American .45 and the .455. How did the British ever establish their empire, I will never know; I did come across a big box of similar helmets, some American and some with model decals stuck on them in the form of German crosses and such. The steel plant said that they would take the whole lot, guns and helmets, for about $100. The way I see it, this would make a good downpayment for a layaway on that Judge.
    Again, thank you very much for the advice!

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