Webley 1913 Semiauto Pistol: Shooting

Following up on yesterday’s history and disassembly of the Webley 1913, today I am taking one of them out to the range. Courtesy of Mike Carrick from Arms Heritage magazine, I am shooting original WWI British .455 SL ammunition. We don’t have a lot of it to work with here, but we will try out some magazine fire as well as some single loading, since the magazine cutoff was one of the relatively unique features of the 1913 Webley.

Overall, from this admittedly limited firing experience, I think the Webley is a rather underrated pistol, probably because of its short service live and unavailable ammunition. Despite its awkward appearance, it handles and points pretty well, and has felt recoil not unlike the Colt 1911, despite having a more powerful cartridge.

57 Comments

  1. Had the cartridge been improved or switched to 45 ACP this pistol would have been a nice companion to the Colt 1911… or am I wrong?

  2. Just don’t understand the British need to single load bullets, especially in pistols. If you need one, you’re likely needing one badly, and would want all possible shots available.

    Maybe it relates to the swagger stick and going over the top as a symbol of rank, not an actual weapon? If that’s the case, I suspect more than a few British tommies picked up their dead officer’s pistols after an abortive charge on the Hun’s Maxims.

    • It’s just a theory, but imagine your magazine is empty or almost empty and you find an ammo strap or box but you cannot afford the time to replenish each of your magazine : fast single shot loading can bring a little more hope.

    • “Under what circumstances would single loading a military pistol in the 20th century be desirable?”
      Some silenced automatic pistol, have “repeating pistol” mode if you want to avoid sound of cycling action, here possibility to load single round might make some sense, especially if you can done it with magazine loaded in weapon.
      Such weapon can be used as single-shot pistol, but in need can be also fast reverted for automatic pistol mode.

      • Training? It would prevent shooters from pointing a loaded gun where it shouldn’t after firing their first round. The gun would still have it’s full weight to reduce recoil. It would also guard against a gun in the hands of a novice from inadvertently going full auto with dire results. It would also make novice shooters focus on each shoot and follow through. There would be no rush to fire the second shot. These are guesses.

    • Faking out the enemy into thinking you’re all out of ammo and then, SURPRISE. Seriously, the whole repeating arms concept was lost on British military thinkers who thought ammo was a precious commodity not to be wasted on killing the enemy.

      • Is this a fact or just speculation? Because If my memory is correct the British were rather adept at killing their enemy.

    • I imagine the magazine cutoff requirement had more to do with obsolete notions of the proper use and issuance of detachable magazines than anything else. Apparently the Webley pistol would only be issued with two magazines. Just as the British Lee-Enfield rifles were only issued with one magazine each.

  3. I think Ian has addressed this previously, and history bears this out , it’s about supply or potential problems with supply.

    According to reading the contemporary writings of British soldiers and officers even with the most powerful navy in the world at the time, supply of even critical resources such as ammunition were never assured.

    They didn’t develop this pistol or even their weapons during WWI, but when they were thinking about colonial use in many cases.

    In times of questionable logistical support, every round becomes precious, so control of ammunition resources was one of their primary concerns.

    In today’s world we have little idea of the problems and incertainties of when you could get resupply or even if it would come.

    With one round of ammunition, whether rifle or pistol, a soldier could kill or incapacitate his enemy, without the ammunition, the rifleman could resort to the bayonet, the possessor of the handgun, resorted to the sword, which was why the Brits and others maintained swords for their officers and soemtimes non-commissioned officers into the early 20th century.

    • “In times of questionable logistical support, every round becomes precious, so control of ammunition resources was one of their primary concerns.”
      Here is also advantage of Webley top-break revolver: if I am not mistaken, it can also fire older British revolver cartridge, that is .476 Enfield.

      • Similarly there was a huge problem with arming fighter planes solely with missiles. During the Vietnam War, the USAF had problems with missiles going way off target due to hardware deficiencies. To make matters worse few American pilots knew how to dogfight against Soviet fighters and most wound up running away in shame or plummeting to their doom. At the time all American jet fighters serving in Vietnam save a minority were designed to use only guided missiles (and they literally had no guns at all). This is the opposite problem compared to reluctance to adopt automatic pistols: overconfidence in a new product that hasn’t been developed to address varying combat scenarios. Logistically America had all the advantages with respect to supply speed and availability of munitions, but narrowly minded generals refused to listen to boots and flight helmets on the front. They claimed that American technology made combat flight maneuvers a staple of idiots and cavemen. So to sum it up, we have two terrible extremes: one who accounts for worst case scenario without attempting to build an industrial base and logistical support network that actually works with a contingency plan as opposed to the extreme of developing new technology without proper field testing and also without input from the intended users. Any objections?

        • Yes I object. Your recitation of the history and technology and politics of Vietnam air to air combat is completely wrong.

          • Sorry, I oversimplified things. It’s just that tons of people assume that better tech wins the day no matter what… To my knowledge, lots of American pilots complained that their new jet fighters lacked any guns with which to get personal with their communist adversaries if all else failed. If all of your guided missiles are expended (and if your plane HAS NO GUNS BUILT INTO ITS BASIC DESIGN), how do you expect to defend yourself against a squadron of MiG-21’s if they have auto-cannons (assuming they also expended their missiles fruitlessly) and you have nothing but empty hard-points and a need to return to base (you’re probably low on fuel by this point) while getting pursued by said enemy squadron, lots of surface-to-air missiles, and heavy flak shells? Any further objections from the prosecution?

      • Ah, if only the high command gave as much thought to supplying the troops with ammo as they were with tea (or whiskey for the officers)…

        • “(…) if only the high command gave as much thought to supplying the troops with ammo(…)”
          When and where British forces, run out of ammo, due to fail of supply chain?

        • I think that’s a myth, In both world wars junior officers were killed at an alarming rate and were often killed leading their men into battle. To risk a good general in the front lines would be stupid.

    • Logical explanation, it makes sense. We are in completely different world today – at least in our imagination. Doctrines are constructs, were and continue to be.

  4. Ian, have you or Mike ever tried to measure this ammunition with a chronograph? I am asking because a lot of reasonably reliable sources give the muzzle velocity of 700-770 fps from the 5″ barrel of the Webley.

    On separate note: that must have been some seriously expensive shooting. I wonder what is the current street price for .455 Webley Auto on the cartridge collectors’ market… Thank you for doing it anyways; I suppose Mike has a fair number of them around.

  5. “Cartridges of the World”, 6th Edition, has for the .455 Webley Automatic factory load: 224 grains, 700 feet per second.

    • I have seen comments that the “factory” load was reduced eventually due to people trying to load these in Webley revolvers. It’s possible that the Cartridges of the World load is thus a rather anemic one meant for the civilian market.

    • “.455 Webley Automatic factory load: 224 grains, 700 feet per second.”
      I will repeat:
      STANDARD BALLISTIC OF KYNOCH CENTRAL-FIRE METALLIC CARTRIDGES:
      7 grs. Smokeless; 224 gr. Metal-covered; 710 Ft. per sec. @ muzzle

  6. I wonder if this is the first pistol to use the ejection port as the locking shoulder, which the Glock and SIG now do ?

    Always wondered why J M Browning never used this simple set up and went to the bother of machining two locking shoulders on the barrel.

    • I believe this is the first automatic arm to use the ejection port for locking, though it is not a tilting barrel but a dropping barrel. (Early Brownings were a dropping barrel with links fore and aft.) The French M1935S had a Colt-Browning tilting barrel with locking at the ejection port, predating SIG-Sauer by forty years. My understanding is that it was adopted as an economy move to save machining time.

      Browning could not use ejection-port locking after Webley patented it, and even if he’d thought of it he might not have believed it to be safe. One of the concerns of early firearms designers seemed to be the provision of sufficient locking surface to securely seal breech to chamber; for example, Mauser’s Broomhandle dropping block quickly changed from one lug to two after only a year or so of production.

      If you look at Browning’s patents, you will see that he seemed to be obsessed with the multiple lug and rib locking system: he applied it to pump shotguns (raised and lowered breech rather than barrel), I think a few lever-action rifles, and of course his locked-breech pistol.

      Browning, who fabricated prototypes from wood or steel chunks, rather than designing them on paper, had in his time the services of the finest machinists on the planet, who could fabricate some of the most complicated shapes imaginable. Look inside an 1897 Winchester or FN A5 sometime. Browning’s designs were sturdy, safe, and reliable, and very common-sensible to operate, but like many of his contemporaries this came at the cost of complex or expensive manufacturing technique.

  7. J.M. Browning was a farmhand who filed his guns from pieces of metal he found lying around.

    Mr. Whiting was a engineer/designer with access to proper steel and machinery

    Watch the other video of they Webley and videos of the lesser(still adequately and safely working) browning style pistols and observe the difference in metal work

    • Mr. W, that was a little unfair and inaccurate. JMB was the son of an accomplished gunsmith who had already invented a multi-shot percussion rifle. He learned his trade repairing every make and model of firearm that passed through the Old West. That this background, designing arms from bits and pieces, was a positive advantage can be seen in that his guns are still in use and production more than a century after their introduction, and his ideas cribbed all over the industry.

      No disrespect to Mr. Whiting: without his ejection-port lock we would not have the very efficient modern pistol designs we are privileged to see today. I personally think highly all the Webley-Scott pistols, but regretfully note that they did not become universally reliable until the replacement of Cordite ammunition with nitrocellulose. One advantage of Browning’s designs, because of his practical rather than technical education, was their ability to reliably digest a wide range of ammunition.

  8. After some pondering, I would guess the thinking behind the magazine cut-off here had nothing to do with combat, but with training and perhaps competitive target shooting.

    I imagine the Royal Army brass saying to themselves, “How would range masters know when their command ‘Load one round!’ had been obeyed? With revolvers you just examine the open cylinders! Aha — if this slide thingumabob has to stay open before and after every single shot, that would make for convenient observation of multiple trainees! That’s how!”

    Would also let the weapon double, without modification, as a single-shot competitive target gun.

    What makes sense for mass rifle fire would not make sense for an individual’s sidearm. I’m sure even the Edwardian fossils in pre-WWI British arms procurement would not expect either a revolver or an automatic to be loaded one round at a time.

    • No such thing as the Royal Army – at least not in Britain. Regiments might have a Royal prefix but not the Army as a whole. Basically, the Monarchs post Charles I never really trusted the Army. Far too full of radical thinkers . . .

      • Do please forgive my ignorance, or perhaps my presumption. If there is an RN. RAF, and RAMC, then what do you call the Army? Substitute “small arms committee” for “Royal Army brass” in my post above for corrected terminology.

        • ” If there is an RN. RAF, and RAMC, then what do you call the Army?”
          Most often I encounter simply British Army name (at least in World Wars context). For why not Royal Army I found explanation
          The army is allowed to exist by order of the parliament, whereas the navy was personally controlled and raised by the monarch.
          here: https://www.reddit.com/r/explainlikeimfive/comments/22rru1/eli5_why_isnt_the_british_army_called_the_royal/
          why this allow some units to become Royal (like 1st World War Royal Tank Regiment) I don’t know.
          Anyway British forces have so many unwritten rules, that are beyond my recognition, for example proposition of naming dreadnought “Cromwell” was turned down by Royal Navy, in early 20th century, but Army accepted it as a name for A27 tank. Also trying to figure how turrets of battleships are named is hard nut to crack, Kriegsmarine simply assigned subsequent letters (A,B,C,…) to turret from fore to aft, U.S.Navy acted similarly, but with numbers rather than letters, but Royal Navy…
          If there are 4 turret it is quite simple – A,B are fore and X,Y are aft, but if there are 5 turret, it would be named (in unpredictable way) with not occupied letters, however if there is 7 turrets (like HMS Agincourt) the names are Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday.

          • The Royal Navy remained loyal to the monarchy throughout the English Civil War of 1642-1651, so they probably thought that naming a ship after the leader of the other side (Parlamentarians or “Roundheads”), one Oliver Cromwell, would not be appropriate.

    • “I really like it.”
      It should be remembered, that when it was initially designed (very early 20th century) it was heyday of revolvers, so exposed barrel might be considered advantage in aesthetic.

      • Also, a “revolver-like” balance was considered desirable, as the textbook shooting stance was one handed, at full arm extension or with elbow bent, offhand.

        A relatively muzzle-heavy pistol is more difficult to shoot that way, as I’ve learned over the years. Hence the almost universal use of the two-hand Weaver stance today, as Ian demonstrated just now. Before that came the isosceles stance, with arms and collarbone forming a triangle with two equal sides and two equal angles. I believe the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit and/or NYPD were the pioneers of that back in the 1920s, with the FBI following on when they finally got to carry guns after 1933.

        With two hands supporting the weapon, exact weight distribution is less of an issue. With just one hand and a relatively weak address, a butt-heavy balance is generally considered preferable. Hence the number of early autoloaders (Mauser, Parabellum, Bergmann, and even the Mars) with “bare barrels”.

        As for John Moses Browning, his designs were basically predicated on reliability and ease of maintenance. The full-length slide he favored for everything but .22s was to put a large recoil spring in a sensible spot rather than trying to cleverly hide one or more small ones inside the workings, thereby complicating things. In straight blowbacks, he put it first over the barrel (FN Model 1900), then under it (FN and Colt Model 1903s, “Baby” Browning), then around it (FN Model 1910).

        On locked-breech designs, he put it under the barrel and left it there. Which seems to be the simplest setup all-round for a design requiring a tilting or rotating barrel for locking. I believe at least one American design (Sterling?) back in the 1980s tried to combine a rotating barrel lock with the recoil spring around the barrel. I don’t think it even made limited production.

        I hate to say it, but the Webley automatics’ recoil spring setup is screwy. I know that in the blowbacks, the spring and crank arm tended to crack the left grip panel if it was made of any sort of composition (hard rubber, plastic, etc.). The same phenomenon used to be common on the subcompact Berettas with the V-springs under their grip panels.

        Coil springs seem to be better overall. And the closer they run parallel to bore axis, the better.

        cheers

        eon

        • Interesting view on unconventional recoil springs. I was thinking this particular one was clever, because it allows such easy disassembly.

        • “Also, a “revolver-like” balance was considered desirable, as the textbook shooting stance was one handed, at full arm extension or with elbow bent, offhand.”
          One of remnants of that practice is, if I am not mistaken, Olympic pistol stance.

          “I know that in the blowbacks, the spring and crank arm tended to crack the left grip panel if it was made of any sort of composition (hard rubber, plastic, etc.).”
          This might be effect of limitation of then known materials, for example Bakelite (or if you don’t like trade names – polyoxybenzylmethylenglycolanhydride) was patented in 1900s

          “Coil springs seem to be better overall. And the closer they run parallel to bore axis, the better.”
          Le Français automatic pistol:
          http://modernfirearms.net/handguns/hg/fr/le-francais-e.html
          were similar to Webley in being “exposed barrel”, have coil spring, but there were levers under grip panels (see links).

        • “a “revolver-like” balance was considered desirable, as the textbook shooting stance was one handed, at full arm extension or with elbow bent, offhand.”
          If I am not mistaken, one-hand stance was used by most military forces at least until Second World War. It would be interesting to see how used stance evolved against usage of exposed-barrel/shrouded-barrel automatic pistol. For example Sweden used Husqvarna m/40 until 1980s, does they tried to use 2-hand method on it?

          • I don’t​ know about the Swedes, but think the Germans adopted 2-handed method for the P1, in the 1980s I recall.

        • Having worked as a gunsmith in London, with nearly all English shotguns using v springs I know that they usually crack and fail at the bend if the heat treatment is not perfect. I’ve forged and filed up many replacements in my time. I would not be 100 % confident firing any fullbore pistol that relies on one as its only recoil spring.

  9. The gun is neat, the action is sturdy, the strip field is good for today standard too, and the flat recoil spring is genius. But, if “Cartridges of the world” is right about the .455 Webley auto load, the handgun is seriously overweight and ovenergineered for the round it was intended to. With mere 247 foot pounds / 335 Joules of energy, the .455 Webley Auto round could have been handled by a blowback pistol lighter than the Webley 1913 was.

    • Probably not, considering the relatively high momentum of the bullet. 224 grains at 710 fps has a same momentum as 125 grains at 1270 fps. So, although a simple blowback pistol would have been possible in principle, it would have been in the same class as a similar pistol for 9mm Parabellum.

    • “.455 Webley Auto round could have been handled by a blowback pistol lighter than the Webley 1913 was.”
      Was small mass high-priority design goal for Webley? If not probably Webley automatic pistol might receive “slimming” treatment.
      I am not sure about feasibility of .455 blow-back automatic pistol: what was pressure for that cartridge? how thick walls of cases were?

      • Webley & Scott earlier produced MARS automatic pistol, one of possible cartridge was .45 MARS LONG (220gr @ 1200fps), this automatic pistol failed at market, but maybe it give Webley idea that there exist need for heavy bullet at high velocity?

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