BSA’s Experimental .34 Caliber Pistols at James D Julia

During World War One, Birmingham Small Arms (aka BSA) grew into a massive arms manufacturing facility to supply the previously inconceivable military appetite for rifles. When the war ended, they were left with a bit of a dilemma. As a private entity, what were they to do with such a huge production capacity and no more government orders?

One part of their post-war plan was to create and market a new line of handguns and ammunition in conjunction with a conglomerate of ammunition manufacturers. The result was a line of new belted cartridges including a .34 caliber belted round roughly equivalent to the .32 ACP. To use this cartridge, BSA designed a pistol, which was mostly a copy of the FN 1910. The hope was that a good marketing campaign centered around the state-of-the-art new ammunition would make for a popular product and many sales.

Unfortunately for BSA, the plan was a flop. Belted ammunition was new and innovative, but thoroughly unnecessary for blowback handgun cartridges. The new guns never went past the prototype stage, and only three are known to exist. Two of those are coming up for sale at James D Julia in October 2015, one in the new .34 caliber cartridge and one rebuilt by the factory to use .32 ACP.

18 Comments

  1. Shades of the .35 S&W automatic… a weapon looking for a niche in the market that didn’t exist. Apparently the only reason for the .35 was Smith’s massive reluctance to manufacture anything that said “Colt” on it, as in the “C” in “.32 ACP.” Which explains why the between-wars N-frames in .45 Long Colt are so rare. However… if anyone would know it would be someone here: I seem to recall, thinking of the .35 Smith pocket auto, that I read somewhere many years ago that it was the first pistol adopted by the FBI back in those days when J. Edgar was first converting his team of unarmed Justice Department accountants and lawyers into a gangbusting, gun-toting law enforcement agency. Does that ring a bell with anyone else? If so, it was probably the only sizable order the .35 ever got.

    • Both .34 BSA and .35 S&W are for me examples of reinventing the wheel.

      ” reluctance to manufacture anything that said “Colt” on it”
      But if you need to avoid stamping other manufacturer name on your firearm renaming (dubbing) the cartridge name is rather more feasible than than time (and money) wasting developing of your own cartridge. Examples:
      -cartridge now known as “.30-30” was originally called “.30 Winchester Center Fire”, the name “.30-30” was invented by Marlin.
      -cartridge now known as “.500 Jeffery” was originally called “12,7x70mm Schuler”, the name “.500 Jeffery” was invented by British suppliers following WW1 anti-German atmosphere (Did you know?: dynasty now called “Windsor” was called Sachsen-Coburg-Gotha before WW1)
      or simply avoid mentioning manufacturer at all (for example Remington Model 51 is for “380 CAL” cartridge)

      • “(Did you know?: dynasty now called “Windsor” was called Sachsen-Coburg-Gotha before WW1”
        Addition: even German Shepherd was renamed for Alsatian

        • Woodrow Wilson’s regime, once they managed to get the united state into WWi

          attempted to rename sauerkraut “liberty cabbage”

          one of the less establishment comedians of the time wondered whether “liberty Measles” would be next.

        • .32 Colt New Police = .32 S&W Long, IIRC. And speaking as someone with a touch of arthritis in the fingers: the scallops in the slide look kinda nice.

        • Winchester made hundreds of High and Low Walls chambered for the very popular long case .25-20 Stevens cartridge. Barrels were stamped .25-20, no more. When they introduced the .25-20 WCF, there was still demand for the long cartridge, so Winchester started calling it the .25-20 Single Shot. Heaven forfend that they should ever stamp “Stevens” on a Winchester barrel!

    • According to this article, http://www.americanrifleman.org/articles/2011/8/22/a-history-of-fbi-handguns/, the FBI was first officially armed in 1934, and agents had some latitude in what they carried. They could carry a gun of their choosing, or go with one of the issued guns which included “the .35-cal. Smith & Wesson semi-automatic (Model of 1913), the .45 Colt Government Model, and the S&W .38 Spl. Military & Police.” There is a picture of the S&W in Sixguns by Keith. A few years later the .38 super and the .357 magnum became popular given the steel plate body armor and automobiles that came with the gangster era.

      There was some speculation in this forum (several months, or a year ago?) that the ill-fated S&W Light Rifle (that could not stand up to 9mm) was originally designed for .35 S&W.

  2. I think they are rather elegant pistols, which might have made a better service handgun than the Enfield .38-200 revolver which was picked to replace the Webley .455. However, the period in which BSA was developing them coincided with the introduction of the Firearms Act 1920, which introduced gun control to Britain, and killed the once thriving market for pocket pistols stone dead.

    Without a domestic market of any sort, it proved next to impossible to have a successful firearms industry. Webley just about kept going by making .38 revolvers for various police forces across the Empire, but there was no innovation. They were still making the same revolvers in the 1960s as they had in the 1920s, and eventually gave up the unequal struggle. There are still bespoke makers of high quality rifles and shotguns in Britain, but no volume firearm industry at all.

    • Although I’ve heard the finish is a bit on the rough side – I’ve never seen one and don’t think they are imported to the US – I’d love to see one of the boutique importers bring in a lot of the Indian .32 S&W Webleys. In .32 H&R with a six-inch barrel (the Mk. VI is my favorite .455) I think it would find a niche market. Ditto the Indian new-manufacture Lee-Enfields, if an American company could be persuaded to run a batch of 8 x 50R, which I understand is allowed for (tightly controlled) civilian ownership in India where “military caliber (.223, .308) weapons are completely illegal.

    • It wouldn’t delay blowback, but would help withstand it, if you will until pressure dropped via the bullet already having hit ze German at that point.

      • Help the cartridge withstand being “blown out” as it is blown out from the chamber, under a pressure which wpuld usually require a lock to ensure the bullet has left before blow back takes place type thing.

  3. I thought belting munitions was to make for positive head spacing. You would not relie on head spacing using the cartridge mouth or rim.
    It also seemed to me to be a marketing ploy as “magnum” cartridges had them therefore any belted cartridge was a powerful “magnum”.

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