RIA: Savage Navy Revolver: Almost Double Action!

The .36 caliber Savage Navy is one of the many revolvers that saw purchase and martial use during the US Civil War – and in this case, martial use on both sides. About 13,000 Savages were bought by the Union army and navy, and another 11,000 were sold commercially. Many of those commercially-sold guns were later smuggled through the lines and used by Confederate troops.

Ultimately production of the Savage ended after 1863, because the Union opted to standardize on .44 caliber instead of the .36 caliber that Savage was tooled up to produce. The retooling costs were too high for the company to change over, so they dropped the gun from production (it was already a tough sell to the military, at 35%-50% more expensive than competing Colt and Remington revolvers).

Mechanically, the Savage has several forward-looking features – most notably its quasi-double-action system. It has a traditional trigger, and also a ring trigger just below. The ring trigger is actually a cocking lever, which both cocks the hammer and rotates the cylinder. The top trigger is then used to fire. This allows easy rapid fire without changing one’s grip to cock the action, although it requires some practice to operate smoothly and feels quite odd to someone not used to working two separate “triggers” in sequence.


  1. The cocking trigger was already present on the British Tranter revolver, which was quite popular with colonial troops stationed in India, unless I’m totally wrong. The double trigger was a step towards double action in that it used a single action trigger but cocked the hammer without changing the sight picture. One would not like to have to reorient the sights in the middle of a scrum…

  2. “This allows easy rapid fire without changing one’s grip to cock the action, although it requires some practice to operate smoothly and feels quite odd to someone not used to working two separate “triggers” in sequence.”
    So from user-point-of-view it is lever-action revolver?

  3. I had one of these I only fired blanks in but it was a lot of fun and after a little practice was not cumbersome but it was no intuitive. I this concept is the core of what I call a “safety pistol” in which the semi-auto pistols rate of fire can be mechanically slowed down and also made much safer.

    • “what I call a “safety pistol””
      What is that? Try to google that but return only info about various safeties (grip, lever etc)

      “rate of fire can be mechanically slowed down”
      But why? The general trend is to more rate-of-fire better unless barrel melt down during firing.

      “also made much safer”
      Where it is much safer than modern automatic pistols?

      • Does the phrase “A-Team Firing” mean anything to you? Revolvers are generally less prone to be used as rapid-fire “get the heck out of my way” guns. And as for safety, the Savage Navy is less likely to have a live round in a chamber when the shooting is done. Percussion caps don’t look the same after they’ve discharged… or am I wrong?

        • “Does the phrase “A-Team Firing” mean anything to you?”
          If you can’t aim you will miss independently from used weapon.

          “live round in a chamber when the shooting is done”
          But live round in chamber is not big issue in modern automatic pistols.

      • Think of glock partially cocked striker, or better – its version created for trigger happy NY cops.

  4. Lots of interesting patents related to this design:

    Moving the cylinder back and forth to seal the cylinder gap was originally patented by North & Skinner:


    (See “North & Skinner Revolving Rifle” on Forgotten Weapons for more on that! ^__^)

    The patents that cover the mechanism in this revolver:


    You’ll note that the last one there shows the famous “Figure 8” revolver, this “Savage Navy Revolver” seems to have the same mechanism with the lever protected by a guard.

    Capandball over on YouTube did a little shooting with this revolver:


  5. It looks like a forerunner to the Nagant revolver with the back and forth moving cylinder. Though I suspect it has a much smother and easer action action.

  6. Nice and rugged design; something to admire in terms of ingenuity and manufacturing capability of the time period.

      • Actually, the original wasn’t all that rugged. The U.S. Navy found that if you accidentally or intentionally muffed the operating manual of arms by pulling both “triggers” together instead of lever first, actual trigger second, things tended to break inside.

        The Marines took note of this, and during most of the Civil War, the Savages stayed in inventory in armories while the Marines and Navy riverine units used Colt and Remington single-action percussion revolvers.

        The Savage may have been mechanically analogous to the Tranter, but it was a lot less “soldier-proof”.



  7. I wonder if this design was put out there to get around the “prior art” of companies offering actual double-action percussion revolvers like the Robert Adams, Tranter, and Starr designs. Or if there was some advantage claimed for something like this that could be cocked and kept safe by keeping the lever back until ready to fire.

    The anecdotes of British soldiers certainly supported the idea that there were advantages to quick follow-up shots from double-action vs. single-action pistols.

    • The British experiences in India, Africa, and for the most part any of their colonial conquests (and both Opium Wars) revealed that double action revolvers were best when confronting mobs of “spear-wielding natives” at point blank range. Volleys of rifle fire and square formations with fixed bayonets were very effective against indigenous peoples who didn’t know how to deal with guns. The various armies of the late Qing Dynasty found out the hard way that the British East India Company and the proper British Army did not take pleasure in doing things “man-to-man.” It got worse when other western powers joined the slaughter…

      Chinese General: “You outnumber those pale skinned barbarians a thousand to one! You should not lose to them if you fight with honor!”
      British Artillery Officer: “Load canister!” [waits until attacking Chinese are 400 yards away] “FIRE!!!!”

      Yes, I know the British were freaking evil, but they were being smart while being evil, I must admit… Did I flub anything?

        • You certainly have a point that this special “quality” was not reserved to British only. But that does not diminish Cherndog’s description of vice of imperialism in general; I consider his comment open minded and a brilliant one.

          Lucky we don’t have rule “guns no politics” here, since historical firearms are indivisible from historical contents.

      • Like many empire-builders, the British were also ‘smart’ by preferring to use non-British soldiers whenever possible, whether conscripts of conquered lands, hired mercenaries, or through alliances with local tribal leaders.

        The US occupation of Iraq tried a similar ‘divide-and-rule’ strategy, such as using Shia troops from southern Iraq to put down rebellions in the Sunni north, or using Kurdish forces to put down Shia and Sunni rebellions. (and let’s face it, the civil wars and ethnic cleansing that was allowed to occur under US occupation served to strengthen the US’s power by creating tribal and religious enmity within the conquered peoples that could be easily exploited and thereby prevented the possibility of a unified rebellion against US occupation — i.e., the classic strategy of empire building.)

        But just like the British colonialists, the American invaders didn’t trust their conquered populations enough to arm them sufficiently — lest they might one day turn against their masters.

        • Absolutely and this jives well with my little knowledge. Austro-Hungarian soldiers ran into ‘little bit of surprise’ when thy faced ‘coloured’ soldiers (supplied by British and French) on Piave front in late summer of 1918. Up to so far they were fighting just ‘pale faces’ (Calabrians excluded).

    • I’ve always assumed that the reason why early revolvers were single action (rather than double action) was simply a holdover from the way that matchlock/flintlock muskets and pistols had always been. Those old muzzle loaders could have been designed as double action just as easily centuries ago, but there was little advantage in doing so more advanced firearms emerged. But then, as usual, inertial thinking prevailed, and new technologies remained wrapped in outdated packages.

      And just as revolvers should have adopted double action from the outset, smokeless-powder repeating rifles should have been made with reduced barrel lengths from the outset. But like everything else, old ways of thinking tend to linger on, and it can be a long time before anyone thinks (or dares) to challenge something that’s been traditional.

      • “should have been made with reduced barrel lengths from the outset”
        When smokeless powder was introduced bayonet combat was still considering as totally feasible, hence it thought: better have longer than shorter rifle.

        “inertial thinking prevailed”
        This is especially true when first machine gun (or hand-powered rapid-fire guns) were introduced. Take for example French de Reffye:
        it has artillery-like carriage and don’t get own doctrine (just use it like other artillery pieces) of use, when used during Franco-Prussian War against “normal” artillery – very bad idea when you compare range of de Reffye with classic artillery.

        • “When smokeless powder was introduced bayonet combat was still considering as totally feasible”

          Due to “inertial thinking” once again. Bayonet fighting tactics were of course an indispensable battlefield tool in the muzzle-loading era, but whose value had declined dramatically in the age of repeating rifles. Yet until compact assault rifles took over after WWII, most military rifles in the first half of the 20th century were still built extra-long as if the muzzle-loading/bayonet-charging era was still present, rather than the reality that bayonets were by then a last-ditch resort for (hopefully) exceedingly rare occasions.

          Another possible hanger-on might hae been those rifle sights with extremely long artillery-like ranges. I don’t know if it was an overly optimistic “just in case” tool or if it was perhaps a feasible tactic to shoot a muzzle loading rifle from 2000 yards away (even if knowingly wasting a shot) because the soldiers would have enough time to reload before enemy forces could advance to within plausible combat range. (Or perhaps it was something like the way car speedometers often go far higher than the car is possibly capable of — and even if you hot-rodded the engine and disabled the tire-rated speed-limiter [my pickup’s was set to an annoyingly low 87 mph] the second half of the scale could never be legally used on any public road)

          • “Another possible hanger-on might hae been those rifle sights with extremely long artillery-like ranges. I don’t know if it was an overly optimistic “just in case” tool or if it was perhaps a feasible tactic to shoot a muzzle loading rifle from 2000 yards away”
            These sights were caused by assumption than enemy will march in tight formation. Also I think it would part of enemy can NOT out-range us! thinking.

        • I think that long barrel lengths had more to do with the ideas prevalent then about long range rifle fire. Light, easily portable machine guns and mortars only became widespread much later. So in the early days the mobile long range fire role was filled by “volley fire” from infantry formations. Longer barrels aided in long range fire. This is also why volley sights were fitted to rifles.

          Generally, infantry had long rifles, while cavalry and the artillery had carbines. Britain introduced the idea of the universal “short rifle” before WWI, which is the origin of the SMLE (Short Magazine Lee Enfield). Some other countries had more than a dozen different models of rifle to try to fill all the different roles with specialized versions.

          In the 19th century muzzle loading days though, British rifle regiments had special shorter sergeants’ rifles which were shorter than the standard soldiers’ rifles. Since a sergeant’s job was more to direct his men than to shoot at the enemy, they needed a rifle which was less likely to get in their way. The bayonet length issue was readily dealt with by simply equipping them with longer bayonets.

          The British and the French did a lot of colonial fighting against large numbers of opponents who were equipped with swords and spears, and who were determined and able to bring fighting to close quarters. Against such an opponent, if you didn’t have an effective bayonet (or sword in the case of infantry officers or cavalry), you were quite frankly screwed once fighting came to close quarters.

          Bayonets and swords are different from firearms in that you can use them to actually defend yourself, as opposed to just trying to kill the enemy before he got close to you. This is something that very often gets forgotten when discussing this issue. The defensive actions against a sword or spear (or enemy bayonet) are at least as important as the offensive actions.

      • Most people don’t know that Samuel Colt held one of the earliest American patents for a double-action revolver, from 1837.

        The reason he didn’t use it was that his own work had convinced him that at that time’s technical SOTA, DA systems tended to be fragile, with small parts that could be vulnerable to breakage or corrosion in service, especially in hostile climates (like the Rio Grande area of Texas, for instance).

        He wanted his revolvers to be absolutely reliable, no matter what. So he kept them as simple as possible mechanically.

        You may have noticed how fast the folding trigger of the Paterson models was replaced by a fixed trigger in a guard. Folding triggers were common on pocket and “muff” pistols, back then, and also showed up on some pepperboxes, notably French and Belgian-made ones.

        Colt put a folding trigger on the Paterson to make it as easily holsterable as possible. But with time (and some input from the Texas Rangers, notably Jack Hayes and Samuel Walker), he concluded that it was more complication than was needed in a weapon intended for hard service. Hence the Walker and Dragoon’s big trigger guards.

        Colt wanted his revolvers to go BANG fist time, every time, no matter what. That’s why they were single-action. As few parts as possible, as sturdily built as possible.

        His ultimate guiding principle was, “Keep It Simple, Stupid”.



        • “folding trigger”
          It also make revolver looking lower than with trigger-guard – this was time of single-shot percussion pistols and people consider that new designs should have proportions as olds.

  8. Savage is also one of first revolvers to use V spring that acts as both main, trigger return and hand spring. That avoids small and easily breakable hand and trigger return springs.

    • You are right, both leafs work in unison and distribute stress more evenly. I recall seeing this approach an early Austrian (von Mannlicher and other) designs.

  9. What I have to wonder is was this the first application of the toggle action? Did it influence any later designs using the toggle action?

    I have a reproduction of the Remington 1858 New Model Army. This looks like a superior design to that which is better than the Colt IMHO.

    • It depends what you mean by “first application”

      Once Ian gets around to moderating my post with the patent links, (too many web addresses I’m guessing), you’ll see that the original patent for the idea behind this firearm is the North & Skinner U.S. Patent No. 8982 granted in 1852. It doesn’t use toggle locking per se, but it does use a toggle in the mechanism.

      The Walter Hunt patent, U.S. Patent No. 6663 granted in 1849 precedes that one, and it was used as the basis for the Volcanic firearms, Henry rifle, and early Winchester repeaters.

      In the end, the use of a toggle in a firearm has been around for ages, and its first use would be difficult to track down, but would predate both of the above. ^__^

    • Automatic pistol of new generation called «Удав» (meaning Boa snake in English) will go through state trials, which should be finished to end of this year, says Российская газета citing Дмитрий Семизоров, director of ЦНИИТОЧМАШ (Центральный научно-исследовательский институт точного машиностроения – Central scientific-research institute of fine machine building).
      Weapon was made around 9x21mm cartridge and is supposed to replace, in perspective [i.e. future], Makarov and Yarygin pistols. Technical specs secret, but it is known that magazine hold 18 rounds and can be equipped with laser target pointer, collimator and light.
      Семизоров says that “Удав” parameters are superior to all existing analogs

      I would be careful about that information, too less information for now to judge about anything

      • Thank you Daweo.
        This ‘flurry’ of new pistol designs in Russia lately amazes me. It looks that there in not any definite supplier and new product is fair game. Well, capitalism in Russian way.

    • 9x21mm is used by the FSB (federal police). The army uses 9x19mm. There of course are still a lot of 9x18mm around as well, since not all the older pistols were replaced.

      What happened was that the Russians wanted a new pistol that would fire ammunition that could pierce body armour, particularly soft body armour which was being used by terrorists and criminals. They got proposals for an improved high pressure 9x18mm, 9x19mm (high pressure), and 9x21mm (not compatible with foreign 9x21mm).

      The 9x18mm design came with an improved Makarov (PMM) that used a form of delayed blow-back. This was selected by the army. However, it was later realised that the new ammunition would fit in the old Makarovs, which couldn’t handle the new higher pressure ammunition safely. They quickly rolled back on that idea and went with 9x19mm. The new 9x19mm armour piercing ammunition may not be safe in many foreign pistols, but for the Russians that wasn’t *their* problem.

      Somehow in all this the FSB ended up with the 9x21mm solution. I’m not sure how that came about. It might have been a deliberate decision to pick a pistol and round which criminals can’t readily get on the foreign market, but that’s just speculation.

      The improved Makarov and the story behind it and its ammunition would be an excellent topic for Ian, assuming he can ever get his hands on one to review it.

      • «Грач» project started in 1991, objective was to get automatic pistol which have better armour-piercing ability, higher magazine capacity and be able to use 7.62×25 Tokarev or 9×18 Makarov after changing barrel and magazine. To this project entered:
        ЦНИИТОЧМАШ (Klimovsk)
        ЦКИБ СОО (Tula)
        Ижевский механический завод (Izhevsk)
        In Izhevsk 3 different designs were developed: «Грач-1», «Грач-2», «Грач-3»
        First work on gas-delayed principle but it was found that it might be fast clogged with powder residue, so it was abandoned
        Second work on classic short-recoil/tilt principle and can also use 9×19 ammunition, this pistol will later, after some modification become “9-mm Yarygin Pistol” (in 2003), standard automatic pistol of Russian Army
        Third is improved Makarov pistol (also called ПММ – Pistol Makarov Modernised) with capacity of 12 rounds and able to fire both 9х18ПММ (9×18 with improved AP capability) and normal 9×18 Makarov (without changing anything) it was adopted by Army in 1994 as a stop-gap solution before more modern Грач-2 would be available.

        • Yeah right, it is Yarigin (in case of Grach) not Serdyukov as I mentioned firstly.

          The latter is apparently involved in pistol I inquired about. Thanks for info Daweo!

  10. Since my post on the patents for this firearm seems to be in perpetual moderation, (too many web links), and I’m sure Ian is busy making new and interesting content rather than wasting time moderating comments, I’ll re-post without the links. An easy way to find these is to go to the google patent search page and simply type in the patent number.

    First off is the patent by North & Skinner for the idea of moving the cylinder back, rotating it, and then moving it forward to create a better seal between the front of the cylinder and the barrel:

    Patent 8982 of June 1, 1852 by North & Skinner “Improvement in revolving-breech fire-arms”

    Although this uses a toggle link in the operation of the action, it uses a wedge to move the cylinder forward against the barrel.

    For more info, search this site (Forgotten Weapons) for “North & Skinner Revolving Rifle” ^__^

    Now to the patents that covered this particular firearm:

    Patent 15144 of June 17, 1856 by H. S. North “Improvement in fire-arms”
    Patent 22666 of January 18, 1859 by North & Savage “Improvement in revolving fire-arms”
    Patent 28311 of May 15, 1860 by Savage & North “Improvement in revolving fire-arms”

    You’ll note in that last one the appearance of the famous “Figure 8” revolver. That revolver is similar mechanically to this one with the improvement of protecting the operating lever with a guard.

    Also, capandball over on YouTube has a video about this firearm and does a little shooting with it, search YouTube for:

    “Shooting the Civil War Savage Navy percussion revolver”

    In that video you can see more clearly the operation of the spring-loaded cylinder stop.

  11. What everyone seems to ignore about this weapon is the toggle mechanism (knee joint affect) used inside this weapon which apart from pushing the cylinder forward to make it gas-tight against the barrel gives the weapon more than enough strength to withstand recoil. Such a toggle mechanism made the semi auto Luger so famous and successful firearm using the much stronger Nitro than black gun powder.

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