RIA: Walch Navy 12-Shot Revolver

Patented by John Walch in 1859, this is a .36 caliber revolver using superimposed chambers – meaning that each of the six chambers could hold two shots, for a total of 12 rounds before reloading. The revolver has two hammers and two side by side triggers, with the trigger for the front loading being positioned slightly ahead of the rear load’s trigger, to help ensure that they are fired in the correct order.

While the 12-shot capacity was a major advantage over other revolvers of the period, number of significant disadvantages (weak charges because of the small chamber capacity and the safety hazards of a misfire or accidental firing of the rear load first) led to it being produced only in small numbers. About 200 of these .36 caliber Navy guns were made, and only for commercial sale. They did see use in the Civil War, though, as did most other guns in production at the time. A much more popular version was the 10-shot, .31 caliber pocket model.

22 Comments

  1. The whole “.36 Navy” revolver thing had little to do with a belief that sailors were easier to kill than soldiers.

    When Colt launched their “Model 1851 Belt Revolver”, Sam wanted a new rollmark on the cylinder to distinguish it from previous Colt revolvers. He chose a woodcut print of the most recent naval engagement at the time, between the Texas Navy and the Mexican Navy in 1847. (The Texans won.)

    Due solely t that rollmark, people referred to the 1851 as the “Navy” model. Within a few years, it was being marketed from the Colt London factory as “Colt’s Model 1851 Belt Revolver Of Navy Caliber”.

    Ever since then, .36 percussion revolvers have generally been referred to as “Navy” models, with the bigger .44s being called “army” models due to both Colt and Remington referring to the Model 1860 and 1858 .44 percussion revolvers as “Army” models.

    Interestingly, the United States Navy was a major user of the .36 M1851 and M1861 Colts, with most being converted to metallic cartridge in the 1870s.

    So the name became more-or-less a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    cheers

    eon

  2. I first read about the Walch in a Louis L’amour book and then did a little research on superposed loads.
    They generally worked well when CAREFULLY loaded and due to the medical care then available even a weak load often proved fatal given time.
    And the .36 is now the .38, which I find amusing.

    • “And the .36 is now the .38, which I find amusing.”
      American never were consistent in cartridge name and such their names sometimes show true caliber and sometimes no.
      Sometime it might have historical explanation (like .44 Russian –> .44 Special), but sometimes just random number is assigned like in .327 Federal (it nowhere has dimension .327″ and none of its ancestors has such designation)
      European designation seem too be more reasonable, as long as you remember that some define caliber as barrel-inside-diameter(lands) and some as barrel-inside-diameter(grooves)
      Too add confusion, exist:
      .38 Special firing .357″ bullet
      .38-55 Winchester firing .3775″ bullet
      .38-40 Winchester firing .401″ bullet
      so as you see: 38 does not equal 38 does not equal 38

      • That’s what you get when the Marketing Department is in charge of naming things for over 150 years. Worse than that, they were trying to sell to Bubba at least half of the time. Bubba, on top of his innumerable gunsmithing heresies, prefers big round numbers and has never heard of calipers.

          • Bubba is the guy that insists all AKs shoot 7.62×39, no matter what is stamped on the receiver.

            Bubba is the guy who makes extensive, tacky, and often useless modifications to rare historical firearms and uses them to shoot deer.

            Bubba enjoys shooting live rounds into the air in crowded cities to celebrate the holidays.

            Bubba thinks it is funny when he convinces novice shooters to fire his most powerful handgun and they scare or injure themselves.

            When you see Bubba at the shooting range, you either call it a day and head home or move to a bay where he cannot possibly aim, ricochet, or negligently discharge a bullet at you.

      • The .36 was a .355in, and was known as a 9mm in continental Europe. Today we call it a .357, mainly because that was the nominal bore spec of .38 Special barrels made by S&W when they launched their “.357 Magnum” in 1935. They didn’t want to call it a “.38 Magnum”, and the third digit made it sound exotic, hence easier for their sales sharks to ballyhoo.

        Technically, all “.36s” and “.38s” in the English-speaking world began with the idea of a nominal bore of three-eighths of one inch. Which is actually .375″, not .355″ or so. “Three-eighths” = “three-eight” = “Thirty-Eight”.

        The only actual “three-seven-five” bore handgun I’m aware of was the short-lived .375 Super Mag revolver made by Dan Wesson, chambering a cartridge designed by Elgin Gates based on a cut-down .375 Winchester case;

        http://www.sixguns.com/range/supermags.htm

        The .38-40 Winchester Center Fire is not, in fact, any sort of “.38”. It should properly be the “.40-38″, as it is a .40 caliber that was originally laded with 38 grains of black powder. Its bullets gave rise to both the 10mm Auto and the .40 S&W, both fundamentally dead-end developments. They weren’t big enough for the big-bore aficionados, or fast enough for the velocity fans.

        (I’ve worked fairly extensively with both, and of the two I prefer the full-power 10mm; but consider that it really is more of a slightly-oversized .357 than a rimless .41 Magnum. A 9 x 19mm, properly loaded, can just about do the job of most .40 and 10mm loads other than the maximum-power ones nobody likes due to blast, flash, recoil, etc.)

        BTW, among handguns, the 9mms and the .45s shoot what they advertise. Nominal bores of 9mm and .451-.454”, respectively.

        The vaunted “.44 Magnum” “.44 Special”, “.44-40″, etc., are actually .429”- “forty-threes”, near enough.

        cheers

        eon

        • “I prefer the full-power 10mm”
          Then you should appreciate Star Megastar, which is 10mm and double-row magazine. Guessed I?

          • Glock 20, actually. The Megastar never really fit my hand very well and was a bit too “Desert Eagle-ish” in size and balance.

            The S&W 1006 was basically a 4506 with one extra round in the magazine. If they’d given it a double-column mag holding 14 or 15 rounds, they might have had something, as its ergonomics were a bit better than the Glock’s in terms of backstrap profile. (The earlier 645 really didn’t have “ergonomics”; just a grip shaped like a piece of 1″ x 2″ lath.)

            Then again, it might have ended up as jam-prone as the M59. It takes a lot to make a 9 x 19 pistol truly unreliable; only High Point has succeeded at it more thoroughly than S&W did with the 59, which made even the early Ruger P85 look good by comparison.

            Today, I’d opt for a Glock 17 or 19. I’m waiting for a revival of 9mm Winchester Magnum, which was the round everybody should have decided on instead of .40 Short & Weak, Son of Ten. Basically 9 x 25 Mauser Export all over again, or if you prefer a true “rimless .357”.

            The .357 Auto (SiG) I consider an oxymoron. Basically a reiteration of the old .38/45 based on the .40 S&W case head, it delivers neither .357 ballistics or 9mm magazine capacity.

            Most departments (including Secret Service and FBI) using it would be better served by a high-capacity 9 x 19mm firing +P, or in fact going back to .357 DA revolvers.

            All things being equal power-wise, five to six almost-certain shots will always beat anywhere from eight to fifteen “maybes”.

            clear ether

            eon

          • “The .357 Auto (SiG) I consider an oxymoron. Basically a reiteration of the old .38/45 based on the .40 S&W case head, it delivers neither .357 ballistics or 9mm magazine capacity.”
            But bottleneck case promote reliable feeding independently from bullet shape.

          • At short barrel lengths (4.5″ or less), .357 Sig in fact does come very close to .357 Magnum ballistics, so close that the difference is quite insignificant. Since LEOs rarely carry pistols with a barrel longer than about 4.5″, the .357 Sig is a perfectly adequate replacement for .357 Magnum in such a use. Nevertheless, .357 Magnum is better with longer barrels, so it’s clearly the superior hunting or general purpose carbine cartridge of the two.

            http://www.ballisticsbytheinch.com/357sig.html
            http://www.ballisticsbytheinch.com/357mag.html

        • “S&W when they launched their “.357 Magnum” in 1935”
          In fact it is some paradox, when so America-associated 357 Magnum has in fact British-style name – 3 digit and Magnum (like in .375 Belted Magnum)

          • Yes, that’s why it sounded “exotic” to American handgunners back then. S&W’s claims for range and power were exaggerated to the point that they were basically making people think the 8.375″ barreled “Registered Series” .357 had the killing power of a .375 H&H out to 200 yards.

            Yes, it was the most powerful repeating handgun around back then. No, it wasn’t a big-game weapon and still isn’t. Whitetail deer is about the .357’s limit, no matter what bullet weight you use.

            It’s a better killer on deer than most longbows or crossbows (pulley-type or otherwise). A slug-loaded 12-gauge shotgun outdoes the .357 or any other handgun caliber.

            Mostly, though, for deer etc. you really should use an actual rifle. A .308 (7.62 x 51) is a good, all-around choice.

            cheers

            eon

  3. Howling crap! This is ingenuity… and so many years back. Things such as this humble any new “inventor” right to the ground. Good show!

  4. What if the shooter only loaded each chamber one time, with a correspondingly larger powder charge? Are the guns strong enough to handle this? The longer cylinder could have held a lot of powder…….. .36 caliber magnum or kaboom?

    • Most likely flashback through whichever nipple didn’t have a cap on it, resulting in a gas impulse throwing the hammer back and probably wrecking the searage.

      George Nonte once related such an incident with a Colt Peacemaker. The firing pin bushing had come out (a common problem with the Model P), and when the shooter led off a five-shot string, the primer of the first round blew. The gas pulse through the oversized firing-pin hole threw the hammer back far enough to raise the hand, and thus bring the next chamber topside, but not enough to be caught by the half-cock notch. Hammer fell again, touching off next round.

      The shooter found himself dealing with the world’s only full-auto Colt Peacemaker. The RoF was later calculated at 6,500 R/M- slightly better than a 7.62 x 51 Minigun.

      As for cylinder failure, I think the open nipple might vent enough pressure to avoid that. But it would vent it back into the hammers, and the shooter’s face. Not optimal.

      Some systems are just too precious to work well. If at all.

      cheers

      eon

      • Yikes. I think, however that the worst accident would be a chain fire with both powder charges going off in a single chamber. The result is probably named “lefty.” There’s a good reason why the Lindsay Double Musket didn’t work!

        • Most of the Lindsay Double Rifle-Muskets that still exist today show clear evidence that only the left-hand hammer, that fired the rear charge, was ever used. In short, the double-charge feature was ignored and the rifle was used purely as a conventional single shot.

          As Philip Sheridan said, never assume the American foot soldier is an idiot just because he’s not in the cavalry or artillery.

          cheers

          eon

  5. I wonder if these were proof tested? I recall reading that some superimposed load firearms were able to safely fire their rear load. Some proof tests have involved a double load so this example would approximate that. There are examples of some types of superimposed load firearms exploding in hands though and this gun is an open frame so it probably be wouldn’t be strong.

  6. Hello fellas, been watching Forgotten Weapons for some time now, Really great stuff Ian, keep it up.

    Just wanted to put in a comment about flashback that Eon mentioned; I shoot black powder from time to time (Uberti replicas) and I was gonna mention that flashback through the nipple is probably not gonna be the kind of issue that it would seem at first; I would think that would have been an issue with any and all percussion revolvers, especially the more powerful ones such as the 2nd and 3rd model dragoons, or the Walker. Usually, the hammer down over the nipple is enough to keep the cylinder from venting an excess amount of gas. With the Walch, You would cap the rear nipple, so your front hammer would, by design, already be down over the nipple when you discharge the rear one. From that standpoint, you would be alright.

    Where you would probably run into trouble, however, is that not knowing the exact thickness of individual cylinders, you could very easily overpressure this design…remember, it was built for two smaller charges than what the cylinger would hold; Add to this, the volume taken up by the rear ball means that the charges are that much smaller. Looking at the cylinder, and in the minds eye if you can imagine one .36 ball in the very front of the cylinder, and one roughly halfway down, allowing a certain amount of thickness for the rear of the cylinder…It looks like each charge would be roughly 10 grains. That’s not much pressure to have to design for. A Colt dragoon cylinder is about as long (that cylinder looked a little shorter than a Walker) and those hold about 30, maybe 35 grains of powder under ball, a little less under a Minie bullet…of course, those are .44 caliber as well. I don’t think that I would want to run a super-single charge in it, for the pressure reasons.

  7. I believe the FBI et al would only use nines in 147 plus P if at all. .45 acp is the definative stopper. Michael Collins of Irish Republican fame chose 1911 A1s over .38 revolvers for their terminal stopping power. This said, shot placement becomes relevant-yet again. Anyone hit with a totally anemic .22 short in the right place will want to do nothing but sit down.

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