Scotland’s Only WW2 Military Firearm: Albion Motors No2 MkI** Revolver

One of the lessons the British military took from the Great War was that without extensive training and practice, most people were not very effective with a large-bore revolver. So in 1922, they undertook a program (via Webley) to develop a smaller sidearm that could be used with much less training. The result was the Revolver, No2 MkI, which went into production in 1931.

When World War Two began in 1939, the British government put out the call to civilian industry to take up war production. The Albion Motors company of Scotstoun (near Glasgow) was interested, and took a contract to make No2 revolvers. After a year of overcoming obstacles in tooling and skilled labor, the first Albion Motors revolver came off the production line in July, 1941. This was the first of 21,422 made by the company, and after the contract passed to the Coventry Tool & Die company in early 1943, another 21,094 would follow with the same Albion markings but assembled by Coventry.

Albion guns account for roughly 20% of total No2 revolver production, and they are the only example I can think of of modern Scottish military small arms production.

51 Comments

  1. 1) Re: .38/200. One commentator states that it wasn’t all that bad an exchange from .455 Webley — for the loss of a mere 25 ft.-lbs. of energy, the weight and materials in the revolver were cut by 25% and the chance of amateur hitting increased greatly. It was the later lighter bullets, especially jacketed, that came in for quite some criticism as underpowered. .38/200 lead-bulleted cartridges are now made by Steinel and an equivalent “Colt Super Police” is available from Buffalo Bore.

    2) Re: the hammer spur. Bloke on the Range did an extensive video on the Enfield under his own name on TFB. He insists the hammer spur was removed because shooting doctrine changed, and demonstrated that the tanker holster, though open-topped, covered the hammer spur quite adequately. (American tankers, at the insistence of then-Colonel Patton, were issued shoulder holsters from the start.) Strangely, the equivalent .38 Webley Mark IV remained SA/DA throughout the war and in fact Webley, once the contract was assigned, outproduced Enfield et al by some enormous margin, I think three or four to one.

    3) Clan McCollum has a most attractive tartan. Is there a necktie to match the kilt?

    • I think the Bloke must be right about the hammer spur. Tank corps holsters were deep, and the spur did not protrude. Even if it did, would it not have been easier to change the holster rather than the pistol?

      I must say the decision to delete the hammer stop was pretty crummy. However, pistols were usually carried in a holster with a top flap, and secured with a lanyard, so the chances of dropping one were pretty low, and perhaps acceptable in wartime. But I can’t say I like it.

      • No hammer stop isn’t a problem. Load five rounds and place the empty chamber under the hammer. Then you don’t have to worry about banging the hammer against something if you’re moving around. Five rounds versus six really isn’t an issue – if you’re using a handgun on a 20th century or later battlefield it’s because your primary weapon failed at a really bad time.

      • If I read my InterWebs correctly, whereas the #2 MkI* did not have a hammer-block safety, relying on the ‘rebound’ lever instead (that merely draws the hammer back a bit so that the firing pin isn’t resting on a primer), the #2 MkI** DID have a hammer block that worked off of the hammer, and therefore could be considered ‘drop safe,’ as far as that early technology would work.
        I still wouldn’t trust it implicitly.

        • John in AK,

          I think you have that the wrong way round. The hammer stop was removed from the war simplified Mk1**. It was retrofitted to them post war. I think the Mk1** was adequately safe for wartime use, but not in peacetime.

    • Originally, the Enfield revolver was chosen over the Webley MK IV 0.380in because the Army didn’t want to pay royalties to Webley & Scott any more. The classic British “In house design to avoid patent licensing” thing.

      The Webley ended up as the “substitute standard” anyway because Albion Motors and other makers just couldn’t produce enough Enfields to meet the requirements, which went far beyond the prewar estimates. Among other things, those estimates did not include the roughly 75,000 handguns delivered to the Resistance by SOE, out of close to 500,000 total small arms supplied. Enfield and Webley 0.380in revolvers probably accounted for half of that handgun total.

      The Webley MK IV was chosen as the standard for the Royal Air Force, mostly because at 24 1/2 ounces empty it weighed 3 1/2 ounces less than the Enfield. The RAF was always a bit phobic about excess weight.

      cheers

      eon

      • Well, Gosh, 3.5 ounces nearly 1/32nd of an Imperial gallon, and every 1/32nd of a gallon counts! I can see why the RAF was concerned!

  2. Albion Motors is namechecked in Mark Knopfler’s (a Scotsman) song Border Reiver. He apparently used to hitch south from Scotland to London in these trucks quite frequently.

    • I suppose you’re importing from the country that’s exporting, not the country of manufacture, and labeling accordingly. Imperialism aside, if this gun was surplussed from some armory south of the Firth of Forth and east of Wales, “England” is the source. Of course “England” has fewer letters than “Great Britain” or “United Kingdom.”

  3. That reduction in caliber was repeated during this century with police pistols in the USA. Back during th3e 1990s. the FBI concluded that standard issue .38 Special police revolvers had insufficient stopping power for criminals who were high on crack concaine, so the FBI did a series of tests and recommended up-gunning police to .40, .44 or .45 caliber. Yes, the newer, larger calibers improved stopping power, but proved too powerful for the new generation of women and minority police officers. This new generation tended to flinch when practicing with such high-powered pistols. Fast forward to the 21st century and police forces re-equipped with 9mm that was easier for smaller police officers to practice with.

  4. I have always wondered about two things concerning the No2 MkI revolver:

    1. Was it really a good decision to use the obsolescent .38 S&W cartridge as a basis for the .38/200? Wouldn’t the more modern .38 Special made more sense, because it was more powerful and therefore also more versatile than the .38 S&W? Now, after hearing Ian’s explanation that it allowed the cylinder to stay the same length as .455 Webley, I suppose that from a manufacturing point of view the shorter cylinder required by the .38 S&W made sense, since a shorter cylinder also required less materials.

    2. The Webley and Enfield had a basically clean slate for designing a new military revolver, but they decided to give it just a 6 round capacity instead of 7 or 8. Wouldn’t the basic objective of making the gun more friendly for novice handgun shooters also have made a larger capacity desirable? After all, you have more chances to hit with 7 or 8 rounds than just 6. A well trained shooter probably can make the six rounds count as needed, but a novice might benefit from extra capacity. Again, I understand manufacturing does favor a smaller “standard” 6 round cylinder, but still I wonder. Would it have made a difference in larger scale of things? Not one bit, but in general handguns did not make much difference in the total war that was WW2.

      • .38 Special isn’t exactly a very powerful cartridge, either, but I suppose .38 S&W was “good enough” for the purpose. It just appeared to me as an odd choice in the 1920s, because it was rather old by that point and getting less used even if S&W was still making new revolvers in .38 S&W. Also, having a same length cylinder as the .455 Webley revolvers seems to have been an important factor, like Ian also said in the video, although I don’t know exactly why.

        • .38 S&W, or rather 0.380in Revolver, had been a standard caliber for pocket revolvers and others in Britain going back to the 1870s when it was first introduced. Webley and others sold literally hundreds of thousands of “Bull Dog” revolvers in that caliber and the smaller 0.320in (.32 S&W) compared to far fewer in .450 Police Webley or .44 Webley.

          The 0.455in Service round launched a 265 grain bullet at roughly 600 F/S for roughly 220 FPE. The 0.380in fired a 178 grain FMJ at 750 F/S for roughly the same energy. The revolver and ammunition both weighed less and had less recoil.

          The British Army realized what the U.S. Army had missed in the Philippines, when the Colt Model 1892 .38 failed as a man-killer vs. the Moros. The Colt .38 round’s 145 grain bullet only had half the muzzle energy of the old .45 Colt revolver’s 255 grain round because both cartridges had roughly the same muzzle velocity, about 850 F/S. The .38 didn’t need to be replaced by degreased M1873 .45s, it needed a higher muzzle velocity.

          The 150 F/S difference between the 0.455 and the 0.380 meant that even with a lighter bullet, 0.380 could equal the performance of the 0.455, simply because it was going faster, and energy goes up with the square of velocity.

          In ballistics as in traffic safety, Speed Kills.

          cheers

          eon

          • Wasn’t the original .38/200 loading (.38/200 Mk I) a 200 grain bullet at 630 fps? I was unable to find velocity data for the 178 grain jacketed bullet (.38/200 Mk II and Mk IIz), but 750 fps seems like a lot for only 22 grains lighter bullet, unless they also changed the amount of powder.

          • Just to add to all this, .38 S & W was an extremely popular cartridge in the US, first in black powder, then converted to smokeless. (The numerous guns chambered for it ceased to be built only to make way for war production.) I presume the facilities to manufacture this case were common worldwide. .38 Special, in smokeless powder, was only beginning to take off in the US around 1930, which meant, for any agency or army adopting it, replacing both the ammo supply and the weapons being fed with it. My understanding is that the British took a common and proven case, mated it with a heavier bullet and higher velocity, and loaded it into a proven revolver design. Armies rarely innovate except from necessity.

          • “(…)In ballistics as in traffic safety, Speed Kills.(…)”
            But is not .38/200 effective due to bullet being barely stable and thus inclined to tumble when entering target?

          • @Daweo

            That is what I have read as well. Some sources also claim that the “Hague convention safe” jacketed 178 grain bullet was less effective, since it was more stable than the 200 grain lead bullet. Who knows, handgun cartridge terminal ballistics is a very convoluted subject.

  5. “The cylinder is the most important part from a metalurgical perspective.”
    Have you ever posted a list that prioritizes gun parts from most important to least important … in terms of metalurgy, hardness and precision. Say: chamber, locking lugs, firing pin, barrel bore, etc. all the way down to the butt stock that can be made of an un-sanded, axe-split fence rail on a bad day (say Nazi Germany in 1945)?

  6. Ian, I have to say, of all the gun channels I watch, you did the most over the top advert for the Scottish titles scam. I fast forwarded of course, but you’re the only one who wore his kilt & actually paired it w/ a Scottish gun.

    • My thoughts exactly! It almost made me watch the whole ad, but just almost. Established titles (I think that is their name) did get more than their money’s worth for sure!

  7. this is the nicest finish I’ve seen on a no.2 mk1 (in my admittedly limited experience); is it still the painted finish or something else?

  8. Scottish native weapons development ceased after the Haggis Mk 1*, on the condition they export Scotch Whisky and limit Bagpipe assaults to special occasions.

  9. 1) I think it was Ian Hogg who stated that it took “the muscles of a Hercules” to shott the Number 2 double-action
    2) As British supply of Number 2’s was insufficient S&W supplied their standard M&P revolver in 38/200 “https://www.gunsinternational.com/guns-for-sale-online/revolvers/military-revolvers—non-us/s-w-british-service-revolver–38-200-1905-m-p.cfm?gun_id=101106393#lg-1From the spring of 1940 until April of 1942, four, five, and six inch barrels were supplied on the .38/200 revolvers. The initial finish was commercial blue, and later became a duller brush blue. And after the 1942 date, smooth wooden stocks replaced the checkered ones with a silver medallion. At that time, the finish changed to a Parkerized look called Midnight Black, and only 5 inch barrels were furnished. The British wanted 5 inch guns due to Enfield and Webley revolvers also had 5 inch barrels, and the Pattern 1937 holsters were made only for barrels of that length.”

    • I hate to contradict Gunner Hogg, but the No2 revolver is perfectly good to shoot double action. The improved grips help, but the trigger pull is not excessive, and the sights are excellent, with a solid square rear sight, better than the Webley in my opinion.

      The main thing “wrong” with the No2 was that soldiers were given insufficient training. Otherwise it was adequate for the job.

      • It could also be argued that another thing wrong with the No.2 revolver was that it was a blatent rip-off of the Webley design to avoid royalty payments. A pattern of behaviour repeated with the Sterling SMG a couple of decades later.

        • Paul:

          Absolutely true. I imagine the reason Webley did not sue was that Enfield would have claimed “crown immunity”. They tried that with Sterling decades later, when they built thousands of Sterling SMGs without paying any royalties. Sterling sued and won, to Enfield’s disgust. After that, they did everything they could to destroy Sterling, Britain’s last privately owned major arms manufacturer, and in the end they succeeded. But it was a Pyrrhic victory, because even Enfield and the rest of the government small arms factories have closed down too.

          Britain has no civilian market, and government orders are too small to sustain an industry. And when you produce a product like the SA80, amazingly, export orders are roughly zero. Strange that.

      • Mr. Hogg did add that a little work with an oil stone could smooth out the double action, but that few would bother. Bloke on the Range has another video called “38/200 day” comparing an Enfield, a Webley Mk. IV, and an S&W Victory. Commentary from three different shooters is very interesting.

        • “(…)S&W Victory(…)”
          Wait… but is not S&W Victory revolver weapon made for U.S.Navy during World War II and chambered in .38 Special cartridge?

          • Daweo:

            The US Navy revolvers were indeed chambered for .38 Special, whereas the British contract revolvers were in .38 S&W. I have seen mention of production figures of 890,000, but I am not sure if that is for both types. Probably so.

            The Enfield, and indeed the Webley too, have better sights than the S&W in my opinion. In the S&W, the sight is a notch in the top strap, and it is obscured by the hammer. It can only be fully seen when shooting single action. S&W must have thought that double action shooting would be done without using sights, which does seem to have been the doctrine of the time. Clearly, the British saw things differently, and I feel they were correct.

          • Well, I was right and wrong. The revolver in Bloke’s video is a Military & Police (the old Model 10) in commercial finish. The Victory was the same revolver with Parkerized finish and plain wood grips. Victorys were made for the British in .38/200 and for the US Navy in .38 Special. Bloke’s revolver is identical in handling to the British contract revolvers. Incidentally, .38 S&W has a slightly fatter case than .38 Special, you can’t chamber them in .38 Specials the way you can chamber a .38 Special in a .357 Magnum.

  10. This is the first clear, concise description I’ve seen of the difference between a 2* and a 2**. Everything I’ve ever read sums it up as “simplified for manufacture” which means “we don’t know”.

  11. If hammer spurs are that prone to snagging, surely somebody somewhere has tried shaping a hammer that the human thumb can cock but which won’t catch on things the way a conventionally spurred hammer is expected to.

  12. It is now saying above that the video is age restricted and only available on You Tube. Must be the sight of Ian in a kilt.

  13. Forgive me my ignorance, but I cannot figure out an answer to this simple question. Was there any rationale behind the British armed forces clinging to revolvers, instead of wider adoption of semi-automatic pistols, like most major (and not only) armies of this period?

    • That’s a very good question. I would assume that, having had satisfactory service from the Webley MkVI in WWI, the idea in the 1920s was to develop something similar, but smaller and easier to shoot. It would have been the same rationale which led to keeping the Lee Enfield rifle, but improving it to the No4.

      I would be interested to know if any assessment was made about adopting an automatic pistol before the decision to proceed with a revolver. It may have been felt that revolvers worked well, and there was no need to change.

      • Along the same lines, I think it was probably similar to how law enforcement agencies in the US, but to a lesser degree elsewhere as well (the French gendarmerie comes to mind), continued to use revolvers long after automatic pistols had matured to be generally reliable.

        Revolvers were a known quantity and you still can’t beat a double action revolver when it comes to reliability: when you pull the trigger, the gun will fire unless it is clearly broken. You don’t have to worry about safeties or ever consider things like magazine reliability. One could also argue that the basic use of a DA revolver requires less training than using an automatic pistol. That combined with general conservatism of armies and the earlier good combat experience with the .455 Webleys do in my opinion explain fairly well why the British Army chose a new revolver as late as the 1920s.

        • One thing I wish to add that until advent of double-stack (high-capacity) magazine, number of cartridge in hand-gun was roughly equal between military revolver and military automatic pistol.

          • That is no doubt what the British were thinking when they designed the No2 revolver, but for what it’s worth, I don’t actually agree with that line of thinking. When you consider it proportionally, eight rounds is 33% more than six, which means 33% higher chances to actually hit something. Eight rounds was somewhat of a standard for full size military automatic pistols, although there were of course pistols with only 7 round magazines.

            That is also why I think the British should have designed a revolver with an 8 round cylinder when they had the chance. Revolvers with more than 6 cartridge capacity were hardly a new thing in the 1920s, either, but the British seem to have chosen the path of maximal conservatism when they designed the No2 revolver (or the .38/200 Webley Mk IV).

  14. I dispute the assertion that this is the “only” WW2 military firearm from Scotland.

    The Sten Mk.I, with its wood and metal stock furniture, folding vertical foregrip, and “spoon” shaped flash-hider/ muzzle compensator was produced at the Singer sewing machine factory near the Clyde in Glasgow. The Mk.III was made at the Lines Brothers Ltd. Tri-ang sheet metal toy factory at Merton in London.

  15. At the risk of being pedantic, there was one other large manufacture of small arms in Scotland during WW2.

    The Signer Sewing Machine Company, Clydbank, made 26,800 No 4 Mk1 and Mk1*, one and a half inch single pistols during the war. These are identified by the marking of SM on the pistol.
    Regards
    AlanD

    • @Alan David: autocorrect has garbled your response, it seems. The same Singer Sewing Machine Company of Clydebank made Sten Mk.I “machine carbines” and the 1-1/2 in. signal pistols or “Very pistols” No. 4 Mk.I and Mk.I*.

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