Webley 1913 Semiauto Pistol: History and Disassembly

William Whiting and the Webley company had high hopes for their self-loading pistols being adopted by the British military – but they never got the success they were hoping for.

After the poor performance of the Webley 1904 at trials, William Whiting decided to make sure his next attempt would be fully developed before he put it in the hands of the military. He did very well at that too, as the gun which would become the Model 1913 Webley did very well from its very first military tests. The Royal Navy was, in fact, quite enthusiastic about it, although the Army was not. The Navy would ultimately adopt the gun and purchase about 8,000 of them during World War One, while the Army acquired just a couple hundred and preferred to stick to its revolvers.

Thanks to Mike Carrick of Arms Heritage magazine for loaning me these pistols to bring to you!

58 Comments

  1. I take it that the Royal Navy knew that automatic pistols were less likely to get dirt ingestion at sea. Thus all you needed to do was a weekly cleanup assuming no pirates jumped aboard and no mutiny happened. And even then the Webley automatic was much faster than revolvers in terms of reloading speed and subsequent leveling at hostile’s liver (or worse, the unmentionables, to say nothing about severing the subclavian artery) in the middle of a pitching seasick shipboard man-to-man scrum.. The only problem is if the pistol faces a boarder armed with a shotgun. Did I mess up?

    • I can understand the army’s reluctance even into WWII. After all, semi auto guns were obviously just a passing fad and who, least of all a cavalryman would want gun that holds more ammo and can be quickly reloaded while on horseback? (Winston Churchill and his broomhandle Mauser from the Boer War not withstanding.) Although, the Webley pistol does live up to the British reputation for clunky, awkward looking guns.

          • A.B.Zhuk states it was made by Rheinische Waffen & Munitionsfabrik Cöln and technical specs: length (overall/barrel): 167/99 mm; mass: 630 g; capacity: 8.
            Does anyone have more info. When it was produced? How many produced? It was license production XOR illegal copy XOR not-licensed but legal copy (Did Webley & Scott have patents in Germany?)

      • I think the army just didn’t really care about pistols that much

        They got a revolver that worked the .455 Webley revolver, and then they weren’t really that interested in replacing it. Even when they did it was with another revolver the .38 Enfield No.2. It wasn’t until about 1/2 way through WW2 the British army started issuing self loading pistols, the Browning Hi-Power and that was only really to special untis like paras.

  2. It is notable that not all Navy series pistols found their way into the civilian market through the proof house. Some just went “Walkies” and have no under barrel markings. Some illegally, and some “Retired” with their designated users.

    Also some found their way into the RFC and were marked as such. These lived cox and box with 1911 Colts, also chambered for the .455 Webley cartridge.

  3. Using custom ammo in the 1970’s made from 45 ACP cases (I had obtained these), I fired a clip through my 1913 as back then I wanted to fire everything I bought just to experience them. Subsequently I acquired seven or original rounds but even then they were considered too collectible to shoot. It functioned flawlessly with the custom ammo but the cases bulged a bit at the rear bottom. A very cool pistol. Even then these pistols were not cheap. Might cost me 300.00. As always wish I still had it but grateful I got to own one for a while. I almost went crazy and bought an adjustable site model for 800 at the George Brown Houston show a few years later ( was broke but never too broke to buy a gun here and there, although I always had to sacrifice something to get something else) but the owner took it apart when I asked about it and then he could not get it back together.

  4. Let’s see, there’s a list of battle sites and targets you left out: recalcitrant natives resisting shore parties, enemy sailors while boarding THEIR ships, mutineers on board or in port, sharks attacking your dinghy or your man overboard, the sky (warning or signal shots), small game during ration shortages, coconuts or breadfruit for target practice, seagulls or albatrosses from ship or shore, and of course, if necessary, oneself if going down with the ship.

    As this projectile hits harder than .45 ACP, bullet placement within the target might not matter so much.

    • Okay, so I did miss a whole ton of things. FMJ projectiles are mandated for military usage, so no hollow point “man-stopping” rounds. Otherwise you will violate the Hague Convention. Or did you consider dumping all the victims overboard?

      • The convention does not mandate FMJ bullets, but it bans clearly expanding bullets such as hollow points. Soft lead bullets are debatable, in other words open to interpretation.

        • During the 1930s, with the Enfield 0.380in revolver, the Army developed a 200-grain bullet load at 630 F/S and about 176 ft/lbs that they considered as good a “manstopper” as the old 265 grain at 600 for 212 ft/lbs. .455 revolver load. Most likely, they were probably right.

          But in the runup to ’39, they became concerned about violating the Hague accords with a lead bullet, so they changed to a 178 grain FMJ at 625 for 154 FPE. Probably slightly less effective, but also within the regulations, in a manner of speaking.

          PS- According to Cartridges of the World (6th ed.), the U.S. and British smokeless-powder loadings of the .455 were quite different. The numbers quoted above are for the Kynoch Cordite service load, which had a MV 100 F/S slower than the Kynoch blackpowder service load,which was 265 gr. @ 700 for 289 FPE.

          The U.S. loading was more powerful than either one, 265 grain at 757 F/S for 337 FPE.

          As for the .455 Webley Automatic, COTW lists the service load as 224 grain at 700 for 247.

          Cooper (1974) states that the .45 ACP can be used in the .455 Automatic, in either the RN issue 1911 Colt .455in or the Webley Automatic. I question the safety of this, since the .455 Webley is a semi-rimmed round headspacing like the .32 ACP or .38 Super, on that semi-rim, while the .45 ACP is a true rimless round like the 9 x 19mm, headspacing on the case mouth. .45 ACP case OAL is 0.898″, .455 Webley Auto case OAL is 0.93″.

          That looks like a potential excessive headspace “event” to me, right there. I wouldn’t try it.

          cheers

          eon

          • “As for the .455 Webley Automatic, COTW lists the service load as 224 grain at 700 for 247.”
            STANDARD BALLISTIC OF KYNOCH CENTRAL-FIRE METALLIC CARTRIDGES:
            7 grs. Smokeless; 224 gr. Metal-covered; 710 Ft. per sec. @ muzzle

  5. Very interesting design. Nice and simple.
    Did they ever market it to anyone other than the Royal Navy and the British Army?

    • “Very interesting design. Nice and simple.”
      For me its good fit for Great Britain – yes it is simple, but not obvious (if it is good word here) – generally it use same principle as some J.M.Browning’s automatic pistols – short-recoil/tilt, but executed in much different way – ejection port for locking, exposed barrel, flat spring placed under grip panel.

      • “.38 High Velocity”
        STANDARD BALLISTIC OF KYNOCH CENTRAL-FIRE METALLIC CARTRIDGES
        states that ·38 Automatic Pistol was loaded with 6 grs. Smokeless and launched 130 gr. Metal-covered at 1050 Ft. per sec.

  6. This locked breech gun uses a disconnector out of engagement with slide, thus, only providing to give only one shot with each trigger pull, but having no ability of keeping the gun undischarged should the slide remains out of battery.

    • Sorry for wrong information. Some research shows that, this pistol has a very effective disconnector working in cooperation with elevating barrel mounted over the trigger enabling the hammer engagement only when the barrel in full locked state.

      • Disconnector upper tip in the receiver at 21’46” at video seeming just in front of the magazine well at left, and disconnector notch under left side of the barrel at 22’00”. When the slide goes back carrying the barrel for a very short distance and forces the same to be elevated through the receiver guides, the disconnector mounted at over the trigger is pressed down onto the trigger bar as breaking the engagement with sear actuator.

  7. So the British Army was too foolish to see what a great handgun they had before them. Bizarre.

    On the other hand the British Army did take to the Lewis LMG pretty quickly during WWI, in contrast to the bizarre resistance of the U.S. Army.

    I guess every military has its own unique blind spots.

    • And for all we know, Imperial Japan developed (or inadvertently helped to develop in the long run) some of the first effective landing craft (the Daihatsu is a good example), the concept of large-caliber heavy howitzer bombardment during the Russo-Japanese War (only Imperial Germany and Austria-Hungary seemed to learn anything useful from watching the overkill fireworks), and the principle of strategic naval air power (which rendered conventional battleship-to-battleship warfare obsolete) which also brought about the I-400 Class Submarine, the spiritual precursor to nuclear-missile subs. Sadly, it appeared that stuffy radicalized politics prevented Japan from making the best use of her resources. Did I mess up?

    • “British Army was too foolish to see what a great handgun they had before them”
      Lets imagine that you try convince British Army to adoption of this automatic pistols.
      Why it is better than our current Webley .455 revolver?
      Are its advantage worth of adoption of new cartridge?
      How much one unit cost, less or more than our current issue revolver?

      • That is a very good question. While the Webley semiauto pistol did have a higher capacity than the Webley revolver, it most likely was not quite as reliable. Also, once you have expended the two magazines you have been issued with, you either have to single load the pistol or take the considerable time to load a magazine. Training your officers and NCOs to use a semiauto pistol would also have taken some time and resources.

        In retrospect, a significant advantage of 7+1 capacity semiautomatic pistols over break-open​ or swingout cylinder 6 shot double action revolvers was the ability to fire rapidly and accurately without re-cocking the gun between shots, as you would have to do with a revolver, if you did not want to suffer the heavy double action trigger pull. This probably was not recognized by the British Army.

        It is also true that the rapid fire advantage of semiautos is partially wasted by the fairly noticeable recoil of the .45″ class cartridges. Therefore I would say that even for pistols with single column magazine a .38 / 9mm cartridge is preferable over larger bore cartridges, even if the “stopping power” of individual bullets is somewhat lower. With double column magazines there really is no contest at all.

      • Side by side competitive testing of the revolver vs the pistol in shooting endurance and adverse environment reliability should have been enough to convince the British Army of the natural superiority of that pistol. The superior power, accuracy and speed of fire of that pistol is just the icing on the cake.

        Break open revolvers are not noted for their longevity.

        • “Break open revolvers are not noted for their longevity.”
          How many shots can be fired through Webley top-break revolver vs Webley Scott automatic pistol?
          Notice that in inter-war period British Army adopted Enfield No. 2 which is top-break – they have experience with swing-out cylinders during First World War (see S&W Triple Lock), but decided to stay with top-break, so it seems that it was durable enough.

    • 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.

  8. Just to put it into perspective and play devil’s advocate as well, the .30-06 version of the Lewis Gun was not ready for prime time until well into the game. I do not defend in any way the decisions to deprive our troops of effective light machine guns when we did deploy. Much respect for General Pershing, but that choice still boggles the modern mind.

  9. I seem to recall a photo of a WW1 aviator standing in front of his plane, holding one of these. Hmmmm, I’ll have to do some digging.

    • Early on, the Webley automatic, like the Colt 1911, was used by RFC flyers to take potshots at German “scouts” in the air. This was before machine guns were first bolted into the planes of course.

      Like the Colts, the Webleys were generally fitted with a bag or something to act as a shell-catcher to avoid the empty cases damaging parts of the airplane.

      It sounds ridiculous, but those early biplanes weren’t all that sturdy. It’s the reason the later fixed MG installations generally had “chutes” over the ejector port to guide the empties down into the fuselage below the gun, and the flexible guns usually had a collector bag under the gun for the same reason.

      One of the more annoying jobs but vitally necessary for the mechanics was pulling expended shell casings out from where they’d gotten stuck down inside the fuselage, usually under some control cable or something they could easily jam up if not removed.

      cheers

      eon

    • Matt:

      During the Great War the Royal Naval Division was formed to fight as infantry. They served on the Western Front and at Gallipoli. So I would imagine that Webley automatics were indeed used in action against the Germans and the Turks.

  10. Just a note on this pistol’s locking system — Webley seems to be the first to have locked the barrel to the slide using the ejection port, though the barrel unlocked by LOWERING rather than TILTING. Didn’t just evade Browning’s patent but must have saved some considerable machining time. Wonder if the designer of the French M1935S (was it, or was it not, Charles Petter? Does anyone know?) saw this gun first. Which did the designers of the SIG-Sauer 220 etc. in 1980 crib from?

  11. Before the Model 1909, colt locked breech pistols were “Elevated” barrels over the two links at front and rear. They changed to “Tilted” form thereafter. French MAS pistols, one time produced as using the ejection port as “locked on shoulder” most probably as being borrowed from Webley 1913, but seemingly simply to lower the manufacturing costs since changed to multi ribbed barrels some time after with much higher quality pistols. Sig 220 pistols use single locking shoulder barrels as being strongly inspired from MAS pistols but, with “Kidney Shaped” unlocking cam hole under the barrel which their own development. AFAIK

  12. Gun control did for Webley pistols. After 1920, there was just no domestic market any more. Most police forces had no guns, and the few Webley .32 automatics the Metropolitan Police had bought were used for decades. No repeat orders there.

    The Webley MkIV .38 revolver was a good seller to police forces in the Empire, but again, it had no home market.

    In short, Webley sold the dependable revolver designs that police bureaucrats wanted out in Africa, but with no domestic civilian market, and no military orders, they just did not have the money or the incentive to innovate and develop new designs. I think they eventually stopped making revolvers in the 1960s. Perhaps with the end of Empire, there was no-one left to buy their decent but old fashioned designs any more.

    • Decent enough doesn’t cut it when far more Browning action pistols are up for grabs. The Webley & Scott automatic pistols were not produced in a great enough number to get exported to other countries and so most people chose handguns based on the Browning action or any local brand just as good like Beretta or Walther (and countless others too). I could be wrong.

      • “get exported”
        So far I know, before First World War, no military, excluding U.S. and Great Britain, was looking to ~.45″ automatic pistol – Norway adopted Colt Kongsberg but, if I am not mistaken, rather due to high reward to construction of it – cartridge was adopted “as is”.
        Police at that time prefer rather smaller automatic pistol – often firing .32 Auto, so it seems that simply no-one has need for such automatic pistol, outside Great Britain.

    • “I think they eventually stopped making revolvers in the 1960s.”
      There exist WEBLEY-JUREK automatic pistol prototype for 9×19 cartridge, made in 1950s: http://weaponsman.com/?p=13568 but as British Army actually have Browning Hi-Power it was not produced

  13. A question, at 17.13 you seen to have swapped which cartridge you are talking about and pointing to around? (You point at the .455 Auto but refer to the revolver cartridge)

  14. Can not find the instructions on breaking downa 1908 webley semi auto. The trigger guard is supposed to pull down to release the slide but it not

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