Webley MkIV .455 Revolver

The British Army adopted the Mark IV in October 1899, with the vast majority of the MKIV revolvers accepted for service by the British Army purchased between 1899 and 1904, entering service just as the Second Anglo-Boer War began. As such the MkIV has become synonymous with the war, becoming known as ‘the Boer War Model’. The Mark IV is chambered in the .455 webley cartridge, and is not to be confused with the later .38 calibre Webley MkIV.

Traditionally, until the early 1880s, revolvers had been the preserve of officers who provided their own privately purchased side arm. However, in 1878 the British Army began issuing revolvers to specialist troops such as gunners, NCOs and trumpeters. As such many MkIv’s were issued to enlisted troops.

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Left side vide Webley MkIV (Matthew Moss)

Externally, at a glance the Mark IV looks little different to its predecessors retaining the same short 4 inch barrel, the same general layout and the same style birdshead grip of the earlier Mk II and MkIII revolvers it replaced. The first Webley service revolver, the MkI, was adopted officially in 1890

The MkIV embodied a number of important improvements. Webley made the barrel, body, cylinder and the cylinder axis from a special mild steel with the Ratchet teeth of extractor and Lifting point of pawl were case hardened to make them more durable. The width of the slots in cylinder were increased (from ·0625″ to ·125″) and the hammer was lightened but retained the same nose profile as the previous pattern. Webley sought to maintain parts interchangeability with the earlier MkIII. The records of the British Army’s Director of Army Contracts show that the revolvers cost between 58 and 61 shillings each between 1899 and 1903.

The trigger stop was raised slightly and the revolver’s angles were rounded off a little more than on earlier models, but it retained that classic angular Webley look. Like it’s predecessors the MKIV had a hinged frame, top break action with an automatic ejector which extracted and ejected cartridge cases when the frame was opened.

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MkIV with action broken open (Matthew Moss)

The MkIV uses Edwinson Green’s stirrup latch, introduced in 1883, on the left side of the revolver, which falls nicely under the thumb. This was tensioned by a v spring on the other side of the frame.  The pistol also it has two triangular wings either side of the frame, just ahead of the cylinder, these guides aided the holstering of the revolver.

The MkIV had a six round cylinder, and was predominantly loaded with short-cased smokeless MKII .455 round, which used cordite propellant, but a MKIII ‘man stopper’ round, with a large nose cavity, was briefly used before being removed from service because it contravened the 1899 Hague Convention.

The Mk IV also used the new cylinder retention method, introduced with the MkIII in 1897. Patented in August 1897, by William Whiting Webley’s chief engineer, the new cylinder retention system allowed for very smoother rotation. Previously the cylinder axis pin had been retained by a cross screw. In the new system a small hook engages a lip on the front of the cylinder, when the action was opened, and held it in the frame.

latch patent
William Whiting’s patent drawings for his cylinder retention method (UK Patent Office)

The hard black grips are made from moulded ‘Vulcanite’ rubber and have diamond pattern chequering. At the base of the birdshead grip is a lanyard loop. When cocking the revolver you notice how heavy but smooth the hammer and trigger are. Like all the other Webley service revolvers the MkIV has a double action/single action trigger.

By no means a light pistol, the MKIV was 35 ounces lighter than its predecessor the MKIII, but still weighed 2.2 lbs. The MkIV and other Webley’s were front heavy, and the birds head grip is not exactly ergonomically optimal, this wouldn’t be changed until the MkVI introduced in 1915.

The MkIv had an integral rounded front sight, rising out of the top of the barrel and a simple notch rear sight cut into the frame latch. It also had a recoil shield (or back plate) which was dovetailed into the frame to allow it to be replaced if it wore out.

Revolvers purchased by the War Office for general issue are often covered in War Office Arrow Head markings on many of the revolver’s major components, this indicates the pistol was purchased by the Government and not privately purchased.

1st Life Guards with webleys
An officer & NCOs of the 1st Life Guards preparing to embark for France, August 1914  (courtesy of Imperial War Museum)

The MkIV proved to be a good side arm and its design wasn’t modified for 14 years with the adoption of the MKV in 1913.  During this 14 year period many of the 36,756 MKIV’s delivered to the British Army saw action in a number of Colonial campaigns in Asia and Africa (Including the Anglo-Aro War, Somaliland Campaigns, the British expedition to Tibet, and the Bambatha Rebellion) and during the early years of the Great War. As the war dragged on the MkIv’s were quickly surpassed by the MkV, 20,000 of which were made, and the MKVI of which well over 100,000 produced by the end of the war.

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Specifications:

Overall Length: 9.25 inches
Barrel Length: 4 inches
Weight: ~2.2lbs (1kg)
Action: Double action/single action
Capacity: 6-shot cylinder
Calibre: .455 Webley


Bibliography:

Webley Revolvers, G. Bruce & C. Reinhart (1988)

The Webley Service Revolvers, R. Maze (2012)

The Webley Story, W.C. Dowell, (1962)

‘Improvements in Revolver Firearms’, W.J. Whiting, UK Patent GB#189617291, (05/08/1897)

 

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