Monday, June 16, 2008

British pistol design thoughts...

In a discussion in comments at a Tam, post, the Empress of Snark quoted someone as saying,

"...most British handguns looked like they had been designed by someone who had not only never held a handgun before, but didn't like them very much, either.

I had the audacity to respond,

"The "never held one" comment is clever, but wrong, if you've ever actually used one yourself. Until the mid 20th century, British handguns were the best, or as good as the best, personal self defense tools available.

(Given the ammunition and state of reliability gunsmithing the time.)

Pick a date between 1800 and the end of the first German war, and a pistol from Britain would probably be your first or as good as your first choice.

Not surprising, British officers were doing a lot of defending themselves during that period and they shared their experiences.

Most people don't know it, but Britain produced almost all the "how to" fighting handgun literature in the 19th century, too. Obvious, really- those frontier subalterns and deputy collectors were both literate and literary.

Those Americans who were pistol fighting in the same period didn't much run to letters, magazine articles, and books."

Since gun nuts like pointless controversy, I thought I'd put it up here in case any one wants to discuss it.


Tam said...

The main thing I'd take exception to is the "Mid 20th Century" date. Mid/Late 19th Century? Sure, that's debatable. !950? (Or even 1915?) No. No way.

What handgun came out of Britain after the .455 Webley revolver that was worth a darn?

The best pistol the British used during the second German War was finished up by a Belgian Frog from a design started by a Utah Mormon. The .455 of WWI fame had been replaced with a pathetic .38 Short & Weak DAO Enfield that a British NCO instructor described as "too inaccurate to make a good pistol and too light to make a good club".

Was an Adams or Tranter really superior in any quantifiable way to an S&W top-break or Colt Model P?

And once we get into the 20th Century, I have to say that no British self-loading design was in the same ballpark as the products of St. John the Divine. They're not only not in the same ballpark, they're not in the same league. They may not even be playing the same sport.

Let's not forget that H&R licensed Webley's self-loaders for the American market. Briefly. Til they were crushed in the marketplace by the far superior offerings by Colt.

There's a reason that the Brits adopted the GP-35 so enthusiastically...

staghounds said...

Oooh goody, controversy!

I really meant more the 1930s, you're right. And reasonable minds can differ about 1911 as the cut off date, but I'd mildly disagree.

Rather than "What handgun came out of Britain after the .455 Webley revolver that was worth a darn?", I see it as "When was there a better choice than the Webley top break?"

I agree that I'd rather have a Government model NOW than a WG or WS. But our choices are influenced by three things that were unheard of in 1915.

First is modern hollow point ammunition. This matters more for small guns than large, .45 ACP ball is just fine.

Second is "reliability gunsmithing". I know the 1911 passed the big test, but in 1915 the reliability of the semiauto was not yet established. I wouldn't have cared to bet my life on one. Even now, many a 1911 gets a reliability job right out of the box.

The third thing isn't technical at all, it's the modern technique of the pistol. Back in 1915, no one (Except JMB, PBUH) had ever thought up the bundle of things- especially rule three and safe holsters for condition one carry- that make the 1911 as good a carry arm as a DA revolver. Col. Cooper (building on others) was the other half of the SA pistol design team, and that happened in the Eisenhower administration.

Reliability and instant readiness are the defensive essentials, and in 1915 that was a DA revolver. As it was in 1870, which makes the British offerings superior to our SA Colt and S&W.

For a full size carry gun, a New Service or Triple Lock does everything a WS does, but they don't do anything more. And they are more difficult to reload under stress.

(I agree about the Webley semiautos, though the 1913 is alright when it is running. That V spring is a bad design. Like the 1905 Colt it suffers from lack of a safe, quick carry mode.)

Johnny said...

I have an old armourer's chart for the Webley No 1 Mks III thru VI and they were available with S,M,L size stocks - because they cared. I had a Webley Mk IV .22 way back when which, for all practical purposes, was a Webley Mk VI shrunken down to .22 size and it was great little gun. The top break auto-ejector mechanism made loading and unloading much more convenient than something like an S&W. Also, the Brits where hot on speed-loaders. You could reload a Webley with a Prideaux loader probably as fast, if not faster, than you could swap a magazine in an auto pistol.

The Webley .455 revolvers were so much better than a Colt Peacemaker it's laughable to compare them, as military weapons. In the trenches of WW2 the Webley No 1 Mk VI would be the handgun to have, for sure.

In the final analysis, you'd find hard to do better today in a real gunfight... which we all know you'd really be wanting a rifle for anyhoo.

B&N said...

"They're not only not in the same ballpark, they're not in the same league. They may not even be playing the same sport."

Sez Tam, in her best Jules Winfield impersonation.

Tam said...

Say "what" again!

staghounds said...

If my answers frighten you then you should cease asking scary questions.

Don Meaker said...

The reason why full size 1911 autos get a reliability job out of the box is so they can shoot hollow points or other flat nose items, or in a dubious attempt to put a bad magazine back into service. With ball rounds, they usually work just find. Small 1911s (Commander or smaller) are more sensitive to ammunition, and will also benefit from tweaking to be sure that the magazine springs exactly match the operating spring.

Smith and Wesson also furnished .45ACP revolvers for the Great War, complete with half moon clips. They load very quickly compared to a Webley.

Anonymous said...

In the earliest days of the 1911, who made hollowpoint or flat-nosed bullets?

My first IPSC pistol was a like-new, box-stock 1911 made in 1912. Serial #4xxx, I disremember. Never, ever failed with hardball. My father left me a cobbled up 1911 with a 1913 frame. Box-stock. Totally reliable.

I've never seen a GI 1911 or 1911A1 that wasn't reliable--and that's a bunch of them. Hey, I gave a Marine $15 for one, when the 1st MarDiv phased out of Korea; worked just fine, until a CID Capt. took it awaay from me...

I wouldn't have jumped in on this, except the memory bubbled up from the sewer of my mind that this is the 60th "anniversary year" for me'n the 1911. It's all Tam's fault, anyway.

If there's a point to this--and if I part my hair properly it won't show--it is that 1911 ended any dominance for military handguns other than the 1911.

People's lack of knowledge or training as to how to get the most utility from a handgun is a people thing, not a gun thing.

:-), Art

og said...

Don't care. British handguns are brutally ugly. No uglier revolver than a Webley, no uglier automatic than- well- a webley.

Not that ugly is a bad thing, as I keep telling the Ogwife.

Anonymous said...

Would a Mauser Broomhandle or Luger not make a case for worthy competitor for that title (combat handgun of the 19-teens); combat isn't always about dropping your firearm and having it survive or reloading quickly, although both these qualities are useful.
Actually hitting what you aim at and hitting it where you aimed so that it stays down, counts for something.

But then I'd have liked a Webley Fosbery as my sidearm in the trenches so I'm probably in cloud cuckoo land.

The .455 was never terribly accurate, and it's not hard hitting despite it's diameter.