late 19th century, after the American Civil War
and the height of the British Colonial Empire
in the Victorian era, was a time of Western expansion.
There was just enough lawlessness to make frontiers
lands of opportunity, just enough "unexplored"
territory to make the Earth a mysterious place
and just enough technological advancement to bring
human beings to those thresholds for the first
In America, this was the time of
the "Wild West" where pioneers, cowboys and gunfighters
clashed in the open ranges with Colt Peacemaker
"six shooter" revolvers and Winchester rifles.
However, while the famous Colt did made its way
outside the United States, there was another revolver
that would dominate for the next 75 years, find
its way into the hands of British colonial soldiers
as the sidearm of choice and see action in both
World Wars: The Webley Revolver.
Indy's Webley in the
Manufactured by British firearms
maker Webley & Scott, the venerable Webley
revolver line is known for its heavy construction,
with a break-top design and six-round capacity
and the vast majority firing the powerful .455
calibre round. The first notable Webley revolver,
known as the Webley-Green, was produced in 1879
and has a distinctive round "ducks head" grip.
Indiana Jones fans will recognize this pistol
as the sidearm chosen by Dr. Jones in Indiana
Jones and the Last Crusade and Indiana
Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.
However, the real history of the
Webley revolver is arguably more adventurous,
and at times, more heroic that Indiana Jones'
In 1887, the British Army needed
a good revolver to take the place of the inferior
Enfield sidearms (a situation that would repeat
itself in World War II, but more on that later).
Webley & Scott rose to the challenge with
the .455 calibre Mark I (MK I) and the weapon
was officially adopted in November of that year
with an initial order of 10,000 MK Is.
One of the first major conflicts
that the Webley participated in was the second
Boer War in what would become South Africa that
took place from 1899 to 1902 when the British
and the Boers, New Zealand colonials who wanted
self-government, found themselves at odds. This
was the war that made heroes out of Winston Churchill
and Sir Robert Baden-Powell, the eventual founder
of the Boy Scouts. At that time, the Webley had
evolved into the Webley Mark IV (MK IV) and, with
its use of the powerful .455 calibre round, was
a popular purchase by British officers headed
When World War I broke out in 1914,
MK IVs and newer Webley Mark Vs (MK V) were the
common models in service. However, due to the
rapidly escalating scale of the war across Europe
and the Middle East, the British Army quickly
pushed for the advancement and adoption of the
Webley Mark VI (MK VI) in 1915. This Webley would
become the most famous of all the Webley revolvers.
Proving to be extremely reliable and built like
a tank, the MK VI was more than capable of holding
up to the filth of trench warfare without failing
its owners, whose lives literally depended on
the working condition and ruggedness of their
The Webley Mark
I, Webley MK
VI & the semi-automatic Webley Fosbury.
World War I was a shocking transition
in the way mass combat was conducted, with mechanized
warfare just coming into being while some old
holdover items and methods were still visible.
Mounted cavalry, sabres and the continued reliance
on bayonets ran alongside tanks, artillery shells,
biplanes and machine guns. With this transitional
mentality came odd items for both the Webley Revolver
and its German rival, the C96 "Broomhandle" Mauser
semi-automatic machine pistol. Both weapons had
optional shoulder stocks made for them to allow
them to become carbines and the Webley even had
a bayonet of its own!
The Webley MK VI in Lawrence
The MK VI was the largest of the
Webley revolvers, with a distinctive full six-inch
barrel, and can be seen in many World War I films,
most notably in Lawrence
of Arabia as the title character's weapon
of choice. The pistol is also anachronistically
carried in many pre-World War I set films, including
the British colonial films, Zulu,
Din and The
Four Feathers. Interestingly, in most of these
pictures, the events are set before 1887 and hence,
before the adoption of even the Webley MK I by
the British Army! The Webley MK VI's appearance
in these films can be attributed to the large
numbers that were made between 1915 and 1923.
Another notable Webley revolver
was introduced in World War I and used briefly
by the British "Tommies": The Webley Fosbury.
This was the worlds first semi-automatic revolver
and was only used in a limited capacity in the
war due to an understandably complicated mechanism
that jammed easily in harsh conditions of the
trenches and proved unreliable for combat. This
revolver did make a notable cameo as a key plot
point in the Humphrey Bogart classic, The
The Enfield revolver.
After the heroes of World War I
and their Webley MK VI revolvers returned home,
it wasn't long before the Nazis came to power
in Germany and World War II began. By then, the
now-legendary MK VI was considered obsolete and
the Enfield revolvers were now back in the hands
of British soldiers. Yes, the company whose products
were deemed unsatisfactory were back and history
repeated itself. Enfield could not produce them
fast enough and they were considered mere carbon
copies of the Webley MK VI. In fact, Enfield revolvers
looked almost identical to the MK VI. Webley &
Scott sued Enfield for patent infringement and,
in what can only be described as poetic justice,
were also approached by the British government
to produce more revolvers to bolster British arms
numbers because Enfield just couldn't get the
Webley introduced a new MK IV,
but this revolver had little in common with the
Boer War revolver. In actuality, the gun was based
on the Mark III (MK III). This new pistol was
chambered for .38 calibre Smith & Wesson rounds
and became the standard sidearm for both the British
Army ground soldiers and Royal Air Force fighter
pilots fighting in Nazi-occupied Europe.
The Webley MK IV .38
The Webley MK IV .38, as it is known,
can be seen in many World War II movies involving
the Royal Air Force and British ground battles.
The pistol also makes appearances in Sky
Captain and the World of Tomorrow as the title
character's weapon and in the remake of Flight
of the Phoenix as a weapon used by desert
At the same time the new Webley
MK IV was rolling out of the factory, another
Webley revolver made a triumphant resurrection.
Due to the loss of many British weapons at the
Battle of Dunkirk in 1939, the British government
ordered all the retired MK VI revolvers back into
service! The venerable MK VI would now serve in
both world wars!
The Webley MK IV .38 revolver remained
in service through the 1970s in many foreign police
forces and India still produces the ammunition
for the revolver despite its rarity among both
private citizens and government agencies today.
Indy with his Webley in
The Webley Revolver, in all of its
incarnations, was a weapon that can tell stories
of times long gone. Adopted at the height of British
Colonialism, this is the weapon that would have
likely been carried by British and western explorers
into the hearts of Africa and Asia, the deserts
of the Middle East and parts beyond. In fact,
the weapon was carried by fictional British adventurer
Allan Quatermain in both of the Richard
Chamberlain films of the 1980s. By both historic
and fictional heroes alike, the Webley has been
a mainstay. The revolver went with British soldiers
into colonial battles in the wilds of Africa during
the Boer Wars, fought in the trenches of World
War I, accompanied the RAF fighter aces in the
tense dogfights of World War II and made its way
to the silver screen and into the hands of the
greatest fictional adventurers of our day, including
With its distinctive Victorian
design, its unusual signature break-top design
(clearly seen in Lawrence
of Arabia and Indiana
Jones and the Last Crusade) and its lanyard
ring, the Webley hearkens back to a now-mythic
age of excitement, discovery and romance.
If early 20th century adventure
has a revolver, it must be the Webley.