Webley-Fosbery Automatic Revolver
|This article relies largely or entirely upon a single source. (December 2008)|
|This article needs additional citations for verification. (December 2008)|
|Webley-Fosbery Automatic Revolver|
The Webley-Fosbery Automatic Revolver
|Place of origin||United Kingdom|
|Designer||George V. Fosbery|
|Manufacturer||Webley & Scott|
|Number built||approx 4750|
|Variants||.455 Webley (6 shot) & .38 ACP (8 shot)|
|Weight||1.24 kg (43.68 oz.) unloaded|
|Length||280 mm (11")|
|Cartridge||.455 Webley Mk II
|Calibre||0.455 in (11,55 mm)
0.38 in (9 mm)
|Action||Recoil operated semi-automatic revolver|
|Rate of fire||Semi-automatic|
|Muzzle velocity||620 ft/s (190 m/s)|
|Feed system||6-round cylinder (.455 Webley)
8-round cylinder (.38 ACP)
|Sights||blade (front), U-notch (rear)|
The Webley-Fosbery Self-Cocking Automatic Revolver was an unusual, recoil-operated, automatic revolver designed by Lieutenant Colonel George Vincent Fosbery, VC and produced by the Webley and Scott company from 1901 to 1915. The weapon is easily recognisable by the zig-zag grooves on the cylinder.
Semi-automatic pistols were just beginning to appear when Colonel Fosbery (1832–1907) devised a revolver that cocked the hammer and rotated the cylinder by sliding the action, cylinder and barrel assembly back on the frame. The prototype was a modified Colt Single Action Army revolver. Fosbery patented his invention 16 August 1895 and further improvements were patented in June and October 1896.
Fosbery took his design to P. Webley & Son of Birmingham. P. Webley & Son, which merged with W.C. Scott & Sons and Richard Ellis & Son in 1897 to form the Webley & Scott Revolver and Arms Co., was the primary manufacturer of service pistols for the British Army as well as producing firearms for civilian use. Webley further developed the design and the Webley-Fosbery Automatic Revolver was introduced at the matches at Bisley of July 1900.
The revolver was initially made in .455 calibre for the British service cartridge, and later in .38 ACP. While the .455 version had a standard 6-round cylinder, the .38 high velocity (.38 Colt ACP) version had eight chambers and could be loaded by a circular full-moon clip. The .38 version had a shorter cylinder, and thus shorter recoil stroke. Some were made with the short frame in .455 calibre. A variety of modifications led to the production of 6 different models, Marks I through VI.
In civilian use, the Webley-Fosbery was popular with target-shooters. Because the trigger mechanism did not rotate the cylinder, shots were smooth and consistent, permitting rapid and accurate shooting. Walter Winans, a famous contemporary target shooter, preferred the Webley-Fosbery, and in 1902 he used it to place six shots in a two-inch bull's-eye at 12 paces in seven seconds. Using a Prideaux speedloader he was able to fire twelve shots into a three-inch bull's-eye in approximately 15 seconds.
Webley-Fosbery was available in several standard configurations with barrel lengths of 7.5 inches, 6 in, and 4 in, and was also made to order. They could also be ordered with Metford (polygonal) rifling. The pistol could also be purchased with a single-shot .22 adapter for competitive target shooting; the cylinder was removed and it was inserted into the barrel.
Though Webley viewed this weapon as an ideal sidearm for cavalry troops, the Webley-Fosbery was never adopted as an official government sidearm. At over 11 inches long and weighing some 44 ounces (1239 grammes) unloaded, the Webley-Fosbery was a heavy and unwieldy sidearm even by the standards of the day. Several models of Webley-Fosbery revolvers were produced, and the type saw limited action in the Boer Wars as well as World War I, where some privately purchased examples were carried by British officers in the .455 service chambering.  Reports from the field suggested that the Webley-Fosbery, with its precisely machined recoil surfaces was more susceptible to jamming in wartime conditions of mud and rain than comparable sidearms of the period. It has been commonly alleged that the Webley-Fosbery required a tight hold in order for the cylinder to properly cycle and cock the weapon.  Another disadvantage was manual recocking. In comparison to the simple technique used for ordinary revolvers, the Webley-Fosbery requires pulling the entire action-cylinder-barrel assembly back across the frame, a two-handed operation.
The Webley-Fosbery did not survive the First World War. Production ceased between 1915 and 1918, with a total production of less than 5,000. However many revolvers remained unsold, and the model was carried in Webley's catalogues as late as 1939.
The Webley-Fosbery is a recoil-operated revolver. It has three functional sections: the barrel and cylinder section, the lock and hammer action, and the frame which houses the trigger, recoil spring, grip, and safety.
The process of opening, emptying, and loading the Webley-Fosbery is identical to all other contemporary Webley revolvers. A pivoting lever on the side of the upper receiver is pressed to release the cylinder-barrel section, which tilts up and forward ("breaks") on a bottom-front pivot, simultaneously ejecting the contents of the cylinder chambers. Once loaded the section is tilted back to lock closed.
Once loaded the Webley-Fosbery is cocked by pressing the entire action-cylinder-barrel assembly as far back as it will go, using the free hand. An internal spring then brings the assembly to ready position.
When the action-cylinder-barrel assembly moves back, either by hand-cocking or recoil, a pivoting lever connected to the frame cocks the hammer while a stud on the frame rides in the zig-zag grooves on the outer cylinder, revolving the next chamber part-way to ready position. When the internal spring brings the assembly forward the stud revolves the cylinder completely, and the chamber lines up with the barrel. Neither pulling the trigger nor manually cocking the hammer alone rotates the gun's cylinder; the entire assembly must be cocked to ensure that a chamber is properly lined up with the barrel.
The Webley-Fosbery is intended to be carried at full cock, ready to fire. The revolver therefore has the unusual feature of a safety catch, which is found on the left side of the frame at the top of the grip. When disengaged the safety lies horizontally along the frame; it is set by pressing it down, disconnecting the hammer from the sear. It can only be set when the pistol is cocked.
In early models, one-directional cylinder rotation was ensured by using a spring-loaded operating stud which rode cylinder grooves of varying depths. This design was found to be needlessly complex and in the later models a fixed stud rode grooves of a uniform depth, with overshoot grooves set at the angle of the zig-zag to prevent the stud from permitting the cylinder to turn backwards.
Additional improvements included removing the cylinder retaining latch from the side of the action. The latch was replaced with a spring-loaded stud in the cylinder's top strap.
The final version of the Webley-Fosbery was released in 1914. It had a shorter cylinder than on earlier models and the trigger spring and recoil lever were strengthened.
The Webley-Fosbery makes an appearance in the classic film The Maltese Falcon. It is the gun linked to the killing of Sam Spade's partner, Miles Archer. Spade, played by Humphrey Bogart, erroneously identifies the gun (and mispronounces the name as "Foresby"), saying, "It's a Webley-Foresby, .45 automatic, eight shot. They don't make 'em anymore." The original novel gives the correct name. While the .38 calibre did have an eight-round capacity, the .455 (not .45) did not. And though some .455 Webleys were modified to fire the more common .45 ACP cartridge by use of half-moon clips, unless specially modified on an individual basis, there was never a .45 calibre eight-shot Webley-Fosbery Automatic Revolver. In the original Dashiell Hammett novel the gun is correctly identified as a "Thirty-eight, eight".
The Webley-Fosbery also makes an appearance in the film Zardoz, where it is used by Sean Connery's character "Zed". The two-handed method of manually cocking the revolver can be seen several times in the film. As a prop firing blanks and not live ammunition, the absence of adequate recoil would not allow for automatic recoil cocking.
The revolver may also be a recurring minor theme in the 1939 short story, 'The Secret Life of Walter Mitty', by James Thurber.
This revolver is also used by the character 'Charles Escott', a self-employed private detective in 1930's Chicago, in the book series "The Vampire Files" by author P.N. Elrod. It makes its debut in the 2nd book "Lifeblood" (copyright 1990) while Escott and his vampire companion 'Jack Flemming' (the main character of the series), together with a group of mobsters, track down an evil vampiress.
- World Guns, Modern Firearms: Handguns - Webley-Fosbery automatic revolver, Retrieved 31-03-2011
- Dowell, William Chipcase, The Webley Story, (Commonwealth Heritage Foundation, Kirkland, Washington: 1987)