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Webley–Fosbery Automatic Revolver
Webley–Fosbery Automatic Revolver
Type Service Revolver
Place of origin United Kingdom
Production history
Designer George V. Fosbery
Designed 1895
Manufacturer Webley & Scott
Produced 1901–1924
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
.38 ACP
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 & Scott company from 1901 to 1924. The revolver 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.[1]

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.[1]

.455in SAA Ball ammunition

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.[2]

The 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.

Wartime usage

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.[3] 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.[3] Another disadvantage was manual recocking. Unlike 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 in 1924, with a total production of less than 5,000.[4] However many revolvers remained unsold, and the model was carried in Webley's catalogues as late as 1939.

Cultural significance

In the Dashiell Hammett book The Maltese Falcon and the 1941 Warner Bros film, Sam Spade's partner, Miles Archer, is shot and killed with a Webley–Fosbery Automatic Revolver.[5] The revolver is shown in the film being fired when Archer is shot. Soon after, the unique cylinder is clearly visible when an investigating detective shows the revolver to Sam Spade. Sam Spade then identifies the gun as a "Webley–Fosbery". However, Bogart says it's a "45 caliber, 8 shot," which is not correct because it would have to be a .38 caliber to be 8 shots. The 45 caliber was only 6 shots. In the original book, Sam Spade refers to it as a "Thirty-eight, eight shot.", so the script writer changed it, wrongly, from the original.

In the film Zardoz, Sean Connery's character, Zed, carries a Webley–Fosbery revolver in several scenes.

In an episode 60326 - titled "Powder Keg" - of the American Television show Murder She Wrote a Webley–Fosbery features as a murder weapon.[6]


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.


  1. 1.0 1.1 Kinard, Jeff (2004). Pistols: An Illustrated History of Their Impact. ABC-CLIO. p. 144. ISBN 978-1-85109-470-7. 
  2. Foltz, Frederick (1903). "Webley-Fosbery Revolver". In Rodenbough. Journal of the Military Service Institution. 23. [[Military Service Institution of the United States]]. pp. 434– 436. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 World Guns, Modern Firearms: Handguns - Webley-Fosbery automatic revolver, Retrieved 31-03-2011
  4. Gordon, Bruce (1992). Webley & Scott Automatic Pistols. Verlag Stocker Schmid. pp. 85. 
  5. Ray, Robert Beverley (2008). The ABCs of Classic Hollywood. Oxford University Press. p. 233. ISBN 978-0-19-532292-7. 


  • Dowell, William Chipcase, The Webley Story, (Commonwealth Heritage Foundation, Kirkland, Washington: 1987)

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