The Webley Mark IV revolver has been the cause of a smidgen of confusion over the years simply because there have been two “wobbly Webley” revolvers that were given the Mark IV designation: the first being the large frame military .455 calibre Mark IV which was adopted by the British Army on 21 July 1899 and which is famous for its use in the Boer War.
The second Webley to get the Mark IV name was the small frame “pocket” model chambered for the 38 Smith & Wesson cartridge, or more precisely the 38/200 (and 380 Mark II) British military version of the 38 Smith & Wesson.
The origin of this duplication goes back into the late nineteenth century as Webley made large frame break action revolvers beginning with the Mark I, then Marks II, III and IV, then V and the famous Mark VI of First World War fame.
Webley also made small frame “pocket” revolvers such as the Webley Pocket Hammerless, which was then followed by the Webley Pocket Pistol Mark III, and the small frame Pocket Mark IV that was derived from it.
In this post we will look at the small frame Webley Mark IV, which was the successor to the Pocket Pistol No. III, and also the new version of this revolver which is being made by a new resurrected Webley company which is located in India.
- There were two series of modern top-break action Webley revolvers: a large-frame and a small-frame series.
- The large-frame Webley Mark IV was a military revolver chambered for the .455 British military cartridge.
- The small-frame “pocket” Webley Mark IV was a smaller civilian and police revolver chambered for the .32 Smith & Wesson Long or .38 Smith & Wesson cartridge.
- The Pocket Mark IV Webley revolver was one of few that could be optionally fitted with a safety catch, and revolvers for the Singapore Police were so equipped.
- The Webley Pocket Mark IV has recently returned to production and is now being made by Webley & Scott India in their new production facility located in northern India.
Growing up in England as I did I acquired a great affection for British guns. As I entered my teenage years I managed to purchase a catalogue from the Thomas Bland & Sons gun shop which was located in a side street just off The Strand in London, and that catalogue opened up a whole world of reading about the various guns and accessories that were available in the early 1960’s in Britain.
That catalogue was a window into the firearms heritage of Britain, a heritage that was being diminished year by year by government legislation, ultimately leading to the near demise of Britain’s sporting firearms technology and historical heritage.
Of the wealth of information in that catalogue were the Webley handguns that were still in production in the early 1960’s. There were two types listed: the single shot break action .22 lr rimfire pistol used for the 50 metre Olympic Free Pistol match, and the small frame break action Mark IV revolver chambered in either .38 Smith & Wesson, .32 Smith & Wesson, or .22 long rifle rimfire.
The Webley Mark IV Small Frame History
The small frame Webley Mark III pocket revolver was the forbear of the small frame Mark IV. It was initially made as a police and civilian self defense pistol and was significantly smaller and lighter than its full sized .455 calibre military forebear. The Pocket Mark III was chambered for cartridges that were deemed suitable for police and civilian use such as the .32 and .38 Smith & Wesson (Note: not to be confused with the 38 Smith & Wesson Special which is of slightly smaller diameter and longer).
The creation of the small frame Webley Mark IV was given impetus in the wake of the First World War when the British Military theorized that the .455 cartridge had been a relic of the black powder days and that it could, and should, be replaced with something more modern and efficient (and we suspect something for which the ammunition was cheaper).
Automatic pistols had been appearing in Europe and the United States for military use in calibres ranging from 7.6 mm (.30″) to 9 mm (.36″) and although the British Army was quite averse to moving to automatic pistols they did want to modernize the pistols that British Officers were to use, despite the fact that Webley had already developed an excellent automatic pistol and the .455 Webley Automatic cartridge which had been used in combat during World War I.
The British had been on the receiving end of being shot at with the German 9 mm Parabellum cartridge coming out of 1908 Luger pistols and had found that experience to be sufficiently unpleasant that they reasoned that it was all the power a handgun cartridge needed.
To the end of creating a smaller, lighter, and lower recoiling handgun the British decided to re-model the existing 38 Smith & Wesson cartridge by loading it with a 200 grain bullet, reasoning that the smaller revolver would be able to drive that bullet at a sufficient velocity to nearly duplicate the power of the .455 service cartridge, which drove a 265 grain bullet between 600-700 fps and a 200 grain bullet at 900 fps.
The new service cartridge was designated the 38/200 (metric 9x20R) and it fired a 200 grain bullet at 620 fps, which was of course a significant step down in power from its .455″ forebear.
This was not the whole story however: in testing on human cadavers and live animals it was discovered that the long and heavy for calibre 200 grain soft lead bullet at its relatively low velocity tended to deform when it penetrated its target and this increased the severity of the wound, while the bullet imparted all its energy in the body of the target. The military were quite happy with this and the cartridge was adopted in 1922.
The development was not to end there however as it was subsequently realized that the soft lead bullet was in all likelihood in contravention of the Hague Conventions that prohibited ammunition that was designed to expand or flatten easily in the body.
This led to the development of the 380 MkII and 380 MkIIz service cartridges which used 180 grain full metal jacket bullets at increased velocity. The 380 MkIIz is in current production in India and used in Indian Webley manufactured Mark IV revolvers.
Webley responded to this development by altering their Mark III pocket revolver for the 38/200 and christened that model the Pocket Mark IV, hopeful that the British military would adopt that revolver as the new standard and that Webley would be making thousands of revolvers for the government whilst enjoying copious quantities of British pounds being deposited into the company’s bank accounts.
To Webley’s great chagrin however the British military did not adopt the Webley revolver as the bullet launcher for this new cartridge and instead the Government arms factory at Enfield Lock created their own revolver, the Enfield No.2, that looked just like the Webley and worked in the same way.
Webley were exceedingly miffed by this and sued the government, which is always an uncertain undertaking, and lost.
History was to intervene however when Adolf Hitler and his Nazi party came into power in Germany in 1933 and gained absolute power in 1934, thus setting the stage for the outbreak of the Second World War.
Britain’s military was going to need all the service revolvers it could get and Webley would be awarded contracts to manufacture and supply its Mark IV small frame revolvers chambered for the 380 MkII cartridge.
The Webley Small Frame Mark IV Overview
In appearance and function the small frame Mark IV was the same as its full size sibling. It featured a break action which was released by a lever on the left side of the revolver. Correctly used to reload the shooter took hold of the barrel and cylinder with his/her left hand and depressed the release lever with the thumb of their right hand, then lowering the revolver frame and grip down. This caused the empty cartridge cases in the cylinder to be ejected so reloading could be done.
For the large frame revolvers the Prideaux speed-loader greatly sped up the reloading process, enabling all six new cartridges to be loaded in one swift movement. I haven’t heard of a version having been made for the small frame Mark IV.
The unusual feature of the small frame Mark IV was the optional safety catch which is most commonly found on revolvers that were purchased by the Singapore Police.
The optional Webley small frame Mark IV cross-bolt safety catch was located behind the hammer. If pressed to the left the safety would block the hammer from moving rearwards so the revolver could not be cocked nor fired double-action. When in that locked position the word “SAFE” would be visible on the top of the safety button.
To release the safety catch it had to be pressed to the right which would unlock the hammer and allow the revolver to be fired. When in the “FIRE” position a red dot was visible on the top of the button.
This could be a useful feature if the revolver was to be carried in a pocket or tucked in the shooter’s belt such that there was no holster covering the trigger nor anything preventing the hammer from being accidentally cocked.
The other usefulness of the safety catch is that if the revolver was snatched by someone with bad intentions they would not be able to fire it unless they had prior knowledge of how to operate it, and in the time it took them to try to work that out the revolver owner would have the opportunity to take retaliatory action.
The Mark IV Target Model
The target version of the Mark IV revolver was chambered for the .22lr rimfire cartridge and had a six inch barrel. This model was fitted with an adjustable rear sight and a rearward angled blade front sight.
This was a revolver that could be used in Olympic competitions such as the pistol component of the Modern Pentathlon event.
The Mark IV Standard Centrefire Models
The centrefire Mark IV was offered in five inch and four inch barrel models, and was common in British Commonwealth nations’ police forces and in Britain itself. So these revolvers were issued in such places as Singapore, Hong Kong, and Australia.
The Singapore version incorporates the optional safety catch and can be an indicator of the revolver’s provenance.
Because of the increasingly restrictive laws relating to the ownership and use of handguns – and eventually the near complete ban in Britain – many historic handguns were damaged and devalued by being “de-activated” or were completely destroyed.
Prior to that time the Mark IV were in use in such settings as bank security. It was not uncommon for bank tellers in rural Australia to have a handgun literally under the counter in case they had to deal with an exceedingly difficult customer, especially one who was not going to be stopped by simply giving them money. So Webley Mark IV revolvers were among the handguns to be found in such environments.
The ergonomic design of the Webley revolvers such as the Pocket Mark IV was excellent. These were a revolver that was very easy to train someone to use, and because they were so simple to understand they were a superb handgun that someone could use instinctively even when in a high stress situation, such as an attack or gun-fight, which is what they were designed for.
The design was also inherently safe.
Webley had got the design perfected from the grip angle, balance, sight picture, and general operation, and I think this to have been a difficult design to improve on: it had been tested in all manner of situations and had undergone improvement until further improvements could not be thought of.
The small frame Mark IV revolvers were replaced however as they aged and Webley ceased to make them. The common replacement was with American Smith & Wesson Model 10 revolvers which are also a superb design and still in production to this day. The Model 10 was chambered for the 38 Smith & Wesson Special which was a bit more powerful, and was the parent for the development of the 357 Magnum which went on to become one of the most popular revolver and carbine cartridges in existence.
I personally think that the best revolver that Webley could have made if the company had been able to continue would have been one of their classic break action revolvers chambered for the 357 Remington Magnum.
Webley never got around to doing this but British gunmaker Anderson Wheeler did. They made a revolver like the Webley but chambered for the 357 Magnum – and not only that but managed to make it hold seven cartridges.
This revolver is called the Anderson Wheeler Mark VII and you can find our article on that revolver by clicking here.
The Mark IV Pocket Model
The smallest of the Mark IV revolvers was the “Pocket Model” which sported a three inch barrel and shortened grip.
The Mark IV Pocket Model was Webley’s “snub-nose” revolver ideally suited to situations in which one might need to be in civilian clothes and conceal a firearm on one’s person, such as for a police detective for example.
To this end it needed to be short, with a shortened grip as well as short barrel, and yet retain the ergonomic efficiency of the full size revolver.
The need to make the revolver small and concealable yet keep its full power imposed some design constraints and amendments to shooting style. The grip was too short for the little finger to wrap around it with the result that the grip had to be controlled by the middle two fingers – the little finger wrapping around the bottom of the grip. Not ideal from a marksmanship perspective, but for a short range threat stopping point of view entirely acceptable.
This Pocket Model was available in plain blue finish or could be had on special order with engraving, gold plating and ivory grips – just the thing for potentates and rulers who wanted to keep a little bit of gold plated life insurance on them to help ensure they could deal with pesky coup d’etat or assassination attempts, which can be such a pain – literally.
Curiously it is this Mark IV Pocket Model that has survived after all the other Webley Mark IV revolvers have long gone. A new Webley company has been established in India and one of the two revolvers they make is the Webley Mark IV Pocket Model with snub nose barrel and shortened grip.
The New Webley Mark IV Made by Webley & Scott in India
The Webley & Scott company still exists in Britain and it has a subsidiary in India which is called Webley & Scott India.
In 2019 Webley & Scott India established a new production facility in northern India and they put the original pocket Mark IV revolver back into production in 2021. So there is now a new Webley & Scott Pocket Mark IV revolver that is for sale in India with the intention of exporting the revolver overseas – something that should be exciting news for Webley enthusiasts worldwide.
This Webley Mark IV is made to the same design as the original and is made in the traditional calibres of the originals also: that being the 38 Smith & Wesson and the 32 Smith & Wesson Long.
In India the 38 Smith & Wesson is considered to be a “military cartridge” and civilians are not permitted to own handguns in military calibres. The 38 Smith & Wesson version can however be purchased by police departments.
So although the .38 Smith & Wesson was by far the most popular chambering for the original Mark IV revolvers many were also made in 32 Smith & Wesson Long, and in India civilians are permitted to purchase revolvers in this calibre as it is not considered to be a “military calibre”.
So production and sale of the 32 S&W Long chambered Webley Mark IV is expected to be the lion’s share for India’s civilian domestic market for this revolver.
The new India Webley & Scott Mark IV pocket revolver features the optional safety catch and like the original has a steel break-action frame. The cylinder holds six cartridge and the revolver auto-ejects spent round when opened. Barrel length is three inches.
Grips are modern polymer rather than the Vulcanised rubber of the originals, which were of course made in the days before the invention of modern plastics.
These revolvers are shipped in a wooden green baize lined presentation box complete with sockets for no less than twenty cartridges.
These revolvers are currently on sale for the equivalent of approximately $1,300.00 US.
Webley & Scott India Mark IV revolver Specifications
Calibre: .32 S&W Long
Capacity: 6-shot Revolving Cylinder
Action Type: Top break self-extracting Revolver
Grip Type: Polymer
Grip Colour: Black
Frame Size: Standard with Pocket Grip
Frame Material: Steel
Barrel Material: Carbon Steel
Trigger: Double Action
Trigger Type: Curved
Barrel Length: 76mm/3″
Overall Length: 178mm/7″
Overall Width: 37mm/1.45″
Weight: 670 grams/1 lb 7.5oz
I think that it is great news that the Webley top-break revolvers have been given a new lease of life. These are certainly some of the most combat tested revolvers the world has seen but, in addition to that, these are an important historic relic of a tradition and culture that has been fast passing away.
So whether you are a collector, or a shooter, or both, you might just want to acquire one of these little gems, either an original antique or one of the new Webley India models.
For me, having spent my childhood in Britain and having developed a great affection for Britain’s firearms, these revolvers are something special. They are a piece of history you can shoot and enjoy, and I’m all for that.
Jon Branch is the founder and senior editor of Revivaler and has written a significant number of articles for various publications including official Buying Guides for eBay, classic car articles for Hagerty, magazine articles for both the Australian Shooters Journal and the Australian Shooter, and he’s a long time contributor to Silodrome.
Jon has done radio, television, magazine and newspaper interviews on various issues, and has traveled extensively, having lived in Britain, Australia, China and Hong Kong. His travels have taken him to Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Japan and a number of other countries. He has studied the Japanese sword arts and has a long history of involvement in the shooting sports, which has included authoring submissions to government on various firearms related issues and assisting in the design and establishment of shooting ranges.