Object Title

Webley-Fosbery Model 1902 automatic revolver

Webley-Fosbery Model 1902 automatic revolver


By the First World War, most revolvers were double-action. That is, pulling the trigger both cocks and releases the hammer. This allowed rapid fire, but required a great deal of force to perform both of these actions. This caused the weapon to shake as it fired, reducing accuracy. For aimed fire therefore, the shooter could manually cock the hammer as he would a single-action revolver. This reduced the weight of the trigger pull, but took precious time and deliberate effort to perform in a high stress situation. Early self-loading pistols also had light triggers and could be fired rapidly, but were often perceived as being less reliable than revolvers. This opened up a very short period at the beginning of the twentieth century during which there was a gap in the pistol market for an alternative. The Webley-Fosbery revolver was an ingenious solution from British designer George Vincent Fosbery. Fosbery had a distinguished Indian Army career, being awarded the Victoria Cross in 1865. He invented the 'Paradox' shotgun as well as pioneering the bolt mechanism used today in the AR15 rifle. He also lectured on the subject of military pistol 'stopping power' that a large, heavy bullet was needed to 'physically cripple or disable' one's enemy at close quarters. Fosbery's revolver was based on the service Webley, and the most common variant chambered the standard .455 cartridge. It was extensively redesigned, however, featuring a recoiling upper frame to revolve its cylinder and cock its hammer automatically after each shot. A .38 ACP calibre version was also produced, but is rare today. Unusually for a revolver, it also sported a safety catch. This was advertised as allowing speed of operation, but simply cocking the hammer on drawing the pistol would have been just as quick. In fact, the safety was essential to prevent accidental discharge. The sliding frame meant that the hammer could be inadvertently cocked when the pistol was holstered.

Use and effect

The Fosbery's self-cocking hammer made the trigger very easy and quick to pull, a desirable feature in close-quarter battle. The .455 already had low perceived recoil, and the reciprocating upper frame further reduced this. It was possible to keep all six shots on target under rapid fire. Fosbery had succeeded in designing the fastest firing revolver ever created. However, it had limitations. Using a form of blowback operation, if the Fosbery were not firmly grasped with arm extended, there would be insufficient resistance to allow the upper frame to recoil far enough to recock the hammer. If this occurred, or if a cartridge failed to fire, the lack of a double-action trigger meant that the weapon would have to be manually cocked to fire the next shot. The user of the service Webley had only to pull the trigger again to revolve the cylinder and drop the hammer on the next chamber to continue firing. Reloading was no quicker and capacity (in .455) no greater. The Fosbery also added complexity to an otherwise reliable design, increasing the need to keep the weapon clean to ensure reliable operation. The pistol was rejected by the U.S. military in favour of what became the Colt M1911, which also saw more British service than the Fosbery. Nonetheless, some Fosberys were purchased privately by British army officers, including Rudyard Kipling's son Jack. One was carried by Captain Hylton Widdrington Young of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers on the retreat from Mons in August 1914. The Royal Navy also officially procured 66 examples in 1915, for issue to officers of the Royal Naval Air Service. This example, produced in July 1904, belonged to Viscount Rudolph Edmund Aloysius Feilding of the Coldstream Guards. Feilding was awarded the Distinguished Service Order in October 1914. His father, the 9th Earl of Denbigh, argued strongly in the House of Lords against conscientious objectors, whom he regarded as 'dangerous lunatics'. Feilding also owned a .455 calibre American Colt New Service revolver. It is not known which, if either, of these revolvers he took with him to the Western Front.


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Webley-Fosbery Model 1902 automatic revolver being loaded and fired into ballistic soap target.


Action / Operating system Blowback
Barrel length 15.2 cm (6 in)
Calibre / Bore 11.5 mm (.455 in)
Capacity (rounds) 6
Country of manufacture Britain
Date entered service 1915
Effective range 30-40 m (33–44 yd)
Feed Cylinder
Manufacturer Webley and Scott
Muzzle velocity 229 m/s (750 fps)
Overall length 26.7 cm (10.5 in)
Primary operator Britain
Weight 1.05 kg (2lb 5 oz)


Jonathan Ferguson