Webley-Fosbery Automatic Revolver

Webley-Fosbery Automatic Revolver

Infobox Weapon
name=Webley-Fosbery Automatic Revolver

caption=The Webley-Fosbery Automatic Revolver
origin=United Kingdom
type=Service Revolver
designer=George V. Fosbery
manufacturer=Webley & Scott
number=approx 4750
variants=.455 Webley & .38 ACP
weight= 1.24 kg (2.73 lbs) unloaded
length= 280 mm (11")
cartridge= .455 Webley Mk II/.38 ACP
caliber= .455 Webley/.38 ACP
action= Recoil-operated Revolver
velocity= 620 ft/s (190 m/s)
feed=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 recognizable 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 August 16, 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 version had eight chambers and could be loaded by a semicircular half-moon clip. A variety of modifications led to the production of 6 different models, Marks I through VI.

The Webley-Fosbery quickly proved popular among 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 speedloader he was able to fire twelve shots into a three inch bull's-eye in approximately 15 seconds.

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. 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.

The Webley-Fosbery was never adopted as an official government sidearm, although many were privately purchased by British officers prior to and during World War I. Reports suggested that it was more susceptible to jamming in wartime conditions than the official Webleys. Furthermore it was commonly believed that the Webley-Fosbery required an absolutely rigid arm in order to function since when fired while held loosely the cylinder may not cycle properly, although in fact it cycles properly even when held very loosely and with a bent and relaxed arm. The pistol may be recocked manually but this requires pulling the entire action-cylinder-barrel assembly back across the frame, a two-handed operation that makes the Webley-Fosbery an awkward single-action revolver. For the first shot, it is necessary to use the free hand to cock the Fosbery or to load the first round of an automatic pistol into the chamber. This two-handed manual cocking can be seen in the motion picture Zardoz, where the revolver is used by Sean Connery's character "Zed". But being a movie prop, and so firing blanks and not live ammunition, the absence of adequate recoil meant it wouldn't cock automatically when fired in the film.

Production of the Webley-Fosbery ceased between 1915 and 1918, with a total production of less than 5000. However the pistol could be found in Webley's catalogues until 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. 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 featue 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 majority of Webley-Fosberys were of this pattern.


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

External links

* [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HSPIhHFtLX0 Video of a Webley-Fosbery, showing self-cocking action]
* [http://www.thegunzone.com/webley-fosbery.html Behold the Webley-Fosbery]
* [http://www.securityarms.com/20010315/galleryfiles/2900/2956.htm Webley Fosbery Automatic Revolver Caliber .455(UK)]
* [http://www.antiquestopic.com/webley-fosbery-automatic-revolver-1900/ Webley Fosbery Automatic Revolver Model 1900]

ee also

* Revolver
* Handgun
* Pistol
* Automatic revolver
* Webley Revolver
* Webley and Scott

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