S&W Hand Ejector
2nd Model .455

No love equals a big bargain

Duke’s S&W Second Model Hand Ejector .455 shown with original
12-round box of British factory ammo.

Smith & Wesson’s N-Frame double-action revolvers are some of the most respected handguns ever made. This is especially true for the exquisite pre-World War II ones. Almost all fans of S&W pre-war N-Frames dream of someday owning a “triplelock” .44 Special. Only about 15,000 of those were sold between 1908 and 1915. Later S&W offered Hand Ejector (HE) 2nd, 3rd and 4th Models of the N-Frame. All are greatly desired as .44 Specials. Some were also made as .38-40, .44-40 and .45 Colt but are so rare I’ve never actually seen one.

However, there’s one S&W Hand Ejector version made in both 1st and 2nd Models that gets little love. Those are the .455s, as in the British .455 Webley. The only reasons I can think of for their lack of popularity is the cartridge itself. For example, a good friend told me at a recent Montana gun show a fellow offered him a fine condition S&W HE 2nd Model at a very attractive price but he turned it down because it was a .455. I would have nabbed it faster than a New Yorker heading to Florida! I already load for .455 Webley and although it’s sort of a silly cartridge by modern standards, it is capable of fine shooting.

The .455 Webley loads (left to right): Fiocchi 262-grain lead bullet, Hornady
with 265-grain lead bullet, Hornady 255-grain .45 “Cowboy” bullet with Duke’s
handload, and RCBS #455-265 RN cast bullet (now discontinued) alongside Duke’s handload.

Stiff Upper Lip

In the 1890s the British developed their .455 as a round for their top break Webley revolvers and as the handguns progressed from Mark I to Mark VI, so did the cartridge evolve from black powder and lead bullets to smokeless powder and jacketed bullets. My reason for calling the round silly is the Brits loaded it with 265-grain bullets at about 650 fps. By modern standards it’s a pee-dunkler. I read one instance of a World War II American Marine who was surprised by a Japanese officer wielding a British Webley .455 (likely captured during the massive British surrenders at Hong Kong and Singapore). The Marine only had time to duck his face before the enemy fired and the .455 FMJ hit his helmet making only a slight groove. It was the last shot the Japanese officer ever fired.

My 1977 introduction (sort-of) to the S&W Hand Ejector .455 was with a friend’s. It was an HE 2nd Model converted to fire .45 Colts, which is a fairly simple operation for an experienced gunsmith. My friend and I shot hundreds of my .45 Colt handloads through it. We both remember it as being easy to hit.

Fast forward about 35 years and I was working hard on my book Shooting World War II Small Arms (available on Amazon). For the project I needed an original .455. It wasn’t too hard to find on GunBroker.com. It’s from the HE 2nd Model production and to my joy it factory-lettered as shipped to the Canadian Government in 1916. These S&W .455s are all of a type: 6½” barrels, fixed sights, blue finish, checkered walnut grips and lanyard ring in the butt. It should be mentioned the first 5,000 S&W .455s were HE 1st Models (triplelocks). The British complained they were too closely made for trench mud, so the extra lock was eliminated — which S&W was going to do anyway, along with the shroud beneath the barrel meant for protecting the cylinder’s ejector rod. This latter feature returned with the HE 3rd Model. The Brits bought another 69,000 S&W .455s HE 2nd Models, which means more were made than all the .44 Special HE 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Models lumped together.

Load and Holster

Handloading the .455 Webley is simple nowadays. New brass is offered by Buffalo Arms Company and any .45 Colt bullet works well. I got my best results from Hornady 255-grain 0.454″ swaged lead bullets. RCBS used to make a special order mold for the conical 265-grain bullet but it’s now discontinued. However MP Molds still offers this bullet. For a brief period Hornady offered some .455 factory loads with 255-grain lead-alloy bullets. Fiocchi .455 factory loads with 262-grain lead roundnose bullets are being imported from Italy. From my big S&W they chronographed 660 fps. A charge of 3.5 grains of Bullseye with the Hornady 255-grain bullets almost duplicates it perfectly.

The S&W .455s served Britain and their commonwealth allies in two world wars and so make fine handguns for historical minded shooters.



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