The .455 Webley

Part II: Dealing with the Conversion Question
7

Both the Smith & Wesson and the Mark VI have been returned to their intended original service with the use of custom circular disks.

It’s a whole lot easier to remove metal than to replace it. This is especially true when working with firearms — particularly in the sad case of the .455 Webley revolvers.

After World War II there were thousands upon thousands of .455 Webleys available in the British Mark VI top breaks as well as the Smith & Wesson 2nd Model Hand Ejectors. Even back then, the .455 was considered a dead cartridge so someone (unfortunately) made the decision to modify most of these classic surplus sixguns to shoot .45 ACP in moon clips or .45 Auto Rim cartridges without clips.

The solution was to mill off the back of the cylinder of these .455 Webley-chambered guns to change the headspace — allowing the use of the thicker rims on the .45 Auto Rim or the moon-clipped ACPs.

These targets were fired with John’s S&W 2nd Model .455 using loads
approaching .45 Colt performance with 5.0 grains of Unique.

Fixing the “Fix”

Fast-forward 60-plus years: Now it’s extremely difficult to find an original, unaltered Mark VI or Smith 2nd Model that will handle .455 Webley ammo. One solution would be to alter the full moon clips so they’d simply work as a shim on the back of the cylinder to put back the proper headspacing.

When I discussed this possibility with my gunsmith, I was told the moon clips weren’t thick enough for this to work. The solution was to make circular disks of the proper thickness that would fit over the extractor star and allow the use of the thin-rimmed .455 Webleys. I wanted to make several disks for each revolver, however, they were so time-consuming and labor-intensive we stopped with one of each. Therefore, I’ve always been very careful not to lose one and they are always left installed on the proper revolver.

These disks were made for both the Webley and the 2nd Model Hand Ejector. The star on the Smith is wider in diameter than the Webleys. The upshot here? The one made for the Smith will also work on the Webley — but not vice versa. These disks are simply placed over the back of the cylinder — in line with the chambers and then loaded with .455 cartridges. They work perfectly for firing, however, there’s a slight problem with the Smith & Wesson due to the small lug on the back of the frame keeping the cylinder from moving backwards.

Two-Gun Solution

At first when unloading, cartridges had to be tapped out (at least the first two or three), then the disk with the remaining cartridges could be removed. I expected to have to make a small cut in the circular disc to allow it to move past the lug, but I’ve since discovered just wiggling the disk a little allows it to move past the lug.

There’s no problem with the Webley as there’s nothing to interfere with the circular disk and the fired cartridges being removed. You might wonder why I go to all this trouble when these two revolvers will already handle both .45 ACPs and .45 Auto Rims. My answer is simply because it can be done and I wanted to be able to shoot these big sixguns as they were meant to be shot originally. The fact both can still be used with .45 ACP or .45 Auto Rim is an extra-added bonus!

Standard .455 level groups were fired in John’s Mark VI at 20 yards.
Not bad for an old Brit warhorse!

Chrono And Paperwork

The original .455 Webley hollow base bullet had a long pointed nose and weighed about 262 grains. I’ll soon have a supply of these and will be working with them in the future — especially for black powder loads in an original Mark I. For now I’ve made do with the .45 Colt bullets sized to .454. Some of these are hollowpoint versions designed for use in heavy .45 Colt loads and I use them in the .455 Webley with no thought of them actually expanding.

As expected the Smith & Wesson 2nd Model Hand Ejector shoots better with most loads than the .455 Mark VI, however much of this may be due to the less-than-ideal sights on the latter. I’ve never been one to handle wide V-notch rear sights very well.

Using a 274-gr. RCBS 45-270SA HP in front of 4.0 grains of Unique gives me 726 fps from my 6" Webley Mark VI. This load gives me 1-3/8" groups. From my 6-1/2" S&W, a 244-gr. RCBS 45-255KT HP in front of 4.0 grains of Unique gives me 694 fps and prints 1-1/4" groups.

But for now one of my best loads — the one load I would choose if I had to settle for just one load to work in both sixguns — is assembled with the RCBS #45-270SA. This bullet weighs 284 grains and over 4.0 grains of Unique does 722 fps in the Smith & Wesson with a 1-1/4" group and 699 fps in the Mark VI and 1-1/2" in the Mark VI, both with five shots at 20 yards. I can certainly live with this and enjoy life while shooting them. In all loads, incidentally, I used Winchester Small Pistol primers and Fiocchi brass.

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