History Dynamics and Legacy of the Webley Revolver

Tom McLeod

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Minus the often talked about alleged gun use on the Titanic, understanding the weapon used that night is historic and lengthy. The Mark IV used the night Titanic sank is one of many designs in this weapon's profile. From what I understand this weapon was successful for the conditions it was used for. Refining the design is understandable. But, a weapons company, such as the one who created this weapon, often will tinker to the point that the original design becomes dated and often dropped from production. Progress is one thing, but dumping a tried and true design is something I don't understand.
 

Tom McLeod

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A quick look at the Webley:

The Webley Revolver was often the standard issue service pistol for the armed forces of the United Kingdom, used from 1887 until 1963.The Webley is a top-break revolver. The Webley Mk I service revolver was in use by 1887, the Mk IV, became popular during Boer War. The weapon that many of the officers of Titanic where issued is believed to be the Mark IV. Then came the mark VI in 1915 during World War I. Webley revolvers are know for being strong top-break revolvers often using the .455 Webley cartridge as amunition. Handling the gun and using it for the first time as many may have done the night Titanic sank would have been tricky. It makes sense that The White Star Line would use the weapon of choice of that age. Although many give the gun high marks, it takes time to get used to it's pros and cons. I've test fired the gun and due to my novice abilities found it a little hard to handle. This gun's history, use and reliability is up for conversation. Hopefully a factual conclusion connected to it's use the night Titanic sank can be better understood.
 

Eric Longo

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Hi Tom,

After reading your posts, if I recall correctly, one of these of weapons was said to have been used to kill Miles Archer in The Maltese Falcon (although the gun was said to be an eight shot which was apparently never actually manufactured).

Best,
Eric
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>Progress is one thing, but dumping a tried and true design is something I don't understand.<<

It may have something to do with the fact that just about any design can be improved on. The original 1911 Colt .45 ACP needed a little tweaking but managed to produce the 1911A1 which was so dependable that it continued to serve well into the 1990's.

The problem, as I indicated in the other thread is that as often as not, designers will overthink the problem, with the result being some spectacular failures. One notorious example would be the Cauchat machine gun which you can read about at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chauchat

This was one of those weapons where the safest possible place to be if somebody was attempting to fire it would be in front of the muzzle.

The Webley, whatever it's faults, was a very rugged weapon that could be counted on to work a lot more often then not, and it wasn't a health hazard to the user.
 
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I think it highly likely that Webleys would have been the "standard issue" handguns on the Titanic but, as a matter of interest, is there any evidence that would confirm this suggestion? The only evidence that I am aware of is circumstantial, insofar as there are some Mk.IV Webleys in the National Maritime Museum collection marked White Star Line. This does not, however, prove that they were carried on the Titanic.
 

Bob Godfrey

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Stanley, I see no reason for doubt in this area. We have Lightoller's account that the pistols were Webleys and that they were "still in all their pristine newness and grease". A brand new Webley at that time would be a MkIV. I've seen at least three White Star Line Webleys from that period and each was a MkIV of exactly the same type and spec as the example in the NMM's collection.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>I think it highly likely that Webleys would have been the "standard issue" handguns on the Titanic but, as a matter of interest, is there any evidence that would confirm this suggestion?<<

I don't think the Inquiries themselves mention it one way or another. It was enough to note that the skipper was concerned enough about the potential problems that he authorized their issue.

>>The only evidence that I am aware of is circumstantial, insofar as there are some Mk.IV Webleys in the National Maritime Museum collection marked White Star Line. This does not, however, prove that they were carried on the Titanic.<<

Perhaps not but a slightly earlier mark wouldn't be out of the question, albit of the same calibre. There's little point in issuing different weapons for different ships and it's a lot easier in terms of any sort of logistics and maintainance if they're all on the same page.
 

Tom McLeod

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Who would supply the weapons? Was it up to White Star Line to place the order or was it something done on their behalf by Harland and Wolfe? Would either have records of such still around? Many books on construction of the ships seem to be full of information on what companies provide so many components of the ship during fitting out. I'd think somewhere an order of firearms would exist. If this is a master list than as mentioned uniformity would seem sensible throughout the line. But as know, Officer Lowe carried his own weapon. I wonder if the WSL "Big Four" stuck with weapons popular among their construction. Just some thoughts!
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>Who would supply the weapons? Was it up to White Star Line to place the order or was it something done on their behalf by Harland and Wolfe?<<

I would think it would be White Star. Unless the vessel herself was armed, the shipyard has little reason to concern itself with what the owner loads aboard in terms of stores and small equipment.

Don't be too sure about any records to the effect surviving to this day. Most all of White Star's records ended up in a landfill somewhere after the old offices were cleared out by Cunard. Purchase orders for minor equipment wouldn't have done any better, even if they were even retained over a long period.
 

Tom McLeod

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Cunard doesn't seem to play out as being very respectful to White Star Line needs as part of their joint merger! Or is this an understatement.
 

Tom McLeod

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Webley & Scott based in Birmingham, England appears to be the company that once made the guns we speak of. Maybe their records are better kept. I would think arms issued to Titanic-such period ships may be an interesting file for them to keep. So I will try to contact them. It may be business as usual, but somebody may know. Plus if Cunard ditched most White Star records, there is always more than one path to finding a solution--wish me luck.
 
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I think Webley & Scott is still trading - Birmingham is still a centre of the small arms industry, with several small workshops and gun smiths. Their historic records may, however, have been transferred, possibly to the County Records office.

My own question is, which type of Webley was used on the Titanic. I strongly suspect the military version which, in 1912, was the Mk.IV, but it seems to me that when Lightoller mentioned to his "Webley", he could have been referring to a "police" version (the so-called RIC Webley).
 
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>>Cunard doesn't seem to play out as being very respectful to White Star Line needs as part of their joint merger! Or is this an understatement.<<

Respect wasn't the issue. It was a question of space to keep all the records and files, all of which was limited. Most corporate records are of the financial sort kept in order to make sure the correct entries are made in the books. The only reason to keep them long term is to keep the taxman snookered happy. After so many years, there's no longer any reason to keep them, the law doesn't even require it, and the sheer bulk of paper becomes impractical to store.

By the time all this final clearing out was happening, it was in the 1950's. "White Star" was little more then a trademark and hadn't existed as a seperate corporate entity in over twenty years. It wasn't a matter of disrespect because there was nobody left to be disrespectful to.
 

Tom McLeod

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That makes sense. Business is Business, not a popularity contest. I think Cunard had a large share of the merged company so fashioning things in their image also would make sense.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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>>I think Cunard had a large share of the merged company so fashioning things in their image also would make sense.<<

Ultimately, they were the surviving company. Mark Baber can give you a better rundown on the blow by blow events then I can, but as I understand it, White Star and Cunard existed as seperate companies *on paper* for a number of years.

The reality was that when they combined, it was Cunard which was calling the shots practically from the start. By the time the old White Star offices were finally vacated, the name was little more then a trademark.

While we may rue the binning of their old records, I would submit that it really makes no difference in this case. If the tables had been turned and it was White Star surviving. Purchase orders for minor equipment such as firearms tend not to be the sort of records that corporations would retain long term. If they were still there, it was in a file long forgotten and uncared about.
 

Tom McLeod

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Agreed upon reflection of your recent post. Thanks for all your information when you are able to reflect on such. If Mark Baber can point me in a direction from his knowledge such would be appreciated and interesting. I'll stay on the Webley subject as research and pass on anything that may come to light. I have some other related questions I'll drum up soon.
 

Mark Baber

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White Star and Cunard existed as seperate companies *on paper* for a number of years.

What happened in and after 1934 is this: The North Atlantic operations of the Cunard Steamship Co. and the Oceanic Steam Navigation Co. were transferred to the newly-created Cunard-White Star, Ltd. Another new corporation, Oceanic Steam Realisation Co. was created to hold the 38% of the stock of Cunard White Star stock allocated to White Star's creditors (principally IMM and the Treasuries of Northern Ireland and Great Britain); the other 62% was owned by Cunard. Although OSNC wasn't dissolved until 1939, it was left with no business activities and no assets after the merger occurred. The Realisation company was dissolved in 1948, after the 1947 acquisition by Cunard of the 38%, described here.
 

Tom McLeod

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Thanks again Mark, that's a little tricky to remember but I'll get it down. Carnival will likely be taken over by Wal Mart the way things are going.
 

Tom McLeod

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Back to the Webley.

To all those interested I'm currently in talks with Webley Limited the parent company of Webley and Scott the makers of the gun. The exchange of information is going well. Maybe we will see if they have any old company records on guns issued to Titanic, or not, but likely we'll learn something. FYI.