Saturday, April 27, 2013

British Blaster: The Enfield No. 2 Mk I

And now for something completely different!

The Enfield No. 2 Mark 1 Revolver. You were expecting Monty Python, perhaps?

I've touched on the Russian, German, and US sidearms of the 40's and 50's, but I've yet to tackle anything from Old Britannia. To borrow a phrase from our friends across the pond, this month's subject is an "interesting bit of kit". The Enfield No. 2 Mk 1 began its life after World War I. The primary British sidearm at that time was the stout Webley Mk VI revolver. Weighing in at roughly two and a half pounds, the Webley was a six shot, single/double action top-break revolver chambered in .455 Webley. The .455 Webley cartridge boasted a .454", 265 grain lead round nose projectile that moved along at a leisurely 650 fps. Yes, it was a heavy, fat, slow-moving beast of a cartridge, but it was quite effective for what it needed to do: put half-inch holes into the Hun enemy, and save the Holy Grail from Nazis.

Dr. Henry Jones, Jr. with a Webley revolver chambered in .455 Webley.

Despite the weight of the Webley, firing that large, heavy bullet meant that the shooter experienced considerable felt recoil. The British believed this to be a detriment to marksmanship training, as trainees would anticipate the recoil and flinch, spoiling the shot. Of course, this simply would not do. Gentlemen shouldn't have to deal with unwieldy, beastly firearms. Nasty loud things, make you late for luncheon and whatnot. The solution: adopt a lighter, daintier, cartridge with less recoil so that it would be easier for gentlemanly officers to shoot whilst extending their pinkies as they sipped on their Earl Grey tea and ate cucumber sandwiches.

As you can see, I'm only slightly exaggerating here. Slightly.

You can probably tell I don't think much of this decision. Instead of devoting the time and energy into training their soldiers to shoot properly, the Brits copped out by adopting a pistol which fired a less effective cartridge. Lest you think I'm being too hard on the British: they weren't the first nation to replace a powerful cartridge with a less powerful one for dubious reasons, and they surely wouldn't be the last to do so, either. At any rate, the powers that be decided that a .38 caliber type cartridge could, in theory, do an adequate amount of damage but with much less recoil than the .455. After "careful" review of the plethora of decent .38 caliber cartridges available at the time, they decided on adopting a new loading of an obsolete American cartridge: the .38 Smith and Wesson.

Left: 38 S&W. Right: 38 S&W Special.

Not to be confused with the more powerful .38 Smith and Wesson Special, the .38 Smith and Wesson was developed in 1877, and had become a popular caliber for law enforcement in the States. The British took the .38 S&W and topped it with an elongated, 200 grain lead bullet. The thinking was that such a heavy bullet would be poorly stabilized, and would have the tendency to tumble (or keyhole) in the wound cavity, thus increasing lethality. Granted, some tests on animals supported this theory, so it wasn't with complete lunacy that the British Empire adopted the  "380-200 Cartridge, Revolver Mk 1" (aka the 38/200). It loped along at 625 fps and generated a measly 180 foot pounds of energy. Do those ballistics remind you of anything? Yes, the British had just adopted a cartridge with similar performance to the infamous 38 Long Colt. Rumor has it that laughter from the Philippines was heard 'round the British Empire that day.

At any rate, Webley submitted a scaled-down variant of their successful revolver in the new 38/200 cartridge for acceptance, designated the Webley Mk IV. Here's where it gets interesting: in a legendary douche move, the British authorities took Webley's design to the government run Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield, where lo and behold, they came up with a very similar, but just different enough design of their own. Webley sued (and lost), and in 1931 the Crown officially adopted the new revolver as the Enfield Revolver No. 2, Mk 1.

Ironically, The Webley Mk IV in 38/200 was fielded as a substitute when Enfield couldn't keep up with production. Karma.

As WWII loomed, the No. 2 got some revisions. In 1938, it went from a single/double action design with wooden grips to a double-action only, spurless hammered pistol with a redesigned plastic grip which supposedly gave better control. Why the switch to double action only? Rumor had it that the British Tank Corps complained about the hammer spur on the No. 2 getting caught up on things, so it was removed. The new variation was known as the No. 2 Mk I*. The double action only pull didn't help with accuracy, but as a close quarters, last ditch weapon that didn't really matter much...especially if you were in a tank. The modification also helped speed up production (believed to be the real reason for the change), and most of the existing Mk 1s were converted to the 1* design during and after the war. This was received with unfavorable reviews from the troops, so much so that some unit armorers reportedly reinstalled the single action capability.

Pure Guts : an officer goes "over the top" with his Enfield No. 2 in North Africa.

At some point, I decided I needed one of these guns, and a year or so ago I found one in an online auction. My No. 2 shows a manufacture date of 1944, and features the bobbed hammer and plastic grips. It also is marked with a little arrow indicating that at some point in its life, it went through a FTR (Factory Thorough Repair). The bore is in excellent shape with just a bit of wear, and the numbers on the frame, barrel, and cylinder all match. When I got it, it had 100% of its finish.

The original finish on these wartime pieces was a type of tough black paint known as Suncorite. Suncorite doesn't come off easy unless you have a sand blaster. Well, my revolver must not have been refinished with Suncorite when it was FTR'd, because as I was cleaning it for the first time with good old Hoppe's No. 9, the finish started dissolving before my eyes. I suspect that a cheap, enamel paint was used during the FTR instead. Anyhow, I stripped the rest of the paint off, and under that spray paint was a very nice light gray Parkerized finish.

Normally I wouldn't think of  refinishing a military weapon; it detracts from the history in my opinion. In this case, I made an exception. Nice as that gray Parkerizing was, it just didn't look right. Unfortunately, Suncorite is nasty, toxic stuff and can't be had easily, so I searched around the web and found a suitable substitute: Brownell's Baking Lacquer. For those who haven't used it, it's a bake-on epoxy type coating that's reasonably tough and mimics the original finish fairly well. Once cured, it is impervious to solvents. I have to say, it seems pretty durable so far, with just a touch of wear on the high points from holstering and honest use. Overall, I think it came out pretty nice.

My 1944 Enfield No. 2 Mk 1* with 1942 dated pistol belt and 1943 dated holster.

Say what you want to about the effectiveness of the 38/200 round, the revolver itself is a joy to shoot. It's lightweight and points well, and of course, there's very little recoil. Modern loadings of the .38 S&W feature a 145 grain lead bullet, which in my No. 2 shoots a bit low at 10 yards. The double action trigger pull is indeed stiff, but the pull is short, and it's easily ten times better than that of the Nagant.  Along with the revolver, I was able to acquire a Pattern 37 pistol belt and holster. Both were unissued and marked with wartime years. Frankly, they were harder to find than the revolver.

Though officially obsolete after the war (and unofficially obsolete before it), the No. 2 continued to serve as Her Majesty's sidearm until it was replaced by the Browning Hi-Power in the late 1960's. Many No. 2's were surplused, or sent to other parts of the former British Empire like Hong Kong, Africa, and India. Some are still in use today by their police forces. While over a quarter million were built, they aren't commonly seen these days, so if you get a chance to get your hands on a nice one, you should do so. It really is an "interesting bit of kit".

Best enjoyed with a nice cup of tea. Tea: The Soldier's Drink! (TM)


  1. What's the accuracy like being only a double-action? Any kits out there available to convert it to a single action?

    1. Hello. Accuracy was acceptable at 10 yards for man-sized targets. On an IPSC target I could put them all in the "A" zone without trying too hard. Probably on par with some double-action only snub nose revolvers that folks use for concealed carry/back up guns. To the Brits' credit, this is all that's really needed of this type of gun in my opinion.

      I haven't heard of any kits per se, but I imagine one might be able to obtain the relevant parts to convert back to single action, though it's not something I'd try to attempt. There are some pre-war unconverted Mk I's out there but they tend to go for more money than the I* models.

  2. Have gotten or tried to get a Webley Mark VI? It'd be interesting to see a review on.

  3. I haven't. I imagine they'd be fun.

  4. I have a #2 mk1* aquire by my father in law in Laharve France 1943. How do you tell the manufacture date. Have not found one.

  5. I have a #2 mk1* aquire by my father in law in Laharve France 1943. How do you tell the manufacture date. Have not found one.

  6. Hi
    Do you know if the hammer of the previous model could be found.
    I also like to shoot in single action