Colt Peacemaker vs. Webley MK VI Part 1

Colt Peacemaker vs. Webley MK VI Part 1

The gun test that never happened

By Dennis Adler

It would seem logical that the Colt Peacemaker, a gun developed in 1872 and made famous on the American Frontier, and the British Webley MK VI, developed in 1915 and used by British forces in WWI and WWII, would not have crossed paths in combat. The U.S. military adopted the Colt Model 1911 as its standard issue sidearm prior to WWI and the government had, in fact, begun to replace the Peacemaker back in 1889 for the U.S. Navy, with the Colt Model 1889 Navy in .38 and .41 calibers and in 1892 for the Army with a series of smaller caliber (.38 Long Colt) revolvers beginning with the Model 1892. Colt made improved .38 caliber Models in 1894, 1895, 1896, 1901, and with the Model 1905 issued to the Marine Corps. In response to criticism of the .38 caliber double action revolvers being under powered for a military sidearm, Colt developed the New Service in 1909 chambered for a .45 Colt cartridge. Two years later the Colt Model 1911 was adopted as the standard issue U.S. military sidearm replacing the majority of revolvers then in use.

Colt’s New Service revolvers were the largest swing out cylinder models of the late 1890s and early 20th century. The model was so successful it remained in production through 1944, a period spanning nearly half a century and a production total in excess of 356,000 guns. Available chamberings included cartridges grounded in the Old West such as .38 Long and Short Colt, .38 S&W, .44-40, and among others, .44 Russian. Barrel lengths ranged from 2-inches, 3-1/2, 4, 4-1/2, 5, 5-1/2 and 6-inches, to 7-1/2 inches. (Photo courtesy Rock Island Auction Co.)

However, other semi-auto handguns were also being carried in the service, and during WWI, with shortages of handguns, both Colt and Smith & Wesson developed the Model 1917 revolver that could use .45 ACP rounds in a full moon clip (to allow ejecting the rimless cartridges from the cylinder. The cartridges fit the chambers, but were too small around the rim to engage the ejector and thus the need for the full moon clip capturing the rims of all six cartridges).  

The Old West was in its last throes by 1917. The world was at war, Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show came to an end, and semi-automatic pistols were being used not only by the military but by what remained of the old western lawmen who had survived into the new century. S&W (and Colt’s) made one final breakthrough in revolver design by the time of the Great War, Hand Ejector revolvers that could chamber the same .45 ACP rounds as the Model 1911 Colt semi-automatic. S&W’s Model 1917 was to become one of the most successful and respected sidearms of the U.S. military from 1917 to 1919, and for many years after. During the war, S&W built over 163,000 for the U.S. Army. The military models, like the example pictured, bore the U.S. Ordnance flaming bomb stamp (seen here on the frame at the back of the triggerguard and back of topstrap), the stampings “U.S. Army Model 1917” on the buttstrap, and “U.S. Property” on the underside of the barrel forward of the ejector rod. The young soldier in the old photograph is Ernest Hemmingway!

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How does a Colt Peacemaker fit into all this? General Officers were permitted to carry whatever gun they wanted, though they were issued the small .32 ACP Colt Model 1903 as a “General Officer’s” sidearm. Some chose to carry the old Colt .45 Single Action Army revolver; among them General George S. Patton, who had originally worn a brace of ivory stocked, nickel plated and hand engraved Peacemakers in 1916 when he was a Lieutenant under the command of General John J. “Black Jack” Pershing.  Lt. Patton was assigned to Pershing’s famous Punitive Expedition into Mexico in pursuit of Pancho Villa, and leading a small detachment of men engaged in a gunfight with one of Villa’s top lieutenants, General Julio Cardenas and two of his men. In the brief conflict Patton shot Cardenas and one of his lieutenants off their horses, and along with two of Patton’s riflemen ended the fight. In WWII Patton wore one of those two Colt Peacemakers on his right hip and an S&W .357 Magnum with ivory grips in his left holster. Though he openly remarked on his dislike of semi-autos, he did carry a 1911 during WWI, and during WWII kept the government issued Colt Hammerless as a backup pistol.

In this WWII photo of General Patton and Field Marshal Montgomery, who were often at odds with each other on military strategy, especially during the liberation of Sicily in 1944, you can see Patton wearing his .45 Colt Single Action Army, which he carried throughout the war and had carried during most of his military career since 1916. Montgomery was not wearing a sidearm (neither is the U.S. General in the background), but Montgomery would most likely have carried a Webley when armed, as did a majority of British soldier and officers during WWI and WWII. (Field issue Webley models were either chambered in .455 caliber or .38 caliber). This poses the question of whether the old Colt .45 was being used by other U.S. officers during the war. Patton’s Colt SAA is on display in the General George Patton Museum of Leadership at Fort Knox, Kentucky.

Old guns from different eras

So we have Patton with his 5-1/2 inch Peacemaker but who had the Webley? Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, Patton’s opposite number in the British military and something of a tactical adversary on the battlefield during the liberation of Sicily in 1944. Though rarely photographed wearing a sidearm, Montgomery would have carried the Webley MK VI revolver. Between them we have the two most “flamboyant” and controversial command officers of WWII. Patton and Montgomery are how we come face to face with the idea of comparing the Colt Peacemaker and the Webley MK VI, because in this classic tale, the two legendary revolvers did indeed cross paths!

In 1881 S&W introduced a new .44 caliber double action topbreak model. Pictured is an early nickel plated model with exquisite engraving by the master, Louis Daniel Nimschke. The large caliber DA/SA S&W models predate the topbreak Webley revolvers. (Photo courtesy Rock Island Auction Co.)

Sizing them up

This is mixing eras, calibers, and designs, though not too much of the latter. The Webley is fundamentally a British version of the S&W double action .44 topbreak introduced in 1881. The British .455 caliber, however, was close to the American .45 caliber Colt SAA and the guns were of near equal size, the Webley just a bit larger and heavier. It was also a DA/SA, so a modest advantage over the Peacemaker, but just modest, as it was a heavy DA trigger pull and accuracy suffered except at very close range. As for sighting, the Webley had larger sights, which were easier to see, but a practiced Colt SAA shooter (like Patton) could easily match a man with a MK VI for shot to shot accuracy, and nothing was faster out of the holster than a Colt Single Action for the first shot. As for the S&W topbreak .44s, they were all out of production before the MK VI was introduced (though earlier Webley topbreaks did overlap with the S&W).

Patton and Montgomery make it possible for me to make an otherwise unusual comparison between two very different guns from two different eras, but the Colt SAA was still in production up to the beginning of WWII. Production was suspended in 1940 so that Colt could dedicate its assembly lines to military demands, even though the U.S. had not yet entered the war. The SAA was not put back into production at Colt’s until 1956. The Webley MK VI had been in use by British soldiers since WWI. With both guns being offered as CO2 powered, rifled barrel models using pellet-loading cartridges, a comparison of the design dynamics can be made with the air pistols. (I have actually done this before with .45 Colt and .455 Webley models and the comparison is revealing).
The Webley used the same idea as the old S&W topbreak models which facilitated a rapid extraction of spent shells and quick reloading, versus the slow and steady chamber by chamber method of reloading a SAA. The Webley is definitely superior in this area.

Overall length for the Umarex Colt with 5-1/2 inch barrel is 11 inches, the Webley MK VI measures 11-1/2 inches with its 6-inch barrel. On my scale the Colt weighs 34 ounces with six rounds loaded, the MK IV, 39 ounces with six rounds. About 43 years apart in design and a single action vs. a DA/SA, but in terms of firepower and practical carry as a sidearm, about as American and British as the two extremes can get.

In Part 2 the Umarex Colt Peacemaker and Webley & Scott MK VI face off in a pellets vs. pellets comparison for speed, handling and accuracy.

Saturday, the gun test that never happened, the MK VI pellet model vs. the Peacemaker pellet model.

2 thoughts on “Colt Peacemaker vs. Webley MK VI Part 1”

  1. I have had a swift google and can find no pictures of the Field Marshall with a side arm. This is not surprising as British senior officers would feel that killing was not one of their functions and so avoid a side arm’s weight.He would probably have purchased a Mk V1 as a young officer in the first war and would be unlikely to have disposed of it so it might have showed up in his estate . On the whole the younger officers in WW2 would have carried the lighter .38. Generally though my experience is that small arms skills were not much practiced in Officer training. I spent many hours on the range with SLR and Bren but only one session with a Browning and one rather embarrassing session with a Sterling when I came within an inch of peppering the Vopos on the Berlin Wall with 9mm!!

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