WWI Shootout – Nagant vs. Webley MK VI

WWI Shootout – Nagant vs. Webley MK VI

The top two double action military wheelguns face off

By Dennis Adler

The Gletcher Nagant Silver 4.5mm pellet model is one of the most accurate and easy to handle CO2 revolvers there is. As a vintage firearm the Nagant truly stands out at every level of comparison. The new Webley Exhibition model with silver nickel finish is another handsome looking vintage revolver. The rifled barrel model is available in this style and in a weathered Battlefield version which will be reviewed next month.

As a collector and enthusiast of 19th century European firearms, I like to think of the late 1890s as the renaissance of European arms design. This was the beginning of the development and manufacturing of semiautomatic pistols, but it was also the beginning of significant advancements in double action revolver design. The Europeans were always ahead of U.S. armsmakers when it came to double action revolvers (and metallic cartridges), and this was equally so by the end of the 19th century when Webley & Scott had advanced the design of their .455 caliber topbreak single action/double action MK series revolvers to the MK IV model, and Russia had adopted the Belgian-designed 7.62mm, 7-shot, gas-seal Nagant revolver in 1895. By the end of the century the Russian government had purchased the rights to the Nagant revolver and begun manufacturing them at the state owned arsenal in Tula, and later at the Izhevsk arsenal. More than 2,000,000 Nagant revolvers were produced by 1945. It is going to take a lot of Gletcher CO2 models to catch up!

With precise dimensions to their original centerfire counterparts, the pellet-loading brass cartridges are also commensurately scaled in size (though not exact to the original cartridges). Each is designed for the specific pistol.

Webley & Scott introduced the final improvement to their large caliber topbreak design in 1915 with the MK VI, manufactured from 1915 to 1919 and as the Service Model from 1922 to 1935. The guns were still in service throughout World War II and well into the late 1940s.

The Nagant cartridges (left) and Webley rounds are quite different in diameter and length, though both load a 4.5mm pellet the same way into a rubber retainer at the back of the shell. Loading from the rear, as opposed to earlier designs that loaded the pellet at the front of the cartridge, have proven to produce higher velocities, and are much easier to load.

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Like the Gletcher Nagant CO2 model, the British Webley & Scott MK VI CO2 model is produced with a rifled steel inner barrel recessed inside the cast alloy outer barrel, and fires 4.5mm pellets loaded into brass cartridges. Both guns are loaded in the same way as their centerfire counterparts. Of course, the Nagant has no need for the gas seal feature (which on the 7.62x38mmR pistols pushed the cylinder chamber against the barrel’s forcing cone when the hammer was cocked. This was done to eliminate any loss of energy through escaping gasses between the front of the cylinder, cartridge nose and rear of the barrel. An ingenious but mechanically complicated design, the Nagant airgun’s cylinder is simplified in that it almost totally seals against the forcing cone, leaving just enough gap for the cylinder to rotate. The Webley’s cylinder is almost as tightly pressed against the back of the barrel’s forcing cone, so both have a very tight fit to minimize any loss of CO2 as the pellet enters the barrel. (The Colt Peacemakers, S&W and Dan Wesson revolvers use a spring loaded forcing cone that presses up against the front of the cylinder chamber to achieve the same effect.)

The Nagant is easier to load than most “vintage” style revolvers. Opening the loading gate, which is identical in design to the original guns, releases the cylinder to be rotated for loading without having to place the hammer at half cock.

Nagant vs. Webley       

Just as the 7.62x38mmR Nagant pistol cartridge is smaller than a .455 Webley round, the rear pellet-loading cartridges for the CO2 Nagant and Webley are of considerably different dimensions. The Nagant shell is smaller in circumference and quite a bit shorter. Both, however, load a 4.5mm lead (or alloy) pellet into a rubber retaining ring at the back of the shell, where the primer would otherwise be found on a centerfire cartridge. The Nagant is one of the easiest of all CO2 revolvers to load, as opening the loading gate releases the cylinder to rotate for loading or ejecting cartridges. There is no need to place the hammer at half cock. This also makes reloading the pellet cartridges in the cylinder an easy task, rather than removing the empty shells and reloading the pistol. Of course, nothing in the way of vintage-style wheelguns loads as easily or as quickly as the topbreak Webley (or Schofield).

Outside of modern swing out cylinders, nothing from the 19th or early 20th centuries was faster to load or reload than a Webley (or S&W).

I started by chronographing the guns with Meisterkugeln Professional Line 7.0 grain lead wadcutters. The Nagant with a 4.75 inch (internal length) barrel clocked a high of 389 fps and an average velocity for five shots of 378 fps. It is factory rated at 426 fps, which seems a bit optimistic, but 378 fps is nothing to complain about. The Webley with its longer 5.5 inch (internal length) barrel sent the 7.0 grain wadcutters downrange at an impressive high of 439 fps and an average velocity for five shots of 429 fps. Factory rated velocity is 430 fps, so the Webley is right on the money.

Both pistols operate the same way using a 12 gr. CO2 cartridge loaded into the grip frame by removing the left grip panel. The smaller size of the Nagant gives some hope for other revolvers with similar grip contours to be made as CO2 models, particularly early 20th century S&W revolvers like the Model 1917. One can hope.

Since both guns are double action/single action, I opted to shoot them double action, as they were meant to be shot. Thus far the Webley rifled barrel models do not shoot as accurately fired single action, which is still a mystery, but that may soon be cleared up with a test of the Battlefield finish rifled barrel model next month.

At 10 meters the best 5-shot group with the Nagant measured 0.687 inches with one bullseye and a long overlapping tear from the 8-ring at 3 o’clock left to 12 o’clock. This is better than my earlier 10 meter tests where my average groups were 0.75 inches.

Still one of the most accurate vintage-style double action CO2 revolvers, the Nagant did not disappoint delivering a dime-sized 5-shot group from 10 meters.

The Webley put five rounds into 1.12 inches, and this time around that was the very best I could do at 10 meters firing double action. Previously I had a best group at 0.81 inches, either way, still not as good as the Nagant.

Still lacking the accuracy of the Webley BB models, the rifled barrel MK VI can’t quite compete with the Nagant for accuracy at 10 meters even with a slightly longer barrel. It may yet come down to a different trigger system (internally) than the BB models, though I am hard pressed to understand why. I shot the MK VI with all six rounds, and measured the best five to match the Nagant. Close but no cigar, the Nagant, even with a shorter barrel, is the more accurate of the two. The final verdict will be delivered next month with the Battlefield finish MK VI.

The pellet-firing Nagant wins hands down against the rifled barrel Webley. Not the way it went in war, but that is how it goes in peace, at least in CO2.

The Airgun Experience will be on a brief hiatus and return in December with the first test of the Battlefield finish Webley MK VI pellet model. 

7 thoughts on “WWI Shootout – Nagant vs. Webley MK VI”

  1. The Nagant despite its’ shorter barrel and smaller frame is the accuracy winner . I suspect in sa the Nagant would have soundly trounced the big bad Webley. That has been my experience. The new Webley remains an enigma. Hopefully more of the Nagants will appear. I suspect the existing inventories have been exhausted , and the new F series with safety is being phased in . I have found that theNagant fits in holsters designed for a standard barrel S&W K frame . I use a PacificCanvas replica of theVictoryshoulder holster, and a flap holster also designed for a K frame . Would be nice to see an airgun replica of the S&W model 10/ Victory revolver .Replicas of historic firearms needs to be expanded. The aforementioned S&W k frame, the S&W 1917, Colt New Service should be the first

  2. Gletcher could add an interesting variant of the Nagant and boost velocity. Due to the gas seal cylinder, a suppressed version was produced. By threading the internal end of the barrel , and adding a rifled barrel faux suppressor, the look of the suppressed version would add a few inches of barrel length andgive a50-75fps increase

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