WWI Shootout – Nagant vs. Webley MK VI
The top two double action military wheelguns face off
By Dennis Adler
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!
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.
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.)
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.