Compared to Americans’ notion of “classic” revolver lines, the top-break British Enfield can appear to be a tad ungainly. But, accepting that form should follow function, these revolvers are beautiful in their own unique way.
The story of this firearm is interesting. There were two Enfield No. 2 Mk 1 revolvers in production by the time World War II had begun, and an asterisk was used to denote the second edition, the No. 2 Mk 1*. Introduced in June 1938, it was identical to the original No. 2 Mk 1 in most respects except, most significantly, it lacked a hammer thumb spur and a single-action notch, which rendered the Mk 1* double-action only (DAO). As a DAO revolver, the No. 2 Mk 1* has a trigger pull weight of 12.1 pounds, a sizable reduction from the Mk 1’s heftier 14.3 pounds.
The No. 2 Mk 1* was created as a “solution” to alleged complaints from British tank crews that the No. 2 Mk 1’s hammer was continually getting caught on interior surfaces, particularly when crews entered or exited the tank. The Mk 1* was distinctively set apart from other Webley and Enfield models by its bobbed hammer and DAO operation. Some suppose that Enfield instituted the design change in order to lower manufacturing costs. Many Mk 1 revolvers were retrofitted to the Mk 1* configuration when returned for repairs.
Bred For Battle
The Webley Mk IV .38 (.38/200 or .38 S&W) model and the Enfield No. 2 Mk 1 are distinctly similar weapons. The two are based on the same Webley & Scott design, the Mk IV having been around since 1929 as that maker’s Military and Police Model with an automatic ejector. That particular feature, which automatically ejected spent shell cases after breaking open the action, was a 20th-century adaptation of the top-break design introduced by Smith & Wesson’s 1870 Model 3 American. The automatic ejector was the Webley and Enfield’s most indispensable feature—that and its double action. The latter advantage disappeared with the introduction in 1932 of the DAO No. 2 Mk 1*.
The Enfield No. 2 Mk 1 was, several minor internal and external changes aside, a copy of the .380 Webley Mk IV (.380 designating the .38/200 cartridge originally used in the revolvers). Webley & Scott had been commissioned by the British War Office to develop a new, lighter-weight revolver chambered in .38 (9mm) with stopping power equivalent to the .455-caliber (11.5mm) revolvers then in use, like the Webley Mk VI Service. While Webley & Scott toiled, Enfield in 1926 undertook the design and production of the Enfield No. 2 Mk 1, or “Pistol, Revolver, .38 No. 2 Mark 1.” The No. 2 Mk 1 initially fired a 195-grain lead bullet, listed as the .38/200, with a velocity of 550 feet per second (fps). It was not, however, the equal of the .455 round. In the early years of World War II (around 1940), the .38/200 lead bullet was replaced by a nickel-jacketed bullet with an average velocity of 600 fps. Still not as powerful as the .455 caliber, it and the gun that chambered it were nevertheless smaller and lighter than the Webley Mk VI, achieving the original objective of the Mk IV and No. 2 Mk 1. The new full-metal-jacket (FMJ) round used throughout the remainder of the war was basically the equivalent of the American .38 S&W cartridge.
Like the earlier Webley designs, the No. 2 Mk 1* is a British variation of the S&W top-break, though in its case the mechanism is actuated by a thumb latch on the left side of the frame, rather than a top latch. As with an S&W, when the barrel is pulled downward, camming action (with the Enfield, an external cam lever on the left side acts against a cam lever screw) forces the extractor upward as the barrel tilts, simultaneously ejecting all the chambered rounds or empty shells. The design was, in the early 20th century, a comparatively efficient one, despite the advent of the swing-out cylinder and manual ejector. Reloading both took the same amount of time, but some maintain that the swing-out cylinder was stronger design-wise than the top-break. That said, Webley & Scott and Enfield truly overbuilt the latching mechanisms on all of their top-break revolvers, and specimens more than 75 years old remain sturdy, such as the Mk 1* shown, which still demands a strong thumb to open.
The Mk 1* possessed a number of distinguishing characteristics aside from its unique bobbed hammer. To provide a stronger purchase, the guns were fitted with two-piece, molded-plastic grips (the Mk 1 had wood grips) with impressed diagonal lines and wide, deeply inset thumb rests on either side, making the grips ambidextrous and capable of fitting a wide variety of hands. The grips also came up considerably higher than those on the Mk 1 or Webley Mk IV. As on the Mk 1, the rear square-notch sight is integral with the barrel latch, and the front sight is a high, pinned blade—easy to acquire at a glance for faster targeting.
Each pull of the DAO Mk 1* trigger rotates the cylinder and cocks and releases the hammer, making the revolver less accurate than the Mk 1, which could be cocked and better aimed. But the Mk 1* wasn’t designed for top-notch accuracy, per se, but for close-quarters battle, where rapid fire at close range was most likely.
On my test gun, the trigger pull measured just over 12.1 pounds, and though heavy it was very smooth in operation, with 0.68 inches of travel and zero overtravel, making it consistent and fast to fire. For the range test, I used Remington .38 S&W 146-grain lead rounds. An Enfield No. 2 Mk 1 or Mk 1* in good working order can safely fire new Remington .38 S&W or similar ammo such as FN .38 S&W. When in doubt, it is always wise to have a WWII-era gun inspected by a qualified gunsmith before firing it.
The test gun was in excellent condition, having had an arsenal refinish done sometime after the war’s end, and in perfect working order. With the target at 15 yards, a practical distance for a WWII-era defensive sidearm, and using a one-handed hold, I placed all five rounds from the 5-inch-barreled revolver inside the 10-ring of a Speedwell B-27 silhouette target. Three rounds hit just within the bottom edge of the 10-ring, producing a cluster spanning 1.5 inches, while two struck higher up, producing an overall five-shot spread of 5 inches. All were solid center-mass hits. Recoil with the .38 S&W 146-grain lead rounds proved negligible, and it took little effort to get back on target. The 12-plus-pound trigger pull is manageable, but one definitely feels the length of pull with every shot, and keeping the gun on target requires practice. As a defensive weapon, the Mk 1* was capable of consistently placing shots on target at close range, and that was the Enfield’s foremost reason for being in the service of Her Majesty’s troops.
The Enfield No. 2 Mk 1 and Mk 1* remained in production until 1957 and saw use by British, Canadian and Australian troops fighting in support of the U.S. during the Korean War. Readily available in good to excellent condition, the Enfield No 2. Mk 1 and Mk 1* are affordable, historic revolvers built for war that are interesting to collect and to shoot.
Compared to Americans’ notion of “classic” revolver lines, the top-break British Enfield can appear to…
by Caleb Giddings / Mar 19, 2013