Thursday, May 4, 2017

Third Lieutenant Stanley, Firearms Aficionado

In the May 6th, 1940 Vic and Sade episode “Working Out Hank’s Indebtedness",Rush reads a passage from a Third Lieutenant Stanley book. In the book, Lady Margaret is in the direct path of a slithering cobra and Third Lieutenant Stanley acts with authority by quickly dispatching the pesky reptile with his “automatic revolver”.

That phrase caught my attention “..automatic revolver…” I’ve been participating in the Waukesha, Wisconsin Handgun League (WHL) for over 20 years, so I have more than a passing knowledge of firearms. For those that are not aware, an “automatic revolver” is quite a rare bird indeed.

First some background on firearms terminology and history. Some of the first firearms were “single shot”. You loaded them, you fired the shot, and then you re-loaded them. A very slow and tedious process. Think of a pirate gun.

Later the “revolver” came along. This was essentially a gun with 6 or more chambers. As you squeeze the trigger the cylinder rotates, aligning one of these chambers to the barrel. You can shoot six shots quickly but the trigger pull is hard. This is because when you pull the trigger you are rotating the cylinder, cocking the hammer, and then releasing the hammer. The revolver provided for quicker shooting but the hard trigger pull detracted from accuracy. Think of Dirty Harry’s (Clint Eastwood) 44 Magnum Revolver.

Enter the “semi-automatic” pistol. The semi-automatic used some of the energy from the fired round to both cock the hammer and load the next round from a magazine into the chamber. A round is fired every time the trigger is pulled. Since the energy from the shot is used to cock the hammer and load the next round, the trigger pull can be made very light, enhancing accuracy.

Lastly, the “fully-automatic” pistol was developed. In the U.S. these are highly regulated and chances are you’ve only seen them in movies. The fully-automatic pistol uses some of the energy from the fired round to load a round, cock the hammer, and to drop the hammer to fire the next round. The user simply needs to hold back the trigger, and rounds are fired continuously until the trigger is released. Think of an “Uzi” machine pistol.

Notice that there isn’t an “automatic revolver”. I suspect 99 out of 100 folks would consider this an error, a combination of firearm terms that doesn’t make sense. On the contrary, consider the Webley-Fosbery Automatic Revolver. Introduced in 1901, it was the first commercial example of an automatic revolver. Actually, it’s a semi-automatic revolver, but it was common to call semi-automatics as automatics in the early days, since full-automatics weren’t developed yet. The recoil from a fired round would rotate the cylinder by means of a cam. It was well received by target shooters, since the trigger pull was light, as the energy from the fired bullet cocked the hammer and rotated the cylinder. But only 4,750 were produced. It wasn’t a big success and production was ceased in 1924, although it remained in the Webley catalog until 1939 (probably to clear remaining inventory). Today, a Webley-Fosbery would fetch around $13,000 from a gun collector.

So what was Third Lieutenant Stanley doing with such an obscure British firearm? The Webley-Fosbery was never adopted by any army, which makes it even stranger that a third lieutenant would have one (although British officers sometimes supplied their own personal sidearms).

All that I can conclude is that Third Lieutenant Stanley was a firearms aficionado. He was all about accuracy and speed, and in the early 1900’s the Webley-Fosbery was the Lamborghini of guns. It was rare and temperamental, but fast and accurate. Later, semi-automatic pistols came along (e.g. the Colt M1911 semi-automatic, the service sidearm for US forces for many years) making the Webley-Fosbery obsolete.

So assuming that Third Lieutenant Stanley’s adventures occurred in the early 1900’s, this would have been the firearm of choice for a man who knew guns and often used them. Although obscure, it was quick and accurate, perfect for cannibals, counterfeiters, and snakes!

-- Dave in Wisconsin

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