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British flare pistols 1882 to 1919 lecture historical breechloading smallarms association


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British Flare Pistols 1882 to 1919 – A dip into the records by Molly Milner …

British Flare Pistols 1882 to 1919 – A dip into the records by Molly Milner
Lecture to the Historical Breechloading Smallarms Association ( HBSA )
at the Imperial War Museum, April 2011
This is a presentation delivered to a monthly meeting of the Historical Breechloading Smallarms Association (HBSA) in London, UK.

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  • 1. British Flare Pistols 1882 to 1919 – A dip into the recordsMolly MilnerLecture to the Historical Breechloading SmallarmsAssociationImperial War Museum,London 18th April 2011 Page 1 of 14
  • 2. Towards the end of 1881 the British Navy conducted trials with the Very Pistol. Thepurpose of these trails was to see how effective the flares would be for boat service and intorpedo operations. The first trials were conducted by the Channel Squadron and thensome were sent to the Mediterranean fleet to see how they performed in a hotter climate.These pistols did not have an extractor mechanism and this was flagged up as a fault.In October 1882 an order was placed with Dyer & Robson to supply a pistol containing anextractor and 100 green & 100 red flares. Some of the flares proved to be faulty and arequest was put to Dyer & Robson for a further supply of flares. The Admiralty refused topay the bill until the fault had been rectified but after some prevaricating the bill was finallypaid in June 1883 and the Very Pistol adopted into Naval Service in 1887.The design of the pistol was quite simple. The barrel was hinged to the frame so that itcould drop down for loading and extracting. A rod under the barrel was used to release thebarrel and also to aid the extraction of the spent case. 1. Very Pistol MKI Page 2 of 14
  • 3. The MKII was introduced in 1905. The barrel was strengthened and a trigger guard and abreech latch added. The extracting system was also vastly improved. In 1911 further smallchanges were made for the Naval Very Pistols. The trigger spring was improved andsome changes were made to the internal components. This became known as the MK III. 2. Webley MK III Flare Pistol Page 3 of 14
  • 4. The Webley production records prior to September 1914 no longer exist. The first of theexisting books starts with serial number 2400 in September 1914. The sales records,however, go back to 1903 but there are substantial gaps as many of the books weredestroyed. 3. Webley Very Pistol production Books 1914 – 1918120 MK IIIs were sold to the Navy in September 1911, no serial numbers were recorded.The first recorded serial number is 553 and was sold in June 1912. Page 4 of 14
  • 5. 4. Front cover of Webley Very Pistol production books Page 5 of 14
  • 6. 5. Page 1 of Webley Very pistol production book6. First 80 Webley sales of Very pistols to the British Navy, September 1911 Page 6 of 14
  • 7. 7. 40 Webley sales to British Navy plus sale of 1 Vary Pistol to Enfield October 1911 Page 7 of 14
  • 8. 8. Webley sales of Very Pistols to Navy – first recorded serial number in sales books Page 8 of 14
  • 9. 9. Webley sale of Very pistols to Russian Navy October 1914In February 1915 the Admiralty approved a change which required all Flare Pistols to befitted with a butt swivel. Page 9 of 14
  • 10. 10. MKIII Flare pistol with butt swivelOn 2 November 1915 the Webley directors sent a representative to visit Chubb’s factoryto help them set up a production line. Cogswell & Harrison were also making MKIIIs at thistimeIn April 1915 Webley started production of their MKVI service revolver and in that samemonth there was a new design of flare pistol. The barrel diameter was 1½” and was madefrom steel rather than brass. This larger bore pistol was designed for use in the trenchesand by the RFC. As there was a huge demand for arms at that time it made a lot of sensefor the flare pistols and the service revolver to be a similar design. Indeed, 50 % of thecomponent parts of these arms were interchangeable. Page 10 of 14
  • 11. 11. Front cover of Webley No 1 & No2 Flare Pistols (marked 1½“) Page 11 of 14
  • 12. The No.1 Mark I flare pistol had a 10” barrel and facility for a shoulder stock. Flare pistolswere used by the military to pass messages to the artillery and to signal orders to pilotsflying above. 12. No 1 MK 1 Flare pistol with shoulder stockThe No 2 Mark I had a 4” barrel and no shoulder stock and was used by RFC pilots.When the aircraft were first used in WWI pilots used the signal pistol to send messages tothe artillery.During the war Webley produced 48,300 1½” signal pistols; 26,665 No.1s and 21,635No.2s.The No 1 & No 2 flare pistols had a common serial number range starting from 1 whichwas completely separate from the MK II & MK III flare pistol number range and alsocompletely different from the MKVI revolver number range.The first order for 50 No.1s was 30 March 1915. These pistols sold for 65/-. By May theprice had dropped to 62/6 and in October to 62/-The reason for the price drop was probably because the Government had introduced anexcess profits tax on profits that were made from Military Contracts. Page 12 of 14
  • 13. In April 1916 Webley were requested by the Ministry of Munitions to provide a schedule ofoutput for the year 1912 – 1915. The schedule showed that the company had produced263 signal pistols in 1912; 884 in 1913; 1151 in 1914 and 22,104 in 1915.December 1916 saw a further modification to the MKIII flare pistol. A flanged bush wasintroduced, this was fitted to the muzzle end of the barrel to prevent the palm of the handfrom overhanging the muzzle when the barrel was depressed to open the breech andextract the cartridge. A safety catch was also incorporated. This model became known asthe MKIII*. 13. MKIII* flare pistol showing safety button The AGM report for April 1919 reported that 187,000 signalling and other pistols had been produced during the war. Page 13 of 14
  • 14. 14. Webley schedule of production 1912 to 191515. Section of Webley AGM report April 1919 Page 14 of 14