September 22, 2023
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Due to their close connections to Great Britain, Australian police and militia traditionally used British pattern small arms. As in most British colonies, handguns did not play a large part in the armament of local police and militia units who were normally armed with rifles and carbines. During Australia’s 19th century gold rushes numbers of percussion revolvers were imported for use by militia and police. The most popular were various
Adams, Webleys and Colts. Today, the modern Australian military uses the SIG Sauer P320.
The first metallic cartridge revolver to see wide service “Down Under” was the Pistol, Adams, Centrefire, BL, Mark I, which was followed by the improved Mark II and Mark III revolvers. A solid frame design with a DA/SA trigger the six round cylinder was loaded through a hinged gate on the right side of the frame while spent cases were ejected by means of a rod carried in the hollow cylinder pin. They were chambered for the .450 Revolver which used a straight walled case, 0.69" holding 13 grains of black powder which propelled its 225-grain lead bullet to 650 feet per second (fps).
Another Webley product that was popular was the Royal Irish Constabulary revolver. A rugged, compact design it was usually chambered for large caliber cartridges such as the .442 Webley and .450 Revolver. While not a “military revolver,” in 1880 the South Australian Police ordered two hundred and fifty S&W No. 3 revolvers chambered for the .44 Russian cartridge. These revolvers were nickel plated, had seven-inch solid rib barrels and detachable shoulder stocks to make them into a short revolver carbine. They proved successful and between 1886–1887 were also purchased by the police departments of Western Australia and the Northern Territory where they remained in service until they were withdrawn in 1953.1
In 1887, the British army adopted the Pistol, Revolver, Webley, Mark I, a break open design firing the .455 Webley cartridge. The Mark I spawned a whole series of .455 revolvers that culminated in the best known, and most common, of the Webley line, the Mark VI (see below). During the Second Anglo-Boer War, Australian “Bushman contingents” were equipped with a variety of revolvers including the aforementioned Adams Mark III, Enfield Mark II and Webley Mark IV. The Pistol, B.L., Enfield (Mark II), Interchangeable was a hinged frame, double action revolver with complicated extraction and loading systems and proved to be complicated, fragile, heavy, not overly safe and unpopular.
The Enfield was chambered for the Cartridge SA Ball, Pistol Enfield (a.k.a. .476 Enfield) which utilized a drawn brass case containing 18 gr. of black powder which moved its 265-grain lead bullet to 600 fps. The Pistol, Revolver, Webley, Mark IV was hinged frame design that were issued with both four- and six-inch barrels. It was chambered for the Cartridge, .455, SA, Ball, Revolver, Webley, Cordite Mark II which consisted of a rimmed case 0.75 inches long whose 265-grain lead bullet was propelled to 600 fps by 6.5 grains of Cordite. During WWI, the Australians used a variety of Webley revolvers, the most common being the Mark VI which remained their standard handgun well into WWII.
With the decreasing importance placed upon handguns by military authorities in the post war period, in 1932, the Pistol, No. 2, Mark I, .380 inch (a.k.a. No. 2 Enfield revolver) was adopted as standard issue by the British armed forces. It was chambered for the Cartridge, SA, Ball, .380 Mark 1 which utilized a straight-walled, rimmed case 0.79 in. long loaded with a 200-grain blunt-nosed, lead bullet moving at approximately 605 fps.2 In 1938, the Cartridge, .380 Mark 2, was adopted with a 178-grainFMJ bullet moving at 700 fps.3 The Australians obtained numbers of No. 2 revolvers from Great Britain and in 1941, Howard Auto Cultivators, Ltd. of Sydney received a contract to produce No. 2** revolvers, although the number was very small, probably less than 400 units.5
With the outbreak of World War II, the British and Commonwealth forces found themselves short of handguns for their rapidly expanding armies. To supplement their Webley and Enfield revolvers, Australia purchased large numbers of Smith & Wesson M&P revolvers chambered for the .380 cartridge. In the post-war period, the Australian armed forces continued to use S&W Victory Model and No. 2 Enfield revolvers. As did many other Commonwealth armies, in the 1960s the Australians adopted the FN Hi-Power pistol as the SLP (Self Loading Pistol), 9mm, Mark 3. They were chambered for the S.A. Ball, 9mm, Mark 2z which uses a 19mm, tapered, rimless case with a 116-grain FMJ bullet moving at 1,250 fps. As the Mark 3s were beginning to show their age, numbers of H&K USP pistols were obtained for airborne units and the SAS. As have the U.S. and Canadian armies, the Mark 3 will be replaced by a SIG Sauer pistol. The P320 XCarry Pro will be issued with reflex sights and a tactical light.
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