In the 1930s, the famed Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield, renowned for their rifles, got into the revolver business and went on to produce an interesting wheel gun.
Enfield, who had long made some of the best rifles in the world, had flirted with a handgun design once before when, in July 1879, the arsenal was ordered to produce a self-extracting revolver to compete against foreign models for an upcoming British Army test.
While the British had used a variety of revolvers from Adams and Colt, among others, the Enfield Mk I in .476 caliber went on to win the trials but soon ran into trouble and had to be modified just a couple of years after introduction. As wryly noted by the British National Army Museum, "Never popular, the Enfield was a clumsy weapon although its large bullet was effective."
This led the Brits to tap the Webley-pattern top-break revolver in .455 to replace the Enfield just a decade after it was adopted, and the arsenal was fine with that.
Fast forward to 1932 and, while the big Webley had a reputation as a solid and reliable revolver, it was thought to be difficult to master and heavy to carry. With that, Enfield was ordered to move forward once again with a handgun design based on a downright underwhelming .38-caliber cartridge with a 200-grain lead bullet and a short case, roughly equivalent to the .38 S&W Short/.38 Colt New Police. Using a layout, um, borrowed from Webley, the Enfield No. 2 was introduced the same year.
Inexpensive to produce and easy to train, the Enfield was one of the last revolvers adopted for frontline use by any major country. Keep in mind that at the time the Americans had used the M1911 for a generation, as had the Japanese with the Nambuseries of pistols, while the Russkies and Germans respectively had the Tokarev TT and Walther P-38 pending production. Even the Belgians (Browning Hi-Power), French (MAB Model D), and Italians (Beretta M1934) were switching to semi-autos.
Even when fitted with a thin 5-inch barrel, the weight on the Enfield .38 was just 27 ounces, almost a pound lighter than the 40-ounce Webley .455. Likewise, felt recoil with the low-powered round, which clocked in at around 800fps, was manageable. For safety purposes, a 15-pound trigger pull (not a misprint) was standard in double-action.
The problem with the new revolver was that crews of the Royal Tank Regiment found that the exposed hammer spur tended to catch on items inside the hull and turret of their vehicles. The answer: chop the spur off and convert the gun to double-action-only. To compensate for the effort needed to pull the trigger, trigger weight was adjusted to a more moderate but still miserable 11-to-13 pounds and new grips with thumb grooves were fitted.
This created the Enfield No. 2 Mk. 1*.
Our example is a 1941/42 P-prefix gun that was constructed during the darkest part of the British struggle in WWII.
The British continued to use the .38/200 designation even though they changed to a different 178-grain bullet in 1938 and, during the war, went on to use American-made Smith & Wesson Victory models in .38 S&W as well as the Webley Mk IV .38/200. While elite special operations forces such as the Commandos, Paras, and SOE used semi-autos such as Browning-InglisHi-Powers, Lend-Leased M1911A1s, and even Argentine Ballester Molinas, the rank-and-file Commonwealth soldier who carried a sidearm had a .38, meaning the guns ranged from Dunkirk and El Alamein to D-Day and the liberation of Singapore.
The British only switched formally to Hi-Powers in 1957, one of the last NATO countries to leave the wheel gun behind.
With that, thousands of Enfield No. 2s flooded the surplus market, although the waves have abated in recent years as the final models still held in Commonwealth armories were liquidated.
Today, these guns, if they are in good repair, are fun to shoot with commercial .38 S&W ammo, typically sold in light 148-grain LRN target loads. A solid collectible that may have been along for the ride with the "Desert Rats" in North Africa or tankers rolling up the Italian boot and through Northwest Europe, they are a cool part of history if nothing else.