Mars pistol: The first pistol with the magazine located under the chamber.

I recently wrote about the new Boberg XR9 pistol which features the magazine beneath the chamber. Dr. StrangeGun discovered that the Gabbett-Fairfax Mars pistol was the first pistol to feature this configuration.

High tech and ugly (Photo from Horst Held)

From wikipedia:

The Mars Automatic Pistol was a semi-automatic pistol developed in 1900 by the Englishman Hugh Gabbet-Fairfax. It was manufactured by Webley & Scott and distributed by the Mars Automatic Pistol Syndicate. The Mars Automatic Pistol is famous for being available in a variety of 8.5 mm, 9 mm and .45 calibres. These were all bottle shaped cartridges with a heavy powder loading, making the .45 version the most powerful handgun in the world for a time. It used a unique long recoil rotating bolt action which ejected spent cartridges straight to the rear.

The Mars Automatic Pistol was rejected by the British War Office as a possible replacement for the Webley & Scott Revolver, then in service with the British Army, because of the unacceptable large recoil, muzzle-flash, and mechanical complexity. It has since become a collectors item because of its rarity and as an example of the earliest developments in semi-automatic pistols.

I dug up the pistols’ patent. The patent drawings show how the rear ward feeding works.

Mars Pistol Diagram 1

Mars Pistol Diagram 2

Although the pistol was not practical back in 1900 it was an ingenious design.

Steve Johnson

Founder and Dictator-In-Chief of TFB. A passionate gun owner, a shooting enthusiast and totally tacti-uncool. Favorite first date location: any gun range. Steve can be contacted here.


  • David

    I can remember reading a old war office report on the Webley-Mars. The lines that stuck in my mind, in respect of it’s recoil, were that: “No man on firing this weapon, would willingly fire it again.”

  • Dusty

    Quite an interesting firearm, there’s an entry on it in “Gun: a visual history”.
    It says:
    Perhaps inspired by the Mauser’s success, Hugh Gabbett-Fairfax wanted to produce a super-powerful pistol; the result was the Mars. Described by users as “a nightmare,” it was complex, awkward, and unwieldy, with a vicious recoil.
    As a side note to the ammunition it mentions that “The designer insisted on a heavy propellant load for the Mars bullet.” it seems like it was the Desert Eagle of it’s day.

  • Dusty, thanks for the info

  • Dusty

    No problem, it’s quite a nice book. ^^

  • was reading a few articals on mars
    pistol looking for a picture for
    my p.c.
    i found no comments on the fact the
    this in operation both the barrel and
    receiver moved , receiver back
    barrel forward, so they could
    use long shells.

    see page 411,412 boothroyd
    hand gun.

    james o cox

  • Josh j

    yeah I have that book and always wanted to know more about the mars.
    very nice research but hand loaders probably could achieve at least similar ballistics in a 45lc.
    it looks like a nightmare to clean and maintain, esp with magnum loadings and unjacketed ammunition.

  • revjen45

    The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Firearms by Ian V. Hogg is a nice general reference and has a short section on the Mars. I found mine at 1/2 Price books for $9.95, which was a good price.

  • marcos

    love old and rare stuff like this. thanks for this but would love to see a youtube video of someone shooting one the these. however apparently the recoil horrible. i have also read somewhere that the shell casing ejects in the users face at high speed

  • Ken

    So what you’re saying is it kicks like a mule, blinds you with the muzzle flash, and dumps brass down your collar, using your face as a backboard. Sounds like the perfect thing for H&K to make for the civilian market (H&K: Because you suck, and we hate you…).

  • Folf

    What about the Borchardt C96? That was 1896

  • Interesting gun, just shovs, that nothing is new in fireaems, just old wine on new bottles.

  • Just a correction : The FN Browning 1899 and 1900 had the magasin beneth the chamber Brownings patent is from 1897

  • roger

    I had a chance to buy one Mars in 1996 for a good price. I didn’t and regretted it ever since.
    Early 1900’s Hungarian Frommer stop pistol has a rotating bolt just like an AR or M16 rifle.

  • motoguzzi

    One of the period reviews of the pistol said something like, “every man who fired the pistol showed little interest in firing a second round.” It has been a long time since I read it but it has stuck with me,.