Cutaway Bore Obstructions And KABOOMs

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The British Ministry of Defense National Firearms Centre is a national archive of small arms and is possibly the most extensive working reference collection in the world. Originally located at the Royal Small Arms Factory in Enfield, it was later moved to Nottingham in 1989. After another relocation from Nottingham, it is currently a part of the Royal Armouries which are located in Leeds. While conducting research in the NFC, there were a number of revolvers on display which had suffered an array of malfunctions.

The first two revolvers are Webley Mark IV .38/200s that have been turned into cutaways to demonstrate the rounds that have piled up on top of each other. These were probably carried out by ordnance officers to examine the effects of what under pressured rounds would do to a revolver.

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In the case of this Enfield No. 2 revolver, it seems to have been negligence that caused the bullet pile up, or one too many “audible pops” at a range if it had been a different weapon. The armory tag is dated 1955 and the location given as a town in continental Europe. It was probably shot during a service qualification and the shooter didn’t realize he wasn’t impacting any targets. Although this act is conceivably laughable, it is certainly dangerous and a constant reminder of why the military is sometimes insistent on bore checks before conducting range activities. In the book The Rifle Story by John Walter, the author writes about a recovered muzzle loading rifle that was found after the Battle of Gettysburg that had been loaded over 15 times. The initial patch and minie ball that had been loaded failed to fire, thus every minie ball and patch that was loaded afterwards also did not go off. An explanation for this is that due to the noise of the battle all around that particular soldier, he couldn’t distinguish his own rifle discharging from those around him. A similar situation must have happened with this revolver’s shooter. The rounds were going off, he must have heard the discharge from the cylinder, but didn’t confirm that his shots were translating into impacts.

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The muzzle end of the same Enfield No.2

The muzzle end of the same Enfield No.2

The top revolver is a Colt Model of 1917 in .45 ACP, bottom revolver is a Smith & Wesson .38 with a 7 inch barrel. Both appear to have suffered catastrophic failures within the cylinder itself, also inside the cartridges. The Colt appears to have exploded a little bit earlier during the ignition of the gun powder than the Smith & Wesson, which if readers will look at closely, appears to have a target front sight, which could mean hand loads from an experimental target shooter. The author would even go as far as to say a sympathetic detonation occurred in the cartridges in the chambers on either side of the Smith & Wesson because the cylinder is literally cut in half. One only hopes that both shooters had some sort of eye protection on.

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All photos taken by Miles Vining, courtesy of the Trustees of the Royal Armouries, Leeds, England.



Miles V

Former Infantry Marine, and currently studying at Indiana University. I’ve written for Small Arms Review and Small Arms Defense Journal, and have had a teenie tiny photo that appeared in GQ. Specifically, I’m very interested in small arms history, development, and Military/LE usage within the Middle East, and Central Asia.

If you want to reach out, let me know about an error I’ve made, something I can add to the post, or just talk guns and how much Grunts love naps, hit me up at miles@tfb.tv


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  • LongBeach

    Strange things happen when everybody’s shooting I guess… I was tempted to say stupid things, but I am not a commando, regular or keyboard, so I will not judge those who have fired their weapons in anger.

  • Tom of Toms

    Another theory behind the rifle loaded fifteen times: The shooter was loading his gun and then not firing at all, hoping his comrades would be too busy to recognize that he was not shooting, given that until the volley his participation appeared normal. Go grab a copy of On Killing and On Combat. Research suggests that many of the active participants in combat were not “killers” until Korea and Vietnam, when we adjusted our training and methodology to take-on the rigors of combat with the gusto we now consider an American standard.

    • John

      Damn, you just beat me too it, was citing it too:

      “Author of the Civil War Collector’s Encyclopedia F. A. Lord tells us that after the Bade of Gettysburg, 27,574 muskets were recovered from the battlefield. Of these, nearly 90 percent (twenty-four thousand) were loaded. Twelve thousand of these loaded muskets were found to be loaded more than once, and six thousand of the multiply loaded weapons had from three to ten rounds loaded in the barrel. One weapon had been loaded twenty-three times. Why, then, were there so many loaded weapons available on the battlefield, and why did at least twelve thousand soldiers misload their weapons in combat?

      A loaded weapon was a precious commodity on the blackpowder battlefield. During the stand-up, face-to-face, short-range battles of this era a weapon should have been loaded for only a fraction of the time in battle. More than 95 percent of the time was spent in loading the weapon, and less than 5 percent in firing it. If most soldiers were desperately attempting to kill as quickly and efficiently as they could, then 95 percent should have been shot with an empty weapon in their hand, and any loaded, cocked, and primed weapon available dropped on the battlefield would have been snatched up from wounded or dead comrades and fired.

      There were many who were shot while charging the enemy or were casualties of artillery outside of musket range, and these individuals would never have had an opportunity to fire their weapons, but they hardly represent 95 percent of all casualties. If there is a desperate need in all soldiers to fire their weapon in combat, then many of these men should have died with an empty weapon. And as the ebb and flow of battle passed over these weapons, many of them should have been picked up and fired at the enemy. The obvious conclusion is that most soldiers were not trying to kill the enemy. Most of them appear to have not even wanted to fire in the enemy’s general direction. As Marshall observed, most soldiers seem to have an inner resistance to firing their weapon in combat. The point here is that the resistance appears to have existed long before Marshall discovered it, and this resistance is the reason for many (if not most) of these multiply loaded weapons.”

      • Fruitbat44

        As to Gettysburg it is *possible* that the chap just had a run of misfires and didn’t notice. Or even, in the heat of battle, that he fumbled his drills and didn’t set a cap on his nipple . . . (fnarr-fnarr)

      • Cymond

        I have to agree somewhat with Fruitbat. I’ve been thinking about it for weeks, and it just doesn’t make sense to intentionally load multiple rounds on top of each other, just to give the appearance of fighting. It is only a matter of time until the weapon becomes unusable. Anyone inspecting the rifle/musket afterwards would notice the problem, and the offending soldier would have no way to clear the multiple loads, thereby effectively ruining his gun. His only discreet option would be to replace it with a battlefield pickup.
        .
        I think it is far more likely that a soldier may have a misfire that is simply overlooked in the heat of battle. I’ve read other claims of people failing to notice that their weapons were not failing, as discussed on the recent TFB post regarding a Mauser and a polar bear. If a round failed to fire and the shooter failed to notice, it is likely that he would just load another round on top of it. The end result would be a thoroughly clogged bore.
        .
        It may also be argued that if given a weapon that takes SOOOOO long to reload, soldier would be inclined to resist firing their weapon until needed, in fear of being caught unprepared for a counter attack. Basically, take the myth of the Garand “ping” and multiply it a dozen times over. The result would be that many soldiers would be killed while waiting for the “perfect moment” to fire their single-shot.
        .
        Disclaimer: I’m not an expert on any of this, and do not mean to claim that these ideas are correct. I am merely proposing some alternative theories.

    • Zebra Dun

      Wasn’t the facts stated 1/4 of soldiers shoot to kill, 1/4 shoot to make noise and fully half do not shoot unless their lives depend on it?

  • Are you certain that the S&W is a .38? It looks like a .44 Hand Ejector Target Model – the fabled Triple Lock. Clearly the front sight is a home modification and modern Magna stocks have been added, but the square stud protruding from the barrel’s ejector rod shroud screams Triple Lock to me.

    • Turner

      I think you nailed it. The double pins this the ejector shroud look like a triple lock as well.

    • DT

      From what I recall about the Triple Lock, these revolvers did NOT have heat-treated cylinders. Thus, it would not take much in the way of extraordinary abuse before they could let go. I do think you are right about the double pins on the shroud.

  • guest

    I think that cutaway “accident” is staged. If you look closely there seems to be half of what was either a jacket, or perhaps a cut-off cartridge neck just at the muzzle.

    • dhdoyle

      You’re right that there’s a shed bullet jacket ahead of the first complete bullet. However, It looks to me like the driving band of the bullet stuck and the lead + bullet nose kept on going. Looking at the last two bullets, it looks like the jacket wraps around the base in a very small heel. I doubt that there was any sort of bonding between the lead and jacket

      In battle, a quite feasible situation would have the barrel severely fouled and possibly leaded from previous jacket separations. The jacket stuck when the next cartridge fired. The .38-200 velocity is so slow that it didn’t push the jacket out or kaboom the barrel on the next shot.

    • If it were displayed at many other locations I might agree but in the pattern room—-no way!

    • Phil Hsueh

      It does state in the article that they were probably the result of tests conducted by ordnance officers to see “. . .what under pressured rounds would do to a revolver.”.

  • DiverEngrSL17K

    Ah, the Pattern Room —- the Mecca, or Holy Grail if you prefer, of historical firearms technology! There are few quite like it anywhere in the world. It is wonderful that TFB and Miles Vining have chosen to showcase an article related to the Pattern Room, especially since it is actually such an important part of the general history and heritage of the firearms world that more enthusiasts need to be aware of. The only other times I have seen the Pattern Room publicized in the U.S. to any large extent outside of specific niche circles was when Ian McCollum of Forgotten Weapons wrote a series of articles about various exhibits he came in contact with when he toured the firearms museums and manufacturers’ facilities of Europe a couple of years ago.

    On another note : Miles, I certainly appreciate your candid comments, and thanks very much for the obvious effort you have put into this excellent article. Not to sound like a Dutch uncle ( no offence intended and due apologies extended in advance to my friends from the Netherlands as this is just a colloquialism ), but you really should know better than to try out-drinking a Royal Marine or Para, before or after a hard “yomp” or “tab”! :). And I am speaking with the voice of hard-earned, somewhat painful personal experience, although I will be the first to admit that the details thereof are still rather fuzzy to this day :).

  • Lance

    Quit blowing guns up for cool pics Steve!!!!!! LOL!!!

    • JumpIf NotZero

      You would not do well here if I owned this site.

  • ThomasD

    Was shooting a friend’s Garand once with his own hand loads. I was firing a full clip open sighted at a 100 yards so could not see my impacts. Thankfully I was going for group so slow firing. About the third or fourth shot the owner, standing beside me did not like the report from the last round and placed his hand on my shoulder.

    Upon examining the bore there was a bullet lodged about two inches from the muzzle. It was a light load – but not so light as to not have cycled the action.

    From that day on we both swore off re-loading rounds for semi-auto rifles using a progressive loader.

  • Charlie Brown

    We and the other firearm manufacturers see this type of thing all of the time- 3-4-5 rounds stacked in a barrel

  • Willi

    Outstanding visual training aids!!

  • Zebra Dun

    I’ve read where of the muskets and rifles picked up after Gettysburg fully 2,000 had been loaded more than once, many up to five times.
    Talk about hell, those old time battles must have been hellish, lined up and basically banging away in mass with the equivalent of 12 ga shotgun slugs at 100 to 200 yards.