I know that most people think of fully automatic fire when they hear about the word “automatic” when used to talk about firearms. However there is a small class of firearms that buck this trend, Automatic Revolvers.
The phrase “Automatic Revolver” may seem like a misnomer, but this little known class of handguns feature the major parts of a revolver, however, they act like a semi-auto handgun to take the force of the round and recock the hammer.
One of the first examples of an Automatic Revolver was the Landstad 1900 Automatic Revolver. Developed by Halvard Landstad a Norwegian inventor, the revolver used a flat, two-cylinder mechanism and was fed using a detachable magazine housed in the grip. Firing 7.5mm Nagant, the magazine fed the lower cylinder which rotated up to the barrel. This design never made it past the prototype stage and was rejected from military trials for a number of obvious reasons. Forgotten Weapons.com has a much more in-depth review of the firearm on their website, and you can see the Norway Patent, the German Patent, and the British Patent here.
The next Automatic Revolver to hit the market was the Webley-Fosbery Automatic Revolver. Patented around the same time as the Landstad 1900, the Webley-Fosbery Automatic Revolver entered into production in 1901 and was developed by British Col. George Vincent Fosbery. Noted for its unique zig zag design on its cylinder, I’m sure that there are many different futuristic revolver designs in sci-fi and video games that have taken inspiration from this design. However that was not the only distinguishing feature. Due to it needing to be carried with the hammer cocked like a 1911, the Webley-Fosbery featured a manual safety as well. One of only a handful of revolvers to ever sport one.
While never formally issued by any military it was much more successful than the Landstad. Due to British officers needing to procure their own weapons a number of these pistols did serve in World War I with varying levels of success.
The Webley-Fosbery was chambered in the .455 British cartridge and harnessed the recoil of the firearm to push back the barrel and cylinder and recock the hammer. This was accomplished by having the whole barrel and cylinder assembly ride on rails much like the slide of a semi-automatic handgun does.
What eventually killed the gun was that the bulk and limited round count of the firearm gave it no real advantages over semi-automatics that were beginning to dominate by the end of the Webley-Fosbery’s run. In total 4750 pistols were made and production continued until 1924 when the model was phased out.
Again Forgotten Weapons.com has an in-depth review of the gun on thier website.
Several other designs were attempted in the early 1900’s including the French Union Automatic Revolver in 1909 and the Zulaica Automatic Revolver in 1905. Both were flops on the market and examples of these Automatic Revolvers are few and far between.
The design idea seemed dead until 1997 with the Italian Mateba Model 6 Unica. This Automatic Revolver took the design concept to its best possible example. Chambered in .357 Mag/.38 Special, .44 Magnum, and .454 Casull the Model 6 Unica sported a double action only trigger that once fired would recock the hammer allowing for all subsequent trigger pulls to be in single action.
Another unique feature was moving the barrel to fire from the bottom cylinder. This helped to reduce recoil and is a feature that can be seen today on the Chiappa Rhino.
Below you can see a video of the Model 6 Unica being fired.
Production was ceased in 2004 and they are still possible to find, however importation numbers are conflicting with 1600 in the US seeming to be the only confirmable number. You can find a little bit more about the Model 6 Unica here and you can also read the patent for the revolver here and the owner’s manual.
While great range toys and certainly something I would love to own “Automatic Revolvers” just don’t seem to have the same staying power as standard revolvers. First conceived of at around the same time as magazine fed semi-automatic handguns, their increased bulk, more limited round capacity, and slower reloads sadly give them little edge over their semi auto competition.