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Colt Model 1873 Single Action, factory engraving 1893 by Cuno Helfricht

The turret is part of the mehrschüssigen handguns and through the German weapons law (is WaffG ) Austrian Waffenrecht or ( WaffG ) as a handgun defined. In contrast to self-loading pistols , the cartridges in revolvers are not loaded in the magazine , but in the rotatable drum mounted behind the barrel, which is rotated and returned to the firing position by pulling the trigger or cocking the hammer.


The Anglo-American term revolver established itself as early as the 19th century in Germany for the original designation rotary pistol . In Latin revolvere means to turn back or to overturn.


Revolver are in sports , for self-defense and for the Nachsuche in the hunt used. In the past, revolvers were often the standard weapon in the police force; in the military sector they were mainly used by officers , mounted troops and the military police . In both roles they were largely, in Germany even completely, replaced by more modern self-loading pistols. Compact (often five-shot) revolvers are sometimes carried in the USA by police officers as a second weapon ( back-up gun ) or outside of regular service ( off duty gun ). In some states, revolvers are still used as the standard weapon for police officers.

Development history

Early revolvers

Detail of an eight-round matchlock revolver from 1580
Formerly wheel lock revolver (Germany approx. 1590)
Early wheel lock pistol with 3 wheel locks (Italy c. 1570)
Revolver rifle with rotating (partial) flintlocks (France 18th century)

The first weapons still deviated from the common definition of a revolver. Without exception, they were muzzle-loaders , with each chamber forming the rear end of a barrel . So it was not just a drum with propellant charge and projectile that turned, but the entire barrel bundle.

The first experiments with multi- barrel matchlock weapons were made around 1500. Between 1595 and 1600, German gunsmiths made small numbers of the first weapons with wheellocks . At that time there were some revolvers with snap- action locks made in Germany. Since 1600 flintlock revolvers have been built more and more . However, compared to single- shot pistols , their number was small. This was due to their size (up to 550 mm), their weight (up to 2.85 kg) and the problem of reliably storing the ignition powder for each chamber.

The trend towards multi-shot weapons probably emerged with the use of pistols in wars. If the hunter missed, he had only lost his prey, but if the soldier missed, he was defenseless and might lose his life. For this reason, pistols were often sold in pairs so that you had at least a second shot. While double rifles and rifle shotguns were available for hunting from an early age, the first truly double-barreled pistol with a wheel lock did not appear until around 1530. In the 18th century, the tap action system emerged, in which one lock was used for several barrels. The lock was aligned with the barrel to be shot. There were weapons in which, as a reverse, several barrels could be aimed at a lock. These weapons were called turners . The first pistol of this type dates from 1540. The weapon exhibited in Venice has three barrels. After each shot, the lock was released, the barrel set rotated 120 ° and locked again. However, these early revolvers were soon forgotten.

Bundle revolver

Bündelrevolver Allen & Thurber ( Worcester (Massachusetts) )

From 1770 bundle revolvers were built in England . They were flintlock weapons. The barrel set had to be turned by hand. These bundle revolvers were too fragile to be usable.

In 1837, the US American Ethan Allen from Massachusetts patented a double-action bundle revolver. The trigger acted on a ring gear that moved the drum. It was the weapon with the fastest rate of fire in the world at the time. Overall, however, due to its usually six barrels, the bundle revolver was too heavy and had an unfavorable center of gravity.

Collier revolver

Flintlock revolver from Collier

In 1818, Captain Artemas Wheeler, Elisha Haydon Collier and Cornelius Coolidge introduced improved single-barreled flintlock revolvers. In addition to revolvers, rifles and shotguns were also manufactured using this system. The weapons were based on a Wheeler US patent dated June 10, 1818, Collier's British patent No. 4,315 dated November 24, 1818, and French patent 969 dated August 5, 1819. Details of how the three inventors worked together or whether they were competitors differ in literature.

The outstanding innovation was that when the shot was released, a spring pressed the chamber opening over the conical end of the barrel. This ensured that the axes of the chamber and barrel were on one line. This meant that the bullet could not tilt at the rear end and lead to a disruption or a weapon detonation. At the same time, it was prevented that gas could escape between the chamber and barrel, resulting in a higher gas pressure. This enabled a higher projectile speed and thus a higher projectile energy. Also, sparks and hot gases could not spill over to other chambers that contained loose gunpowder. The castle's battery was also designed as a cavity. When it was folded down, ignition powder trickled into the pan. It didn't have to be poured in or kept there beforehand.

However, the revolver was conceived with percussion ignition in the transitional period. With a flintlock, a drum that could be rotated by hand and relatively high production costs, only around 300 revolvers could be sold by 1827. The change to a drum movement triggered mechanically when the cock was cocked, which had been planned in the meantime, was dropped in 1824 for reasons of simplicity, and only a few weapons were equipped with a percussion ignition. The Collier revolver was later developed by Francis Edwards and Mill in Great Britain.

Percussion revolver

In 1835, the 21-year-old American Samuel Colt applied for a patent in Great Britain for a revolver with percussion ignition known as Colt Paterson . By registering, he kept the option open to apply for the same patent in France and the USA. Conversely, this would not have been possible for legal reasons. Since other inventors of this time rarely applied for patents in several countries, it can be assumed that Colt wanted to market his invention internationally, including with the military. British patent no. 6,906 dated October 22, 1835 and US patent no. 9.430x dated February 25, 1836 secured him the sole implementation of a number of ideas until 1856. These primarily concerned the positioning, separation and protection of the primers, the trigger system, the movement and fixing of the drum and the drum axis.

Legend has it that Samuel Colt traveled by ship from England to the USA in 1834. He watched as the helmsman locked his rudder with the help of a wooden bolt from below. This kept the rudder straight and the ship on course. Colt was enthusiastic about this mechanism and immediately carved a model of his idea. In the same year he had a model made by the gunsmith John Pearson. Another legend has it that Colt may have seen a latch revolver from before 1650 at the Royal United Service Museum in Whitehall. This rifle in .500 caliber has a lot in common with the revolver developed by Colt in terms of drum locking.

Colt's cousin Dudley Selden was tasked with founding the Patent Arms Manufacturing Company . The company, based in Paterson, New Jersey , was to sell its Colt percussion revolvers and revolver rifles to the military according to the inventor's will . However, the investors demanded a quick implementation and servicing of the private arms market. The result was a hasty introduction so that the US Army rejected the weapon in June 1837. To reload the Colt Paterson had to be dismantled and there were extensive accessories that could get lost in everyday troops. In addition, the weapon was viewed as too expensive and complex to be mass-produced. Eventually the company had to close in 1841.

When the war with Mexico began in 1846, the Texas government already had several Colt Paterson revolvers. After talks with Captain Samuel H. Walker, a former Texas Ranger , a contract was signed with the US government on January 4, 1847 for 1000 .44 caliber revolvers. These were made in Eli Whitney Jr.'s factory in Whitneyville, as Colt did not yet have its own manufacturing facility. They became known as the Whitneyville-Walker revolver. In July the first weapons with the official designation Colt Model 1847 Army Revolver were delivered.

Important improvements to the Whitneyville Walker (also: Model of 1847 Army Pistol) were its greater robustness and the possibility of a stronger charge, and the drum held six rounds instead of five in the Paterson. All of this had to be bought at the cost of additional weight, the weapon now weighed around two kilograms . In addition, instead of a retractable trigger, it had a fixed trigger with a fixed trigger guard. Likewise, the loading lever supplied as an accessory with the Paterson was now hinged under the barrel and thus part of the revolver. It was used to push the projectiles into the chamber.

The Colt Walker was successful and Colt could count on further orders from the Army. On his next attempt, Samuel Colt was more cautious than at Paterson. His company, founded in 1847, was smaller, firmly in his hands and located in rented premises in Hartford / CT. The manufacturing machines used for the Walker also belonged to him, as contractually stipulated. However, many production orders were subcontracted.

Percussion revolver; Colt Army cal. 44 mod. 1860

Further orders followed, and by 1860 around 20,000 revolvers of the successor model Dragoon (also: Model of 1848 Holster Pistol) were sold. The US Army alone bought more than 7,000 pieces. In addition to the actual weapon, Colt also advanced industrial production, which was reflected not only in larger production numbers, but also in the interchangeability of parts and thus a faster and easier supply of spare parts .

Until 1850 there was little competition for Samuel Colt. On the European continent, revolvers were only handcrafted by Devisme and Lenormand. There was not a single manufacturer in England, and otherwise only bundle revolvers were produced in the USA. In 1850, the Massachusetts Arms Company from Chicopee Falls presented a Leavitt revolver modified by Edwin Wesson, for which US Pat. No. 6,669 was granted on August 28, 1849. However, the Massachusetts Arms Company lost a lawsuit brought by Colt and had to pay costs and a fine of $ 65,000 (the equivalent of $ 2,240,000). This gave Colt the sole production rights for single-action revolvers in the USA until 1856.

In Hartford, Colt manufactured the Dragoon Mod. 1848 in .44 caliber, the Pocket Revolver Pocket Mod. 1849 in .32 caliber and the Navy (or Belt) Mod. 1851 in .36 caliber in large numbers. From 1860 a modernized variant of these weapons, the Army 1860, the Navy 1861 and the Police 1862, were produced on the same basis, but with round barrels. In addition, a pocket revolver designed by Elisha K. Root with a closed frame in calibers .28 and .32 came onto the market in 1855.

In 1851 Colt had hired the designer Elisha K. Root. He not only modernized production by introducing new machines, he also developed the turret further. The next goal was to open up new markets such as Europe. In 1852, for example, a factory was built in the London district of Pimlico, employing 230 people. In 1854 an order was placed for 4000 Model 1851 Navy revolvers for the British Navy. By 1873 around 850,000 single-action percussion revolvers had been sold worldwide.

Adams revolver from 1854

At the first world exhibition in May 1851 in the London Crystal Palace , however, the situation for the European market changed. While the Times said of Colt's revolvers that they are a new inoculant against the wild tribes that obstruct the way into the wilderness , and that the six-shot revolver most likely outperforms any other firearm currently used in cavalry or any other military force , it does there was a small booth with a new revolver. This was a weapon patented by Robert Adams under British patent number 13,527 on February 24, 1851.

In Adams' revolver, the frame and barrel were made from one piece and the main structural features of the drum were the same. The biggest difference was the way the shot was released. The Adams revolver was self-cocking (double-action-only), the Colt revolver had a single-action trigger.

On September 10, 1851, there was a public comparison shooting at the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich at a distance of 50 yards . Unlike the Colt revolver, the Adams gun did not fail and the gun reloaded in 38 seconds instead of 58 seconds. In addition, the precision was greater, even when using different bullets. The five-shot weapon was also 681 g lighter than the 1985 g Colt revolver.

Lieutenant Beaumont of the British Royal Engineers patented an invention in 1855 that combined the single-action trigger and the double-action-only trigger. This new double-action trigger was soon established on the market by the Beaumont-Adams revolver, which had now also adopted the permanently attached loading lever.

As the various patents for percussion revolvers expired, production increased in the United States and Great Britain. George Daw produced revolvers in London that were very similar to the Colt models, James and Philip Webley had built percussion locks in Birmingham since 1835 and now used their experience to build revolvers.

Le Mat breech-loading revolver for pin-fuse cartridges with an additional shot barrel

William Tranters patented a revolver with an extra long trigger blade in 1853. This protruded through the trigger guard. If you pressed the lower part, the hammer was cocked like a single-action revolver. If you pressed the part inside the trigger guard, the shot was released. This invention made it possible to bring the weapon into the stop with the hammer already withdrawn and to trigger the shot precisely (with low trigger resistance).

There were also curiosities such as the revolver developed by John Walsh in 1859, which brought two charges in a row into six chambers. Thus, the shooter had twelve shots available. Dr. Le Mat ( New Orleans ) invented the nine-shot LeMat Percussion Revolver with an additional barrel for a shotgun. Enouy Joseph even developed a 42-shot revolver in 1855. There were seven drums with six chambers each on a spindle. However, the gun was too big to be really practical.

Breech-loading revolver

In the history of firearms, there have been many attempts to charge directly and completely into the cartridge chamber to load. The first promising system was created by the Swiss Samuel Johann Pauli in 1812 with the so-called unit cartridge. This cartridge, intended for breech loading rifles, contained the propellant charge, projectile and primer in a cartridge case made of cardboard, which sealed the barrel gas-tight at the rear with a metal base. The primer was placed in the middle of the floor.

Revolver for pen fire cartridges

Lefaucheux revolver including assembly of a pen fire cartridge

In 1835, Casimir Lefaucheux patented an ammunition similar to the unitary cartridge, which, however, used a detonating pin attached to the side for ignition. In 1851 he exhibited this cartridge at the World Exhibition in London. The first breech-loading revolver for pen-fire cartridges, the Lefaucheux pen-fire revolver , was then patented by his son, Eugène Lefaucheux , in 1854 and introduced into the French Navy two years later. A total of 400,000 of these weapons had been manufactured by 1857.

Lefaucheux revolvers were also popular as pocket weapons. Many belonged to the large group of Belgian Bulldog and Velodog revolvers. These were weapons that walkers and cyclists took with them in order to be protected in parks and on dirt roads from stray, rabid dogs .

In the case of ammunition with Lefaucheux ignition , a pin protrudes from the edge of the case. If this is pressed into the case, it ignites an ignition charge which causes the actual propellant charge to burn off. Apart from the fact that the cartridges are very delicate, it is cumbersome to put them into the drum. The pin must lie exactly in a recess in the drum so that the hammer of the weapon can reach it.

Revolver for rimfire cartridges

In 1850, a Monsieur Houlon patented a cartridge in France in which the ignition mixture was introduced into the hollow rim of the cartridge in a ring shape. Today this ammunition is known as Flobert cartridges .

In 1857 Daniel B. Wesson and Horace Smith ( Smith & Wesson ) brought the first revolver for rimfire cartridges , the Model No. 1 , on the market. To do this, they used the Houlon patent, but used a copper case and caliber .22 (5.6 mm). Further developments of this revolver were the Model No. 2, which played a role in the American Civil War, and the smaller model 1½, both in .32 caliber rimfire .

Formerly Smith & Wesson revolver with tail trigger

In the USA these revolvers are known as "tip up" revolvers. The barrel was swiveled up for loading and unloading. Then you removed the drum, which was on a short drum axis at the rear end of the frame, and you could load or unload it. During the unloading process, the peg under the barrel served as an ejector. Due to Rollin White's patent dated April 3, 1855 for the pierced drum (all other revolvers in the USA were still loaded from the front, including the percussion revolvers), no competitor was allowed to offer revolvers with a drilled drum until April 1869. Smith & Wesson describes this on its company website as a very lucrative business . There have been various attempts to circumvent patent rights, such as B. the Slocum revolver . The first models from other suppliers came onto the market as early as 1869 and finally flooded the world markets.

A problem with rimfire ammunition was and is that the case has to be very thin in the area of ​​the ignition material so that it can be ignited by a firing pin or ignition pin. This makes it impossible to use strong propellant charges, otherwise the case will tear open.

Remington offered its models with exchangeable drums, so you could either use the weapon with percussion ignition or rimfire cartridges.

Many revolvers, for example the Colt Open Top , used rimfire cartridges, which were originally developed for lever action rifles (see Henry rifle ). However, they were soon replaced by revolvers for center fire cartridges.

Revolver for center fire cartridges

Adams revolver for center fire cartridges British Army Mark III from 1872
Formerly Webley Royal Irish Constabulary Revolver with Closed Frame Cal. .450
Colt Single Action Army, loading flap open, ejector in rear position

After Pauly had presented his unit cartridge in 1812, a new centerfire cartridge was patented by George Daw in 1858. A year later, the Frenchman Perrin patented a centerfire revolver.

Finally, in 1866, the British Colonel EM Boxer patented a rifle cartridge with what has since been known as the boxer ignition. This patent was subsequently also adopted for .45 caliber revolver cartridges. The cartridge first consisted of a wrapped brass sheet with an iron bottom. Deep-drawn brass sleeves were used as early as 1867. These had a recess in the bottom for the ignition material and a hole through which the flame jet of the ignition material could reach the propellant charge inside the cartridge.

In the same year, John Adams developed a double-action revolver for this ammunition, which was officially introduced as an army revolver in Great Britain as early as 1868. The modern revolver was born in the shape we know today.

From 1870 Smith & Wesson brought a series of drop barrel revolvers under the name Smith & Wesson No 3 on the market. For reloading, they had a tiltable barrel in .44 S&W American caliber , a center fire cartridge in the dimensions of the .44 Henry cartridge . The weapon was later offered in other large calibers. The weapon had a central star-shaped automatic ejector for the fired cases, which went into action as soon as the barrel was tilted downwards. Invented by WC Dodge, it is also known as the Dodge Fast-Loading System . Since the checks with the patent fees were received in Great Britain, France and Belgium a few days after the deadline, the patent applications were rejected there. Only a few weeks later there were the first imitations in Europe. The S&W Model No 3 revolver was extremely successful in the civilian market and was also supplied to various armies in all common calibers.

In 1873 Colt introduced the Colt Single Action Army, famous as the Peacemaker .

This revolver was introduced in the US Army with a .45 caliber center fire cartridge. In the civilian market it was offered a little later for the Winchester central fire cartridges cal .44-40 WCF (Winchester Central Fire) .38-40 WCF and .32-20 WCF. These black powder cartridges, specially designed for the Winchester rifles Mod. 1873, were later also used - now with smokeless powder - in the Winchester Mod. 1892 and were therefore successful as standard cartridges in the Wild West. American cowboys then had 35 to 40 cartridges in their cartridge belts, which they loaded into the rifle or revolver as required. Since only one type of cartridge was required, both weapons were available until the entire supply of cartridges was used up. Experienced gun carriers only loaded five of the six chambers of the revolver and made sure that the empty sixth chamber was in front of the bolt, as the Colt was notorious for the fact that when the gun was on, a shot could be released if it fell with the hammer hit.

Most cartridge revolvers manufactured in the 19th century, like the Colt Single Action Army, were loaded through a loading flap attached to the right of the frame and unloaded with an ejector parallel to the barrel.

Smith & Wesson No. 3, barrel tilted for reloading

The disadvantage compared to the drop barrel revolver was the time it took to reload the weapon, especially if this was done on horseback. However, the closed frame turned out to be an advantage, as it allowed much heavier loads compared to the drop barrel revolvers.

A major revolver manufacturer in the UK was Webley & Sons, which focused on the manufacture of drop barrel revolvers. Like the Smith & Wesson revolvers, these weapons had a central case ejector. The British Army used Webley revolvers and weapons manufactured by the Royal Small Arms Factory in Enfield until the end of the Second World War.

Recent developments
Revolver with the drum swung out. In the foreground the drum axle and the drum crane. The pin (also called Crane Lock) on the drum crane is used to lock it in the frame.

The last big innovation was the swing-out drum. William Mason, who was employed by Remington at the time, had this idea patented in 1865. He later switched to Colt and in 1888 had a double-action revolver with a swivel cylinder and case ejector patented. The case ejector was actuated by pressing the ejector rod in front of the drum. Just one year later, the company brought the "Colt Model 1889 Navy Revolver" in caliber .38 onto the market. Smith & Wesson followed in 1896 with the "S&W .32 Hand Ejector Model"

The time of the world wars

Revolvers were used steadily between 1900 and the end of World War II, but there were no major developments. Existing concepts were further developed and manufacturers such as Colt, Smith & Wesson or Webley drove model updates. With the wars, however, the self-loading pistol came more and more to the fore in the military sector.

In the Swiss Army , the Revolver Model 1929 in caliber 7.5 mm was handed over to senior NCOs and NCOs and members of the crew equipped with a handgun until 1948 . The last soldiers armed with the revolver were discharged from the army in the 1970s.

Developments after 1945
Compact revolver Colt Cobra / S&W Chiefs Special, both with retractable drum in caliber .38 Special
Colt SAA Flattop Target sports revolver, manufactured in 1894
Sports revolver MR 38 with Nill shaped handle and match sights

After the Second World War , the self-loading pistol began to assert itself more and more against the revolver. Smith & Wesson, for example, fell into a crisis in the 1980s and 1990s. Foreign producers, such as the Austrian pistol manufacturer Glock , managed to break into the hotly contested market for the equipment of the American police and to acquire lucrative orders. In addition, there were marketing errors by the companies. “ We didn't have any orders from government agencies. Zero. We didn't have a representative in Washington. "Said Michael Golden, CEO of Smith & Wesson, in a 2006 interview. Smith & Wesson also received new government contracts, primarily in the field of self-loading pistols. Other companies fared just as badly, so the German company ERMA had to close.

After 1945, German police officers were often equipped with Smith & Wesson revolvers from American stocks. In Germany, however, people were mostly skeptical about the revolver as a service weapon . The Bavarian police wrote: “ Handguns that were better suited for individual police service could only be procured at the beginning of the 1950s. The Walther PP (protection police) and Walther PPK (criminal police) pistols developed into standard weapons . “These pistols were only available in relatively weak calibers such as 7.65 mm Browning or 9 mm short . Today revolvers in the German police are mostly only wielded by detectives .

In addition to those mentioned, currently important manufacturers are Ruger in North America, Taurus and Rossi in South America and Manurhin in France . In Germany the companies Weihrauch, Janz (both sport, hunting and defense revolvers) and Korth are represented on the market.

Sports revolver

As a sporting weapon, the sport pistol has overtaken the revolver. The disadvantage of the revolver is the need to grip the cock with the supporting hand, which is not necessary with the sport pistol. That is why various associations now have their own revolver disciplines.

Technology of modern revolvers

Differentiation from the pistol

In the specialist literature, opinions have long diverged as to whether a revolver is a subspecies of the pistol or a technically independent handgun . The German patent office names a revolver as a revolver-like pistol , but Austrian gun law puts pistols and revolvers as handguns on the same level.

While barrel and chamber form a unit with bundle revolvers - just like pistols - modern revolvers designed for cartridge ammunition have a separate barrel and chamber without exception.

Regardless of this, a revolver is defined by the fact that the cartridge chamber block has several chambers and is rotatable. Several shots can only be fired if the chamber rotates step by step in order to bring a loaded chamber in front of the release device (hammer).

This distinction is important because there have been a large number of pistols in the past that had two or more barrels with a cartridge chamber. These included, for example, the Remington Zig-Zag hand gun , which is mostly classified as a Deringer . With many of these weapons there was mostly a separate release device for each barrel. However, some weapons also had a rotating trigger mechanism, for example the four-shot pistol presented by Charles Lancaster in London in 1881, or the four-barreled pistol from Tipping & Lawden. These are not revolvers.

When used, the revolver and pistol also meet fundamentally different requirements. While revolvers hold between five and ten cartridges and it takes several seconds to reload the weapon, modern self-loading pistols with two-row magazines take 15 to 20 cartridges, with special magazines even more than 30 cartridges. At the same time, a cartridge can remain in the chamber of the pistol while the magazine is being changed, and the magazine change takes little more than a second.

In order to accelerate the reloading process with revolvers, speedloaders are particularly suitable for typical revolver cartridges with rim . A complete drum filling is carried along in a device in which the cartridges are arranged in a circle and protrude from the front of the speedloader. This is then placed on the drum and the lock is released, usually by pressing a button. The cartridges then fall into the drum at the same time. This is only a little slower than changing the magazine.

Compared to the self-loading pistol, the revolver has fewer individual parts, so at least in theory it is less prone to failure. In addition, the function of the revolver does not depend on the function of the cartridge. If a cartridge does not ignite, the trigger can simply be pulled out again. In the case of the self-loading pistol, the slide must be moved manually in order to remove the non-fired cartridge. In addition, with the self-loading pistol there are possible disruptions in the ammunition feed and case ejection. This cannot occur with a revolver, because the function is independent of the recoil generated by the ammunition (see recoil loader ) or gas pressure (see gas pressure loader ).

Revolvers with a cock in the frame (often incorrectly called a tapless revolver) can even be shot out of a coat pocket. Here the rooster cannot get caught in clothing. This can lead to a malfunction in revolvers with a stopcock. With the self-loading pistol, the return of the slide is hindered with the first shot, which not only leads to a disruption, the shooter can also easily injure himself here. Due to their design, they are all weapons with a double-action trigger. Since these turrets are usually small, they are also called pocket turrets.


Three cartridges in caliber .38 Special . In addition to the different bullets (full jacket, partial jacket, wad cutter ), note the edge at the bottom of the cartridges.
.45 ACP full and crescent moon
clips ; front cartridges in .45 ACP and .45 Auto Rim in comparison

Most modern revolvers use center fire cartridges. Rimfire cartridges are only used for small caliber. While the base edge of the first-mentioned cartridges is solid and the primer is inserted in the center of the base, the ignition material is located in the hollow edge of the rimfire cartridges. For revolvers, rimmed cartridges are preferred because the rim prevents the cartridges from sliding forward in the barrel.

Typical pistol cartridges, on the other hand, are often pure cylinders that only have a circumferential extractor groove above the floor for the extractor commonly used with pistols. The extractor groove can be used when rimless cartridges are to be loaded into revolvers. The cartridges are inserted in so-called clips . These are mostly metal discs for six cartridges , or half -round discs called half- moon clips for three cartridges. These have openings into which the cartridges are inserted so that they are held by the clips in the pull-out groove. The clip is then completely inserted into the drum. At the same time, these clips speed up the reloading process, as several cartridges can be inserted into the drum with one handle. For some cylindrical cartridges, which are so-called case mouth adapters, there are also suitable drums that do not require a clip. There is one step in the chamber. The area towards the run is narrower. When the cartridge is inserted into the chamber, the front edge of the case (case mouth) rests against this step and holds the cartridge in position.

Most revolver cartridges are based on ammunition originally designed for black powder. As a result, the case volume is often significantly larger than is actually necessary for nitrocellulose powder, which can mean that reloaded cartridges can be filled with a double propellant charge without this being noticed and, if the propellant charge is too strong, damage or destruction of the weapon ("Weapon explosion ") can lead.

There have often been efforts to achieve maximum performance with weapons. Since the energy of the charge has no influence on the function of the weapon, different experiments could be carried out with revolvers than with self-loading pistols. After the .357 Magnum caliber was already available in 1935 , the .44 Magnum was introduced in 1955 . The .454 Casull cartridge followed in 1957 . After various other strong calibers, the currently most powerful revolver was launched in 1997. The GTG Kodiak fires the .600 Nitro Express large game cartridge intended for elephant hunting with an energy of over 6,000 joules.

Overview of large-caliber, powerful ammunition
caliber Weapon, barrel length bullet energy
.32 H&R Magnum Ruger SP101, 3 ″ 85 grs 309 y
.357 Magnum Colt Trooper, 6 ″ 125 grs 845 y
.357 maximum Dan Wesson, 8 ″ 158 grs 1,583 y
.44 Magnum Taurus M44, 6.5 ″ 300 grs 1,764 y
.454 Casull Freedom Arms, 10 ″ 340 grs 3,212 y
.45-70 Government Century Arms, 12 ″ 350 grs 3,042 y
.500 magnum Smith & Wesson, 8 3/8 ″ various > 3,000 yrs
.600 Nitro Express GTG Kodiak, 10 ″ 900 grs 6,010 y

Components and functions


The frame has several functions. On the one hand, it serves as a handle or as a carrier for the attached handle shells. It thus also forms the housing for the mechanical functional parts of the revolver. On the other hand, it serves as a connecting element for barrel and drum. The trigger guard serves as a protective element for the trigger.

Deduction group

Most revolvers have a complete trigger group, which is responsible for the transport of the drum, the locking of the drum in the firing position, the function of the hammer and the protection against unintentional triggering of a shot. The only part visible of this is the trigger tongue, which the shooter operates with his finger.

Very few revolvers have a manual safety device. This is usually located behind the tap or on the left side of the frame. The safety device blocks the trigger and hammer from moving.

Cock with integrated firing pin

The stopcock is pushed forward towards the bottom of the cartridge by a helical or leaf spring. In its rear position, it is fixed by a latch on the trigger block.

In revolvers with a firing pin integrated in the hammer, which do not have a firing pin, the so-called bolt block is often used as an internal safety device (fall safety device). The bolt block is in front of the tap so that the firing pin cannot penetrate through the opening in the frame to the bottom of the cartridge with the primer cap. Only when the trigger is fully pulled through does the latch block move away from this position. This technique is often used on Smith & Wesson revolvers.

On revolvers with firing pins, there is a so-called transfer tunnel in front of the hammer. Only when this is pushed between the hammer and the firing pin, the hammer can transfer its energy to the firing pin when it leaps forward. This only happens when the trigger is fully pulled through. Well-known representatives of this fuse are Ruger revolvers.

With some revolvers, such as the Manurhin MR .32 Match Convertible, it is possible to switch between rimfire and centerfire cartridges. For this reason, the firing pin sits off-center in a rotatable shock base. Depending on how this bottom end is set, the firing pin then hits the edge of the small caliber cartridge or the center of the center fire cartridge.


S&W Model 500: Five drum bores and the ejector axis with the ejector rim and the protruding central pin are clearly visible. On the right the thumb slide.
S&W 686 Target Champion DL

The drum or roller is a cylindrical body rotating around its central axis, which usually contains between five and ten bores, the cartridge chambers, on its periphery.

The rear end of the drum is machined so that the cartridge rims or clips (when using rimless ammunition) are precisely positioned in relation to the support in the frame to avoid misfiring or jamming. In the middle of the drum there is another hole that receives the drum axis. In the case of revolvers with a central ejector, the ejector rod and the return spring are located in the drum axis. At the rear end of the ejector rod is the ejector ring that grips under the cartridge rims. If the protruding axis is pushed backwards, the cases, but also the cartridges that have not been fired, are ejected to the rear. The axle itself is firmly connected to the drum crane, which forms the connection to the frame and enables the drum to be swiveled out to the side. Revolver drums often have fluting on the outside to reduce weight . These make the revolver appear visually less bulky. With some revolvers, the drums can also be exchanged. So differently shaped cartridges with the same bullet diameter can be fired from a weapon.

Ejector ring (shown without axis). The inner part (yellow) is responsible for the rotation of the drum with the cams (red). The bottom edges of the cartridges rest on the outer area (blue) (contact area: light blue).
Drum transport
EK Roots patent 1855 for drum transport

When the hammer is withdrawn, the drum is rotated one chamber further. There is a latch next to the tap in the frame. This moves forward, towards the drum, and then upwards. It engages in the inner area of ​​the ejector ring. There are just as many cams here as there are cartridge chambers. As it moves upwards, it presses against one of the cams and causes the drum to rotate.

Another type of drum transport could not establish itself with handguns. Here, a bolt connected to the trigger engages in zigzag grooves serving as guide curves on the outside of the drum and rotates it further. The principle developed by EK Root - a senior engineer at Colt - was used in the Mauser revolver model 1878 and in a somewhat different form in the semi-automatic Webley-Fosbery revolver.

The direction of rotation of the drum is not the same, but depends on the manufacturer / model; there is both clockwise and anti-clockwise rotation.

Drum lock

The drum lock stops the drum from rotating and fixes it in the firing position. When the tap is withdrawn, a locking bolt protruding from the frame under the drum is forced downwards. If the tap is pulled back a little and the drum is already moved into a new position, the bolt is released and jumps up again. Then it slides a little over the outside of the drum and finally engages in a cutout located on the outside of the drum. Now the drum cannot move any further and the chamber is exactly in front of the barrel. The drums usually have a T-shaped cutout. One branch is beveled. Here the locking bolt slides into the cutout. This is to prevent the bolt from jumping over the cutout. At the same time, this bevel shows the direction of rotation of the drum.

Drum release

Most modern revolvers have an operating element on the left side of the frame, also known as a thumb slider , to swivel out the drum . If the thumb slider is operated; In the case of the Smith & Wesson revolvers, it is pushed forward, so a pin moves forward parallel to it within the frame. This presses against the central pin in the drum axis and pushes it out of the receptacle in the frame. At the same time, the central pin releases the lock at the front end of the ejector rod under the barrel, and the drum can now be swiveled out. If the thumb slide is released or the drum is swiveled in again, a spring in the drum crane pushes the drum axle with its tip back into the frame. On the revolvers with swiveling drum, which Colt has manufactured since 1889, the thumb slider must be pulled back.

Some revolvers, called Triple-Lock by Smith & Wesson , also have a drum crane lock . A latch on the drum crane also engages in the frame. This locks the drum in three places: at the front on the ejector rod with the locking element attached to the barrel, at the back in the frame and additionally on the crane, where barrel and crane meet when the turret is closed.

In the case of drop barrel revolvers, the front frame part is tilted with the drum. The drum can then be reloaded at an angle from above. There are also some revolvers with an upward barrel, including early Mauser revolvers and the Smith & Wesson No. manufactured from 1861 onwards . 2 Army .

Drum gap
Propellant gases escape through the drum gap

In contrast to self-loading pistols, the cartridge chamber and barrel of revolvers are separated, which in terms of design leads to a gap between the two components, from which propellant gases escape when the shot is fired. This leads to a lower pressure in the barrel and thus to a reduced projectile speed compared to an otherwise identically constructed pistol. It should be noted that with a self-loading pistol - especially with gas pressure guns - energy is drawn from the gas pressure for the reloading function before the projectile has left the barrel.

The width of the drum gap varies between a few hundredths and several tenths of a millimeter, depending on the manufacturer. The escaping gases escape past the frame to the right and left and thus also hinder people standing next to the shooter, which is particularly important at sporting events.

For this reason, mufflers are also less effective on revolvers. Only the Manurhin company had a weapon in its range for the French police, with the frame and drum also encased to reduce the volume.

In some designs, the drum gap is closed before the shot (so-called gas-tight revolver). The drum is pushed forwards while the tap is being cocked and the drum bore turns over the barrel attachment. A representative of these models is the Nagant M1895 .


The barrel is inserted into the frame at the front. Usually it is screwed in and additionally fixed with pins. However, there are also revolvers where the barrels can be changed. With the short barrel they can be used for self-protection, with the longer barrel for sporty shooting. The best known manufacturer is Dan Wesson , in Germany Korth made such revolvers.

The transition cone is located at the end of the barrel facing the drum. This enables the bullet to easily penetrate the barrel, even if the axes of the barrel and barrel bore do not completely coincide. The angle here is usually between six and 15 °. The bullet then reaches the inner barrel profile. Usually laid out in the form of fields and trains, it sets the projectile in a stabilizing rotation.

In the vicinity of the muzzle is the grain , which forms part of the sights.

Many revolvers also have a bushing parallel to the barrel in which the ejector rod of the drum rests. Often this socket is extended to the muzzle in order to provide the revolver with additional weight at the front, which makes the weapon more top-heavy and is particularly desirable for sporty shooting.

Shot release

Single action

The single-action revolvers (cock tensioners) are based on the patent from Samuel Colt from 1835. However, this system is closely related to the revolver carbine with snap-action lock, which was built by John Dafte (London) around 1680.

To fire a shot, the cock must be cocked by hand. If you pull it back, a pawl attached to it engages in the toothed ring on the rear of the drum and rotates the drum until it is blocked in the firing position by the drum lock. The gun is ready to fire.

Double action

The advantage of the double-action system is that a quick shot is possible even with the safe (i.e. not preloaded) weapon. The disadvantage compared to the single-action system are the longer trigger travel and the greater trigger resistance.

If double-action is to be fired, the trigger is pulled back when the hammer is not cocked. This causes the drum to rotate, the hammer cocked, the drum blocked in the firing position and the shot fired.

In modern revolvers, at Colt from 1905 ( Positive Lock, GH Tansley , US Patent No. 793602, July 4, 1905) the hammer is prevented from hitting the cartridge if the trigger is not pulled through by the bolt block. This prevents a shot from being released if the weapon falls. Only in the last phase of the trigger movement is the bolt block deactivated and the tap released. Driven forward by the spring, it falls onto the cartridge and the firing pin ignites it. Alternatively, in models with a firing pin, the transfer stud is guided in front of the tap and hit by it, so that the movement is transmitted to the firing pin, which then strikes the primer.

The German weapons law describes double-action revolvers (self-cocking, trigger) as follows: When the shooter pulls the trigger, the drum continues to rotate so that the next bearing with a new cartridge comes to rest in front of the barrel and the firing pin , and at the same time the spring is stretched. When you pull the trigger further, the hammer snaps forward and fires the shot. According to the German Weapons Act, double-action revolvers are not semi-automatic firearms.

Double action only
Smith & Wesson Model 642 Ladysmith in .38 Special

Thanks to the concealed tap, these revolvers can easily be carried and pulled in clothing. Accidental firing of a shot is not possible. Double-Action-Only revolvers are therefore suitable as service weapons for civilian police officers. Bundle revolvers with a double-action-only ignition mechanism were already common at the beginning of the 19th century.

Self-loading turret
Mateba Model 6 Unica. The barrel is far below. The entire frame part above the trigger moves in the shot.

The first self-loading revolver presented, a recoil loader , was the Webley-Fosbery 1901 . The construction and design of the weapon was based in some points on the orderly revolver Webley No. 1 Mk.4 . Technically, however, it was completely different. Although it is a break-open rifle, the frame is divided one more time. The lower part consists of the handle, the trigger mechanism and the guide for the upper, movable frame part. This consists of the slide that carries the cock at the back and the articulated barrel with the drum at the front.

The cock must be cocked before the first shot. When a shot is fired, the recoil causes the moving part of the weapon to move back and forward again by spring force. A bolt protruding from the handle, which engages in the zig-zag grooves on the outside of the drum that serve as guide curves, turns the drum. At the same time the cock is cocked and the weapon is ready to fire. A breaker prevents continuous fire. Compared to other revolvers, however, the weapon has many parts, its production is complex and apart from a smooth-running trigger, it has no other advantages over double-action revolvers. The open mechanism can be disadvantageous if it is dirty. Production was stopped again in 1914.

The most modern self-loading revolver is the Italian Mateba Model 6 Unica , presented in 1997 , which is also a recoil loader. The specialty of the weapon is that the barrel is level with the lower chamber. As a result, the recoil has a very straightforward effect in the shooter's hand and prevents the weapon from flicking up. The barrels are interchangeable with those in other calibers and lengths. In order to have to make fewer adjustments to the sights, the rear sight is fixed and the front sight on the respective barrel is fully adjustable.

Other guns based on the revolver principle

Signal and alarm revolver

Blank fires and irritant revolvers are used for self-defense, signaling in sports or as theatrical weapons . Signal revolvers for firing signal and light cartridges are used for communication or as an emergency signal, for example in shipping , aviation and mountain hikes .

In Germany they may only be used in public with a small gun license .

They are shot with cartridge ammunition. Signal stars and similar signaling devices are started via muzzle attachments, with the exception of pure signal weapons.

Revolver rifle

The first revolver carbine was made by John Dafte around 1680.

Samuel Colt also manufactured revolver rifles between 1837 and 1841 in Paterson New Jersey and from 1855 in his factory in Hartford, Connecticut. Despite the rapid rate of fire possible with these weapons, they were not popular, as there was a risk of injury from multiple ignitions in the drum.

Colt Root's Carbine .56 cal. Five-shot, ball pouring tongs

A current development is a break-open revolver rifle. The barrel and drum are folded away forwards / downwards and the weapon can be loaded from above / behind at an angle. As a result, a protruding primer cap cannot prevent the drum from moving.

The revolver principle was also used in some shotguns such as the South African DAO-12 or the fully automatic jackhammer .

Grenade weapon

Grenade launcher Milkor MGL

As grenade weapon is South African Milkor MGL 40- × -46 mm -Mehrfach grenade launcher produced. Similar to an oversized revolver with a second handle under the barrel and a shoulder rest attached to the top of the frame, the weapon fires six grenades in less than three seconds and can thus fight soft targets on an area of ​​around 1,200 square meters. However, it is also possible to load different types of ammunition (for example smoke or irritant grenades) and fire them according to requirements. More developed versions can fire grenades with a length of up to 140 mm. These are mainly large-volume grenades for smoke and irritants.


Dardick pistol

Patent drawing for the open chamber system. Note the special shape of the cartridge cases.

As a hybrid can be the Dardick gun designate of the 1958th It is based on the principle of the open chamber. Inside the weapon there is a roller with three chambers, which are not closed to the outside. If the roller rotates, a cartridge is first removed from the magazine, fired after a partial rotation of the roller in the second step, and after a further partial rotation in the third step the fired case is ejected. When the shot is released, however, the pistol frame must form the outer side of the chamber, and the barrel does not act as a magazine. Compared to the weapons described below, there is no forward or backward movement of the ammunition / cases.

Single barrel automatic weapons

Single - barrel revolver machine guns have the same structure as a "classic" revolver with drum and barrel, in contrast to machine guns with multiple barrels such as the Gatling and 37 mm Hotchkiss revolver cannons. The barrel with mostly three or four, less often five cartridge chambers is moved step by step by a mechanism. In the first step - depending on the type of ammunition - a cartridge is pushed into the chamber from the front or the rear. In the case of drums with four bores, there is now a step that is also known as the "safety position", in which the ammunition is loaded in the weapon but is not yet in the firing position. In the next step the cartridge is in front of the barrel and is ignited. In the last step the sleeve is ejected.

Single-barreled machine guns of this type are available as gas pressure chargers or with an external drive. This can be done directly by an electric motor or by power transmission via a chain ( chain gun ). The advantage of externally powered weapons is that there can be no malfunction due to non-ignited ammunition.

Since single-barrel guns move less mass than guns based on the Gatling principle, they achieve a higher effective rate of fire and therefore a higher bullet density than Gatlings because of the shorter start-up time with short bursts of fire.

A revolver submachine gun designed as a gas pressure loader is also patented.

Multi-barreled automatic weapons

Nine-shot Ripley machine gun (patent drawing from 1861)
M61 A1 Vulcan with six rotating barrels

The model for the weapons based on the Gatling principle could have been the Ripley machine gun. This percussion weapon had a non-rotating barrel set with nine barrels. It was set up on a light field tripod . Replaceable drums with nine chambers for paper cartridges were used as the closure. They were fired via a crank mechanism attached to the axle.

The barrel assembly of the Ripley machine gun and the turret principle of the single- barreled Coffee Mill Gun manufactured by Wilson Ager’s Union Repeating Gun may have inspired Richard Gatling to build his Gatling Gun . The first Gatling revolver cannon produced by Gatling had a rotating barrel assembly with six barrels and was driven by hand via a side crank.

As early as 1890 Gatling began with the Crocker-Wheeler Motor Company to develop an electrically powered Gatling for the US Navy. A .30 / 40 Krag caliber, patented in 1893, had ten barrels and a rate of fire of 3000 rounds / min. However, there was no success, the machine guns, which functioned as recoil and gas pressure loaders, were lighter and independent of external energy.

Modern weapons of this type have three to ten barrels and are designed as gas pressure chargers or with an external electric or hydraulic drive. In this respect, the weapons are similar to bundle revolvers. However, the cartridge chambers do not serve as a magazine, but - as with single-barreled revolver cannons - are intended to increase the rate of fire, since the processes during the shot can run more or less in parallel. At the same time, more shots can be fired until the weapon (both cartridge chamber and barrels) is hot, as the total number of shots is distributed over the individual barrels.

The difference to single-barreled weapons is that the barrel set rotates continuously while firing. The cartridges are inserted into the chamber and ignited in the rotary movement via a forced cam or a corresponding other mechanism. The chamber does not move gradually. Once the barrel has reached its target speed, weapons based on the Gatling principle achieve a higher rate of fire than single-barreled weapons. At the same time, they don't overheat so quickly.

The revolver principle as an upgrade kit for bombers

Modern bombers , such as the American Rockwell B-1 , Northrop B-2 or the Russian Tupolev Tu-160 , have the option of attaching an armament kit (weapon magazine) for launching or dropping precision-guided ammunition in the weapon bay. Similar to a revolver, this magazine is designed to be rotatable and releases one weapon at a time, in order to then rotate and bring the next weapon suspension into the release position.

Additional information

See also


  • Jaroslav Lugs: Handguns . 2nd Edition. Military publishing house of the GDR, ISBN 3-327-00032-8 .
  • Ian V. Hogg : Infantry Support Weapons . tape 4 , weapons and equipment. . Motorbuch-Verlag, Stuttgart 1997, ISBN 3-613-01843-8 .
  • David Harding (Ed.): Weapons Encyclopedia . 2nd Edition. Motorbuch Verlag, Stuttgart 1995, ISBN 3-613-01488-2 .
  • Iver Johnson: Top Break Safety Revolvers Explained. ebook by Gerard Henrotin ( - 2010)
  • Heinrich Müller: rifles, pistols, revolvers. Stuttgart 1979.
  • Gerhard Bock, Wolfgang Weigel, Georg Seitz, Heinz Habersbrunner: Manual of handguns. 8th revised and expanded edition. Neumann-Neudamm, Melsungen 1989, ISBN 3-7888-0497-1 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Revolver  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Revolver  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

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  81. 35/1000 revolver cannon. Rheinmetall Defense / Oerlikon Contraves AG, URL:… ( Memento from December 12, 2008 in the Internet Archive ), as of July 1, 2008
  82. Patent UA15646U : Published July 17, 2006 , inventor: Kravchuck Petro Volodymyrovych.
  83. Patent US33544 : IMPROVEMENT IN REPEATING-GUN BATTERIES. Published October 22, 1861 , inventor: Ezra Ripley.
  84. ^ WHB Smith, Joseph E. Smith: Small Arms Of The World - a basic manual of small arms. 10th Edition, Stackpoole Books, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 1973, ISBN 0-88365-155-6 , pp. 97-98 and 100.
  85. CG Animation Shows - Gatling Gun Cycle of Operation. TechEBlog, December 20, 2007, animation of a GAU-17 / A on URL:… , as of July 3, 2008
  86. ^ WHB Smith, Joseph E. Smith: Small Arms Of The World - a basic manual of small arms. 10th Edition, Stackpoole Books, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, 1973, ISBN 0-88365-155-6 , p. 102.


  1. In 1818 no patent numbers were issued.
  2. Velo is short for the French velocipede , bicycle
  3. see also Mauser BK-27
  4. see also GIAT 30
  5. see also M242 Bushmaster
This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on July 15, 2008 .