French Adventurers Revolver
The French Adventurer’s Revolver
My grandson and I both admire the French Army revolver of 1873 wielded by Brandon Fraser in The Mummy. The 11mm revolver was obsolete in 1920’s Egypt with the American .45 automatic of 1911 being the odds on best choice.
The French 1873 was designed at the same time as the Colt Single Action Army and shares both slow, rod, ejection and a hammer resting on the primer in line with the barrel. This makes both guns five shooters for the safety conscious. The French gun is a quarter-pound heavier than the Colt and fires a weaker cartridge.
The .45 Colt remained the most powerful American pistol cartridge until the advent of the .357 Smith and Wesson Magnum in 1935. It fires a 250-grain bullet at up to 930 feet-per-second and 490 foot-pounds with black powder. Frank Barnes reports the outside lubricated 11mm French cartridge with a 180-grain bullet going 695 fps and delivering 195 foot-pounds of energy.
The double-action (trigger-firing) ability of the French revolver was prized by soldiers in close combat. The Chamelot-Devigne action has no screws to loosen and become lost. The sideplate can be loosened with a screwdriver handily located on the cylinder pin to expose the entire lockwork for cleaning or parts replacement. There is even a built in lever to de-tension the mainspring.
Our hero may have picked up the gun from a dead companion on the battlefield. I talked to a Vietnam War veteran who did the same with a .45 when his rifle was ruined by enemy fire. That saved his life. Lieutenant George S. Patton experienced an accidental discharge with a .45 automatic while seated at the officer’s mess with General John Pershing in Mexico. Patton often carried a .45 Colt revolver in World War Two. Our hero may prefer a gun that has no detachable magazines to lose in the mud. France has always had strict gun control so it may have been the only pistol he could purchase.
The French Army 11mm cartridge is outside lubricated, meaning the case is the same .451 diameter as the bullet. WWII French resistance would bore the chambers to accept the available .45 ACP cartridge, which headspaces on the case mouth. The cylinders would hold but top straps would eventually fail from the force of jacketed bullets hitting the rifling. Germans adapted the .318 groove 1888 Commission rifles to the .323 Spitzer bullets by extending out the forcing cone, which might work for the 1873. The .45 ACP case is 0.898 long. The .455 Enfield/British/Webley Mark I case is only 0.87 long so cutting a .535 diameter, .035” deep recess for the rim allows the 1873 to fire both cartridges. The 265-grain lead bullet .455 gives 700 fps and 289 foot-pounds with the original black powder loading.
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Rick Kester is a Viet Nam era veteran living in Northern California with his wife Nancy.