Numerous movies depicting war in the Victorian era, exhibit officers who fire their revolvers at targets clearly out of range for their revolvers. 1. Is this accurate? 2. If so, why did officers do this; are not they wasting ammunition? I doubt the ability of a revolver to scare or deter enemies; at the least, the officers should have chosen to try this with a rifle? For example:

  1. Zulu (1964), at around 1:22:23 of 2:17:48, Lt. John Chard fires his revolver in the direction of Zulus in the mountains clearly out of range: enter image description here

  2. Majuba: Heuwel van Duiwe (1968) at around 32:34 of 1:34:47, Lt. Col. Philip Anstruther fires his revolver in the direction of Boers camouflaged and concealed in the grass clearly out of range. enter image description here

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    These are movies. In movies you have to have action, even it if is nonsense action. Did an officer ever fire for effect, or to demonstrate stalwart resistance in the face of overwhelming odds? Yes - stiff upper lip what? I think you're applying the wrong standard to these movies.
    – MCW
    Oct 14, 2016 at 23:50
  • Revolvers are to be used on your own troops when they inevitably retreat as they invariably do. Oct 15, 2016 at 2:35
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    After first pic I read the question as: "Is Zulu the most awesome movie ever?", so I upvoted.
    – Brasidas
    Oct 15, 2016 at 5:48

1 Answer 1


As the saying goes, put enough lead in the air and you are bound to hit someone.

In the era of black powder muskets, fire was done by formations of troops against formations of troops. That is still the most effective way to use machine guns today. An US field manual gives the range of the M249 as 600 m for point targets, 800 m for area targets. Wikipedia has slightly different numbers, which only proves that "effective range" is a fuzzy concept.

to come to the era in question, the aimed range of a Webley revolver against a point target may be a couple dozen metres, but the bullet will travel and remain lethal for hundreds of metres. And if it doesn't hit the enemy one was aiming for, it might hit the one to the right or left, or the one standing behind him.

The Mk.I webley fired a 17g bullet at 190 m/s. Hatcher's Notebook (found on Google Books, I don't have the source myself) gives 1,300 yards maximum range if the weapon is fired at 35 degrees.

Last but not least, a bullet whizzing past might make the enemy duck.

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    I don't think that comparing the M249 (with a small caliber supersonic round) against the Webley (with a large caliber subsonic round) has much value. I'd like to see some evidence that the big, slow Webley round is "lethal for hundreds of metres". I suspect that physics says otherwise. Oct 15, 2016 at 8:28
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    @KillingTime, I used the two different ranges of the M249 to illustrate the concept of point and area targets. Re the round I'll edit my answer.
    – o.m.
    Oct 15, 2016 at 17:47
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    The question was if they did fire, not if it was effective. Don't forget the psychological aspect. It may scare the enemy and it may boost morale of their own troops by showing the officers taking part in the action.
    – liftarn
    Oct 17, 2016 at 7:28
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    As a corollary to the answer, if there are enough targets, there's a great chance at hitting something. I recall some accounts of the Battle of Rourke's Drift describe the attacking Zulu forces as being very thick (sorry no citation, it was long time ago).
    – robbat2
    Sep 2, 2017 at 17:29

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