Since World War 1, the British Army appreciated its large caliber revolvers mainly due to their inherent man-stopping abilities when firing the large .455 cartridge. However, such a large and powerful cartridge required an equally large and powerful (and therefore heavy) design which meant that such weapons proved cumbersome in the field and suffered in accuracy due to inherent recoil forces. This prompted a British Army review to begin in the 1920s in which it was decided to standardize on a more compact revolver model of .38 caliber. Webley & Scott, already working on a .38 model revolver for law enforcement, attempted to sell their design to the British government around 1923. The cartridge in question was deemed to have the required stopping power while the frame proved easier to manage. In 1926, the British Army simply took the Webley & Scott design and handed it their Royal Small Arms Factory (RSAF) which was then charged with modifying the revolver for military service with a new trigger mechanism and revised lockwork. The finalized product became the "Enfield No. 2" and was promptly adopted for service in the British Army inventory on June 2nd, 1932. The product's "Enfield" name was derived from the primary location of production - the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield Lock. The formal, long-form designation was "British Service, Pistol, Revolver, Number 2, Mark I".
Unlike other powers of the day, many of whom moved to adoption of semi-automatic repeating pistols, the British Army elected to stay the course with revolvers for the near future. This was born primarily from long-running experience with previous high-powered Webley & Scott and Enfield guns that proved themselves throughout the many conflicts of the British Empire. Such weapons were highly robust and utterly reliable under the worst of battlefield conditions and, to a lesser degree, they upheld long-standing British Army tradition of going into battle with a trusty revolver. This accounts for the decision to develop a new revolver during the period, though one of smaller caliber requiring far less training to master.
The Enfield No .2 featured a conventional revolver design arrangement featuring a solid, single-piece enclosed frame, centralized revolving cylinder, wood-covered grip and underslung trigger unit. The 5-inch long barrel was forged as part of the forward section of frame and sported a unique slab-sided look with a noticeably large forward sight fitted over the muzzle. The revolving cylinder offered firing of six .38 caliber cartridges with the hammer set aft of the frame in the usual way. The cylinder was accessed through a "break-action" design in which the barrel, cylinder and cylinder bridge all tipped forward and down at a hinge located ahead of the trigger thusly providing access to the six open cylinders for loading/reloading of .38 cartridges. A lanyard ring was fitted to a post under the grip to affixed the weapon to a belt or similar. Early production forms featured an exposed hammer spur while a follow-up form introduced a "spur-less" hammer intended reduce snagging on clothing and the like. This change was encouraged by the British Tank Corps who found their standard-issue No. 2 revolver's hammer spur catching in all sorts of ways. The No. 2 originally offered a Single-Action (SA) or Double-Action (DA) mode of operation though the spur-less hammer design were of Double-Action Only (DAO) and also could no longer be cocked with the thumb. The specific .38 cartridge in use was the .38in SAA Ball (9.65mm).
No. 2 revolvers measured an overall length of 10.25 inches (260mm) with 5-inch barrels (127mm). The unit weighed 1.7lbs unloaded. Muzzle velocity was listed at 600 feet per second.
Production revolvers were produced through three distinct production forms as the Mk.I, Mk.I* and Mk.I**. The Mk.I was the original production offering with the external hammer spur. Mk.I* models were based on the Mk.I though with the aforementioned spur-less hammers and these appeared from June 1938 onwards. This version was then standardized upon to guarantee that British tanker crews received the appropriate model - previous Mk.I forms then in circulation were thusly converted at government facilities to the Mk.I* standard when they came through for repair. An additional change came through a revised main-spring which lessened the required trigger pull. Beginning July 29th, 1942 - with Britain and her Commonwealth nations fully at war against the Axis powers - the No.2 received an all-new production variant in the Mk.I**. The Mk.I** was, for all intents and purposes, a revised Mk.I* revised for mass production. This primarily resulted in the hammer safety being removed which, though it lent a certain air of danger to general management of the No. 2 revolver (the revolver could easily accidentally discharge if dropped), allowed manufacture facilities to produce the revolver at a quickened pace and at lower procurement cost to the government. The safety feature was only reinstituted after the cessation of hostilities making both the Mk.I and Mk.I** production forms extreme rarities in today's collector market.
In practice Enfield No. 2 revolvers saw widespread service with British and Commonwealth forces throughout World War 2 (1939-1945) though it was not as highly valued as other sidearms of the conflict were. The loss of its original single-action operation and thumb-cocking facility made for an inaccurate weapon to fire and the trigger required a heavy pull. Tanker crews, for which the spur-less design was initiated for, were issued a special thigh fabric holster for their No. 2 revolvers though these proved cumbersome and prone to snagging before being dispensed with in a short time. As a whole, No. 2 revolvers were still serviceable, reliable and mechanically sound despite the noted drawbacks.
The series was produced by through several facilities beyond the storied Enfield arsenal. This included manufacture at the Albion Motors Ltd company of Scotsoun, Galsgow and the Singer Sewing Machine Company of Clydebank. Approximately 380,000 Enfield No. 2 revolvers were produced before the end of the war. Webley & Scott eventually did sell their own .38 (Webley Mk.IV) to the British Army only when Enfield stocks were not sufficient to meet the wartime demand - these also chambered in .38 SAA Ball and were close in appearance to their Enfield cousins, though interchangeability of parts was not possible.
Operators included Australia, Canada, Gambia, Lesotho and the United Kingdom. Its use also spanned the Korean War (1950-1953).