The Prettiest Handgun that Never Was

Prototype No 3, the last known Webley Jurek pistol.

Prototype No 3, the last known Webley Jurek pistol.

Pity poor Dr Marian K. Jurek (YOOR-eck). He had a great gun design, and first-class machining skills. He was just always in the wrong country. Most of what we know about his beautiful Experimental Webley 9mm pistol we know thanks to British gun historian A.J.R. Cormack, who carried on a correspondence with him while both still lived. Ezell’s magisterial Handguns of the World does not contain anything on Jurek or his designs, not because Ezell didn’t know of them (he almost certainly did) but because they were postwar, and outside the 1900-45 scope of Handguns. Reportedly, there is a chapter in Cuthbertson’s book on Webley pistols that covers this gun, but the Unconventional Warfare Reference Library does not contain that volume (note to editors… order book, update post).

And most of what we know about Jurek’s life we know from A.J.R. Cormack as well, who wrote:

The designer, Dr Marian K. Jurek, was born in Poland on 7 September 1904 and even at the age of 15 was dabbling in the art of the gunmaker. In 1937, after a brilliant scholastic career, Dr Jurek became the Head of Research at an ammunition factory. During the war Dr Jurek saw service with a number of branches of the [British is implied] Services including the 1st Armoured Division Workshops.

(The same text appears in Cormacks Famous Pistols and Hand Guns starting on page 111, and in his edited Small Arms in Profile, Volume 1 on page 15 and in the booklet Small Arms Profile, No. 1, Webley and Scott Pistols — available on Scribd).

Much is implied, but unstated, in this brief paragraph — Jurek like many others was somehow uprooted from his native land as it fell under Nazi and Soviet occupation in 1939, and began what he probably intended to be a temporary exile, but turned into a new life, in Great Britain.

Fortunately, a Polish military magazine, Komandos, published a short biography of Dr Jurek “The Emigré Designer,” and much of that has been picked up in an entry in the Polish Wikipedia.

After the war, Jurek still served for a time in the Parachute Regiment, and designed two submachine guns,  hammer-fired from a closed bolt in an attempt to reduce the cyclic rate. He may have been aiming at the round of trials that would ultimately select the Patchett (Stirling) as a Sten replacement, but his were not accepted. (According to the Wikipedia bio, his SMGs were designed in 1942 and 1946).

The receiver of Jurek's Protptype No. 1 was still in his possession when he ccorresponded with Cormack. It was made of mild steel.

The receiver of Jurek’s Prototype No. 1 was still in his possession when he corresponded with Cormack. It was made of mild steel and reveals some of the pistol’s secrets.

After leaving the service, Jurek, who had been working on a pistol design owing much to the Walther P. 38, was engaged by Webley & Scott to develop this gun for upcoming British automatic pistol trials. World War II was the swan song of the revolver as a general service sidearm, and the British forces were the last to issue revolvers widely. Automatics including Lend-Lease Colts (1908 and 1911 models) and Inglis Hi-Powers were also widely used, especially in elite units like the Commandos, and British ordnance officers knew and liked the Hi-Power and its 9mm cartridge.

Webley had experience with auto pistols, but its early 20th Century designs, which seem to have gone out of production by the outbreak of the war, were not competitive with the latest designs from overseas. Webley managers hoped that they could develop a design that would match the advantages of the foreign guns, while allowing British officers to “buy British.”

Jurek No. 2 was the first Webley version. It was (and may still be) in the Pattern Room, incomplete.

Jurek No. 2 was the first Webley version and was tested by the Army. It was (and may still be) in the Pattern Room, incomplete.

Enter Jurek and his 9mm parabellum prototype, this time with the venerable house of Webley and Scott and all the energy of Birmingham and the industrial Midlands behind him. Circa 1952, a single Jurek pistol made in Webley’s Birmingham toolroom and well-finished and tested entered British Army trials.

It was an uphill fight for Webley, and the Hi-Power had a head start and did, in the end, win. But the gun Webley and Jurek entered was, as Cormack wrote, “of great interest both historically and technically.” The “historical” part is clear: it was the last gasp of a dying Webley, at least as a firearms design and manufacturing concern.

 

Jurek No. 2. Note the longer barrel, given in Cormack as 6".

Jurek No. 2. Note the longer barrel, given in Cormack as 6″. All photos enlarge with a click.

Technically, parts of Jurek’s design sincerely flatter the Walther P.38. It had a single-stack, 8-shot magazine and a double-action trigger, a takedown lever where it fits in the P.38, a safety that appears identical to the classic Walther decocker. Even the slide serrations look like the German gun, and in the parts of the gun we have described so far, the differences are largely cosmetic. The Jurek hammer, for instance, has a circular spur like that of the Hi-Power, and the slide and frame extend further back over the shooter’s hand. The photos we have do not show what sort of recoil springs were used, but the frame of prototype 1 — a gun made of mild steel by Dr Jurek before he started with Webley — shows reliefs for Walther-P.38-style dual coil recoil springs. It appears that the P.38-style takedown switch may have been the first stage of a takedown mode that involved a PPK-style trigger bow, but without more pictures or a chance to examine a gun, we can’t be sure.

The unique Jurek links and cradle. Versions existed with one, two and three locking lugs.

The unique Jurek links and cradle. Versions existed with one, two and three locking lugs.

The departure came forward on the slide, and underneath. Where the Walther has an open slide, the Webley 9mm has an ejection port in a closed one. This is because, where the Walther has a tipping locking block (as would be used in later Berettas as well), the Jurek lock has some kinship to earlier Browning and Webley practices. From Browning, Jurek took the locking link as in the 1911, but he used two in parallel, one ahead of the other (the Browning 1905 did this, one at the breech and one at the muzzle. Jurek’s are both at the breech).

Mechanism in recoil

Mechanism in recoil. Note: all these pictures can be expanded with a click.

Like the .455 Webley, then, the 9mm Webley had a barrel that always stayed parallel to the same axis it was on when fully in battery, although the WWI vintage Webley had angled cams riding in slots. Also like the Webley, Jurek originally used a single large locking lug (a bit like the future SIG, Glock etc. practice of making a top ejection port the single locking recess). To ensure that the barrel stayed locked to the slide until the bullet had exited and allowed pressure to drop, a sliding cradle held the two lower pins of the locking lugs, and the sliding cradle recoiled with the barrel for a fraction of an inch before being stopped and pulling the barrel down and the locking lugs out of engagement with the locking recess on the top of the 9mm’s slide.

Other side of #3. All of these images are scanned from Cormack.

Other side of #3. All of these images are scanned from Cormack.

A total of three prototypes were made, and at the time of Cormack’s writing, long decades ago, at least one (#3) survived in the Pattern Room and the stripped receiver of #1 survived in Jurek’s possession. The guns underwent many modifications. The locking lugs particularly were modified, and Cormack published photos of three variations, with each new one having more lugs (and therefore, more lock-up area) than the previous. Both 4″ and 6″ barrels were tried. The Wikipedia bio suggests 22 examples of the 3rd prototype, adapted to take a 13-round magazine, were made, but Cormack does not suggest this. We believe that the bio author has misread Cormack’s comment that the British Army had also requested a .22 caliber training version.

According to Cormack, the British Army asked that the gun be lightened by changing the receiver from steel to aluminum, and asked if it could be adapted to a double-column magazine. Had that been done, it would have been the first double-action double-column “wonder nine,” decades before the US Navy would ask Smith & Wesson to build one (a request that led to the S&W M59).

Sketch of the never-built Prototype No. 4.

Sketch of the never-built Prototype No. 4.

At this point, Webley threw in the sponge, abandoned the project, and Jurek left Webley and set up shop in Birmingham, where he handcrafted single-shot target pistols that had some of the same fine aesthetic as his ill-fated service pistol entry. His called his principal pistol the Popular model, and made 186 of them by hand, mostly for British competitors. (In an act of national vandalism, any survivors of these in Great Britain were seized and destroyed after a nut case committed a school shooting). He also made other guns, including long guns with a toggle action. He had dreams of continuing his 9mm service pistol design — Cormack had a picture of a prototype No. 4 sketch (left) — but as far as we can determine, never cut metal on it.

And this is why he was doubly unlucky in his countries: when the US considered a dozen or so 9mm pistols, not only the winner (the Beretta M9), but the runner-up (SIG 226) and a number of the also-rans achieved great market success. In a nation where the only gun buyer is the government, the way of the gun designer is a rocky one; and the nation winds up dependent on foreign minds for its small arms.

According, again, to the Wikipedia bio, Jurek and his business, met as anticlimactic and tragic an end as his designs did.  As his health failed in the late 1970s, the government, at the time ideologically opposed not only to private manufacture of guns but to private, free enterprise, full stop, revoked his manufacturing license. He had been one of only three gunsmiths in the country licensed to make guns, a fine British art that was marked for extinction.

webley_jurek_prototype_no_3_right_best

 

His records showed that he made 352 guns in total in his shop; this doesn’t include the (probable) 3, or (if you believe the Wikipedia entry, which is probably an error) 25, or Lord knows how many pretty 9mm pistols he handcrafted while in the employ of Webley & Scott, or the lost submachine gun prototypes of his Army years. Dr Jurek passed away in 1982 in his adopted city of Birmingham.

Had Jurek only emigrated to Birmingham, Alabama (or any of a thousand American cities) instead of the English namesake, there might be one of these sleek nines in your collection.

4 thoughts on “The Prettiest Handgun that Never Was

    1. Hognose Post author

      It’s really a clever and nice gun. Thing is, it had an impossible hill to climb as a pistol handbuilt in single units, up against the Hi-Power in the 1950s, because when Great Britain decided the Hi-Power met their needs and type-classified it as the L9A1 (I think), they didn’t have to buy any Hi-Powers. The Army had so downsized that they had enough in stock since WWII to cover everybody, so how do you compete with that?

      Apparently Jurek started on the 13-shot version, but the .22 was just a request from MOD. I’ve gotten a little more information on Jurek the man, as well as on his SMGs (which are as homely as the pistol is beautiful). He was a nationally ranked target shooter in Poland prewar and in the UK postwar. Very unusual to have a single man with high level skills in marksmanship, design and manufacturing. I haven’t found a picture of him, unfortunately. Time to reactivate my login with the UK national archives (and get out the credit card, those guys charge for everything).

  1. Micki Mahoney

    Excellent article, thank you!

    @Hognose, Re: numbers of Hi-Powers in service post-war, Skennerton’s book on the .380 Enfield revolver has an interesting chapter written by a British Army armourer who qualified in the mid-1960s. According to him, the Browning was a rare sight indeed and the .380 Enfield was only phased out starting in late 1967 when the first new Brownings were delivered from Belgium. Even then, thanks to poor record-keeping and the British Army’s usual byzantine designation system, the Enfield still staggered on, (albeit with next to no ammunition,) until at least 1970.

    I suspect the real reason the Hi-Power won out over the Jurek Webley was the same reason it won out over most other designs the world over: it was simply a good design with a proven track record behind it.

    1. Hognose Post author

      It was my favorite 9mm until I convinced myself I needed double-action (we had a lot of 1945 dated ammo still in the 1980s). I missed the handy Hi-Power for years after I switched to Berettas, and then I discovered the CZ 75. Hallelujah! Basically, a DA Hi-Power, something FN tried to build at least three different ways with no joy.

      Don’t miss the follow-up on Jurek’s SMGs, but if you have FWA Hobart’s Pictorial History of the Sub-Machine Gun about 90% of what’s in my post is from that source, including the images.

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