Category Archives: Ordnance

.303 Blank Ammunition Packaging

Like most other armies, Britain has long used black ammunition in training to provide realistic battle noise without risk of live rounds. In 1955 the British introduced a new blank round for the .303 rifle and machine guns still in service. This new round was externally identical to previous ammunition but now used nitrocellulose rather than cordite as a propellant. This excellent British Small Arms Ammunition site explains:

It is something of a mystery why the L Mark 9z blank was approved, since it is in all intents and purposes simply the nitrocellulose version of the Blank L Mark 5, the L Mark 5z which had been approved in 1928.

“Cartridge S.A. Blank .303 inch L Mark 9z” was approved to design DD/L/14006 in March 1955 and shown in LoC Paragraph C.7827 dated January 1957.

The case was Berdan primed and had the neck closed with a rosette crimp. cases were newly made and usually included the code “L9Z” but considerable numbers were issued with no headstamp.

The charge was 14 grains of ballistite or nitrocellulose covered with a single wad.

Tonight however we are not looking at the blank itself, but the box it was issued in:imageBlanks came packaged in brown cardboard boxes which held twenty rounds- enough for four chargers. Twenty rounds also meant that two boxes would fill three Bren magazines. A green paper label is pasted around the outside detailing the contents and a date has been stamped on indicating that the original contents were packaged by Radway Green on 17th October 1956:imageThe information is repeated on the ends of the box as well so that even if stood up in an ammunition box it is still easy to identify exactly what sort of ammunition the cardboard packet contains:imageThese boxes were essentially disposable and most were simply thrown away. This means these humble cardboard boxes have become increasingly collectible. Post war examples such as this are still fairly overlooked but wartime boxes are becoming scarcer and commanding good money for what essentially is just a piece of discarded packaging!

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Mk VII .303 Rounds

It seems odd that after so long writing this blog it is only now that we are looking at the standard MK VII .303 ball ammunition. This was the most common round of .303 in use by the British Empire for over fifty years and was used in Lee Enfield rifles and in Vickers, Bren and Lewis machine guns.

The MK VII round was first introduced in 1910 as a stop-gap until a new round was introduced (which did not in the end happen) and it was designed to take advantage of the new ‘spitzer’ shape of bullet introduced on the continent. The new round used the standard brass case of the existing .303 round and paired it with a long pointed bullet:imageThe round retains the taper and prominent rim of earlier .303. The bullet itself was held into the case by three crimps on the neck:imageHappily I have an example of this round with a loose head so I can pull it out to show you:imageYou can clearly see the cannelure where the crimps in the case engage. The hole in the base of the head hints at the lead and antimony core at the bottom of the bullet. Although a full metal jacketed round (and thus legal under The Hague Convention), the MK VII had a light-weight aluminium tip and a much denser lead base. Therefore although the round travelled through the air as normal, on contact with a human being the distribution of weight caused it to tumble making far more grievous wounds.

This diagram shows the internal components of a live MK VII round:imageThe following excellent description is from the British Military Small Arms Ammo site and explains the round in far more detail than I could:

The new “Cartridge S.A. Ball .303 inch Mark VII” was approved to design RL17146 in November 1910 and shown in LoC Paragraph 15629 dated October 1911. The bullet was to design RL 17069B and both these designs were later replaced by DD/L/14006. Although use of the word “Cordite” in titles had lapsed in 1907, it was sometimes reintroduced to the Mark VII during World War I to distinguish it from the nitrocellulose loaded version. “Cartridge S.A. Ball .303 inch NC Mark VIIz” was approved in May 1916, loaded with DuPont No.16 powder.

The redesigned bullet weighed 174 grains and as introduced had a cannelure near the base into which the case neck was slit crimped. When neck coning replaced the slit crimps for bullet securement in 1944 the cannelure was moved to a new higher position. The bullet was flat based with an 8CRH ogive and a composite core, the forward part usually being aluminium and the rear part a 98/2% lead/antimony alloy. During wartime the aluminium tip was replaced by compressed paper, fibre or ceramic.

From 1911 until about 1943 the bullet envelope was cupro-nickel but from that date gilding metal clad steel became increasingly used. Post WW2 the envelope was generally gilding metal.

The propellant charge was about 37 grains of Cordite MDT 5-2 or 41 grains of nitrocellulose to give a muzzle velocity of 2,440 feet per second at a pressure of 19.5 tsi. A glazeboard or strawboard wad was placed above the propellant.

The headstamp included the numeral “VII” or “VIIZ (“7” or “7Z” after 1944) and a purple primer annulus was approved in June 1918.

The revised Mark VII served through two World Wars, the Korean War and countless other smaller confrontations. It was manufactured in all the major Commonwealth countries and vast quantities were manufactured in America on contract. This resulted in a number of variations, particularly in those manufactured in the United States where the bullets were made with all lead cores without the lighter tip filler. To maintain the weight at 174 grains, these bullets were slightly shorter than the normal Mark VII. Also, ammunition manufactured in the United States and some in Canada utilised a smaller Boxer cap than the normal Berdan one.

A huge variety of manufacturers produced .303 over the years, as witnessed by the head stamps:imageThese two examples were made by Radway Green in 1942 and Royal Laboratory, Woolwich in 1932. For far more details about these rounds please look here.

Ballast Round

Although I always try and bring you as much information as I can in these blog posts, sometimes I draw a blank and have an object I really struggle to provide much information for. Tonight we have an ammunition round that I have not been able to find any concrete information on, so much of this post is based around common sense and a little speculation. As ever if you can provide anything concrete please get in touch and I will update and credit accordingly.

Tonight we have a 30mm Aden ballast round:imageThis round is made from a solid piece of aluminium with an integral head, painted orange:imageThe base of the round has a ring, but is otherwise completely plain:imageThe only markings are an impressed panel with a ’56’ for a date of 1956 and the word ‘ballast’:imageI must thank my good friend Andy Dixon for his help in adding this round to the collection. After discussion I believe the round was designed as a completely safe facsimile of a real Aden round- the same size and weight. It would have been used to help simulate real ammunition in an aircraft when balancing it or during unarmed flights where it acted as ballast to simulate the characteristics of a fully armed and loaded aircraft. It might also possibly have been used to allow ground crew to train with realistic ammunition, safe in the knowledge that there was absolutely no chance of live rounds. If you know more please let me know…

Partly Completed 7.62mm Cartridge Casings

For most of us who have had some involvement with firearms, either through the military, through living history or as a recreational shooter, cartridge cases are ubiquitous and we probably pay them little thought. The process behind manufacture though is rather involved and the act of turning a piece of raw brass into a functioning case is a complicated one. Last week I was lucky enough to pick up some partially completed cases of 7.62mm NATO standard ammunition that were made in 1976 and never finished:imageBrass is made into small cups, that are then put through hydraulic presses to draw them up into the basic shape of a casing, several draws are needed to make the brass thin enough to form the basic shape. After this, the cases are trimmed to length and the bases stamped into them, with primer pockets and headstamp detail. The cases on the left below have reached this stage:imageDepending on the manufacturer, the next stage is to ‘neck’ the cartridge down, and the case on the right has gone through this procedure. Although these cartridges appear rimmed, this is merely because they are unfinished. The rim would next be turned down and an extractor grove cut into the base of the cartridge. Here we see the two stages next to a completed round:imageThis illustration shows all the steps of the manufacturing process:brass_case_formingThese cartridges have headstamps indicating they were made by Radway Green in 1976:imageNot only is the manufacture of cartridge cases a complicated procedure, but due to the tight tolerances of firearms it needs to be done with a high degree of precision, any cartridges that do not meet the required specifications are rejected as these examples presumably were.

9mm Drill Ammunition

Despite using 9mm parabellum ammunition in its Sten and Lanchester sub machine guns, the British did not introduce a specialist drill round for training until 1951. Up until this point various commercial manufacturer’s in America and Canada had produced drill rounds for use by the British, but these rounds were very similar in appearance to standard rounds, with just small holes drilled in the case to indicate they were drill rounds. Obviously a safer form of ammunition was needed and the ‘Cartridge S.A. Drill 9mm D2 Mark 2’ was approved in 1951:imageThese rounds allowed troops to safely practice filling magazines such as that for the Sterling:imageOther uses for the cartridge were to cycle rounds manually through a firearm to demonstrate its operation or to indicate it was working correctly. The cases were made of white metal, or chromed brass with three red painted flutes around the edges to allow them to be identified in the dark by touch alone:imageThe cap chamber on the base is empty and painted red:imageThe round has a normal brass bullet resting on a wooden spacer. The base of the cartridge has the usual head stamps indicating date and place of manufacture. In this instance two of the three rounds in my collection are heavily worn for use, but one is nice and clear:imageFrom this we can see that the round is a 9mm D2 round manufactured by Radway Green in 1976. In 1978 the round was changed to a plain silver casing without the red painted flutes and cap chamber. In 1986 production switched to Hirtenberger in Austria, probably as a money saving exercise.

2″ Mortar Practice Bomb

I have a small selection of different bombs for my 2″ mortar, however the ones I have most of are these weighted drill rounds, of which I have four:imageThese bombs were used to practice firing the mortar as they have the same weight as a real HE round, allowing operators to practice firing a realistic round with no risk of an explosion when it landed. The bombs have a filling of sand which is dense, but safe. The bombs have a space for a Ballistite cartridge in the tail, a small metal cover screwing over the top to protect the cartridge:imageThese fins are not actually wartime examples, they are in fact post war Belgian tail fins; the British having sold surplus mortars and rounds after the war to European governments who then refurbished them to get further years of service. The original fins were made of a diecast alloy that was prone to metal fatigue, the Belgians upgraded the fins to steel, the fins being marked “Atelor” and dating to 1950. The bodies of these rounds are actually British as can be seen by the /|\ mark stamped into the shoulder of the bombs:imageThis bomb also has a small ’42’ marked on the shoulder:imageTwo different sets of markings can be seen on my bomb bodies, three of them are marked ‘NSCo’ with a mid war date on the main body:imageThese have a flat, slotted nose cap marked “1941 F&W No 1 IS”:imageOne however is marked “2”MOR I.D.E.I.L. 5/43″:imageThe nose cap on this one is similar to the other examples but has a threaded central hole:imageThe markings on this bomb read “CA/C 1944 77 No1 IS”. Note also the traces of blue paint in the slot.

As with so much of my 2″ mortar collection, my thanks have to go to Darren Pyper for his help with these items.

Naval Detonators Tin

I am hoping some of our regular readers can help with a positive identification of tonight’s object. This is a naval detonator’s tin, made of sheet metal and painted red:imageIt turned up for £1 at the Yorkshire Wartime Experience and at that price I took a punt on it! Inside is a metal grid with holes in it for the individual detonators:imageA paper label is pasted onto the sides:imageFrom this we can see that it is naval in origin, via the ‘N’ stores code, and that it dates from 1982. The base of the tin has a circular strengthening piece stamped into it:imageIn the centre is a maker’s stamp for ‘B&SB’:imageWhat I have not been able to discover is exactly what this tin was manufactured for, or what the individual detonators were used with. If anyone can help with an identification, please comment below…