Category Archives: Ordnance

5.56mm Ball Round

When the SA80 rifle was introduced a whole new calibre of cartridge entered British service, the 5.56mm NATO round. This round had been produced as prototype ammunition for at least five years when the SA80 was rolled out in 1985 but large scale British manufacture had not yet started so initial ammunition had to be sourced from overseas. The first British produced rounds began to be manufactured in 1984 but it took time for production to ramp up. The new cartridge was produced at the factories at Radway Green and was of a conventional design with a brass casing:imageLike all modern ammunition this round is rimless and has an extractor groove cut into the base:imageThe bullet itself weighs 4.0 grams and is projected using 1.52 grams of propellant, either NNN (cut tubular) or later nitrocellulose (cut tubular):imageThis particular round was produced in 1993 by Radway Green, as can be seen but the headstamp:imageI suspect that this inert round has actually been assembled from a fired tracer round, rather than a true ball cartridge as the ball rounds had the designation L2A1 and L2A2 when in service and this is marked as L1A1.

When the new ammunition was issued, it warranted a special explanation in the publicity material for the new SA80 rifle:


The ammunition in the new standard 5.56mm calibre meets the performance requirements of both the UK and NATO. In meeting operational requirements it is fully effective up to a range of 1000 metres as generally required in infantry operations. To meet the stringent standards of the UK ordnance Board all rounds are manufactured under high quality control conditions. A variety of natures are available, i.e. Ball, Tracer, Blank Drill and Low Power Training.

An important feature of the ammunition is that it is less than half the weight of the alternative standard NATO 7.62mm ammunition. This enables more rounds to be carried by an infantryman thereby extending logistic capability and operational effectiveness.

The relative merits of 5.56mm versus 7.6nmm ammunition have been debated since the introduction of the smaller calibre. The 5.56mm round is lighter and easier to fire more accurately, but lacks the range and power of a 7.62mm which has remained in service for the GPMG so the army has ended up with two calibres of ammunition. It was felt most combat would be at short range so the lower power would not be an issue and generally this has proved to be the case, however in Afghanistan troops found themselves up against insurgents equipped with old fashioned rifles who could engage targets from well outside the range of the British infantryman’s weapon. As is so often the case, there is no perfect cartridge size and there are good arguments on both sides of the debate, what is clear is that despite research into intermediate cartridges the 5.56mm calibre is here to stay in the short to medium term.


30mm Aden Practice Round Shell Casing

The 30mm Aden cannon was a very successful post war aircraft gun, and we covered much of its history when we looked at an example of the links used to join cartridges here. Tonight we have the casing from one of those rounds to look at:imageSadly this is just the casing and is missing the head, but it can be seen that it is a brass case, with a large extraction groove at the base. The primer has been struck as one would expect from a fired round:imageThe markings for the Aden round are marked around the circumference of the case, rather than on the base:imageThe markings indicate that this is a 30mm practice round, manufactured by Radway Green in 1973. I have found this very useful diagram that shows what the various markings mean:GAERGHRE_croppedThe empty brass casings were ejected out of the underside of the aircraft, falling to the ground below. This could sometimes be a little disconcerting to friendly forces on the ground:

Just below its ‘shoulders’, where the leading edge of the wings meets the fuselage, the hunter had two large bulges called Sabrinas (they were named after a popular actress of the time who also had two large bulges just below her shoulders). The Sabrinas were there to accommodate the empty links from the 30mm ammunition belts that fed the Aden cannon. Simply letting the link belts shoot out of a slot behind the aircraft’s nose might have allowed the belts to foul the aircraft’s control surfaces. There were no such fears, however, about the spent shell cases. They were ejected from two holes immediately above each Sabrina- and even a quick three-second burst meant that at least 240 30mm brass shell cases came tumbling down. If just one of those caught you on the head it would be enough to lay you out. As soon as the brass rain started, we were under cover with Alfie quicker than you could day ‘concussion’…

.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!

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.