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Dating and IDing WW2 British .303 Projectiles.

Posted: Tue Mar 17, 2020 1:06 am
by MilitaryMetalMagnut
I just finished this little project today, in case you ever wondered what they looked like originally on the inside!! This is a cutaway I made of a WW2 era MkVII Ball .303 round. This round was originally made by Radway Green, Crewe, Cheshire in 1944, and is from my own personal non-finds collection.

Doing this cutaway and seeing the construction of the bullet itself got me thinking about doing a thread on dating and Identifying British WW2 .303 projectiles.

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The spaghetti-like strands inside the cartridge is cordite, which was introduced in 1894 as it's more hardier in warmer climates than the old Black Powder before it was. The cordite remained as standard up until the late 1960's when the cordite was replaced with more modern Nitrocellulose powders.

Throughout the Second World War, the materials used to make the .303 bullets changed on a few occasions. At the start of WW2, the outer jacket of .303 bullets were made of Cupronickel (the same stuff as modern 20p and 50p coins) and in 1943, the Cupronickel bullets became too expensive so was changed to a copper outer jacket. 1944, the date of this round, is a key date for .303 bullet design, as the outer jacket of the bullet is made of mild steel and plated in copper, known as a 'GMCS' (Guilded Metal Clad Steel) to help conserve resources.

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Inside the bullet is a lead core with the tip of the bullet containing compressed sawdust. Before 1940, the tips had Aluminium, but was replaced with sawdust to prioritise the Aluminium for aircraft production. The purpose of the Aluminium/sawdust tips is to offset the weight of the bullet rearward, allowing it to 'yaw' as it travels towards the target. The Yawing makes the bullet immediately tumble inside the body at the moment of impact for maximum damage. In 1946, the aluminium tips were reintroduced, and so was the copper outer jacket.

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This is a cutaway my late father and I made when I was 13, bit crude and should also have cordite, not powder. This was made from a post war .303 dating to 1963, and as you can see the tip has the Aluminium inside (the same as pre-'40 rounds) and a copper outer jacket (the same as '43 rounds). This copper jacket/aluminium tip combination really only applies to British post-war rounds, probably not what many of us will find on WW2 ranges, but this is just to show the aluminium tipped variety.

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This is a 1909 design of the MkVI, which was slightly shorter than the MkVII and weighed 160 grains, the MkVII weighed 174 grains. The MkVI only lasted for six months in 1910, as it was woefully inaccurate and the MkVII was introduced later that year.

The next three pics are of three inert rounds from my collection, of each of the three bullet materials - 'CN' Cupronickel, 'GM' Guilded Metal (Copper), and 'GMCS' Guilded Metal Clad Steel, along with bullets of the same materials that I found at my local WW2 range.

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(Yes, I know I'm cheating with a 1962 round, but it has a copper jacket as a 1943 round, which is what I'm representing!)

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A few months ago, I had a normal hour or so session over the butts of my WW2 range, and found quite a variety different bullet materials to show this method of dating ID, so I grouped them together on a page according to date and material. One of the steel ones can be dated exactly to 1945, as it is made ever so slightly differently than a 1944 with the cannelure (posh word for grove) placed slightly higher up the bullet on a '45, than a '44.

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Interestingly, I also found some American .303 bullets in that one session. The Americans made .303 rounds for British troops during the Second World War to help with our war effort. I have one of these American made .303 rounds in my own collection, made by WRA - Winchester Repeating Arms Co., New Haven, Connecticut, USA. The WW2 American supplied .303‘s can be identified by the cannelure around the circumference which is knurled, and the bullets are a little bit shorter than British made .303's.

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I mentioned about the difference between a 1944 and a 1945 projectile. In 1945, the method of crimping the bullet into the cartridge had changed, from a crimp halfway down the cartridge neck in 1944 (and before), to a mouth crimp at the top of the cartridge in 1945.
This meant the cannelure grove would have had to be moved up to accommodate the new way of crimping.
A 1944 on the left, 1945 right.

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This is a line up of the different WW2 .303 projectiles for 'Ball' type ammunition.
Left to right;
American made for British forces 1940-43 (Guilded Metal - copper), Cupronickel 1910-42, Guilded Metal 1943, Guilded Metal Clad Steel 1944, Guilded Metal Clad Steel (early 1945) late 1945 is the same exact design but made as Guilded Metal to the last British made .303 in 1974.

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(I must also stress that none of the rounds in my pictures are actually live!!).

Now my little cutaway will take pride of place on my shelf. B-)

Hope this might be useful IDing all those .303's in your bucket! ::g

Best regards,

Simon