A Guide to Small Arms Cartridge Headstamps
by @Steve T
I thought I would do a quick guide to cartridge headstamps. I know many of us are well aware of what all the stamps mean, but some people don’t and I think it would be useful to those people not yet as obsessed as me !!!
I will only cover American, British and German small arms headstamps in this thread.......artillery casings are much more complicated and need a whole forum on their own, let alone one little thread.
To start with, here are the main allied small arms cartridges lined up so you can see the difference in overall shape and size. Take particular note of the difference between a standard 30calibre American cartridge and the British 303. Also note the difference between the standard 30calibre and the M1 Carbine cartridge (this is not live by the way ! I remade it from two bits.)
Ok, on to identifying Allied small arms headstamps.
We’ll start with 20mm cannon cartridges. A view of 3 cartridges found on various WW2 airbases.
Ok. Let’s look at the headstamps. You can see they all follow the same pattern. A letter ‘code’ which represents the manufacturer, a date stamp and a calibre. The right hand case therefore is made by RG (Royal Ordnance Factory, Radway Green, UK), in 1942. The middle case was made by I.C.I. , otherwise known as Kynoch in Standish, UK which is represented by the K2, in 1944.
Also, you may have noticed the chunks cut into the rim of the cartridge. This is not modern damage but damage caused by the breech block forcing the cartridge into the breech and then extracting it again as the gun cycles.
With American cartridges, the headstamps are usually very short, sharp and sweet ! Take for example these 50 calibre cartridges, again found on various airbases around the UK.
The headstamps on these are not as detailed as some. Usually you get the manufacturer ‘code’ and the last two digits of the year, EXCEPT in the case of 1944 which is always represented by a single ‘4’. So on these cartridges you have RA 43, TW 43, LC 43, SL 4 and DM 4. RA is Remington Arms Company, Tw is Twin Cities ordnance plant, LC is Lake City Ammunition Plant, SL is St Louis Ordnance Plant and DM is Des Moines Ordnance Plant.
These headstamps are repeated in standard 30 calibre and Carbine rounds. Take for example these 30 calibre cartridges, found on Slapton Sands.The headstamps all follow the same principals as the 50 cal cartridges.
British cartridges tended to be a little more verbose. Take for example these cartridges, all found on an old D-Day practice beach.
The headstamps, as you can see, contain a little more information. We still have the manufacturer ‘code’ and the year of manufacture (as either 2 or 4 digit), but we also regularly see ‘VII’ which denotes it is a standard Mark VII cartridge, and in some instances ‘303’ which obviously denotes the calibre. Different Roman numerals denote different 'marks' of cartridge. You may also see the marks 'Z' or IZ' which denote the type of cordite/powder used.
It is interesting to note that the last three cartridges all have the same ‘odd’ shaped firing pin mark. This elongated mark is made by the firing pin of a Bren gun. A Lee-Enfield makes the ‘dot’ mark in the left hand two cartridges. So not only does the headstamp tell us something, even the firing pin mark can !
Now let’s look at 9mm and .45 calibre cartridges, again found on a D-Day practice beach.
Now you can see a pattern emerging ! Hopefully you can now determine what the headstamps mean when you look at them. You have the manufacturer code, the year stamp and the calibre………….It’s easy once you know what you’re looking at !
The Germans used a little more complicated system than the Americans and British. Take for example these 7.92 calibre cartridges, all are ‘safe’ and were bought off a guy in an antiques place for 20p each ! He didn’t know what they were but I did because of a basic knowledge of headstamps.
Ok…..all German 7.92 calibre cartridges carry four stamps. As you look at the picture, at 12 o’clock is the manufacturers code. At 3 o’clock is a code with a combination of a roman numeral (I to XXII) for the steel mill supplying the basic case-metal, a lower-case letter for the plating agency and an arabic numeral (1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 15 or 17) for the steel-analysis, which all identifies a copper-plated steel case. In some cases you may see (as below) a code such as St or St+ or S*. St or St+ indicates a steel case, either plated or lacquered. * or S* indicates a brass case. At 6 o’clock is a batch number and at 9 o’clock is the year of manufacture represented by the last 2 digits of the year. Of interest is the fact that the Germans changed their manufacturer code system. Between 1937 and 1941 they used the P codes (Patronenfabrik Nummer). Between 1940 and 1945 (there was some overlap between the change of coding) they switched to a letter code and ditched the ‘P’ number. This means all ‘P’ coded cartridges are made prior to 1941, and all letter code cartridges are made from 1940.
So, for example, the far left cartridge was made by cg (Finower Industrie GmbH, Finow/Mark, Brandenburg), the case was made of St+ (steel case, plated), a batch number of ‘6’ (yes….i got it wrong on the picture !!! It’s a 6 not a 9 ), and a year of 1942.
The far right hand case is made by P490 ( Hugo Schneider A.G., Werk Altenburg), the steel mill code IX (August-Thyssen-Hutte A.G., Duisburg-Hamborn), the plating firm code w, (Hugo Schneider A.G. Messingwerke, Taucha-Leipzig), and the steel composition 1. The batch number is 7 and it was made in 1939.
I hope this of use to some of you. I know many will already know it but it’s good to pass on this sort of information !
Here are some useful links.
303 headstamps - http://enfieldking.tripod.com/enfieldking/id12.html
General headstamps - http://cartridgecollectors.org/headstampcodes.htm
German WW2 headstamps - http://home.scarlet.be/p.colmant/german7_92x57.htm
Info about headstamps and cartridge sizes - http://members.shaw.ca/cstein0/riflelist3.htm
Have fun !!
All Words & Pics © @Steve T 2016
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