Steve T

A Guide to small arms cartridge headstamps.

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Steve T
Moderator

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 ).

56c9cf34a30a0_alliedcartridges.jpg.a2868

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.

56c9cf31e14f2_20mmupright.jpg.6b56bfece7

 

56c9cf317ab9c_20mmheadstamps.jpeg.4d0003

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.

56c9cf3392e6a_50calupright.jpeg.6c0376da

 

56c9cf3334e28_50calheadstamps.jpeg.97167

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.

56c9cf32c8b63_30calupright.jpg.d67984992

 

56c9cf323f25b_30calheadstamps.jpeg.3a3c1

British cartridges tended to be a little more verbose. Take for example these cartridges, all found on an old D-Day practice beach.

56c9cf3448d26_303upright.jpeg.1e40fa37b6

 

56c9cf33e8461_303headstamps.jpeg.6d6c52a

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.

56c9cf30cf6cf_9mm45headstamp.jpeg.df35a2

 

56c9cf312f41a_9mm45upright.jpeg.dc748bc4

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.

56c9cf355ffb0_germanupright.jpeg.cad9751

 

56c9cf3504d6a_germanheadstamps.jpg.25a30

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 !!

Steve T

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Steve T
Moderator

Updated the pics. Hopefully you can all see them now :)

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Lenny
Staff

Fantastic, great reference... :)

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Desert Rat

Sorry I am very late in answering this.....but a great article and a lot of time spent on research....I commend you for this....Well Done!!!

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Steve T
Moderator

Thanks :) Turned it into a video as well :)

 

 

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Desert Rat

Thankyou Steve for this very informative account....We all like it....!!!

Best Wishes...Desert Rat

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Boonie Stomper


Steve T......thank you very much.  Very useful information & well presented.  Awhile back I had watched your video on You Tube and found it very interesting.

All of the small caliber (6.5 & 7.7mm) Japanese ammo that I have found have absolutely nothing...no headstamp at all.  I do have one 12.7 x 81mm SR (live) found in a Japanese airplane wreck that has one very small "kanji" stamp next to the primer.  The bullet itself is comprised  of 3 separate pieces, also stamped with kanji & 2 of the pieces have "CH" stamped. Very strange.  Next photo session, I will have to get pictures & post them. 

594467d3892f1_20mm860.thumb.JPG.22d33923a1baccce3f191725be8b8651.JPG

Some 20mm rounds

594468071c90e_37mm810.thumb.JPG.1f4a48adeb8385fc539e54d58635485f.JPG

"Cooked off" German 37mm.

59446ca28b22d_37mm812.thumb.JPG.197139318826026fe7c5d65ca3715c71.JPG

German 37mm headstamp.  A lot of information there.  Interesting--after "6348" looks like a Jewish star of David.

59446d00dadb8_37mm856.thumb.JPG.d16be822ce5fa0d4d3fd0679382384f7.JPG

Upper--French 37mm Hotchkiss round.  Around WW1 British, USA, French, & Russian all used this weapon in some form or other.

Lower--USA 37mm from a Bell p-39 Airacobra.  This was given to me by a gentleman who worked on P-39's in WW2.

59446d4043bd8_37mm859.thumb.JPG.fac3a230ff38bb47ade41fde8446e17a.JPG

French 37mm head stamp. "37-85" means 37mm for Modele 1885. "PD.Ps" means, Pinchart Denys, Paris (arsenal?).  "2-16" means DOM Feb. 1916,  "126" is still a mystery to me.

59446de300ff1_37mm858.thumb.JPG.c1e574ee17e3135fcb4d48751b9fa1ea.JPG

USA 37mm headstamp

 

 

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Desert Rat

Very Good Images Boonie....and very good descriptions on each, great collectables.

Best to you....IanB

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Desert Rat

Hello Ezear,

Thank for your comment and the link, and that you collect Spanish war items...Have you any that you can add on here?

We on MCN look forward to seeing them.

Best to you....Desert Rat

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val
Moderator

For German ones see the thread here "Die Patrone 7.92x57" there's PDF document attached.

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Desert Rat

Thanks Val for the link, 

Very interesting and good for us to find any ammo and to find out about it.

Best to you...Desert Rat

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