.303-inch ammunition was the standard round adopted by the British in 1889, for both Land and Naval, and subsequently Air, service. Through it’s various iterations, the Mk. VII Ball ammunition was that in service at the time of the introduction of the Mk. I Vickers. The development of the ammunition was then closely linked to the development of the different weapons and the various roles of the Vickers led to various demands for different types of ammunition, including explosive, tracer, armour piercing and many others. These are all covered below.
|Metric (mm)||Imperial (in)|
|Case Type:||Rimmed, bottlenecked|
|Also known as:||
One of the variations across all types of ammunition is the propellant change from cordite to nitrocellulose. This is indicated by the letter “Z” as part of the nomenclature. In March 1940, Army Council Instruction 231 was issued and it was authorised that this would be omitted from the stamping on the base of the cartridge to facilitate manufacture; however, it remained on boxes and labels.
|Mark No.||Approved||Propellant||Primer||Bullet (grains)||Envelope material||Cannelure||Headstamp includes||Remarks|
|7||1910||Cordite||Berdan||160||Cupro Nickel||None||“VII”||Pointed bullet (as opposed to round nosed bullet of Mk. VI)|
|7||1910||Cordite||Berdan||174||Cupro Nickel, Cupro Nickel Clad Steel, Gilding Metal, Gilding Metal Clad Steel||One||“VII” or “7”||Pointed bullet|
|7z||1916||Nitrocellulose||Berdan||174||Cupro Nickel, Cupro Nickel Clad Steel, Gilding Metal, Gilding Metal Clad Steel||One||“VIIz” or “7z”||Pointed bullet|
|8z||1938||Nitrocellulose||Berdan||175||Cupro Nickel, Gilding Metal||One||“VIIIz” or “8z”||Pointed bullet with boattail|
As of early 1942, Ball ammunition had a purple annulus.
Cartridge, SA, Ball, .303-inch, Mk. VII (Mk. 7)
First approved in March, 1910, so was the variant in service at the time the Vickers was adopted. The previous variant, the Mk. VI, was in service with the Maxim but the Vickers was not chambered for it. A number of early manuals make reference to the Mk. VI and comparison with the Mk. VII.
It was approved for Land and Naval service in November, 1910, and extended to Air Service in May, 1919 (although likely to have been used extensively before this date).
It used a cordite propellant. It was originally loaded with one glazedboard disc but this was substituted, in 1933, for strawboard to minimise the danger of fired wads to aircraft armed with .303-inch machine guns.
The muzzle-velocity was 2440 feet per second, with 19½ tons per square inch chamber pressure.
One of the major-issues for aircraft use of the Vickers, by the Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force, was the quality of ammunition. A special ‘purple label’ ammunition was issued for practice. They also produced a ‘reduced charge’ variant (Cartridge, SA, Ball, .303-inch, NC, Mark VII.z.RC) to simulate a No. 1 stoppage in training. It was introduced in September, 1918, and marked with a blue band 1-inch wide.
This was marked with a black-coloured annulus before 3rd September, 1918, when it was changed to purple.
There were a number of issues with different manufacturers’ ammunition being used in machine guns.
INSPECTION TESTS OF S.A.A. AMMUNITION IN MACHINE GUNS
MUNITIONS DESIGN COMMITTEE SMALL ARMS SECTION Minute (S)42. 25 March 1916.
At a conference held on 10.2.16 it was decided that:-
1. The .303 Maxim gun should be used in the test.
2. The gun should be adjusted so that the lock should go home clear on the .068 cartridge head gauge, and that there should be a check on the 0.69 gauge, the latter being measured by the insertion of a washer or washers in the connecting rod.
3. C.I.S.A. would consider an amendment to paragraph 77 of the .303 Vickers’ Machine Gun Handbook, 1914.
4. C.I.S.A. would give due importance to the decision under (2) in dealing with the repair of machine guns.
D.G.M.D. asks C.I.W. to take the necessary steps to give effect to 1 and 2.
C.S.O.F. reports to D.G.M.D., 8.3.16, that trials have been carried out with O.F. proof of cases. It has always been the custom to prove our own output at a pressure 1 ton higher than service ammunition, to allow for possibly worse conditions in the gun than in our proof gun.
1,000 rounds were fired in the Maxim, with the following clearances and results:-
No. of rounds. Head clearance. Casualties. 1,000 .064″ Nil. 1,000 .0665″ Nil. 1,000 .069″ 2 partial separations. 1,000 .0715″ 1 separation.
6 showing signs.
1,000 .074″ 4 partial separations.
8 showing signs.
A repeat trial was then carried out:-
No. of rounds. Head clearance. Casualties. 1,000 .065″ Nil. 1,000 .068″ 2 showing signs of separation. 1,000 .069″ 1 separation.
6 showing signs.
From these results, which were all carried out with lots of cases which had gone successfully through original proof, it is not clear what clearance should be employed with the ton extra pressure, and it is not thought safe to drop the latter. Tentatively, a clearance such that .067 will just touch will be tried, but until the point is settled we may have difficulty in meeting the new regulations.
C.I.W. reports to D.G.M.D., 13.3.16, that the following four deliveries have, after rejection under the old test, been accepted after re-test under new conditions:-
Kynoch 14.12.15. No. of rounds. Casualties. 1st proof 2,000 9 separations.
4 partial separations.
15 stretched metal.
Re-test 2,500 13 partial separations.
10 stretched metal.
Greenwold and Batley, 16.1.16 1st proof 500 3 burst bases.
Re-test 1,500 4 very slight bursts.
1 partial separation.
Eley, 3.12.15. 1st and 2nd proofs 850 3 separations.
5 partial separations.
1 burst body.
Re-test 1,000 9 partial separations. Eley, 4.12.15 1st, 2nd and 3rd proofs 1,500 45 separations.
35 partial separations.
34 stretched metal.
1 burst base.
Re-test 1,000 1 separation.
12 partial separations.
33 stretched metal.
D.D.G.(S) informs D.D.G.(E) that he was told by C.I.W. that the trouble with Kynoch’s was due to faulty brass, but that it was now over. That the trouble with Greenwood and Batley was one of manufacture, and this was now also over. That the trouble with Eley’s still existed, being due very largely to faulty brass. He is of the opinion that it is imperative that immediate steps should be taken to see that none but the best material is obtained by, or supplied to, manufacturers of small arms ammunition.
E.M.2 informs D.D.G.(S), 21.3.16, that he is taking this matter up with Eley Bros., and now that supply of brass and cupro-nickel strip for .303 cartridges has been transferred from the Metal Department to his department the points raised in the preceding Minutes will have his special attention. He has written to all S.A.A. manufacturers drawing their attention to the fact thay they are responsible for the testing of all materials used by them.
Referred to the Munitions Design Committee to note.
ACTION TAKEN- Reported to D.D.G.M.D.(S). Noted by the Committee.
Cartridge, SA, Ball, .303-inch, Mk. VIIz (Mk. 7z)
The ‘z’ indicates the use of nitro-cellulose propellant instead of cordite. It was approved for use in May, 1916, for Land Service.
Cartridge, SA, Ball, .303-inch, Mk. VIIIz (Mk. 8z)
The first boat-tailled ammunition was produced to improve accuracy and stability in flight. It was produced for the Vickers and trialled with 20 specially-produced barrels. The Mk. VIIIz was approved for land service in January, 1938, and became the standard ammunition for use in the Vickers in overhead and indirect fire. It was for sole use in the Vickers but could be used in other weapons in exceptional circumstances where reduced muzzle flash was needed. It was the last variant of the .303-inch ball cartridge.
|Ammunition details of Cartridges, S.A. Ball, .303-in., Mk. 8z|
|Muzzle velocity||Calculated at 90 ft. – 2440 +- 40 f.p.s|
|Chamber pressure||19 tons per sq. in. (approx.)|
Colour of annulus – purple.
|Bullet||Nose – pointed.|
Base – flat.
Form – “boat tail” – streamlined.
Envelope – gilding metal.
Core – lead and antimony 90/10.
Weight – 175 gr. (approx.)
Charge – 36.5 gr.
|Extreme range||4500 yd.|
|Figure of merit||8 in. at 600 yd.|
Whilst the Mark VIIIz ammunition was for the Vickers machine gun, it could be used with other small arms in certain circumstances. The same Army Council Instruction (1464 of November 1940) identified that it mustn’t be used with tracer ammunition in overhead fire.
1464. Use of Mark VII .303-inch S.A.A. and Mark VIIIz .303-inch S.A.A. in barrels of .303-inch Small Arms Weapons (November 1940).
.303″/.22″ Experimental Machine Gun Short Range Practice Ammunition
A necked-down version of the .303-inch Mk. VII case was used to produce a training sub-calibre round that could be used on 30-yard indoor ranges for training purposes. This came with as a set of cartridges and barrel that could be used in a service gun.
Designed for use in peacetime to provide an artificial means of observing the effect of machine gun fire. In the British Army, its issue was controlled centrally and specific locations and units, associated with machine gun training, were allocated an annual allowance.
The allocation for 1938-39 was set by Army Council Instruction 4 of 1939:
- Each M.G. battalion at home: 20,000 rounds.
- Each M.G. troop at home: 100 rounds.
- Each cavalry armoured car regiment at home: 1,300 [This allowance was removed by Army Council Instruction 64 of 1939].
- Each cavalry light tank regiment – each recruit and trained man firing the sub-calibre practices detailed in Tank Training, Vol II – Part II, 1936, Table IV or Table IIIB: 40 rounds
- R. Tank Corps (at home) –
- Each recruit and trained man firing the sub-calibre practices detailed in Tank Training, Vol II – Part II, 1936, Table IV or Table IIIB: 40 rounds.
- Gunnery Wing, A.F.V. School – for instruction, trials and demonstrations: 15,500 rounds.
- Small Arms School, Netheravon Wing – for trials and demonstrations: 1,750 rounds.
If there was any ammunition left at the end of a training year, it had to be used up first as there was a short shelf life for it. The Army Council Instruction included safety instructions that any ‘exudation’ from the bullets needed to be dealt with by placing in a bucket of water and the matter report to the Chief Inspector of Armaments at Royal Arsenal, Woolwich.
As of early 1942, Observing ammunition had a black annulus with code letter O.
Tracer ammunition was marked with a red-coloured annulus.
|Mark No.||Approved||Propellant||Primer||Bullet (grains)||Type||Trace (yards)||Headstamp includes||Remarks|
|Mark I||1915||Cordite||Berdan||167||Bright||75||Ball headstamp|
|VII T Z||1916||Nitrocellulose||Berdan||167||Bright||800||“VII T” or “VII TZ”|
|Bright||800||“VII G” or “GI”|
“VII GZ” or “GIZ”
|Later became the G Mark I or G Mark Iz|
|G Mark II|
G Mark IIZ
|Berdan||154||Bright||1000||“GII” or “G2”|
|G Mark III||1939||Cordite||Berdan||154||Bright||800||“GIII”|
|G Mark IV|
G Mark IVZ
|Berdan||158||Bright / Air / Day||550||“GIV”|
|White bullet tip|
|G Mark V|
G Mark VZ
|Berdan||161||Air / Night dark ignition||550||“GV”|
|Grey bullet tip|
|G Mark VI|
G Mark VIZ
|Berdan||151||Bright / Air / Day||550||“GVI” or “G6”|
|White bullet tip|
|G Mark VII||1944||Cordite||Berdan||151||Delayed Ignition 100 yards||1000||“G7”|
|G Mark 8||1945||Cordite||Berdan||169||Delayed Ignition 100 yards||1000||“G8”||Degraded ogive|
|PG Mark I|
PG Mark IZ
|Dark blue band on case|
As with other ammunition prior the start of the Second World War, it was allocated to units on an annual basis, according to the weapons training year. For 1939, Army Council Instruction 292 allowed the ‘flame tracer’ .303-inch G Mark II of 5000 rounds to a regular machine gun battalion, 300 rounds for a depot then 14,350 rounds to the Small Arms School, Netheravon Wing.
As of early 1942, Tracer ammunition had a red annulus and code letter ‘G.’
Armour Piercing (A.P.)
Armoured Piercing ammunition was marked with a green-coloured annulus.
|Mark No.||Approved||Propellant||Primer||Bullet (grains)||Envelope material||Core||Headstamp includes||Remarks|
|VII S||1915||Cordite||Berdan||174||Cupro Nickel||33 grain steel tip||VII S|
|Berdan||174||Cupro Nickel||80 grain steel||VII P|
|Berdan||155||copper||67 grain steel||VII F|
|Berdan||Cupro Nickel||93 grain steel||VII W or W I|
VII WZ or W IZ
|Titles changed in 1927 from VII W or VII WZ to W Mk. I or W Mk. I Z|
As of early 1942, Armour Piercing ammunition had a green annulus with code letter W. Semi-Armour Piercing also had a green annulus but code letter F.
Incendiary and Explosive
Note: Not all incendiary and explosive ammunition was suitable for synchronised Vickers Guns; however, it is included in this information for completeness.
Incendiary ammunition was marked with a blue coloured annulus and code letter B. Explosive ammunition was marked with a orange-coloured annulus before the Second World War, when it changed to a black-coloured annulus and code letter R.
|Mark No.||Approved||Propellant||Bullet weight (grains)||Filling||Headstamp included||Remarks|
|VII K (Brock)||1916||Cordite||149||Potassium Chlorate||Ball headstamp, usually|
|Buckingham Mk. I||1915||Cordite||170||Yellow phosphorous||Ball headstamp||Round nosed bullet|
|Buckingham Mk. 2|
Buckingham Mk. 2Z
|137||Phosphorous and aluminium powder||“VII B”||Pointed bullet|
|Buckingham Mk. 3|
Buckingham Mk. 3z
|147||Phosphorous and aluminium powder||“VII B”||Flat tipped bullet|
|B Mark 4|
B Mark 4z
“B IV Z”
|B Mark 4 z*||c.1940||Nitrocellulose||154||Phosphorous||“BZ”||Stepped bullet|
|B Mark 6|
B Mark 6z
|157||SR 365 (Barium Nitrate)||“B VI”|
“B VI Z”
|B Mark 7|
B Mark 7z
|177||SR 365 (Barium Nitrate)||“B VII”|
“B VII Z”
|PSA Mark I||1916||Cordite||155||Nitroglycerine||Ball headstamp||Copper warheard|
|PSA Mark 2|
PSA Mark 2z
|167||Nitroglycerine||“VII AA”||Copper warhead|
|RTS Mark I||1917||Nitroglycerine||No special markings||Copper warhead|
|RTS Mark 2z||1917||Nitrocellulose||168||Nitroglycerine||No special markings||Copper warhead|
|O Mark I||1934||Cordite||174||Phosphorous||“O I”|
Blank ammunition was used with the Blank Firing Attachments. The use of bulleted or long-necked blank was necessary in the Vickers to avoid No. 3 stoppages. The use of ‘short’ blank was officially restricted but it appears that the availablity of the Mk. V blank for all other weapons meant that it was often used in the Vickers, possibly with amendments to the feedblock.
|Mark 5 Cordite (also nitrocellulose)||1894||Berdan||Ball type||Crimped|
|Mark 6 Cordite, mock bullet||1901||Berdan||Ball type, crimped with a mock bullet||Case blackened with brass mock bullet|
|L Mark 7, wood bulleted||1939||Berdan||Ball type||Uncrimped||Yellow wood bullet|
|L Mark 9 Z||1955||Berdan||Ball type||Crimped|
|Machine gun Mark I||1914||Berdan||Solid drawn||Short body (heavily bottlenecked)|
In the British Army, at the start of the Second World War, blank ammunition was issued with an annual allowance for the weapons training year. This was done on a Command-by-Command basis as shown in the list below (for 1938-39) from Army Council Instruction 65 of 1939:
- Aldershot Command: Regular Army 1,200,000 rounds.
- Eastern Command: Regular Army 831,000 rounds; Territorial Army 200,000 rounds.
- Northern Command: Regular Army 600,000 rounds; Territorial Army 260,000 rounds.
- Scottish Command: Regular Army 125,000 rounds; Territorial Army 140,000 rounds.
- Southern Command: Regular Army 850,000 rounds; Territorial Army 120,000 rounds.
- Western Command: Regular Army 60,000 rounds; Territorial Army 275,000 rounds.
- London District: Regular Army 400,000 rounds; Territorial Army 140,000 rounds.
- Northern Ireland District: 110,000 rounds.
- Guernsey and Alderney District: 20,000 rounds.
- Egypt and Palestine: 900,000 rounds.
- The Sudan: 100,000 rounds.
- Bermuda: 7,000 rounds.
- China: 445,000 rounds.
- Gibraltar: 40,000 rounds.
- Jamaica: 30,000 rounds.
- Malta: 130,000 rounds.
- Malaya: 170,000 rounds.
These would then be used by the General Officers’ Commanding-in-Chief as they saw fit in their areas, including the recruit training that was taking place at depots. There were also specific allocations for training establishments. The machine gun related allowances were:
- Small Arms School, Hythe Wing: 20,000 rounds.
- Small Arms School, Netheravon Wing: 2,240 rounds.
- Royal Tank Corps Central Schools: 20,000 rounds.
- Royal Military College, Sandhurst: 15,000 rounds.
A note allowed for the issue of the blank firing attachments for the Vickers to Territorial Army units as needed.
Drill and Inspectors
Note: Early cartridges Marks, related to the Mk. 6 Ball ammunition, have been omitted from the list.
|Dummy Drill Mark 4||1910||Brass case pierced with holes. Pointed wood bullet.|
|Dummy Drill Mark 5||1917||Reject service case, blackened, pierced with holes. Mark 7 ball bullet.|
|Dummy Drill Mark 6||1917||White metal case with three flutes. Solid bullet or Mark 7 ball bullet.|
|Drill D Mark 7||1932||Tinned case with three flutes. Metal clad bullet with aluminium core.|
|Drill D Mark 8||1941||Brass case with three thin flutes or holes. Red wood bullet and distance piece.|
|Drill D Mark 9||1943||Brass or chromed case with three thin flutes or holes. Metal clad wooden bullet.|
|Drill D Mark 10||1954||Chromed brass case with three flutes. Mark 7 ball bullet.|
|Drill D 1942 Canadian||1942||Chromed brass case with three flutes. Mark 7 ball bullet.|
|Inspectors Dummy Mark 4||1911||Tinned brass case, service bullet. Weighted to approximate to Cordite ball Mark 7.|
|Inspectors U Mark 5||1918||White metal or chromed case, pointed bullets of various forms.|
|Machine gun Dummy Mark 2||1910||Solid steel dummy cartridge with pointed nose, weighted to approximate to cordite ball.|
Countries using this calibre
- British Colonial Africa
- Dominican Republic
- India and Pakistan
- Irak (Iraq)
- Netherlands East Indies (Indonesia)
- Republic of South Africa
- Siam (Thailand)
- Canadian Army Local E.M.E. Instructions – E 500, 1945
- Goldsmith, 1994
- Huon, 1986
- Labbett and Mead, 1988
- Munitions Design Committee, 1916
- The National Archives, WO 293/24, Army Council Instructions 1939.
- The National Archives, WO 293/25, Army Council Instructions 1940.
- The National Archives, WO 293/27, Army Council Instructions 1942.