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History of the .303 British Calibre
Service Ammunition Round

Many phrases in this text are lifted directly from the Carpetbagger Aviation Museum website, such phrases are used as I consider it pointless to "re-invent" the wheel and much of their phraseology is similar to my own. I hope that this is not thought to be just copying as this is not the intention, there is a link to their work at left.

The .303 British Service cartridge was adopted by Britain in 1889 to partner the Lee, Metford Rifle.

The round, as originally adopted, consisted of a 215 Gr, round nosed, cupro nickel jacketed bullet with of 71.5 Gr of RFG2 Blackpowder. The powder charge was pressed into a pellet with both ends slightly rounded and pierced with a central flash propagating hole. There was a glazeboard wad on top of the charge to protect the bullet base. It had a small boxer type primer and was officially designated "Cartridge, S.A., Ball, Magazine Rifle, Mark 1.C. Solid Case, .303inch". Muzzle velocity was 1830 fps, chamber pressure about 19 tons per sq".

Cordite became the propellant from 1891, the "Cartridge S.A. Ball, Magazine Rifle Cordite Mark 1", had a 215 Gr round nosed cupro-nickel jacketed bullet with a muzzle velocity of about 1970 fps, chamber pressure of about 17.5 tons per sq".

Cordite consisted of 58% Nitro-glycerine, 37% Nitro-cellulose and 5% Mineral Jelly, normally formed into rod, but tubular, tape, flaked and sliced cordite were also used.

Nitro-cellulose was first used as a propellant in the .303 cartridge during 1894, but it was not officially approved for service until 1916. Nitro-cellulose, was not considered to be as stable as cordite in the tropics and thus cordite was still retained as a propellant in military cartridges for the remainder of the cartridge's service life.

Nitro-cellulose propellant was extensively used during WW1 & WWII. The last .303 ball cartridges manufactured at Radway Green in 1973 were loaded with nitro-cellulose powder and not cordite. Cordite was last used for the .303 cartridge in the 1960s.

The round nose bullet of the black powder Mark 1 and 2 and the cordite Mark 1 and 2 compared poorly against the .303 inch Dum Dum rounds specially issued in 1897. This cupro-nickel jacketed bullet, produced at the Dum Dum ammunition factory in India, had an exposed lead nose which gave rapid expansion on impact.

This Caused the British Government to adopt a 215 Gr cupro-nickel jacketed hollow pointed bullet in 1897. The "Cartridge S.A. Ball .303 inch Cordite Mark III". Similar jacketed hollow point bullets were used in the Mark IV and V rounds. These soft nosed and hollow pointed bullets were considered to be in contravention of the St. Petersburg Declaration and the Hague Convention, in 1903 they were withdrawn from active service to be used solely for target practice.

The Mark VI round was introduced in 1904 with a 215 Gr jacketed round nosed bullet similar to the Mark II bullet, but with a thinner jacket.

In 1910 the 174 grain spitzer pointed Mark VII bullet was adopted and the muzzle velocity was increased to 2440 fps. This mark of bullet remained the standard ball round for the remainder of the .303 cartridge's service life.

In 1938 the .303 Mark VIIIZ round was approved to obtain greater effective range from the Vickers Medium Machine Gun. This round had a nitro-cellulose powder charge with a 175 grain boat tailed, streamlined, steel jacketed bullet having a muzzle velocity of 2550 fps. Chamber pressure however, was higher at 20 - 21 tons per sq" compared to the 19.5 tons per sq" of the Mark VII round.

Tracer, armour piercing and incendiary cartridges were adopted by the British Government during 1915, explosive bullets having been approved for service in 1916. These rounds were extensively developed over the years and saw several Mark numbers. The last tracer round introduced into British service was the G Mark 8 round, approved in 1945, the last armour piercing round was the W Mark 1Z introduced in 1945 and the last incendiary round was the B Mark 7 introduced in 1942. Explosive bullets were not produced in the UK after about 1933 due to the relatively small amount of explosive that could be contained in the bullet limiting their effectiveness, their role being successfully fulfilled by the use of Mark 6 and 7 incendiary bullets which were of a less complicated construction.

In 1935 the .303 O Mark 1 Observing round was introduced for use in machine guns. The bullet to this round was designed to break up with a puff of smoke on impact with a target or the ground. It was intended as a training aid only, for the observation of long range shooting where accuracy of fire was not always easily defined, even if tracer ammunition was used. The later Mark 6 and 7 incendiary rounds could also be used in this role if required.

Since the introduction of the .303 cartridge in 1889 it has been manufactured in at least 20 countries and in nearly 200 military variants as well as in numerous experimental and sporting cartridge configurations. It may be of some interest to learn that during the First World War more than 7,000 million Mk 7 ball cartridges were produced by British factories alone.

Although the United States of America did not officially adopt a .303 rifle, it did produce, under the Lend - Lease scheme of WWII, nearly a third of the wartime production of No 4 rifles used by British troops. US Lend - Lease production for the UK was 1,196,706 No 4 rifles whereas the total British wartime production of this rifle was 2,021,913. This of course was not the total number of .303 rifles produced in the UK during WW2, as the SMLE Rifle No 1 was still being manufactured, BSA alone producing nearly a quarter of a million No 1 Mk III and III* rifles. The USA had also produced the .303 Pattern 1914, also known as the Rifle No 3 Mk 1 or 1*, for the British Government during WW1. The USA should therefore, along with Australia, India and the United Kingdom, be considered as one of the major producers of both .303 rifles and ammunition.

 Written... 10 July 2001, New Domain... 12 November 2003, Upgraded... 01 February 2006, Further Upgraded... 18 January 2007,
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