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.303 inch Ball Mark VI to VIIIz & L1A1

Following the concerns about the use of hollow point bullets for general service a decision was made to revert to manufacture of the Cordite Ball Mark II. Despite the fact that other nations were beginning to introduce spitzer (pointed) bullets and Britain was already developing these it was thought that a more effective bullet than the Mark II should be introduced.

A series of trials were held and a new round nosed bullet with a thinner envelope to increase fragmentation was selected. There was some discussion whether this merited a new mark number or should be called the Mark II* but it was approved as the Mark VI in 1904.

Ball Cordite Mark VI

"Cartridge S.A. Ball .303 inch Cordite Mark VI" was approved in January 1904 to design RL 10781 and shown in LoC Paragraph 12411 dated October 1904. The design number was later changed to DD/L/14006 and "Cordite" was dropped from th title in 1907..

Like its predecessor Mark II, the Ball Mark VI had a round nosed 215 grain bullet but with a thinner cupto-nickel envelope to increase lethality. The core was an alloy of 98/2% lead antimony.

The propellant charge was 31 grains of Cordite size 3 3/4 with a single glazeboard wad to give a muzzle velocity of 1,970 feet per second at a pressure of 17.5 to 18 tsi.

Initially the case bore the letter "C" for Cordite but this was omitted from future manufacture from April 1907. At the same time, two further changes took place in the headstamp. The last two digits of the manufacturing year were added (this being the Financial Year from 1st April to 31st March) and for ammunition supplied by commercial contractors two Broad Arrows were added to the headstamp on acceptance by government inspectors.

The army supported the National Rifle Association matches at Bisley with a free issue of ammunition and specially selected lots of Mark VI were supplied as Match ammunition. These were identified by parts of the case being blackened and in some cases by an overstamp of "NRA" on the headstamp.

Bundle wrapper from the 1904 Imperial Meeting at Bisley and two examples of the Match cartridges.

Ball Mark VII

By 1910 Britain was expecting to shortly adopt a new .276 inch rifle and ammunition, but whilst these trials were being carried out several foreign powers, most importantly Germany and France, had adopted pointed “spitzer” bullets resulting in increased muzzle velocities and flatter trajectories. Consequently, as an interim measure until the new rifle and cartridge could be finalised work hadstarted on a British equivalent.

 “Cartridge S.A. Ball .303 inch Mark VII” was approved to design RL 15572 G.(1) in March 1910 but had not yet been shown in Lists of Changes.

The spitzer bullet weighed 160 grains and to ensure long range stability the bullet was made as long as possible commensurate with the desired weight and this was achieved by having a composite core. The front third of the core was aluminium and the rear part lead/antimony and the bullet had no cannelure.

Almost immediately a newly manufactured batch failed accuracy proof and manufacture was suspended. This of course was highly embarrassing and a new design was hastily prepared, resulting in the now familiar 174 grain bullet which was to serve for the next sixty years. To avoid drawing attention to this the Mark was not advanced when the new round was introduced.

The later and early version of the Ball Mark VII bullet.

Drawing RL15572 G for the original 160 grain Mark VII bullet.

The new “Cartridge S.A. Ball .303 inch Mark VII” was approved to design RL17146 in November 1910 and shown in LoC Paragraph 15629 dated October 1911. The bullet was to design RL 17069B and both these designs were later replaced by DD/L/14006. Although use of the word "Cordite" in titles had lapsed in 1907, it was sometimes reintroduced to the Mark VII during World War I to distinguish it from the nitrocellulose loaded version. “Cartridge S.A. Ball .303 inch NC Mark VIIz” was approved in May 1916, loaded with DuPont No.16 powder.

The redesigned bullet weighed 174 grains and as introduced had a cannelure near the base into which the case neck was slit crimped. When neck coning replaced the slit crimps for bullet securement in 1944 the cannelure was moved to a new higher position. The bullet was flat based with an 8CRH ogive and a composite core, the forward part usually being aluminium and the rear part a 98/2% lead/antimony alloy. During wartime the aluminium tip was replaced by compressed paper, fibre or ceramic.

From 1911 until about 1943 the bullet envelope was cupro-nickel but from that date gilding metal clad steel became increasingly used. Post WW2 the envelope was generally gilding metal.

The propellant charge was about 37 grains of Cordite MDT 5-2 or 41 grains of nitrocellulose to give a muzzle velocity of 2,440 feet per second at a pressure of 19.5 tsi. A glazeboard or strawboard wad was placed above the propellant.

The headstamp  included the numeral "VII" or "VIIZ ("7" or "7Z" after 1944) and a purple primer annulus was approved in June 1918.

The revised Mark VII served through two World Wars, the Korean War and countless other smaller confrontations. It was manufactured in all the major Commonwealth countries and vast quantities were manufactured in America on contract. This resulted in a number of variations, particularly in those manufactured in the United States where the bullets were made with all lead cores without the lighter tip filler. To maintain the weight at 174 grains, these bullets were slightly shorter than the normal Mark VII. Also, ammunition manufactured in the United States and some in Canada utilised a smaller Boxer cap than the normal Berdan one.

Typical World War I bundle wrapper for .303 inch Mark VII. In this case made by Greenwood & Batley (G) and packed for the Royal Navy as signified by the "N" at the top of the label.

Indian World War 2 bundle wrapper made at Kirkee in 1940.

Ball Mark VIIIz

The earliest experiments with boattail bullets took place in about 1903, but real interest did not start until after WWI. During that war Vickers guns had been used very successfully for long range barrage fire, especially to indict enemy rear areas. Work in the 1920s on the .5 inch Vickers bullets suggested the same principles could be applied to the .303 inch bullet to give even longer range.

A number of designs were tested over the next ten years with particular interest shown in the streamlined match bullets commercially produced by Kynoch for long range competition at Bisley and elsewhere. The Small Arms Committee purchased Kynoch match ammunition in various forms in the period 1932 to 1937 and from this developed the Ball Mark VIIIz.

1937 dated drawing of experimental streamlined bullet prior to adoption of the Ball Mark VIIIz

"Cartridge S.A. Ball .303 inch Mark VIIIz" was approved  in January 1938 to design DD/L?8877 and shown inn LoC Paragraph B.2623 dated July 1939. A modified bullet was made from 1942 to design DD/L/14049.

The Ball Mark VIIIz bullet weighed 175 grains and had a lead/antimony core with either a cupro-nickel or gilding metal envelope, although the former was little used. The bullet was boattailed with one cannelure. Originally the boattail was "stepped" down from the diamete of the body but after 1942 the design was changed to one where the boattail was smoothly continued from the main diameter.

The propellant charge was between 37 and 41 grains of nitrocellulose to give a muzzle velocity of about 2,550 feet per second at a pressure of 20-21 tsi.

The headstamp included the numeral "VIIIZ", after 1945 changing to "8Z", and a purple primer annulus.

Although the .303 inch Ball Mark VIIIz was designed for long range fire in Vickers guns, it could also be used in rifles and Bren guns in emergencies or special circumstances, contrary to what is often claimed about it being "hot" machine gun ammunition.

Although producing a slightly higher pressure, 20-21 tsi compared with the 19.5 tsi of the Mark VII, rifles and Bren guns were proofed at 25 tsi and so were well within the pressure limits.

"Pamphlet 11, Small Arms Ammunition" states that Ball Mark VIIIz may be used in rifles and Bren guns when less flash is required, e.g. at night.

Ball L1A1

By about 1980 supplies of .303 inch ball ammunition were almost exhausted, yet cadet units were still armed with Lee Enfield No.4 rifles. To overcome this problem  ball (and blank) ammunition was purchased from the Greek Powder & Cartridge Company and approved for service as "Round .303 inch Ball L1A1" in January 1983.

The cases were Boxer primed with a three stake primer crimp and headstamped "HXP  83" or similar.

The bullet was flat based and weighed 174 grains but did not have the aluminium tip filler.

The propellant was about 40 grains of nitrocellulose ball powder to give a muzzle velocity of about 2400 fps.

Left: Ball L1A1 headstamped "HXP  83"