Colour & Load Codes

Annulus Colour

 In British service the primer of a cartridge is known as the cap, and this terminology will be used henceforth in this work.

Colouring the varnish used to seal and waterproof the cap (the cap anuulus) as a method of identifying different loadings of .303 inch ammunition first appeared during the latter stages of World War I when a system was proposed based on the many types of special purpose cartridge then in service. This was formally approved for Naval Service on 3rd September 1918 and for Land Service just after the war ended on 17th January 1919. By 1926 a standard simplified system was adopted which remained in use until the introduction of the NATO "L" system in 1954.

 The annulus colour code is as follows: 

Colour

 Load

Purple

Red

Green

Blue

Black

Yellow

Orange

Clear

 Ball and Short Range Practice Ball

Tracer (and also some explosive rounds)

Armour piercing and Semi-armour-piercing

Incendiary

Explosive and Observation

Proof and Standard 

Some explosive rounds

Blank

 In addition a green annulus was used by Ordnance Factories to identify rounds assembled for Daily Proof and other purposes.

 

Bullet Tip Colour

 Until the outbreak of World War II there was only very limited use of coloured bullet tips as an aid to identifying British service ammunition, the principal one being the use of a black tip on .303 inch Observation Mark I rounds. Subsequently, with the greater variety of loads developed during that war, tip colours became more prevalent, especially on canadian and American manufactured ammunition..

 These colour codes were: 

Colour

Load

White

Grey 1

Red

Blue

Green

Black

Black

Silver

Yellow over red

Violet

Orange/Yellow

Day Tracer

Night Tracer

Tracer, mainly on Canadian .303" Tracer G Mark II and some British G Mark II

Incendiary 

Armour piercing and semi armour piercing

.303 inch Observation O Mark I (pre WW2)

Armour piercing (WWII American and Post NATO)

Armour piercing incendiary

Observation

Experimental ammunition

Quoted in wartime Ministry of Supply pamphlets as identification for night tracer, but no specimens have been found.

 1   The grey tip colour on some .303 inch G Mark IV tracers is so pale as to appear white. 

There has been one other use of tip colour. When a supply of dummy drill rounds was required in the 1980’s for Cadet Forces, the Ministry of Defence purchased a supply of .303 inch dummy cartridges made by Bombrini Parodi Delfino in Italy and these were identified by a white bullet tip. As this was considered insufficient identification for a dummy cartridge and therefore a safety hazard, the cartridges were fluted down the length of the case to bring them into greater compliance with the British identification system. These cartridges will only be found with a BPD headstamp.

Load Codes

WWI

As various special purpose loads were introduced in WWI it became necessary to identify these and so a suffix was added to the basic “VII” of the nomenclature. The Mark II Buckingham incendiary thus became “Cartridge, SA, Incendiary Buckingham (VIIB)”. This was incorporated into the headstamp to identify each load.

 The suffixes were:-                                                                                                                       

Suffix

Load

 A.A

B

F

G

K

P

R.C.

R.T.S.

R.T.T.

S

T

W

Y

 Pomeroy incendiary P.S.A. Mark II

Buckingham incendiary

Kings Norton semi-armour piercing

S.P.G. Tracer

Brock incendiary

Kynoch early armour-piercing

Reduced charge

Explosive  “Richard Threlfall & Son”

Explosive “Richard Threlfall Todhunter”

Royal Laboratory early armour-piercing

S.P.K. “Sparklet” tracer

Armour-piercing

Pomeroy incendiary P.S.A. Mark I

Other codes were approved but apparently never used. These include "A" for Pomeroy PSA Mark I (although "Y" was later used) and "H" for Buckingham Huxley incendiary.

Not all these suffixes were included in the headstamp; some were used only for identification in nomenclature and packaging. Those that are known to have been actually used on headstamps are A.A., B, G, P, S, T and W. 

Post 1926

The suffix system described above continued after the war until the late 1920s when the system was changed to allocate each load its own code and mark number. Thus SPG Tracer Mark VIIG became Tracer G Mark I and Armour piercing Mark VIIW became W Mark I etc.  Although this change took place officially in December 1927 tracer rounds manufactured in 1926 and 1927 have been noted with an interim style of headstamp “VIIGI”. 

The codes for the new system were partially based on those in use at the end of World War I and were as follows:

Prefix

Load

B

D

E

F

G

H

J

L

O

P

Q

R

U

W

 Incendiary

Drill

Smoke Generator Discharger

Semi armour-piercing

Tracer

Rifle Grenade

Illuminating 1

Blank

Observation

Practice

Proof

Explosive

Inspector’s Dummy

Armour-piercing

 1    Not used on small arms ammunition 

These codes could be combined, for example as in Practice Tracer PG Mark I. In addition to the above, the letter “N” denoting Naval Service can be found on specially made drill rounds and the letter “S” found on some post-war Australian cartridges marks them as Standard ball. 

 

 

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