Copyright International Ammunition
Association, 2003. All rights reserved.
|Safety warning: There are a number of illustrations of sectioned cartridges (also called "cutaways") in this article. DO NOT try sectioning ammunition - it requires specialized tools and specialized knowledge. You only have one pair of eyes and one pair of hands - keep them!|
An Introduction to
by Chris Punnett
(Author of .30-06. A hard-bound 384-page volume covering the development and production of the .30-06 in 48 countries from its inception to the early 1990s
Copies available from booksellers, or from the author email@example.com.)
The .30-06 cartridge can be looked at as the result of several
different developments that took place during the closing decades of the nineteenth
century. These developments were: the change from blackpowder to smokeless powder;
the general acceptance throughout the world of the benefits of smaller caliber
weapons; and the desire to move away from a rimmed cartridge. The move to smokeless
powder and smaller diameter bullets had been accomplished to some degree with
the adoption of the rimmed .30 Krag in 1892 but this proved to have a limited
powder capacity. By 1901, work had started on a rimless cartridge which was
based on an earlier rimmed experimental .30 caliber round. The result of this
work was the .30 Ball Model of 1901 - the ".30-01" or "Thick-rim".
As its name implies, the rim on this cartridge was thick in comparison to more modern rimless cartridges including the .30-03 and .30-06 which followed. The bottle-necked case held a 220-grain round-nosed cupronickel-jacketed bullet.
Running parallel to this was the development of the Springfield Magazine Rifle. By 1903, the original .30-01 cartridge had lost its thick rim and had been adopted as the .30 Model of 1903 - the ".30-03", and in the same year the Springfield was also adopted as the .30 Rifle, Model of 1903.
The .30-03 retained the 220-grain round-nosed bullet of its predecessor at a time when most world powers had realized the advantages of a pointed or "spitzer" bullet. In early 1906, a pointed bullet was mounted on a .30-03 case that had the neck reduced by a tenth of an inch to accommodate the reduced bearing surface on this new bullet. Thus, on October 15, 1906, with little fanfare, was born the .30 Cal. Model of 1906 - the ".30-06".
From top: .30 Ball Model of 1901 - ".30-01" or "Thick-Rim"
.30 Model of 1903 - ".30-03"
From these humble beginnings, the .30-06 became one of the most popular military and sporting cartridges in the world, being manufactured in almost fifty countries. To be fair, its popularity was a reflection of the economic and political power of the U.S.A. rather than just the cartridge's performance and flexibility.
As well as being manufactured all over the world, the .30-06 was the official U.S. rifle and light machine gun cartridge through two World Wars and countless "Police Actions". Nothing generates small arms development like a good war and the .30-06 was no exception. Many of the experimentals and limited-issue rounds are available to collectors (some of these are covered later in this article). Military production started in 1906 and was still going strong in Denmark in the 1990s though U.S. Military production effectively ceased in the 1960s except for match rounds. Sporting rounds are still made by a large number of U.S. and foreign manufacturers. The latter often refer to the .30-06 as the 7.62x63 - the "63" referring to the case length in millimeters.
World War II provided the U.S. with the opportunity to expand its influence and what better way than to provide friendly foreign powers with your excess weaponry. These countries quickly realized the benefit of making their own ammunition and many performed a great deal of experimentation of their own.
This huge amount of development plus the variety of loads designed by practically every sporting ammunition manufacturer in the world poses somewhat of a dilemma for the novice .30-06 collector. A conservative estimate of the number of variations of the .30-06 cartridge, if one counts headstamp dates and the different hunting bullets, is in excess of 10,000 rounds. A good box collection can run in excess of 750 boxes.
So how do you collect? Do you go for every variation from every manufacturer or do you concentrate on U.S. Military? Do you collect boxes (full and/or empty)? How you decide to collect .30-06 depends mostly on what gets you excited, with a few "minor" considerations like space and money.
To help you decide, here's a list of countries known to have made .30-06:-
Rep. South Africa
Typical military loadings will include: Armor-piercing (AP), AP-Incendiary, Ball, Blank, Dummy, Gallery, High Pressure Test, Incendiary, and Tracer. Many of these will be identified by colored bullet tips. The following is a list of commonly found colored bullet tips on .30-06.
Perhaps the best way to introduce someone to .30-06 is to go through the various loadings, provide some background information and things to look out for.
In the U.S. the Ball round was originally loaded with a 150-grain cupronickel jacketed bullet referred to as the "M1906" bullet, for obvious reasons. WWI made the military rethink this as the use of machine guns at relatively long range required a heavier bullet. Towards the end of WWI and for several years after, the U.S. experimented with different heavier bullets. Many different types were tried, including even a boat-tailed version of the round-nosed Krag bullet! This series of tests is often referred to as the "Daytona Beach" tests after the place where some of the test firings were conducted. The tests eventually resulted in the adoption of the M1 bullet - a 172-grain boat-tail with a gilding metal (copper alloy) jacket. These Daytona Beach test round are not uncommon and the telltale sign on the common ones is a slightly more pointed ogive (see illustration below). This M1 bullet survived the period between the two World Wars but as hostilities looked inevitable, the U.S. Military realized that though the 172-grain M1 was great in machine guns it was not going to be pleasant to fire from the shoulder for the average GI. The remedy was simply to go back to the M1906 bullet, give it a gilding metal jacket and call it the "M2" ball bullet. This was adopted in 1938.
From left: the M1906, M1 and a Daytona Beach test bullet
One thing to look out for from this period is ball rounds with a silver tip, headstamped F A 41. These were an M1 Ball contract for the U.S. Navy and were given a silver tip to distinguish them from the M2 ball rounds which were in service by then. The lot number was 2160 and you can sometimes find sealed boxes of these where the seller is unaware of their silver tip. Ball rounds with silver tips headstamped F A 41 are often sold as Armor-piercing Incendiary (API) rounds but the silver tip ID for API rounds didn't appear until 1943.
Foreign countries normally followed the U.S. standards for ball rounds with the majority using the 150-grain bullet except where match rounds are concerned.
The earliest AP rounds that you are likely to encounter is the M1917 with its lead bullet tip - occasionally mistaken for a hunting bullet in a military case - usually headstamped FA 17 or F A 18. The Hague Convention of 1899 (Not the Geneva Convention as some would have you believe) banned the use of expanding bullets on personnel. As a result, the M1917 AP round was short lived as senior officers objected to using it on the grounds that servicemen captured with this in their possession were likely to be treated very harshly. The quick solution was to apply a full jacket to the bullet and call it the M1918. Both the M1917 and the M1918 had cupronickel jackets. The M1918 can be recognized by the ring on the bullet jacket just above the case mouth.
While further experimentation after WWI was limited, there is one or two experimental-type AP rounds that you can spot if you know what you're looking for. The first is what is referred to as the "M1920" on a case headstamped F A 20. This boat-tailed bullet with a cupronickel jacket has a magnetic core which the discerning collector will spot with his trusty magnet. The second AP round to look out for has an exposed steel point but with a very rounded ogive. This is what is called the Tull Bryant bullet and it dates from 1932.
Starting in the early 1930s, there was a huge amount of experimentation on high velocity armor-piercing bullets and these are not uncommon. Many of them featured reduced surface areas with narrow driving bands and cannelures on the case neck. Some had black bullet tips, many did not, and one has a small red tip but it is extremely rare. The tests continued through 1938 though one of them was adopted earlier as the M1 AP which was a high velocity round with a black tip and a faint raised band just above the case mouth.
In 1939, the U.S. adopted the AP M2 which had a flat based bullet weighing 163-168 grains and identified by a black bullet tip. This remained the standard .30-06 AP round until the caliber was phased out.
One things to look out for at gun shows is Plate Test AP rounds and their boxes. These were AP rounds that were loaded to a certain velocity for testing armor plate. Early rounds were not identified any differently than standard AP rounds and once out of their box they are difficult to identify. Some have black tips and also a wad of cotton over the powder charge. If you shake an AP round and you cannot hear the powder move it is possibly a Plate Test round. Later Plate Test rounds were identified by black and silver bullet tips.
One interesting thing about the boxes for Plate Test rounds is that they are often hand labeled identifying the velocity to which they are loaded and the name of the company making the armor plate to whom they were to be shipped.
Foreign AP round usually followed the U.S. standard bullet design and color coding. The exception is the AP from Argentina that has a red bullet tip and the British AP round which has a green bullet tip.
Another AP round to keep an eye open for is the WWI contract assembled
in the UK for the U.S. These used U.S. cases and British bullets with cupronickel-clad-steel
jackets and were identified by a green band at the case mouth. Headstamps
of W.R.A.Co. 18, F A 18, and U.S.C.Co. 18 may be encountered.
From left: The M1917, M1918, M2 - sectioned and full views.
From Left: High velocity tests: black tip (F A 35), red-tipped T6 (F A 34) which had a blunt steel slug (shown sectioned); the Tull Bryant bullet (FA 32); early Plate Test headstamped F A 33 and the later style headstamped F A 42.
AP M1 High Velocity
Plate Test AP
The challenge of getting any worthwhile incendiary effect from such a light bullet plagued the .30-06 its entire life. Early tests in WWI were conducted but no specimens have ever turned up. Experiments in WWII substituted the lead point filler in the standard armor-piercing round with a barium nitrate/magnesium mixture called IM-11, The first ones had a black and blue bullet tip but these are rare. Later ones (1943) used a silver tipped bullet as identification. The early designation was T15 but this changed to M14. It wasn't until the late 1940s that a different approach was taken, with a change in the core shape, that any meaningful incendiary charge could be contained in the .30-06 bullet. This was adopted as the M14A1 (see illustration below).
Foreign API rounds are not common as most countries seem to have abandoned the concept in such a small caliber. The United Kingdom, Belgium and Yugoslavia produced some - also identified by a silver bullet tip. In addition, the UK produced an experimental one (internal details unknown) that was identified by a red `splash' on the bullet on a case headstamped K60 .30.
From left: the early T15 color code with sectioned bullet showing the tiny amount of incendiary compound; sectioned M14A1 with complete round next to it.
Blanks served a variety of purposes rather than just as an expression of enthusiasm on July 4th. Apart from saluting (ie: noise), blanks were also used to launch rifle grenades, radio antennas, and in movies to function weapons.
The earliest form of noise blank was a paper bullet loaded into the .30-06 case. Initially these cases were tinned but this was stopped and plain brass cases were used. In 1909, batches of the .30-03 paper-bullet blanks had their necks resized to fit the .30-06 chamber. These can also be found with both tinned and plain brass cases. The blanks actually had a second powder charge in the bullet to ensure that it broke up.
These paper-bullet blanks were expensive to make and by 1909 a much simpler blank with a standard case crimped over a cup-shaped lacquered wad was introduced as the M1909. While the cup-shaped wad was replaced with the more familiar red card wad, the design remained virtually unchanged for the life of the caliber.
Noise blanks from other countries are a lot more colorful than those in the U.S.. Many countries experimented with plastic cases, and paper and wood bullets. France used white and translucent plastic for blanks and they also had a version that used gold plastic for the movie "The Longest Day".
French blanks: Plastic, paper bullet, wood bullet, gold plastic
Norway was also using plastic for blanks and also tried aluminum. Their Raufoss plant experimented extensively with aluminum blanks with plastic bullets in the late 1950s and these are prized by the .30-06 collector. The tremendous variety of foreign blanks would take an article of their own.
Norwegian blanks: Yellow (rifle grenade), red plastic with Berdan primer, red plastic with aluminum reinforcing tube, and all aluminum experimental blank with plastic liner.
One of the other uses for blanks was propelling grenades. The earliest ones are sought after by collectors and though some are not rare they are difficult to find unless one gets to acartridge show. Because these early grenade blanks used a small charge of blackpowder with the smokeless propellant, the cases deteriorated and finding ones in good condition is hard. Early ones were also headstamped with their purpose CWG - "Chemical Warfare Grenade", CRG - "Chemical Rifle Grenade", or just plain RG - "Rifle grenade". These normally have a standard case with a 5-point crimp. Eventually these became standardized as the M1 grenade blank. This has a crimped case with a cannelure on the case neck. The M2 and M3 grenade blanks were identical but for changes in powder charge and were made for many years.
Headstamps from Blank Cartridges
One rather unusual but not uncommon grenade blank made in the U.S. has
a wood bullet. This was for the Viven-Bessières grenade which was
launched by a ball round where the bullet actually went through the center
of the grenade. This presented a problem as the danger space for the ball
rounds exceeded that of the grenade and training could only be carried
out on grenade ranges with sufficient space. So a blank with a solid wood
bullet was developed. These are found on cases headstamped F A VB 33, F
A 21-R and others.
From left: Antenna Erector, V.B. grenade blank, standard M3 blank and the rare M3E1 headstamped F A 53.
Another round to look out for is the Antenna Erector blank which normally uses a shortened case with a blue crimp (see photo above). This was for launching the antenna on remote radios. It was also made in a standard length case like a normal rifle grenade blank but also with a blue crimp. Regrettably this is also often faked.
You may occasionally encounter blanks which have numbers or the word "Full", on the wad. These are some of the quite common movie blanks made by companies like Stembridge Gun Rentals. As the name implies they were made in great quantities for the movie industry using any cases available and with virtually any sort of case crimp.
Movie Blanks by Stembridge
It should be remembered that not all crimped blanks are grenade launchers.
The earliest U.S. military dummies had tinned cases with 6 "flutes" (grooves running along the case), and 4 holes drilled in the case below the flutes. This early form of dummy (referred to as the M1906) was replaced with a very similar one
but with 3 holes in the flutes. This was also changed to one hole and then no holes at all, eventually being referred to as the M40 by which time the tinned case had been dropped in favor of plain brass or steel. Any cases were used, including rejected cases and occasionally cases intended for match rounds. There was also a series of smooth-case dummies without these flutes but with 1, 2 or 3 holes in the case, the latter being called the M2. Keep your eyes open for the Range Dummy. This round looks like a normal ball round except it has a groove cut in the head near the rim. This was used by instructors who sneaked the round into a recruit's magazine to detect flinching.
Dummies: First 3 are M1906 dummies with the second one having an experimental neck crimp. M2, M40 and a Remington contract for the RAF with green flutes.
Dummies: Range dummy with slot in case, dummy duplex (2 bullets), experimental solid plastic and a blank board dummy.
Dummies from England - especially those from WWII make colorful additions to the collection. The U.S. supplied the cases and both the British Government and local "Home Guard" units made the dummies. There are an endless variety of dummies from this period - many were poorly made.
British dummies - note the use of a swaged
.303 bullet on the pair on the right.
Because dummies were made with rejected and experimental cases, it is a good idea to look at the headstamp closely. Several steel-cased U.S. dummies have turned up that had a Frankford Arsenal headstamp (F A date) with either the "F" or the "A", or the date omitted from the headstamp.
Perhaps one of the most unusual U.S. dummies is that designed for the Hollifield Target Practice Rod device. This ingenious device fitted in the barrel of the M1903 rifle and was essentially a rod with a sharp point on the end. These special dummies, which also had a rod in them, were placed in the chamber. "Firing" the rifle resulted in the rod in the cartridge transmitting the blow to the rod in the barrel which popped out of the muzzle, pricking a paper target held just in front of the rifle. These dummies were made from fluted and smooth cases. Look for the slightly protruding rod at the bullet tip.
While .30-06 Frangible rounds are common, the story of their development is not well known. They were actually developed during WWII by Duke and Princeton Universities as part of a government contract. The intent was to develop a bullet that could be used to train bomber gun crews by allowing them to fire at a real aircraft. It took several years to arrive at a suitable bullet (and an armored aircraft for that matter). The common mottled grey-green bullet is actually a mixture of powdered lead and Bakelite, officially referred to as RD-42-93. Usually found with green and white bullet tips, they can sometimes appear with either no tip color or just white tip. In the majority of cases, these are simply rounds that have escaped the complete painting process. Those loaded on commercial cases (as opposed to having a military headstamp) might, repeat "might", be from the early experiments at Duke and Princeton.
Initially called the T44, the frangible was adopted as the M22. A round with a different powder and a tan and green bullet tip was called the T74.
One unusual frangible round has a short sharp bullet with a black tip (and a hemispherical base) and was actually for testing the armor plate on the target aircraft.
There is an extremely rare and often faked Frangible Tracer, identified by a red and white bullet tip. Because the trace cavity in the bullet was unsealed and trace compositions expand over time, most of these have long since broken apart.
Frangibles: Paint process escapee; regular T44; T44 sectioned; T74; plate test & section; and Frangible Tracer.
I'll cover these together since though they started off as different rounds they did eventually end up as the same cartridge filling both roles. Since guards were often posted on installations in urban areas, it was felt that a normal ball cartridge posed too much danger to local residents if one was fired in anger. Having a cartridge that could be used in these circumstances was the rationale for the early Guard loads. The first U.S. type simply used the ball bullet and a small powder charge. It was identified by 5 smooth cannelures on the case. These cannelures were its undoing as, in a dirty chamber, these weakened the case sufficiently that cases would separate at the cannelures leaving the remains of the case stuck in the chamber. The remedy was to switch the identification to 6 short dents or flutes on the shoulder.
Gallery rounds were, as their name implies, for training purposes on ranges not equipped for the full service round. In the U.S. there was quite a bit of experimentation around WWI though specimens of these tests are virtually impossible to find. They resulted in the common round-nosed lead bullet and the slightly pointed "Ideal" bullet in the service case. Any case was used including reclaimed cases (often marked with a line across the headstamp). Cases and loose bullets were also supplied to militia units so it is not easy to tell what is a factory specimen. In 1933, the M1919 Gallery round with the smooth round-nosed lead bullet was classified as the M1 Guard cartridge. In the early 1930s Frankford Arsenal experimented with a "Short Range" series with hollow and wood-cored bullets. Some of these had round noses. While these are not common it is always worth checking to see if a bullet feels light. Most of these were headstamped F A 30.
Guard/Gallery rounds: Early M1906; Late M1906; Late M1906 sectioned; M1919 Gallery: sectioned gallery; hollow jacket experimental from FA.
Outside the U.S., countries like Norway and Sweden experimented and adopted gallery or short range cartridges utilizing plastic bullets or very light short hollow bullets. Many of these also used plastic cases. One quite interesting one has a red plastic case which extends up to also form the core of the bullet which has a copper jacket (see photo below).
Norwegian short range cartridges
High Pressure Test / Pressure Test /Proof
While I have lumped these together, there are subtle differences in their usage. A High Pressure Test (HPT) or Proof round is intended to place more than normal stress on a chamber to ensure that it can stand the wear and tear of a military or hunting life. A Pressure Test cartridge is loaded to a specific pressure which may be a equal to a load it is intended to duplicate or sometimes less depending on its use.
U.S. military HPT rounds were usually identified by a tinned case. Early ones from the U.S. also used a pointed lead bullet. As this was hardened lead it had a blue sheen and was given the nickname "Blue Pill". Commercial HPT rounds were usually tinned but often had a red bullet and base. Some foreign countries used copper-washed cases or knurled rims to identify HPT rounds. Because an HPT round can be needed at various stages of weapon manufacture, there are some that have no extractor groove and also a rare one that is for an unfinished chamber that is thinner than a standard round. These are called "Autofrettage" rounds and are difficult but not impossible to find.
Cartridges with headstamps of FA TEST are assumed by many collectors to be HPT rounds. While some HPT rounds were so marked, the FA TEST headstamp was used extensively by Frankford Arsenal to identify many internal experimental rounds.
HPT rounds: Autofrettage, rimless-grooveless (FA TEST headstamp); commercial proof with red bullet and half tinned case with DANGER PROOF LOAD stenciled on case; Israeli HPT with red base and bullet
While the incendiary effect of such a small bullet was often questioned, work continued over two decades to perfect it. The first type of incendiary officially used in the U.S. had a blackened flat-tip bullet that used a phosphorous filler between lead slugs. These are more often encountered without the blackened bullet and it was called the M1917 Incendiary. This was quickly changed to a blackened bullet with a normal profile but the same internal composition and referred to as the M1918.
By WWII, a bullet that was easier to manufacture was developed that used a barium nitrate and magnesium compo sition (IM-11). Initially called the M1 Incendiary with a gilding metal base plug, it was altered to use a simpler lead base plug and called the M1 Alternate Incendiary. Identification of both was by a blue bullet tip. These will be found on cases from a variety of WWII U.S. manufacturers.
Most foreign manufacturers don't appear to have bothered with a .30 caliber incendiary. The exception being Belgium (FN) with its blue tip. French cartridges with a blue tip exist but all examined so far appear to be ball rounds with blue tips. Whether these are fakes or intended for another purpose is not known.
Given the relatively small size of the .30 caliber bullet, it is surprising that anyone would consider designing an explosive bullet for it - but they did. To be fair, most of these were intended to be "Observation" rounds where the detonation of the bullet confirmed that one was on target.
Early U.S. experiments included a 1919 round called the "Supersensitive Explosive" round. This was most unusual in that it had a nipple-like firing pin protruding from the bullet nose. It remains rare but can be seen in advanced collections. There are actually several variations but most collectors would be pleased to have just one!
A true explosive round was developed by Winchester for the U.S. Government in 1940. This is called the Pomeroy after the guy who patented the design. The nitroglycerine explosive element is enclosed in a copper tube in the bullet nose and activated by the bullet rotation concentrating it against the side of the tube. It was loaded on cases headstamped W.R.A. .30-,06. While they were supposed to have a green tip, this seems to come off easily and most have no visible signs to identify them - they look like a normal copper-tubed hunting bullet.
In the late 1940s Frankford Arsenal and Winchester again experimented with an observation bullet identified by a yellow tip and this was the T99 Observing. This is most often found with a WRA 51 headstamp. Rounds headstamped F A 52 with yellow tips are not unusual but many of these are inspectors dummies loaded with dummy powder and primer.
Supersensitive Explosive; Pomeroy & T99 Observing
A couple of U.S. companies made "commercial" explosive rounds - Velet and Hi-Vel being two. They were not intended for military use.
In the early 1900s, the U.S. Government invited commercial ammunition manufacturers to submit cartridges for the trials for the various national and international matches. This allowed these manufacturers to come up to speed in .30-06 production methods. Rounds from companies like Remington, Winchester, U.S.C.Co. etc can be found with military headstamps dating from before WWI and these were from those submissions.
It wasn't until 1921 that the U.S. started headstamping match rounds to identify the match and year, but they continued the practice into the 1960s Headstamps can include NM for National Match, IM for International Match, PM or P for Palma Match. R indicating a Rifle Annealed case - used in a variety of matches. I & P for International and Palma, etc.
Apart from the headstamps and occasionally a greater than normal overall length there is little to excite the collector when it comes to match rounds. There are a couple that are very hard to find - eg: FA INM 25, and one that was known to have been made in the thousands but has never been seen since (F A 41NM).
A round you will occasionally come across has a headstamp commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the .30-06. Is was originally made as a nickel plated dummy but a number were loaded in brass cases as match rounds.
Apart from Norway, other countries did not use the .30-06 to any great extent for matches. However, Norway has some interesting headstamps on some of their match rounds.
Match rounds: 50th Anniversary; RAufoss/NOrma, Norway.
The idea of increasing firepower by increasing the number of bullets fired by a single cartridge is nothing new. However, the early Greener experiments and the U.S. Project Salvo gave the .30-06 collector some interesting items to look out for. The Greener experiments, conducted in the UK on U.S. cases, produced duplex (2 bullets) and Triplex (3 bullets) rounds. Normally, these are found on cases dated from the immediate pre WWI period with three flutes from the shoulder. The length of the flutes varies. Remington did make "Greener" cases and the bullets but it is not known if they were for the UK tests of for ones being performed in the U.S.
Greener rounds, especially in good condition, are very rare as the lower bullet had a steel jacket that corrodes and expands - splitting the case.
Greener Multiball rounds. Third from left is a duplex.
Easier to come by are the rounds from Project Salvo (1952-61) which involved Olin Mathieson (parent company to what we call Winchester and Western). These used either standard-length cases or cases with an extended neck. On standard-length cases, the case held either 2 (96gr) or 3 (60gr) bullets. You cannot tell reliably how many bullets without x-raying the round. You can find them with the top bullet marked with a red, blue or black tip, or entirely red. The significant of these color codes has yet to be determined.
On the long-neck version, the duplex rounds have crimps on the case neck about 1/10-inch above the shoulder. The triplex load has crimps at the juncture between the neck and the shoulder. The long-necked rounds can also be found with the same color coding as mentioned above, and used the same bullets.
One interesting fact is the use of a small powder change between the bullets to aid in separation.
Rounds from this series bear headstamps such as WRA 53, SUPERSPEED 30-06
SPRG, WCC 57 and FA 58 MATCH.
Probably the earliest .30-06 tracer that the average collector will come across is the M1917 with its blackened case and cupronickel bullet. Headstamps are usually from Frankford Arsenal or WRACo. Quite a few of these were produced without the blackened case which makes them difficult to tell from ball rounds of the period.
There was considerable experimentation in the period following WWI with both short and long trace cavities in the bullets. In 1921, the bullet jacket was changed from cupro-nickel to gilding metal. While the U.S. did introduce a short-lived M1923 tracer, the commonly encountered ones are the M1924, again with a blackened case. This was loaded in Green Tracer and Red Tracer - sometimes denoted by a drop of red or green translucent lacquer over the primer. The green tracer was eventually dropped and by 1926 the red tracer was renamed the M1 Tracer. In 1930, the case blackening was dropped and the identification changed to a red bullet tip. The M1 Tracer remained in service until well into WWII. In 1943, to combat a copper shortage the steel bullet jacket was introduced which earned it the title of M1 Alternate Tracer. Around this time the U.S. developed a tracer with a short burn time and this was adopted as the M2 Tracer in 1942 and identified by a white bullet tip. This identification was short-lived and was changed to a red bullet tip with an additional knurled cannelure on the bullet above the case mouth. The white tip version was made for a short time by many of the WWII Ordnance Plants.
In 1942, the U.S. Air Force determined that a dim ignition tracer was
warranted - one that wouldn't blind the pilot. The T10 Tracer was developed
during early 1943 and identified by a dull orange tip. It had headstamps
of F A 4 and F A 45 and is not hard to find if you know what you're looking
for. In July 1945 the T10 became the M25 with a bright orange tip and this
remained the official U.S. service tracer for the rest of the life of the
U.S. Tracers: M1917 (and section), M1 (and section), M2 early (and section), M25 (and section).
While many foreign countries followed the U.S. tracer design and marking, quite a few did not. Most also had subtle variations in how the tracer bullets were constructed but space limits us describing them all here.
Foreign Tracers: Argentina (and section), Belgium (and section), France (and section). If you like different color tips - the four at right are 1950s & 1960s experimental tracers from England.
Almost every commercial ammo manufacturer in the world produced .30-06 in as many bullet variations as the market would stand. It would be impossible to cover them all here so I will show just a couple of the "exotic" but easily available variations. In addition, some of the boxes are highly prized from makers such as Remington and Winchester-Western.
From left: Austrian "ABC" bullet; German "SFS"; Winchester Black Talon, Barnes "X-bullet"; Glaser Safety Slug.
It would be an impossible task to describe all of the literally hundreds of experimental .30-06 that are available here. These are not just from the U.S. but countries like Norway, Belgium, and England who did extensive tests of their own with the caliber. All I can hope to do is to describe a handful of experimental rounds that you can find relatively easily.
Any caliber like the .30-06 has rounds that were used to test case materials, primer compositions/designs and, of course,
bullets for a special purpose.
Through the 1920s, the U.S. experimented with different primers in an attempt to get away from the corrosive compounds of the time. Some of these tests were identified by special headstamps. Additional tests on primers occurred in the 1930s and again after WWII. Some were plated with tin, nickel or zinc but that alone does not automatically mean a primer is an experimental. In the late 1940s, the U.S. used zinc plating to protect primer cups on the then new P4 primer.
From Left: Garand Primer, Berdan #11 and #30 primers
In the U.S., experiments in alternative case material and coatings occurred from about 1919 through WWII. Mostly this was to reduce the reliance on strategic metals like copper or tin and the focus was on steel cases. The great problem was always protecting the steel from corrosion so most of the experiments with steel cases concentrated in finding an easy to apply coating. With the exception of F A 19 steel cases which are relatively rare, most of the experiments occurred during WWII and were conducted by Frankford Arsenal though plants such as Lake City, and Twin Cities were involved as was Winchester. Look for steel cases with copper, brass or zinc plating - this is where a magnet is invaluable for spotting the brass/copper washed steel case in a "grab box". Be aware that by 1942 the U.S. had accepted the steel case with a zinc-cronak finish. This gives the cases a dull yellowish look. However, certain storage conditions can discolor this finish and some unscrupulous people have been known to polish the coating off - leaving plain steel. Check for signs of plating in the extractor groove or in the letters of the headstamp. Most experimental case finishes appear on cases headstamped 1942 or 43, or with no headstamp - the latter being not hard to find. Frankford Arsenal Laboratories, where much to the development work was performed sometimes used the FAL 43 headstamps to mark experimental rounds.
Headstamps on Experimental Cases
In 1955, Frankford loaded some AP rounds and coated both the steel case and the bullet with green Teflon. Apparently this was to see if it reduced "cook-offs" in hot chambers though many assume they were for "Arctic" testing.
Aluminum cases were tested at various times by both Frankford Arsenal and Winchester. They aren't easy to get but they turn up at cartridge shows and auctions on a regular basis. Aluminum cases with headstamps of F A 25-R, F A 30, F A 34, FA TEST, FAL 43 and WRA *50* exist.
As well as looking at different case materials, places like Frankford also looked at improving production methods. At various times, they tried making cases with an extrusion process rather then the normal drawing process. These cases sometimes used special headstamps to identify them. Three of the more common ones are shown below.
Extruded Brass Cases
Several attempts to come up with alternative coating or construction of ball bullets are worth mentioning as specimens are not uncommon.
In 1943, the Western Cartridge Company tested bullets that had a baked finish on the steel jacket giving them a gloss dark grey to black finish. These finishes were called "Luberized", " Bonderized", and "Jetalized" - the latter being the darkest. All were loaded on cases headstamped SL 43 (Western was running the St. Louis plant for the Government).
In the late 1930s, Frankford experimented with "Oilite" bullets - a material made from compressed powdered metal with a lubricant. Materials included powdered bronze, copper, steel, and mixtures of both. Most matched the shape of the regular ball bullet but several were made with a blunt ogive. The common headstamp is F A 36 though some are marked F A 41. Look for a slightly mottled appearance to the bullet or a slight but regular reaction to a magnet. One of these experiments actually had a steel rod for a core (see below).
From left: Jetalized bullet; Fragmentation Test; "Bernstein" bullet; Oilite bullet, and section showing core; Hebler Tubular bullet.
Other unusual loads to look out for include the Fragmentation Test rounds loaded on cases marked S L 5 5. These used a steel wedge-shaped slug (blackened and plain) to simulate shell fragments for testing armor and helmets.
You will sometimes come across a round that has a serrated steel bullet with a green Teflon coating - usually in cases marked F A 5 5. These are occasionally referred to as "Bernstein" bullets after a German engineer who developed similar bullets in WWII though he was not employed at Frankford. These serrated bullets were also loaded without the Teflon coating but they are quite rare.
One last round worth mentioning is loaded with a steel tubular bullet on cases marked F A 5 8 (see above illustration). These use a "Hebler-style" bullet that has a pusher sabot. The bullets actually date from the late 1890s and were loaded on the .30-06 in 1958 for purposes unknown.
Space prevents me from delving any deeper into the experimental .30-06 - I have not even begun to scratch the surface. Just to wet your appetite still further: Did you know there was a silent .30-06 cartridge? Did you know that a 340 grain softpoint was loaded by Winchester? Did you know there was a 5-bullet squeezebore .30-06? How about a teargas loading, or an electronic equipment destructor, or ones with the lot number stamped on the side of the case, or..., or....
I have mentioned cartridge shows and auctions as sources for .30-06. While you will find a good many .30-06 at gun shows and it will help if you know what you're looking for, the more unusual rounds come from other collectors and only show up at cartridge meetings and auctions. If you can't get to shows and are wary of auctions, make sure you join a collecting organization (the IAA is a great place to start). This will put you in touch with other collectors.
I have used a number of illustrations of sectioned cartridges (also called "cutaways") in this article. DO NOT try sectioning ammunition - it requires specialized tools and specialized knowledge. You only have one pair of eyes and one pair of hands - keep them!
For further reading on the .30-06 I can suggest a few books with specific reference to the caliber:-
History of Modern U.S. Military Small Arms Ammunition by Hackley, Woodin & Scranton, 2 volumes covering, amongst other calibers, the development of .30-06 at Frankford Arsenal from 1906 to 1945.
WRACo by Dan Shuey. Covers WRACo headstamped rounds including the .30-06.
.30-06 We have Seen, Volumes 2 & 3. by G.F. Marcello. A checklist of headstamps found on .30-06 up to 1986.
.30-06 by Chris Punnett. A hard-bound 384-page volume covering the development and production of the .30-06 in 48 countries from its inception to the early 1990s.
I highly recommend joining the International Ammunition Association. Not only does it put you in contact with other collectors - many of whom also collect .30-06, but the bimonthly journal is a great place for further information. In addition you can place classified ads (free to members) for those .30-06 you are still missing from your collection! Application instructions can be found on this web site.
Questions about this article can be directed to the author at firstname.lastname@example.org
Return to IAA main page
Revised 9 November 2003