15mm BESA case...finally

Today I was in an antique shop in the British seaside town of Brighton, when I noticed a brass case on a shelf. It was different fron the usual 20x102 NATO, 20x110 Hispano or .50 BMG cases that show up over here often at those sort of places, on closer inspection I realised it was a 15mm BESA. And the price tag? only

I’ve gotten a couple like that; a .60 USHMG off a table at a gunshow for $5, and a 13x99 Japanese/Hotchkiss that was thrown into a box with a bunch of 50 BMGs. Still looking for a 15mm Besa and a 7.92 Maroscek, though :-)

I am hoping to find a 13mm Hotchkiss that someone has mixed in with .50 BMGs…easily done. Was your Japanese 13mm Hotchkiss a live one? The thing with the 7.92 Maroszek is it just looks so unusual, so is not easily mixed with anything else.

I am currently watching a lot on UK ebay from someone obviously not in the know has listed “some old bullets” or similar as they usually say. One of these is a fired 13x92SR T-Gewehr case!!. The others are 3x .303, 1x .38 Spl, 1x .45 ACP, 1x 7.62x51. Currently 3 days 11 hours left, 0 bids at

Yes, a live tracer (I’ve also got an FN-manufactured ball round in that calibre). I also found a .50 Vickers “D” High-Velocity round at a gunshow once, and it took me the longest time to figure out what it was.

.50 Vickers D Class HV…Nice…now I’m sure you didn’t miss that chance.

The most amusing example I’ve ever heard of didn’t happen to me but to someone else (although I have it on good authority…).

The girlfriend of a collector happened to be in an antique shop when she spotted a couple of cartridges on a shelf. Knowing nothing about the subject, but wanting to please her boyfriend, she bought tham both for

The best cartridge I ever got as a fortuitious buy was one day back in about 1980 when I went into a pawn shop. In the cornor was a brass “umbrella stand” full of used umbrellas.

I almost walked on past but noticed it had a rim. So, I checked it out better and realized it was actually a cartridge case. It weighed 70 lbs. I asked the guy at the counter what he had to have for it. He said I could have it for the value of the scrap brass, which at the time was about 70 cents/lb. So, I paid $50.00 for it. When I got it home where I could really look it over, it turned out to be a 24CM x 660CM German, Polte made, Navy and Railway gun cartridge. It was, unlike most large german cases that have been cut down each time they are fired so nothing is left except maye 4-6 inches, full, never fired factory length. Not a bad buy for scrap brass!!! Now if I could just find a projectile for it for the price of scrap steel!!!

If you spot something good on e-bay, don’t tell the world until the sale is over! If I had needed that T-Gew case you would now have had to bid against me (but I don’t need it).

My best “find” was about thirty odd years ago when a chap at work who knew my interest said he had some cartridges that belonged to his grandfather. He gave me a small commercial detonator box by Kynoch and in it were a couple of .303 blank L.V, a couple of L.VI with mock bullet (not bad items)…and a .577/450 Air Service tracer from WWI.

I would not have minded one of those .661s though.


I have never even heard of the .661 Vickers. That was a good find. I was did think not to list the exact title of the sale, which is not “some old bullets”. Do you think that .55 Boys WI with unstruck primer and correct bullet is worth

The .661 was a very important project just before WW2 as it was to be the Royal Navy’s new multi barrel AA gun to replace the .50 Vickers.

A full range of loads was developed for it including ball, tracer, AP, Incendiary and base fused HE.

The Boys W.1 is probably worth

That is the problem, the neck on the Boys is slightly enlarged. They wouldn’t come down to

I don’t know if Tony W still has a photo but I have photos and drawings.

Here is the round with a 20 Oe for comparison, and the headstamp.


Nice looking round. It looks to have a metric measurement about 17x150 SR at least. It would stick out if you saw one in an antique shop. Why go from a gun using a rimless round back to a Semi-Rimmed design? Anyway, yet another cartridge I will probably never own.

Good guess. It’s 16.8x149SR, with a 29mm rim diameter, just in case you happen to spot one going for a fiver in a junkshop! The only trick then will be to stop your sweaty hands from shaking too much when you hand over the money :)

We can all hope. With the BESA case it didn’t touch the shelf again after I had seen it.

Interesting, Tony; would that .661 have been chambered in an upsized Vickers, then?

Essentially yes.


I don’t know. I only have two sources of information about the gun, and they seem to be contradictory. One is Campbell’s brilliant “Naval Weapons of World War 2” (now back in print) which states that a six-barrel mounting was ordered in 1935 but cancelled in 1938; the ammo fired an 85 g bullet at 952 m/s; the gun was expected to be capable of 300 rpm; and that it was loaded via feed rails rather than belts. I find this last statement very odd, and since I recall Herb Woodend saying that he had a round with belt links attached (Herb was more interested in belt links than ammo, as many will recall) it seems suspect.

Vickers didn’t just make the usual Maxim-type mechanisms. The also made the gas-operated Class K in .303, and pictures of the rare Vickers 25.4mm naval AA gun, also dating from the mid-1930s, show what appears to be a gas-operated, air-cooled design - with a box magazine (there’s an illustrated article on this gun and ammo on my website).

I understand that the Vickers archives are now in the library of the University of Cambridge, but they didn’t respond to my enquiry…

Does anyone know exactly why the UK spent so much time, energy, and money developing and fielding all of these different rounds (50 Vickers, 50 Vickers SR, 50 Vickers D, 661, 15mm Besa, etc., etc), instead of standardizing on one that could do most things reasonably well? Was it inter-service rivalry, “not developed here” syndrome, or… ?

My understanding goes something like this:

.5 V/580 (12.7x81) = developed in conjunction with the military 1917-24, to meet a specification for a tri-service HMG round.

.5 V/565 (12.7x81SR) = private venture by Vickers for export purposes, reportedly to get around official objections to exporting the latest official ammo (i.e. the rimless .5V)

.5 Class D (12.7x120SR) = private venture by Vickers to address concerns that the .5V might not be powerful enough to meet customer requirements.

.661 Vickers (16.8x149SR) = RN specification to develop a much more powerful AA gun to replace the .5V (the Class D evidently wasn’t enough)

15mm BESA (15x104) = off-the-shelf purchase by the army in c.1938 to acquire a light AFV gun which was substantially more powerful than the .5V, to obtain better penetration. I suspect that there might have been an element of “buy Czech” here, simply because the army had already adopted the Bren and they bought the 7.92mm BESA at the same time - they were obviously very impressed (and rightly so) by the Czech gun designers.