1916 303 Tracer

This interesting early British Tracer has the headstamp , R arrow L 16 V11 G the G is faint but can be clearly seen , the interesting thing is the copper primer is held in with 3 stake crimps at 120 degree intervals, and not a ringed in crimp, none of the books I have make any mention of this type of primer crimp on a British 303 , was this a once off for a special reason ? thanks, Randy

The short answer to your question is that I do not know.

I have an identical round and have seen a couple of others over the years, but they are very scarce. I have only ever seen a staked crimp on British military .303 on that particular headstamp.

Ring crimping the cap on British .303 commenced in 1915 after the Hotchkiss gun came into service and “caps out” were experienced, but it was implemented over time with the different manufacturers. Perhaps the stake crimp was an alternative that was tried by RL?

1916 is early date to find a VIIG headstamp, as it was the first year of production and RL were still making the VIIT in the early part of the year. I have an 1916 RL manufactured VIIG tracer with a ball headstamp and no other marking, one of the same date with the inverted “VII” code and one like yours.


Thanks Tony, I could not recall seeing that crimping on any other 303 round , that was a nice pick up in a bag of old cartridges for $10. Randy

You did very well there, $10 is about

I am a little hesitant and self-conscious about chiming in on this thread. I did collect .303 fairly seriously up until about ten years ago, but I never spent the time studying it that I did the 7.9 x 57 or my all-time specialty of auto pistol.

I kind of think, though, that these rounds so far discussed here were aircraft rounds probably for the French, although not necessarily just for them. My notes indicate I had a couple of them in my own collection, “R.16.W. VII” in an incendiary and “E.16 VII” in a tracer. My notes on the Eley headstamp indicate no special neck or primer crimps, but the R.16.W. had three stab neck crimps and 3 primer crimps. My notes indicate both were loaded in France on British cases, but I don’t know if that is correct. I believe I got that information, and maybe the rounds, from John Munnery many, many years ago.

The headstamp R^L 16 VIIG is shown in the article referenced below, and in the table showing crimps, etc., the tracer is shown with three primer crimps.

There is an excellent article by Jean-Pierre Gragnolati, who I am surprised has not responded to this thread, that appeared in the ICCA (now IAA) Journal number 343, dated September-October 1988, pages 8-11, titled “.303 British WWI Special Purpose.”

The article shows French, British and American rounds and is “a short study of .303 rounds which were found in the vicinity of an old WWI arifield in the east of France.”

I hope this is of some help.

Hi John,
here I am, a little bite too late to help I agree, but I wasn’t home.
The story of these ctges is funny and remembers me the good old time when I was living in Paris.

One day I had a table in a gunshow and a guy wanted to buy some 303.
I sold him a couple of them and we started to talk.
I learned he had hundred of 303 rounds but wanted only regular bullets because the ones he had were too dangerous to use !!! ??
Indeed one day he took some of them apart and an huge disaster occured : one ctge started burning with a lot of light and smoke and ignited other ctges which started also to burn and fuze in his garage !!!
Interesting, isn’t it ?
The next week end I was in the East of France and with his help and my metal locator was looking for ctges in the vicinity of an old WWI airfield.
I found many interesting ctges and here is a resume of the hstps and of the loadings I found.

If someone needs the full article, just pm me.
I even must have somewhere an addendum with other hstps when I went back to the site another time later.

Fromthe description, I think your ctge is an early tracer, not a SPG tracer

Thanks J.P.

Is it known if the U.S.-produced cases listed in the chart (US and P makers) were supplied as loaded mk.7 cartridges which were broken down and reloaded in France with tracer or incendiary bullets or if the cases were supplied by the makers as empty brass? JG

Many thanks J-P.

I must admit that when I first got my VIIG with primer stakes my first thought was French, as I have some of the French loaded rounds on French and US cases. However, I then wondered why the French would be loading British tracer bullets into British cases that were specifically headstamped for tracers. Surely it would have been easier to supply the French with loaded rounds.

Also, 1916 was the first year of production for the VIIG and I would have thought that Britain was busy trying to supply her own needs at this time.

I have details of the supply of tracer and incendiary bullets to France and Italy during the war, but as I am currently in Italy for work I cannot reference them.

It is particularly interesting that some of these French loaded rounds with the three stake primer are headstamped with the inverted “VII” which was the supposedly secret identifier for the early R^L tracer. I find it hard to imagine that Britain was supplying these cases and bullets separately for the French to load.

I am wondering whether in fact these are not French loaded at all, but are normal British loaded rounds that the French then staked the primers because they were having problems with “caps out”, just as the British did, causing us to introduce cap ringing.

Just a thought.


The RAL and E ctges are purely British and never been loaded in France.

the US cases were delivery as empty new cases to France

Thanks J-P.

So, are you saying that the R^L and E rounds with the three stake primer crimps are British loaded and not French? If so, that brings me back to my original post.

All the best

Jean-Pierre: Thanks for the information on the U.S.-made cases and also for the very interesting chart. JG

[quote=“TonyE”]Thanks J-P.

So, are you saying that the R^L and E rounds with the three stake primer crimps are British loaded and not French? If so, that brings me back to my original post.

All the best

of course.
Frenchs never loaded British cases,but only French and US ones.

[quote=“Falcon”]You did very well there, $10 is about

Wow , what a great lot of info, thanks to all who replied

Falcon, you know what it is like when you buy a bag of junky looking rounds cheap, 99 times out of 100 it turns out to be junk, and this lot nearly was, I almost missed this round , the G is faint and the 3 primer crimps didn’t register in my tiny brain then, but a couple of days later I decided to have another look and as they say, the rest is history, you can bet that I looked more closely at the others in the bag after that but, guess what, all junk.
JP , fascinating story ,I have never been able to do Field Pick ups and you had sone great finds, makes me want to go out and buy a metal detector . Randy

Thanks J-P.

Those British rounds you found are still very hard to find here in the UK. As I said in my initial post, I think the three stab crimp was an early attempt by RL to secure primers, but I was slightly confused by the connection with France.

You may be interested to know that I inherited Peter Labbet’s document archive thanks to Ian Jones.


  1. I must still have somewhere different kinds of bullets because I took apart the bullets when the cases were in too bad condition.
    The two kinds of tracer do not trace anymore but the incendiary still worked perfectly less than two years ago.

  2. Did you find the French documentaion on these bullets ? They are not SFM drawings but are coming from the military department.

  3. What was the name of the friend of Peter ?


Whilst the French may have utilised both French and US-made cases for loading .303 (“7,7”), Britain also supplied France with specialised projectiles as well…AP and Tracer, for loading as Aircraft ammo. (Greenwood and Batley, and Kynoch);
It is possible that the US cases came as part of British Contracts placed with US companies…the French, when they adopted Lewis and Vickers Aircraft guns, bought the first lots direct from Britain, after unsuccessfully trying out Hotchkiss Light guns ( the equivalent of the British Mark I used by cavalry) and added the “hinged, flexible” belt consisting of Hotchkiss strips in 6 round sections ( for 8mm Lebel cartridge) Photos of Aircraft-mounted Hotchkiss guns are in “Honour Bound” along with the M1913 Top magazine Chauchat, which was also tried in Aircraft in 1914.

That would explain the 1914 dated USC.Co cases. France did not adopt the Lewis/Vickers guns until
well into 1915; The British had opened contracts with US ammo makers in late 1914.
It is known that US contract ammo had a lot of defects, and it is possible that at least the US contract ammo of the first years of French Loading consisted of “Pulled down” and “remanufactured” ammo. At the end of WW I, the majority of .303 Ammo dumped in the North Sea ( or given away to the New Baltic states and Portugal) was US contract ammo, as the MR Powder used deteriorated at a very fast rate (NOT the primers, as is often the case); similarly British-loaded Mark VIIz using Dupont Powders was also dumped in 1919 for the same reason.

BTW, the French used Flake Powder in their .303 (just like the Lebel cartridge); US made ammo used tubular or solid grain MR 16 type powder.

“Staking” of the primer is an easy operation to perform on already-loaded ammo, easier than “full ringing”…it could be that some French-used, but US-made ammo,(or even French “Re-manufactured”) was “staked” before issue to the French Airforce, when the “caps out” problem had been realised in early 1915 or 16.That would explain staked 1914 dated ammo. ( from the list shown ).

THis “re-cycling” of ammo was still common in WWI…the process was eventually discarded by most countries as economies of scale and better machinery made it less economical to “re-manufacture” defective ammo. Only smaller nations tended to “salvage” components for re-use; there are specific examples, such as Portugal ( recycled US contract projectiles for its own (AE) made .303 in 1928), Holland reloaded its once fired ball cases as both Ball and Blank; Most of the Scandinavian countries also did this, and Italy regularly “recapped” its 6,5 ammo in peacetime. Even the USA, up to the late 1920s, had instructions on its cartridge boxes how to treat fired Ball cases so as to render them “clean” sufficiently to reload as Gallery or Blank rounds ( Wash with Washing Soda (Sodium Carbonate).)

The “staking” was a process better suited to already primed, and loaded ammo, with a rimmed case only… whilst the “ringing” of caps was more a factory process done at primer seating, where the case could be supported internally.(for both rimmed and rimless cases) although even USCCo. 1917 and 1918 Aircraft MG .30/06 had staked crimps, as well as the later, common AN-M2 circular groove case head ( ? copied from the Italian 6,5 cartridge?) for “self-sealing” the primer at the point of firing. The grooved head .30/06 was still used in RA .300z contract .30/06 for Britain in 1941-43.

Doc AV
AV Ballistics.

[quote=“DocAV”]Whilst the French may have utilised both French and US-made cases for loading .303 (“7,7”), Britain also supplied France with specialised projectiles as well…AP and Tracer, for loading as Aircraft ammo. (Greenwood and Batley, and Kynoch);Doc AV
AV Ballistics.[/quote]

I have not heard of British Tracer, AP or AP Tracer bullets used on French ctges.
But SPG Tracer and Buckingham Incendiary yes;