.30-06 overhead fire?

I read on another forum that the CMP (Civilian Marksmanship Program) is selling U.S. surplus .30-06 M-2 ball ammunition. Reports from people who have received this ammo say it is de-linked .30-06 M-2 Ball (overhead fire) with the headstamp of “LC 69” and a purple primer annulus. Apparently the cans this ammo comes in are marked as OHF but some are taking the purple primer seal to mean that this identifies OHF ammunition compared to the more common red primer seal. I’ve always thought that primer seal colors on US military ammunition is meaningless. Is it just coincidence that the OHF ammunition has the less common purple annulus? I know that OHF ammunition is held to tighter tolerances, but what exactly is it’s intended purpose? Wartime use or training? It seems to me that segregating a special grade of ammunition during wartime would be very complicated and difficult to coordinate it’s use to specific applications. Any and all info on the subject of OHF ammunition would be appreciated!


My understanding is that this ammo would be used in training where machineguns would fire over the heads of troops that were engaged in various exercises (like the under-wire crawl seen so often in movies). Apparently, there was enough of a risk of sub-standard components coming apart while doing this (and thereby causing “own goals”) that they specified this special load.

Let me repeat this “overhead fire” idea in my own words so I can understand the concept. A machinegun fires over the heads of crawling troops in training and there is a concern that one of the projectiles may disintegrate in the air and injure the troops? Is that correct?

I am not sure this ammunition is just for training, but it could well be. We called what is being described the “Infiltration Course.” We had to crawl about 100 years on a course perhaps 100 yards wide, and it included crawling under barbed wire entanglements, past sand-bagged pits (to keep you from crawling in) where they exploded C-4 or Dynamite blocks, I don’t know which, electornically to simulate burts from morter or artillery rounds, all the time shooting live ammunition over your heads.

Everytime I did this course, the guns were old M1917 water-cooled MGs, picked I’m sure because of their long-burst capabilities. The ammunition was linked as normally, with every 5th round a tracer. Towards the end of the course, if by that time you were dumb enough to be crawling right under the line of fire of one of the guns, and stood up, you could be killed. The course at Ford Ord had a slight uphill grade to it, and for most of the course, despite what they told us, I think the line of fire was probably over a tall man’s head. There were only four or five guns on line, so that put one every 20 or 25 yards, so actually, very few of the troops were actually directly under the line of fire… They were NOT traversed during firing. In fact, even though locked in the tripods, the barrel casing sat in a wood frame so that the barrel could not be dipped or swung from side to side by accident.

Part way up the night course, I got directly under the gun and when I turned over on my back to crawl under some wire (in the rain, of course, and almost submerged in a puddle), it was pretty exciting. The tracers seemed like they were about two inches above my nose. Of course, they were probably six feet over me, or perhaps more. After going thru the wire, I made sure I wasn’t under the gun anymore, though.

I think they used specially selected ammunition. I never heard anything about worries over defective, disintegrating bullets - not that it means a thing since the grunts never get that kind of information - but we did hear there was “good ammo” to insure no underload dropped a bullet’s trajectory down to hit anyone.

Seemed dangerous to us at the time, until we started thinking that some day we might have to do it where they were trying to hit us. I am not sorry that never happened for me.

When I went through boot camp 22 years ago, the no longer used live-fire on the infiltration course. I think the “guns” fired propane or compressed air to make the gunfire sound. But, you could still see the very deep impact areas in the berm from the many years of use with live ammunition. I always wondered why a higher grade of ammunition would be relegated to peacetime training use…


Advancing under the cover of “friendly” machinegun fire arcing overhead was considered a valid tactic at one time. If the objective was far enough away, you wouldn’t even need to crawl the whole distance. Think of it as the concept of “Danger Space” in reverse.

Update: It is still mentioned in US Army manuals. This is from FM3-21.9:

AKMS - Didn’t know they stopped using live ammo. Mind you, I am not positive that’s what the “overhead fire” ammo was for. Just a presumption. It could have been used in combat also. I couldn’t find any mention of it in HWS or Chris Punnett’s book through cursory examination (no “overhead fire” reference in the index) and don’t have time to read the whole thing looking for any reference.

Dan is right about the the tactic he described. It was part of the theory of suppressive fire for “fire and maneuver” tactics. Gain fire superiority so that the enemy has to keep their heads down while you are advancing. We had a course for that, too, a real combat course where we shot at unevenly spaced knock-down targets, and it was an uphill course. I guess they thought overhead fire was too dangerous there, because they had a little bunker along the side of the range with a BAR mounted on something like a machine rest. It was fixed so it fired only up one side of the range, not over the troops heads. I thought it was pretty silly, frankly, because you couldn’t hardly hear the automatic fire over the din of all the M1s firing. I don’t recall if they used tracers or not, but I don’t recall even noticing them - eyes fixed forward looking for targets.

My boot camp and Infantry training was (arghhh!) 51 years ago! No, we didn’t use flintlock muskets.

Thinking back, it is amazing how few loadings, compared to what was made, the average soldier in our peacetime (then) Army saw. We had ball, blank, tracer and dummy - that’s about it. I didn’t fire any AP until later in the reserve, and that was used as substitute ball for a qualification firing, I guess because of stocks on hand. I never saw an APT, API, Incendiary, etc.
We fired some rifle grenades in training, but after that, I never saw another rifle grenade or grenade blank in my service, although little of my service was with TO&E Infantry units. In .45 caliber (personal weapon for machinegunner and Asst) I never saw anything but ordinary ball - not even dummies. Same in .30 Carbine.

My understanding is that ammunition is not specifically MADE for use in “overhead fire” either in training exercises as describe above. or for firing from above and behind friendly positions against enemy targets. All regular .30-06 ammunition was made to standards which made it suitable for that use.

However, ammunition quality surveillance programs periodically would test fire representative examples from various lots. If found that the quality had deteriorated (presumably such problems as vertical stringing on targets, misfires, hangfires, duds, tracers do not ignite, etc) then the ammunition was DOWNGRADED to unserviceable or restricted for/from certain uses. For example- some would be “for training use only” or “not for overhead fire.”

These condition code changes were issued periodically in changes to manuals, and in urgent cases by radio message. At least back in the 1960s-80s in the US Navy.

John - I fully understand marking ammunition “not for overhead fire” if there was some reason for it (although I think in the Army, the lots would be scrapped and destroyed if that bad), but why would they mark lots that passed the tests you described specifically for “overhead fire.” Why not just leave them unmarked, or stamped something like "passed testing XX/XX/xx (date)? Doesn’t make sense to me.

If you look at an older Ammunition Reference Guide it lists both Cal 30 M2 and 7.62x51 M62 and M80 for “Overhead Fire Applications”. It appears that the only difference between them and the standard ammunition is the accuracy requirement. So, there must have been some quality tests that indicated the OFA ammunition was of higher quality.

I can see where the military would want to minimize the possibility of accidents when firing over the heads of our own troops, whether in practice or in actual combat. But I don’t think it would be possible to eliminate all potential cartridge malfunctions by additional inspections alone. Such accidents would be the proverbial one-in-a-million and when you are firing tens of millions of rounds they are bound to happen. I have heard of hand grenades exploding in a soldiers hands before he had a chance to throw it and, though I’ve never seen it happen, I know of incidents where artillery projectiles have exploded only a few yards after exiting the barrel. Artillery projectiles have 2 or 3 safety features built into them to prevent such things, but it still happens.


Absolutely true that nothing is perfect, but more inspection and more careful manufacturing (often just the slowing down of the cycle of the machinery) reduces glitches beyond normal ammo.

That said, U.S. military ammo is generally pretty good, although that was not always the case (lots of compalints with early Frankford Arsenal ammunition), and I am kind of skeptical, even though we were told they were using “good ammunition” that at most training centers the infiltration courses were not simply using standard ball and tracer ammunition.

An interesting siebar about ammunitions tendency to richochet. In the first weeks on Basic Training, from the new barracks area “up on the hill” at Fort Ord, every evening you could see lots of slow-moving lights, moving in an arc, off in the distance. It was not until we crawled the night infiltration course that we found out what these were. The impact area for the MG fire was a high dirt hill. Regardless, while we stood there waiting out turn, we watch literally dozens and dozens of tracer hit the hill and then bounce up over the top of the hill. What we had thought were flares were tracer tounds.
Considering that only one in five rounds fired was a tracer, that shows that even a dirt hillside doesn’t necessarily “catch” fired bullets. A good lesson for really not only knowing your backstop, but also what is behind it.

In support of what John S. stated, I was involved with USN small arms and ammunition most of my 20 years in the Navy. From the responsible Petty Officer for shipboard arms and ammo to Quality Assurance Chief Inspector (QACI) at an Intermediate Maintenance Activity(IMA) I dealt regularly with the classification of ammunition. I never heard of “Overhead Fire Applications” but I never dealt with .30 cal either so that means little. Ammunition was often classified “Restricted, For Training Use Only” (words may not be exact) and there was an alphabetical designation with that too, ‘B’ possibly. Condition Code ‘A’ was fully serviceable and could be used for anything. Hang fires, excessive pressure, exposure to high heat and loss of lot number control would deem ammo unserviceable. There was also a recall where ammo lots would be returned to Crane Indiana for T&E (test and evaluation). We dealt with .45, 7.62 in various configurations, 12 ga, 40mm grenade rounds and some 9mm and 5.56. Also dealt with missle and torpedo explosive components to but that’s not small arms.

Anyway, thats the way an old Chief, long off the line, remembers it!

While I am not aware of any German 7.9mm made specifically for overhead fire they did mark some downgraded ball that it was NOT to be used in overhead fire. A rough translation of the labels is “Not suited for overhead firing or for firing through
gaps in lines”
(the box scans are from Dutch)

Regarding the practice of marking “FOR OVERHEAD FIRING”:

Perhaps that is something that was done at the local level to clearly mark lots that were approved for such use, as opposed to other lots which were just regular “training” ammo for ordinary range use, some (or much?) of which may have been from older lots. I can see some army guys in a big bunker with crates stacked all around and the “training ammo” in one stack and the “overhead” stuff in another.

I doubt if they would have gotten down to the box (20 round) level to mark them for/not for overhead fire. However, it would be expected ton the “crate” size packing (2- .50 cal cans or 4 .30 cal cans in a wirebound wooden wrapper).

In the case of 7.62x51 nato, the only difference in the US overhead fire tracer with red tip & the standard M-62 with orange tip, is the omission of the copper closure cup, or mositure seal on the tracer bullets base. There were a number of eye injuries from the cups spinning out of the projectles as they passed over the troops heads. The closure cup is not melted in the bore but rather pierced by chamber pressure. As the main tracer burns down range, the copper foil melts, but before that it can present a danger, mostly to uncovered eyes, if it exits the bullet. JH

I grew up in the Army as an “Army Brat” and when my Father(Chaplain LTC until his retirement in '85) went active duty from his NG unit in 1965 his first assignment was at Ft. Knox KY. Many a night and day I would get to go with him out to the ranges and watch the new recruits train. Nothing like heavy MG fire and C4 to bring a Father and his Son closer! The best show was of course the night time combat course. To me it was just like being in the front row of a big WWII movie. I even got to go to the grenade practice range and watch, from waaaaayy back. I practiced with dummy handgrenades at home. The memory of those guys crawling under live fire and the C4 going off in the sandbagged pits was something that seems just like yesterday. By the time I got to enter into the service my self in '76 the closest we got to that was sitting behind a dirt berm and having them shoot over our heads with every thing they could find to get us use to the sound of bullets flying over and how to range them for sniper location. Even though it was 10 ft over our heads it had everyones attention! Thanks for bringing those memories back!