Can anyone provide an abbreviated history of U.S. .30-'06 MG ammo boxes? I have a few steel boxes of several different designs, probably WWII-era, plus a wooden box with a hinged lid. The latter is rather interesting, as from the quality of its workmanship, it may well have been intended for re-use. I’ve seen what appear to be the same type of wooden MG ammo boxes in old war movies, and have some pictures of the Browning M1895 and U. S. Maxim M1904 MGs which also show very similar-looking, if not identical, ammo boxes. Yet I know virtually nothing else about their history. From the very few wooden MG ammo boxes I have seen, I conclude that most of them probably ended up as firewood for making coffee in the field. Any information would be appreciated.
Up to WW I ( 1918) most Ammo Boxes used with MGs were Wooden chests, designed to be “refilled” in the field, and were “an accessory” to the gun ( ie, NOT disposable).
The Germans, with their stamped metal technology, began making pressed steel Maxim cans ( 250 single row and 500 double row) re-usable cans; They gave better moisture protection and were easier to carry and use in the conditions of Flanders and the Russian Front in 1915-18. Also their rounded corner designs made them easier to carry by the overburdened Ammo Porters in a gun crew. Wooden crates had sharp, square edges, and badly positioned rope handles–the steel cans had either bare steel rod handles, or leather-bound steel rod, and on the 250 round cans, the handles were “offset” to allow one hand to carry two cans ( 500 rnds) easily…so a porter could easily carry 1,000 rounds in four cans)…try that with wooden chests…
BY the 1920s, the US and many other countries saw the advantages of Steel ammo cans, ( longer wearing, moisture proof, easier to make in large quantities ( each wooden box was assembled by a craftsman, even if the parts could be “mass Produced”) and the final solution " low unit cost".
THis last feature, allowed steel cans to eventually be discarded on the battlefield when empty, a matter inconcievable with the earlier Wooden MG chests.
AT the beginning of WW II, many countries still had “dedicated” MG cans, to be kept with the guns, and refilled with belts as the need arose.
Of course, the Germans had the M41 can ( an improvement on the earlier
cans, standardised throughout all branches of the German services, in effect—one size fits all, for MG ammno and also other ammo. Wooden crates were still used for Infantry clipped ammo and for “LoosePack” MG ammo, but increasingly , MG ammo was supplied already in M41 cans, belted and “Ready to use.”
In the USA, all Combat Rifle and Carbine ammo was “bandoleered” and canned by Mid 1942 (maybe even before) and the use of wooden crates restricted for Rear Echelon deliveries of “other ammo” (Pistol, .50cal for Air-use belting, etc) and for Mainland US use ( training etc.).
More and more ammunition was delivered “pre-canned” and by 1944-45, almost all US ammo for the troops was delivered in cans ( .30 cal and .50 cal Tins) irrespective of whether it was bandoleered, linked ot Boxed in packets.
On the otherhand, whilst German MG gunners got their ammo in Cans, the other services still got their clipped rifle ammo in 300 round sleeves of 15 round packets ( an alternative to the Bandoleer, but not as efficient.) IN both WW I and II, the Germans did issue cotton bandoleers with ammo in them, but they seem quite rare in Photos.
The Brits went one step further…they issued a dedicated can for the Vickers gun, but made the combat ammo box a truely disposable item…
Seamed tinplate soldered shut, inside a Plywood outer liner with wire handles, which also could be carried two in one hand. The top was unlatched, the tab pulled ( like a sardine cane, but no “Key” required) and the belt or bandoleers were ready for issue. Some of the MG supply cans were also made with an internal “roll lip” to allow easy feeding straight from this "throw-away " can.
For rear Echelon and transportation protection, Two of the Plywood “Liners” were placed in a heavy gauge steel chest, which was “returnable” and of course had a multitude of battlefield uses ( Tool box, Footlocker, Trench revetments when filled with sand, etc.)
The Wooden Chests which had served the British Army since the time of the Snider and Martini, were relegated to Bulk ( packeted) ammo supply, such as Airforce ammo, and for Foreign contracts. By 1945, Military Aid to the Greeks was mostly in the Steel chests, but obviously they also received some Wooden Chests as well, since the Greeks copied them for HXP ammo ( made of compressed Pine chips, it is true, rather than solid, Baltic Pine with dovetails.)…a far cry from WW I and the Dunkirk period of Wooden ammo chests which had to be accounted for…
A PhD thesis could be done on the (simple) History of the Development of Military Ammunition Containers from say 1860 to the present day…and don’t think it would be a “shoo-in” either. A much neglected area of our Cartridge collecting Knowledge.
Talk about a coincidence. A few minutes ago I got the monthly e-mail ad from International Military Antiques (IMA), and they are presently offering a marked German M41 can for $99.00
Back to my wooden ammo box. - about when would they have been removed from U. S. service?
Great info DocAV Thanks much!
As I am now back home, attached are photos of the wooden MG ammo box, or chest. The second picture is of the stamping of the front of the box, which may mean something. The number after the second dash is probably a 3 or an 8 (Chest49-1-?). Inside on the bottom of the chest are three arrows with tails, meaning I suppose that the bullet side of the cartridge belt is supposed to be placed the same way the arrow points. So, what do I have? I have assumed it is a U. S. box - am I right?
Ammo Can reference web site
Thanks, that’s great information. Obviously, having the web carrying strap makes my box one of the later ones. The information provided is unclear on precise usage period of the various designs, but it appears to me that mine was used through the inter-war years.