.303 Buckingham cartridge

While watching the Military channel today on a show about the SAS They mentioned a WWII round called the .303 Buckingham Incendiary cartridge. Used by the SAS in North Africa to destroy German planes on the ground. Was this just the typical Incendiary cartridge or something special?


Invented by John Buckingham, a Coventry engineer, the .303 inch Buckingham round was developed early in WWI as an anti-balloon round. Originally round nosed, the salient feature of the Buckingham was that it contained yellow phosphorus and was sealed with a small hole drilled in the side of the envelope filled with fusible metal (a type of solder). When the bullet was fired friction in the barrel melted the solder and on leaving the muzzle the phosphorus started to leak and was ignited by the air.

The intention was that the burning phosphorus would ignite the hydrogen in the balloon as it passed through. The round nose did not work well in machine guns so a Mark II with a spitzer bullet was designed. This worked fine in the guns, but the pointed bullet left too small a hole in the balloon fabric and so did not ignite well. The Mark III was then developed which had a 3mm flat on the nose of the bullet to make a larger hole.

The Buckingham Mark II and III continued in service until the end of the war, but attempts were still made to improve cutting properties of the bullet. A new design with a square shoulder half way up the bullet ogive was developed with the intention that this would cut a round hole in the balloon fabric in the manner of a modern wadcutter bullet, but this was not complete by the end of the war.

Work continued on the design post war and the “Cartridge S.A. Incendiary .303 inch B Mark IV” was introduced in the late 1920s, the “B” code for incendiary ammunition having been introduced in 1927. This round remained in service until at least 1943, although later Marks had been introduced from 1940. Kynoch also made a trade pattern of the Buckingham with a slightly different internal design known as the B Mark IV*z.

The B Mark IV was very successful and was used widely during the Battle of Britain, the distinctive smoke trail of the burning phophorus often showing in gun camera films. As you say, it was also popular with the LRDG/SAS for attacking aircraft on the ground.

Attached is a picture of Buckingham firing his ammo at Hythe in about 1915 and the rounds.

This picture shows Buckinghams Mark I to IV

This one shows l. to r.
Buckingham Mark II (1917)
Buckingham Mark III (1918)
Buckingham B Mark IV (1929)
Kynoch B Mark IVz (1940)
Kynoch B Mark IV
z (1941)

(Sorry about duplication in pictures, but they are what I had to hand.


Thank you Tony!

There was a WWI movie from about 2006-07 called “Flyboys”. Not too much good can be said about its artistic merit, but the aerial dogfight sequences show lots of bullet smoke traces. I imagine that effect might have been intended to simulate these Buckingham incendiary bullets.

Is this .303 a Buckingham ?

If yes, what mark ?

Thank you for your help.


Yes, that is a Buckingham Mark I. The Mark I Buckingham should have a thin plating of nickel on the copper bullet as is shown on your example. Another indicator is the pin stab bullet securement instead of the slit crimps on normal Ball ammo.

Your case was made by Rudge Whitworth, but was probably not loaded by them. It was probably loaded at Buckingham’s works, but I cannot be certain of that.

The three stab primer securement is unusual but not unknown, as I have seen others. The normal ring crimping of primers used by the British had not come into wide use in 1916 so other methods to prevent “caps out” were used.

The French also loaded .303 inch special purpose rounds using British cases and crimped the primers in a similar way but i do not believe we supplied any Buckingham Mark I to the French.


Thanks a lot.

Best regards.


Buckingham Mark III (1918) …[/quote]
One my Bucky:

Interesting. Is the primer annulus black or blue?


It looks like black. But time is time: may be it was a very dark blue 94 years ago…