7.62x39mm Subsonic

Some years ago I found an interesting 7.62x39mm cartridge in a box of mixed range pick-ups that came out of Israel. The case was a typical Soviet copper washed steel with thae headstamp “17 58”, but the projectile had an unusual profile and was cupro-nickel jacketed. Not knowing what it was, I carefully pulled the projectile. This was easy as the case was corroded somewhat at the neck and some of the tension was gone. Turns out that the projectile was a .303 British Mk VII! Under the projectile was a piece of yellow foam padding which was covering a small powder charge of what appeared to be the normal type used in this caliber. It took a while for the puzzle pieces to make sense, but I concluded that this was a “homemade” subsonic load. Years later, Russ Cornell told me that this cartridge was most likely made in Rhodesia, as were several other variations that used the regular PS ball projectile with a reduced powder charge. Does anyone have any information on these “homemade” subsonic loads or can confirm that this was done in Rhodesia or maybe South Africa? Supposedly, better condition specimens have a red tip?


During the 1970s-80s, there were significant military ties between Israel and White-Rule South Africa. I never saw or heard anything about a round like that in Israel, but there were undocumented exchanges of personnel and equipment between small units.

I am assuming that this cartridge and the mixed lot it was with came out of Israel at some point as there was a lot of Israeli headstamped 5.56 practice/gallery loads with the funny little plastic projectile and a lot of mixed Arab and com-bloc 7.62x39mm that was most likely “battlefield pick-ups”. I was unaware of the Israeli/S.Africa ties beyond the SA R-4 version of the Galil rifle. Interesting.


I’m sure I know very little, but a lot of weaponry (Uzi, Galil, Kfir aircraft, Reshef missile boats, Gabriel and Shafrir missiles) went to RSA, and ammo, development money, and trainees came to Israel.

Perhaps we shouldn’t speculate too much on what Israel got in return…I always suspected a tri-partite connection between Israel-RSA-Argentina. A lot of ‘Argentinian’ ammo during the Falklands Conflict was Israeli…

True, a lot of Israeli military equipment did end-up in Argentina, although the only Argentinian weaponry I ever saw in Israel was FN-licensed HiPower pistols. Oddly enough, a lot of the balance of trade was in the form of Argentine beef! I, for one, was very happy with the trade! Yum.

I have checked up, I never realised that the 7.62x39 Soviet M43 had a bullet diameter of .311". However, would the longer profile of the .303 Mk VII bullet not cause feed problems in an AK?


The .303 projectile was seated deep into the case, giving the same overall length as a standard 7.62x39mm round.


This is a confusing world of bullet diameters to get your head round. The 7.62 NATO bullet is actually less than 7.62mm, the .303 is referred to as 7.7mm but is actually 7.92mm, and the 7.92 Mauser is actually about 8.2mm With a bullet diameter of 7.92mm, why is the 7.62x39 M43 not referred to as the 7.92x39 M43? I’m sure there is a logical reason for all this.

Some calibers do not refer to the diameter of the bullet - rather they refer to the distance between the rifling lands or grooves. .303 is an example, as is .276 Pedersen (.284 diameter bullet). The .308 cartridge refers to the distance between grooves.

Other calibers were renamed to avoid being associated with other bullets - the British 7mm project is one such case - the .280 British cartridge (again .284 diameter) had a land to land distance of .276, but was renamed .280 in order to prevent confusion with the earlier .276 pedersen.

Or so I’ve been told…

Just a gratuitous sidebar hijack observation - during the late 20th Century there was a lot of “technological exchange” between Israel, RSA and Taiwan . . . all states whose legitimacy was disputed by various other nations for whatever political reasons (ain’t gonna go down that road). Much the same thing as the weapons trade we see now between rogue states such as North Korea, Iran and Syria (and there is no way I would regard any of the first three in the same light as the latter group).