9mmP Case Production at H^N in 1944-Variations in Headstamps


#1

I posted much of the following information on BOCN last week, and had quite a few readers, but no replies and a single PM. I decided to try it here to see if I have better luck! The BNOC post was as follows:

I have been collecting 9mm Luger/Para ammunition for about 60 years. Very early on I noted the great headstamp variation in the detail content of the British WWII ammunition. I assumed that it was just a result of the production volume and a lack of standards on the content of the headstamps resulting in the headstamps varying over time as old bunters were worn out and new ones produced. This variation occurs at both Hirwaun and Blackpole, but the variation was noticably wider at Hirwaun. An example is that the caliber designation was shown as 9M.M. or 9MM or 9 MM or 9 M M or 9M/M or 9 M/M. There was also considerable variation in letter size, the shape of the number “9” and other variations.

A few months ago I picked up a sealed box of Hirwaun production of Mk II cartridges from 1944. When I opened it, I was amazed at the variations in the headstamps. Of the 48 cartridges, there were 26 distinctly different headstamps which were made from distinctly different bunters. My old assumption that this was just lack of headstamp standards over time seem unlikely. The cases loaded and packed into this one box had to be available at the loading machines and were likely mostly produced in roughly the same time-frame. I am working now to try to categorize the differences so I can document them in some kind of reasonably understandable manner.

The Hirwaun production must have been a massive operation. I have no idea how many case production lines were running at the same time producing cases, but likely there were quite a few. Other factories have have used the load code on the box, or other methods to identify the date of loading as well as such things as the Quality Inspector, the Crew doing the production and/or the production line.

It may be that each crew had a set of headstamp bunters that identified them and the line they worked on. They could have installed their bunters at the beginning of each shift and removed them at the end of the shift. I am not claiming this is what happened, just offering it as one explanation of the diversity of headstamps in the single Hirwaun box. Unfortunately the date stamped on the box is unreadable.

Does anyone know how many 9mmP case production lines were running at Hirwaun at any one time in 1944???

I doubt there will ever be an answer to this variation, but would appreciate the thoughts of other Forum members.

Looking forward to your comments.

Here are some examples of the variations:

From Left to Right.

  1. Large letters, 9M?M, Small Arrow (tail significantly longer than diagonal lines)
  2. Small letters, 9M.M.,
  3. Large letters, 9MM
  4. 9MM without top & bottom bars on IIZ
  5. 9MM small 9, small letters-small arrow
  6. 9MM (staggered Ms), small arrow

And it goes on and on!!!

This box contains the production of 26 headstamp bunters. Somebody must have an explanation for that.

I would appreciate all thoughts and comments! Any ideas are welcome.

Cheers,
Lew


#2

“Does anyone know how many 9mmP case production lines were running at Hirwaun at any one time in 1944???”

I’d think an answer to this above question would a good start to the nub of it. & I’d eliminate the “at any one time”

Another WA guess might be they were getting bunters made from various makers & perhaps not using hobs to any great degree? Doesn’t make a lot of sense perhaps, but this was war time & production numbers came first.

I can’t think of any other reason unless the bunters being made without any standardization control but the basic layout & information plus the physical & mechanical qualities need to function properly.

Perhaps made from many different suppliers each providing say 100??? bunters & when one wore out the operator went to “bench stock” & just grabbed another?

Personally, my guess / thought is the different bunters were some kind of quality control, to function much he same as the SCAMP system in use today. But that may be overstepping. I’d bet their QC was to have a visual inspection, grab a double handful, step out the door & let loose down range

Just food for though, but no answers.


#3

Very odd indeed. I have also a 1944-box with the same “problem”. Maybe all different cases came together to one filling line?


#4

Or were mixed and distributed to the loading lines. I can’t believe that with this many different case production lines they could have much fewer loading lines. From he production I have seen, the case lines and loading lines run at about the same speed! I could be wrong, but there are members here who would know.

Thanks for the ideas.

Cheers,
Lew


#5

I decided to resurrect this post to see if anyone has any further thoughts.

As I understand the process, individual headstamp bunters were not crafted individually. Rather a Hob was engraved or stamped with the characters. This Hob would look like a headstamp. The hob was then hardened and used to produce the actual bunters which of course would all be essentially the same (except for wear on the Hob).

I have been told by a couple of guys who worked in the industry that this is the traditional process that was used for many decades. Today, computer graphics and laser etching and many other technologies have fundimentally changed the process and made it much cheaper to buy cases with your own headstamp. A friend gave me a hundred rounds of 9x19mm with my name for my 70th birthday.

Assuming that the HN bunters were made from Hobs (that looks like a no-brainer) then it appears very unlikely that the diversity of HN headstamps could be an artifact of the bunter production process. The only other conclusion that I can imagine is that the diversity is intentional.

My conclusion is based on the assumption on the use to Hobs to produce headstamp bunters. I would very much appreciate comments on this assumption.

I am particularly interested in information/documentation that supports or refutes the use of Hobs to produce bunters, especially during WWII.

Any other thoughts or comments welcome.

Cheers,
Lew


#6

It has been 18 months since I originally posted this question, and have made no progress since the last post in mid 2017. Both replies I received were very helpful.

Recently I obtained another sealed Hirwaun 9x19mm box, this one dated 31 Dec1943 (shown below)

Dated%201943%20box-sealed

The original box was dated 21 Apr 1945.Note the cases are all dated 1944. It is interesting that they were apparently packed months after manufacturer.

Dated%201945box-sealed

Again, the 1943 box had quite a few different headstamp styles. These had Mk 1Z cases (no Mark number). Interestingly one round was upside down (bullet up) in the box and had obviously been loaded that way.

The headstamp variations were similar to those in the original box. For example 9 M/M, 9 MM, 9 M.M; different letter sizes; Arrows with long shaft or short shaft and different shape 9s. This degree of variation and it’s consistency implies to me that there was a reason behind the variations. I agree with Pete that it is likely different production lines. Still, this implies an awful lot of production lines running at about the same time. Perhaps each loading team on a machine had their own bunter and changed the bunters when there was a shift change. Just speculation.

I noted that Tony Edwards, discussing 303 headstamps made at Blackpole on this forum said that:

“BE” indicates cases made by R.O.F. Radway Green,
“B E” means the cases came from Kynoch. Yeading
“B^E” indicates cases from their own production

and that the complexity of British headstamps is often misunderstood.

I think these Hirwaun headstamps are a case in point.

has anyone got a Blackpole 9mm box that they can check for similar variation?

Any other ideas appreciated.

Cheers,
Lew

PS: Does anyone know the meanings of the “AX” and “K” mean on the box labels?


#7

Without seeing the outer it’s hard to be certain. However, what you have, is, in all probability “Battlefield Clearance, Repack” Battlefield Clearance is a somewhat all encompassing term and in this case is more than likely ammunition leftovers returned to a depot where it is given a quick inspection, sorted and repacked prior to re-issue


#8

Interesting idea! So you reckon that the stamp on the box indicates a repack???

I did a quick check of the 29 British military boxes I have with the gray label with green letters. Roughly half had a date stamp (16 of the 29). The ones without it tended to be the 20 round boxes and the 48 rd Mk 1Z boxes which I assume to be the earlier ones, but of course with no date, who knows.

Thanks for the info.

Cheers,
Lew


#9

I’ve been slowly working my way back thru the older topics, when I can across this one.

I did a Google search ROF Hirwaun & came up with the following:

“Developed by Royal Ordnance Factory and the Ministry of War from 1942 as an offshoot of ROF Newport, it was an engineering ROF producing .303 cartridge cases for Lee–Enfield rifles, and 9mm cartridge cases, which were then shipped to be filled at a Filling ROF.”

While this is from wikipedia, and so must be taken ‘with a grain of salt’, could this explain the mixed headstamps - Hirwaun only made the cases & then shipped them bulk to which ever filling ROF SAA for loading? Possibily each set of case forming machines (or each shift, or both) had their own headstamp bunter for QC purposes. If all the machines used the same lot of brass sheet stock, all those cases would be the same lot, regardless of the headstamp variations & could have been bulk packed together for shipment to the filling ROF SAA.

Did .303 case headstamps from Hirwaun show similar ‘wild’ variations, & were they boxed with “mixed” headstamps similar to the 9mm cases?

Just my thoughts on the subject.

Steve


#10

Unless I am mistaken, specifications for headstamp bunters do not specify a size for the characters. Each bunter may have headstamps which, while quite acceptable to inspectors would only be of interest to collectors.

I’m interested in the statement ."it was an engineering ROF producing.303 cartridge cases for Lee–Enfield rifles, and 9mm cartridge cases, which were then shipped to be filled at a Filling ROF.”
This statement goes against the British practice of headstamps denoting the filling factory, not the manufacturer of the case. Royal Labs. used cases from a number of manufacturers, but always had the R L headstamp.
There is another option here, were the cases made by other factories and filled at Hirwaun? To me this seems the most likely answer, given the systems used. This could certainly account for mixed headstamp styles in a box.


#11

Lew,

Not to forget that loading a case takes far fewer operations than making the case, so there might be the possibility of several production lines feeding into one filling and packing line.

Also, it’s unlikely that the cartons were produced contemporaneously with the cartridges, they were probably shipped in from elsewhere and then drawn from stocks as required.

Given that the factory at Hirwaun was purpose built I wonder if any of the original site layout drawings are still in existence, or any photographs of the production lines ?

Peter


#12

Peter,

Have you answered the question whether Hirwaun was indeed a filling factory?

Cheers
John


#13

Extract from the Hirwaun Historical Society:
“The Ministry of Supply was responsible for building and running the Royal Ordnance Factories which produced explosives and propellants; filled ammunition; and constructed guns and rifles. However, the Ministry of Works and/or private building contractors acted as agents during their construction. The Ministry was also responsible for the supply of tanks and other armoured fighting vehicles but these were mostly designed and built by private armaments companies, such as William Beardmore and Company and Vickers, as well as other engineering companies.”

Did the filling of ammunition refer to Hirwaun?

Edited to change possible error.
John


#14

Looking thru my collection there are a lot of variations in WW2 headaatmps from Hirwan and others. Size how 9 MM is shown excetera. The discusisons here are helpful, but wonder how much info you might have in documentation you got from England ,Lew? Intersting topic though!


#15

Thanks for the attention to this 2 year old topic. I appreciate all the new postings.

There is no question that Hirwaun loaded 9mm ammunition. It is clearly marked on cases of loaded ammunition. If Hirwaun only made cases the H^N would not show up on the labels of cases of ammunition.

I have never heard mention that the large factories B^E and H^N had 9mm cases made elsewhere. Peter Labbett doesn’t mention 9mmP case manufacturers seperate from the three WWII manufacturers H^N, B^E and C^P. Prior to WWII, and in the early years of the war the only other manufacturer of 9mmP in the UK was Kynoch and in prewar testing their cases were deemed badly designed, which is likely the reason they did NO military 9mmP production during the war. In over 50 years of collecting this cartridges and three years in the UK as an active collector including a large amount of time with Herb Woodend, Peter Labbett, Tony Edwards and Freddy Mead (all keen researchers) there was never a mention of anyone but the three manufacturers above making production 9mmP cases for the military. Both R^L and B^E produced 9mmP in 1941. Prior to this time the majority of the 9mmP available to the UK, including for the design of the Sten was Winchester production with the well known W.R.A. 9M-M headstamp. As far as I know the Royal Laboratory Woolwich made the 9mmP cases they tested which had the R^L headstamp. These were pre-production cartridges made during the development and approval of the British Specification for this cartridge.

While in the UK, I was fortunate enough to receive from the Ordnance Board a full set of OB Proceedings dealing with 9mmP from the 1930s when MOD first became interested in this caliber, into the 1950s. There is a wealth of great information in these documents, but nothing on this issue.

I have received emails from people who live in the area and one gentleman whose father worked there during the was who had some interesting stories, but no information on the number of case manufacture lines running nor on the number of loading lines.

The most interesting idea offered is that each team working the case machines had their own headstamp bunter which they installed when they came on duty and removed when they went off. Since this was a 24/7 operation this could explain the large mixture of headstamps coming off the loading lines in a relatively short time span. Hirwaun began manufacture in 1942, and apparently their production was huge in 1943. A BBC paper titled Women in Wartime specifically mentions the Welsh munition factories in Hirwaun, Glascoed and Bridgend and the fact that from 1942 they conscripted women in their 20 and increased the age to 50 to get sufficient workers. Girls under 14 were exempted from working in these factories. Language was also an issue. With the large number of untrained/inexperienced workers and a language issue, it would make great good sense to be able to track production back to a specific team very rapidly. This is still just speculation.

It is interesting that from my limited look, the variation in headstamps dropped significantly in 1945, probably associated with a drop off in production.

Please keep the thoughts coming. I am particularly interested in any information on Hirwaun production rates, and the number of lines they operated.
Cheers,
Lew


#16

Hi Lew,
My initial thoughts were that Hirwaun was an outstation of Glascoed. I talked recently to someone who confirmed that Glascoed was the manufacturing centre for; ‘big items.’ Hirwaun was primarily small arms.
Just as an aside, I’ve appended below an obsolete brass; ‘key-ring-fob,’ for hut/bunker 711 at Glascoed.
Apparently; to avoid mistakes only a single numbered key was available for each hut/bunker.

Sam3


#17

ROF Glascoed “GD” is and only ever has been, an explosives filling factory, with a responsibility for filling ordnance. They were involved in the final assembly, rather than manufacture of the ordnance.

ROF Hirwaun “H^N” was only ever a SAA factory.

I suspect the ‘key fob’ is actually a ‘token’ or ‘tally’ that was issued to each member of staff and when they went ‘clean side’ it was handed in and placed on a board, just as was done in the mining industry (Coal Mines Act 1911). Thus, if it all goes horribly wrong, the management know who is missing.


#18

Hi TimG,
The key-ring-fob description was given to me by someone who has a couple of them.
You may be right, that it’s a; ‘token,’ or ‘tally.’

From an organisational point of view, it would have required many; ‘tokens,’ and some organisation to handle the number of workers:

“At its peak, ROF Glascoed boasted nearly 700 separate buildings, each designated for a particular process and used as required. It still has in excess of 10 miles (16 km) of roads, an 8-mile (13-kilometre) perimeter fence and, until more recent years, its own 17 mile (27 km) standard gauge railway system. This included a dedicated passenger station and freight marshalling yards. It was linked to the Great Western Railway (GWR) branch line that ran between Pontypool Road and Monmouth. This rail link enabled the three-times daily movement of up to 13,000 workers in and out of the site as well as the receipt of raw materials and components and the despatch of finished munitions. A small housing estate was built close-by to accommodate managers and staff who had to respond quickly in emergencies."

Sam3


#19

Sam3

I would agree with you. If they used this method, I have no idea as to the details of its implementation.