Black Case 455 auto

The only info I could find on this pesky round was in White & Munhall , Cartridge Headstamp Guide on page 53 with the coment “Source unknown” the 455 Webley Auto is a well known round , but who made this one ? who is “C” and why does it have a Black stained case ?, the headstamp is C 17 1 has anything new been discovered since W & M was printed ?, would’nt it be nice if a new up to date Headstamp book was about to be released, thanks Randy

There was a long and detailed discussion on this round on the earlier incarnation of the IAA Forum. I can’t recall if there was a final conclusion, but I believe there was not. Try searching on this forum and it might pop up.

Randy - I could not find the thread, but in my files I have a lot of correspondence on this cartridge. As I recall, I was a major player on the thread. I think there were actually two threads, one on the old Forum and one on the new.

At the risk of boring everyone, I will critique the issue on this cartridge, with the caveat that no solid conclusion was reached and that none probably can be reached in the absence of documentation. There is strong evidence pointing to what they are, and slightly less pointing to for whom they were made, and even less to what the “C” stands for, however. I bring this out right up front, as I don’t think a whole lot of answers will be productive on this thread, unless someone has new documentation on these rounds.

Firstly, let me say there is no documentation for an official adoption of any proof round of .455 Auto caliber for the British service. Therefore, the proof rounds that were made are in Kynoch commercially-marked cases, or in one instance that I have, an Eley 1914 Mark I military case, both types with the customary purple stripe across the base. Now, this will be important later in this discussion - that is, the lack of an official “proof” designation.

The blackened-case rounds all have the headstamp “C.17 I” which would normally indicate a Mark I ball case. "The meaning of “C” has never been documented, although a couple of theories exist.

These rounds all have a bullet of special profile that seems to have only been made by Birmingham Metal and Munitions Company, Ltd., who loaded the same bullet in cartridges headstamped “B” and which were made in the same era as those headstamped “C.” The bullets in both cases are marked with a “B” on the base, according to Ken Elks (I have never pulled one), which would prove both were made by BMM. BMM had a subsidiary known as Currans Metal & Munitions, in Wales, and that could be an answer for the “C.” There is another possibility along the same lines but one I feel is less likely. Peter Labbett’s works mention that on .303 headstamps from Government Factory 1, (“G.F.1” headstamp) the “G” often appears as a “C” and that the factory was administered by BMM. My problem here is that I am not sure if that factory was one and the same as Currans Metal & Munitions. Regardless, that would lend itself to another similar and possible explanation for the “C.”

Now, about the cartridges. Aside from the unique bullet shape, the powder charge is much different than other .455 Auto rounds of the period. They have a charge of 10.3 grains of flake Nitrocellulose powder, rather than the more normal 7 grains of chopped cordite. Is that necessarily a hotter load? I simply don’t know, since I have no way to judge the burning characteristics of the two powders in comparison to each other. But, that coupled with the blackened case, which in the era the rounds were made in was one of two common identifications for AMERICAN proof loads, leads me to believe that these “C” rounds are proof loads, for reasons soon to be explained.

In 1917, Colt made for the British a quantity of Colt Government Models (M1911) in caliber .455 Webley Auto. I need not get into the particulars of the whole contract(s) here, but it suffices to say that it was decided that proofing and final inspection of the pistols would be done at Colt, but by British personnel. No US Company ever made the .455 Webley Auto cartridge as far as anyone knows. To properly inspect magazine feeding, and to test fire and proof fire the weapons, three loads would be needed. Ball, proof and dummy. Ball rounds posed no problem. They were in full production in 1917 by Eley and others in England, and could easily have been supplied to the Colt factory.

Now, what is the only other .455 cartridge with a “C” headstamp? Dummy rounds, headstamped “DUMMY C.l.17.” Hmmm! “Dummy” is a word used more for this type of round in the U.S. than in England, although at one time, the British use of the word “Dummy” for an inert cartridge, as opposed to “Drill” was explained to me, and could account for the terminology, since the .455 dummies used by Colt, if any were (no documentation), would be more or less inspection rounds, and not drill rounds in the sense of training one to use the weapon. Certainly the British inspectors did not need training to function-test a self-loading pistol anymore than Colt’s Technicians would.

One more factor. These “C” blackened-case .455s are considerably more common in the U.S. than in England or anywhere else in Europe. Over the years, two British collectors got specimens of it from me. The dummy round seems almost unknown in the Empire, and is found, again, more in the U.S, although it is rare here also. I am fortunate to have one.

In my opinion, the circumstantial evidence is over-whelming in favor of these having been made for the inspection process of the Colt pistols.

Now, could the “C” actually simply stand for Colt? I think it is a very good possibility, but not a certainty by any means. We have already looked at two other possibilities. Again, with the lack of documentation, I will only say that I have my own opinion on what it stands for, and will not state that here because it is purely conjecture, with no real evidence at all.

Now, one final thing. About the fact that the cases show a Mark I appellation, there has been question about why they didn’t say “Q.Mark I.” I have no definite answer for that, other than that the “Q” would have meant far less to anyone at Colt than would the blackened case. One could just as easily ask why they didn’t have a purple stripe on the base? Maybe it was foreseen that there might be a need to use that line for ball ammunition so why not just mark the cases as “I”. I don’t know. That is the wildest of guesses. As far as the “I” on the Dummy, since it already says “Dummy” on it, it would not need a “D” to identify the cartridge type, and it might simply be a “Mark I dummy.” There does not seem to have been any standard military dummy or drill round in this caliber either, with the only other known British dummies in this caliber being a solid steel unheadstamped inspector’s dummy (or possibly a box-maker’s dummy) and ones with Kynoch commercial headstamps.

Of course, anyone is entitled to chime in on this but, again, since it has been on two threads already, I am not sure it needs to turn into another lengthy one unless there is information not provided on the last thread, most of which has been summarized here, to the best of my recollection.

Edited primarily for typos. One important change was to change the caliber “.45” to “.455” at the beginning of the discussion of Colt Pistols.

Dear JM, the use of particular letter codes on British Ammo to signify Ammo loading (such as “Q”==Proof") did not become widespread until very late in the war; infact some “letter” codes were not introduced until after 1918.

Also, as in .303,where the Mark “VII” was used, with other details overstamped, or added later.( as cases were “special loads”)

The Black-cased .455 with a “C” stamp “Most probably” was a small lot made specifically for Colt / British Inspection Team in the manufacture of .455 M1911 Pistols in 1917-18 ( for the Royal Naval Air service). Who actually made it is open to question, although the info is probably buried either in the Public Records Office archives relating to WW I contracts (a very fruitful source), or in any collected papers still surviving from either Kynock or Eley (both makers of .455)…0r even BMM Co.

Have any of the cartridges been broken down to determine case construction? Are they Berdan primed (British) or Boxer Primed(US)?? What is the Powder type and charge, etc.

A nice mystery, this one.

Doc AV
AV Ballistics

The cases are typically British made Berdan primed with BMMCo. manufactured bullets. As John has stated, the powder charge of 10 grns NC is quite different to the chopped cordite normally encountered.

I have searched the National Archives (PRO) at Kew but so far have found nothing about this ammo specifically, other than the reference that British inspectors proofed the pistols at Colt.

Of all the various theories, the one that these are proof rounds for this contract is the one I believe most likely, as the blackened case would be most likely to be recognised as a proof round in the US.

Whether or not the “C” stands for Colt or not isa question that remains to be answered.

BTW, the 1917 Colt contracts were for the Royal Flying Corps (later RAF), not for the RNAS.


Thanks for the very detailed replies most interesting, and a mystery still to solve , I did try to find the previous 2 threads which I am sorry I missed, but no go, the elusive little devils remain just that, I did however get plenty of unrelated info, Randy

Randy - I think that all of the material on this thread is definitely related to the cartridge in question, including my answer, Doc Av’s and Tony’s. Whether or not it is all true is the only question - those bits of information that are conjecture were identified as such by everyone who answered. Regardless of conujecture or not, they all still relate to that cartridge.

The two “C” .455s are interesting rounds, and I hope one day a positive answer is found for them. In the meantime, all we are left with is a guess and a gosh, no matter how likely or unlikely we like to think any one piece of the information is.

For further reading on this subject, I highly recommend the books:

“Webley’s .455 Auto Pistol Cartridges,” by Lynn H. Harris
"Colt .45 Service Pistols," by Charles W. Clawson
"Colt .45 Government Models," by Charles W. Clawson

The relevent material in the two Clawson books is duplicative, but I mention both in case one may have access to one of the titles and not the other.