Cal .30 Corrosive & Non-corrosive Primers

As a collector of Cal .30 (30-06), particularly the Match cartridges , I find it interesting that the last use of corrosive primers and the first use of non-corrosive primers both occurred with Match ammunition. What you may find interesting is that the two were 26 years apart and not in the sequence that you’d expect.

The 1956 Cal .30 International Match ammunition that was discussed on an earlier thread was loaded with the FA #26 primer, a potassium chlorate based corrosive primer. At the time, it was felt that the chlorate primer gave more uniform ignition and better accuracy which explains its use in the Match cartridges. What is ironic is that one of the unintended side benefits of the first use of non-corrosive primers was improved accuracy.

In 1930 Frankford Arsenal developed a non-corrosive priming mixture based in large part on mixtures used in Europe. The only problem was that the amount of the mixture needed for consistent ignition was more than the Boxer type primer cup could accommodate. So they turned to a Berdan cup and manufactured new cases with the integral anvil and twin flash holes. They loaded nearly 3.5 million National, International, and Palma Match cartridges with the new cases and primers. This ammunition produced one of the best accuracy records ever achieved, and seemed to be the answer to both the non-corrosive primer and Match accuracy goals.

Shortly after the National Matches started there was a spell of abnormally hot weather at Camp Perry and it was reported that the ammunition was showing signs of high pressures. The Ordnance Department immediately withdrew the National and Palma Match lots and replaced them with ammunition having the regular primer and standard case, and announced that experiments with both the Berdan cup and the non-corrosive mixture would end. This seemed like a hasty decision given that both had been used in other countries with more extreme climates for many years, but the decision was final.

The Berdan episode was the end of non-corrosive primers in U.S. service ammunition for the near future, at least. Experimentation toward better primers continued at Frankford on a continuing basis for the next 20 years and the non-corrosive primer finally replaced the decades old FA #70 shortly after the Korean War.

The 1930 Berdan primed cartridges can be identified by the headstamp - F A 30 R - and the carton label. These cartridges have probably passed through the hands of collectors without them knowing what they had. So, keep you eyes open.

I wonder how many reloaders have snapped a decapping pin on one of the cases.

True for U. S. military .30-'06 ammunition (including Match), but of course .30 Carbine ammunition (also cal .30) in US service always used non-corrosive priming from WWII forward. I have always wondered why non-corrosive priming was not adopted for use in other military cartridges (.30, .50, and .45) much earlier than it was. I had always understood that Col. Rene Studler simply made an executive decision about requiring use of the non-corrosive primer in .30 Carbine, and it was never questioned. Why could that not have been done for the others? After all, by WWII, non-corrosive priming had a long established history of successful use in commercial ammunition and it was no longer new technology.

Many may not know that Diazodinitrophenol (DDNP) was used extensively as the impact-sensitive priming composition component during WWII, and is is also noncorrosive, just as lead styphnate is. It is currently used in “lead free” ammunition. Its only major performance defect is unreliability at very low temperatures vs. lead styphnate.


I think the Berdan episode kinda set everyone back on their heels, and by the time they recovered, WW II was on the horizon. Changing something in the midst of a world war probably would not have been well received, especially if it turned out like the 1930 Match ammunition.

Just my guess, though.


I have to put it down to military bureaucratic inertia. That hasn’t changed much since then. Winchester and Remington (and probably others) had years of experience in development, manufacture, and use of noncorrosive primers by 1941, and the Army could have availed itself of that experience virtually overnight, just exactly as was done with the .30 Carbine. But they didn’t.

Careful Dennis. We’ve some high-ranking former military on the Forum and they may take exception to your comment. But as a former low-ranking U.S.Navy sailor boy, I have to agree with you. ;-)

Rule No 1 - Don’t change anything!

Rule No 2 - See rule No 1.


My 25 years of federal government experience (both civilian and military) has been that career managers will nearly always do anything in their power to avoid making any decision as opposed to even a remote possibility of making an incorrect decision that could jeopardize their future careers. Extremely few will ever consider taking any individual risk, even those who have the authority to do so. Thus, the proliferation of committees and boards making group-think decisions for the sole purpose of spreading the risk on any issue that could be considered career-threatening. Many private organizations behave likewise.

I worked for one agency that took this to an extreme. Even the most basic no-brainer decisions of relatively little consequence had to go before a formal weekly review board where they were picked to death, and then that board’s decision had to be documented and referred to an even higher-level board for final review and approval, which could take months. But I got paid well for putting up with this nonsense (I was always a member of the first-level board).

Dennis: exactly.

The worst case for a manager making a wrong decision (in reality: a decision that does not please his superiors): retirement on a Colonel’s or General’s pension. What a terrible fate.

Colonel Studler took his decision for a very good reason. As one of the very first military firearms the Carbine M1 could not be taken apart in the components necessary for a cleaning, since the gas piston nut is staked in place and it would ruin the thread to take it apart often enough for regular cleaning.
Or am I completely wrong on this issue?

Soren - you are correct. The captive piston of the M1, M1A1, M2 and M3 carbines does not lend itself to cleaning by troops in the field. Only the part of the piston that protudes from the Piston housing can be cleaned. The gas chamber behind it cannot, and when left after shooting corrosive ammunition (yes - there is some. French carbine ammo is corrosive) it becomes badly rusted in there and freezes the piston. Since the gas chamber/piston housing is an integral part of the barrel, in a worst case scenario, the barrel is ruined.

The amount of piston-nut wrenches one finds around would lead one to believe they were an item of individual issue to each soldier. I cannot speak for any time before the late 1950s, but I was issue an M2 Carbine in Alaska, and it was my issue arm for 18 months. I never saw a piston nut wrench, and we were instructed not to EVER attempt to remove the piston, and that if the retaining nut became loose, it was to be sent to the small arms shop for repair. I don’t think that even our company articifer was authorized to remove them, although I could be wrong about that.

So, the issue of only non-corrosive ammunition for the Carbine was not some sort of silly, arbitrary order - it was for darned good reason.

Militaries around the world were long suspicious of the shelf-life, reliability, etc. of the commercial non-corrosive primers. It took the U.S. military a long time to decide that the technology of those primers had advanced to a point where they were suitable for military use.
I am not sure that every country has yet changed from them. For a long time, even while making commercial ammunition with non-corrosive primers, Russian military ammunition was still loaded with corrosive primers.

Did Colonel Studler have to make a decision?
Did Winchester ever offer a variant of the carbine cartridge (a Winchester design IIRC) with a corrosive primer?

People of my acquaintance who know a thing or two about the .30 Carbine take the position that the gas piston should be removed only as the last possible resort, as too many things can go wrong. My personal method of cleaning the carbine gas piston is to plug the bore behind (toward the breech) the gas port and pour a little bore cleaner (Hoppe’s or what have you) down the barrel with the muzzle pointing up. I wiggle the piston in and out with the solvent in place using a small powerful magnet. That pumps the solvent in and out through the gas port, flushing it thoroughly. I follow up by dumping the dirty cleaner and pouring a little acetone down the muzzle and repeating the magnet trick.

Regarding Studler’s decision, the proximate reason was of course the gas piston design situation. Regardless, I would almost have suspected the reaction to Studler’s proposed use of non-corrosive primers would have been for someone of superior rank to demand that the design of the carbine gas system be changed so that it would be compatible with corrosive primers, rather than to break with the Army’s long-standing corrosive primer addiction. Fortunately, that did not happen.

I believe that decisions like that were made by the Ordnance Technical Committee (OTCM). I don’t know if Studler was on the Committee but he certainly would have had some influence in their decision. Since Winchester was given the job of developing the cartridge they would have used their own non-corrosive primer.

When I had a couple of Carbines in civilian life, the first thing I did was to break the piston lock nut and replace it with one that I could remove whenever I wanted. That way, I was able to keep the cylinder, piston, and port clean.

Arsenals and Armories, even a ship’s Armory, had the wrenches and a supply of nuts in stock at all times. A GI would not have been able to do that.


I’m speaking purely from memory, but at one time, possibly in an American Rifleman article about the M1 Carbine of some years back, I read Studler’s own comments about the use of non-corrosive primers for carbine ammunition. In essence, he said that his staff at Army small arms R&D was well aware the use of non-corrosive primers was essential to successful fielding of the carbine. Therefore he simply ordered that the ammunition production specifications be written to include a non-corrosive primer. And no one questioned it. Maybe someone knows more of the story.

Not all of the 1930 Match cases with the “F A 30R” headstamp are berdan primed. I don’t remember why but I posted this photo once before a few years ago.


Yeah Zac, I remember that post. There were some test lots of both National Match and International Match using the standard primer and M1 bullets.