Commercial Steel Cases

A good friend sent me a fired empty steel case with the headstamp “* RWS * 9,3 x 72 R”. I couldn’t find any other examples of steel cased commercial ammo in my meager collection other than recent made stuff from old Eastern Bloc factories. Was much steel cased commercial ammuntion made, why did they do it, and why did they stop?


During WW II, RWS perfected the manufacture of steel cartridge cases and most commercial rifle cases that you encounter today (except for those that you mentioned) are RWS. There really are no reasons why steel cases are better, and brass remains the single best material for cartridge cases for high intensity rifle ammunition.

For you guys who are ready to pounce on me, please note my use of the word “rifle”.


I have some DWM commercial steel cases.

Steel cases were developped during the war because of shortage of brass.
After war they are still used in many countries for military use because of this reason and also the fact they are cheaper than brass ones.

Same reasons for the civilian market.
Because they are not as good as brass ones when you reload them, no big success.

Except if you sell the ctges at a such low price they are cheaper than to reload conventional brass ones. (eastern bloc factories for example).

Because it is more and more difficult to import surplus military ctges into the US, Russia came to an agrement with the US administration by replacing the military ctges they used to export by commercial ctges.
I don’t know if the factories manufacturing them are really private factories.


That is correct,

The Germans used the same technology for commercial ammo as they developed for the military. It started in WW2 with a CWS case, than CWS lacquered, finely a lacquered steel case.
The same as they did in WW1.


If one looks at all of the 7.9 x 57mm steel cases, of WWII-era German manufacture that are rusting through from the inside due to a reaction between the powder and the steel, it would be difficult to accept that Germany “perfected” the steel case. They did do most of the real pioneering work on them, however. Time will tell whether other steel cases will do the same. I will say this, though. It is a rarity to find the same problem happening with steel-cased ammunition made in the U.S. during WWII. In fact, I don’t recall ever seeing an instance of it, and have shot WWII Evansville Chrysler .45 ammo with steel cases as recently as about ten years ago, with not a single problem. I would not drop a firing pin on any WWII-era German steel-cased 7.9 round today, as they can appear mint on the outside, and actually be severely rusted away on the inside. If one was unlucky enough to have such a round actually fire (admittedly doubtful that it would), catastrophic case failure could be the result.

Is it better to unload 7,9 mm german ammo with steel case?
How can be stopped the corrosion inside?

Pivi - I can’t advise you on that. the problem is that most collectors will discount the value of a cartridge that has been disassembled and the powder dumped. I would be advising you as to whether or not you wish to reduce the value of your specimens. I tried many years ago to get a “convention” on what to do about this problem - that is, to get key collectors to agree that in the case of cartridges that were self-destructing at an alarming rate, they would not be devalued if the problem was arrested by dumping the powder. Firstly, some weren’t interested in even discussing the problem. Secondly, there was disagreement on how to handle the problem. Some felt the bullet should be pulled and the powder removed. This does disturb a feature of the cartridge, however, the crimp. One suggestion, very unpopular but from a scholarly standpoint a much better one, was to put a large enough hole in the side of the case to get the powder out and wash out the residue. This disturbs no manufactruing feature of the cartridge, other than the lack of powder, and doesn’t even spoil the round for photography for Forums, books, etc., as the hole is simply placed away from the camera lens. Many collectors wouldn’t hear of this because to them it spoiled the look of the round. I can understand that. At any rate, the discussion went no where.

Now, many of us are reluctant to take a “before-action” stance on this. I have a few steel-cased rounds with very rare headstamps. It is my feeling that it is only a matter of time before they ruin themselves by inside rusting finally breaking through the surface. I find 7.9 rounds almost weekly that were fine the week before, and now have blossomed with little blooms of rust, from the inside, all over the round. Action on rare ones before this happense might save them from total destruction. However, it certainly would reduce their high value, since there is no agreement to not let that happen and I predict never will be, something no collector wants to do to his investment in his collection, including me.

So, what to do? I have no suggestion. Each to his own. By the way, pulling the bullets after the corrosion is far advanced is fraught with peril. I have had two rounds where the top of the case, below the shoulder, has followed the bullet into the inertia bullet puller. Tore right off! Between the rotted-out case and the bullet being rusted and fused to the case-neck, it happens easily. Some have split the neck when pulled also, or bent it out since bullet pull was not uniform due to rusting. Another reason a hole in the case is a much better solution, even though few want to hear that. I suspect that by the time the now-young 7.9 collector is my age, there will be few German steel-cased cartridges left in nice condition. By the way, this happens more often with the lacquered-steel cases, by far, than it does with copper-plated or Copper-washed cases. I don’t know why, but it is true. However, it does happen to the coppered ones as well, just not as many, at this point of time, anyway.

I became aware of this problem about 20 years ago and decided to remove the powder from the wartime cartridges. I used a collet-type puller to remove the bullets, then dumped the powder, cleaned the cases inside as well as I could, and added a small dollop of RIG (rust inhibiting grease) before reseating the bullet with an old Pacific seating die that permits crimping. I skinned a couple of my 2 or 3 dozen German wartime steel-case 7.9m/m cartridges but most turned out pretty well, even the crimps being reasonably proper. This isn’t an ideal solution, I realize, but I don’t know of one. And for someone with a really big collection perhaps, realistically, no solution at all. As far as the problem of copper-washed versus lacquered, I think that it may in part be related to the fact the powder became more prone to breakdown over time and was worse in the “lacquer” years than previously. I do feel the propellant is the guiltier party here than the cases themselves. JG

Gill - I agree with your assessment that the powder is more at fault than the steel, but perfected steel cases would intimate that this problem was solved, which it certainly was not. About the coppered-cases as opposed to Steel, I am not sure I get your point. Since the copper-washed and copper-plated steel cases generally (not always) predate the lacquered steel cases, that would mean that today the powder in them is likely to be older than that in the steel cases, and therefore should be causing them to self-destruct at a rate equal to or exceeding the lacquered-steel ones. I think maybe the copper plating, which I assume is inside the case too, resists this reaction more than does plain steel or lacquered steel. (With over 12,000 7.9 in my collection, I am ashamed to admit I have never really looked down into a CWS case with any notice of whether or not they are internally plated as well. I assume they are.) I could be totally all wet, as I am not a metallurgist or even very scientifically minded. High School Chemistry is the only course I ever flunked in my life, although there were extenuating circumstances.

Thanks to all for the info. I knew I tried to stay away from German military 7.9 for a reason! Just for the record, the RWS headstamps are from the late '30s, correct?

The German code from RWS is

Hi Pivi,
An article that I wrote for the ACCA Journal, [will be published in the near future]Controversial I am sure
but the results of my experiments using advice gained from many of the more knowledgeable IAA forum participants

I would rather have a preserved cartridge than a cartridge that in a few years will “fade” away.

If there was a cartridge that was a one off rarity that was in danger of rusting away I think there can be no doubt what the right and proper action would be.