Cordite question


#1

After years of hearing and reading about the " smell of cordite" has got me wondering, what was the lifespan of cordite? Basicly when was it first and last used?


#2

From wiki:

"Cordite is a family of smokeless propellants developed and produced in the United Kingdom from 1889 to replace gunpowder as a military propellant. Like gunpowder, cordite is classified as a low explosive because of its slow burning rates and consequently low brisance. These produce a subsonic deflagration wave rather than the supersonic detonation wave produced by brisants, or high explosives. The hot gases produced by burning gunpowder or cordite generate sufficient pressure to propel a bullet or shell to its target, but not enough to destroy the barrel of the firearm, or gun.

Cordite was used initially in the .303 British, Mark I and II, standard rifle cartridge between 1891 and 1915; however shortages of cordite in World War I led to United States-developed smokeless powders being imported into the UK for use in rifle cartridges. Cordite was also used for large weapons, such as tank guns, artillery and naval guns. It has been used mainly for this purpose since the beginning of World War I by the UK and British Commonwealth countries. Its use was further developed in the early years of World War II, as 2-inch and 3-inch diameter Unrotated Projectiles for launching anti-aircraft weapons.[1] Small cordite rocket charges were also developed for ejector seats made by the Martin-Baker Company.

Cordite is now obsolete and it is no longer produced. Production ceased in the United Kingdom, around the end of the 20th century, with the closure of the last of the World War II cordite factories, ROF Bishopton."


#3

[quote=“Armourer”]From wiki:

Cordite was used initially in the .303 British, Mark I and II, standard rifle cartridge between 1891 and 1915; …[/quote]

So does Wiki think the Mark II was the standard in 1915 or that the .303 was only standard until 1915?

The last cordite loaded SAA was probably .303 Mark 7 loaded by Radway Green in 1957. After that it was all 7z AFAIK.

Has anyone seen any later cordite loaded ammo?

Regards
TonyE


#4

Cordite doesn’t have a particularly distictive smell and smells like most other smokeless powders more or less. In fact many other powders have a more distictive sweet smell.
Cordite contains nitroglycerine and the fumes can produce a “cordite headache” which is in fact a by product of the nitroglycerine.

The expression “the smell of cordite” is or has been used in fiction as a general term to describe the smell of smokeless powders. Typically, I believe Ian Fleming does in the James Bond books.

Cordite in the British vernacular was often used interchangeably as a general term to describe any form of smokeless powder even when it clearly wasn’t in reality cordite. Less so now than in times gone by.

Its a bit like saying everyone in the old West carried a Colt .45.

Cordite keeps quite well so 50+ year old ammunition is still turning up on the surplus market although its probably gone off a bit now. Most of that is attributable more to where its been stored than its age. Cordite has a very distictive appearance looking like long sticks of uncooked spaghetti. It was also used chopped in pistol cartridges. The fineness of the chopping governing its burning rate.


#5

Cordite has a long “shelf life” and is usually still in good shootable condition many years after manufacture. The most likely reason for failure of cordite loaded cartridges is deterioration of the primer. Last year I was shooting .303 Mark VII headstamped CP 44 VII with good accuracy and perfect reliability. It is this long life and tolerance of cordite which enabled the UK to transport and use ammunition all over the world in the days of the British Empire. Nowadays, with the availability of rapid air transport, ammo does not need to be able to survive so long.

Deterioration of nitro cellulose powders is much more common than deterioration of cordite. The drawbacks of cordite are very hot gas which shortens barrel life and the need to neck the case after inserting the cordite charge. This latter requirement prevents after-necking annealing of the case neck.

gravelbelly


#6

[quote=“TonyE”][quote=“Armourer”]From wiki:

Cordite was used initially in the .303 British, Mark I and II, standard rifle cartridge between 1891 and 1915; …[/quote]

So does Wiki think the Mark II was the standard in 1915 or that the .303 was only standard until 1915?

The last cordite loaded SAA was probably .303 Mark 7 loaded by Radway Green in 1957. After that it was all 7z AFAIK.

Has anyone seen any later cordite loaded ammo?

Regards
TonyE[/quote]

I’m sorry, I admit to cutting and pasteing a Wiki article without checking it, in my defence…OK there is no defence :)

My wife has hidden all my copies of the IAA Journal as punishment.


#7

A very just punishment too!

Cheers
TonyE


#8

Tony
While this subject is running, just how much did they make in 57? or 56 for that matter?

By my perception 55 was the last year of real production when absolutely HUGE amounts must have been made and put into store. They must have known by then its days were numbered.

Looking back now, like vintage wines, some years figure strongly while other years don’t even make it onto the scale. Off the top of my head I can’t even remember seeing anything later than 55 but for decades 55RG was almost everywhere.

For RG this must have caused difficult surges.

Vince


#9

I don’t know how many were made at RG in 1957 as I do not have any production records for that period. They more than “knew” the days were numbered as the 7.62mm had been formally adopted in1954, but there was still a need to supply the Territorials and cadets with .303 and would be for several years to come.

I have RG ball Mark 7 loaded with cordite for '53, '54. '55. '56 and '57 and then N/C Mark 7z from 1958 to 1962 and then '72 and '73 for the cadets. There was also some ball Mark 8z loaded in 1960 which must have been for the last of the Vickers guns.

Of course, I have also answered my own question because RG loaded some Tracer Mark 8 with cordite in 1958, but I am sure that was the last year.

By 1955 RG were starting bulk production of the new L2A1 7.62mm and by the end of the year were making the strengthened case L2A2.

Royal Laboratory’s last year of production was 1954.

Regards
TonyE


#10

Was not rifle cordite produced in Pakistan into the 1960s? Certainly their 1964 Mk.7 .303 ball was loaded with cordite. JG


#11

I have a fired .303 case headstamped “K 70 7”. So they must have loaded some .303 with cordite in 1970. This fired case is the only example of this HS I have ever seen, I have asked a few other collectors if they have seen it and they say they have not.


#12

That is a very good point. I had been talking about cordite loads for the British military and did not think about contract loads.

I do not have a copy of the Kynoch orders after mid 1966 so cannot say who that was for, but Kynoch were supplying many of the colonial governments via the Crown Agents at that time. The order will probably be in the Kynoch archives at the Birmingham Proof House.

Looking through the orders in the sixties, in 1965 they were still supplying both Mark 7 and 7z, but most was 7z.

Typical orders were 40,000 Mark 7 to Trinidad & Tobago, 50,000 Mark 7z to Aden and 100,000 Mark 7z to Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe now).

I do not have the K 70 ball round, the latest I have is K 67., but looking through my catalogue I have a cordite Line throwing blank headstamped “K 70 H2”. So there is a later British military cordite load. It is amazing what one can forget one has!

Regards
TonyE


#13

Would these have been loaded using cordite still in storage from years earlier or was it still being made at that time?

I only have a damaged fired case with the K 70 7 headstamp, I have been looking for a complete round for a couple of years now.


#14

Although front-line troops would have got early supplies of 7.62mm weapons, other units continued with the .303 for many years. In 1966 the RAF in ADEN still had .303" Lee-Enfields. My “home” from 1964 to 1966, HMS Eagle, had all .303" weapons until the end of that commision in December 1966. I joined the RN in 1959 but saw my first 7.62mm SLR in 1967.

gravelbelly


#15

[quote=“gravelbelly”]Although front-line troops would have got early supplies of 7.62mm weapons, other units continued with the .303 for many years. In 1966 the RAF in ADEN still had .303" Lee-Enfields. My “home” from 1964 to 1966, HMS Eagle, had all .303" weapons until the end of that commision in December 1966. I joined the RN in 1959 but saw my first 7.62mm SLR in 1967.

gravelbelly[/quote]

Good point Gravelbelly, the cadets had their .303s until about early to mid 80s. I don’t know the exact date but someone can no doubt tell us.


#16

[quote=“Vince Green”]
Good point Gravelbelly, the cadets had their .303s until about early to mid 80s. I don’t know the exact date but someone can no doubt tell us.[/quote]

Yes, but most of the later cadet ammunition was HXP ball and blank and BPD drill when we could get hold of it. The final nail in the coffin for the .303" No. 4 rifle in cadet hands was a couple of dangerous rifle failures at Bisley. Subsequent examination of hundreds of cadet rifles revealed a significant number of emergency standard and 2-groove barrels which should have been condemned at the end of WW2. It was deemed to be a huge task to examine every rifle for serviceability and safety so all were condemned. This left a yawning gap with no shooting for cadets for years.

gravelbelly


#17

Gravelbelly, Did the failures of the rifles happen at the time that the HXP started appearing on the scene?
The first HXP was noticibly harder on the shoulder and I remember the Burser at Harrow School describing it as Greek machine gun ammunition and that he thought it was “a bit suspect.”

I believe it was designated as Mk VIII, hence his comment about being machine gun ammunition. Perhaps someone could fill in some detail about whether or not it was Mk VIII and what the significance of that designation might have had on the rifle failures.


#18

[quote=“Vince Green”]Gravelbelly, Did the failures of the rifles happen at the time that the HXP started appearing on the scene?
The first HXP was noticibly harder on the shoulder and I remember the Burser at Harrow School describing it as Greek machine gun ammunition and that he thought it was “a bit suspect.”

I believe it was designated as Mk VIII, hence his comment about being machine gun ammunition. Perhaps someone could fill in some detail about whether or not it was Mk VIII and what the significance of that designation might have had on the rifle failures.[/quote]

Vince,

I suppose that it must have been after cadets started being issued with HXP ammunition however the reports of the explosive failures all blamed the rifles, not the ammunition. I don’t know what ammunition was being fired when the rifles failed. Some units were found to be using the two-piece barrel (separate knox form reinforce shrunk on and pinned) which had become loose and slid forward! The HXP was made to normal Mark 7/7z specifications and I have shot thousands of them without any problems at all. They were reasonably accurate but needed a little more elevation on the sights to match the trajectory of military Mark 7/VII. They have the shorter 174 grain bullet, like the US contract ammunition as they lack the internal tip lightener.

gravelbelly