Detective Book • British 9mm Headstamp


It’s great to be on this forum, and I mean no flattery when I say your community guidelines are the most civilised I’ve read. (I had to remind myself what ad hominem meant.)

I’d really appreciate your help with a detective novel I’m writing. It’s set in Malaya, in the 1950s, during the “Emergency” (the jungle war against communist insurgents).

Now here’s the thing: the insurgents were using weapons and ammunition left over from the guerrilla war against the Japanese in WW2 – whereas the security forces were using up-to-date ammunition, of course.

Could someone kindly make an educated guess at what the headstamps would be for two 9mm British Army rounds: one manufactured in 1945, and another in 1955?

I’d be very grateful.


1945 Royal Ordnance Factory, Hirwaun, UK


Courtesy of:

I don’t have a '55 RG headstamp photo immediately available but here are a '54 and a '56 (middle round on bottom photo). It would have a purple sealer on the primer, not green!

Before someone asks, the Green pa is a proof of work cartridge and no, I don’t have one in my collection! If you have a box of these, please send me one along with a photo of the box!

Or better yet, send the whole box!!!



Post WWII we (UK) still had substantial stocks of wartime manufactured ammunition. Korea started in 1950 and ammunition manufacture was increased accordingly, probably with the bulk of production shipped there. As a consequence post 1953, we had once again accumulated substantial stocks. Some of this surplus would have undoubtedly been shipped to Malaya.

Nice to see a writer of detective novels actually wanting to get ammunition details correct. good on ya

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Tim G makes a good point. The 1945 headstamp would have likely been more common with British forces in Burma in 1955 than a Radway Green (RG) 9mm dated 55.

9mm Parabellum ammunition used by the guerrilla forces against the Japanese could have been almost anything. The Japanese didn’t use this caliber, and since the Sten was not invented until 1941 it seems unlikely that any British 9mm would have found it’s way into Malaya for the guerrillas unless there was some type of official British supply program. I have never heard of such a program, but also haven’t searched the web. The Dutch used a lot of 9mmP ammo in their colonies prior to WWII and tried to ship some in during the early stages of WWII. I’d be hard pressed to guess what 9mmP weapons or ammunition Malay guerrillas were using during the WWII.


PS: Until 1942 essentially all British 9mmP ammo was made by Winchester and headstamped W.R.A. 9M-M. By mid war the British were more likely dropping the WRA ammunition and an array of other non-British ammo they had bought in 1940-41 to resistance forces.

I could be screwed up on what the British were passing to Malaya during WWII. Other opinions welcome.

Cannot help to add my own speculation: would not Australian ammunition be a good candidate for supply to anti-Japanese insurgents? (same headstamp layout, but MF instead of Hirwaun or Radway Green)

@JPeelen - They certainly couldn’t be ruled out. However, the Malayan guerrillas were under the auspices of SOE Force 136, the headquarters of which were in, what was then Ceylon. Force 136 had a supply route from India to Burma for air dropping supplies to the resistance there. Presumably supplying Indian manufactured arms and ammunition. From what I’ve recently read, the Malayan forces didn’t start getting air supplies until 1944, but by war’s end had received over a 1,000 air drops.

Lew, what is “proof of work”?

Vlad, I had never heard of it until recently. Apparently these were rounds off the line, specially marked for quality testing of some sort! Perhaps some of the British members can explain it.


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This is awesome. Thank you all for your generous help.

Thinking about the terrorist ammunition, it would have been cached in the jungle for a decade or more and I’m wondering what condition it would be in. (Especially after the boxes were opened and the ammunition distributed to the fighters.)

BTW, What was the official shelf life of British 9mm ammo in the 40s/50s? I presume there was one.



Shelf life all SAA: Rule of Fives.
First Five Years: Combat Ammo;
Second Five Years: Home Training,
Emergency Combat;
Third Five Years: Training only.
15 years Plus: surplus disposal or destruction.
Rule still generally held even with
Modern Ammo, by many countries.
Doc AV.

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A bit about shelf life.
Storage: how it was stored is a major factor in how ammunition performs if roughly treated in may not be any good right off the truck, let alone on the Third Five Years of shelf life.
Years ago a firm herein the US called Bannerman’s made a very good living buying & selling surplus ammunition.
Because a lot of the ammunition he was buying was from the 1870’s-80’s he would tear off the dated area of the label to resell it, because folks would figure heck this is 50years old no point in buying it. How much he got back because it didn’t work, I can’t say, but he must have sold a lot of it because most of the now empty boxes that survived have the date missing on nthe label.
Humidity, is another factor, If it was in British issue solder-sealed tin cases inside unopened metal cans that should not be a factor, but if in the inner paper boxes it might well be.

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In Malaya - max 10 years full serviceability

"Regulations for Army Ordnance Services

Part 7

Pamphlet No. 11

Small Arms Ammunition


Section 7 – Inspection and Proof of S.A.A.

Para 3. All S.A.A. upon reaching the age of 10 years if held in tropical climates, as described in Magazine Regulations (Land Service), Part 1, 1941 para. 30, or 15 years if held in temperate climates, will be automatically sentenced “for practice only”, and will be the subject of a special report to the War Office (W.S.9). "


It is nice to see an author go to some pains for accuracy. One of my favorite authors, Alan Furst, mainly writes about intelligence and resistance stories, centered in Paris from about 1937 to 1942…really great stuff. In each book he goes to great pains to go super technical and accurate with a couple of weapons, but there is always one big screw-up. For example, in one novel he mentions the two common Spanish rifle calibers; 7mm and “7.7mm”. Oops. In another, he discusses the safety on a 1935 Radom VIS pistol. Oops again.
He does try, which is why I’ve never written a letter of complaint or correction.

Of course, ammo already distributed to guerilla groups probably saw the shelf life regulations ignored. While shelf life rules make sense when you have the luxury of a functioning supply system, when you get way out on the irregular end of warfighting there are no rules.
It may be possible that the old ammo will work all the time, some of the time, seldom, or never, but if it’s what you have, you use it until you can somehow acquire better ammo or weapons.
There could even be a scenario where in addition to one or more fired cases were recovered, there is a “dud” where the firing pin struck the primer, but the cartridge failed to fire, causing a malfunction that required the shooter to manually clear the dud which would drop to the ground at the shooter’s location, while the fired cases ejected after being fired would probably land several feet away.

Did the insurgents even have much access to British arms and ammo? I would have thought they had more in they way of Japanese surplus, as well as smuggled arms out of China.

Australia did not start production of the 9mm until 1942. There was an allocation of 2,000,000 rounds for overseas, but no idea where they were destined.
We did supply quite a few other countries with various calibres, but I don’t have details.

Thanks. Yes, I noticed that in the first Wallander book, Swedish novelist Henning Mankell mentions a safety catch on a revolver – not impossible, but pretty unlikely.

yes, it is more commonly known as ‘daily proof’ over here and are rounds that are known to have been manufactured to exact(ish) specification and are used to check against daily batches in production.
The green annulus identification for the ‘daily proof’ rounds is unique to Radway Green…similar idea to ballistic standard rounds which had a yellow annulus used by other English manufactures.


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