French .303 with US or British case

I’ve got in my collection some .303 I think they are French:

  • tracer SPG (R L VIIG), primer secured by 3 points,
  • AP (US 16 VII, US 17 VII), primer secured by 3 points,
  • AP tracer (US 17 VII), primer secured by 4 points,
  • Buckingham Mk II (R16W VII), primer secured by 3 points.
    I’got some french drawings showing that that kind of cartridges may have been made in France with foreign cases such as R16W, US…(drawings available if anyone needs).
    All these cartridges were used in aviation.
    Is it true to say that all that kind of cartridge with the primer secured by points (3 or 4) is French made or is it possible to find British one with the same type of primer secured?
    By this way, is the RL tracer for which I asked a question few days ago is French manufactured with British case or British made?
    Is there any other way to make the difference?


Cher Phillipe,
Bon Annee!

The .303 used by France for Aircraft MGs (Mostly FM Lewis) in early WW I ( 1915-16) was Imported from Britain, before France began its own production of .303 Ammo as new Ammunition.

France also imported “special” projectiles such as .303 Tracer and Armour Piercing from Britain.
They found that the US Contract-made ammo , as delivered, (without Primer Crimps) would cause defects in Air-Firing use ( Primers popping, etc and Gun synchronisation) so the Initial import batches of USCCo 15, etc, were “Reworked” and given primer crimping ( 3 or 4 stab crimps) in a French Factory.

As some of the Loadings of this import ammo was also not suitable for High altitude use, some of this ammo was also broken down and reloaded with new French-made Rifle-cartridge Powder , the primers crimped, and the Special Bullets used.

Then there is the situation ( “R^L” marked cases) where France also imported British-Made primed Cases for Filling and Loading in France, to French specifications for use in Aircraft MGs (Both Lewis and Vickers, and later, Darne Guns). France continued to use “7,7mm” as its aircraft calibre until development of the ?MAC 29/31 Aircraft Guns in 7,5mm Cartridge in the early 1930s.

BY 1917, France was producing its own .303 ammo ( Cartouche 7,7mm), and the reliance on British-supplied Ammunition and Components finally ceased by 1918.

BY late 1917, US contract .303 was also being supplied from the USA with primer crimps applied at the US contractor; But in any case, other “Problems” led to almost all the US-made ammo from WW I to be used in Bolt-action Rifles only ( and some Light machine guns) and after WW I, it was disposed of ( to Portugal, Baltic States), as the US Powder also had “shelf life” problems…almost a Billion rounds of various .303 ammunition was dumped in the North Sea in 1919, as not even being fit to give away to friendly countries.

Best regards,
Doc AV
AV Ballistics
Brisbane Australia.

BTW, PS: all the Cases with the added “3&4 stab crimps”, at least 1915 & 1916 and early 1917 dates are French Modified…Britain in its supplied R^L and R16W ( Rudge Withworth Cycles) cases even if “ring crimped” were over-struck in France as well. I would suspect that the 1916 British cases were dismantled ammunition, rather than "component " cases, but I am unsure with regards to theses British cases.

Great info on the the French use of the .303 in WWI. I do have a question on the US made .303, other than the primers not being staked or crimped why was the quality so poor? I’m a big fan of the 7.62x54r and US made a lot of ammo for Russia and from what I know quality was good but most was destined for bolt guns. Back in the 80’s when I was young I purchased a couple of hundred rounds of US made 7.62x54r while there were a far amount of split necks and duds most went off with out a hitch. Of course what I have now all has age related split necks (it would have been nice if they annealed the necks).

Regarding my original message, here is a photo of the different rounds.
#1: Tracer SPG,
#2 and 3: 2 different AP (first reduced in length)
#4: AP Tracer
#5: Buckingham Mk II
As far as the first one is concerned, why is the cap black? Oxidation??

Many thanks

With the US headstamps how did you determine the type of projectile with out pulling them apart? thanks vic

from this table for example (almost complete)

and :
Armor piercing blackened brass bullet, one cannelure, red-brown copper case mouth seal
Armor Piercing tracer : copper jacket, one cannelure, dark-red case mouth seal
early tracer : CN jacket, no cannelure
SPG tracer : CN jacket, no cannelure
Incendiary : CN jacket, no cannelure

I must still have somewhere all these different loadings (ball at least)


So it is in the headstamp and how the round is held together? thanks vic

Yes Vic
The hstp, the description of the bullet, and the crimping (or not)

Many thanks for this table JeanPierre. That helps me a lot.
What about the black cap on the RL SPG? What do you think about it?

Some French made rounds for the Darne MG have a very deep bullet cannelure and a heavy mouth crimp into this cannelure. This is to reduce the tendency of the Darne action to push bullets down inside the case. The Darne loosens the rounds in the belt by pushing on the bullet tip.

This is nothing to do with any of the info above, I just felt like tossing it into the ring.


[quote=“Rafale”]Many thanks for this table JeanPierre. That helps me a lot.
What about the black cap on the RL SPG? What do you think about it?

Looking at the round with the headstamp R^L 16 VII G and a blackened primer; It has a three-stab primer crimp added by France and the “G” appeared odd to me but then I re-read my copy of “.303 INCH, A History of the .303 Cartridge in the British Service.” By Peter Labbett and P.J.F.Mead which states that “Some early 1917 production had the letter “G” applied as a separate stamping operation” so it is probable that some 1916 dates ones were done the same way.

In the same book, in the Ball Mark VII section there is the paragraph: “During the 1914-18 war, special “Purple Label” Mark 7 ball (named after the colour of the package labels) was issued for practice by the Royal Flying Corps. These cartridges bore normal headstamps but had specially blackened primers and the neck indents were omitted from the case. The standard bullet was deeply seated to give a reduced cartridge length of only 75.2 mm (2.96”).

So, we know that some specially blackened primers were used at the time the cartridge was made, but how did this primer come to be in a VII G cartridge, assuming that it was not originally a Mark VII ball.


(spelling correction edit)

Thanks for your answer gravelbelly.

I am not sure that the “G” was added as a separate stamp. If you look at the spacing, without the “G” the “VII” would be assymetric. Also, although that primer looks deliberately blackened, I am not sure that is the case as I have similarly blackened primers in other rounds caused by oxidation. I posted a picture of a true “Purple Label” round on the other .303 blackened primer thread.

There is a wide range of headstamp styles on these early VIIG tracer rounds and I have attached a picture of some of mine.

They are:

  1. Unheadstamped. The bullet base suggests it is an early VIIG
  2. R16L VII. very weakly stamped
  3. R^L 16 VII with two inverted “VII” overstamps
  4. R17W with inverted VII
  5. K.N.1917 VIIG. First four digit date for Air Service
  6. E 17 VIIG
  7. R16L VII. No other identification
  8. R^L 18 VIIG
  9. R^L 18 VIIG. This looks like an overstamp also, but is in fact an uneven bunter strike.
  10. R^L 18 VIIG. Late issue and the first with the red annulus for tracer.

Sorry about the quality of the pictures,