Machine gun ammo supply during WWII

We all saw WWII documentaries of German soldiers marching along a road holding MG34’s on their shoulders. Those were front line soldiers, they moved fast and they used ammo belts a lot. But somebody had to provide them with those loaded belts. What is the name of an outfit which followed the front line closely and carried belt loading machinery? I am including a scan of 4 boxes. 2 already have ammo on chargers and are intended for K98 soldiers, but 2 others are loose and, I assume, are intended for belts.
I am sure all sides had similar supply tactics. So German boxes and soldiers are just as an example.
And how does it work nowadays?

The German frontline troops loaded their own belts, which were of the non-disintegrating, reusable type (Patronengurt).
No machine gunner in his right mind would use belts loaded by soldiers he did not know. Carefully ensuring correct seating of the cartridges in the belt is very important for reliable functioning, as is using belts that have no deformed links or other flaws.
Filling disintegrating belts at the ammunition factory is a relatively new invention. I do no know how Luftwaffe handled this in WW2.

By the way, Heckler & Koch, when promoting its new HK121/MG5, declared it was unable to guarantee that the gun could handle non-disintegrating belts without malfunction. [Their marketing of course used very different wording to describe this unbelievable case of engineering incompetence.] So the MG5 is the first German machine gun since about 1934, that comes with a manufacturer’s warning that it could have problems handling the standard type of belt. Non-disintegrating belts are still in wide use by Bundeswehr ground forces, according to what I have seen.

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Jochem, could you clarify which one you mean here?

The Bundeswehr ground(!) forces standard type of belt, from what I have seen, is still the non-disintegrating type (Patronengurt), based on the belt used by MG34.
The HK121/MG5 was announced with the caveat that HK would only guarantee correct function with disintegrating belts (Zerfallgurt). And indeed, in the videos they published, the operators used only disintegrating belts.
(The operators in the videos needed seemingly endless seconds to correctly position the belt, compared to what I was used to in my service, but that is another matter.)

I understand it was the DM6 disintegrating belt (some slight modification of the M13 supposedly being interchangeable with the M13)? This one is in German service for very long but if I got it right was meant for “war time use” (but this is only hear-say).

I assume with the MG3 slowly dying the 50 rd belts also may disappear in favour for easier handling (not having the empty belt dangling around on the other side).
Of course this is only my assumption.

And you say the disintegrating ones are not fully functional in the MG5?

How about other militaries during WWII? Did they also handload the MG belts?

One of the announced changes of the MG3 versus MG1 (apart from the beautiful feature of having easy to clean polygonal barrels) was that it could handle the DM6 [and I assume M13] disintegrating belts without problem. And like you I have never seen a DM6 (currently called DM60) belt in the hand of ground troops. But documentation of its use alongside DM1 belts in “Gurttrommel” (50 rounds) and Patronenkasten DM40004 (DM1: 100 or DM60: 120 rounds) exists.

Regarding your last sentence: Not me but Heckler & Koch itself announced that it could not guarantee flawless functioning of the MG5 with non-disintegrating [DM1] belts. (in Journal VISIER, for example)

Jochem, thanks!

Vlad, I’d say most militaries in WW2 used to load their belts in the filed.
With very few exceptions.

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In Norway, MG ammunition came belted to the troops in WWII, at least to the Colt M-29. Also now, ammunition for the MG-3 and M-249 is already belted. I remember I tried to order loose belts and ammunition for a shoot, but was told it’s not allowed to assemble our own belts. Silly, but this is the way the world is going.

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Reminds me of being at the airial gunnery range in the middle of winter. At the time we were using M-60D’s. When we were done with the day fire exercise we would purposefully de-link and re-link 200 rounds, tracers only. The first aircraft that went out at night got “that box” so that they could start a minor range fire and we would all go home without freezing to death. We all flew and trained so much we never worried about being out of practice. Just an old soldiers tactic to spend more time at home, which was a rare thing sometimes…

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Jochem, there is not much information about the loading of air force belts during WW2.
The only information I have is this little note.


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1944 change from SmK to SmE and PmK n.A.

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For the U.S. belts were loaded at ammunition plants and by ordnance facilities near the battle front.

The World War II Ordnance Department’s Government-Owned Contractor-Operated (GOCO) Industrial Facilities: Lake City Army Ammunition Plant Historic Investigation. 1996

Quote, page 59:

Ammunition packed on links or not?

"The Library of Congress is full of photos of US troops linking up ammo in theatre, Army and Air Corps. The M2 ammo can carried no markings other than “.50 cal Ammunition” stamped in the sheet metal. It wasn’t till some time late in WW2 or even Korea that the contents of the cans were marked. That’s because the cans were treated more like the detachable box “magazine” of a rifle or pistol and constantly refilled, sometimes with different contents as different requirements were made from the front line troops or depending on ammunition availability.

I spoke with a long-time employee of Remington, as an example, who was drafted in WW2, and spent his time as an ordnance officer. One of his main responsibilities was seeing the bulk ammo was delivered where it was needed and getting it linked up for imminent use.

Now some ammo was linked and shipped from the factory, but that was more the exception than the rule. The few examples I’ve been able to actually trace turned out to be .50 ammo destined for the US Navy. So perhaps their ammo issuance policy was different."

From another IAA Forum discussion:

“In WW2, 0.50 ammo was often bulk packed, in the 10 round boxes, then sealed in tins & placed in wooden crates, or sealed into tin lined wooden crates. It was intended to be linked up only in theatre as different services, even different units, required different mixtures of AP, Tracer, API, APIT, etc. Discussions with WW2 fighter pilots revealed that they were allowed to decide what mixture of rounds would be loaded into their fighter. The WW2 0.50 ammo crates that contained unlinked ammo were opened then the 10round boxes were opened and the ammo then linked using the linker/delinkers.”

.50 BMG packed in 10rd cartons
.50 BMG in cartons

.50 BMG in belts


Willem, thank you. This is also the only information I have (plus the newer version shown by rigby.)

That was really good information guys thanks. I was trying, about a month ago, to find out what the Leftwaffe loads were. I had seen a good article on it just a couple years ago that took details from German pilots but I never could find that article. I will try another search today.

BDgreen, awesome pictures of that ammo box

What does the n.A. stand for?

n.A. means neue Art.
The problem is that only a drawing is known.
Nobody have ever seen a life round.


Alles klar danke!!

SmE L’spur 100/600 and SmE Gl’spur ?

Did such cartridges actually exist?

This is not so easy to explain, but I will try.

For a long time I had what I think was a fake cartridge.

It is a “dou.” head stamped round with a tracer bullet but a blue annulus colour.
I put this round by my fake and fun department.

Also a decade back I try to make a cut of a worn SmK Lsp cartridge. To my surprise I went true the core of this bullet. It was a high lot number steel case of “cg” from 1944.

I made a few phone calls to some fellow collectors to ask if they noticed something like that.

They start working on these bullets and we found out that the Germans stopped hardening the cores in the middle of 1944. (No documentation known)

Now the tracer from “dou.” is back in the game. “dou” have never load tracers but shipped brass cases to “edq” (see label) to make tracers and dim tracers because “edq” went out of brass in 1944. The last known brass case from “edq” is lot 2 of 1944

Officially a red annulus means that the cartridge has a steel core. An iron core has a blue annulus colour, like the SmE. dou S* 12 44 is known as a tracer with a red and a blue annulus. Lot 13 is the last known lot of cases with a blue annulus send to edq.

edq 44-3 SmL Lsp (gelb)

A company like “cg” and “eej” were sending cases to Theodor Bergman plants (cdo-cdp) to make tracer cartridges. They also made the cores. The annulus colour of these rounds stays red. Also the SmK L,spur name on the box label is the same.

cdo 44-58 SmK Lsp (orange)

Now about the list from @rigby

The MG81 was so high rated that the cartridges need an additional crimp to prevent the bulled was pushed in the case during firing of the MG. The only cartridges known with this additional crimp were made by “hlb”

It is interesting to see if the core of this round is still hardened. Unfortunately I have only single items in the collection, but if I find a spare one I let you all know.


There exist a SmE L,spur with an iron core with a steel case. They are not a 100-600 but it has an orange tracer.
I have never heard of the existence of a SmE’Gl,spur.

In 1943 the Germans was starting to replace the 7,9 MG’s in airplanes to a larger calibre.
The 7,9 had trouble getting true the armour from allied airplanes.
I do not think they replace the steel core on this air force ammunition. (Brass case)

The steel case was used by ground forces. This core was replaced somewhere in 1944.