Portuguese .303 "AE 1935" & related 6.5x53R Mannlicher


I was taken aback by this .303 at a show because I could not remember this headstamp and when I listed countries which used .303 by memory, none of them corresponded to this “AE”. So, did Portugal use Lee-Enfield before WWII?


Portugal officially adopted the .303 Mark VII cartridge in 1919, after their Battalion on the Western Front had been supplied with .303 Lee Enfields and Lewis and Vickers guns. After WW I, the Portuguese Gov’t was Given several million rounds of US Contract .303 ammo, and adopted the Lewis and Vickers as their main Infantry MGs. The Navy took over the SMLEs.
This “import” ammo was classed “Cartucho com bala Cal. 7mm.7 M919,” and repacked into 100 round cartons with steel corner strenghteners.

In 1922, the AE (Arsenal do Esercito) began making .303 Mark VII ammo itself, using the British .250" Berdan primer, but the Roth Patent Berdan Pocket ( firehole thru anvil); The cartridge was standardised as the “Cartucho com bala Cal.7mm.7 M923” ( note differance in dates).

Packaging was again in 100 round cartons, ten cartons to the tin liner in a wooden crate, very similar to the shape and construction of Wooden US .30 cal crates of the time ( Rectangular, Long, with Rope handles.
The Portuguese maintained this case design and size, when they went over to the 7,9mm ( 80 and 90 packs) in the late 30s (1937-38).

The AE continued experimenting with Bullet design, Powder types, Primer designs etc till 1937, when the factory went over to making 7,9mm ammo ( assisted by DWM-RWS).

Years ago ( 1970s) I did a full review of all AE .303 cartridges produced 1922-1937, and found:

  1. The Bullet was initially a Mark VII jacket filled with lead ( 189-192 grains).

  2. In 1925-28, AE stripped down a lot of the US .303 ammo, (mostly W15) and recovered the Bullets for loading into AE cases ( US ammo was suffering from absence of neck anneal, so splitting necks, and the MR Powder used was already deteriorating ( which is why Britain got rid of most of the US contract ammo and Powder it got in WW I, by giving it to the Baltic States, Finland? and Portugal or by simply Burning off the Powder and dumping the ammo in the North Sea).

  3. By 1929, AE had copied the US .303 Jacket design (shorter than a Mark VII) and filled it with lead–no Aluminium or fibre point filler.

4 The Original Powder was a coarse tubular grain very similar to Italian Solenite, then a Finer Black tubular grain Powder, and finally German style Flake Powder ( late 1930s). Charges were adjusted according to Bullet weight.

5.The primers were originally the old British Round cup design, with no crimping. In 1930, there are lots of both Round cup and Flat cup. From 1931, they are solely Flat cup. In 1937, they adopted the normal “European” Berdan design, of a solid central anvil and two symmetric flash holes. ( influence of RWS/DWM???).

Primer composition was Non-mercuric, but Chlorate corrosive. This remained the composition until AE ( then transmuted into FCPQ, then FNM) started making Nato ammo (1960s), and all primers were from then on Noncorrosive ( all calibres).

  1. FNM began making .303 ammo again in the late 40s, early 1950s, mostly for Airforce and Colonial use, where Lewis guns were still on issue ( alongside 7,9mm converted Vickers guns, and M937 Madsens and ex-German MG13 Guns. FNM .303 production lasted at least to 1970. ( AFAIK)

My analysis of the .303 ammo came from several crates (Portuguese) of .303 ammo (loose, a few ratty original M919 and M923 packets), which had come to Aust. via Century Arms and the Portuguese administration in Mozambique just a couple of years before the Marxist take-over in 1975 after Portugal’s Fascist Gov’t collapsed and it abandoned all its troubled colonies.

In the crates there was British-made Mark VIIZ,( US MR Powder); US made (nearly all the contractors) WW I .303; very little British Mark VII Cordite; and a majority of AE cartridges, ( close to two thousand) with all dates 1922 (!!!) to 1937. Several Hundred FNM 1950 & 51 .303 rounded out the total – FNM cases had a .217 Standard Berdan primer and Tubular Powder.
All the variations listed above were examined from this single mixed lot, which I would say is a statistically valid sample size.
I still have the “examination” samples, but the majority of the rest of the ammo was either sold-off as “collectors” or tested by Firing at the range – Lots of Hangfires and Misfires, and split cases (neck and shoulder)— some of the AE years were dismantled, and Powder and Bullets re-used in more reliably primed cases, and the original AE cases deprimed Hydraulically and reloaded as Military Blanks.
( especially those years with tendency to misfires or neck splitting).

THis is a Potted History of Portuguese .303 used and variety. I don’t have any info whether Portugal Loaded any special types (AP, Trace, etc) but probably did load Wood Bullet Blanks from new or used .303 cases ( as they did for 6,5x58 P and 8mm Kropatschek.). Sources such as Kynoch and FN (Belgium) could have supplied all the special needs for Airforce etc.

Doc AV
AV ballistics
Brisbane Australia.


A small p.s. to Doc’s excellent discussion of the Portuguese .303 is the AE-produced 6.5 m/m rimmed Mannlicher ammunition that was apparently adapted from .303 draw pieces sized in 6.5 m/m dies. Those rounds I’ve seen were dated in the early 1930s and feature the same big British-style primer as the .303. This ammunition was intended for those Romanian-type Mannlicher rifles and carbines still in service. Jack


Very interesting note on AE Produced 6,5x53R M896 cartridges. When originally tested by Portugal with a small number of Steyr-made Romanian Pattern M93 rifles and mostly carbines, the ammo was supplied by G.Roth & Co, with the small ( .199–5mm) primer and the patent Roth flashhole-anvil. I suppose after WW I, they had to work out some way of making the ammo, as in the meantime, the M96 Rifles and carbines had been relegated to Police and some Colonial use, given the small quantity acquired in 1896-7. Some of the carbines were converted to .22 Training rifles.

Any chance of packet or cartridge Photos?

Doc AV
AV Ballistics.


Doc: I’ve never seen the original packaging of these and am not nimble enough technically to provide an image of the 6.5 m/m cartridge, but maybe someone can help us out. I’d also like the see the labels on the packets. Jack


If it could be helpful , I have a fired 6,5 mm Portoguese case.

Headstamp " AE ( monogram ) / star / 1930 / star "

Large primer and thicker rim than the dutch version


Pivi: The 6.5 m/m Mannlicher rimmed and the .303 both have rim thicknesses very close to each other, about .068 in. or thereabouts. The Portuguese cartridge case seems to have a thicker rim because the typical Dutch-produced case has a slightly rounded, almost prismatic, base form. Rimmed cases with rounded rim edges always appear thinner than one with a “square” edge. Jack


Here some data about the rim thickness:

6,5 Potugal : 1.85 mm
6.5 Dutch : 1.53 mm - 1.60 mm ( I measured various Dutch rounds )

You can’t fill any dutch clip with the Portoguese round. I have tried with several clips in mint conditions

The Dutch rounds I have in my collection bear the beveled rim you mentioned above, but the Portoguese rim, although “squared” ( and a bit thicker than standard 303 Brit. rim) is REALLY thicker than the Dutch one.
I don’t have any Romanian round in my collection, but I has been told that it is interchangeable with the Dutch one

At the same time I has been told that the Portoguese and the Dutch/Romanian rounds are very similar but not fully interchangeable due their rim thickness differencies.


Pivi: Your information is interesting & I have no answer. If I could devise a set-up to permit me to mike rim thickness I’d like to try; I have various Dutch cases and a few pre-1914 Austrian ones, but only a single Portuguese specimen. The very late Dutch-made cases do not have the rounded base, but rather flat ones–these are dated in the late 1930s. I will say I’ve formed Dutch brass from .30-40 and .303 and these have worked well with my original Dutch clips. Mysteries never cease & thanks. Jack


I have some of the AE headstamped 6.5 ammo in clips in the original 1930 dated packet,if someone would like to post the pics I will send them to you…Pete


After the earlier exchange between Pivi and me I decided to get out my 6.5 m/m rimmed Mannlicher cartridges and see what I could see. While unable to measure the rim thicknesses, it was quickly obvious to me that, indeed, the AE 1930 Portuguese round had a visibly thicker rim than my Dutch and contract-for-the-Netherlands cartridges (1914-1939 dates). At a guess, I’d say the AE was .012 in. thicker. Also, as Pivi had said, the Portuguese cartridge would not enter a Dutch-produced clip. Cartridges made during WW.2 as German contract (“am” code) were dimensionally similar to the Dutch. An SFM produced round with a commercial style headstamp, however, had a thick rim like the Portuguese and also wanted not to go into the clip. My oldest round in this caliber is by K&C 1898 and is also stamped M93; it had the thinner rim and readily fit the Dutch clip. I don’t believe there is in fact any significant dimensional difference between the “Romanian” version and the “Dutch” version of this cartridge–DWM offered only one cartridge for both designations; Roth had different case numbers but no indication of dimensional differences. As to the thick rim of the Portuguese product (and the SFM, too, for that matter) I continue to be in the dark. Jack


To measure the thickness of the rim of a cartridge which has a pronounced radius or bevel to the base you need a thin flat piece of metal and a micrometer or vernier caliper. I suppose that you could also use a piece of flat glass. Stand the cartridge up on the piece of metal, hold it in place firmly and measure the combined thickness of the rim and metal. Subtract the thickness of the metal and you are left with the rim thickness. This is the full dimension of the case which will fit between the bolt face and the rear face of the chamber.

I have a clip of 5 Portuguese 6.5 x 53.5mm rounds with the same headstamp as the .303" which started this thread except that mine are dated 1932. This clip and a typical carton were posted in a thread started on the 13th October 2009 so I won’t re-post the images here.

I have measured the rim thickness, using the method outlined above, and it is 1.85mm (0.73"). As a comparison, the .303" British cartridge should have a rim thickness of between 0.64" (1.626mm) Maximum and 0.58" (1.473mm) Minimum. So the Portuguese cartridges have a rim thickness which is greater than the .303" British.

I have just noticed a significant difference between the Portuguese .303" headstamp and my 6.5mm headstamps. They are produced by different methods. The .303" lettering is “scuffed” as the metal is flowing outwards so the final forming of the rim thickness and the headstamping operation were combined. My 6.5mm headstamp is clearer and without evidence of flow or scuffing so it was probably stamped as a separate operation after the final heading operation.

Now I need to get out all of my 6.5mm Dutch, Portuguese, Roumanian, Australian etc. clips and try the Portuguese cartridges in each. I will report back in a new thread.



Dave: I failed to mention in my previous post that my Portuguese 1923 date .303 case has a rim about the same thickness as the Dutch cases and will enter the Dutch-made clips. Certainly the Portuguese 6.5 m/m brass looks about one forming step removed from the .303, including the very square-edged rim. I have a flat glass plate that might work for the measuring procedure you outline & I’ll try it. Jack


We have had Portugese .303 being sold in this country in the past few years. Not highly regarded but I did wonder why Portugal was producing .303 ammunition. Now I know.


And when it’s gone, it’s gone. The Portuguese ammo factory closed a few years ago so what you see is just what remains in the pipeline.



The Dutch M’95 Mannlicher clip was, of course, designed for the 6.5 x 53.5R mm round but was also later used by the Netherlands for the 7.92 x 57R mm Scherpe Patroon No. 23 and .303" British. Both of these calibres were used in converted Mannlicher M’95 rifles. However, the Portuguese 6.5mm is a little too thick for these clips.



I remember reading somewhere that in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), because of a shortage of 6.5x53R ammo just after WW2, the Dutch rebarrelled some of their Mannlicher rifles in .303 and successfully used this loaded in standard Dutch Mannlicher clips. Can anyone confirm this?

John E


John: The base and rim dimensions of the .303 are generally compatible with the clip, but I believe the .303 shoulder is a bit narrower than the 6.5 m/m. Even so, I think probably it would feed OK. Jack


Re: “Re-chanbering Dutch Mannlichers to .303” etc:

A lot of “hearsay” and very little concrete info on this.

Known Facts: In 1940-41, the KNIL ( Dutch East Indies Army) contracted with Australia ( SAF Lithgow) to convert a quantity of M95 KNIL Long rifles from 6,5x53R to .303 mark VII chambering. The Dutch Overseas Colonies were still adhering to the Dutch Gov’t in Exile in Britain after the German Invasion of 1940).
Lithgow also tried to convert ex-Italian East Africa Carcanos to .303 as well, but the project (a) was too complicated) and (b) the Japanese conquered the East Indies by early 1942. The prototype Carcano conversions are now in the Lithgow Arms Factory Museum. The Majority of the 10,000 carcano m91 system rifles were delivered in 6,5mm italian chamber to Batavia, and disappeared during the Japanese invasion ( I have one, restocked in Indonesia, which came in a batch of 6,5-M95 Mannlichers)

The actual work on the Mannlicher M95s was “farmed out” to the Base Ordnance Depot in Sydney, and only the barrels were sent to Lithgow for re-boring, re-rifling and re-chambering. The Rifles were then re-assembled in Sydney, in-house proofed, and despatched as a single cargo in November 1941 to Batavia ( Jakarta). The Ship never arrived, and the rifles were lost ( probably to a Japanese Submarine, pre-warned by an extensive Japanese intelligence network in Sydney, no doubt assisted by the Soviet-controlled Waterside Unions).

The KNIL had also acquired many .303 cal Machine guns in the USA etc, between 1940 and late 41, and had even negotiated with Australia for a full production line to make .303 Mark VII ammo in one of the KNIL Arsenals in Java ( Bandoeng or Soerabaya?) [ Info from Australian Foreign Affairs docs dealing with Australia-KNIL Administration negotiations during May 1940 and February 1942 ]

Post-WW II & Indonesian Independance ( 1949): The new Indonesian national gov’t found itself with thousands of Rifles for which Ammo was either obsolete or fast running out ( no more forthcoming from Holland).

Whilst 7,9mm,& .303 needs were furnished by Winchester in the early 1950s, with large Contracts ( Boxer Primed FMJ ammo), the remaining Japanese rifles ( 6,5 and 7,7) and Dutch (6,5) were used sparingly by Police & Training units as ammo dwindled away.

Some 7,7 T99 rifles were “converted” ( grinding of Bolt face) to chamber three cartridges ( 7,7mm Rimless T99, 7,7mmSemi-rimmed T92, and rim-filed .303 Mark VII ( rim reduced by hand to 7,7 Semi rimmed dimensions)…the case head- shoulder headspace dimensions are nearly equal in all three cartridges.

In 1953, the Dutch M95 KNIL carbines came in for a rebarrelling job ( or rebore and rechamber) to “7,7” ( ie, .303 Br) and some of these have surfaced in the USA since the 1970s. THis is an official Indonesian Conversion.

It is intimated in old documents, that the Dutch converted some M95s back in 1917, to fire the Dutch Schwarzelose MG cartridge ( 7,9x57R), and said rifle was named the M1917, for use by MMG crews (commonality of ammo)…no further info about what is probably a very small production lot has surfaced. In 1916-17, the Dutch were neutral in WW I, and had to “make do” , having been cut-off from both Germany and Steyr, their major suppliers. The other project was the “Short Rifle” conversion/assembly of 6,5mm rifles for trench warfare if necessary…also another small project.

There is no indication that the Dutch in the East Indies ( 1945-49, during the Independance war) did any actual 6,5 to .303 convbersions…they had re-equipped with .303 cal. British equipment and .30/06 Johnsons, and 7,9mm Mausers ( the Johnsons were the delayed 1941 contract.)…they did “cut down” some P14s and M17s to “Police Carbines” ( 18 inch barrels) and the Stocks are Marked “KP”/48 ( ? Koniglicht Politie? 1948).

All this info is derived from actual Rifle examples in my Collection, coming directly from Indonesia ( NOT through any US “Importer”) and also examples of “converted” .303 ammo from the same source. Other Documentary info ( Foreign Affairs) is available on the Web.

Doc AV
AV Ballistics.

Brisbane Australia.

BTW, the 6,5mm Shoulder diameter is greater than the .303 body diameter at the same point, so reforming .303 cases to 6,5mm requires an extra die to prevent case “collapse” or wrinkling…but this is a “Case conversion/reloading” matter, so I will stop here.
But rightly said, it does not affect feeding .303 ammo from the standard 6,5mm clip or receiver. I have used my Indon. 1953 * 7,7 with M95 clips and normal Aussie Mark VII with no issues at all ( except the humongous recoil and Blast signature.)


Doc: I’ve found that use of a 7x57 sizing die before the 6.5 die will turn a .303 case into a fairly respectable rough draft of a 6.5 Mannlicher rimmed, albeit with a slightly wasp-waisted appearance that will fire-form out. Since this forum isn’t for handloading advice I won’t go into other aspects of the full process. Jack