"stars" in Soviet headstamps

Do we know why some Soviet headstamps contain one or two “stars” in them? Seems like some factories used them for a period of time and others never used them. I think I heard once that the stars had something to do with the ammunition factory being recognized for superior performance during the war (WWII). Something like a “Hero of the Soviet Union” recognition award maybe?


I could be completely “all wet” on this, but I suspect that they are just decorative and fill positions of a four-place headstamp for which no other information was desired at the time. The star and other symbols have been used as headstamp decoration almost since the time of the first center-fire metallic cartridges, and perhaps before that. Sometimes they have meaning, such as denoting a brass case on some countries’ ammunition, but other times it is clear they do not have meaning. Again, I don’t know if they do or not on Russian ammunition, but I suspect not.

Jon C., what is your take on this? You know more about this stuff than most of us do.

John and AK, I can honestly say I don’t know. I’ve never seen any Soviet source to explain the stars, segment lines, or even the Roman and Arabic numbers that most of us assume are month designators. Any primary information on the subject would be most welcome. I do like the idea that the stars might have been some kind of group/unit award for the factory, as they suddenly appear on Tokarevs in 1944, on older style headstamps that haven’t changed in any other way.

Tha stars, triangles, etc in Soviet Headstamps was not decoration elements. They used to mark the technological variants in producing cartridges. I don’t have a lot of information regarding all such marks, but I know that star in Headstamp 14,5x114 Russian PTRD cartridge means that case was made from brass disk 8,15-8,40 mm diameter, instead of standart disk 11,0 mm in diameter.

Thank you, Treshkin.
If you have any other info on other symbols or characters, please post it, or a link to your sources.

For a pitty I have only this info. I could add that style of all Soviet headstamps are very brief (mainly only plant nomber and year of manufacturing) and each additional mark must mean something.

  • This is a very interesting topic showing we don’t know everything about the Russian headstamps. Treshkin is 100% right, each headstamp mark has a meaning, like those stars which may show the size of the disk the shell case was manufactured or perhaps a critical shell case dimension. In a way, during WW2, the Germans used a similar system to show some dimensions [see below]. — I saw Russian shell cases made of brass [12.7X108 and 14.5X114] manufactured during WW2 by the State factory # 3 [Ulyanovsk] which had only one star on the raised headstamps at 3 o’clock position. I also saw 14.5X114 Russian shell cases made of brass or steel in 1958, 1978 and 1980, shell cases manufactured by the State factory # 3 and # 17, all the raised headstamps having 2 stars [one at 9 o’clock and the other at 3 o’clock]. Unfortunately I don’t know for sure what is the difference between the shell cases with one or two stars on the headstamp. — On page 35 of the IAA Journal # 445 [Sep/Oct '05] there is my picture showing a headstamp for a 1943 German made 20X138B fired steel case. At about 6 o’clock position [in my photo] there is stamped an asterisk. I didn’t know the meaning of that asterisk mark. On page 48 of the IAA Journal # 447 [Jan/Feb '06] Mr. Jost-Burkhard Anderhub from Germany did explain the meaning of that asterisk mark stamped on the head of the 1943 German made 20X138B fired steel case. That asterisk mark shows the thickness of the 20X138B steel shell case head and dimensions of the disks used to manufacture that particular type of round. — NOTE: I’ve never seen Russian made 23X115 or 23X152B shell cases having a star [or stars] on their headstamps. I hope somebody has enough info to solve this mystery. Liviu 05/30/07

This IS an interesting subject. One thing I think we can rule out is that stars on Russian ammunition identify case material. There are stars on cases of brass, brass-washed steel and copper-washed steel, and triangles on all three case materials as well. I can see no rhyme or reason myself to the use of those two symbols on Russian small arms ammo. For a period after WWII, many different factories used the stars or triangles at the 9 and 3 O’Clock positions on the headstamp up until a time, when the headstamps became uniformily two-place with maker’s code at the top and date at the bottom. I am not including artillery in this - I don’t know a thing about the stuff.

I would agree that on most, not all, military headstamps the entries all have meaning - militaries in general are not disposed to having meaningless figures “doll up” the headstamps of their ammunition, although I feel there are many exceptions to that. However, on ammo destined for the civilian market, certainly, for many manufacturers and most eras, there are decorative use of symbols on headstamps, especially stars. Headstamps, both military and commercial, with stars at the 3 and 9 O’Clock positions on the headstamps are legion in number, and in one case, Kynoch 7.63 x 25mm, it was the ELIMINATION of the stars that meant something on the “K B” headstamps - that the cartridge was 7.65 x 25mm Borchardt instead of 7.63 x 25 Mauser. It would boggle the mind to believe that in every case this common headstamp design had some special meaning.

I do not, and cannot, dispute the idea that on Russian small arms ammo every single entry on every single headstamp has a definite meaning. I am not inclined towards that theory, but again, do not have the knowledge to dispute it. It appears that no one of our hobby does, as no one in the years I have collected have ever published any documentation to that effect.
Of course, none of us is privy to everything a manufacturer does, especially in the military field, and especially when it comes to countries that had despotic leadership where virtually every little thing concerned with military equipment and affairs was secret. As late as the very early 1960s, when I started collecting cartridges, many markings on German WWII headstamps were not known to collectors, and some of the guesses we made turned out to be just about as wrong as they could be (but in truth, some proved to be correct). and that was some 15 years after the war had ended.

Syrian military rounds, for example, with stars at the 3 and 9 O’Clock positions, seem to be the norm, regardless of the caliber. I have at hand samples of that in .32 auto, 9mm Makarov, 9mm Parabellum and 7.62 x 39mm.

I share Liviu’s hope that eventually, older records will be found in many countries that will teach us much more about ammunition in general and headstamps in particular. I think we have made great strides in knowledge the last 30 years or so, but I don’t think we have climbed completely out of infancy on the subject yet. I know that I haven’t.


O.K. I am computer language stupid, I admit it. What does the last posting mean - a long row of the numeral “1”???

  • Speaking about the WW2 Russian headstamps, I do believe that any “star”-mark had a precise meaning. I cannot see any reason why during WW2 Russians to put a “star” on some headstamps only to look pretty. Some WW2 Russian headstamps look very crude and primitive, see my headstamp photo of a 1943 Soviet made 23X152B brass shell case on page 19 of the IAA Journal # 443 [May/Jun '05], my article named “The 23X152B Cartridge Case”. During WW2 the Russians were desperate to win the war against Germany and in 1941-42 the Russians were short on ammunition and I’m sure they didn’t care how nice their headstamps looked. Liviu 05/31/07