Tracer Colours

The colours of the trace, that is, not the markings. I’ve red that Western tracers are (always) red, Eastern (Russian/Chinese) green. Is that so? What about WWII and pre-WWII designs? What about other colours, eg white? Many thanks!



Italian 6,5 mm Carcano and 8 mm Breda tracers had red tips

There are also smoke tracers (that left a trail of smoke behind the bullet), and low-light or infrared tracers, that leave such a faint trace that they’re only visible through night-vision equipment.

The German 7.9x57mm ammunition used a variety of different colored tracers. Here are the labels from the major varieties. Once the cartridges are removed from the box the type of tracer cannot be determined by examination. They all look the same.

The P.m.K. loading which is designated as an armor piercing incendiary loading also left a cork-screw trail of smoke as can be seen in German WWII aircraft gun camera footage. Another peculiarity of this round is it makes a whistling sound as the air passes over the bleed hole in the bullet. That kind of surprised me the first time I fired one.

click on picture to enlarge

Was the smoke trail of the PmK intentional or a byproduct of the design? I read somewhere that one of the typical belt loading ratios for air-to-air use included both PmK and SmK L’spur. This would seem redundant if the PmK was intended to be used as a “smoke tracer”.

As for the original question, green tracers are generally associted with Com-bloc ammunition and red tracers with US or western ammunition. But this is not a hard and fast rule. I’m pretty sure that some Com-bloc tracers are red, based on info I have read over the years, but I.D. and nomenclature differences do not seem to point to this.


  • @ AKMS: Back in Romania I fired 7.62X39 tracers which left a pink / red trail. The 7.62X39 tracer ammo [headstamped “22”, “RPR” and the two digit date showing years of manufacture from 1962-63-64] had brass cartridge cases and the projectile with a tombac jacket had a green tip. Those tracers are extremely dangerous and can start a fire very easy and we only fired tracers at the range if the ground was wet [after rain and snow]. Liviu 01/03/09

Generally, British tracers traced white. The .303 VIIG and subsequent marks were white and were known as flame tracers.

The Buckingham series of bullets, now usually thought of as incendiaries, were also known as smoke tracers due to the trail of white smoke that the phosphorus made as it met the air. Whether the PmK of WWI was inspired by the British Buckingham or not I cannot say, but they were identical in principle.

The picture shows Buckingham rounds being fired by the inventor at Hythe in about 1915.


If you would like to see some gun camera footage of the WWII German P.m.K. type ammo in action take a look at this link. The P.m.K. type is the ones leaving the cork-screw smoke trails.

I’d have to think that the PmK smoke tracer effect was intentional, as the rounds would be self-igniting on impact anyway (filled with WP); having the bleed hole for the trace effect wouldn’t necessarily add anything to the target effect, but would add to the cost and complexity of producing the ammunition.

It,s my understanding the fusible sidewall vent was to alow the leaking WP to ingnite fuel and gas as the bullet passed through them. In the case of the Buckingham, WW1 German zeplins & ballons. A standard tracer bullet was proved not reliable enough. The smoke trail was a side effect. If you shoot enough German Pmk you will understand it’s limited range because the WP runs out rather quickly and then there is little or no incendiary effect on the target. The Germans also changed to the Pmk n.a., which had no vent and could deliver its entire WP content to the target, but by that time rifle caliber aircraft mgs were mostly a thing of the past. As an aside. we have shot litterly thousands of .303" VII G both with and with out tip code, and it is a bright ignition (Barium peroxide) tracer that has a bright red (strontium nitrate) main tracer that traces about 1000 yards. Because of the long igniter that burns light green for about 200 yards, many have thought this a green/red tracer.JH

The British .303 in. VIIG did not have a tip colour. What was the headstamp of the rounds you were firing?


Most ammo came from sealed cases Tony so I am sure you are right. There were early white tipped tracers (not VIIG) mixed in some crates but most sealed cases/tins had no tip code. This was 15 or more years ago and the majority of the VIIG still traced, most of the earier stuff did not. I must say we had some WW2 made tracer from Canada that did pertty well also. Most all ammo was shot through Vickers & Bren MGs. Brass was scrap and I don’t collect .303" so don’t remember headstamps but Bill Woodin used to attend these things years ago and nothing got shot without Bill getting a few for the collection. I still send him stuff from time to time. The VIIG was quite common for awhile and we looked for it because a large percentage would trace. Thanks, JH

Soviet colors of trace in 7,62x54R are:
white (T-30)
red (T-46)
green (BZT)

in 7,62x39 (T-45) and 5,45x39 (T) color of trace is red