A year or so ago, I purchased 1000 rounds of the below pictured 9mm ammunition for my father as a present. Last Sunday we spent a few hours at the local outdoor gun range. We each fired a few hundred rounds. I used my Beretta 92F and he used a Browning Hi-Power and a small S&W Chief Special auto. Anyhow, long story short, every round of this ammunition I fired threw my full sized Beretta fired perfectly. When this same ammunition was fired threw the Browning every round fired but when it was fired from the smaller Chief Special 3 out of 5 rounds would not go off even though the firing pin hit and dented the primer. In some cases it took up to 8 impacts to before the round would go off. One of the range shooting gurus said that most NATO ammunition have notoriously “Tuff Primers”. Is this true? Also, this ammunition was very hot and seemed to be higher pressure?


I can put those tough rounds through my Mosin-Nagant, that black well in the primer is actually 2mm deep.

I hope that round went off :-) That’s a heavy impact!

Jason, “MHO only”: I can’t speak for all “NATO” primers but your’s here lookl like convex shaped primers which usually require a higher force to get deformed by a striker pin (it is a section of a sphere which is physicalli the most stable shape). This is often done for safety reasons when the ammunition is to be used with sub machine guns (SMG) with an inertia based blowback breech (with fixed firing pin) so the round can not be set off easily by accident in case the breech comes loose or is rushing forward when not getting pulled back propperly.
The British Sterling SMG might be the gun these rounds were intended for.

If anyone knows better, please correct me.

In general, all Military use primers are thicker, harder and occasionally slightly domed to increase resistance to accidental ignition (they have to pass a “sensitivity” test, using a falling mass from a certain height ( ie, a set energy level) to be accepted as “safe”.

Revolvers just don’t have the energy to strike and fire a Military type primer.
We have found (Movie Industry) that our most commonly used Blank ,Fiocchi 9mm Para da manovra (ie Military) will only work in SMGs, and the "Military " Autos…Brownings, Berettas, Glocks, etc Some of the Commercial 9mm Pistols will not ignite them regularly…we had to “strengthen” the springs in P95 Rugers to get efficient ignition, and of course, Revolvers chambered for 9mm Para just don’t ignite at all.
Where, at testing, we have ignition issues, we use Movie Blank ammo loaded with normal “soft” commercial primers (ie, suitable for revolvers).

If one looks at the older RWS catalogues for primers, there were the specifications with diagrams of the different types of Berdan primers available…the “Nato Standard” #5608 (5,5mm) had the thickest cup,and was plain brass, whilst the commercial nickelled #5627 was thinner, and the “light” primer (#5620) was also shallower.

The problem of primers is also seen with certain Military rifle ammo…The French adopted a “double cup” system in their Balle D and Balle N ammunition…an outer cup of about .250",(6,3mm) holding a smaller cup of 4,5mm; all this was safely ignited by a Hotchkiss MG mechanism, which is massive, but a weak Berthier or Lebel rifle Bolt can result in misfires with older ammo. I won’t discuss the reloading problems encountered here…Go to Gunboards for that.

Doc AV
AV Ballistics

Thanks everyone for the great information. Much appreciated! We have never heard of Nato primers being so tuff and thought that maybe the ammunition was defective in some way.


Jason - I would not fire one more round of the ammunition you have if you have any left of it. You are fortunate that you did not damage your pistols. It is probably a credit to the quality of the guns you own that you did not.

I will quote an Associated Press artical, dateline Washington, 8 November 1996, not long after this ammunition appeared for sale in the United States.

 "An Austrian ammunition manufacturer has advised the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms that certain of its ammunition is unsafe for use in handguns.
 "Hirtenberger AG of Hitenberg, Austria, says some of its 9 x 19 mm caliber ammunition was produced specifically for use in submachine guns under adverse conditions, according to ATF.
 "The manufacturer advised that up to 12 million rounds of this ammunition has been recently sold on the world surplus market.
 "ATF said it had no knowledge of the ammunition having entered the United States and that it will take action to keep it out.
 "The ammunition can be identified by the following headstamp on the bottom of the cartridge case:"
12 O'Clock position:  HP
3 O'Clock position:  90, 91, 0r 92
6 O'Clock position:  L7A1
9 O'Clock position:  The marking of a cross within a circle

I will not quote the entire article, but the RSACCA Bulletin #202, Page 6, (repeated in the ECRA Journal 2688/204/18), talks of this “hot” ammo and shows the case labels. One side of the case is labeled “A2 SMG USE ONLY.”

Another advisory printed in the Indiana Hunter Education News Spring 1997 Main Page, entitled “HAZARDOUS AMMUNITION ALERT”:

 "The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) has been advised by Hirtenberger AG, of Hirtenberger, Austria, that certain 9 x 19mm ammunition produced by Hirtenberger is unsafe for use in any handgun.  The ammunition, designated L7A1 and produced from 1990 through 1992 was made for the British Ministry of Defense specifically for use in submachine guns under adverse conditions.  The ammunition was loaded to produce pressure far in excess of that intended for use in handguns.

 "The manufacturer advises that up to 12 million rounds of this ammunition has recently been sold on the world surplus market.  This ammo can be identified by the following head stamp located on the bottom of the cartridge case:

NOTE: Repeats information already given above

 "THIS AMMUNITION SHOULD NOT BE FIRED!  We are not aware of any of this ammunition being imported into the U.S. and the ATF will take action to prevent the commercial importation of this ammunition.  for additional information, contact MaryJo Huges, Chief, Firearms and Explosives."

The National Rifle Association took this advisory seriously enough that they reprinted it in “Random Shots,” American Rifleman, January 1997, page 6.

I purchased some of this for collection purposes only from Cascade Ammunition, of Roseburg, Oregon, in or about March 1997. To buy this ammunition (which you will note BATF, not noted for the accuracy of their own records even though vehemently enforcing almost impossible standards of accuracy on dealers (see current American Rifleman), was not aware of any commercial importation even though this ammunition was being widely sold in the United States!!), I was required to sign a waiver of responsibility for Cascade. Of course, I would not have bought it for shooting, but since BATF had said, and as far as I can see never lived up to, that they would prevent sale of it, I wanted a box for my collection, before it was withdrawn from the market. Cascade Ammunition was foolish to even sell the ammunition knowing of the problem, waiver or not. This kind of waiver doesn’t due well in civil courts, if someone is badly injured.

I know that some will scoff at an advisory like this. This is foolish in the extreme. When the factory that made the ammunition says that it is dangerous to fire it in pistols, it is the wise man who heeds that advice.
I have been told independently that tests of this ammunition revealed pressures beyond the norm for factory high-pressure proof loads. Unfortunately, I can not find documentation for that, not that it matters one way or anohter. The number of advisories that went out on it tells the story plain enough.

In truth, the British Government should be ashamed of itself for even selling this ammunition on the world market. It was highly irresponsible of them to do it. Ironic that a government that fanatically restricts the right of their own citizens to fair access to firearms and ammunition would poison the world ammunition market with millions of rounds of ammunition not safe for 90% of civilian-owned weapons in this caliber. A real shame that they have no sense of integrity.

At any rate Jason, you can, of course, do what you want, but you noted the ammunition seemed “very hot.” Aside from the hard primer issue, which in comparison to the possxible consequences of firing this ammo in pistols is a minor annoyance, it IS HOT and unsafe for handguns.

John, I can not thank you enough for you taking the time to pass on this information and warning! We will absolutely not fire this ammunition anymore in any of our pistols and will consider us very lucky for not damaging our guns or getting hurt. Question, in your opinion, do you think it is still safe to both man and gun, to fire our remaining rounds threw a semi-automatic, long barreled, UZI?


Jason - I hate to recommend anything. This ammo was loaded even hotter than normal SMG ammunition, because it was supposed to be for use in the MP5 H&K SMG in adverse situations, which I believe were weather and temperature, when the gun was working sluggishly with normal ammo. I have not fired enough different sub guns under enough different conditions to comment on that. I can tell you only of the tiny experience I had with the US .45 M3 grease gun while stationed in Alaska (we had four of them in our Signal Company, issued to the drivers and assistant drivers of our two 21 ton personnel carriers (tracks - later made much lighter in the same basic design, I am told - about 16 tons - through use of aluminum armor or something - long after my service). These tracks were filled with electronic gear. One was named “Static Chaser” painted on the side with a bolt of lightning under the words. I forget the other. According to the guys who had to qualify with the M3A1s, they functioned perfectly with normal ammo (they didn’t say that - it was the only kind of ammo we had) in winter, with no lubrication. We didn’t have the fine LSAs they have now, and late fall, there was a day committed to the removing of most lubricants from small arms. I asked a lot about the various weapons we had, including the 50s, .30 MGs, and our own M2 Carbines my first fall in USARAL, because I had never heard of cleaning the lubricant off of a weapon until that time, to prevent it from freezing and jamming the weapon.

Now, to your real question. The UZI is a fine, robust weapon. I shot plenty of military ball and the Samson black-tip “carbine load” through my own SA one when I had it. Fun gun. I gave it up when I gave up all my assault rifles (22 of them) due to them becoming illegal in California. I didn’t want the hassle of registering all of them and paying the fee to California. I had had my fun with them, and simply switched my shooting and gun owning interests to other forms. I never shot any of that Hirtenberg ammo, but if your pistols worked o.k. with it and were not damaged at all (have you checked the aluminum frame of the Beretta for any peening where the slide stops on the frame?), I could not picture this ammo damaging an UZI. That is purely an observation and NOT a recommendation, by the way. It is also an observation made without having any actual experience of my own, or reading of other’s, regarding that specific use of this ammunition. So, beware! Try a couple and try to capture the brass and inspect it for splits, badly expanded base, primer backed out or flattened, headstamp partially obscured by flattening out of the head of the case, etc. All the normal signs that something bad could be happening. I wouldn’t worry about case dents - hot ammo will cycle the blowback bolt faster and should cause more violent ejection (I don’t recall now the exact design of the UZI ejector, but I don’t recall it being a spring-loaded plunger that is not so effected by increased rate of bolt travel like ejection from a fixed ejector that the bolt, by a groove in its side or bottom, slides over.

In a blowback weapon, if there is a lot of residual breech pressure (pressure remaining as the case is already leaving the chamber), then some base expansion will occur. You can gauge what is normal, if any, by firing for control purposes some normal pistol ammo and then comparing the case-head expansion to that of the L7A1 rounds. A little is not terribly dangerous, but a very large expansion of the head is asking for a rupture through the base and head of the case, which can be destructive.

Don’t save the brass for reloading!

I had a similar experience with some surplus Egyptian 9x19mm ammunition.
The primers must have had thick cups for use in a SMG because my Glock 17 would not reliably fire these rounds on the first try. Usually the second attempt would fire the cartridge. This pistol would reliably fire Israeli black tip UZI ammunition, but not the Egyptian.

sksvlad, as for that deep firing pin indentation on that 7.62x54r case, have you checked the firing pin protrusion with the combination tool that should have come with your rifle? Your firing pin might be set too far out. This could cause pierced primers and result in erosion to the bolt face.


Thanks again John. Really fantastic information. Extremely appreciated. I may have to section one :-)


If these Hirtenberger rounds are too hot for the Uzi, but it sets off the primer ok, would it be safe to pull them, dump the powder and reload them with a known safe load?

Falcon - yes. It is only the powder charge of this ammo that makes they unsafe in handguns. They are simply loaded hot. It has nothing to do with the case, bullet or primer.