Unusual .455 Auto

Hi to all,
I’ve just spent some time breaking up some 1912-1914 dated .455" Webley Auto ball rounds (horrid cases and the nickle plate had worn off the exposed part of the projectiles!), had bit of a surprise when it came to this one, headstamped B.14 I (Birmingham Metal and Munitions) as it had a GM/copper projectile.
I have never seen a GM bullet in these rounds before and only heard of a ‘possible’ proof round from 1911.
Any ideas or thoughts on this one.

Tony

Tony - nice round. While I don’t collect dates in .455 auto, I look closely at any round I see that looks different. I have never seen a “B”-headstamped .455 with a GM bullet jacket before. I thought I had one, but on giving it just a light tap with an inertia-bullet puller, I found it had been tinned or nickeled (not quite sure which) as the tiny bit it came out was still silver in color. That check was done years ago, by the way. I have a Kynoch commercially headstamped proof, and a Eley proof with military headstamp, both purple striped on the head. Have never seen a “B” proof, but that doesn’t mean they can’t exist, of course.

Thanks for posting this. Something else to be on the lookout for.

John Moss

Hi Tony, apologies as I appreciate you’re specifically highlighting the military round, and from an early time period with a GM jacket, but I thought it might be of interest to show the Kynoch commercial variant of this round to see it with a plain GM jacket as a comparison, Pete.

Tony,

Here’s another example, apparently identical to yours except for the E.14 I headstamp. I looked at the bullet very carefully and see no sign of it ever having been nickel plated. The lines on the case are from the previous owner thoughtfully putting a paper label under scotch tape around it so the patina was ruined after 20 or so years.

I looked in Labbett, and he makes the statement that “Official records examined make no reference to proof ammunition for the Webley & Scott SL Pistol, but towards the end of the service life for the Webley & Scott Pistol the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield were using commercially supplied proof cartridges with Kynoch commercial headstamps, the cases, left in the brass state [what other state would they be left in?], having a purple stripe across the base …”

Mel - I also have the E.14 I headstamp .455 Auto with a GM bullet, but mine has an addition two broad-arrow marks, one on each side of the Mark I stamp - E.14 ^ I ^

Regarding proof loads, there is the Kynoch “Purple stripe” proof load for sure. I have one in my collection. But, I also have a “Purple Stripe” E.14 I with an identical stripe to the Kynoch round. In the case of the proof, the Eley military headstamped round has the more normal CN bullet.

There are also two bunter variant, black-case .455 autos, headstamp C. 17 I, which I believe to be proof loads for testing of the Colt M1911s purchase from Colt in caliber .455. The “C” is only found on black-case rounds that I think are proof loads, and on a dummy round with the word “DUMMY” right on the headstamp. No ordinary ball round is known. That is not surprising. There was plenty of .455 auto ball ammunition available from England to send to Colt, but there would have also been a requirement for dummy rounds and proof loads, so the lack of a ball round with “C” headstamp is not surprising to me, and I believe the “C” to stand for Colt. It has NOT been positively identified in England and in my view, while there is controversy over what the “C” stands for, for me it is very logical that it stands for “Colt.” That is reinforced by what I am told is that the “C” rounds are more commonly found in the US than anywhere else.

Regarding the Kynoch proof loads, there are actually specimens with two different extractor grooves and extractor-groove bevels. I have one of each in my collection.

Although Fiocchi cataloged this round after WWI, I had, at one time, a box and a half of the Fiocchi boxes, but both contained E.18 I - headstamped cartridges. I don’t believe that Fiocchi ever actually made this caliber, but rather had acquired, from whatever source (I have no idea where), a large enough quantity of British rounds to actually box them and sell them commercially. It is my belief that the .455 Auto Round, including the three versions earlier and different from the standard one, was only made in England and India. I don’t know how long they made them in India - my specimen, the only one I have see myself, is dated from 1925. I am sure there are many more of these specimens around. It would be interesting to learn of any other dates.

There are so few variations of this round, I would think less than 40, that I wish I had collected dates in this caliber when I started collecting, and much more of this caliber was around.

John Moss

Here is one of the darkened cased proof loads.

IMG_5812 IMG_5813

Paul

It probably does little to contribute to the discussion, but here’s 3 pages taken from a 14 page, 3 part article on “The .455 Automatic Pistol in British Service” by Jim Stoney and printed in the much missed British magazine Guns Review;

Would that this level of research were not now almost unknown in a regular monthly consumer magazine of any sort, their reporting of the Enfield Bullpup service rifle trials debacle was both comprehensive and excoriating.

Pete

1 Like

Guns Review is much missed indeed.

I have three (2x E 18 I and 1x R^L 40 I) and all three have a CN bullet. The R^L case has a ring-crimped primer.

Have two of the “B 17 I” (slight headstamp variations) & both are CN jacketed

While we’re at it, can anyone provide solid information on the gray, solid steel, flat-based dummy round in .455 Auto? It has no markings or headstamp.

I have no solid information on the steel dummy round except that it is from England. Steel Inspector’s dummies in calibers like 9 mm Luger, from England, are relatively common. I suspect that’s precisely what the .455 is. However, I have no information on who made them. It would not necessarily have to be even an ammunition company, but I don’t know either way.

John Moss

I have “E 12 I” (cartridge board dummy), “E 14 I”, “E 17 I” and “E 18 I”, and “K .455 AUTO” - all CN jacketed/tinned FCJ.

Thank you all very much for your input.
One thing we need to clear up though, is that they are not CN jacketed bullets, they are copper jackets which have a nickle coating.
The reason for pointing this out is because of my thoughts about this round when I first pulled it, my first thought was the obvious ‘it’s a reload’ but why do this and still use the original chopped cordite propellant?, even the later RL manufactured rounds were loaded with nitrocellulose,
next, was it a cock up or a manufacturing compromise and the nickle coating was omitted? but as the cases were in a horrible condition I would have expected signs of at least some verdigris on the copper jacket…which led me to add GM into the thinking but I’m sure it was a bit too early for them to be using this in the UK?
Well, it’s escaped the scrap bin for now ‘just in case’ :smile:

Here are two “C” enlarged headstamps, one very light and the other very heavy. I wonder why. John, are these the two bunter variants you mentioned? And do we all agree that these black-case rounds are in fact proof and that the “C” is for Colt? I’m not saying otherwise, but this thread is the first time I’ve seen that stated with authority.

Mel - I believe there was a very long thread on the Forum some time ago about the discussions I was having with a couple of other collectors over the “C” headstamp.
I really don’t want to get started on it again, but will make a few comments.

Firstly, yes, those are the two headstamps I mentioned. Your excellent photography is almost too good, or these are a little more similar to mine, but basically, I could call mine, and these you posted, as “thick and thin” headstamps.

As I noted there is a dummy round also.

I don’t know that you can say what I wrote was “stated with authority.” I have my own theories on things as we all do, and sometimes they are found wanting. In this case, however, there are some pretty well-defined reasons, almost obvious to me, about these cartridges.

  1. We know Colt made the 1911 pistol in .455 caliber, actually on two separate occasions as I recall, both for England.

  2. We know that the British had inspectors at Colt and were very much involved with the fulfillment of the contracts.

  3. We know that there is no U.S.-manufactured .455 Webley Auto ammunition, so all testing had to be done with foreign (read that “British”) cartridges.

  4. We suspect that there was no ordinary ball cartridge, based on these rounds having black cases, a normal finish for proof loads at the time, and the dummy rounds are self-evident, since aside from being inert cartridges, they are headstamped as such: DUMMY CI 17 (12 o’clock/6 o’clock format). No plain brass cased live rounds, in short, ordinary ball, have been found to date, with a “C” headstamp.

  5. We know, from correspondence, that the “C” headstamp has yet to be documented. Even the British collectors don’t know for sure what it designates.

  6. The British had been manufacturing ball ammunition in .455 for a number of years, so there would have been a ready supply to give to Colt for testing. However, we know from existing specimens, that there was not any large production of dummy rounds, nor does it seem of proof rounds either, since both types from pre-1918 production are scarce to say the least.

  7. We know that Colt would have needed a supply of functional dummies and proof loads for the testing normally required of any new product, even a change of caliber in an existing one. We also, again, know that the British inspectors were very active at Colt during the production of the .455 Colt Pistols. We also are told by other collectors, that the “C” headstamp rounds are found in more US collections than UK ones. That is purely anecdotal, but we tend to agree with it.

  8. We believe that all the above considerations point to the “C” likely standing for Colt, not as who actually made these cartridges, but rather, as is often the case, for whom they were made.

I firmly believe that for once, I got something right, but stress that it is my opinion. No other documented proof of the “C” headstamp’s meaning was ever offered from English or other American collectors in discussion, much of which was in personal emails. There was some thought about a factory in England that might have made these rounds using a “C” headstamp for their own company, but that is totally unproven, whereas the two cartridge types made with this headstamp were those needed by Colt. For me, that makes the “C” headstamp identification as standing for “Colt” logical and likely.

Again, my opinion only, for others to accept or reject as they wish. Unfortunately, even though this discussion has spanned several years, all anyone can offer so far is opinion. If anyone has any real documentation addressing this subject, please, please post it here.

Edited to correct a typo only.

John Moss

1 Like

This has been a fascinating discussion about what, for me, at least, is a pretty darned obscure cartridge. That’s one of the things that makes this forum special. My thanks to all.

Mel - I left out one point. Although we have no real documentation about who made the “C” headstamped cartridges, we do have a very strong clue. Cartridges headstamped B 17 I have a distinctive bullet, to quote Lynn Harris’ work on the .455 Auto round, “It is notable for its unique projectile which, as can be seen, has a distinct parallel section above the case mouth before a blunter-than-normal ogive starts. The projectile carries a letter B in its base which identifies it as a product of BM & M Co., Ltd. This distinctive bullet is also found in the unidentified C 17 blackened-case cartridges previously discussed in this section. To date, only B 17 and C 17 WW1 cartridges have been noted with this bullet, all other contract years by BM & M having conventional profiles.”

While we repeat there has been no documentation yet presented to prove who loaded the “C” blackened-case loads and made the “C” dummy rounds, the presence of this unique .455 bullet shape in “B” and “C”-headstamped rounds gives strong reason to believe the “C” rounds were made by the Birmingham Metal & Munitions Co., Ltd., the maker of those with the “B” headstamps. `

It would be interesting to know the headstamp on the ordinary ball rounds supplied to Colt in 1917. To date, I have found no answer for that question.

Edited to correct some typo errors only. No change of information.

John Moss

2 Likes

John, back to the steel dummies. Any idea if they are in US or UK collections more? The Harris book said possibly for magazine testing, is why I’m asking.
Thanks,
Dan

John,

I agree with you and I’m on board; proof and Colt. When I read your Harris quote, I looked more carefully and guess what? Harris was right (duh!). Here are two cartridges. The black case, proof for Colt, has the heavy headstamp blow I showed earlier while the brass case round has the common E 17 I headstamp. But note the difference between the black and brass case bullets at the cartridge mouths, exactly as Harris describes.

If it would be helpful, I’ll pull the bullet from one of my black case rounds to see what, if anything, is stamped on the base of the bullet. If it’s a “B,” I guess that answers that.