WRA Co .345 S.L. Brass

I came across a WRA Co. .345 S.L. case while sorting through a bunch of 357 brass. Someone provided the following on another forum:

[i]"This weapon, at first designed for use by aircraft crews to destroy the hydrogen-filled balloons of the First World War, has been described by some as the “first true assault rifle” and the “BAR before the BAR.” It was developed in 1917 by Frank Burton, who went on to develop the BAR automatic rifle with John Browning. A ground version was quickly designed to accompany the aircraft version.

The aircraft and ground versions differed little from each other, with the primary difference being that the aircraft version fired and was optimized for incendiary ammunition. The design was innovative, with a wooden stock virtually in a straight line from the shoulder, a pistol grip trigger group with an enlarged trigger guard for use with a gloved hand. The magazine is above the receiver and angled off from the receiver at 60 degrees; the magazine well actually allowed for two magazines, with one feeding at a time – after the first is empty, it slides out of place and the second one feeds the weapon. The safety switch is a simple “second trigger” below the trigger guard. This second trigger must be pulled at the same time as the trigger within the trigger guard. Operation was also novel for the time, being by straight blowback and from an open bolt. The charging handle is below the receiver. The recoil spring is long and extends all the way into the stock. The fore-end has finger grooves and a ring to mount on an airplane; the 25-inch barrel is finned for half its length for cooling. Ejection is downwards. To top off the innovative features of the Winchester Machine Rifle, the weapon fires the .345 Winchester Self-Loading Rifle cartridge – a true intermediate cartridge made by necking down and shortening the .351 Winchester Self-Loading Rifle cartridge. The Winchester Machine Rifle was apparently extensively tested as the Springfield Armory but records of the testing have been lost and the reasons for its not being adopted are not known."[/i]

Here is a response I received:

[i]"That’s from an old Winchester Museum Collection photo. (referring to rifle above)
I don’t think any other examples existed anymore at least not in private collections. The Springfield Armory trial examples seemed to have gone missing. I wonder where the Winchester Museum example went when they closed up the New Haven location. Maybe the NRA Museum has it.
Lots of one-of’s were in there.

The ammo has to be extremely rare too,even a single empty casing.
Most have never heard of the rifle."[/i]

I thought someone here may be able to provide additional insight? I’m very intrigued by the history of all this. Is this case indeed as rare as I’m hearing?

Are you sure you have a .345 Winchester case? I ask, because you did not provice the headstamp. This round is covered in Volume One, "History of Modern U.S. Military Small Arms Ammunition, by Hackley, Woodin and Scranton (pages 285 and 186 of the first edition of the book), and evidently some had just a “W” on the headstamp, along with a “w” on the primer. Others were headstamped W.R.A.Co. .351 S.L.

According to HWS Vol I, six loadings are known:

Ball, 150 grain pointed CN bullet with an overall cartridge length of 1.897 inches.
Ball, 173 grain pointed CN bullet with an overall cartridge length of 2.081 inches.
Ball, 173 grain lead bullet, no details available. One loading only of this type on April 5, 1917.
Ball, 189 grain bullet, presumably jacket, no details available. One loading only on Apr 4, 1917
Dummy, 150 grain jacketed bullet, blackened case, no primer or flash-hole, no headstamp
Dummy, 173 grain jacketed bullet, blackened case, no primer or flash-hole, headstamp
W.R.A.Co. .351 S.L.

There is an addition note that some differences in extractor-groove width have been noted.

These rounds are evidently very rare. It is amazing that one would be found among .357 magnum brass.

I have the more common live round with no head stamp. It looks a lot like an 8 mm Ribey-Rolle except the case is straight. B

Here’s a pic of what I have:

It looks like a modern replica. Do you have a side image of the case?

Here is a side view. The 345 SL is on the left and a 357 magnum case on the right for reference:

I don’t have the experience with this type of cartridge to judge its originality from the picture of the headstamp. The style of the lettering appears correct for Winchester. I was not aware that this headstamp
was used on these. Does anyone else have one, or know of them having been made with this “.345 S.L.” headstamp?

If you look closely at the side view, there appears to be a small “R” near the head. This mark is made by one of the South African companies to designate a replica or reproduction. B

Ballard - thanks for the heads up on the “R.” My old eyes didn’t notice it, but I see it clearly now. Kudos to the South African maker for (a.) making a very nice replica of a very scarce cartridge case type, whether or not such a headstamp ever really existed and (b.) marking it to show it is a replica. Such cartridges should never be regarded as “fakes.” I have no problem at all with replicas in collections as long as they are marked in such a way that collectors in whatever field they fall into will recognize that they can’t be original. I have a .39 B.S.A. Auto pistol round like that, as well as a NUPE case for 10 mm MARS. In both instances, the headstamps make them impossible to be originals. They are great for examples of the case type, and while not exactly cheap, they are a lot cheaper than the original. Actually, the two I cited are now, of themselves, very hard to get. I know, because I have tried to find the replicas of the other two BSA calibers that were made, and cannot.

John, this very rare headstamp does exist but was unknown when the original edition of HWS Volume 1 was published. You can find a reference to it in p. 281 of Volume 2 or Shuey’s Volume 1 p. 245.

Fede - thank you. Even though I don’t collect these, it is nice to know about them.

Wow. Makes me wonder why a South African company would want to produce a case replica if the gun(s) were only experimental for the U.S. Would this imply this gun must have survived the experimental stage (not destroyed) found its way into private hands and that person went looking for someone to make the cartridges since Winchester would have stopped (and perhaps destroyed them along with the experimental gun).

I realize I may be spinning a fictional scenario here but I still come back to why a South African company would want to produce a case replica for a gun that doesn’t officially exist (or at least was never mass produced).

The Republic of South Africa has a fairly strong and active cartridge collecting fraternity - the RSACCA (Republic of South Africa Cartridge Collectors’ Association). I suspect that if this cartridge was made in RSA, than it was made for collectors, and not for any reason even similar to that suggested. Some of the machinery that even small firms have now makes it fairly easy, and cheap compared to what it would have cost even 30 years ago, to make small runs of things like this, or even singles. There is a firm in the U.S. that will make certain calibers, for which they have programs for shooting ammo purposes, with your own headstamp for a few bucks per single empty case. I don’t recall their name, but they have made many different headstamped rounds for the California (Western States) Cartridge collectors for show cartridges, Member of the year awards, and the like. I was given a .45 auto round with my name on the headstamp, for example.

According to a friend of mine, the weapon can still be seen at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, WY.

Yes, quite a lot of Winchester’s factory collection ended up at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center.