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Thread: .303 surplus ammo....Kinda interesting

  1. #1
    Boolit Bub
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    .303 surplus ammo....Kinda interesting

    I recently got hold of an old enfield. Made in '42 and sporterized for hunting, I got about 500 rounds of surplus ammo dated 1967. I took it out to fire yesterday and ran about 20 rounds through it. about every 5th round wouldn't ignite correctly. The fireing pin would strike and there would be a slight hesitation before ignition. It was like shooting with percussion caps. I didn't know how dangerous this might be so I packed it in. I decided that the best thing to do is to break down the ammo into its components to sell or trade. I popped the bullets out and had to dig out some kind of wadding. No powder came out. I dug into the shell with some needle nose and started pulling out these rods kind of reddish brown, oily looking and opaque. They ran the whole length of the case and looked like a little bundle of broom straw. Definately not something that would go through my Uniflow. I got a picture of one of the shells as it comes apart. Maybe someone could shed some light on this. I also hope I posted this in the right thread.

    Sorry for the phone pic

  2. #2
    Boolit Master madsenshooter's Avatar
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    It's cordite. You might try loading some that you've pulled with regular powder to find out if it's the primer or the cordite that's gone bad. And the primers are more than likely corrosive, give your rifle a very good cleaning that includes running some hot water down the bore.
    Last edited by madsenshooter; 03-22-2012 at 11:39 PM.
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  3. #3
    Boolit Master

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    It is cordite. Cordite is a family of smokeless propellants developed and produced in the United Kingdom from 1889 to replace gunpowder as a military propellant. Like gunpowder, cordite is classified as a low explosive because of its slow burning rates and consequently low brisance. These produce a subsonic deflagration wave rather than the supersonic detonation wave produced by brisants, or high explosives.

    Shot a lot of surplus 303 in the 60's. Lots of hang fires at that time also.

  4. #4
    Boolit Bub
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    Yep, "hang fire" that's the word I was looking for. I bet those were fun shells to load.

  5. #5
    Boolit Buddy

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    I remember reading somewhere that they primed and charged the cases prior to forming the neck. This allowed them to drop in the sticks of cordite without them getting hung up.

  6. #6
    Boolit Master
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    Cordite is very errosive not corrosive,that is to say it burns at a high temperature and will burn the throat of your rifle. The primers are Berdan and are corrosive. Cordite is also very stable at all temperatures which is why the Brits used it in military cartridges up to the sixties. Some few years ago the Brits and Aussies did a clean up at the site of the battle of Gallipoli which took place during WW.1 They recovered blocks of cordite from sunken ships that had been in sea water all that time. When dried it was disposed of by burning and it was still in good shape. I have a number of old .303 cartridges some with a head stamp of 1909 and they fired with no problem.
    If you read some of the cheap detective novels you will come across the statement of the "reek of cordite" after the good guy has dispatched all the bad guys with his revolver. It was only used for a short time in military revolvers and it just became a catch phrase. It is acidic, but I like it. I had ten boxes (48 to the box) of British Radway-Green .303 ammo head stamped in the 60's. A lot of it was click-bang. Very disconcerting as you can hear the striker fall, followed by the bang.
    If you want to try some real click-bang try Pakistani .303 Brit. A couple of years ago I was at a shoot for .303 Brit only and the guy next to me had a bunch of it. During the closing shoot we had a "mad minute" in which you fire as many aimed shots at a 150 meter target in one minute. Anyway, one shot failed to fire and without thinking he ejected it and it exploded in mid air. No one was hurt except for a few brass bits flying. Fortunately it was in mid air and not in the breech with a partly open bolt.

  7. #7
    Boolit Bub
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    I didn't think it would be a good idea to keep shooting that stuff.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by polara426sh View Post
    I remember reading somewhere that they primed and charged the cases prior to forming the neck. This allowed them to drop in the sticks of cordite without them getting hung up.
    Correct. Cases were charged then the neck formed. This is why the belted case came about because the Brits had trouble getting consistent headspaces on shoulders so they headspaced on belts. Nothing to do with case strength.

    Cordite creates throats well suited to paper patching......
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  9. #9
    Boolit Master 303Guy's Avatar
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    There is actually only one good use for cordite anymore. Take one stick and poke it into someone's cigarette (unlit of course). But don't try that at home! Seriously - don't do it!
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  10. #10
    Boolit Master
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    Cordite is stable up to 125 degrees F, at that temperature Nitro Glycerine sweats out of the strands, thats the oily appearance you saw on the strands you pulled.
    This indicates that the ammo you have has degraded seriously due to improper storage.

    The darker the strand the more degraded it is. If in good condition the strand should be dry to the touch and about the same color as sphagetti.

    Cordite loaded ammo kept in temperature controled storage will last at least thirty years without degradation. Many UK shooters have had access to old stocks of this ammo that was properly stored and have had no problems with it. Unfortunately this has resulted in some claiming that all this old ammo is still useable.

    The POF manufacture ammo available as surplus is the worst of the breed. It was excellent ammo when new, but an RAF study on ammo storage revealed that ammunition cases left out in the mid day sun on the Indian North Western frontier quickly reached temperatures of 160 degrees F with resulting damage to cordite charges.

    A UK Veteran on another forum told of un used ammo carried in armored vehicles on long range patrols being scrapped at the end of the patrols to avoid misfires and hangfires in combat. Fresh ammo was used whenever available due to the high temperatures inside these armored vehicles.
    This is still a concern with modern ammo if carried for long periods inside armored vehicles in the mid east.
    The most modern of NATO spec ammo uses propellents that are formulated to off set these effects. The propellent used for the present Long Range and Special Ball 7.62 used in vehicle MGs actually reverses the effect at higher temperatures, pressures dropping slightly rather than steadily increasing once a certain temperature is reached.

    Normally a momentary hesitation in ignition is not dangerous, though accuracy can be affected, but there are numerous reports of supposed dud .303 cartridges igniting when ejected, either exploding in mid air, or as one poor fellow found out they can detonate when the action is unlocked while the round is still in the chamber. The photos of the injuries he received are rather gruesome.

    Extra care must be taken if you intend to use pulled MkVII bullets in handloads.
    I found this out the hard way, though luckily without injury to myself or the rifle.

    The MkVII bullets two piece core with its lightweight nose section has much larger bearing surface than a more common 175 grain flat based bullet with conventional core. The added bearing surface can increase chamber pressure quite a bit over that of the same charge weight under a conventional bullet of the same weight.
    If the charge is correct for the bullet these salvaged MkVII bullets work just fine. Surplus MkVII bullets are at this time used to manufacture a match grade .303 ammunition for use in UK military service rifle matches. The powder charge carefully blended and regulated to mimic the power curve of cordite.

    No Cordite in a form suited to loading rifle cartridges is manufactured anywhere in the world these days. Several forms of cordite suitable for use by Tank Main Guns and similar uses are still manufactured.

    If recently manufactured MkVII with cordite was available I'd have no qualms about using it, and would stockpile as many rounds as I could to take advantage of its great shelf life, but as it is I just wouldn't want to bother with it. I can handload a far more accurate round than any surplus ammo available today. Any Cordite still around today is nearing the end of that long shelf life, and the primers are long past the age where they can be trusted.

    For the most part use of sixty year old surplus ammo just turns target practice into expensive plinking.

  11. #11
    Boolit Master Haggway's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 303Guy View Post
    There is actually only one good use for cordite anymore. Take one stick and poke it into someone's cigarette (unlit of course). But don't try that at home! Seriously - don't do it!
    This rates up there with spiking ashtrays with black power. Or so I hear.

  12. #12
    Boolit Man Dead Dog Jack's Avatar
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    I still have a coffee can full of it from when I pulled a case of South African apart a few years ago.

  13. #13
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    There are still a few shooters in NZ with stocks of mid 50's vintage CAC Mk VII cordite ammo and it shoots just as well today as it did when manufactured.
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  14. #14
    Boolit Master

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    For the rounds that did not fire, I all ways allowed a full minute before I opened the bolt. I never had a round, that I can remember, that did not fire within 2-3 seconds of the prime hit. Most were click-bang. At $7 per 100, it was good shooting. Good ammo to tell you if you are flinching.

  15. #15
    Boolit Master 303Guy's Avatar
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    I was thinking that suff looked dark. I've never seen degraded cordite. Not even the stuff from Africa. I think I some old samples of cordite ammo. It has the large copper primers.

    It's amazing to see someone flinch when the shot doesn't go off! Or is it just jerking the trigger?

    Quote Originally Posted by Haggway View Post
    This rates up there with spiking ashtrays with black power. Or so I hear.
    Or spiking someones pipe with match heads!
    When you catch the same guy three times with the same trick and he's saying 'sheesh, this tobacco is dry' it gets really funny! It forms a mushroom cloud.
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  16. #16
    Boolit Master
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    I believe it's degraded primers that cause the hangfire in most cases. Several years ago a bought a quantity of .303 from various British arsenals and years. I had about 25 rds of RL 41 Mk7 (Royal Labs 1941) that were 100 percent hangfire when I fired the first few rounds. Since I have too much time on my hands, I pulled the bullets on the remaining 20 rounds and reloaded the cordite charge reduced by about 10% in a commercial case with a WLR primer. They fired perfectly, with very consistent chronograph results.

  17. #17
    Boolit Master
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    If you wish to experiment with handloading cartridges using salvaged cordite, remember that the over the charge card wad was there for more than one reason. Testing of .303 ball with the card left out showed that without the card blowby would destroy the throat in one sixth the number of rounds as with the card in place.
    WW1 figures have the useful bore life of a SMLE using the standard ball as 12,000 rounds. The bore life using the same charge without the card would then be 2,000 rounds or less.
    Unless you find a method of salvaging and loading the card over the charge when handloading salvage cordite you could destroy a good bore very quickly.

    Another thing to be careful of is the orientation of the card. It was found that if the card was inserted with its porous side towards the charge nitroglycerin that sweated out when the ammo was exposed to heat would soak into the card producing a source of secondary detonation.

    Freezing cold could also cause Nitroglycerin to exude from the strands forming tiny globules on the strand. When the cordite returned to above freezing temperatures the nitroglycerin was reabsorbed with no damage done.
    This phenomena caused a number of breech failures of cannon that used ammo driven by cordite, possibly due to increased shock on ignition affecting the projectiles.
    A large number of failures and/or damage to Lee Enfield actions were reported in Canada around 1908, the ambient temperatures at time of these failures was not given. Perhaps extreme cold contributed, with the much higher nitroglycerin content of Cordite Mk 1 making the situation worse.
    The Canadians appear to have prefered to use only Nitro cellulose based powders, perhaps due to this sort of cold weather problem.

  18. #18
    Casting bullets since '66

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    Quote Originally Posted by higgins View Post
    I believe it's degraded primers that cause the hangfire in most cases. Several years ago a bought a quantity of .303 from various British arsenals and years. I had about 25 rds of RL 41 Mk7 (Royal Labs 1941) that were 100 percent hangfire when I fired the first few rounds. Since I have too much time on my hands, I pulled the bullets on the remaining 20 rounds and reloaded the cordite charge reduced by about 10% in a commercial case with a WLR primer. They fired perfectly, with very consistent chronograph results.
    I believe you are right on the primers.
    I had a batch of 303 with berdan primers. About 1 in 5 was a hangfire.
    I pulled 50 bullets, dumped the cordite and reloaded with a 200 grain bullet over 12 grains of Unique and still had the hang fires.
    And clean as if those old berdan primers were corrosive because they probably are.

  19. #19
    Boolit Master

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    I have LOTS of .303 ammo that hangfires, misfires, etc. Thousands of rounds to pull down
    for bullets, sad to say.

    IMO, Brit primer technology was markedly inferior in long term storage capability compared
    to US military or US commercial. I have shot a lot of really old ammo and by far
    the most unreliable priming is British or British territories (Pakistan, for example) where
    I assume (may be wrong) the Pakistanis are running old British ammo plants.

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  20. #20
    Boolit Master
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    I should have included in my above post that when I snapped the primers on the "hangfire" cases before I tossed them in the scrap bucket, it was obvious why they were hangfires. They were no louder than a toy cap, and some even made more of a fizzing sound than a pop. Whatever may have been lacking in the priming compound probably wasn't helped by possibly improper storage of ammo loaded in England and sent to some countries with hot or damp climates. I'll bet .303 surplus imported from Great Britain, Canada, or Australia (hot but probably properly stored) was more surefire than that imported from some of the other countries.

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