View Full Version : 1907 .303 British Ammo discovered.

April 10, 2012, 02:51 AM
Came across some (~300) factory 303 British ammunition head stamp 1907 :eek: Do I blast it up or try to trade it for something more useful, like NATO 556x45 or 762x51 at the local gunshow?

Mike Irwin
April 10, 2012, 06:14 AM
If you shoot it, know that it is corrosive primed and you MUST clean your rifle accordingly.

April 10, 2012, 06:25 AM
Heck, that might actually have cordite sticks for propellant in the case.
Mike is 100% correct. Treat it as corrosive if you shoot it. Personally, I'd send the rounds down range.

Mike Irwin
April 10, 2012, 07:17 AM
"Heck, that might actually have cordite sticks for propellant in the case."

If it was loaded in Britain in 1907 it IS loaded with cordite. The British didn't start loading other types of nitrocellulose powders until World War I at the earliest, and then only because of the inability to make cordite quickly enough to match war demand.

If it's Canadian, it's most likely cordite but could be another form of nitrocellulose.

April 10, 2012, 07:48 AM
Probably nothing wrong with it as long as it's been stored well.
If it says Mk VII or Mk 7, or just VII, or 7 then it is both cordite & corrosive. All non cordite was marked as Mk7z.

William T. Watts
April 10, 2012, 08:22 AM
I'm surprised someone hasn't suggested pulling one of the rounds apart and inspect before firing? William

April 10, 2012, 08:26 AM
I don't know anything about 303 or the year 1907 for that matter, but wouldn't it be worth more to a collector un-fired than shooting it down range??


Mike Irwin
April 10, 2012, 08:38 AM
"I'm surprised someone hasn't suggested pulling one of the rounds apart and inspect before firing?"

Which would tell us what other than that which we already know -- cordite and corrosive.

Not really sure what the aim of that would be.

April 10, 2012, 08:55 AM
Which would tell us what other than that which we already know -- cordite and corrosive.

Implicit in this question is the assumption that the storage life of ammunition is infinite. It is not. Gunpowder deteriorates and as it deteriorates it outgases NOx.

If nitric acid gas has attacked the inside of the case, the case will be weak and may split.

Look to see if the cases have case neck splits, like this FA 11-1898 30-40 Krag round.


Pull some bullets and look for evidence of internal case corrosion. If the bullets have green corrioson, from nitric acid gas, don’t shoot the ammunition.


Dump some of the cordite out and see if it is red. This powder is red. All the stabilizer is gone and the nitrocellulose is deteriorating.


Firing powder this old is risky due to burn rate instability. Powder grains deteriorate in an uneven fashion and they will burn in an uneven fashion. This has caused pressure spikes. Which can blew your rifle all to pieces.

Take a look at this Garand which blew with WWII ammunition.


Mike Irwin
April 10, 2012, 09:58 AM
"Dump some of the cordite out and see if it is red. This powder is red. All the stabilizer is gone and the nitrocellulose is deteriorating."

Actually, that powder is very likely perfectly fine.

That is the native color of what is most likely Du Pont WA 30 (spun off to Hercules in 1912 when the Government forced the break up of the Du Pont powder monopoly), one of the original smokeless powders used in the .30-40 Krag military loading.

Powder in that time frame generally did not use a graphite coating as is found in today's powders. If you remove the graphite coating from a modern powder, you're going to find colors very similar to what you see in that .30-40 round.

Also, stabilizers as we know them today? The powder industry didn't introduce anything like that in the United States until about 1910-1912.

If the powder were actually physically breaking down, you'd get a red to brown colored dust forming on the powder. I see no evidence of that -- just straight old nitrocellulose powder that's in fine shape for being 100 or so years old.

Cordite was also uncoated, and in color was VERY similar to what you see in the powder in that .30-40. I have pulled the bullets on British .303 ammo loaded in the WW I and WW II eras, and also on Pakastani/Indian ammo loaded in the 1950s and 1960s. The color of the cordite, even with the 50 year span, is identical.

Neck cracking in rounds of that age are, often as not, due to the fact that case annealing either wasn't done in US military ammo. Annealing of arsenal manufactured cases generally didn't start until just before World War I, and during the war was often skipped because of the need to get ammo to the troops.

.30-06 ammo from the WW I era often shows cracked necks but no indication of powder breakdown.

Even if the powder has started to break down, weakening the case, it's largely a non issue in that neck splits are fully contained in the chamber.

Soviet and combloc surplus military ammo, especially in 7.62x54R, often splits on firing.

Finally, while that's an interesting thread on that M1, there's no positive evidence that deteoriated powder is what caused the gun to detonate. It looks to me that it could have just as easily been an out-of-battery condition, a pierced primer, or a a flaw that allowed the case head to split (FAR more dangerous than a split in the case neck).

Over the years I've fired significant quantities of US and foreign military ammo that has been loaded with smokeless powder, some of it even older than 1907.

Other than a bunch of Greek post war crap that showed a huge propensity for hang fires, the only problem I've ever had has been dead primers and case neck splits.

Mike Irwin
April 10, 2012, 10:21 AM
Hey Slamfire and anyone else interested in the early history of US smokeless powders...

Lookie what I just found! Neat!


April 10, 2012, 12:44 PM
Hmm lets see, we pull the bullet & look down inside the case neck. What do we see?
Why a small piece of cardboard! Umm, OK! I didn't know there was a card disk in here??? Yup an over powder disk to reduce erosion (or supposedly so).

So next we fish the card disk out & tap the case mouth gently on a table, what happens? Nothing:p OK bang it harder, still nothing!:o Beat the dogsnot out of it, now what.:confused:

Sadly, "pulling the sticks of cordite" is much harder than you'd think, because the charge was loaded into a primed, but not finally necked down case & then the primed & charged case was necked down so the charge is really, really tight in there.

Imagine passing that manufacturing process past OSHA nowadays!:eek::D

April 10, 2012, 01:41 PM
That was a very interesting document.

Anyone notice this:

The author does not recommend nor even suggest that anyone load or shoot any of the old powders under discussion, should any be found. These old powders may have suffered deterioration over the century since they were made, which could make their performance erratic, unpredictable, and dangerous. Any old powders that appear to have a reddish dust or an acrid acidic odor should be immediately disposed of in a safe manner, as recommended by SAAMI. (Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers Institute

So stabilizers were used around 1910. That would mean that ammunition made in 1907 would not have stabilizers in the powder. Or that Krag ammunition.

Stabilizers are in the powder for very good reasons:

Section from the Army Propellant Management Guide:

Stabilizers are chemical ingredients added to propellant at time of manufacture to decrease the rate of propellant degradation and reduce the probability of auto ignition during its expected useful life.

As nitrocellulose-based propellants decompose, they release nitrogen oxides. If the nitrogen oxides are left free to react in the propellant, they can react with the nitrate ester, causing further decomposition and additional release of nitrogen oxides. The reaction between the nitrate ester and the nitrogen oxides is exothermic (i.e., the reaction produces heat). Heat increases the rate of propellant decomposition. More importantly, the exothermic nature of the reaction creates a problem if sufficient heat is generated to initiate combustion. Chemical additives, referred to as stabilizers, are added to propellant formulations to react with free nitrogen oxides to prevent their attack on the nitrate esters in the propellant. The stabilizers are scavengers that act rather like sponges, and once they become “saturated” they are no longer able to remove nitrogen oxides from the propellant. Self-heating of the propellant can occur unabated at the “saturation” point without the ameliorating effect of the stabilizer. Once begun, the self-heating may become sufficient to cause auto ignition.

When I described what I had learned about the lifetime of gunpowder to a machine gunner friend, he said that explained the top cover explosions he had had with 1950’s Yugo ammunition.

Might be a reason for the reports of explosions with Indian surplus. Gunpowder deteriorates faster in heat, and lower India has incredible heat waves.

I have found a lot of the push back on the topic of old ammunition comes from people who stockpiled massive amounts of gunpowder and surplus ammunition. Those folks really do not want to hear that gunpowder has a shelf life. Nor do they want to hear that it might blow up their guns.


April 10, 2012, 03:10 PM
I fired a lot of surplus over the years and got a lot of split necks. I always thought that the brass hardened up with time.

William T. Watts
April 10, 2012, 03:34 PM
Which would tell us what other than that which we already know -- cordite and corrosive. Not really sure what the aim of that would be.
While the pictures aren't of the actual ammunition in question what I see is enough to discourage me from firing anything 100 years old.. No way would I fire that ammo thru a rifle of mine... William

April 10, 2012, 03:40 PM
I fired a lot of surplus over the years and got a lot of split necks. I always thought that the brass hardened up with time.

Could be, but could be due to the NOx from old powder.

I loaded 700 LC Match cases with surplus IMR 4895. The stuff shot well but occasionally I got “funny” retorts and sticky extraction. Within a year of loading I got a high percentage of cracked case necks in fired ammunition. Then unfired ammunition started cracking.

I pulled all the match bullets, found a number with little green spots like the pictures above.

The powder had a neutral smell in the jug.

Old surplus ammunition is on the market for a reason. There is a reason it is cheap. The military that owned it did not want to issue the stuff to their soldiers. They also did not want the stuff auto igniting in their ammunition dumps.

serf 'rett
April 10, 2012, 05:16 PM
In addition to flogging the powder issue with multiple opinions (yes, I know, you have facts, while the others just have faulty based opinions :D) let’s not forget to mention that the bullets may have corroded and seized in the necks and created a possible bigger bang for your buck (or maybe that neck seizing thing’s a fallacious theory I read about somewhere :confused:).

IF I succumbed to the temptation of lighting off a few of these relics, I’d be tempted to chuck a few up in the press and check how much pressure it takes to move the bullet a tad downward and then disassemble the few rounds for inspection, not that I’d know much about what to look for besides funky smell, dust in the powder, moisture, clumping, grain uniformity, brittle brass, green corrosion spots….

Mike Irwin
April 10, 2012, 06:17 PM

Neck seizing isn't an issue in brass cases loaded with guilding metal bullets.

Neck seizing was a HUGE issue in earlier cupronickel jacketed bullets and brass cases, even worse with tin plated cases, IIRC.

Hatcher discusses this in his Notebook. He said after early National Matches where such ammo was fired it was not uncommon to find fired bullets with the neck of the cartridge case still attached. The pressures generated to force that combination through the bore must have been dramatic.

Slam, yep, I'm familiar with the military publication you reference.

What it doesn't mention is that double-base propellants like Cordite, WA .30, etc., are apparently far more resistant to this kind of deteoriation than single-base propellants (IMR powders are all singlebase propellants, Du Pont kept those in the 1912 break up while Hercules kept the double-base propellants).

We'll talk more later, Mom's calling me for dinner (visiting family!) this is a really fascinating discussion.

Bottom line is, though, I wouldn't have any issues putting that 1907 .303 ammo in my Lee Enfield and sending it down range.

Your IMR 4895, any idea as to its age/date of manufacture? Could it have been some of the lots left over from World War II? You don't want to know the kinds of corners that were cut in production during World War II.

April 10, 2012, 06:52 PM
Your IMR 4895, any idea as to its age/date of manufacture? Could it have been some of the lots left over from World War II? You don't want to know the kinds of corners that were cut in production during World War II.

No, neither did the seller. I picked it up at Camp Perry on Commercial Row.

The idea that gunpowder has a shelf life was news to the seller, I saw him last year and talked about it. Since he made a living selling surplus powders, it was not something he wanted to hear, probably thought I was part of the lunatic fringe.

After all, conventional wisdom is that gunpowder lasts forever.

I have more surplus IMR 4895, powder I bought before I was aware of all this, and I am shooting it up as fast as match schedules allow.

I am no longer buying old powder. No longer going to buy powder dating back before the 80's. I had about 16 pounds of surplus IMR 4895 go bad before, but I chalked it up to being poorly made powder. I had no idea of the underlining chemistry or that gunpowder had a lifetime.

Gunpowder is a high energy molecule and it will degrade to become a low energy molecule.

From http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/783499.pdf

Nitrocellulose-base propellants are essentially unstable materials
that decompose on aging with the evolution of oxides of nitrogen. The
decomposition is autocatalytic and can lead to failure of the ammunition
or disastrous explosions. Many substances have been used to stabilize
nitrocellulose-base propellants,but by far the most widely used substance
is diphenylamine (DPA).

If you are aware of the publication then you are aware that the military scraps ammunition when the master sample goes bad and the powder out in the field has less than 20% stabilizer left.

I had a link to a really good article at www.dtic.mil and now it is busted. However, you can go there and search under insensitive munitions, stabilizer, and diphenylamine and find all sorts of information on gunpowders and aging.

This is a good article:


Hatcher discusses this in his Notebook. He said after early National Matches where such ammo was fired it was not uncommon to find fired bullets with the neck of the cartridge case still attached. The pressures generated to force that combination through the bore must have been dramatic.

Yes, cold welding was not well understood in 1921. The Army tin plated bullets and in time, the tin welded to the case neck. That was cause of all the pressure problems they were having with the tin can ammunition. In 1947, when Hatcher is writing his book, he totally misdirects the blame away from the Ordnance Department to greased bullets and civilians. Something that Col Townsend Whelen, who made that tin can ammunition, also did for the rest of his life.

April 10, 2012, 10:47 PM
Thanks to one and all...

When I can figure-out how to post pictures on TFL I'll be glad to do so.

The ammo came from a WWI and WWII re-inactor. I have a boat load of new .303 blanks too. I havn't any idea what I'm going to do with the blanks, yet.

Family wants to keep the WWI Lee Enfield rifle. Headspacing checked out, but I'd rather shoot the Garands & M1As than the Enfield. Tisk Tisk. Such a hard task having to blast up .303 ammo. Will I survive? Just to be safe, I'll pack along a chicken sandwich.

I am not new to reloading & digital photography so I'll be glad to update all concearned when I catch-up to circa 2004 picture posting computer technology.

April 11, 2012, 03:36 PM
Neck splits -- this is stress corrosion cracking .The Brits first noticed it in India but it happened only in the wet season thus referred to as 'season cracking' . It requires stress [un annealed brass case necks] , and corrosion [moisture from the rain and nitrogen and ammonia compounds from lightning braking down the nitrogen in the air] .It's not caused by the powder.
It's not uncommon to see it in old military ammo .

April 11, 2012, 04:41 PM
The Wikipedia entry on Season Cracking is actually pretty good. They say it wasn't explained chemically until 1921, but I see no reference as to when annealing necks to prevent it was figured out (presumably empirically) or when it was begun as a manufacturing process or by whom. You'd figure the Brits would have been on to it first, but I don't actually know. I keep thinking Hatcher said something about it and had the impression it was after WWI, but I'm probably confusing it with when they stopped polishing the annealing stain off before loading to leave the cases with better corrosion resistance. I'm not finding the subject in the index of his Notebook, so that means rereading to locate it.

On another forum a member who's a former Aberdeen Proving Grounds Test Director described bullet pulling tests on old stockpiled ammo that found up to something like 600 lbs force was needed to pull some of the bullets. Ten times normal. He claimed it fired just fine, though. So the tin plate bonding must have been really strong.

April 11, 2012, 05:14 PM
wog was right on. I have never seen red cordite, just long sticks of tan color. WWll stuff was good but corrosive, WWl stuff would sometimes hangfire or misfire(maintain safe direction for 60 seconds according to our safety books). Keep some for the history and fire the rest.

Ideal Tool
April 12, 2012, 11:02 PM
Years ago, I pulled a bullet on a 1918 dated .303 British..found the shellacked wad & packed tight Cordite. pulled out a few strands with needlenose.
At work, there was a guy who had the idea he had to be better than everyone else..oneupmanship up the wazoo. One day I got fed up with his bragging..took one of his cigs when he was away & carefully used 1/16" drill spun in fingers & bored hole thru center. stuffed a Cordite string in there about 1/4" down from end..placed it first in line back in pack. After lunch, I asked him if he could smoke a cig. right down to filter without a break..No problemo....well, after that smokeless ignited..he sort of got a panicked look on his face..but of course he couldn't quit!..then he started turning green about the gills..seemed in an awful hurry to get to the can when he finally finished it!

April 16, 2012, 08:31 AM
i can't believe this brilliant post has ended!

F. Guffey
April 16, 2012, 11:38 AM

If the English had anything but cordite they would have used it, they made an attempt at designing a rifle to replace the 303, Kipling and Doyle saw what happened to the British in war with the Orange Free States, seems the farmers armed with the Mauser had the advantage, knowing was going to be done about improving the rifle they went back to England and started training the British methods and techniques to improve marksmanship.

Then in about 06 the British started to build a rifle with a chamber similar to the 280 Ross, big problem, it was difficult to close the bolt and then pull the trigger before time ran out, heat created by the high pressure round caused the ammo to cook-off, and then, the nicest thing that could ever happen to US, they designed the Enfield P13 276, chambered it to 303, then contracted us to build it after they corrected a lot of our bad habits. Before we had a chance to finish the contract building the P14, we were given the opportunity to use their machinery to build the M1917, and England went back to building Enfields chambered in 303.



Anyhow, if they had anything but cordite, they would have tried it, they could have acquired something else from DuPont, as rumor has it, DuPont went to Europe, signed on to work for one of the powder manufactures, then with his knowledge gained while working there came back and developed smokeless powder.

And I said we were lucky, I would not have P14 and M1917 actions to build rifles with and we would have gone to WW1 with a few 03 Springfields any anything else we could put together like 30/40 Krags, we took a beating in Cuba, the British took a beating in Africa because of their and our choice of arms, yes, the M1917 is one of the nicest things that has ever happened to us until a Canadian designed the M1 Garand.

F. Guffey

F. Guffey
April 16, 2012, 11:49 AM
Then there is the bad habit of chambering old ammo without knowing the condition of the powder, powder can cake on the primer end, powder can cake on the neck end of the case, caked powder on the primer end can cause a delay, it can be a little rough when opening the bolt with bad timing, and powder caked on the neck end of the case is an obstruction, powder on the primer end of the case can ignite, when ignited and no place to go the caked powder constitutes an obstruction.

Not scary for most but when I consider the design of the fire arms old ammo was designed for like the 30/40 Krag and 303 British, for me I will never be desperate enough to chamber an old round and pull the trigger.

F. Guffey

Mike Irwin
April 16, 2012, 01:16 PM
Been away most of the last week rebuilding my Mother's porch. By the end of the day I didn't feel much like logging on.

I, however, will continue to fire surplus, and even ancient, ammunition.

Face it, folks, every time we pull the trigger on a gun, there's a chance that the genie might get out of the bottle and raise holy hell no matter what ammo, powder, or age it is.

Mike Irwin
April 17, 2012, 06:42 AM
"If the English had anything but cordite they would have used it."

Actually the English DID have powders other than cordite, but cordite, for a number of reasons, became almost the universal standard powder in Britain, military and civilian, for half a century.

Why? Well, because even thought it had some drawbacks, Cordite was actually an incredibly flexible powder.

It was pretty easy to manufacture, it was stable even in nasty tropical environments, it didn't cause interesting pressure excursions (or at least wasn't nearly as prone to them) when heated in the African sun, and it was extremely flexible in that you could take the same basic recipe and make cordite suitable for pistol rounds or for sending a 15" armor piercing shell 20 miles against an enemy ship.

The one issue they did find with Naval cordite (a formulation known as RDX and cut into "ribbons" about 4" wide and about 3/4" thick or so, depending on the application) was that it was, in really hot weather, prone to sweating nitroglycerine....

It's thought that that caused the loss of at least two British ships in peace time.

Changes in formulation solved that issue.

F. Guffey
April 17, 2012, 10:28 AM
Again, Kipling and Doyle knew they were not going to get a better rifle, so they made an attempt to train riflemen to shoot the only rifle they were going to get better. Again, the development of a replacement for the Enfield was delayed by the continued use of cordite, and now I find it was worst than I thought, they had another powder and did not try it, just a guess but is it possible Springfield was in charge of development in England and the US. In the development of the replacement rifle they found the barrels did not stand up to the new round and the powder cooked off (and they had another powder?).

F. Guffey