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A guide to headstamps

Article about: I thought I would do a quick guide to cartridge headstamps. I know many of us are well aware of what all the stamps mean, but some people don’t and I think it would be useful to those people

  1. #1

    Default A guide to headstamps

    I thought I would do a quick guide to cartridge headstamps. I know many of us are well aware of what all the stamps mean, but some people don’t and I think it would be useful to those people not yet as obsessed as me !!!

    I will only cover American, British and German small arms headstamps. Please add a reply if you are good at larger calibre or other country’s headstamps (e.g. Russia, Japan).

    To start with, here are the main allied small arms cartridges lined up so you can see the difference in overall shape and size. Take particular note of the difference between a standard 30calibre American cartridge and the British 303. Also note the difference between the standard 30calibre and the M1 Carbine cartridge (this is not live by the way ! I remade it from two bits ).

    Ok, on to identifying Allied small arms headstamps.

    We’ll start with 20mm cannon cartridges. A view of 3 cartridges found on various WW2 airbases.

    Ok. Let’s look at the headstamps. You can see they all follow the same pattern. A letter ‘code’ which represents the manufacturer, a date stamp and a calibre. The right hand case therefore is made by RG (Royal Ordnance Factory, Radway Green, UK), in 1942. The middle case was made by I.C.I. , otherwise known as Kynoch in Standish, UK which is represented by the K2, in 1944.

    With American cartridges, the headstamps are usually very short, sharp and sweet ! Take for example these 50 calibre cartridges, again found on various airbases around the UK.

    The headstamps on these are not as detailed as some. Usually you get the manufacturer ‘code’ and the last two digits of the year, EXCEPT in the case of 1944 which is always represented by a single ‘4’. So on these cartridges you have RA 43, TW 43, LC 43, SL 4 and DM 4. RA is Remington Arms Company, Tw is Twin Cities ordnance plant, LC is Lake City Ammunition Plant, SL is St Louis Ordnance Plant and DM is Des Moines Ordnance Plant.

    These headstamps are repeated in standard 30 calibre and Carbine rounds. Take for example these 30 calibre cartridges, found on Slapton Sands.

    The headstamps all follow the same principals as the 50 cal cartridges.

    British cartridges tended to be a little more verbose. Take for example these cartridges, all found on an old D-Day practice beach.

    The headstamps, as you can see, contain a little more information. We still have the manufacturer ‘code’ and the year of manufacture (as either 2 or 4 digit), but we also regularly see ‘VII’ which denotes it is a standard Mark VII cartridge, and in some instances ‘303’ which obviously denotes the calibre. Different Roman numerals denote different 'marks' of cartridge. You may also see the marks 'Z' or IZ' which denote the type of cordite/powder used, as well as 'W' and 'B' and various other stamps.

    It is interesting to note that the last three cartridges all have the same ‘odd’ shaped firing pin mark. This elongated mark is made by the firing pin of a Bren gun. A Lee-Enfield makes the ‘dot’ mark in the left hand two cartridges. So not only does the headstamp tell us something, even the firing pin mark can !

    Now let’s look at 9mm and .45 calibre cartridges, again found on a D-Day practice beach.

    Now you can see a pattern emerging ! Hopefully you can now determine what the headstamps mean when you look at them. You have the manufacturer code, the year stamp and the calibre………….It’s easy once you know what you’re looking at !

    The Germans used a little more complicated system than the Americans and British. Take for example these 7.92 calibre cartridges, all are ‘safe’ and were bought off a guy in an antiques place for 20p each ! He didn’t know what they were but I did because of a basic knowledge of headstamps.

    Ok…..all German 7.92 calibre cartridges carry four stamps. As you look at the picture, at 12 o’clock is the manufacturers code. At 3 o’clock is a code with a combination of a roman numeral (I to XXII) for the steel mill supplying the basic case-metal, a lower-case letter for the plating agency and an arabic numeral (1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 15 or 17) for the steel-analysis, which all identifies a copper-plated steel case. In some cases you may see (as below) a code such as St or
    St+ or S*. St or St+ indicates a steel case, either plated or lacquered. * or S* indicates a brass case. At 6 o’clock is a batch number and at 9 o’clock is the year of manufacture represented by the last 2 digits of the year. Of interest is the fact that the Germans changed their manufacturer code system. Between 1937 and 1941 they used the P codes (Patronenfabrik Nummer). Between 1940 and 1945 (there was some overlap between the change of coding) they switched to a letter code and ditched the ‘P’ number. This means all ‘P’ coded cartridges are made prior to 1941, and all letter code cartridges are made from 1940. This could be handy in identifying fakes !!!!

    So, for example, the far left cartridge was made by cg (Finower Industrie GmbH, Finow/Mark, Brandenburg), the case was made of St+ (steel case, plated), a batch number of ‘6’ (yes….i got it wrong on the picture !!! It’s a 6 not a 9 ), and a year of 1942.

    The far right hand case is made by P490 ( Hugo Schneider A.G., Werk Altenburg), the steel mill code IX (August-Thyssen-Hutte A.G., Duisburg-Hamborn), the plating firm code w, (Hugo Schneider A.G. Messingwerke, Taucha-Leipzig), and the steel composition 1. The batch number is 7 and it was made in 1939.

    I hope this of use to some of you. I know many will already know it but it’s good to pass on this sort of information !

    Here are some useful links.

    German 7,92 headstamp markings 1937-1945 German headstamps

    Headstamp Codes on Small Arms Ammunition General listing of small arms headstamps

    .303 Headstamp Cartridge Identification 303 headstamp identification

    IAA- Links to sites related to cartridge or ammunition collecting Links to a HUGE number of sites of interest to anyone who collects cartridges.

    Have fun !!

    Steve T
    Last edited by Steve T; 03-08-2014 at 07:48 PM.

  2. #2

    Default Re: A guide to headstamps

    I'm already using your page, it's very handy. good idea,
    Cheers navyman.

  3. #3

    Default Re: A guide to headstamps

    Hi all

    Well, when out metal detecting on my airfield this weekend, I spent over an hour digging out a large quantity of 20mm and 50cal rounds all in one 'hole'.

    After cleaning, I noticed that 2 of the 50cal cartridges had markings on them I had never seen before so I thought I'd update this post with pictures of them.

    You can see here how these casings don't follow the above 'rule' for American made cartridges. They still have a manufacturer code but only one of them shows the year. Both carry the calibre of the cartridge and the 'Z' I presume must be either a 'fill' mark, (in British 303 rounds a Z will denote a nitro-cellulose fill), or possibly the type of bullet head, (for example Z may denote tracer). However, I am fairly sure it is a fill mark.

    Both are examples of cartridges made by Remington Arms Company, Bridgeport, CT.

    Steve T
    Click to enlarge the picture Click to enlarge the picture Click image for larger version. 

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  4. #4

    Default Re: A guide to headstamps

    A friend of mine has some rounds and it does not have markings like these. His has 4 slices on the botton: one has a VIII and one has 19 the one across from it has 38 (19|38) and the bottom one under the VIII has the eagle holding the swastika and I was wondering if you guys knew what they went to?

  5. #5

    Default Re: A guide to headstamps

    Sounds like 8x56R rounds for the M95 Steyr rifle. Pics would help.

  6. #6

    Default Re: A guide to headstamps

    Thank you Zwerge thats exactly what they are. I search the rifle you named on Google and found a pic with the ammo next to it
    again, thank you.


  7. #7

    Default Re: A guide to headstamps

    Hi there, I was wondering if anyone here could help me identify this headstamp. I believe it's a .50 cal.

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  8. #8

    Default Re: A guide to headstamps

    It`s Canadian from Dominion Arsenals..1955

  9. #9

    Default Re: A guide to headstamps

    Hi Evant and welcome to the forum

    As zwerge has quite rightly pointed out, it's a Canadian manufactured .50cal, made in 1955. This nomenclature of headstamp is basically the American style I showed above.


    Steve T

  10. #10

    Default Re: A guide to headstamps

    Ok thanks, I appreciate the info. There's not much to tell about this round, I believe my grandpa picked it up at a garage sale in Brantford, Ontario in the 1970's. I just never knew what it was for sure. Thanks again.

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