Posted: 11 January 2009 22:16

.303 cartridge Finding a .303 cartridge up on the Downs today, I decided to examine it minutely with anorak precision and I think it was fired by a machine gun.

I've actually been quite active up on the Downs already this year, mapping out slit trenches; I'll write a separate piece on all this in due course.

I found the cartridge buried at ground level beside my car as I was removing my boots at the end of an afternoon's trench surveying.

Cleaning it up at home resulted in the headstamp on the base showing up as seen below.

Manufactured at Woolwich Arsenal in 1943, it was a Mk.VII 303 round. So what makes me think it was fired by a machine gun?

The primer dent is large and elongated; the firing pin of a rifle would only have left a much smaller, circular dent. Of the machine guns that might have fired it, we have the Bren, the Vickers, the Lewis or possibly even a Browning in an aircraft.

Of these, being dropped from an aircraft is least likely and the Vickers was usually given Mk.VIII ammunition due to it having longer range, although there's nothing to stop Mk.VII being used in the Vickers.

.303 cartridge

By 1943, the production of the Bren would've been such that the Lewis guns that in 1940 were in use with front-line units were probably very unlikely to have been in use with the field army. The 'hosepipe' method of shooting at aircraft had replaced the use of tripods for anti-aircraft defence, and the Lewis gun was probably not light enough for this task.

Therefore, my money's on the Bren. Does this rather shaky conclusion turn the world of history on its head? Not at all; but it does show that evidence can be found and conclusions drawn from sources where you might not think that anything can be gleaned.

- Pete



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Primer dent

The mark made by a firing pin in the base of a cartridge case. An elongated dent indicates the round was fired by a Bren Gun; a circular dent is made by a rifle as illustrated here on a pair of .303 cases.

Slit trench

Small, narrow trench designed to provide protection against shrapnel and other battlefield hazards. Technically distinct from a weapon pit (which was intended soley as a defensive position) slit trenches were also used as defence works.

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Hibbs, Peter Fired by a Bren gun? (2024) Available at: Accessed: 17 July 2024

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