In this section, I have put together a comprehensive list and details of the different types of ordnance and ammunition that was used on Woodbury common by the recruits at Dalditch. The sheer variety of cartridges on the common is rather intriguing, giving us an idea of just how intensive and varied the training was there during wartime.
Almost all of the cartridge-cases found on Woodbury Common, are blank rounds – not ‘live’ rounds. Blank rounds are not technically classed as ‘ammunition’, as they do not have a projectile or bullet, pressed into the open-end of the cartridge-casing. Instead, blank cartridges have the open top-end ‘crimped’ closed. Blanks are used, when live rounds are either not needed or are too dangerous. For example; to make a loud noise for battle simulations, (such as, historic war re-enactments, military combat training, or ceremonial rifle salutes).
Under Section 1, Part 4, of the Firearms Act 1968, ‘live’ or unfired blank cartridges, (that are below one inch in diameter), do not require a firearms licence to own. They are perfectly legal, and there is no need for them to be handed-in to the police. However, care and respect must be taken when handling these items. Even when the cartridge may have been in the ground for 60 plus years, the gun powder inside, will be in as good-a-condition, as the day it was made. Blanks that are one inch or more in diameter do require a firearms licence as if they were ‘live’ ammunition.
To tell the difference between wartime .303 calibre live rounds and blanks, is pictured below. Live round on the left, blank on the right.
The illustration below shows a cross section of a ‘live’ round, and its component parts.
When a shell-casing is found, it often looks the same as any other cartridge – but there are many ways to tell them apart. Almost all cartridges, whether it is for military use or civilian use (e.g. target shooters), all have information stamped onto the base. The writing on the base is called a ‘headstamp’. Headstamps can tell who the manufacturer is, the type of round it may be, and the year of manufacture. Some manufacturers mark the year, with the last two digits of the year, or the whole number itself. Some others even mark the month. For example; a case marked with ‘8 61’ is August 1961. Typically, if a year can be found, it is almost certain to be a military cartridge.
Here is an example of a headstamp;
‘RG‘ – The initials of the manufacturer.
‘00‘ – The year of manufacture – 2000.
‘L1A2‘ – A code for the type of cartridge.
There are many thousands of different sizes and calibres of cartridges. Sometimes, if a cartridge cannot be identified by the headstamps, the size or calibre helps to give a rough idea. The calibre of bullets, are measured by the diameter of the projectile or bullet – not the diameter of the cartridge-casing. For example; the civilian .243 Winchester hunters cartridge, has a bullet diameter of .243 of an inch (6.2mm). This measurement is the calibre. Some cartridges, especially military cartridges, include the length of the shell-casing, as well as the bullet diameter, e.g. 7.62x51mm – 7.62mm = bullet diameter (or calibre), 51mm = cartridge-case length.
Here, are eight different calibres that were used and found on Woodbury common.
The four on the left are World War 2 issue, and the four on the right are post-war.
The .303 cartridge entered service with the British military and it’s Commonwealth, in 1889. The round saw active service, with many different guns such as; Lee Enfield No.1, 4 and 5 rifles, the Bren light machine gun and the Vickers medium machine gun. The .303 remained as the standard issue, with the Lee Enfield No.4 rifle until 1958, it was then gradually replaced by the 7.62mm calibre L1A1 SLR rifle. The .303, however, continued to be used in the Bren machine gun, the Lee Enfield No.4 (T) sniper rifle, and for the training of recruits. The last known British production of .303 ammunition, was in 1973/74. After this, rounds were made under contract, in other countries.
There are many manufacturers of .303 ammunition. This list of ammunition producers, are only of the ones, which were used and found on Woodbury Common.
Just by looking, you can identify the manufacturer, type and year of manufacture, of a cartridge-case – even the gun that fired it, can sometimes be identified too. This example below, has an oval-shaped ‘dent’ on the primer. This indicates that, this cartridge was fired by a Bren machine gun.
A Bren gun fired .303, found at the firing point of the 300 yard shooting range at Four Firs.
Usually, .303 cases with a circular ‘dent’, would have been fired by a Lee Enfield rifle, pictured below.
The .30-06 (Pronounced as “Thirty-oh-six” or “Thirty-aught-six”, is sometimes referred to as the 7.62x63mm), is an American calibre-cartridge. It was designed in 1906, for use with the Springfield M1903 rifle. (At the time, it was the U.S. standard issue-rifle). The Springfield was later replaced in 1936, by the M1 Garand, which saw service in all U.S conflicts, until it was then replaced by the M14 rifle in 1957 (An ‘updated’ version of the M1 Garand).
The .30-06 calibre was used in many other US issue weapons, such as the Browning M1917 and M1919 machine guns, Springfield M1903 rifle, BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle) as well as the standard issue M1 Garand. The round continued to see service in the U.S. military until the early 1980s when it was fully replaced by the 7.62×51 NATO. The discovery of the .30-06 calibre ammunition on the common would highly suggest that American military issue weapons were used on the ranges of Dalditch camp, during the Second World War.
Below, is a size comparison with the .30-06 (left), and a British .303 (right).
I have only found just a handful of these American cartridges, with only two makers;
When the U.S.A entered the war in 1941, there was a big push to prioritise old ammo stocks for recruit training, some of which dated back to the First World war. This might explain why I have found 1927, 1930 (and also 1933) dated cartridges on a wartime site.
.50 BMG (Browning Machine Gun).
The .50BMG was developed at the end of World War One, and was entered into service in 1921. Originally, it was developed for use with the M2 Browning machine gun, which is still in use today.
This .50BMG shell was discovered next to a group of Nissen huts near to a Parade ground in the ‘Hayes’ area of Dalditch camp. This could suggest an Anti- Aircraft battery somewhere in that near area. However, this calibre was also used in American aircraft (Such as the B-17 bomber), and could have been dropped from an aircraft flying overhead.
Typically, in the case of the Anti-Aircraft role, .50 calibres usually supplement a much bigger calibre of Anti- Aircraft gun, such as the 20mm Oerlikon and 40mm Bofors.
This particular cartridge was made by WRA – Winchester Repeating Arms Co., New Haven Connecticut, USA in 1943.
The calibre of this cartridge is a .30 carbine, otherwise known as the 7.62x33mm. The .30 Carbine cartridge was introduced with the U.S military in 1942, and was used in the M1 carbine rifle. The M1 carbine was small and light, only weighing 2.6kg, which was primarily used by paratroopers and for close quarters combat.
This cartridge is marked ‘LC 4‘. ‘LC’ is the factory code – Lake City Ammunition Plant, Independence, Missouri, USA. And the single ‘4‘ is the year – 1944 (American ammunition factories only had one stamp for each letter/number, which is why there is only a single ‘4’).
The shiny cartridge in the first pic is how it originally would have looked.