Military Guns and Ammunition

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This is intended for people interested in the subject of military guns and their ammunition, with emphasis on automatic weapons.

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1800s and WW2 rifles   General Military Discussion

Started 22-Aug by smg762; 1397 views.

From: smg762


couple of quick questions about very old guns

around the 1900s (zulu era), what was the range of typical .45 rifles. Assuming a 200 yard target, did you have to aim up and compensate much?

also, in  WW2, how did the lesser known countries compare, with their rifles, to the well known german and allied rifles.

for example the arisaka rounds, and the 8mm french. Were they roughly on par with .303 in terms of performance?

In reply toRe: msg 1

From: JPeelen


Ballistically speaking, your question cannot really be answered. Particularly the armies using 6.5 mm (for example Italy) stuck to round nose bullets. All the information on these was obtained using the best methods available in the late 19th and early 20th century.

To give you a feeling, this was the era when the U.S. Army was convinced its M1906 spitzer bullet would have a range of 5465.8 yards (see EAMES, The Rifle in War, 1908, Table III or WHELEN, Suggestions to Military Riflemen, 1909, P. 194). As it found out the hard way in WW1, the real range was 3450 yards (Ordnance, May-June 1925, p. 811), only 63 percent of the computed range. Actual shooting experiments had stopped at 1000 yards. 

The methods of WW2 were not much better in my opinion. In modern times, as far as I know, radar measurements (possible since the mid-1960s) of old military round nose bullets were never done. Due to the lack of knowledge of real drag data, there is no basis for doing a meaningful comparison. Any result would be a wild guess.      

  • Edited 22 August 2023 14:16  by  JPeelen

From: smg762


with the .455 martini's, what sort of range was practical. at 200 yards did you have to elevate much?

and was it practical to attampt volley fire to try and reach 5-600 meters

In reply toRe: msg 4

From: farmplinker2


Some elevation; google "ballistics tables for 577-450". 

As for volley fire, yes, especially if your target is large enough.

Easy research for ballistics is a Gun Digest Annual; it has trajectory and energy figures for commercially available cartridges in the US. This can give you a rough idea of performance. For rifles, Google (for example) "Japanese military rifles". See what books there are, then see if your local library can get them through interloan programs. Some episodes of Forgotten Weapons and C&Rsenal also have ballistics information, but not a lot.

And as JPeelen pointed out, jacketed round nose rifle bullets suck, unless you're shooting elephants. The first generation smokeless military cartridges have plenty of stories about enemy troops inflicting casualties after taking multiple hits from rifles. 

In reply toRe: msg 1

From: carvilrod


Range is a relative question, especially dependent on the size and visibility of the target. 

Since the 1870s, the new breech-loading black powder rifles had sights were graduated to 1900 yds, but shooting at long distance was made against skirmish lines of soldiers kneeling or in prone position, or against small columns sited in the rear of these. So, targets were relatively wide and fire usually was collective (volley fire). The main problem, as the trajectory was more curved than in smokeless powder rifles, was the sitting of the correct range in the rear-sight to compensate for the bullet drop. Volley fire was made on orders of officers or NCOs. So, correct appreciation of distances was of much importance. Soldiers must set the rear-sight to that distance and fire to the designated target. In the film "Zulu Dawn” we can see that pickets were set to mark shooting distances. 

With the appearance of smokeless powder repeating rifles, fire could be done at major distances with similar firing methods, but WW1 changed all these assumptions, and trench warfare led to new tactics that gave more importance to individual shooting at individual and occasional targets. Usual combat range for rifle fire was reduced to 300 m. Machine gun fire was used at longer distances.

The 8 mm Mauser was the most powerful rifle cartridge of WW2, especially the heavy bullet SS loading. The 8 mm French (Lebel) and .303 British were less powerful than 8 mm SS, but they were enough. 6.5 mm cartridges were less potent, though they were enough for rifle use but were underpowered for machine guns, so the Japanese, Italian, Dutch, Swedish and Norwegian armies adopted more powerful cartridges (7,7 and 8 mm) for machine guns. 

  • Edited 05 September 2023 19:18  by  carvilrod
In reply toRe: msg 1

From: wiggy556


In his memoirs. Frank Bourne, the last British survivor of Rorkes Drift (1879), describes opening up on the Zulus, with volley fire at 500 yards.

A few years ago, my local military museum, did a presentation of his memoirs. A very interesting evening.


From: schnuersi


carvilrod said:

6.5 mm cartridges were less potent, though they were enough for rifle use but were underpowered for machine guns,

This statement is oversimplified and not really correct because of this.

The 6,5x55 mm is perfectly suitable for machine guns and a great rifle round. A comparable modern round would be the 6,5 Creedmore. Which is usually loaded a bit hotter but has higher barrel wear because of it. The 6,5x55 mm is still a highly regarded round a very popular for hunting especially in Scandinavia.

For the 6,5x55 mm a Spitzer bullet became available in the early '40. Which stayed in military use well into the '70.

The heavier 8x63 mm loading was intended for HEAVY machin guns. So it was not intended to replace the 6,5 but to supplement it. Its basically the Swedish take of the .50 cal. Its a heavier round for anti material, vehicle and aircraft use. The 8 mm round could carry a longer burning tracer, more payload and had better armor penetration at range. At the time it was developed it could be concidered effective in the AA and light AT role but developement quickly rendered the round obsolete. At long range the 6,5x55 actually performs better than the 7,62 NATO using M80 ball or equivalent.

So it is not true that 6,5x55 has been inadequate for machine gun use (the swedes actually chambered their FN MAGs for 6,5x55 befor they transition to 7,62 NATO) 8x63 has been introduced to get special purpose a round that has better anti material effect.


From: mpopenker


schnuersi said:

The heavier 8x63 mm loading was intended for HEAVY machin guns. So it was not intended to replace the 6,5 but to supplement it. Its basically the Swedish take of the .50 cal.

I do not think so. HMGs back in 1930s were not heavy fifties of WW2 and later period, but rifle-caliber water-cooled Brownings and Maxims suitable for long-range and indirect fire against massed infantry, and also as AA weapons against strafing aircraft.

Note that most countries that used 6.5mm rifle rounds from 1890s onward (Italy, Japan, Sweden, Netherlands etc) added some sort of a 7.62-8mm HMG round to their armament system by mid-1930s. Because while most 6.5mm were quite good for rifle and LMG use, they lacked the range, penetration and payload (AP, incendiary or both) compared to 7.62-7.92mm rifle round such as 7.62x54R, .30-06, .303 or 7.92x57mm


From: carvilrod


When I spoke of machine guns, I refer to rifle caliber, tripod mounted machine guns, like the Vickers or Hotchkis. In Spanish, French or even U.S. Army, LMG are called machine rifles or automatic rifles (for example, the BAR) and the word machine gun refers to this kind of heavy machine guns.
The squad automatic weapon (or LMG, like the BAR, ZB, Bren, …) was the core of fire-power of the squad, so it is of paramount importance to have a common ammunition of it and the rifles. Sweden, Italy or the other countries had a 6.5 mm squad automatic weapon in conjunction with their 6.5 mm rifles. Only the Japanese during the war mixed their 6.5 mm rifles with 7.7 mm LMG, but more by necessity than any other reason, because their intention was to unify the 7.7 mm cartridge for all squad weapons (Type 99).