Recently a very interesting document surfaced in an online auction, while it eventually sold for more than I could afford, I thought it was worth sharing some of the interesting images of the document that were shared in the auction.
The document is a draft of a contract to order .303 ammunition from the Western Cartridge Company, part of the Olin Corporation. Before the US passed the Lend-Lease Act, in March 1941, which cleared the was for greater material assistance from the US to Britain the British Purchasing Commission was tasked with procuring arms, ammunition and materials from US companies.
The document, originally drawn up in December 1940 called for a mind-blowing 75 million cartridge per month. To do this the Western Cartridge Company needed to expand its production capacity. The contract deals with the intricacies of expanding the company’s manufacturing base and how this expansion would be paid for.
The contract states that the .303 ammunition would be for aircraft, for use in weapons like the belt-fed .303 Browning machine guns used in the RAF’s bombers and fighters. The contract mentions that a total of 750 million rounds are required. 20% of these could be requested, at a month’s notice, to be tracer rounds.
It is fascinating to see not only the typed and stapled amendments but also the handwritten notes in the contract’s margins which change quantities, dates and other details. The ammunition is described in ‘Exhibit F’ of the contract as being ‘MkVII .303’. The contract also mentions that the Western Cartridge Company could use its own smokeless powder for the first 100 million rounds and subsequently either their own or powder from Du Pont or the Hercules Powder Company. This means that the ammunition was probably MkVIIIz, as the cartridges did not use Cordite. It is unclear whether the projectiles to be used in the Western Cartridge Co. cartridges used the MkVIIIz boat tail .303 projectile.
The Western Cartridge Company was not the only US ammunition manufacturer to produce .303. Winchester, another Olin Corporation manufacturer, and the Peter’s Cartridge Company also produced .303 MkVIIIZ.
Sadly we don’t have the rest of the document to examine but these pages offer a really interesting insight into how Britain was procuring ammunition for various weapons during the early part of the war when the situation looked increasingly desperate.
A subsequent auction listing for ‘Contract No. A-1562. Requisition No. U.S.233. Dated March, 1941’ also calls for a substantial amount of ammunition, some 400,000,000 rounds. The 42 page contract refers to the ammunition as MkVII and notes the use of Hercules Hivel 300 powder and describes it as ‘S.A. Ball .303 with American modifications dated 7 November, 1940’. The March 1941 contract also states that depending on testing it could be used for ground or air use.
If you found this interesting check out our article/video on a unique Remington M1903 Prototype chambered in .303 built for Britain around the same time!
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The .303 British Service Cartridge, R. Tebbutt, (source)
Original WW2 British Contract for Manufacture of .303 Ammunition by Winchester, Dec. 1940 eBay/War-Office (source)
Original WW2 British Contract for Manufacture of .303 Ammunition by Winchester, Mar. 1941 eBay/War-Office (source)
British Military Small Arms Ammo, (source)
The Browning Machine Gun – Rifle Calibre Browning Abroad, D. Goldsmith, (2006)
British 303 Cartridge Case Identification, S. Taylor, (source)
Manufacture and testing of 0.303″ Ammunition in 1942 (source)