By Dean Roxby
History of Modern U.S. Military Small Arms Ammunition: Vol. III: 1946–1977
- By Frank W. Hackley, William H. Woodin and Eugene L. Scranton
- ISBN: 978-1-4951-6616-7
- Copyright 2015
- Binding: Hard cover
- Size: 8.5in x 11in
- Pages: 650
- Color/B&W photos: No color photos. 1,077 cartridge, bullet, case and headstamp drawings; 202 box labels illustrated by B&W photos.
- Publisher: MRC3 Publishing
- Available through website
It has been said in regards to collecting, that your collection is only as good as your library. That is certainly true when collecting ammunition, and especially so with rare, eclectic military ammo.
This third volume of the History of Modern U.S. Military Small Arms Ammunition series continues the fine work of the earlier volumes. Unfortunately, both the first and second volumes are long out of print. I mention them here for the sake of continuity and as a brief lead-in to the review of Volume III.
The origins of this third volume go back a surprisingly long way. The three authors, Frank Hackley, Bill Woodin and Gene Scranton, met in the early 1950s through their common interest in cartridge collecting. They often talked about creating a series of books on U.S. military cartridges. Hackley began writing the first draft of the first volume as far back as 1957. This volume covered cartridges from the timeframe of 1880 to 1939. It was published in 1967. Eventually, this was followed by Volume II. It covers the WWII period from 1940 to 1945 and was published in 1978.
Volume III, the subject of this review, was released in late 2015 and covers post-war cartridge designs. There are 1,077 cartridge, bullet, case and headstamp drawings in the book and 202 box labels illustrated.
The book is divided into Parts and then further divided into Chapters. Part I covers pistol, revolver and submachine gun ammo, specifically .38 Special and .45 ACP cartridges. Part II covers carbine, rifle and machine gun ammunition. The cartridges studied are all varieties of SAA (small arms ammunition) used in U.S. service since 1945. These range from .223 (5.56mm) through .50 BMG and the not-adopted .60 Machine Gun round. (I suppose the authors put the .60 MG in Part II, rather than in “Part III, Experimental Ammunition,” due to the amount of development done.)
For me, the most interesting section of the book is “Part III, Experimental Ammunition.” In this section, many strange experimental designs are covered. The official website for the book (historyofammunition.com) states:
“Cartridge types developed during the period covered include SPIW, SAW, FABRL, SALVO, SCAMP, ’Tombstone,’ Squeeze Bore, Taper Bore, Flechette, Simplex, Duplex, Triplex, Multiplex, Folded, Tround, Caseless, Expellable, QSPR, Rocket-Propelled, Underwater, and more.” Some of these experimental projects are truly bizarre. For example, there are micro-ballistic rounds that fire projectiles ranging from 1mm to a mere 3mm in diameter. And the SPIW (Special Purpose Individual
Weapon) is covered in detail. The SPIW round uses a dart or arrow-like flechette, rather than a traditional bullet. At the website, you can download a PDF sample of Chapter 13, “Caseless and Expellable.”
The Salvo Squeeze Bore program is most intriguing. It combines the multiple-bullet Salvo concept with a barrel that tapers down from .50 cal. to .30 cal. Other sizes tested were .30/.15 and .45/.357. The projectiles are nested together, usually five per cartridge. As they travel down the bore, they separate and get swaged down in diameter. So, for each shot fired, five separate bullets are fired. A small lot of .50 BMG SSB was tested in Vietnam for use on the river boats but was not adopted.
Part IV covers “Miscellaneous Ammunition.” Chapter 16 includes familiar cartridges like the .22 LR rimfire and several centrefire civilian sporting rounds that were loaded specifically for U.S. military use. In some cases, the only difference may be in the packaging. In other examples it could be a project that uses normal commercial brass cases loaded with very unusual projectiles. An example of this is the .220 Swift case loaded with a flechette dart. Other cartridges profiled are U.S.-made, Soviet-era 7.62×25 and 7.62×39 rounds. It may seem odd now, with tens of millions of rounds of cheap surplus ammo sold in the past 20 years, but this wasn’t always the case. In the 1950s, ComBloc ammo wasn’t nearly so plentiful. There are also entries for the Czech 7.62×45 intermediate round and the 12.7×108 and 14.5×114 Soviet heavy MG rounds.
Chapter 17 details numerous strange looking projectiles for pistol and submachine gun ammo, while Chapter 18 deals with shotgun ammso. This ranges from regular .410 shotgun rounds for use by USAF personnel who have to eject, to shotgun shells filled with razor blades! These specially shaped blades were loaded into 20-gauge and 12-gauge hulls. They are known as Scimitar rounds. A related project was the Beehive round, containing multiple flechettes. Several versions of Beehive rounds are profiled.
In addition to “shooting ammo” for firearms, the book also covers cartridges that perform other functions. Chapter 19 covers propelling, pyrotechnic and actuating cartridges. You are probably familiar with blank-firing, powder-actuated tools such as Hilti and Ramset, used to drive hardened nails into concrete. The various U.S. military branches have many such specialty cartridges for purposes ranging from cable cutting blanks that sever the anchoring cables on sea mines, to ejection-seat igniters for jet fighters. Among other cartridges featured is a 20-gauge blank for starting jet engines, a 24-gauge blank spotting charge for practicing bomb dropping, a 10-gauge blank for the same purpose and various mortar ignition cartridges.
Following Part IV is the Appendix section. Appendix A is a long list of companies that supplied ammo or components. Appendix B, C and D are lists of assigned model numbers (either “M” or “XM”), test numbers (with a “T” prefix) or Frankford Arsenal Test numbers (originally “FAT,” later “FA” prefix).
It is obvious that this book is a true labor of love from Hackley, Woodin and Scranton. It presents well, with Scranton’s technical drawings accompanying the related text. Sadly, Gene Scranton passed away in 2013 before the release of Volume III. There is a tribute page recognizing him.
The Acknowledgements section credits many individuals and groups, including the research staff at the National Archives and Records Administration, many former staff from the now-closed Frankford Arsenal and a large list of fellow collectors and researchers.
This current Volume III is designed and edited by another recognized expert in cartridge collecting, Cmdr. Melvin R. Carpenter III, U.S. Navy (Ret.), and is published by his company MRC3 Publishing. Carpenter has another book of his own out that deals specifically with the Gyrojet mini-rocket concept. He is currently working on another book about the Dardick tround cartridges. There is no release date yet for the later book, but I intend to review both books when they are released.
This book will certainly appeal to advanced cartridge collectors, especially collectors of rare and oddball military ammo. I can also see this book being of great interest to inventors, to avoid re-inventing something that has been tried before and having the same issues repeat.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V24N2 (Feb 2020)