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Discuss the British .38-200 load; .38 S&W

Discussion in 'Handguns: Revolvers' started by Lone Star, Jan 4, 2017.

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  1. Lone Star

    Lone Star Member

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    The OP of the .455 Webley thread asked that we not pollute its purity by also discussing the .38-200 load that replaced the .455, beginning in 1929, although many .455's were still used in WWII.

    Due to German protests in 1938, the 200 grain .38 lead bullet was replaced by a 178 grain jacketed bullet, to comply with the Hague Accords re bullets in civilized warfare. By WWII, Commonwealth forces were using the FMJ rounds. The reduction in bullet weight was probably due to jacketed bullets having greater bore friction than lead bullets. Thus, the same velocity could be maintained with jacketed bullets. If there is any other reason for reduction in bullet weight, I haven't seen it mentioned.

    Some S&W revolvers actually had bullets stick in the bores in RAF target shooting. I read this in a UK gun magazine. I think this was because some .38 Special barrels were mismarked and were used on .38-200 guns sent to the UK. A member here posted that he has a .38 that has just a .356 bore diameter. On the other hand, his gun was re-worked by Parker-Hale or Cogswell & Harrison to .38 Special after WWII and may have had both the bbl. and cylinder replaced. So, I'm not sure what that tells us. Most such reworks left the .38-200 barrel in place, just reboring the chambers to accept the longer .38 Special ammo.

    It is more likely that some barrels were bored on the tight end of permissible specs and that they may be marginal for use with low velocity FMJ loads. I have never heard of this with Enfield or Webley .38's, just the wartime S&W guns. Over 568,000 were supplied to the Commonwealth nations, and most must have been okay, or we'd have read more about the issue and the British govt. would have raised heck over the matter. Also, it seems odd that the matter arose with RAF target shooting teams after the war, during the 1950's. Maybe they had some lots of ammo that had slightly oversized bullets or were loaded too lightly. But Enfield and Webley guns probably do have slightly wider bore specs. If anyone reading this has one and can "slug" the barrel, please post your findings.

    That said, assuming that the guns and ammo had the right specs and functioned as they should, was the .38-200 an effective defense or military round?

    I read, I think in Gen. Hatcher's writings, that a cop in the US shot a fleeing thug in the back with a .38 S&W chambered gun using the US version of the 200 grain lead bullet. This ammo had a wider profile bullet nose than did the more tapered UK ammo. The idea of the 1929 UK load was to cause the bullet to tumble in tissue, causing greater wound damage. So, the loads are not the same despite having lead bullets at the same velocity, or very close. The shot felon had a bullet dug out of him that measured some .75 caliber! Maybe it'd expanded on bone? This was at a range of 75 yards. Wow!

    The late David W. Arnold, a South African gun writer and cop (in Rhodesia) told me that he'd fired .38-200 guns at an old British Army greatcoat, and that the bullets did not penetrate the coat! But on another board, someone shot those bullets into wooden planks and got full penetration and they sailed through an old coat easily.

    I read an account by a British officer who shot an Italian soldier in North Africa in the back with a 38. The man did go down and was taken to an aid station with the Briton, who had also been wounded. This was at El Alamein or another battle in that area. They waited for hours for surgery, the Italian in great pain. He finally died. Not a swell example of the low velocity .38's power. But it did penetrate deeply enough to cause a fatal wound.

    It is interesting to note that when Churchill formed his Commando units in 1940 to raid German lines, he insisted that their handguns be the Colt .45 automatic! Did he realize that the .38-200 was too weak to be a good combat round? He personally carried a .45 and offered one to his police bodyguard, who declined, as his issued Webley .32 auto was lighter and handier. Churchill had bought a .45 auto in 1915 for his WWI service, and presumably considered it as the best available battle handgun.

    Personally, I lack faith in the .38-200, with either lead or jacketed ammo, and also disliked the .38 Special M-41 ammo I had to carry as a USAF cop in the 1960's. Our NCOIC went off base with unit funds and bought some .38 Hi-Velocity ammo (.38-44) and I felt better with that. I sometimes carried a .45 auto instead, but our stash of ,45 ammo was old and had been much abused by repeatedly running it though magazines over the years. At another base, we had newer .45 ammo, and I had full confidence in it.

    My brother had an AD with a S&W .38-200. This gun had a six-inch bbl. and was probably made in 1940-41. He used commercial US .38 S&W ammo, I think Remington. The bullet struck the end of a copy of, Haven & Belden's , A History of the Colt Revolver, 1836-1940. The book was lying on a shelf about ten feet away. The bullet penetrated about an inch in the tough, good weight paper. I imagine that penetration in flesh would have been greater, but that was still poor performance.

    Anyway, that about covers my knowledge of the .38 S&W/.38-200 load. Please add your thoughts. If you've shot any dogs, coyotes, raccoons, etc. with that round, what was your experience?
     
    Last edited: Jan 4, 2017
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  2. PabloJ

    PabloJ member

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    The .38/200 was designed for British officers most of whom did not have experience with handguns and did like to shoot them. This was big improvement over large and bulky .455 revolvers. The British .38 Webley and Enfield revolvers are relatively small light and are very easy to shoot well. Their sights are superior to just about anything available on handguns at that time.
    By comparison the 1911 was large, heavy had inferior sights was less reliable and far, far more difficult to shoot well for someone not used to shooting handguns.
     
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2017
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  3. Deaf Smith

    Deaf Smith Member

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    Well, if the true 200 grain load at a true 700 fps is used it would be a marginal round AT BEST. But below that velocity and bullet weight it starts lacking penetration.

    And one does not have much room to play since 'hotloading' top breaks is never a wise idea.

    If all I had was my Webely Pocket Model .38 S&W and some 200 gr loads that made 700 fps from that 3 inch barrel it would get me through the night. But once it sinks into the 600 fps it won't penetrate any barriers.

    Like I said, it's a marginal round at best.

    Deaf
     
  4. Monac

    Monac Member

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    Can a 380/200 kill someone? You darn betcha. So can it's replacement in British service, the 380/178. Is it a good choice for self defence by the standards of 2016? Not by a country mile. Was it a good choice back in WWII? It doesn't seem to have compared well to 9mm Luger, 45 ACP, or even 380 ACP. (See note.) Is it better or worse than the parent cartridge, 38 S&W? Beats me. These are my opinions, and I could come up with some arguments and information to support them if I had too.

    Note - I'd rather have a Tokarev or a 9mm Corto Beretta or a French 1935 than a 380 Enfield or Webley. I'd rather have 380 Webley or Enfield than a Type 94 Nambu. 32 ACP? IDK. Probably rather have one of those, if it was a gun I could shoot well with, like a Colt 1903 or a Beretta.
     
  5. golden

    golden Member

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    Many decades ago, I think it was GUN WORLD magazine that tested the .38 Special 200 grain "SUPER POLICE" load. They shot a car window and the round would not penetrate the glass it was as least as powerful as the .38 S&W load.
    The L.A P.D. used this load and the chief was quoted in a magazine as liking it because it probably would not kill a police officer who lost control of his gun in a confrontation with a criminal. I can under stand his reasoning, I just think he was completely wrong.
     
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  6. JC111

    JC111 Member

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    It isn't the best choice for self-defense, but it is a fun load to shoot. I've fired a box (it's also a pricey load) of the U.S. S&W 38 load through my Colt OP and the recoil was nil. It was lots of fun though.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
     
  7. reddog81

    reddog81 Member

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    It's a marginal round for self defense. If I was in the military I’d definitely want something more powerful. In a self defense shooting it’s likely to happen at very close ranges. At a close ranges the load should be as good as a 32 ACP, .380 ACP, and probably better than a 22lr which of course can seriously injure a person. The round only trails .38 special by 100 to 200 FPS and that round was the police standard for decades.


    In the military you could be taking 100 yard shots or further. At those ranges you’d have to aim 2 feet over someone’s head just to get a center mass shot. At 200 yards you’d have to have a 10 foot holdover. That bullet really starts to drop like a rock. For comparison a 9mm round at 100 yards has 8 inches of drop


    I think the fact that the bullet is so ballistically unstable that the second it hits soft tissue it start to tumble is not a good thing. 600-700 FPS is the bare minimum to ensure the bullets leave the barrel and remain spinning for at least short ranges.
     
  8. ArchAngelCD

    ArchAngelCD Member

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    I'm not sure why so many shooters think the 38/200 is a joke because its not. It is if course not as effective as currentS ammo available today but not a joke.

    I build 38/200 ammo for my Enfield and I can safely push that 200gr bullet to 600 fps using W231. 200gr @600fps hitting you in the chest will put you down and if correctly placed it will end your life.

    I use a Lyman #358430 bullet but I like the 170gr bullet from a H&G #512 mold best for that gun. I don't remember the velocity with that bullet, sorry.

    Here is a photo of the 170gr flat nose bullet and loaded ammo.

    [​IMG]
     
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  9. Sunray

    Sunray Member

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    "...The .38/200 was designed for British officers..." Um, no. It was designed because the British government was bankrupt after W.W. I but still wanted a more powerful hand gun cartridge than the standard .38 S&W. Using the 200 grain bullet was the attempted solution. Nothing to do with tumbling or anything else. Even in W.W. I and II, handguns were strictly defensive tools for officers(purchased, not issued, up to and including W.W. II) and armoured crew(no room in a Valentine, Matilda or Cromwell for any longer weapon. You had to get out of the vehicle to change your mind.)
    "...some .38 Special barrels were mismarked..." Possibly, but .38 meant .38/200 S&W to the Brits.
     
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  10. Monac

    Monac Member

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    The British issued revolvers to military police, aircrew, and artillerymen in World War I, as well as officers. As I understand, they issued revolvers more widely than that, because of their usefulness in trench fighting, although that may have been enlisted men and non-coms getting their hands on things outside of official channels (like the US Sergeant York and his Luger). Certainly every other country in WWI issued pistols on a wide scale, ramping up production and buying from foreign sources (like S&W, in the case of the British).

    And I have read several British authors who remarked on the bullet-tumbling thing as a way for the British Army to claim that the .380 Enfield was just as good a man-stopper as the .455 it was replacing.

    What the British wanted was to replace the .455 with something that conscript troops could be trained to shoot adequately in less time than the .455, which everyone agreed was a fine gun, but whose stout recoil was a problem for people who had never shot a pistol before. 38/200 was touted as a good manstopper with mild recoil. It got adopted as 380 Enfield, then changed to a 178 FMJ bullet. Nobody ever said it was a joke, but very few people seem to have thought it was as good as, say, 9mm Parabellum, let alone 45 ACP.

    What was a joke was switching to the DAO Enfield Mk II and issuing negligible quantities of ammunition for training (because 380 Enfield was a distant third in UK small arms ammo priority, after .303 and 9mm), thus defeating the whole point of the shooting-adequately exercise. They'd have been money ahead to stick with .455. Or to have recognized that sub-machine guns were NOT "gangster weapons", and that the British Army needed one, with a cartridge to match.
     
    Last edited: Jan 8, 2017
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  11. Deaf Smith

    Deaf Smith Member

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    York didn't use a Luger (the show used it cause they couldn't get a 1911 to function with blanks.) York used a 1911 .45 ACP.

    And that 1911 was way, way, ahead of the .38 S&W. British Tommies in the Desert War (WW2) sought out 1917 .45 revolvers. Picked them over their Webley .455s to.

    Deaf
     
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  12. Monac

    Monac Member

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    Yep, you're right about York, Deaf Smith. I thought the legend was that he used a M1917 revolver when actually he had a Luger, but Wikipedia says it was a 1911, like you do.

    And he wasn't even a Sergeant yet, he go promoted from Corporal afterward. Shows how pistols filtered down through the ranks.
     
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  13. Mk VII

    Mk VII Member

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    The quality control in the Service load was rather poor - in particular they did not pick up on underloaded rounds because the variation in charge weight was not significant in relation to loaded-round weight.
    After the war the Metropolitan Police tested a quantity of surplus-to-requirements US revolvers the War Office had offered them and experienced numerous bullet-in-the-bore instances which turned them off the idea of using them. Of course it was the war-surplus ammo that was at fault. (they wouldn't spend any money actually buying guns or ammo at commercial rates)
     
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  14. Lone Star

    Lone Star Member

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    MK VII-

    Thanks! That confirms a long-held suspicion on my part! In the case I cited, the shooting team probably all had S&W's so that brand got the blame.

    They were also very miserly in distributing ammo. Each man issued a revolver normally got just 12 rounds: enough to load the cylinder and have just one reload! I gather that Germans got a 25-round box that was supposed to last the war. This was the same, whether they had a 7.65mm or a 9mm. This seems miserly to Americans.

    I understand that Commando and other special operations personnel got more, for better training.

    BTW, as long as we have an Englishman here, have you seen the photo of Lord Lovat returning from the Dieppe raid? Has a sporting rifle slung so that one can't see any but the barrel, and a .45 auto (I think) on his right hip. The photo quality I've seen is poor, but it looks as if he may have a magazine pouch sewn to the holster. Have you seen sharper photos that would show that? Which holster were UK forces issued when using the Colt .45 auto? I realize that Lovat's Scouts was a special unit, not regular Army. More of a Commando regiment...

    In the film, "A Bridge Too Far", Sir Sean Connery, playing Maj. Gen. Roy Urquhart, wore a .45 auto, but seemed to have the regular Pattern 37 holster for .38 revolvers. Photos of the real general are frontal, so you can't see his holster well. Have you any definite answer as to what pistol the general carried? I know that some British paratroop units had .45's and some had the new Browning 9mm. I've seen a photo of the Red Devils at Arnhem showing several men advancing with drawn handguns, and both a revolver and an auto pistol are seen, but the photo was taken at a distance and no detail of the guns is visible. The auto is probably either a Browning 9mm or a Colt.

    Is, "Guns Review" still being published there? We almost never see UK gun magazines here. Those that I've found were usually in used book stores, probably brought back by a tourist.

    Do you know what became of Churchill's pistols after the 1997 gun law passed? They were in the hands of the family until then.

    Thanks so much for your comment about poor quality of wartime .38 ammo, which probably extended to .455 ammo, too. Was Canadian handgun ammo also flawed? I'm hoping that it at least had non-corrosive primers, what you people still call "caps." ??

    I was shocked to read that some British soldiers took to trying to tap a flange/rim onto captured German 9mm ammo, to let it work in. .38 revolvers. They apparently didn't realize the differences in pressure, which might well have blown a cylinder, had the ammo fired!

    As far as I've been able to determine, US .38 Special ammo issued to Naval and Marine air crews, some OSS agents, Coast Guard, etc. was a full power (850 FPS) jacketed round. It was not the weaker M-41 round adopted by the USAF in the 1950's. I always felt uneasy when issued that stuff. At one base, the NCO who ran the arms room took unit funds and bought commercial .38-44 Hi-Velocity ammo off base. I felt a lot better with it. It was a 150 grain jacketed bullet, to comply with the Hague Accords. If fired extensively in our K-frame S&W's, it'd have caused excess wear, with the guns developing cylinder endshake sooner. But we'd have fired so little of it in battle that that wasn't a serious issue for us. We used commercial .38 wadcutter ammo for most training.
     
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  15. Mk VII

    Mk VII Member

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    I guess this is the one you mean

    http://gallery.commandoveterans.org...the+Dieppe+raid+19-08-42+at+Newhaven.jpg.html

    It looks like something is sewn to the holster. Can't tell what's inside, the size looks like an ordinary revolver holster. Can't tell what the rifle is. (Lovat was in charge of 4 Commando, not the Lovat Scouts, which he was fired from quite early on in the war after falling-out with the CO).
    There is a larger holster that sort-of fits the .45, though I had to go through a suitcase-full to find one that fitted easily.
    I doubt any Brownings would have been issued in time for Arnhem, they were only just starting to trial the first ones that had arrived from Canada. They don't turn up in battlefield museums there, unless they are German ones.
    Guns Review ceased publication in early 1997, the holding company changed hands and magazine had a change of editor, published one issue and then disappeared forever.
    Don't know what happened to the Churchill guns, I do know he had Part Five authority for whatever-he-had as late as the early 60s.
    I guess the Canadian ammo was made to the same specs.


    In a lecture delivered in 2006 about the various pistols acquired in the war, Mr. Ian Patrick gave the following bore dimensions of various revolvers [can't display this table properly]

    Land / Groove

    Enfield + war finish Webley . 352 / .360

    Webley commercial .350 / .360

    S&W .380 .350 / .360

    .38 Sp S&W .346 / .356

    .380 & .38 & .357 Colt .347 / .354


    Colts longer than 5” were counterbored to leave 5” of rifling.
     
  16. Lone Star

    Lone Star Member

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    Thanks. This is some of the best info I've seen on the matter. I didn't know about the Scouts. I thought he was sttill the commander, as they bore his name.

    In the film, "The Longest Day", he was portrayed going ashore in Normandy with a Mannlicher-Schoenauer carbine, presumably originally acquired for deerstalking.

    If you look carefully at his holster in that photo, I think it shows a .45 automatic's butt.

    Thanks for the bit about Brownngs not being availalbe in time for Arnhem.

    I imagine that Canadian .38 ammo was made to the same specs, but maybe with greater care. And they probably used flake powder, not Cordite. BTW, I've seen boxes of ammo in pics that were loaded by Dominon/CIL in .45 Colt for New Service revolvers bought by the Royal Canadian Navy in 1940. Those were new revolvers, not obtained from stocks with the RCMP. They were probably the last New Service order made in any significant quantity.

    Re the Churchill guns, what was Part Five authority?
     
    Last edited: Jan 8, 2017
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  17. cxm

    cxm Member

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    The 38 S&W ammo as currently loaded in the U.S. is very weak... intentionally because of the large number of cheaply made top break revolvers that exist in North America... Many were imported and many made in the U.S. using very suspect steel. Ammo makers are justifiably concerned by turning a cheap old top break into a mini hand grenade. I have been re-loading the 38S&W for a very long time. I load a 195gr cast lead alloy round nose flat point bullet. This is a relatively accurate accurate despite the fact the bullet is sized to .358. I mostly shoot it out of two 1940 vintage S&W 5" 38/200 revolvers... one shipped to South Africa and one to Australia. (interestingly both have commercial finish and medallion commercial stocks.) By hand loading it is possible to improve the performance of the 38S&W considerable... in quality solid revolvers it is possible to safely duplicate 38 SPL performance.

    My understanding is the 380 Revolver ammo actually made in the U.K. (and possibly other colonial makers) used cordite sticks for ammo and the cordite was not weighed, rather it was loaded based on the number of sticks put in the case (which I understand is also true of .303 ammo and at least some 7.92x57 ammo loaded during WWII in UK.) This apparently worked reasonably well, though cordite as small arms propellant seems less than optimum... it is very erosive and with age become unstable.

    Right after WWII some hand loaders tinkered with magnumISH loads for the 38S&W using the inexpensive, but high quality S&W and Colt's revolvers that were readily available. Ultimately, I think the smaller powder capacity limited the versatility of this idea... but I recall reading that some good results were achieved.

    Some of the holsters I have seen in photos of WWII Empire troops armed with 1911s seem to be the same pattern holster use for the Webley .455 Auto.

    When stationed in central Germany in the early 1970s we would see British Army of the Rhine Troops with .380 Enfield revolvers from time to time in the early 1970s in Germany though in theory at least they had been supplanted by the Browning HP in the 1960s. It may have been some were retained "Off the TOE" to allow more troops to have sidearms. As an aside I also saw a FN built HP being used by the Brits in Germany... I was told some captured occupation built HPs were taken into British stocks at the end of the war and used along with their Ingllis HPs. I have not heard of this anywhere else, but I can confirm at least one was used by the Brits.

    My memory may be failing me, but I seem to recall Laird Lovet at times carried a sword in combat... The holster in the photo seems to be of the type used for Webley 455Autos (and I believe for 1911s acquired in WWI) and may have been used in WWII as well.

    The Brits situation was very complex in part because of their losing a great part of the BEF's equipment at Dunkirk (which is to say a considerable proportion of the British Army's equipment) evacuation. This resulted in a mad scramble for small arms and as a result the British purchasing commission bought a bunch of handguns that were non standard... S&Ws, Colts, H&R, H&A, High Standard for example... they bought 38S&W; 38SPL, .45ACP (revolvers and autos) .32s and .22s... probably others as well. I am lead to believe most of the odd stuff wound up in the hands of the Home Guard (along with a BUNCH of M1917 Enfields.) As a result it was possible just about any revolver or auto could have been in the hands of the Brits.

    FWIW

    Chuck
     
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  18. Jim Watson

    Jim Watson Member

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    The British did not issue much revolver ammo, somebody here said 12 rounds, I have seen mention of 18.
    Takes me back to the good old days when you could mailorder guns, plenty of Webleys and Enfields available, but not much surplus .455 or .38/200 ammo.
    Back when an Englishman might own a pistol, Webley sold front sights of the correct height to zero with 146 gr .38 S&W instead of .38/200, there just was not a lot of the service ammo around.

    I think Revolver Cordite is chopped into granular form, a British source says .05". The .38/200 load was 3.5 grains RC. But .38 S&W got 3 grains of Revolver Neonite. Same source says that is a flake nitrocellulose powder.
     
  19. cxm

    cxm Member

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    The 38/200 ammo I have taken down (two types) used sticks... that of course does not prove that is all that was used..., nor even that that every factory used the same stuff with each lot... so you are likely correct that some was loaded with different forms of cordite.

    I had not thought about how much 38/200 was actually made... if the issue quantity was 12 or 18 rounds the Brit Army would not require vast quantities of the stuff, unlike other countries whose SMGs also used the service pistol ammo... makes sense...

    I need to check and verify but it seems a saw an ad recently in an old issue of a gun magazine offering 380 revolver at $900/100 which was pretty steep in those days... supporting your info about it being fairly scarce.

    FWIW

    Chuck


     
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  20. Jim Watson

    Jim Watson Member

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    Looks like autopsy trumps Google.

    Rifle Cordite was loaded by the length of the bundle with size and number of strands stated.
     
  21. Mk VII

    Mk VII Member

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    Considerable quantities of N.C. powder were imported by the British; as the Textbook of Ammunition remarks, in most cases either is suitable and in war the supply position often governs the choice.
     
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