The military rifle cartridges of Australia: from Sniders to AUGs.
In 1768, the famous English navigator, Capt. James Cook, landed at Botany Bay on the eastern coast, claimed the region for England and named it New South Wales. Cook's later voyages added information on the Australian landmass and cemented Britain's claims to the continent.
While considered unsuitable for large-scale European settlement, the British saw it as a perfect place to resettle convicts, and established several penal colonies. By the mid-1800s, more than 150,000 prisoners had been transported to New South Wales and Western Australia.
British officers were granted large tracts of land, and convicts were assigned to them as laborers. Later, land grants were extended to enlisted men of the corps and prisoners who had completed their terms. Beginning in 1793, free settlers began arriving. The period from 1820s to the 1880s saw the establishment of new colonies along the coasts, tile expansion of stock raising in the interior, and the discovery of gold. All of these led to increased European immigration.
Australia had little in the way of industry and almost all manufactured goods, including firearms, were imported from Britain. The frenzy of immigration brought on by the gold rushes of 1851 and 1871 led to a rapid increase in population--and increasing social discontent.
Brigandage became widespread as gangs of bush rangers, led by such colorful characters as Ned Kelly, robbed banks, stagecoaches, gold camps and wealthy cattle and sheep stations (ranches). To address these problems, each of the six colonies (later states) established paramilitary constabularies.
The first Australian troops to serve outside the country were 2,500 volunteers who went to New Zealand between 1863-1872 to take part in the Maori Wars towards the end of which breech-loading Snider-Enfield rifles and carbines, first saw use.
* .577 Snider-the Cartridge S.A. Ball B.L. Snider Mark I used a case made up of overlapping, flat brass strips and was encased in a brown heavy paper tube for additional strength and protection. Attached to this was a drawn brass base cup with an iron rim and a centerfire primer. Its 525-grain hollow based bullet had a hollow point that was filled with a wooden plug, while a clay plug in the hollow base assured that the bullet expanded upon firing to engage the rifling. Seventy grains of blackpowder produced a muzzle velocity of approximately 1200 fps. The later, and more widely used. Mark III and IX cartridges were loaded with a 480-grain bullet.
By the time the last British garrisons were withdrawn in 1870, the six Australian colonies had formed their own part-time reserve units, known as Militia o, Volunteers in addition to full time, professional artillery units.
In 1885, New South Wales provided an infantry battalion, with artillery and support units, to the British campaign in the Sudan. It was during this time that the Australians began replacing their aging Sniders with Martini-Henry rifles and carbines.
* .450 Martini the Martini-Henry was chambered for the Cartridge S.A. Ball for B.L. Martini-Henry which used bottlenecked, Boxer-type cartridge with a coiled brass body attached to a rimmed, brass base. Its 480-grain. paper-patched bullet was driven to 1350 fps by 85 grains of blackpowder.
During large-scale labor unrest in the early l890s, various colonies threatened to use militia against strikers. This proved very unpopular and led to successful political campaigns against the formation of a standing army. Thus a "two army" system was established whereby all infantry units would be militia while the only standing forces would be artillery units, most intended for coastal defense. In an effort to upgrade their military equipment, the Australians arranged to have most of their Martinis rebarreled for the new .303 cartridge.
* .303 Mark I Cordite the Martini-Enfield used a rimmed, bottlenecked case 56mm long loaded with 30 grains of Cordite that propelled its 215-grain round-nosed, full metal-jacketed bullet to a velocity of 1970 fps.
In 1899, all six colonies sent contingents of mounted infantry to serve with the British army in South Africa. Known as Bushmen's Contingents, when it came to horsemanship, marksmanship and bush craft, they were the equals of their wily Afrikaner foes although some units became notorious for their lack of military discipline.
One of these, the Bushveldt Carbineers, was the unit of the infamous Harry "Breaker" Morant who was tried and hanged for executing Boer prisoners. While originally armed with Martini-Enfields, most Australians serving in South Africa were reequipped with the Magazine Rifle, Lee-Enfield Mark I.
In 1900, the Australians provided a Naval Brigade as part of the British contingent sent to suppress the Boxer Rebellion in China.
The Commonwealth of Australia was established in January 1901 and that March, the 1,457 professional soldiers, 18,603 paid militia and 8,863 unpaid volunteers were formed into the new Australian Army. A new militia, the Citizen Military Force, was established which, by law, could not serve outside the country.
As the British army improved its rifle ammunition, the Australian Army updated its rifles for the new cartridges.
* .303 Mark VI-adopted in 1904, the Mark VI used a rimmed, bottlenecked case 56mm in length topped with a 215-grain FMJ bullet that a 32.5-grain charge of Cordite drove to a velocity of 2050 fps.
Established in 1907, the Small Arms Factory at Lithgow began production of the No. 1 Mark III Short Magazine Lee-Enfield (SMLE) in 1912 and would continue to manufacture them until 1957.
* .303 Mark VII-this round was approved for service in 19.10. It was loaded with a 174-grain FMJ, flat based, spitzer bullet that 37 grains of Improved Cordite drove to a velocity of 2440 fps. This would remain the standard rifle cartridge of the Australian Army well into the 1960s.
With the outbreak of the Great War, the Australian Army provided troops to the Allied effort. While some units served in the Pacific and on the Western Front in Europe, the vast majority of Aussies fought the Turks in the Middle East.
During the bloody stalemate at Gallipoli, their skill at constructing trench lines, bomb proof shelters and bunkers earned them the famous sobriquet Diggers. Aussie troops were instrumental in preventing the Turks from capturing the vital Suez Canal and then went on to defeat Ottoman forces in Palestine and Syria.
In 1939 the Australian Army sent four divisions to help England, which fought with distinction in North Africa, Greece, Crete, Lebanon and Syria. With the entry of Japan into the conflict, most Aussie units were recalled to fight the Japanese in New Guinea and the islands of the Indonesian archipelago.
During the fighting in New Guinea, Aussie troops operating alongside American forces often used M1 Garand rifles so as to simplify ammunition supply. The Aussies also obtained numbers of U.S. M1 Carbines which proved very popular for close range, jungle fighting.
* Cartridge Ball, Caliber .30 M2-the M1 was chambered for the Caliber .30 M2 cartridge (.30-'06), a rimless bottlenecked case 2.494" (63mm) long containing a 150-grain FMJ, spitzer bullet with a muzzle velocity of 2800 fps.
* .30 Carbine--the .30 Carbine cartridge consisted of a rimless, tapered case 33mm in length, loaded with a round-nosed, ll0-grain FMJ bullet moving at 1970 fps.
Australian troops served again in Southeast Asia during the Malayan Emergency (1948-1960) and provided a division to the UN forces during the Korean War. Following the example of the British army-and other Commonwealth forces-in 1958, Lithgow began production of a licensed copy of the FN-FAL rifle, known as the 7.62mm Rifle L1A1.
* 7.62mmm NATO the L1A1 was chambered for the 7.62mm NATO cartridge which Uses a rimless, bottlenecked case 51mm long and a 148-grain boattail, FMJ bullet at a velocity of 2750 fps.
Between 1966 and 1971, three Australian infantry battalions and an SAS unit served in Vietnam in both training and combat roles. While serving in Vietnam, many of the Aussies replaced [Cont. to page 26] their cumbersome L1A1 rifles with M16A1s. After leaving Vietnam, the Australian Army continued to issue the M16A1 to specialist units.
* 5.56mm M193--the M16's cartridge consisted of a rimless, bottlenecked case 45mm long whose 55-grain FMJ, boattail, spitzer bullet reached a velocity of 3170 fps.
While searching for a replacement for the L1A1. the Australians purchased considerable numbers of Colt M4 carbines. After extensive trials, in 1988. the Steyr-designed AUG assault rifle-known as the Rifle F88-was adopted and licensed manufacture began at Lithgow.
* 5.56mm SS109-also known as the 5.56mm NATO, the present Australian issue rifle cartridge uses a rimless, bottlenecked case 45mm topped with a 62-grain FMJ boattail bullet, moving at 3000 fps. The bullet has a steel insert in its tip that provides improved Penetration on body and light vehicle armor.
Since 1979, Australian troops have served with UN peacekeeping forces in Namibia, Somalia and Timor. They also took part in the 1991 Persian Gulf War and, at present, in excess of 2,000 Digger's are serving alongside their American and British allies in Iraq.
I would like to thank Astrid Vallati, Ian Skennerton and Daniel Cotterill for supplying information and photos used to prepare this report.
Each colony was independent and they often placed orders for weapons with little regard towards standardization. In 1867 South Australia purchased 500 Enfields converted by Holland & Holland to fire the .577 cartridge by the Albini method. In the early 1870s. New South Wales obtained 2500 Alexander-Henry breech loading rifles in .450 Martini.
Photos by James Waiters & Nathan Reynolds
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|Date:||Aug 1, 2009|
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