February 07, 2022
Collecting and shooting World War II-vintage surplus rifles is a relatively inexpensive shooting activity that gives gun enthusiasts a connection to the past and to those who served. Surplus ammunition had been available for some of these guns until the recent social and political upheaval, particularly for mainstream calibers such as .30 Carbine, .30-’06 Springfield, 8x57mm JS Mauser, .303 British and 7.62x54R. (I will cover the Japanese 6.5mm and 7.7mm rounds in a later column.) As of May 2021, my surplus ammunition suppliers report that there is nothing available for shooting these historic rifles. I can’t find pulled surplus projectiles to reload either, and I don’t expect this to change soon. So, what options remain?
Assuming you have access to components, this article will help some through the handloading process to produce mil-spec ammunition that will regulate with the sights and give proper ballistics for shooting World War II rifles. The information is based on original performance specifications for these cartridges and current component projectiles and propellants to match. Bear in mind, the velocities about to be quoted are from minimum-specification test barrels. Your mass-produced, likely used, rifle will not produce these velocities with one exception: The 29-inch-barreled Mosin-Nagant.
The .30-caliber M1 Carbine and ammunition were both developed by Winchester and adopted by the U.S. Army in 1941. The concept was to provide rear-echelon troops with a more effective, longer-range firearm than a handgun. It’s interesting to note that Winchester, in early discussions with the Army, had proposed using the Winchester .351 Self Loading (SL) cartridge. However, the Army wanted a .30-caliber cartridge for less recoil and greater magazine capacity. The .30 Carbine, for all practical purposes, is a scaled-down Winchester .351 SL.
The original 1941 load specifications for the Ball M1 round was 13 grains of WC 820 Ball propellant, a .308-inch 110-grain round-nose (RN), flat-base (FB) projectile traveling at 1,900 feet per second (fps) at 53 feet from the muzzle with a chamber pressure is 40,000 pound-force per square inch (psi). The muzzle velocity from the 18-inch M1 Carbine barrel is approximately 1,980 fps.
Reloading for the .30 Carbine is straightforward. The case headspaces off of the case mouth and, as such, the trim length must be monitored closely. Keep the trim length within the specifications listed in the reloading guide. Hornady and Speer both offer a 110-grain RN FB full-metal-jacket (FMJ) bullets that closely match original projectiles. Hornady (hornady.com) and Speer (speer.com) offer RN soft-point (SP) projectiles that provide expansion from the M1 Carbine. Surplus FMJ projectiles can be found on the internet, mostly Armscor’s (armscor.com). The M1 Carbine can be rather finicky about what will feed well, and I would stay away from projectiles that have any kind of a flat point, particularly a soft point. For propellant, WC 296 and H110 are very close in performance to the original specification Ball propellant. They will both produce true-to-spec velocity, provide reliable functioning and regulate well with the sights. Vihtavuori N110 also works well, although it loads at lower charge weights and produces a little less velocity. It burns cleaner than the Ball propellants and usually provides better accuracy.
The original loading for the .30-’06 Springfield in 1906 was a .308-inch, 150-grain Spitzer FB projectile. After World War I, the Army experimented with a heavier 172-grain boattail (BT) projectile. The project was scrapped as a service load because its capabilities exceeded the safety parameters used to design almost all of the Army’s small-arms ranges. The Army went back to the original 150-grain FB FMJ loading of 1906 when it adopted the Ball M2 loading in 1938, but the weight was increased to 152 grains. The performance specifications for the Ball M2 round with 50 grains of IMR 4895 was 2,740 fps, 78 feet from the muzzle, at 60,000 psi. I have seen charge weights in Ball M2 ammunition from 47 to 50 grains. The muzzle velocity is approximately 2,805 fps.
The Ball M2 projectile has a long, sleek ogive optimized to the head height of the .30-’06. Unlike almost all currently produced .30-caliber projectiles, it does not defer to the shorter head height of the .300 Winchester Magnum. The ballistic coefficient (BC) of the M2 Ball projectile is nominally .390 (G1).
To reproduce loads that will match up well to the M2 Ball load look at 150- to 155-grain boattail projectiles close to a .400 G1 BC. The boattail will allow these shorter-ogive projectiles to match up well for BC with the longer-ogive M2 projectile. Doing this will produce a good match to the rear sight regulation. Projectiles that are a good fit include Hornady’s 150-grain FMJ-BT and 150-grain SST, Nosler’s 150-grain ballistic tip and Sierra’s 150-grain MatchKing (MK). The heavier 155-grain Hornady AMAX, Nosler Custom Competition and Sierra MK projectiles have a G1 BC closer to .450, but these would provide good results with either Garand or Springfield rifles.
Propellants that provide the proper charge weight and performance are medium-speed powders such as Alliant RL-15, Hodgdon Varget, IMR 4895 and 4064, and VN135, 140 and 150.
The .303 British round was first introduced in December 1888. It was loaded with a .312-inch, 215-grain RN FB projectile and blackpowder. Double-base smokeless cordite strand propellant was adopted in 1891. The 215-grain RN projectile went through several design iterations. It was ultimately abandoned for the Mk VII, .312-inch, 174-grain Spitzer FB projectile in 1910. It is interesting to note this projectile had an aluminum or compressed wood fiber core in the nose that caused it to tumble quickly in soft tissue. Though it was a very deadly projectile, it still met Hague convention requirements because it was an FMJ design. This is the projectile that was predominantly used in Enfield rifles throughout World War II.
There was also a Mk VIIz round that used a single-base Dupont flake IMR propellant. In 1938, a 175-grain Spitzer boattail projectile called the Mk VIII was adopted to obtain greater range from the Vickers machine gun. It was loaded to higher pressure and velocity than the Mk VII load, and it was not recommended for general use in Enfield rifles since the boattail purportedly caused increased throat erosion.
Nominal loading specifications for the .303 British Mk VIIz load was 41 grains of single-base Dupont No. 16 propellant at 2,440 fps muzzle velocity and 53,000 psi. Cordite-loaded Mk VII loads produced the same performance with 37 grains of propellant.
There are no 174-grain FB .303 projectiles available from manufacturers today. However, Hornady produces a 174-grain FMJ-BT. This bullet essentially reproduces the Mk VIII projectile and produces very good results in any Enfield rifle. Hornady currently makes their bullets to a .3105-inch diameter.
Propellants appropriate for the .303 British are the same as the .30-’06: Alliant RL-15, Hodgdon Varget, IMR 4895 and 4064, and VN135, 140 and 150. The .303 British headspaces off the rim, and cases generally stretch a lot on the first firing. Do not full-length resize or case life will be two or three firings. Set your sizing die to bump the shoulder back .002 to .003 inch from the fired condition to provide better case life. Watch for signs of head separation with fired .303 British cases.
8x57mm JS (7.92x57mm IS) Mauser
The 8x57mm Mauser cartridge is known by several names, so let’s clear this up. There is the 8x57 J, or in Europe it is called the “I” version, and the “8x57 JS” or European “IS.” The difference is significant. The earlier J/I cartridge uses a .318-inch diameter projectile. The later JS/IS cartridge uses a .323-inch projectile. Both cartridges are loaded to nearly the same pressure, but if you can get a JS/IS cartridge to chamber and fire in a J/I rifle you will get very high pressures. The other problem is the guns chambered for J/I cartridges are older, late-1800s rifles, predominantly Gewehr 1888 models, which are not terribly strong.
The 8x57 JS was a follow-on development of the original 1888-vintage 8x57 J cartridge, which used a .318-inch 227-grain RN projectile. The 8x57mm was a first-generation smokeless propellant cartridge. In 1895, the rifling dimensions of the 8x57 were changed to .323-inch diameter to reduce wear and provide better accuracy. In 1903, after considerable research on bullet shape, the Germans changed to a 152-grain Spitzer FB projectile with an energetic double-base propellant. The bullet was in response to the 1898 French 8mm Lebel’s 198-grain Spitzer boattail projectile, and was used throughout World War I.
In 1933, the 152-grain load was changed to a 196-grain Spitzer boattail in order to achieve a longer effective range for machine guns. The load was designated the “s.S. Patrone.” In 1940, a mild steel-core 178-grain bullet was introduced in order to conserve lead; it was designated the “S.m.E.” load. By 1942, the new load was replacing the heavier Patrone ammunition.
The performance specification for the s.S. Patrone was 43 to 44 grains of a double-base flake propellant producing a muzzle velocity of 2,490 fps at 56,500 psi. The S.m.E. load was loaded with 43 to 44 grains of propellant with a muzzle velocity of 2,592 fps.
To reproduce 8x57 JS/IS loads of World War II vintage, the s.S. Patrone load can be matched by using the Nosler 200-grain Custom Competition or Sierra .323-inch 200-grain MK. For the S.m.E. load the Hornady 180-gr. GMX or 170-grain SST, Nosler 180-grain Ballistic Tip or Expansion Tip would work well. Other projectiles offered in this weight range from other manufacturers are FB bullets. These would work well for short-range shooting, but they would deviate from the sight regulation at longer distances. The best propellants for the 8x57 are the same as .30-’06 and .303 British.7.62x54R bullets (l. to r.): Hornady
7.62x54R (7.62 Russian)
The 7.62x54R Russian cartridge was introduced in 1891 for the Tsarist-era 1891 Mosin-Nagant rifle series. It was originally loaded with a 210-grain RN projectile that was replaced in 1908 by a 148-grain Spitzer FB FMJ bullet to keep pace with other European ammunition developments. The 148-grain projectile is essentially unchanged today. It is worth noting that this cartridge is used today by the Russian army in the Dragunov sniper rifle and PKM machine gun. The performance specifications for the 148-grain load is 50 to 51 grains of stick propellant with a muzzle velocity of 2,720 fps at 56,500 psi. Velocity from a 29-inch-barreled Mosin-Nagant rifle is approximately 2,850 fps.
Many reloading guides only show data for .308-inch diameter projectiles. This diameter projectile will not provide satisfying accuracy. The 7.62x54R was designed for .311- to .312-inch diameter bullets. CIP, the European equivalent of SAAMI, lists a maximum projectile diameter of .312 inch. I have measured some Mosin-Nagant rifles with grooves of .314 inch. Sierra offers .311-inch 150-grain soft points, and Hornady and Speer both offer .312-inch 150-grain soft-point projectiles. All of these would regulate well with the sights on a Mosin-Nagant and the scope on a 91/30 PU sniper. I have also used the Hornady .3105-inch, 174-grain boattail FMJ and Sierra’s .312-inch, 174-grain MK in my 91/30 PU for vintage sniper matches with very good results. They won’t regulate well with the elevation turret at longer ranges, but they do shoot quite well.
Propellants listed for .30-’06, 8x57 and .303 British also work with the 7.62x54R. Hornady’s Reloading Handbook lists loads for .312-inch projectiles.
If you collect and shoot World War II-vintage firearms, getting correct ammunition for them can be a challenge. However, with the right components, it is possible to produce ammunition that closely resembles the original loads.
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