.303 British rifle cartridges specifications and testing article. Information on .303 reloading.
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.VI: 6.5x54
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The .303 British
Classic African Cartridges Part VIII
Charlie Haley
~Adopted in 1888, the .303 arrived in the midst of a huge global upheaval in small arms development. It really was a bit much - one had just adopted a single shot breechloading black powder military rifle in a then gee-whiz smallbore .45 calibre (the.450 Martini-Henry), which had all seemed pretty state-of-the-art at the time, and now there were all these .30 calibre repeating rifles with jacketed bullets propelled by some new fangled smokeless powder.~

303 British Rifle Cartridge Comparison. Left to right: .577/450 Martini Henry, MKII .303, MKV Hollowpoint .303, MK7 .303, 8mm Mauser, 8x50R Mannlicher.
Left to right: .577/450 Martini Henry, MKII .303, MKV Hollowpoint .303, MK7 .303, 8mm Mauser, 8x50R Austrian Mannlicher.

Furthermore, velocities now approached (and even exceeded) TWO THOUSAND FEET PER SECOND! This was almost unbelievable in the black powder era, and opened up boundless possibilities as far as greater range and flatter trajectories were concerned. What was a chap to do? Being a major global power, the British Army couldnt exactly ignore such developments, and the .303 was the result.

Britain adopted a turn-bolt, magazine fed action invented by one James Paris Lee, mated to a barrel with segmental rifling invented by William Metford, the whole being known as the Lee-Metford rifle. There were two distinct peculiarities with regard to this new cartridge, however. One was that it was rimmed. Admittedly, all the previous black powder rounds had also been rimmed, but the 8mm Mauser round, also of 1888, was of rimless design, which was far more suited to repeating rifles. The second curiosity was that the .303 was originally loaded with black powder. All other major powers were changing to the new nitro smokeless propellant, invented by the French chemist Vielle and adopted by France (a major rival) in 1886. However, Britain, although adopting a smallbore round which was modern by contemporary standards, only went the smokeless route in the early 1890s. It appears that they were having problems with the development of a suitable smokeless propellant, and as a stop-gap measure used a compressed charge of 70 grains of black powder behind a 215 grain round nosed bullet. How they achieved this I dont know, as it is a physical impossibility to stuff 70 grains of black powder into a .303 case by any conventional method! This gave the aforementioned bullet a velocity of 1850 fps, which was still pretty respectable for its day.

Article continues below.

Eventually the propellant was changed from black powder to the famous Cordite in 1891 or 1892 (references differ as to the exact date of changeover) by means of the Mark 1 C cartridge, C denoting Cordite smokeless nitro propellant. A few minor changes necessitated by the new propellant resulted in the Mark II C cartridge. The same 215 grain bullet now achieved a velocity of 1970 fps, and everyone seemed satisfied.

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African Hunter Vol.5 No.4 August 1999
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