Carcano Ammunition - History & Headstamps

Italian Military Loadings
Headstamps / manufacturers codes


by Alexander Eichener

6.5 x 52 Carcano

As far as Carcani are concerned, the chicken-and-egg question can be answered clearly: the 6.5x52 cartridge came first, and only then a weapon was tailored around it. Incidentally, its rimmed predecessor, developed by Italian technicians who heavily drew on Swiss experiments, probably was copied by Ferdinand Ritter von Mannlicher and lateron he presented it to the world as "his" 6.5x53R Romanian and Dutch (the Brits called their Kynoch hunting loads ".256 Mannlicher").
The first cartridge type, called M91 like the rifle, used a hot two-based propellant, Alfred Nobel's Ballistite. Not only was it erosive and rapidly ruined the rifle's throats, but the Italian state also had to pay royalties to Nobel. So, it is no wonder that a single-based nitrocellulose powder was soon invented, the all-Italian "Solenite". The cartridge was then called M91/95 and always retained this name. The change was gradual, the last ball cartridges with Ballistite being produced in 1905/1906. For special applications (such as blanks), Ballistite was retained.

7,35 x 51

This cartridge was designed after 1935, and first entered service in 1938, together with the new M38 short rifle variant. Again, the egg seems to have preceded the chicken. Credit for the creation of this round (which is basically a necked-up 6.5x52, the case of which has been slightly shortened during the necking up, just as the Swedish 7x54 and 8x54 semi-wildcats) is usually given to Giuseppe Mainardi.
The reasons for the caliber change are still not entirely clear, and archival research will have to be conducted to answer the question decisively. I think that the following conjectures are reasonable:

7,35x51 Carcano Ammo Box from 1939
A picture of the 1939 ammunition box is supposed to be here
This is the front panel of a cardboard box of surplus S.M.I. 7.35x51 Carcano
purchased at a gun show by Gaetano Liberatore in October 1995.
Roughly translated the box says:

Number 18
Bullet (Ball) Cartridges caliber 7,35
for Short Rifle or Carbine
Pure Nitrocellulose Gunpowder
Campo Tizzoro (E.B) S.M.I. 1939
on 3 February 1939 - Year 17

It doesn't get that much older than this, as the M38, the rifle for which this round was intended, was adopted only the year before. But then again, it get that much younger as this ammunition would be shelved by 1940 upon Italy's entrance into World War II and subsequent re-adoption of the 6,5x52 Carcano caliber.
The rounds come in 3 clips (6 rounds per clip) for a total of 18 rounds. The 1938 produced ammunition differs from the 1939 version it that the bullet has a silvery colour (not copper/tombac, like the 1939) and a slightly different ogive form. The 1939 production seems much larger and more commonly encountered, as would expected due to this being the only "full" year of production for this round. I have not yet seen any 1940 ammo, but it was recently reported to me.
Original charger clips for the 7,35 x 51 should all be from black-blued steel, although the 6,5 x 52 brass clips work equally well. Dimensions are identical. The postwar repackaged ammunition sold in Germany as surplus in the 1970s has a yellow brownish-orange coloured box with no other text than a "Cal. 7.35" sticker. Due to German ammunitions law, the individual cartridges were colour stamped with the caliber and the importer's name "HEGE" along the case side.

Non-Italian Military Loads

The Austrian firm Hirtenberger fulfilled a major contract for the Italian ^M government after 1934. Some of those cartridges still show up today, mixed in^M with other Italian military rounds. They can be distinguished easily because they have a flat case bottom (no annular groove around the primer) and only have a star (*) as manufacturer's symbol. Also, their bullets are segment crimped, not triangular crimped like the contemporary Italian cartridges at this date still.

Winchester Repeating Arms, of the US, manufactured 6.5x52 Carcano under a CIA during the early 50's. The intended use is not clear, but varies from being supplemental production for the Italian Military, use during the Greek civil-war, anti-communist efforts in Albania, etc. These rounds found their way into the surplus market in the early 1960's. The rounds supposedly used by Lee Harvey Oswald to assassinate President John F. Kennedy were from this production.

Civilian loads

Rounds meant to be sold directly to civilians were produced early in the century by DWM and probably several others (Roth ?). Nowadays, only Norma offers two different factory loads in 6,5x52, of which the 160 grains roundnose SP bullets seems more easily accessible (it is also, as a general rule, more accurate than the 139 grains Spitzer SP bullet). Federal distributed Norma manufactured 139 FMJ rounds under its "American Eagle" brand name in the 1980s.
In 7.35x51, semi-commercial ammo (made by "Hayley") is distributed by Old Western Scrounger and by Cabela's; and in the past, Midway offered cases, softpoint bullets and loaded ammunition.
Another alternative to factory loaded ammunition is custom loaded ammunition. Most of this ammunition is based on either Norma Carcano 6.5 or, more surpringly less expensive, resized Norma 6.5x54 Mannlicher-Schönauer, capped off with commercially available .264" bullets, in the case of 6.5x52 Carcano, or custom swaged or cast .298"-.300" bullets, in the case of 7.35x51 Carcano.

Carcano Military Loadings

Thanks to Jeff Nowak for contributing the following excellent resource text. If you liked it, please drop him a short email too.

6.5mm Carcano cartridge

The 6.5mm Carcano cartridge (6.5X52mm) is a rimless, necked smokeless powder military cartridge that was developed in Italy C.1890 as a service cartridge and was used in both world wars. It was also used as a secondary service round by Greece and Ethiopia and likely Albania and Libia as well. Cartridge cases have been made of both brass and steel, and both berdan and boxer primers have been used. It has been loaded for military use in Italy, Austria and the United States. Sporting ammo has been loaded in Sweden and the United States.

The cartridge cases made in Italy have several unusual features. They use a unique primer dia of .204" ( aprox. 5mm), and there is a shoulder inside the neck of the case under the bullet to support it. The earliest cartridges, before about 1895, were headstamped in the conventional manner, but on later cartridges a deep groove is pressed into the head of the cartridge case around the primer and the headstamp appears as raised figures inside this groove. Some sources state that this was done for decorative effect, but stamping the headstamp in this way would also workharden the case and strengthen it in this critical area.

Performance of the standard ball load is a 162 grain (10.5 gram) full metal jacket, round nose bullet at aprox. 2300 fps (700 mps) muzzle velocity from the barrel of a short rifle, a carbine will give a slightly lower and a long rifle a slightly higher figure. Maximum trajectory height for a 300 yard zero would be aprox. 10".


Ball "Cartucce a pallottola" or "Cartuccia a palla ordinaria"
Round nose, full metal jacket bullet with lead core, jacket materials include copper-nickle, gliding metal, copper-nickle plated steel and gilding metal plated steel.
Round nose, full metal jacket bullet with lead core, copper-nickle jacket with green painted tip. Manufactured with extra care for best accuracy.
Round nose, full metal jacket bullet with lead front core, rear end of bullet filled with compressed tracer compound, no reported color code, aparently the load was identified by the box label only. A suspected tracer round could be identified by pulling the bullet and examining its base. This loading is rare, I have never seen one but it is reliably reported.
Armor-Piercing/"Pallottola Perforante"
Spitzer (pointed) full metal jacket bullet, copper-nickle jacket with hardened, pointed steel core, rear section of steel core is reduced diameter and surrounded by a lead sleave. Bullet weighs 124 grains (8.03 grams) and is 1.246" (31.65 mm) long. No reported color code, aparently the load was identified by the box label only. Used to penetrate lightly armored targets. This loading is rare, I have never seen one but it is reliably reported.
Armor-piercing incendiary
Spitzer (pointed) full metal jacket bullet, copper-nickle jacket with hardened, pointed steel core, an incendiary composision is loaded into the base of the bullet that is ignited when the round is fired. The bullet is slightly longer that the above AP round. No reported color code, aparently the load was identified by the box label only. Used to penetrate lightly armored targets and provide incendiary effect. This loading is rare, I have never seen one but it is reliably reported.
Roundnose bullet, copper-nickle jacket with hollow point, inside the bullet are a firing pin, detonator and explosive charge. Not intended to destroy targets by explosive effect (How much explosive can a rifle bullet carry?), the purpose of an observation bullet is to show the point of impact of the bullet at a great distance. Aparently only made during WWI. This loading is rare, I have never seen one but it is reliably reported.
Multiple Ball/"Cartuccia a mitraglia"
There are two types, both use the standard cartridge case and contain a very long (about 2"/50.8mm), however it is seated deep and the overall length of the cartridge is the same as a ball round) bullet that is made of a jacket with closed bottom and open top with 3 (or sometimes 4) slits cut lengthwise through its sides, inside are 6 clyndrical lead slugs stacked on top of each other. It uses a reduced powder charge. In the older style the top slug is actually a small full metal jacket bullet. In the later type, the top slug is lead and the lead tip is exposed at the top of the bullet. The later type seams to have come out about 1937. This was a round for short range work (it would be an excellent choice for a sentry on night duty), its effective range was likely less that 50 yards, and its effect is like a small buckshot charge. These cartridges are not rare, so they must have been issued in fairly large numbers.
Reduced range/"Cartuccia ridotta"
There are two types, the earlier model dates from 1913 and consists of a steel tube with an enlarged base that forms the head and rim of the round and over this is placed a brass piece that forms the body of the round. The steel tube extends past where the end of the neck on a regular round would be and the bullet is a small lead one with a reduced rear section to fit into the end of the tube. In place of a primer, a small propelling charge is placed into the rear end of the steel tube. The propelling charge and bullet were easy to replace to reload the cartridge. The latter type is identified as a model 1939, it uses a normal cartridge case with a brass tube inserted into the mouth that is secured with a very heavy crimp (I do not know if the tube goes all the way to the bottom of the case or just to the bottom of the neck as I have never sectioned mine), a bullet of the same type as the earlier round is inserted into the end of the brass tube. This later type is not reloadable, and I have seen them dated as late as 1953. These cartridges were intended for very short range target shooting at 20 meters. Performance is about equal to a .22 rimfire.
Grenade Blank
There are two types, both use the regular cartridge case, in the earlier one the open neck is sealed with a white cardboard wad, in the later type the neck is crimped closed in a "rose" crimp style. The lated type is identified for use with the "M1943" grenade launcher. There is also a cartridge for a line-throwing gun that is identical with the first type but uses a red wad.
Blank/"Cartuccia da salve"
Machinegun Blank
There are two types, the earlier model uses a cartridge case that has been extended and crimped closed to form a mock bullet to help feed it through the action of the machinegun. It seems that this round was introduced during the time when the paper bullet blank was used as that cartridge was too fragile to pass through the violent feeding of the machinegun. This load would need a muzzle constrictor or blank firing device to allow the machinegun to function with them. The later type is known as the "Magistri" or M1937 blank. This cartridge uses a normal cartridge case but has a bullet of unusual construction. The jacket is formed by rolling brass foil into a tube with corrogations on it's sides, the core is powdered lead coated with graphite to prevent it from sticking together and the jacket is crimped closed to form the end of the bullet. This bullet allowed sufficent gas pressure to build up to function the machinegun, but when it passed out the of the barrel, muzzle blast ripped it to shreads and scattered it safely in front of the machine gun.
Dummy/"Cartuccia da esercitazione"
Brass case with longitudinal grooves pressed into it, a mock bullet made of blackened brass is fitted and a wooden dowl runs from the base of the "bullet" to the bottom of the case to prevent it from being pushed into the case. Some were made with the grooves pressed into the bullet as well. Others were made with plain cases and grooved "bullets". There is also what appears to be a wartime expedient version. In this cartridge the wooden dowl is stained black and runs from the primer pocket and extends out the mouth of the case and is rounded off to the shape of a bullet. Dummy cartridges are used by armorers to test weapons and to train recruits in the opperation of their rifles.
Inspectors dummy
Lathe turned from solid steel. Used to function test weapons.

Headstamps / manufacturers codes

There are two different ways that Italian military ammo was headstamped. Ammunition made by contractors had the initals of the maker at 12 o'clock and a three digit date at 6 o'clock (in Italy, they take a long term view of things and decided to indicate the century). The system used by government arsenals was more complicated and had the initals of the head inspector at 12 o'clock, a single letter to indicate the arsenel at 7 o'clock and a two digit date at 5 o'clock. The inspectors' initials are given in typical military manner, thus "C.A." stands for "Cavalli, Alfredo".

Manufacturers codes noted
Code Manufacturer Location Type Date
B Pirotechnia di Bologna Bologna, Italy Government arsenal
BPD Bombrini, Parodi & Delfino Rome, Italy Italian government contractor
C Pirotechnia di Capua Capua, Italy Government arsenal
MIDWAY Midway arms Columbia, Missouri, USA Sporting ammo Early 1980's
NORMA Norma Projectilfabrik Amotfors, Sweden Sporting ammo 1950's to date
SMI Societa Metallurgica Italiana Campo Tizzoro, Italy Italian government contractor
T Pirotechnia di Torino Torino, Italy Government arsenal
May not have produced 6.5mm Carcano ammo.

WCC Western Cartridge Company East Alton, Illinois, USA US government contractor Early 1949
* Hirtenberger Patronen-, Zundhütchen- und Metallwarenfabrik AG Hirtenberg, Austria

Inspectors initals noted
Code Inspector's Name Location Date
A.A. Aldo, Adamo Capua
A.C. Unknown Bologna 1890's
A.S. Unknown Capua
B.P. Unknown noted on both Capua and Bologna 1920's
C.A. Cavalli, Alfredo noted on both Capua and Bologna production
C.C. Unknown Bologna
E.S. Unknown Capua C. 1912
F.O. Unknown Torino 1890's
F.P. Unknown Bologna 1923-1928
G.D. Unknown Capua 1890's
L.N. Leggiadore, Nicola Capua 1916-1934
L.P. Unknown Torino
L.V. Unknown Capua
P.O. Unknown Torino
P.V. Pascarello, Vincenzo Capua 1943
R.M. Rubino, Mario Bologna 1942
S.A. Unknown Bologna 1885-1899
S.G. Unknown Capua
S.L. Unknown Bologna 1890
T.M. Unknown Bologna 1938
T.R. Unknown Capua
V.S. Unknown Capua 1892
Z.G. Zangari, Gaetano Capua 1936-1938

Old soldier's tales

It is quite amazing what the minds of American GI's can come up with, particulary when they are lubricated by a little "liberated" vino! As American troops advanced in Italy during WWII they encountered 6.5mm Carcano "Magistri" machinegun blanks. Enquiring minds wanted to know what was inside these strange looking rounds, and after dissecting them they discovered a simister black powder. What could it be? A little more vino....And they had the answer! Lead powder coated with Nitro-Glycerin!!! As the bullet flew thru the air, the centrifugal force of the spinning bullet would force the nitro out to the inside of the bullet jacket, causing it to detonate on contact with the target! In reality it was a blank cartridge that was designed to allow gas pressure to reach a high enough level to operate a gas operated machinegun. When the flimsy bullet passed out the muzzle, it was ripped to shreads by the muzzle blast. The powdered lead of the core was coated with graphite to prevent it from sticking together. The exploding bullet story can be found in "Ordnance Went Up Front" an otherwise excellent book by Roy Dunlap.

The relative rarity of some loads...

6.5mm Carcano AP, API, observation and tracer loads are relatively rare. One possible reason for this is that during WWII, Italy's standard infantry machineguns used another caliber, 8X59mm Breda, a round very similar to 8X57mm Mauser, but with a rebated rim that was adopted in 1935. These special purpose loads are not rare in that caliber. The 6.5mm Carcano WAS the standard MG load during WWI and most of the reports of these loads in 6.5mm Carcano indicate WWI vintage headstamps.

Gallery, short range and frangible

The JFK Commerative Cartridge

The cartridges recovered with Lee Harvy Oswald's rifle were part of a batch made in 1949 by the Western Cartridge Company in East Alton Il. They were made for the government of Greece as part of US military aid during the Greek civil war. They were commonly avaible on the surplus market during the early 1960's. They were packed in typical american 20 round boxes of white cardboard.


The Carcano rifle uses a true "clip" of Mannlicher style, it holds six rounds and can be loaded either end up. The earlier clips were made of brass and they are usually dated and with the manufactors initals on them. During the 1930's, experiments were made with steel clips, they tried cadmium and zinc plating, blueing and another finish that is black with a rough texture. In my shooting experience with them the best clips were made by SMI in 1939 of polished blued steel, they seem to be stronger than brass and feed smoothly. Italian ordnance must have thought otherwise as they returned to the brass clips in the 1950's on the last ones made. Clips were also reused and it is not unusual to find 1930's ammo packed on a veriety of WWI and 1920's clips in the same box.

6.5 and 7.35mm Carcano ammo will also be found on chargers for the Breda model 30 and 38 machineguns. These chargers hold 20 rounds, are made of brass or blued steel and have a handle formed on the end. In these guns the magazine is permanently mounted on the side of the gun and is swung forward when empty, the charger is thrust foward, cartridges first, into the magazine and pulled out, leaving the cartridges in the magazine.

Mortar propelling cartridge

There is a mortar propelling cartridge used with the Italian Brixia Model 35 45mm mortar that is very similar to the M1943 6.5mm Carcano grenade blank, however, the sholder is further back on this round and it has a rather more "squat" appearance.