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:
- The 6.5mm cartridge with its heavy, ballistically disadvantaged
roundnose bullet has a rather curved trajectory. Considering that the battle
sights of all M91 guns started at 300 metres, they would shoot too
high at the closer distances where most fire was conducted. A
flatter-shooting, faster bullet with a streamlined shape was needed.
- This would also allow to do away with the perceived-obsolete adjustable
rearsight (empirical research had found out about everywhere that the
soldiery did not bother to adjust their sights and would only hit their
individual targets at close distances any how, (larger caliber) machine guns
being prefered for anything beyond 200 metres. Great Britain and Japan answered
with the introduction of a peep battlesight, while Italy chose a fixed rear sight
notch which would be sighted in to 200 metres.
- The introduction of the new cartridge must be seen in the context (and
can only this really been understood) of the modernization of the Italian
army in the 1930s. The change covered a thorough re-structuring of
divisions (2 vs. 3 regiments) and well as the beginning (and large-scale
planned) mechanization. In a mechanized, mobile army (as the visionary
thinkers of the Italian forces envisioned it, alas without the necessary
funds and means), the individual
soldier's sidearm would have to be short and handy (and not too heavy). A
high-powered long-range cartridge, as e.g. the German 8x57IS or the American .30-06
and the Russian 7.62x54R were, was not needed in an individual sidearm ... it just
offered overkill, heavy recoil, and burned too much powder. You will
certainly recognize the precursors of modern military thinking here, the
"intermediate" assault rifle cartridge. In fact, the Italians did indeed
experiment with a shortened version of the 7.35x51 cartridge, but development
of this cartridge, and the gun to use it, was not persued.
For long-range use and squad
support, the newly-developed heavy machine gun cartridge, the 8x59
Breda (a very powerful cartridge, superior to most others except the
Swedish 8x63) offered the necessary range and penetration abilities.
- Indeed, if seen not abstractly in "ballistics tables paper comparison",
but as tailored to its specific use, the 7.35x51 is still a very fine
catridge; its instable bullet offers very good terminal ballistic
performanceon soft (read: human) targets (like the Britisk Mk. VII after
which it was patterned), its recoil is moderate and it is quite accurate.
|7,35x51 Carcano Ammo Box from 1939
|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:
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.
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
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
- 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
- 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
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
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
- 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
Manufacturers codes noted
||Pirotechnia di Bologna
||Bombrini, Parodi & Delfino
||Italian government contractor
||Pirotechnia di Capua
||Columbia, Missouri, USA
||1950's to date
||Societa Metallurgica Italiana
||Campo Tizzoro, Italy
||Italian government contractor
||Pirotechnia di Torino
May not have produced 6.5mm Carcano ammo.
||Western Cartridge Company
||East Alton, Illinois, USA
||US government contractor
||Hirtenberger Patronen-, Zundhütchen- und Metallwarenfabrik AG
Inspectors initals noted
||noted on both Capua and Bologna
||noted on both Capua and Bologna production
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
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
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.