The Return of Weekly DTIC: Comparing The .280 British and .30 Light Rifle, 1950

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The next few installments of my Light Rifle series of articles will cover in detail the development of the two calibers that shaped the NATO rifle trials until 1953: The .280 British and the .30 Light Rifle, the latter of which – spoiler alert – subsequently became the 7.62x51mm NATO in 1954. The subsequent rejection of the more intermediate .280 British as the standard NATO rifle cartridge caused considerable controversy in the UK, and many experts today believe that it was the superior choice for a standard round versus the much more conventional .30 Light Rifle. Advocates of the .280 British lament its rejection as being politically-driven, but – while there’s considerable truth to that notion – there is another side to the story. One critical document from this period is A Comparison Test of United Kingdom and United States Ammunition for Lightweight Weapons, from 1950.

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.280/30 Ball compared to .30 Light Rifle Ball, AP, and API, as used in A Comparison.  Photo by DrakeGmbH, used with permission.

 

The document illustrates the more advanced stage of development of the .30 Light Rifle cartridge (the program for which began in 1944) versus the .280 British (starting circa 1948), particularly in the accuracy results:

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In accuracy tests conducted as part of the February – May 1950 evaluation of the two rounds, the .30 Light Rifle consistently grouped with nearly half the dispersion of the British .280 cartridge. Further, the .30 Light Rifle was also shown to be superior with regards to penetration and trajectory, with the .280 pulling ahead in API ignition and tracer and observation round consistency.

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The development of .30 Light Rifle illustrated in a photo. Photo by DrakeGmbH, used with permission.

 

The poor showing of the British round would prove to seriously hamstring the push for its adoption. While many other factors were in play, it’s likely that one of the major factors in the US officials resistance to the .280 caliber round was its inferior performance in these and other tests. While today, we know their standards were unrealistically high for modern warfare, the rejection of the .280 was a little more complicated than simple “Not Invented Here” syndrome.



Nathaniel F

Nathaniel is a history enthusiast and firearms hobbyist whose primary interest lies in military small arms technological developments beginning with the smokeless powder era. In addition to contributing to The Firearm Blog, he runs 196,800 Revolutions Per Minute, a blog devoted to modern small arms design and theory. He can be reached via email at nathaniel.f@staff.thefirearmblog.com.


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  • Tom

    I think its less “not invented here” and far more “we do not want an intermediate cartridge” the testing was done to favor a full sized cartridge because the US military would not accept the compromise on range/accuracy/penetration that comes with an intermediate round. I would imagine that simple doctrine and tradition had far more to do with this than politics.

  • Blake

    .280 British:

    Was it the rifle or the cartridge that caused the poor accuracy & performance?
    Or both?

    • lowell houser

      The round was designed along-side the FAL, so I would say probably both.

      • Blake

        Though the FAL was deigned for .280 British, the .280 British was originally developed along with the EM-2 rifle.

        Both were decades ahead of their time.

        • Jay

          The first FAL was chambered in 7.92x33mm Kurz

        • The EM-2 was developed for the .280, they were not developed in tandem.

    • Cartridge, as recall those accuracy tests were performed from Mann test barrels, not EM-2 or FALs.

  • Dave

    Tom is right: The U.S. is rejecting the entire concept of “intermediate cartridge” and weapons to use them here, then using its enviable status as the largest super-power and WWII and after “Arsenal of Democracy” to essentially impose choices on Nato allies.

    So the Labor Attlee government adopted the EM-2/TADEN .280/30 cartridge and weapons, (No.9 rifle) but the Conservative Churchill gov’t.–highly conscious of how dependent the UK was on U.S. supply, aid, etc.–killed it. With the FAL in 7.62x51mm the UK adopted the L1A1 SLR, since full-auto was as impractical on the FAL as it was in, say, the M14E2, and retained the 9mm SMG from WWII in the form of the “Patchett” Sterling replacing the Sten Mk.V. The Brits toyed with the idea of issuing the Madsen M50 as a sort of “M1 carbine” PDW to rear-echelon, service, and crew personnel, but obviously, that didn’t happen. So Nato gets a bunch of large, heavy “battle rifles” as a result, but that’s OK, I guess, because there never was a hot war or nuclear exchange in Europe… Meanwhile, in the actual hot wars of the Cold War, the intermediate cartridge of the Kalashnkov and the high-velocity small-caliber cartridge, the M16 and its rivals/competitors come to the fore.

    The U.S. wanted a rifle that would essentially re-use the tooling of the Garand, and came up with the M14. Once the M16 came out, there was no longer a U.S.-gov’t. owned arsenal producing the basic infantry weapon, a sort of “privatization” that had long appealed to certain quarters, and gave rise to things like the Johnson semi-automatic rifle, and appeared vindicated by the amazing success of the M1 carbine program…

    The 7.62x51mm cartridge based on the .300 Savage case already followed in the ballistic foot-steps of the 7.65x54mm Belgian/Argentine Mauser caliber, the 7.5x54mm Mle. 1929 cartridge, etc. The U.S. won WWII, and so there was a sense that the suite of U.S. small arms was already the “bestest” and the “mostest.” The only issue, prior to the planned invasion of the Japanese home islands, was how to put a 20-rd. box magazine on a Garand rifle. The Italians did so with the BM59. The USA came up with the M14. The M14, recall, was to eliminate the M1 carbine, the .45 SMG, the BAR, and the M1 rifle and simplify matters around the 7.62x51mm cartridge. Didn’t quite work out that way… I think the article misses the “insult to injury” by imposition of the 7.62x51mm choice on Nato followed by the 5.56x45mm just a few years later.

    • gunsandrockets

      Adaption of 7.62x51mm doesn’t necessarily preclude use of an intermediate power cartridge. As shown by Japanese practices with their Type 64 rifle and Type 62 GPMG.

      The British also could have used an intermediate loading of the NATO cartridge for full auto enabled FAL if they wanted too. Why the British didn’t is a question that deserves further exploration.

      And all this argument over the U.K. .280 vs the U.S. light .30 round oddly ignores another NATO nation, France. France which decided to stick by it’s 7.5mm cartridge rather than change. I find it hugely amusing that after all the labors exerted by the U.S. to develop the .30 light cartridge, all that resulted is something nearly indistinguishable from the French 7.5mm!

      • Tom

        To speculate I think the reason that the British (and no other serious military, sorry Japan and Spain) did not go with a reduced load is that sooner or later you are going to get them mixed up with the light loads in the GPMG and the heavy loads in rifles, whilst it might not necessarily effect function (if gas settings are adjusted) it will effect accuracy. Also you are not really gaining any thing in terms of infantry load out. Yes .30 cal rifles are pretty much uncontrollable on full auto but you also have to factor in the amount of ammunition needed to feed full auto rifles. Far better to simple opt for single shot rifles and encourage your troops to aim.

        • Dave

          U.S. weapons engineers convinced themselves that troops in the Big One, you know, Dubya Dubya Two–worst.sequel.ever.–felt more “confident” in their ability to inflict casualties and kill the enemy with full-auto weapons. Hence the “spray and pray” of Vietnam. Bullets that don’t actually hit the enemy “suppress them” by making them fearful of being riddled, and concomitantly, they”ll hunker down behind any and all available cover, degrading their performance what with not looking at friendly troops and otherwise preoccupied with self-preservation. Why, poorly trained troops just might “cut and run”–ask any Dubya Dubya Two general inductee who faced “Hitler’s buzzsaw” the MG42…

          Wait! Post-Vietnam, this didn’t really seem all that convincing after all. Isn’t there a way to have a “salvo effect” that doesn’t rely on old-fashioned Dubya Dubya Two Nazi technology like “duplex” rounds? Aha! I’ve got it! If “controlled pairs” is better than full auto, let’s remove trigger manipulation–“double-tap”–from the general inductee’s, erm, uh, I mean long-service volunteer’s trigger finger and create an optimum two–no three!–round burst! So bring on the M16A2 with its exquisite windage adjustable sights, longer butt-stock, and supremely crummy trigger pull because of the odd ratchet mechanism for the burst control…

  • Jay

    At that time the Americans were still stuck on stupid, when it comes to small arms. They learned nothing from the ww2 expensive lessons.
    It took them another 20 years and few wars, to realize their idea of infantry rifle was obsolete. Every man is a sniper idea died when the fast maneuvering warfare was introduced.
    Just by looking at those early .30cal cartridges you posted there, it tells you everything you need to know about the mentality in US army. Long, nearly straight walled case, with a sharp shoulder is something you want in a target rifle. Modern warfare requires low recoil cartridges, optimized to work reliably in automatic weapons.
    The refusal of .280 British is not only a result of the “not invented here” mentality, but also the result of obsolete doctrine that generated the requirements on the US side.

    • Tom

      As I said earlier I think it is more a case that the Americans were intransigent on the issue of intermediate cartridges because of doctrine rather than geography. I think the big deciding factor was Korea. The M14 would have been perfect for Korea and the conflict served to reinforce Ordnance’s view that a full power round was needed. Of course the idea that the M14 could replace the SMG, LMG and sniper rifle was as laughable then as it is now but this is part of the course with military system. It would not be until Vietnam that the American military was forced to accept that full power rifles were simple not viable in the modern battlefield as a general issue weapon.

      • Evan

        The military loves the idea of one size fits all. Just look at the F-35…

    • Paralus

      Exactly.

      The arrival of the Sturmgewehr and an intermediate cartridge spurred the research into what was really needed in modern infantry combat. Since the Armies of our Allies and Enemies were still using bolt-actions during WWII, it meant they could finally ask what was needed in an infantry rifle. An intermediate cartridge fired in short bursts at moving targets at circa 250 meters was far more pragmatic than precise, aimed shots at moving targets.

      The .30 Light Rifle was not designed for semi-auto, precisely aimed shots…..completely ignoring all of the post-war research about the nature of infantry combat. Sure, you could fire it on automatic, but it wasn’t controllable.

      And it meant that with the adoption of 7.62×51, an entire generation of battle rifles would be adopted and dispensed with after a single generation of use e.g. m14, HK G3, FN FAL.

      Then we move to a caliber that was inferior to the .280. I say that because once we got to Afghanistan, we found the enemy would engage us at ranges that were beyond the ability to respond with 5.56. Which prompted research into yet another intermediate cartridge, the 6.8SPC, which also wasn’t adopted in spite of it similarity to the .280

      And it would have also meant billions saved in simplifying logistics because instead of SAWs and GPMGs, there would have been just one caliber for rifles and LMGs. Instead of producing and then dropping millions of M14s, FALs and G3s, those weapons could have been chambered in .280 and would still be used, with obvious modifications, today as opposed to NATO adopting M16, SA80, HK36, FN CAL, FAMAS, Beretta AR70, HK33.

      but, then again, this isn’t a perfect world.

      • .280/30 British, except for its very last versions (which did not really meet the initial design intent of the round – contemporary reports say that the higher-powered 2,550 ft/s muzzle velocity version “ruined” the good full auto characteristics of the round), was ballistically pretty similar to 7.62×39, while weighing 24% more than that round. That means, really, that the .280 was not in any way a long-range cartridge, it’s low muzzle velocity (~2,300 ft/s as originally intended) prevented it from doing this, even from long barrels (the EM-2 sported a 24″ barrel). I mentioned the weight issue before, but let’s take a closer look:

        7.62×51 NATO – 24.2 grams per round
        .280/30 British – 20.5 grams
        7.62×39 – 16.5 grams
        5.56x45mm – 12.0 grams
        5.45×39 – 10.7 grams

        So, the .280/30 really is a much heavier round that most other intermediates, weighing 71% more than 5.56mm, and 85% as much as 7.62 NATO. This weight factor is something that’s often missed by the .280 advocacy.

        As for the 6.8 SPC, it’s broadly ballistically similar – sort of – but it also has severe ballistic limitations and (as even 6.8 SPC fans will admit) is by no means a long-range cartridge.

        Again, while I agree that the .280/30 was the better round in hindsight than the 7.62 NATO, it wouldn’t have made much difference. The higher powered variant that fired a 140gr S12 bullet at ~2,550 ft/s with OK long-range characteristics (not great, but probably OK enough for GPMGs) just didn’t offer much vs. the 7.62 NATO, and came with some downsides. It still was more or less uncontrollable in full auto, and weighed very nearly just as much, while coming with inferior penetration and other limiting characteristics.

        • Here, I whipped up some ballistic graphs for the .280 early and 7mm Mk. 1Z compared to other rounds in this discussion:

          http://i.imgur.com/bjPZbMS.png

          http://i.imgur.com/kXBSt2R.png

          http://i.imgur.com/viw9esw.png

          http://i.imgur.com/DYpcrky.png

          http://i.imgur.com/OVAOuIG.png

          Note that it more closely resembles 7.62×39 than any other round in every metric except drift (where it most closely resembles M855 – not exactly the poster child for long-range rounds, either).

          The much later and significantly faster Mk.1Z does quite a bit better, broadly equaling M59 pretty much across the board except in energy up close, but remember what those period reports said about this round: It was considered to have “ruined” the good full auto recoil characteristics of the .280. So, roughly, the Mk.1Z is basically a somewhat lighter and shorter 7.62 NATO – still clearly better, but more like an abbreviated full-size round than a true intermediate.

        • Dave

          “Move over bacon, now there’s something meatier!”

          Someone on the internet truely beleeves that the solution is the 6.2x45mm cartridge, an outgrowth of the whole 1970s-era 6mm SAW program–remember that design effort? Me either.
          Frankford Arsenal 6x45mm SAW parent cartridge case.
          6.2mm bullet weighing in at 105gr. and with a muzzle velocity of 2,520fps. with a chamber pressure of 47.7k psi.

          So there!

          • Dave

            Derp. I meant 6.2x42mm, so we’re talking the thickness of a Lay’s potato chip vs. the Chi-com 5.8x42mm…

        • Monty01

          Nathaniel, As ever, a well researched and well written piece. I agree that while the British .280/30 was interesting, it was flawed in terms of muzzle energy, trajectory and weight. At the same time, the British developed a .270 cartridge. In many ways this was a better design. it never really went beyond prototype stage. However, the cartridges I find the most interesting are the British 6.25 mm round developed in the early 1970s and the US 6 mm SAW, which are ballistically very similar. These were both excellent designs. Had we adopted either of these rounds and used them in combat, i suspect that both would still be in service today. In the final analysis, the EM2 rifle and its ammunition were ahead of their time. As an ex-Infantry Platoon Commander, i can never complain about 7.62 mm NATO ammo or the FN FAL and FN MAG that we Brits used. We were never overmatched.

        • Secundius

          .280/30 British, actual .284/7.2x43mmR…

    • zardoz711

      Say the US did like the idea of an “intermediate” cartridge, would the have gone with .280 British or would they have developed an improved .276 Pedersen to give them the straight wall and and sharp shoulder requirement?

      • In a lot of ways, the .30 Light Rifle was their “improved .276 Pedersen”.

        The thinking in the US was so far from intermediate calibers, that speculating what they “would have chosen” can be done basically however you choose. There was no culture of intermediate caliber advocacy there, to speak of, except for the SCHV experiments a little while later.

        • jcitizen

          If it hadn’t been for McNamara and his ability to gain almost mythical leadership of the system, we would never have had that “mighty Mattel” rifle during Vietnam. I’ve always admired its tough reliability, but I didn’t start respecting the round until the changes that were made during the GWOT.

    • Laionidas

      Exactly. The question is not why the .280 British was refused, but rather why the US alternative, the .30 Light Rifle, was a nearly straight walled full-power cartridge. I wonder though how the .280 British performs in comparison to Japanese 7.62×51.

  • CanadianShill

    I often wonder if there had been a successful smaller intermediate round selected at this time such as .280 what the issued weapons would/would have looked like and if the 5.56 road would still have been travelled to the same extent.

    • I don’t see .280 upsetting the SCHV/5.56 efforts. Really, the round has very little to do with why 5.56mm was adopted. If the US had adopted the 7.62 FAL, likely the M16 either would never have been adopted, or adoption would have come more slowly. On the other hand, if the US had adopted a .280 M14, I see little to no difference in the M16’s development.

      • Jay

        The 5.56mm and M16 were designed to replace the .30 carbine for auxiliary troops. It was pressed into service as infantry cartridge because it was available and the M-14/.30cal combo sucked donkey balls.

        • No, they were not. They were from the outset designed as a main battle rifle-cartridge combination.

    • Blake

      Probably the EM-2

      Imagine if ArmaLite/Stoner had a directive to make a better bullpup for NATO at the time…

      • I highly doubt the EM-2 would have achieved widespread adoption. It was really too radical for the militaries of most countries.

        • iksnilol

          A fate shared by the Korobov TKB-022.

          🙁

  • ostiariusalpha

    Hmm, I suspect that the .280 referred to in the 1950 test is not the .280/30 British cartridge, which has a super efficient powder column geometry and should theoretically have spanked the 7.62/.308 in any precision shot group test.

    • .280 and .280/30 have virtually the same powder column (IIRC .280 has an 11.7mm base vs. the 12mm base of the .280/30), plus just because a cartridge has a more efficient powder column does not mean it will be more consistent. There are many other factors, such as bullet design and propellant consistency.

      .280 was abandoned in 1948 for .280/30, so I am absolutely positive the latter was the round used in these tests.

      • ostiariusalpha

        .280/30 was developed in late 1949 and the base of the original .276 British was more like 11.6mm, but I take your point. As a reloader, I’m only too aware of how small inconsistencies can mess with group size.

        • Sources differ on when, exactly, so I’ll check and get back to you.

          • ostiariusalpha

            That would be fantastic if you could dig up some solid documentation! I got my info that the 1950 test used the pre-.280/30 from a John Marshall article in the Blue Press , but there weren’t any source notes for me to examine.

          • ostiariusalpha

            Alright, so I dug through what meager amount of material I have on the .280 British. It appears to be correct that the American test at Aberdeen in 1950 used the older cartridge, though there were tests in Belgium, also during 1950, that trialed the .280/30. I’d really like some source material on what kind of results & conclusions they reached there.

          • What was your source? I would be pretty surprised if they were still using .280 by that point, but I keep an open mind.

          • ostiariusalpha

            Peter Labbett and P.J.F. Mead in their Technical Ammunition Guide: British 7 mm Ammunition.

          • Well, that’s a good source. I’ll still look around, though.

            Also, I do not have it.

          • Labbett and Mead pretty clearly indicates that the .280/30 was used in the 1950 Aberdeen test. The .280/30 case was born in April 1948 (Design D6/L/755), replacing the original .280 case (Design D6/L/613). You’ll note that the headstamp drawings in the back of the pamphlet don’t show any original .280 cases with a headstamp later than 1948.

            Given that the .280/30 case design was meant to convince the US that their legacy .30-06 weapons (as the new .30 LR designs) could be converted, it would have been terribly short sighted of the UK to have dragged out the obsolete .280 case for the Aberdeen shootout nearly two years after it was replaced.

            Labbett and Mead indicate that the 130gr projectiles were dropped for 140gr projectiles in November 1948. The original 130gr had been loaded to 2,450 fps at 19 tsi. The new 140gr was loaded at 2,415 fps at a chamber pressure of 21 tsi. Criticism of the .280/30’s trajectory in the Aberdeen results led the British to bump up the velocity to 2,530 fps. The final version adopted as the 7mm Mk 1Z gave 2,550 fps.

          • 2,550 ft/s instrumental, I understand. 2,595 actual. Quite a hot round, the Mk. 1Z, and probably not at all controllable.

  • Of course it’s worth noting that 1950 wasn’t the peak of development for either cartridge. But as you say Nate, it harmed the British Argument for .280 and indeed the US team continued to use these results in meetings with future NATO members when newer testing results were available.

  • gunsandrockets

    My favorite candidate for a ‘might have been’ military cartridge is the .250 Savage. Not because anyone ever actively considered it, but because it was available for so long and so well suited to the task.

  • Matthew

    Was the .280 the better choice at the time? Probably. But look at it this way, if the .280 had been standardised the .223 Remington may not have presented enough of an improvement to justify the changeover. The 5.56×45 is so well suited to its role that even in 2016 there isn’t a round that could be said to be an all around improvement. (Here’s looking at you, 6.5 Grendel). Frankly, I don’t get why people today bellyache about these shenanigans because ultimately we wound up with a better cartridge.

    • I doubt the .280 could have prevented the adoption of 5.56mm or something similar.

      • randomswede

        Well the M16 allowed something like twice the round count for the same combined weight over the M14. I haven’t been able to find the cartridge weight for the .280 but it’s lighter than than M80 so just for kicks-n-giggles I pose for public consideration three scenarios with from the assumption that .280 was adopted over the 7.62 and a need for a 5.56 evolved.

        The 5.56 route:
        A small light weapons platform from space age materials allows for twice the round count. So a round like the 5.7×28 or 4.6×30 in a weapon that would look like a child of the AUG and the AR-15.

        The Soviet route:
        A faster round, that is a smaller caliber round, allows for a slightly higher round count and allows for impact fragmentation. The original platform is rehashed and modernized with weight and cost savings.
        .30-06 is still used in GPMGs, DMRs and sniper rifles and is in the runnings for the service round with the longest career.

        The WWII Germany route:
        The data supports the theory that a rifle needs less combat range than we previously assumed, by making a shorter version of the existing round much of the existing infrastructure and tooling can be utilized .280 Briten Kurtz is born.

        Now that’s out of my brain and in yours. : P

        • I posted it above:

          7.62×51 NATO – 24.2 grams per round
          .280/30 British – 20.5 grams
          7mm Mk. 1Z – 20.9 grams
          7.62×39 – 16.5 grams
          5.56x45mm – 12.0 grams
          5.45×39 – 10.7 grams

          Again, the round actually has very little to do with why the M16 was adopted – the failure of the M14 was really the catalyst. So .280 or 7.62, what really matters is whether the M14 or FAL is adopted by the USA.

    • Fegelein

      I think that Matthew is right. If we had something like 280 British or 276 Pedersen, then 5.56 may have never emerged. Put yourself in the position of a person living in a .280 world looking at something like 5.56. You’d be thinking things like: ‘it’s not too much lighter, but it flies so much worse and has so much less power. Who cares if one can carry a bit more of it when it means a reduced effective range and reduced killing power. Even the full auto argument means nothing, because no centerfire round is controllable in full auto past a few meters. Why should we significantly reduce our versatility and capabilities just to carry a few extra rounds of ammo that’s going to be less effective and require more rounds, anyway?’

  • Tormund Giantsbane

    I’ve never really bought the whole .280 British story. Always thought something like a 6mm version of the 6.8 case with an OAL of 2.55 would have been better. Maybe like 6x48mm with that .422 inch rim size and an 80 grain bullet tuned to a bit over 3000 FPS.

    • Light Rifle VI (the one after the next one, which is on 7.62 NATO) covers the .280 British, so we’ll see what people think about my narrative on it in June, when that’s scheduled to be released.

  • A quote, attributed to Nathaniel F, a small-time blogger and cat owner: “It is a notable thing that whenever, and wherever, a discussion occurs on the Internet about the ideal infantry rifle caliber, someone always mentions that one Ian Hogg quote about the 7mm… It is an equally notable thing that nobody seems to have noticed it’s completely untrue.”

    Just kidding around, hahaha. 😉

    • iksnilol

      Funny way of spelling “6.5mm” that Ian Hogg had. That or it is the first time I heard about 7mm being the ideal.

      6.5 was always the ideal.

      • ostiariusalpha

        Rounding up.

      • You must have dislexia, because you jumbled the digits and forgot one of the “5”s in “5.56mm”.

        }:D>

      • randomswede

        My understanding is that 7mm is to terminal ballistics what 6.5mm is to external ballistics. Once the minute-of-man box is checked I lean towards superior terminal ballistics.
        As to why there’s a difference with less than 14% difference in front area and why the 6.5mm performs better in air and 7mm better in flesh I can only assume it comes down to something hard to grasp with a human frame of reference such as the size of a nitrogen gas molecule versus the size of a water molecule.

        I’m a former 6.5mm fanboy 6.5 Grendel, 6.5 MPC and 6.5×47 Lapua seemed to me to be the “perfect” upgrade for the 5.56×45. My current understanding is that if your enemy is made of paper and very small or far away this remains true.

        5.56×45 on the other hand, from my limited perspective, is/was the best compromise in range, lethality and cost (weight and money) in conflicts where “he who runs out of bullets first loseth”.
        It makes me think of the good old standby from “Murphy’s laws of Combat”: “Remember, your weapon was made by the lowest bidder.”

        • iksnilol

          Yeah, but what about replacing 308 with 6.5 Grendel?

          Didn’t think about that one, did you?

          Terminal ballistics are more dependent on bullet construction, materials and velocity than the width of the projectile (unless you somehow launched a bowling ball at supersonic speeds).

        • Dave

          Hmm. In the 1920s the army and Ordnance blasted anesthetized goats and pigs with 6.5mm, 7mm, and 7.62mm projectiles. The most damage, apparently, was caused by the 6.5mm bullets, but attention turned to the 7mm, and hence, the .276 Pedersen cartridge.

          There was a Soviet small-arms designer in the 1930s who asserted that the “ideal” infantry caliber was the .25 Remington. Somewhat ironic, I suppose, insofar as the .30 Remington cartridge case was the starting point for the 6.5mm cartridges designed around the constraints of the AR rifle, erm, I mean “platform.”

          • jcitizen

            I thought it was Colonel Hatcher who determined the ideal cross sectional density for rilfes, but it might have been some other genius working at what was advanced studies in the US arsenal system, that supposedly found it should have been 6 to 6.5 mm. It is just that I remembered reading that in the American Rifleman when I was a kid, and it stuck with me from then on. Hatcher actually started his studies to find the best handgun bullet, though. This was in the days that only full metal jacket was accepted and no other bullet performance enhancements were allowed.

        • No. They are two different diameters of bullet, there is nothing magical about either of them in either respect.

  • Matthew Groom

    How were these rounds tested for accuracy? In the prototype rifles being proposed, or in a universal receiver, or bolt action rifles of the same type? 7mm projectiles typically have significantly better ballistic coefficients than comparable .308″ projectiles of the same weight, and even of the same length. It seems shocking that a 7mm projectile would do so badly.

    • ostiariusalpha

      This was a rigorous military test of pure ballistics, so they used a universal receiver mounted to a ballistic table for maximum consistency.

      A few pictures of some ballistic test rigs:

      • Matthew Groom

        That is logical, but none of those rigs look like the kind that would have existed in the late 40’s and early 50’s. I was wondering what the actual report says, not what logical assumptions dictate.

        • Um, they had Mann barrels back then. Why wouldn’t they?

          Hell, the guy those rigs are named after died in 1916.

          • Matthew Groom

            I mean, were talking about the government here. Competence should never be assumed. I highly doubt that you could design a 7mm cartridge that was half as accurate as a long-necked .300 Savage wildcat. I find difficult to accept that some loads in, say… a 7mm-08, are half as accurate as bulk .308. The whole thing seems fishy.

          • The pictures in the report are rather grainy, but the Mann rigs are visible.

            III DETAILS OF TEST

            A. PROCEDURES
            1. Mann barrel accuracy at 600 yard range.
            a. Equipment using caliber .30, T65 ammunition
            Rifle, accuracy, caliber .30, T7692088
            Rest, recoil, accuracy, caliber .30, 49-6-40B
            Frankford Arsenal machine rest
            b. Equipment using caliber .280 ammunition
            Mann barrel, fitted to P-17 receiver (Enfield, caliber .30 action)
            Vee slide. No. 101, type 18826 (British manufacture)

          • ostiariusalpha

            Good of you to point that out. I went ahead and isolated the (pretty darn grainy) photos. It’s very interesting to compare the machine rest used in the 1950 ballistic tests, and how similar it is to a Mann rest, to the much more sophisticated rigs used in the 60’s.

          • The Springfield Armory National Historical Site also has vintage photos of their Mann test rigs.

          • Government or no, they used Mann barrels.

            It’s not fishy. The British .280 was at a much earlier stage of development than the .30 Light Rifle, and they had problems with this ammunition early on, even in their own testing.

  • Luke

    The real “stuck on stupid” idea in the US was the insistence that the next rifle use the same tooling that the M1 did. By this time, the tooling that the manufacturers had was mostly worn out and any new rifle for general issue would have required new tooling anyways.

    An interesting “might have been” rifle is the Johnson Auto Carbine. With a better magazine system, it definitely could have filled the role that the M14 tried to fill.

    • Yup. The only company that tried to reuse M1 tooling for the M14 was H&R, and we all know how that turned out…

  • Travis

    I understand the whole hindsight is 20/20 and we should have picked the .280 British… But is it really all that clear? If you are in an urban environment, it is clear, intermediate is best, but let’s look at Afghanistan. The 7.62 NATO round is the obvious choice for places such as that, along with the 5.56 NATO. If NATO had adopted the .280, what would NATO have adopted for use in machine guns? What about medium range sniper rifles? What about Turkey who is still ordering rifles in 7.62? I personally believe that the slower transition to the 5.56 was more beneficial in the long run as it has given NATO countries more options to fit their needs. Let’s face it, an intermediate cartridge is very lethal to 200 yards. The 7.62 is a good man stopper out to… 600 yards? 300 win mag and 338 lapua reach further. With everything there is give and take. Gain more range, loose full auto ccontrollability and add excessive weight. One cartridge can not do it all. I know there is a lot of criticism of the 5.56 NATO round, but I think we are asking for too much. The m16 was a fantastically reliable and devastating weapon, especially when we could use the M193 round. Is a 14″ barreled gun more maneuverable? Yes, but I think the Canadians got it right with their latest c7 rifle as you have more reliability and a longer effective range then the m4. If we need a very short carbine, 300 blkout is far better, but good lethality is going to be less then 100 yards, perfect for vehicles, but i think ground groups would still be better served with the m16. I’m not trying to start any battles, just my opinion. Thanks everyone for listening.

    • The 7mm Mk. 1Z (late .280) and 7.62 NATO were pretty similar in capability – and most other respects, too.

      • Travis

        Thanks for the reply Nathaniel, I did not realize that the two cartridges were so similar at the end.

          • jcitizen

            I’m surprised that the weight was so similar to the present 7.62 cartridge. For only being slightly lighter, the performance doesn’t make up for it. It is too late now, but it would have been wonderful if they could have squeezed more velocity out of that bullet. Aside designing a whole new type of round, like caseless ammunition – I don’t see anything new for the future. Of course battle field lasers are here now – God forbid!

  • Alex Nicolin

    The problem with “universal” rounds is that they are both too heavy and have too much recoil to allow for large quantities to be carried by the individual soldiers and controllable automatic fire without bipod support, and are too weak to reliably penetrate barriers at longer ranges. These tests show that it had been well known 60 years ago. You will need 2 rounds to fill the individual roles of personal small arm/light machinegun and designated marksman rifle/squad served machine-gun. The shortcut the US could have taken in the early 1950s would have been to keep the .30-06 in service (and push for more powerful loads, similar to current commercial ones), and introduce a full auto rifle shooting an SCHV cartridge to replace the M1 Carbine and many M1 rifles. But it would have been the same: 2 complementary rounds. There is no way around it.

  • William Taylor

    If Saive’s original “small” FAL chambered in 8×33 had been adopted, late in WW II or soon after the War ended, it, or a derivative of it, would very likely STILL be the main battle rifle of the western allies. No M-14, no M-16, no 7.62×51, no .223.

    • Counterargument: AKM -> AK-74

      • Dave

        Counter-counterargument:
        M14 vs. AKM=M16
        M16–>AK74

        • That is incoherent and wrong.

          • Dave

            I don’t think it is incoherent, although it may be too simplistic and therefore “wrong.” Do recall that ol’ Mikhail Kalashnikov hisself dismissed the need for the 5.45mm cartridge. Would the Soviets really have bothered to introduce the 5.45mm absent the M16? Certainly your postings on the 5.45mm cartridge are among the best I have read.

            The long version of the counter-counterargument:

            The M16 was being developed by Eugene Stoner, and he impressed ol’ cigar-chompin Curtis LeMay with it. Aim high Air Force.

            Meanwhile, in armed conflicts, WWII small arms continued to be used while the U.S. was adopting the M14. The M1 carbine and Garand vs. the Mosin-Nagant (Korea, Vietnam during the “advisor period” became increasingly the M1 carbine and Garand vs. SKS.

            When the U.S. moved in directly in 1965, the M14 was vying with the M16. The M14 was used by the Berlin garrison, one of the most prestigious postings. The M16 went to Vietnam, where the M14 vs. SKS was also becoming the M16 and M14 vs. AKM.

            The M16 displaced the M14 in Vietnam, hence “M14vs. AKM=M16” shorthand.
            The SCHV cartridge revolution that enthralls your research interests, in turn, leads to the short-hand: “M16–>AK74.”

            Your “counterargument” is simply a caliber change and refinement of the Kalashnikov. This was in response to a post about the original 8mm kurz patrone and .280 cal. and M1 carbine-caliber FAL. The FAL has been reduced in caliber from 7.62x51mm to 5.56mm only by Brazil. Other FAL user nations have adopted purpose-built 5.56mm rifles, whether C7s, AUGs, SA80/L85s, FAMAS, HK du jour, etc. etc. The M16/M4 caribine “platform” rules all of the various alternate calibers like 6.5 Grendel, 6.8 SPC, and even the new-improved 7.92x33mm kurz known as .300 Blackout.

            So while “AKM–>AK74” is technically “correct” the M16/M4 is the Lebel 86/93 of U.S. service rifles in terms of its lengthy term of service… And I don’t think Russia is actually going to be able to replace the AK74 with anything else soon either.