Updated. This post has been updated thanks to the kind input of Gary Hancock.
Whilst metal ammunition boxes from the Second World War are pretty easy to find, wooden boxes survive in far fewer numbers- they were chopped up for firewood, rotted and were not as robust as metal cases so were more likely to be thrown away than used for tool boxes. As such they are harder for the collector to find, but if you get lucky they are often covered in old labels indicating their original contents. Tonight we have an example of a H13 box, used to store .303 ammunition:Sadly this box is missing its lid and the metal bands that secured it; the handles are replacements I fitted as the originals were also long gone:The ‘B’ on the end of the box would originally have been a raised metal plate to allow identification of contents in the dark, the ‘B’ standing for incendiary ammunition. The labels on the side of the box make up for any missing fittings however. Firstly we have a small government explosives label, pasted near the top:A faded label is also attached, which sadly is unreadable now:This label originally read ‘Not to be fired from Synchronised Guns after 3/5/46.’ The most interesting label however is the large one identifying the original contents of the box:From this we can see the box contained 1248 rounds of incendiary ammunition, this would have been packed in 26 individual cartons of 48 rounds and would have weighed an impressive 77lbs- hence the sturdy box. These rounds were ‘B Mk VII’ rounds and were used in aircraft; the following description of the round comes courtesy of the British Military Small Arms Ammo webpage:
In early 1941 problems were encountered in service with the brass base plug of the Mark VI bullet becoming detached as the bullet left the muzzle and damaging the aircraft. To overcome this a simplified design was produced in which the steel sleeve was chamfered to the internal shape of the envelope to prevent it moving forward and the base of the bullet was closed with a steel disc over a lead plug.
“Cartridge S.A. Incendiary .303 inch B Mark VII” (and VII.z) were approved to design DD/L/11846 in 1941 and were not shown in Lists of Changes. In Naval service the design was later superseded by NOD 6322.
The case was the normal service case and had a blue annulus. Some early examples were unheadstamped or loaded into cases headstamped “B.VIZ” in an attempt to maintain secrecy but most carried the code “B.VII” or “B.VIIZ”.
The bullet had a gilding metal envelope inside which was a steel sleeve within a lead sheath. the bullet base was chamfered and closed with a steel disc and lead base plug. The bullet had a single cannelure and weighed 168 grains. The bullet tip was coloured blue for identification. The composition was 7 grains of SR 365.
The propellant charge was 36 grains of Cordite MDT 5-2 or 35.5 grains of nitro-cellulose.
Muzzle velocity was 2,370 fps.
From this it can be seen that the box is RAF rather than army related, the ammunition issued for aircraft machine guns rather than ground based small arms, the incendiary nature of the bullets helping to set fire to the fuel on enemy aircraft if they hit in the right place. One fighter pilot described the experience of being hit by incendiary ammunition:
I could smell powder smoke, hot and strong, but it didn’t make me feel tough this time. It was from the cannon shells and incendiary bullets that had hit my machine…Bullets were going between my legs, and I remember seeing a bright flash of an incendiary bullet going past my leg into the gas tank…Then a little red tongue licked out inquiringly from under the gas tank in front of my feet and became a hot little bonfire in one corner of the cockpit
Returning to the box, the box type has been stamped on the underside of the wood:Further stamps indicate the box was made by ‘CH Ltd’ in 1944:One end of the box has ‘Gross 84’ stencilled on in yellow paint:This being the weight of the full ammunition box, including both the box and its contents.