A Cartridge in Brief: .280 British

Jack Dutschke

During the Second World War, Germany developed a number of innovative small arms. One key development – the Sturmgewehr, chambered for the 7.92 × 33 mm Kurz cartridge – is rightly considered the grandfather of the modern ‘assault rifle’. The concept behind the assault rifle was a box magazine-fed, select-fire rifle chambered for an intermediate cartridge. It was to be effective within confined spaces, and out to 400 meters. Studies and experience from the Second World War and earlier had shown that most rifle combat was taking place at closer ranges than expected; the assault rifle would prove effective by giving the by allowing for controllable automatic fire, whilst reducing the weight and bulk of the cartridge.

Central to the development of this concept was the related idea of an ‘intermediate cartridge’ – that is, a cartridge mid-way between the pistol and full-power rifle cartridges of the time in terms of size, weight, and muzzle energy – such as the 7.92 × 33 mm Kurz. Following the success of the Sturmgewehr, many other countries including Great Britain and its allies looked to develop their own intermediate-calibre assault rifles, realising their potential on the battlefields of the future. Many of these developments took place shortly after the Second World War. Various cartridges were developed alongside these weapons, some of which are pictured in Figure 1.1.

Figure 1.1 Left to right: 30-06 Springfield, .276 Enfield, .303 British, .276 Pedersen, .280/30 British, T-65E1 49 mm, 7.62 × 51 mm NATO, 7.62 × 39 mm, 7.92 × 33 mm Kurz, and 5.56 × 45 mm NATO (source: Jack Dutschke/ARES).

In the late 1940s, Britain started their development of an intermediate cartridge with assistance from Belgium and Canada. In 1947, the final report of the UK Ministry of Supply’s Small Arms Calibre Panel suggested that ‘the standard round chosen should be of the smallest calibre possible [within the specification]’, and recommended the selection of a .25 or .27 inch (6.35 or 6.86 mm) projectile. Further development was recommended for two of the 7 mm cartridges tested, A .270 cartridge and .276 cartridge. The .276 projectile diameter was actually 7.2 mm (.284), and it was later re-named .280 to avoid confusion with earlier .276 calibre cartridges such as the .276 Enfield and the American .276 Pedersen. The .280 was later modified to have the same rim diameter as the American .30-06 and .30 T65E3 cartridges. The .280 was renamed the .280/30, and development of this cartridge was prioritised; development of the .270 cartridge was discontinued in late 1948.

Figure 1.2 Various .280/30 cartridges (source: Jack Dutschke/ARES).

British experiments with the .280/30 calibre led to the development of the Janson E.M.2 self-loading rifle, chambered for a 7 × 43 mm cartridge. It was hoped that a short, bullpup configuration rifle capable of controllable automatic fire thanks to the .280/30 intermediate cartridge could replace both the standard infantry rifle (the Lee-Enfield chambered for .303 British) and the submachine gun (Sterling and other models chambered for 9 × 19 mm). Performance testing of the .280/30 cartridge proved promising, with the British going on to present the E.M.2 rifle for NATO trials in 1950. However, American officers deemed the .280/30 cartridge not powerful enough, and insisted on adopting a .30 calibre round.

Despite objections from the US, the British briefly adopted the E.M.2 as the “Rifle, No.9 Mk.1” in 1951. The .280/30 cartridge was adopted alongside the E.M.2 as the “Cartridge, 7mm S.A.A. Ball, Mk.1Z”. American insistence on adopting a larger, more powerful round led to British and Belgian efforts to develop a range of more powerful cartridges based on the .280/30, however the US remained unconvinced and the .30 T65E3 was adopted by NATO as the 7.62 × 51 mm NATO cartridge in 1954. Production of the Rifle No.9 Mk.1 was cancelled, and it was replaced in British service by a lightly-modified version of the Belgian FN Herstal FAL.

Figure 1.3 L-R: An aluminium-cased .280/30 cartridge with translucent orange lacquer; a ‘Ball Type C’ cartridge with salmon pink tip colour; a ball 7mm Mk.1z cartridge with CNCS jacket and yellow tip colour.

Various types of .280 and .280/30 were produced, including ball (FMJ), armour-piercing (AP), armour-piercing incendiary (API), observation (‘observing’ in contemporary British parlance), and tracer (T) types, each distinguished by different coloured projectile tips. Experimental .280 cartridge cases were produced from aluminium, with various lacquered finishes in clear, yellow, orange, and blue. Despite these test cases, the designers opted to proceed with a conventional brass case. Cases were Berdan primed, as was typical for British small-calibre ammunition production of the time, and mostly featured purple sealant at the primer annulus.

Early projectiles of 130 grains were developed with both lead cores and mild steel cores, and these featured gilding metal-clad steel (GMCS) jackets. 140 grain projectiles were subsequently introduced, also with GMCS jackets. Starting in 1949, combined British-Belgian development efforts led to the use of the more aerodynamically-efficient S12 type projectile, which featured a cupro-nickel-clad steel (CNCS) jacket. The “Cartridge, 7mm S.A.A. Ball, Mk.1Z”, as adopted with the E.M.2 in 1951, was the definitive iteration of the 7 × 43 mm round and propelled a 9.0 gram (140 grain) projectile at a velocity of 777 m/s (2,550 fps). It featured a CNCS-jacketed projectile with a yellow tip.

Figure 1.4 Some headstamps on .280/30 cartridges. L-R: ROF Radway Green, 1949 (orange-lacquered aluminium case); ROF Radway Green, 1949 (brass case); ICI Metals Division, 1949 (brass case); ROF Radway Green, 1951 (brass case) (source: Jack Dutschke/ARES). 

Known manufacturers by year of .280/30 cartridge are outlined in Table 1.1, and some examples of headstamps are pictured in Figure 1.4. Known types of .280/30 cartridges are detailed in Table 1.2, with some tip colour codes shown in Figure 1.3.

Table 1.1 – Known Manufacturers by Year of .280/30 Cartridges

Manufacturer Location Headstamp Code Years
ICI Metals Division
(Kynoch Works)
Birmingham, England K 1947, 1948, 1949
Royal Ordnance Factory Radway Green Cheshire, England RG 1949, 1950, 1951, 1970
Fabrique Nationale d’Armes de Guerre (FN Herstal) Herstal, Belgium FN 1951, 1952

Source: de Hek, 1998; IAA forums; ARES collection.

Table 1.2 – Known Types of .280/30 Cartridges

Type Jacket Material Bullet weight Tip colour
Ball (lead core) Type A GMCS 130 grn. Dark Blue
Ball (mild steel core) Type A GMCS 130 grn. None
Ball (lead) Type B GMCS 140 grn. Yellow
Ball (mild steel) Type B GMCS 140 grn. Green
Ball (mild steel) Type C GMCS 140 grn. Salmon Pink
Ball (mild steel) Type AA GMCS 140 grn. Chocolate Brown
Ball (mild steel) Type AA (mod.) GMCS 140 grn. Brown
Ball (lead) 7mm Mk.1 CNCS 140 grn. None
Ball (lead) 7mm Mk.1z CNCS 140 grn. Yellow
Ball (lead) 7mm Mk.1z (1970) CNCS 140 grn. Violet
Armour-piercing GMCS 130 grn. Eggshell Blue
Armour-piercing incendiary GMCS Black
Tracer GMCS 115 grn. White
Inert tracer GMCS White/Blue or Dark Brown
Observing GMCS Red
Inert observing GMCS Red/Blue or Grey
Grenade blank N/A N/A N/A
Proof GMCS Small Red tip or Red band(s) on case or Red bands on projectile
Drill (Ball) GMCS/CNCS Green (no primer)

Source: Antill, 2009; de Hek, 1998; ARES collection.

Figure 1.5 .280/30 cartridge produced by ICI Metals Division (Kynoch Works) in 1949, as test-fired by ARES in the E.M.2 self-loading rifle in 2017 (source: N.R. Jenzen-Jones/ARES).

ARES had the opportunity to test-fire some .280/30 cartridges from an E.M.2 in early 2017. The rounds fired were all produced by Kynoch in 1949 (see Figure 1.5). The ‘salmon pink’ tip colouration (see header image) indicates that they are Type C ball cartridges, featuring a 140 grain projectile and a GMCS case.

Figure 1.6 ARES Director N.R. Jenzen-Jones test-firing the E.M.2 self-loading rifle in early 2017, firing .280/30 Type C ball cartridges produced in by IMI Metals Division in 1949 (source: Chloe Tousignant/ARES). 

Note to researchers: if you have further information on types, years of production, or other details regarding this cartridge, please feel free to contact us

Special thanks to the Defence Academy of the United Kingdom at Shrivenham, for allowing ARES to handle and fire an E.M.2 rifle. Thanks are also due to Neil Grant for his assistance. 

Further Reading

Antill, P. 2009. ‘The EM-2 (Rifle No. 9, Mk 1): Britain’s Original Bullpup Rifle’. History of War. <http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_EM-2_rifle.html>

Ferguson, Jonathan. 2017. ‘British Janson E.M.2 Automatic Rifle’. The Hoplite. <https://armamentresearch.com/british-janson-e-m-2-automatic-rifle/>

de Hek, W.D. 1998. Military Cartridges: Part 2 – Identification Headstamps & Projectile Tipcolours. Self-published. Section F, pp.46, 57 & 74.

Jenzen-Jones, N.R. Global Development and Production of Self-loading Service Rifles: 1896 to the Present. Geneva: Small Arms Survey. <http://www.smallarmssurvey.org/fileadmin/docs/F-Working-papers/SAS-WP25-Self-loading-rifles.pdf>

Labbett, P. & P.J.F. Mead. British .270″, .280″ and 7 mm Experimental Ammunition. Series 2, Pamphlet 1. Self-published.

UK Ministry of Supply. 1947. The Choice of a Standard Round for Small Arms. Technical Report No. 5/47. Sevenoaks: Armaments Design Department, Ministry of Supply.

Williams, Anthony G. 2014. ‘Assault Rifles and Their Ammunition: History and Prospects’. <http://www.quarryhs.co.uk/Assault.htm>


Remember, all arms and munitions are dangerous. Treat all firearms as if they are loaded, and all munitions as if they are live, until you have personally confirmed otherwise. If you do not have specialist knowledge, never assume that arms or munitions are safe to handle until they have been inspected by a subject matter specialist. You should not approach, handle, move, operate, or modify arms and munitions unless explicitly trained to do so. If you encounter any unexploded ordnance (UXO) or explosive remnants of war (ERW), always remember the ‘ARMS’ acronym:

AVOID the area
RECORD all relevant information
MARK the area from a safe distance to warn others
SEEK assistance from the relevant authorities