Cartridge (ammunition)

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Cartridge components

A cartridge (from French Patron for "shape, pattern, model") combines the components necessary for firing a projectile ( projectile or grenade ) from a firearm in one unit. The unit cartridge usually consists of a case, percussion cap , propellant charge and projectile. Historical cartridges do not make this unit. The propellant charge is insensitive to impact and must be ignited by a pilot flame. This is done by the percussion cap, which contains a primer that ignites when the firing pin of the weapon strikes the primer.

Cartridges are ammunition and are used today for calibers from 4.3 mm (.170) up to 130 mm in the AK-130 . Special designs, such as shotgun shells , contain several projectiles ( shot ), the size and number of which varies depending on the intended use. Instead of the bullet or in addition to the bullet, special cartridges can also contain propellant, fluorescent or bang charges or irritant charges.


The demand for ever higher cadence (rate of fire) in firearms made a development necessary ultimately to detachment of loading the individual components ( propellant , shot plaster and projectile plus ignition) by loading the chamber led by cartridges. It was only then that the development of practical breech- loaders and thus of semi-automatic and fully automatic weapons became possible.

Paper cartridge

Paper cartridges for muzzle-loaders, late 18th century

In the 16th and 17th centuries, the musketeers still had wooden tubes with measured powder charges hanging on their bandolier to speed up the charging process, the paper cartridge was the first step towards combining the powder charge and projectile. The paper cartridge has been in use since the end of the 17th century. Here an elongated, glued paper tube contained the gunpowder and the lead bullet. This first generation of the paper cartridge was only used to provide a measured amount of powder and the projectile and was used in muzzle-loaders .

To load the weapon, the shooter bit open the paper case at the back, holding the weapon with the other hand, put some powder on the ignition pan and emptied the rest into the barrel of the musket. In order not to escape from the ignition hole, the powder had to have a sufficiently coarse grain size. The paper including the projectile was then pushed in. As a sealing material, the paper compensated for the large manufacturing tolerances of the cast ball in the barrel. The charge was ignited by means of a flintlock and the powder in the powder pan, and from the middle of the 19th century by a primer . The advantages of this early cartridge lay in the possibility of mass production, the better portability of the ammunition and the more even loading of the weapons. The quote comes from a Prussian service instruction: "... the guy should bite until he tastes the powder."

Chassepot paper cartridge
for early breech loading rifles (needle guns), around 1866
Paper cartridges caliber .44 and .36 for percussion revolvers

The paper cartridge was further developed for later rifle models, especially breech- loaders . For example, complete paper cartridges have already been used in the Sharps rear loaders. These contained the projectile, insulating material (mostly felt) and the powder charge. The cartridge was a few millimeters longer than the loading chamber. When the block cap was closed, the rear end of the cartridge was cut off and the primer hole was placed directly in front of the propellant charge. The shooter only had to put the primer on the piston of the percussion lock and fire immediately. In order to prevent paper scraps from remaining in the barrel and in the cartridge chamber, nitrided paper could be used as the sleeve material, which burned almost residue-free.

With the further development of weapons, the paper cartridge was also further developed. Other types of cartridges were developed for the emerging models. Examples are the designs of Dreyse and Chassepot ( needle gun cartridges ), Sharps and Gallager , but also Westley Richard's monkey-tail rifle and the Bavarian Podewils rifle .

The first revolvers from Colt or Remington were also loaded with paper cartridges that contained the projectile and the propellant charge . Only the primer had to be attached to the piston .

Contemporaries praised paper cartridges for their simplicity and cheap production. However, it soon became necessary to achieve gas tightness through the cartridge and its liner (pressure-related adaptation) to the cartridge chamber, which was not possible with paper cartridges ( ignition needle cartridge ).

Lefaucheux revolver for use with the Lefaucheux pin fuse cartridge shown
Development of US small arms ammunition from 1860 to 1875

Metal cartridge

One of the intermediate steps in the development of the modern cartridge with a metal case can be seen as the Lefaucheux pen cartridge developed by Casimir Lefaucheux around 1830 , which received various patents around 1846. The special feature of the cartridge consists in a steel pin that extends laterally out of the copper sleeve, which transmits the hammer's impact pulse to the inside of the primer in the cartridge.

An important step in the development of modern cartridge ammunition was the invention of the French gunsmith Louis Flobert , who patented a cartridge in the form commonly used today as early as 1846. The fuming mercury worked into the inner edge of the case served as ignition and propellant . In contrast to modern ammunition, the Flobert cartridge did not contain any powder charge as propellant in addition to the primer.

From the middle of the 19th century, the development of modern cartridges, as they are used until today, progressed rapidly, which then ultimately had a strong influence on the development of weapons.

An intermediate step to the modern metal cartridge was the wrapped sleeve made of thin metal foil, as it is e.g. B. was used with the .577 Snider . When it was fired, the foil unwound a bit and sealed off the cartridge chamber in a gas-tight manner. After the gas pressure had subsided, the film rewound easily and the cartridge could simply be pulled out of the cartridge chamber.

Special form - caseless ammunition

The Rocket Ball , patented by Walter Hunt in 1848 and used in the American Hunt repeating rifle, can be described as the first caseless cartridge . In this case, the propellant charge was housed in the rear cavity of the projectile. Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson improved it by inserting the squib into the cavity of the bullet in addition to the propellant. From 1855 it was used in the Volcanic lever action rifles , due to the lack of eyelid (poor gas seal) it quickly disappeared again.

Caseless cartridges have also been developed more recently . Caseless ammunition includes cartridges without a casing or with a self-consuming (completely burning) casing and rocket projectiles.

Combustible sleeve

Some tank cannons use ammunition with combustible cases. Conventional metal cases pose a problem after being fired. The large cases are ejected, can roll uncontrollably to the ground and are initially too hot to be touched. They also give off combustion residues from the propellant charge in the fighting compartment. They can only be disposed of through the hatches during a break in the fight. In the case of a combustible case, however, a large part of the case burns when it is fired. What remains is a case stub made of case base and a low rim. The sleeves made of nitrided cardboard are also lighter than those made of metal. However, the disadvantage is the risk of premature ignition in the event of improper reloading. Burning residues and hot gases in the pipe can trigger this.


Rifle cartridge 8 × 57 mm I with Berdan ignition (from Meyers Konversations-Lexikon , 1892)

In the most common design of the cartridge, the cartridge case contains the propellant charge , the projectile (projectile) and the ignition charge (see figure):

  1. Projectile (bullet), still referred to as a bullet in the hunter's language
  2. Cartridge case that holds all parts together
  3. Propellants such as gunpowder or cordite
  4. Extractor groove, which is required on the back of the cartridge case (e.g. with pistol ammunition and ammunition of automatic weapons) to pull out the fired case or to pull out the cartridge when unloading; with other weapons, an edge at the lower end of the case may be used
  5. Percussion cap to ignite the propellant

Special designs:

  • Micro caliber cartridge
  • Multi-bullet cartridge
    • Duplex cartridge
    • Triplex cartridge
    • Crush caliber cartridge
    • Arrow cartridge
  • Capsule cartridge
  • Caseless ammunition
  • Blank cartridge
  • Gas cartridge

Cartridge components

Cases of modern cartridges using the example of .223 Remington

Cartridge case

Modern cartridge cases are mostly made of brass . Sleeves for military use are often made of steel and treated with corrosion protection. They are lighter than brass cartridge cases and cheaper to manufacture. Also, aluminum is used. The sleeves are formed from a piece of metal by extrusion in several steps. The case base is usually harder than the case neck; this is achieved by hardening or soft annealing . A new development is the caseless cartridge , which, however, did not catch on.

Brass cartridge cases are recycled to a high degree after they have been used on shooting ranges , either by reloading or as material for industrial remanufacturing. The brass sleeves are particularly popular as a valuable material, as there is hardly any significant metallurgical contamination during use or collection.

Cartridge types

A distinction is made between cartridge cases according to the type of ignition used:

the form:

as well as the material:

  • Metal (see above)
  • Plastic that is mainly used in pop / maneuver cartridges (without projectile). The case base with the percussion cap is usually made of metal
  • Cardboard / paper, for shotgun ammunition , in conjunction with a brass or plastic cup that holds the primer cap and the propellant charge
  • Caseless cartridge i. A. made of nitrocellulose , which burns almost without residue when the shot is fired.

Extractor groove

Above: rimless cartridge 8 × mm 57 IS with extraction groove
below: rim cartridge 8 × mm 57 IRS
The puller groove at the lower end of a fired cartridge case in caliber 5.56 × 45 mm NATO

An extractor groove on the case base is the essential feature of rimless cartridge ammunition. After the shot has been fired, the extractor can pull the empty cartridge case out of the chamber (chamber) using the circumferential groove . The sleeve then hits the ejector , which pushes it out of the locking system .

Cartridge bottom

Cartridge bottoms can have embossed headstamps that contain information about the design of the cartridge, its production site and its date of manufacture.

In the case of caseless projectiles of large caliber, the cartridge base is solid, for example in the cannon of the Leopard 2 main battle tank . The solid cartridge base improves the loading capacity and the safety of the ammunition, it is ejected like a cartridge case.


"Boat Tail" -Geschosse caliber .270 Winchester from Sierra Bullets
Bullet lubrication

The standard projectiles have a straight “cut” end and therefore an aerodynamically unfavorable shape. The end of the so-called "boat tail" bullet shape ( English , roughly "boat stern", since the longitudinal section of such a bullet resembles the outline of a boat hull) runs conically in the shape of a truncated cone , is more aerodynamic and therefore flies further and more stable.

Projectile structure and tip are adapted to the desired target ballistic requirements. So over the years very different configurations of full and partial jacketed bullets of different materials with a wide variety of bullet tips, possibly also with galvanic and chemical coatings and inserts, have been developed.

Lead and lead alloys as well as galvanically coated lead bullets are also used. In order to reduce the friction in the barrel and to prevent leading of the barrel, lead bullets must be greased. They are therefore provided with one or more grease grooves for bullet lubrication . Another solution are projectiles that "self-lubricate" when fired by the combustion pressure.

For reasons of environmental protection, large-caliber sport shooting with pistols or revolvers sometimes uses lead-free or lead-alloy-free projectiles . The significantly higher price of these ammunition and the low availability of different calibers, however, severely limit their use. In the case of skeet and trap shooting with the shotgun, mainly steel shot is used instead of the usual lead shot because of environmental protection.

Propellant charge

Examples of blowing agents (NC powder)

In the early history of firearms, the propellant charge consisted of black powder (also known as gunpowder ). Older types of cartridges were developed for use with black powder, first of course the old types of paper cartridges, but later also handgun and long gun cartridges with sleeves made of brass. These black powder cartridges can sometimes be recognized by their names such as B. .44-40 (also .44 WCF) or .45-70 . Even modern cartridges loaded with smokeless powder sometimes still bear this designation. However, they are unsuitable for black powder weapons.

In modern cartridges, mostly low-smoke powders based on cellulose nitrate are used, sometimes as polybasic powders with various admixtures. Depending on the intended use, powders with different burn rates are used. In addition to chemical additives, the burning rate can also be influenced by the design of the “powder body” (e.g. platelet, tube, spherical shape, etc.). For weapons with a short barrel, quick-burning powder is preferred because there is only a relatively short path available for accelerating the projectile. Slower-burning powders are used for guns with long barrels. The energy content of a powder type is largely independent of its burning behavior.

Percussion caps

Central fire primer using the example of "Large Rifle" (for large rifle cases)

In modern cartridges, center fire ignition is used almost exclusively . For predominantly used in hunting and sporting cartridges than Boxer ignition known hazard type common. A primer cap sits over an ignition channel drilled in the middle of the case base . Cartridges used in the military usually have the so-called Berdan ignition with two or three ignition channels. A mandrel called an anvil is embedded in the middle of the case base , around which the ignition channels are arranged symmetrically. Here, too, the primer sits in the middle of the case base. A few milliseconds after the shot is fired, the firing pin hits the center of the primer. The ignition charge is burned off and the resulting energy is directed to the propellant charge through the ignition channel or channels in the case base. Another important task of the primer cap is to seal the cartridge gas-tight at the bottom.

Rimfire ignition is still mostly used for small caliber ammunition . The sleeve forms an edge on the bottom in which the ring-shaped ignition charge is located. The firing pin hits the edge of the case and ignites the ignition charge. The most important advantage is the cost-saving elimination of a primer cap, but the cartridge cannot be reloaded because the deformation of the edge cannot be reversed.

Modern tank ammunition is also partially ignited electrically or the active charge ( hollow or explosive charge ) is only “sharpened” at the end of the tube by means of induction coils .

With the Flobert rifle , the primer is also the propellant. In addition, there is the now obsolete percussion ignition and the Lefaucheux ignition .

Interaction of the components

M4 carbine when firing

Depending on the use (police, military, hunting, sport), the components of a cartridge of the same caliber are put together differently. The loading , the cartridge case and the projectile type, but also the quality of the components and / or the quality of the entire cartridge differ from one another.

The target cartridge is designed for sporty target shooting. As a rule, it has a weaker charge, which can be reduced to such an extent that the ballistic performance required for this purpose is just achieved. In the case of semi-automatic weapons, the reduction due to the energy required for the charging process is limited. Reducing the charge reduces barrel vibrations, rifle flapping and other effects of recoil , which improves precision. On the other hand, this reduces the speed of the bullet's flight path, which is exposed to changing wind influences for a longer period of time, which has a negative effect on precision. The wadcutter bullet, which is often used with target cartridges, cuts clearly defined holes in the cardboard material of the target.

In the large-caliber disciplines, sport shooters like to rely on self-made and reloaded cartridges. In rifle disciplines from 300 m, the shooters often load cartridges on the shooting range immediately before the competition in order to better adapt them to the environmental conditions on the firing range and to configure them precisely for each series.

Overview of the cartridge components
Propellant charges Propellant strengths Sleeve material Sleeve shapes
  • cylinder
  • Bottleneck
  • conical design
Sleeve bottom molds Ignition system Bullet material Story shape and structure
  • with rim (R - English rimmed )
  • with half rim (HR - English SR: semi rimmed)
  • without edge (- English: rimless)
  • with belt (B - belted)
  • with retracted edge (English: RB - rebated)
  • Lead alloy
  • Lead alloy with mild steel or copper jacket v. a. Tombac
  • Projectile milled from solid
  • uranium
  • Additional coating made of plastic, Teflon, etc. a.

Cartridge dimensions

Cartridges in comparison:
9 × 19 mm , 7.62 × 25 mm , .357 SIG , 10 mm Auto , .40 S&W , .45 GAP and .50 AE

Projectile diameters up to 20 mm are used for handguns. Military weapons use cartridges up to about 40 mm in caliber. In addition, separate projectiles and propellant charges are usually used.

Cartridges for handguns are used with a wide variety of projectile diameters and case lengths. The German nomenclature first designates the caliber of the bullet and then the length of the case (e.g. 9 × 19 mm ). The advantage of this designation is that in addition to the actual caliber, namely the inside diameter of the barrel, the length of the cartridge case and thus a basic dimension of the chamber is also specified, which is important when identifying cartridges with bullets of the same caliber. For example, the metric information (actually incorrect) is also referred to as “cartridge caliber”. If it is a sleeve with a rim or half rim, a corresponding abbreviation is appended (e.g. 7.65 × 17 mm HR). In order to be able to make further distinctions with the same dimensions, different additions have been implemented (e.g. 6.5 × 53.5 mm Mannlicher / Greece 03 or 6.5 × 53.5 mm Mannlicher-Schönauer M1900). Colloquially, other terms are often used, also to make the difference to common ammunition clear (e.g. 9 mm short instead of 9 × 17 mm Browning).

In the Anglo-Saxon countries, the calibers are usually given in inches and supplemented by the name of the developer (e.g. .223 Remington ). Sometimes, however, the year of introduction (e.g. .30-06 = introduced 1906) or the load and bullet weight (e.g. .45-90-300) is also given. Some caliber specifications differ from the actual dimensions or are rounded to differentiate between different cartridges with the same bullet diameter. The bullet and case diameters of the .357 Magnum and .38 Special cartridges match, so that the shorter .38 caliber cartridges can also be fired from a .357 caliber revolver.

"Magnum" cartridges are longer than the standard cartridge. As longer cartridges hold a larger propellant charge , they usually have a higher energy and thus a higher target ballistic effect.

In the military sector, mainly in the armies of NATO countries and other European armies, the metric cartridge dimensions are predominantly used. In the Anglo-American language area, the common indication is in inches. The designation in customs therefore usually also includes corresponding ammunition from the civil sector.

Handgun cartridge

For handguns (rifles, pistols, revolvers, etc.) and most automatic weapons, cartridges are supplied ready-assembled. Especially in the field of sport shooting, cartridges are also manufactured by reloaders who have passed their technical examination and thus have the appropriate license under the Explosives Act .

Handgun cartridge

A handgun cartridge is a cartridge that is set up for use in a handgun (handgun), i.e. a revolver cartridge or a pistol cartridge. Such cartridges are usually cylindrical (e.g. caliber .38 Special) or very slightly conical (e.g. caliber 9 × 19 mm). However, there are exceptions and there are also handguns that fire rifle ammunition.

Pistol cartridge

Pistol cartridge using the example of the 9 mm Luger (the puller groove typical for pistol cartridges on the bottom of the case can be clearly seen)

A pistol cartridge is a cartridge designed primarily as ammunition for use in a pistol . As a rule, they do not have a rim, so that the cartridges can be better arranged one above the other in a magazine . For this they always have a circumferential groove in front of the cartridge base, the pull-out groove . In the accesses extractor claw to the empty shot sleeve from the cartridge chamber to extract and through the ejection port to eject.

However, there are also a few pistols that are designed for rim cartridges (e.g. the " Desert Eagle " in calibers .357 Magnum and .44 Magnum , made in Israel and designed in the USA ).

Revolver cartridge

Revolver cartridge using the example of the .357 Magnum (the rim on the case base typical for revolver cartridges can be clearly seen)

A revolver cartridge is a cartridge designed primarily for use in a revolver . In most cases it is a rim cartridge so that the cartridges are held in the cartridge chambers and do not fall through the drum bore. Revolver cartridges usually have a longer sleeve than comparable pistol cartridges, the resulting potential major propellant increases its clout against gun ammunition. The best-known calibers for revolvers are .38 Special , .357 Magnum and .44 Magnum .

With special brackets (metal disks with recesses), pistol cartridges without a rim can also be fired in appropriate revolvers. The loading process can be accelerated by the metal disks provided with several cartridges.

In addition, revolvers in rifle calibres are being experimented with, but these are mostly manufactured as individual pieces and are difficult to handle. Some of these "giants" may only be fired with gel gloves and a full-face helmet in order to avoid serious injuries from the recoil force .

Middle cartridge

In terms of performance, the medium cartridge lies between the handgun cartridges and rifle cartridges (high-performance cartridge). Medium cartridges were developed immediately before and during the Second World War and are the ammunition for self-loading rifles and so-called assault rifles . Assault rifles (originally automatic carbines ) are a category of military self-loading rifles that were developed towards the end of World War II. Assault rifles offer the rate of fire of submachine guns and almost reach the penetration power, precision and range of carbines and are therefore ideal infantry weapons. The first militarily significant assault rifle was the German assault rifle 44 for the caliber 7.92 × 33 mm short or the 7.62 × 39 mm for the AK-47 .

Rifle cartridge

Basically, they are divided into ammunition for rifles and shotguns .

Rifle cartridges usually have a significantly stronger charge than ammunition for handguns, as the propellant gases can act longer on the projectile due to the longer barrel length, which means that a higher muzzle velocity can be achieved. There are also rifle cartridges that are used in pistols or revolvers, such as the .22 lfB .

Rifle cartridge

Rifle cartridge using the example of the .30-30 Winchester

The casings of rifle cartridges often have the shape of a bottle , since in this way the powder space can be enlarged without the length / diameter ratio of the casing becoming too large. If the case is too long, there is a risk that the charge will not fully ignite when the shot is being fired and that unburned powder will leave the barrel, which would reduce performance. The cases of cartridges of heavy hunting caliber such. B.450 / .500 / .600 Nitro Express as well as the .700 Nitro Express with the largest bullet diameter or caliber, which were introduced a long time ago, e.g. B. the "Försterpatrone" 9.3 × 72 mm R , are cylindrical or slightly conical.

Shotgun cartridge

Structure of a shotshell

The modified structure of the shotgun cartridge includes the cartridge case , said projectile (bullet) so called in the case. Slugs ( English Slug ) or the shot load (English shot ), the wad (or other suitable balancing material) for volume compensation in the cartridge, the propellant charge , and Ignition charge (see illustration).

  1. The cartridge case (cardboard, paper or plastic) that holds all parts together and whose upper edge is crimped inwards . Shotgun barrels are visible at the top of the cartridge. In the case of shot charges, the cartridge case is closed at the top by a cardboard disk or cardboard folded in a star shape.
  2. The projectile (shotgun barrel) or projectiles (shot).
  3. The shotgun cup.
  4. The propellant, for example gunpowder or cordite .
  5. The cartridge cap (metallic) with the primer cap for igniting the propellant.

Gun cartridge

Gun cartridge using the example of caliber 76 mm

Gun cartridges are pre-configured cartridges whose projectiles (projectiles or grenades) have a caliber from approx. 20 mm and are therefore used for firing from guns . For larger calibers, u. U. the projectile (projectile) only placed shortly before the shot is fired. In this case, it is not a cartridge (missing projectile), but a cartridge .

Grenade cartridge

Grenade cartridge using the example of the 40 mm rifle grenade cartridge of the M203 grenade launcher on the M16A1 (40 × 46 mm)

Grenade cartridges can be fired from grenade rifles, grenade devices (e.g. as an extension of assault rifles), grenade launchers, etc. These cartridges are designed, for example, as explosive grenade cartridges, smoke grenade cartridges, light grenade cartridges, shotgun cartridges, irritant cartridges or training or maneuver grenade cartridges.

Cartridge special shapes

Wadcutter cartridge

Wad cutter cartridge using the
.38 Special as an example

Cartridge with a cylindrical case in which the wadcutter bullet is inserted so that it is flush with the case mouth, i.e. does not protrude from the case. Wadcutter cartridges have less charge than a normal cartridge due to the significantly deeper projectile and are usually used for sport as a disc cartridge. The best-known calibers for wadcutter cartridges are .32 S&W Long and .38 Special .

Wadcutter cartridges are a separate type of cartridge. The Walther GSP sports pistol in caliber .32 S&W Long WC can only accept ammunition with the recessed wadcutter bullet.


Flechette bullet using the example of the APFSDS bullet

The first firearms were almost exclusively used to fire arrow projectiles before round lead bullets were invented in the 14th century. Nowadays, a flechette bullet is a sub-caliber needle or arrow bullet. As with shotgun or rifle bullets , a sabot is used to prevent gas from slipping around the bullet. Such an arrow projectile has a much more elongated trajectory and a much higher speed than a conventional projectile of the same caliber.

The modern flechette ammunition is a military development whose origins go back to the fire pot .

Duplex and triplex cartridge

Disassembled triplex cartridge

Since the beginning of the 20th century, attempts have been made to accommodate two to three projectiles in a row in a cartridge case, which can then be fired with one shot. The rear bullets were in the powder room of the cartridge and touched the floor of the bullet in front. Some of the projectiles were shorter and the cases longer than standard cartridges. In the late 1950s, the development of such cartridges was resumed, but they were not widely used. The initial velocities of the projectiles could vary considerably. In a duplex version of the 7.62 × 51 mm cartridge with two bullets each weighing 5.2 grams, the front bullet reached 850 m / s, the rear 790 m / s.

Telescopic cartridge

Telescopic cartridges for the 40 mm Cased Telescoped Weapon System

Telescopic cartridges are cartridges in which the projectile is completely within the propellant charge. The cartridges do not have a metal sleeve and can, for example, be designed as compact cuboids. The entire length of the projectile is embedded in a central opening in the propellant charge. When fired, the projectile emerges telescopically from the propellant charge. Telescope cartridges were developed for experimental weapons such as the LSAT program and for the 40 mm Cased Telescoped Weapon System . Telescopic cartridges bring advantages in ammunition supply and make better use of the energy of the propellant charge.

Bang cartridge

Maneuver cartridge 7.62 × 51 mm
Main article: Blank cartridge

The blank cartridge is also known as a blank cartridge, or exercise and maneuver cartridge. This cartridge lacks the projectile (bullet). Instead, the cartridge is sealed above the propellant charge, which can also be replaced by a pure "pop charge" if necessary. When firing, the tip of the cartridge opens or bursts based on the predetermined breaking points. Instead of a cartridge case made of brass, plastic variants are also widespread.

Popping cartridges can be used to fire signal ammunition or rifle grenades from small-caliber firearms attached to the barrel .

According to the German Weapons Act , any ammunition that does not contain a projectile, including the popping cartridge, is defined as a cartridge . In military terms, however, the term is only used for cases that contain the propellant charge for projectiles from large-caliber guns.

Irritant cartridge

Instead of the projectile (bullet), the irritant cartridge contains granules which, in reaction with oxygen and / or heat, release irritants such as tear gas or CS gas. It is mostly fired from handguns. The cartridge is closed with a suitable stopper above the granules.

Signal and light cartridge

Signal cartridge red

These cartridges are used for signaling (e.g. in shipping) by means of flares in different colors, by means of bang or by generating a trail of smoke or light.

In the military sector, they are also used for battlefield lighting . Certain completely configured signal cartridges for handguns are fired from signal pistols such as the HK P2A1 or other special launching devices. Signal and light cartridges are used in the shotgun calibers 16 and 12 and in the calibers 26.5 mm (caliber 4) and 40 mm.

Pyrotechnic sets made of various magnesium compounds and possibly phosphorus are used as lighting means . The color of the luminous appearance can be determined by adding chemicals or metal chips. Certain signal and flare cartridges contain multiple projectiles or fire projectiles with rocket propulsion. Often the projectiles have a small parachute to slow the fall and thus extend the duration of visibility.

The permissible gas pressure of such cartridges is relatively low and is in the range of 55 to 180 bar.

Grenade cartridges with appropriate light sources are more likely to be used for battlefield lighting. The calibres range from 20 mm rifle grenades to cartridge ammunition with illuminant projectiles for artillery.

Exercise cartridge with a shortened danger zone

Practice cartridges with a shortened danger zone are used for shooting training. As a rule, both the case and the projectile are made of plastic and the cartridges can therefore be manufactured inexpensively. Due to the light projectiles and the lower propellant charge, the practice cartridges have a much lower penetration power than the regular cartridges.

Exercise cartridge

A drill cartridge (also: 'Manipulierpatrone') is a body that corresponds to the geometrical specifications of a cartridge, but does not contain any pyrotechnic items. In most cases this can be recognized at first glance as a non-sharp cartridge; be it through dents, holes or other identifying marks. It is used for training purposes and to check the technique.


A Mek-Porek, which is usually in signal colors, also has no pyrotechnic sentences and is inserted into the chamber like a drill cartridge, with a hook visible from outside the weapon and indicating the charge status to both the shooter and others. Unintentional firing of a shot, for example due to ignorance of the charge status or the use of force on the weapon, is thus prevented. If the weapon is to be used, the Mek-Porek, which is usually connected to the weapon with a cord, is ejected when the weapon is finished and replaced with a cartridge from the magazine. This type of cartridge is used, among others, by the Israeli armed forces .

Buffer cartridge

Snap cartridges are special drill cartridges that are used to catch the firing pin of a weapon when the firing pin is knocked off during revisions or cleaning work (triggering the firing process). This protects the material and increases the service life of the firing pin. Soft materials (e.g. rubber) or a spring mechanism are used instead of the primer.

See also


  • Frank C. Barnes: Cartridges of the World: A Complete and Illustrated Reference for Over 1500 Cartridges . 12th edition. Gun Digest Books, Iola WI 2009, ISBN 978-0-89689-936-0 (English).
  • Ian V. Hogg: Ammunition - for light weapons, mortars and artillery. Motorbuch Verlag, ISBN 3-613-01259-6 .
  • Beat P. Kneubuehl: Bullets. Ballistics - measurement technology - effectiveness. Motorbuch Verlag, ISBN 3-613-30501-1 .
  • Dynamit Nobel: Reloading. A practical manual for hunters and shooters. Dynamit Nobel AG Troisdorf.
  • DEVA: Reloading: Preparation and Practice. German experimental and testing institute for hunting and sporting weapons e. V., ISBN 3-00-016629-7 .
  • Robert E. Walker: Cartridges and Firearm Identification , CRC Press, 2013, ISBN 978-1-4665-8881-3 .
  • Wollert, Lidschun, Copenhagen: Illustrated weapons encyclopedia . Military publishing house of the GDR, 1988, ISBN 3-327-00512-5 .

Web links

Commons : Pistol and Rifle Cartridges  - Collection of images, videos, and audio files
Wiktionary: cartridge  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ William Thomas Brande (Ed.): A dictionary of science, literature and art, Volume 3 , Verlag Longmans, Green & Company , 1867, pp. 480-481 [1]
  2. Michael Green: M1 Abrams at War , Verlag Zenith Imprint, ISBN 9781610607315 , pp. 62-64 [2]
  3. Appendix 1 to the WaffG (Definitions)
  4. A2-2090 / 0-0-1 Central guideline shooting safety. (PDF) Bundeswehr , January 1, 2018, archived from the original ; accessed on March 20, 2018 .
  5. Lilach Shoval: IDF to issue new safety device to prevent accidental weapon discharge. Israel HaYom , January 31, 2014, archived from the original January 4, 2016 ; accessed on January 4, 2016 .