The .30-06 cartridge was created for the M-1903 Springfield rifle, a decade before World War I. For the next six or seven decades, the same cartridge became the most widely used rifle and light machine gun ammunition, staying in service well into the 1970s.
Development of the .30-06 cartridge was motivated by the development of the pointed nose spritzer 7 x 57mm and 8 x 57mm Mauser cartridges by the Imperial German Army, a breakthrough in ballistic technology. When issued for the M-1903 Springfield rifle in 1906 the .30-06 was known as "Ball Cartridge, caliber .30, Model of 1906", replacing a short-lived, round-nosed ".30-03" cartridge originally intended for the Springfield rifle. The then-new spitzer technology (ie, the ability to make a pointed nose bullet) had obsoleted the ".30-03" design.
The versitile .30-06 cartridge was used during World War I not only for the M-1903 Springfield, but also for the .30 cal machine guns, the BAR, and for the .30 cal M-1917 Enfield. In 1940, when the M-1 Garand replaced the Springfield as the service rifle, the .30-06 continued to be the ammunition for the Garand as well as for the many models of light and medium machine guns. Machine gun usage included not only infantry weapons, but also models adapted for aircraft, for armored vehicles and naval vessels. Finally, in 1954 the .30-06 cartridge was officially replaced by the 7.62mm cartridge as the M-14 began to be phased in as the new service rifle. The .30-06 continued in service for machine guns and for the many .30 cal rifles that remained in use for snipers, ceremonial duties, and other uses well into the 1970s. Of course the .30-06 continues a strong presence in the civilian market.
Surplus .30-06 ammunition was plentiful in the U.S. market during the 1950s and 1960s, often packed in Garand clips still in their cloth bandoleers or even in Springfield stripper clips. Ball, armor piercing and tracer ammo was easy to find at very low prices -- some is still on the market in the 21st century. Note that ammunition loaded before 1950 or so has corrosive primers and careful cleaning of your weapon after firing is essential. U.S. military ammunition loaded after 1952 generally has non-corrosive primers except for some batches of Frankford Arsenal Match ammunition which may still use the old corrosive primers.
Ordnancemen loading belted .30-06 cartridges into Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless at Naval Air Station, Norfolk, VA, September 1942.
.30-06 Military Cartridge Charactaristics
As issued in 1906 the rimless cartridge held a 150-grain spitzer, flat-base cupronickel jacketed bullet with 2700 fps muzzle velocity. In 1926, to improve machine gun effective range, the bullet was replaced by a 172-grain 9-degree boattail design with the same 2700 fps at the muzzle, designated the "Ball, caliber 30, M1." The velocity was reduced for a time to 2640 fps, but in 1938, as the gas-operated Garand came into service, the specs returned to the flat-base 150-grain loading, called the "Ball, caliber 30, M2" round. It was the M2 that accounted for most of the ammunition expended in World War II.
.30-06 Military Cartridge Nomenclature and Markings
The correct name for the most common military .30-06 cartridge is the "Ball, caliber 30, M2". This is the "regular" rifle round. However, there were many loads made for various military purposes, usually identifed by colored markings on the bullet tips. Here is a partial list of some of the more common ones:
Red or Orange
Blank rounds for launching grenades and for ceremonies were also made to chamber in the .30-06 firearms as well as gallery or dummy rounds for training purposes. The dummy rounds had fluted cases or holes or both to identify them. Blanks had crimped tops. Some of the many types of rounds were called M2, same as the Ball ammo, but others had their own model numbers.
In addition to these basic categories, there are many varieties and subtle changes within the U.S. military loads for .30-06. Consult one of the very detailed books for web sites for experienced collectors for more information.
.30-06 Military Cartridge Packaging
.30-06 cartridges in M1903 Springfield stripper clip. In this training clip, rounds 1,3 and 4 are dummy. From 1932 US Army Training Film, Ft. Dupont, DE, provided courtesy of Phil Nohl.
The .30-06 cartridge was packaged to meet the requirements of the military user at the end of the supply chain. The riflemen of World War I received bandoleers with 5-round stripper clips, two in each pocket. By World War II this had changed to the 8 round block clips for the M-1 Garand, in similar cloth bandoleers but with one clip per pocket and six pockets per bandoleer. The bandoleers were, in turn, packed into ammo cans or wooden crates.
When packed into bandoleers, there was a cardboard sleeve in each bandoleer pocket that gave a little protection to the bullet tips. These have to be the right size -- the right length for the cartridge and the right width for the type of clips. The light cotton bandoleers and cardboard sleeves were thrown away after use or after the rounds were transfered to cartridge belts with sturdy canvas pockets. Bandoleers could be slung over the shoulders to carry extra ammo, more than the cartridge belt can hold.
Packaging for machine guns had the individual rounds organized into long belts, originally made of canvas cloth but later replaced by disappearing metal link belts. For infantry use, the belts were packed into .30 cal. wood boxes until World War II, then into .30 cal. steel ammo cans. For aircraft, as in the photo on this page, belts of thousands of rounds were prepared and carefully folded into the ammo bay where it could feed the gun continuously.
Types of .30 Caliber Ammunition in the U.S. Military
Cartridge, Caliber .30, Ball, High Pressure Test, M1
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