Saturday, December 20, 2008

Praxis: "Packaging is everything."-- Stripper clips, bandoleers, magazines, ammo cans and crates.

Next, we heft up our already over-laden packs and move along to the ASP (Ammo Supply Point) and draw ammunition. All I’m carrying is an M-16 and I don’t know how much ammo I’m supposed to carry or whether or not I’m expected to carry anything else, such as machinegun ammo or Claymore mines or flares or mortar shells or whatever, so I just take what the guy in charge of the ASP gives me: A single bandoleer of rifle ammo, no magazines. So…here I sit looking rather befuddled, I imagine. I’ve got a rifle and one, light canvas bandoleer with seven little pockets, inside of which is a small cardboard box of 20 rounds, but no magazine to load them into. What the hell am I supposed to do with this?

Somebody notices and asks, “Where’s your magazines?”

“I don’t have any.”

“Come here.”

He leads me back to the Sergeant in charge and barks an order to him. Give this guy three bandoleers and 22 magazines. He does, without comment. “Only load 18 rounds to a mag,” he says. (I already knew that. 20 will make it jam). “Put the magazines in the bandoleers and tie them around your waist or across your shoulders or something. Use the extra rounds to load your last mag and put it in your rifle.”

I do. It takes awhile as I don’t have a fast-loader (stripper clip guide) and put the rounds in one by one. Eventually, someone tosses one to me and I get it done. But, it’s disturbing to me because this is the first time I’ve ever loaded magazines when they will be used for killing someone and that fact weighs heavily on me. This **** is for real. This isn’t a training range at Ft. Polk or in Germany and these nice, bright, shiny bullets aren’t for target practice. --
December 3, 1970: My first day in the bush.

A lot of folks are coming to the realization that in the near future, they may have to use their firearms for more than toting to the range on a sunny Saturday and punching paper targets with them. Some of them, most in fact, will have never shouldered a weapon on the two-way firing range that is infantry combat. If and when they do, they will discover that Mae West was right, "Packaging is everything."

I have written on this subject before here and here among others. So for some of you what I am about to say is repetitious. Well, given the number of unintitiated newbies who will be flocking to this subject, repetition is warranted.

To begin with, let's talk about strippers. No, I'm not talking about buxom women who take off their clothes for money. I'm talking about ammunition stripper clips, defined as follows:

Clip: (n.) A device used to rapidly load a magazine. "Clip" is often used to refer to a magazine, but this is an improper use of the term. There are two kinds of clips: Stripper clips and en bloc clips.

Stripper clips hold 5 to 10 rounds of ammunition by their bases. To load the magazine, the clip is placed in a guide which is either a part of the gun, or a separate guide which slips onto the magazine. Weapons which may be loaded from stripper clips include the Lee-Enfield series of rifles, Mosin-Nagant Rifles, the M1903 Springfield, and the Mauser 1898. The Steyr-Hahn M1911 and Mauser "Broomhandle" semiautomatic pistols also use stripper clips. Stripper clips are also called "chargers." En bloc clips hold the cartridges together by their bases and their bodies; the clip and the rounds are inserted into the magazine as a unit. When the last round is loaded, the clip is automatically ejected from the magazine. Weapons loaded with en bloc clips include the Steyr-Mannlicher straight pull bolt action, the Mannlicher-Carcano rifles, and the US M1 Garand. (In the M1, the clip is ejected up after the last round is fired.) -- David S. Markowitz, A Glossary of Firearms Terminology

The en bloc clip was invented by Mannlicher in 1885. The "charger", or in modern gunnie parlance, the "stripper," was invented by Paul Mauser four years later. Prior to the removable box magazine, the stripper was the fastest way to load a repeating rifle. When packaged with other strippers in a simple cloth bandoleer, it also facilitated the distribution of ammo to troops at the point of contact. From the Battle of Bunker Hill in the American Revolution to the massacre of Durnford's Natal Native Horse cavalrymen by the Zulus at Isandlwana to the Jews of the Warsaw ghetto, ammunition availability has decided more than one battle. Even today, as fighting rages in Basra, Iraq, Malcolm Nance reports:

"Roggio continues to emphasize that Sadr's forces have taken heavy casualties, and more to the point is low on ammunition. He surveys the action not only in Basra, but in Baghdad and Nasiriyah and notes that the fighting has died down. One characteristic of militia forces is that they are not configured for sustained combat. They fight with ready-use ammo and some caches." -- Malcolm Nance, Comments on the campaign against Sadr, at Small Wars Journal.

But with the invention of the stripper clip/bandoleer combination, rifle ammunition could be packed in small, portable containers (originally of wood, then of steel and today of durable plastics), transported to troops and then easily distributed to riflemen on the line. Slung over an infantryman's shoulder, bandoleers of stripper clips constitute his ready reserve of ammunition. Indeed, if but one shooter is able to cross an enemy's field of fire to get into an advantageous firing position, his buddies can keep him shooting by tossing bandos (as the Aussies call them) across the danger space. Even the appearance of the box magazine has not made obsolete the use of stripper clips, because they are still used to load the magazines before, during and after combat by means of a stripper clip guide which fits over the back of the magazine.

Stripper clips are packaged in bandoleers. Originally a bandoleer was a belt with loops holding individual rounds worn across the chest, a la Pancho Villa. By World War I, however, the cloth bandoleer holding stripper-clipped rifle ammunition was a standard in all armies. These rounds were fed directly into the rifle by means of a guide machined into the receiver.

Originally designed to hold five round stripper clips (usually two to a pocket), with the advent of the fifteen round magazine of the M-1 Carbine (and later the thirty rounder of the full-auto M-2) the United States began putting ammo in 10 round stripper clips and merely upsized the bandoleer to accomodate it. This was carried over to the 5.56mm ammunition for the M-16 when it was adopted. The Russians likewise adopted a ten round clip for the SKS rifle.

The US carbine stripper clip had an integral guide manufactured onto it. The guide slips over the back of the magazine and holds the clip in place while the rifleman "strips" the clip by forcing the rounds down from the top and into the waiting box magazine below. Most stripper clipped ammo these days, however, have separate stripper clip guides (also called a "spoon") which are placed in one pocket of the bandoleer. A smart infantryman always has a spare in his pocket, so as to avoid the predicament of the Vietnam grunt in the quote above.

US 5.56mm bandoleers for the M-16/M-4 rifle/carbine are designed to accept loaded magazines after the pockets are emptied. The bandoleers discussed in the opening quote were of a 7-pocket design (20 rounds per pocket) and could be refilled with loaded 20 round magazines after the stripper clips had been used to fill them. Current 5.56mm bandoleers are of a four pocket (30 rounds per pocket) design with a string sewn into the cloth so that once the clips are removed, the string can be pulled, deepening the pocket to accomodate a fully-loaded 30 round magazine.

Both bandoleers can be reloaded with other calibers of ammunition on strippers, or even boxed. The seven pocket M-16 bandoleer, for example, makes a great tactical carrier for 12 gauge slugs and buckshot in 5 round boxes. If your ammo doesn't come in those convenient little carriers, scrounge some out of the trash can at the range.

In addition, SKS strippers fit very well in either the 7-pocket or the 4-pocket M-16 bandoleers, just use empty cardboard ammo boxes (that you can also scrounge at the range) for sleeves to hold the stripper clips upright and keep them from rattling in the bandoleer (you cut the end off the box so the strippers can be removed easily as you need them).

"The speed with which tactical forces forget the main lessons from their collected experience, particularly those pertaining to weapons usage, would be difficult to overstate." -- S.L.A. Marshall, Commentary on Infantry Operations and Weapons Usage in Korea, Winter of 1950-51, p. 15

The Soviets (or any of the other ComBloc countries) were unable to come up with a good stripper clip guide for loading the AK-47 in 7.62x39. They rectified that, however, with the adoption of the 5.45x39 round for the AK-74. A fifteen round system, it is easy and foolproof to load a mag using it. AK-74 strippers will also fit well in M-16 bandoleers, although the magazines do not.

Most suplus AK ammunition, whether in 7.62x39 or 5.45x39 comes in "tuna cans," usually two to a wooden crate. Earlier this year, a critic of one of my earlier pieces on this subject said that his 7.62x39 ammo was just fine in the original "tuna cans" it came in from China. "It'll never go bad," he insisted.

"And you'll never get a chance to use it in a hurry," I immediately countered.

Oh, no, he said, he could show me right then how fast someone who had practiced the Zen of Chinese Tuna Cans could just whip it open in half-an-instant. I challenged him to open the can with that cumbersome Chicom can opener in the dark while I fired rounds into the dirt beside him. He declined, but grudgingly admitted my point. Look folks, you can doubt my ancestry if you wish, but never doubt my footnotes. Here's another one that makes my (and Mae West's) point about packaging being everything, this time of Korean War vintage:

"There is a special hazard to infantry in night defense, revealed in a number of the company perimeter fights, which comes of taking loose ammunition into the ground to be defended. In these several examples the men thought that what they had at hand would be sufficient, but several spare boxes of grenades and of loose ammunition for the M1 were carried within the position just in case they might be needed. These companies were engaged throughout the night; before first light broke, the grenades and cartridges which the men were carrying were all but expended. It was then necessary to break open the loose stores. These were excellent combat companies and had so proved themselves in the fight up to that time. Yet such was the pressure of the dark and the enemy fire, and such the consequent nervous excitement, that the NCOs found they were unable to open the grenade boxes; after struggling vainly with them for many minutes, they at last dashed them on the rocks. Then the grenades spilled out over the hillside, and men had to crawl around, feeling for them in the dark.

The situation was even worse with the loose rifle ammunition. There were no spare clips and the firers had dropped their own without noting where they fell. It was necessary to feel around the rims of the foxholes in the darkness to retrieve the clips; by the time the clips had been gathered, nerve tension had so greatly increased that even the leaders found it almost impossible to make their own fingers respond to the seemingly simple task of clipping the cartridges. Said one NCO of this experience: 'Though I have had many nights in combat, this sweat of having to deal with loose ammunition in the dark was the most demoralizing experience I have known.' Troops are not supposed to take loose ammunition into an active position under any circumstance; the fact remains that they do. The supply situation and the lack of time for full precautions sometimes impose this extra burden on the infantry company. But any grenade case which is so secure that it baffles ordinary enterprise in the darkness is probably a little too secure for security." -- -- S.L.A. Marshall, Commentary on Infantry Operations and Weapons Usage in Korea, Winter of 1950-51, pp 13-14

"A little too secure for security." That sums up my argument against tuna cans precisely. Marshall also sums up the prosecution's case against the wrongly-named "battle packs" -- plastic sleeves containing cardboard boxes of surplus ammo. Do this test: find a room you can make totally black by flipping a light switch. Take one battle pack and place it and the requisite number of magazines on a table before you. Get your wife to flip off the light switch as she leaves the room. Now, try to open the battle pack, then the boxes of ammo and take the individual rounds and load the magazines while your wife bangs on the door, screaming at you to hurry up or you're both going to die. Try it. Really.

I think I already made my point about Isandlwana. OK, so once more, you are NOT tactically ready until your ammo is truly combat packed in stripper clips and bandoleers, ready to go.

The next step, is to take those bandoleers and to pack them in steel GI ammo cans and and then the cans into crates to facilitate storage, transportation and easy usage at the point of contact.

USGI ammo cans come in a variety of sizes. Because of weight considerations only the two smallest steel cans, the M19A1, or "thirty cal" can and the M2A1 "fifty cal" can are suitable for packing small arms ammunition in because of the very great weight that builds up when you use a SAW can or bigger.

We have found the "thirty cal" can to be the handiest. Back in the 90s when ComBloc wooden ammo crates were available from your local gunstore for the asking, you could take two M19A1 cans, repack them with bandoleered ammo of various kinds and place them laying down side by side, nestled in a wooden crate.

Cans are essential because they are waterproof, yet the GI can is easy to open or close, even in the dark. Crates are likewise essential when you accumulate enough ammo because carrying (or stacking) individual cans is inefficient and frankly, a pain in both the arms and the ass. For the larger M2A1 cans, you can either find an old surplus wirebound GI crate or make your own out of plywood, using rope for handles and old door hinges for the top.

Finally, if you end up having to transport them somehwhere on shank's mare, without benefit of the internal combustion engine, USGI M-1945 packboards or ALICE pack frames with cargo shelves are essential.

Caching is preferred of course, so you don't have to hump the extra weight when you are in extremis. In that case, we prefer the five gallon icing bucket (free) and a bead of silicone around the rubber gasket before you bury it.

Thus endeth the lesson. If you have any questions, attach them as comments to this post on or forawrd by email to

Mike Vanderboegh


Anonymous said...

I've found (and I hope others have too) that standard .50 cal ammo cans are ideally dimensioned to hold 720 rounds of 7.62X39 on stripper clips. Unfortunately, there is little room left, even for empty bandoleers.

Anonymous said...

A thirty cal can will hold two 7-pocket bandoleers of 7.62x39 on strippers, 140 rds per bando. The same can will hold shotgun ammo in 5 rd boxes and 7 pocket bandos, 35 per x 2 or 70 rounds per can.


Anonymous said...

Excellent post,Mike.Nothing to add. As a sidebar though, You can use 7.62X39 strippers to carry extra 38spl/357mag. ammo in. Thats if your a wheel gun fan.I live semi-snake country. So my SP101,some shot loads, and a couple of strippers of mag.ammo make for a good back-up.Thanks for all the hard work. mthead.

Anonymous said...

Next to the always loaded rifle is a hook screwed into the wall, upon which are found 4x50 round 'bandos' (Aussie surplus, so I can use the term, heh) ready to hook a thumb through and toss over my shoulder while the other hand grabs the rifle.

Just sayin'.

Anonymous said...


The Australian bandoleers are, to my mind, the best 7.62 NATO type available. I'm looking at two on a similar hook right now.

The material is OD cotton duck, but thicker than the US version and reinforced on the bottom for additional protection. The soft cloth isn't moisture proof, true, but it is quieter in the brush.

The six snaps hold the ammo safer and quieter and the strap/ring system is easily adjustable and you don't have to mess with that stupid safety pin of the US system.

I got lucky one day, going through the range garbage cans down at the Helena Wildlife Refuge and found four of these puppies complete with strippers that someone had discarded as trash. Oh, yeah!

Anytime I see some of this stuff on a table at the gun show I snap it up, the Aussie ammo being finest kind and the bandos are just so much recyclable gravy on top.

Here's another tip. The British 5.56 bandoleers with snaps on the top of the flap can accomodate 4 7.62 NATO strippers per pocket with room left for a guide. I owe Dr. Enigma for this discovery. He sent me pictures and if I can ever figure out how to make that function work, I'll post them.

Anonymous said...

Oh, one more thing on the Aussies.

I found one that was a bit ratty and sent it to a seamstress who is in the process of deconstructing it and making a pattern so they can be turned out with a sewing machine and a snap tool. She's already got a match for the cloth.

Another homemade innovation that came from the wife of my very best friend was based on a similar deconstruction of the standard US four pocket M-16 bandoleer. She used it as a pattern and working with stouter, woodland pattern cloth, crafted a four magazine bandoleer for the M-14 rifle, with individual pocket flaps held down by small fastex buckles. I use it and two Aussie bandos for grab and go. That's five mags plus a reload. 200 rounds total.

We are our own "arsenal of republicanism," which of course is one of the points of Absolved.


Anonymous said...

Something else on side; if you cut the divider straps on an M16,3/30rd. mag. pouch. It will fit 2 M14/SR25,308 mags. sideways. I like to put a peice of 1/2" foam in the bottom to hold them up high enough easy removal. And slide one in between for quiet time. mthead

Anonymous said...

One other thing I left out above.

When you repack, YOU MUST REMARK.

Bandoleers, if loaded with a caliber not the original, must reflect the caliber that has been put in them. Easily accomplished with a magic marker. Line through the old caliber and write the new one on the cloth.

Cans should have the original markings removed with acetone and new ones put on, either with magic marker (hard to see in half-light) or white or yellow paint (better but more tedious to apply).

Be sure and mark the cans on at least one side AND the top lid.

Likewise crates should be remarked to reflect their new contents. A typical marking on one of my ComBloc crates would read:

"7.62 NATO 580 RDS SA81 B/SC"

SA meaning South African, 81 being the year of manufacture, and B/SC meaning bandoleers and stripper clips. Markings, applied with magic marker and stencils, go on the top lid, both sides, and one handle. All previous markings are either painted over or marked through with magic marker.

Each crate contains two M19A1 cans with US bandoleers, 240 rds per can.

a ComBloc crate with 12 Gauge ammo in it (sitting off property in long term storage) reads:

12GA #4 2.75 140RDS B/BXD

translated, 12 Gauge #4 buckshot, 2and 3/4 inch, 140 rds (70 per can, 35 per bandoleer) and bandoleers of 5 round boxes

Anonymous said...

Typo: That's 480 rds per 7.62 NATO crate, not 580, using 6 pocket US bandoleers (240 rds per can).

If it's 5 pocket Australian bandoleers, it would be 200 rds. per can, 400 rds per crate. (The Aussie bandos take up more space in the can but are worth it.)

Atlas Shrug said...

While we're adding permutations....

The Australian bandoleers also work very well for Garand clips. They are a little tight with standard .30-06 loaded en blocs, but just perfect if you have a .308 Garand, as I favor.

(FWIW, I've mostly moved away from big ole' box mags and have standardized on true clips - en blocs for Garands and strippers for SKS carbines and FR8s and other such rifles. They are always loaded and stay ready to go, and are less of a fuss to tote around when empty. Just sayin.....)

Anonymous said...

Atlas shrug:

Always nice to find another FR-8 fan. I LOVE that handy little bolt action. Of course the clip guide in the receiver won't take M14 strippers so I located and loaded up a crate full of 7.62 NATO in Mauser strippers and bandoleers. (Marked "For FR-8".)

The FR-8 is my principal test bed for inert rifle grenades, having that handy little 22mm NATO standard flash suppressor on the end of it. I use it and a nearly new Yugo SKS with integral launcher for slinging Israeli dummies over the tree line.

I love it.

chris horton said...

Excellent info posted here in comments!

Thanks all!


Michael Z. Williamson said...

.380 is the same base size as 5.56mm. In fact, the first Grendel pistol was clip loaded using them. It's handy storage, and you can either fabricate/adapt a guide for your mags, or just use it for easy counting and access.

As for the home, I prefer just to have 2000 rounds in magazines ready to go.

Anonymous said...

This suggestion comes from my son just back from his second long tour of Iraq, wherein he reminds us of the need to watch that we do not bend the feed lips of individual magazines by misuse.:

"One point that that should be noted as I have seen many a green private (myself included) doing when reloading magazines in a hurry; please do not load M4 mags by placing the stripperclip on a table (or other hard surface) and then slam the rounds into the magazine. This is way too rough for the aluminum and will distort the magazine in such a way as to be unusable.

Just one old Sergeant's observation."

Phelps said...

You can use 7.62X39 strippers to carry extra 38spl/357mag. ammo in.

This is a recipe for disaster if you use 7.62x39 ammo. If you don't use it, I suppose this could be an okay practice, but if there is any chance that you could try to jam .357 in your SKS in the dark (or just a moment of distraction), don't do it.

Anonymous said...

How long can a magazine be left loaded without it being detrimental to the spring? Is it possible to load a mag half full and have the spring last twice as long as if it were fully loaded?

Anonymous said...


Older magazines, even US military ones, would "take a set" to use the phrase I was taught back in the 70s. Improvements in metallurgy around the 1970s though made this much less of a problem. I would have problems with Korean War vintage M1911 mags if I left them loaded for months without changing them out. Yet I also once picked up an M-2 carbine mag that had been loaded, the owner said, for twenty years since he'd got back from Korea. (The headstamps on the ammo matched his claim.) It was a hardback and it worked like a dream for me for years thereafter.

Older mags of course can be fixed with modern springs if you are concerned to bet your life on them.

Now this is written in reference to US mag springs only. Aftermarket mags and those made overseas (here, I'm thinking of Chinese springs such are found in the Polytech M14S rifle and magazines) should all be replaced with USGI or modern US equivalents if possible. The metallurgy on Chinese barrel and receiver steels is excellent (despite what some gun magazine writers were paid to write back in the 90s when these rifles were coming in by the thousands) but their springs have always been crap.

My rule of thumb is never to store any ammo in mags, except in what I call my "ready boxes" for each rifle. These are loaded and in magazine pouches (the Chinese 5 magazine shoulder bag for AK47 or AK74; the "sterile" CIA universal shoulder pouch rig for 30 round carbine mags -- aka the "Bay of Pigs pouch"; or bandoleers (M16 4 pocket types with the string pulled, which will accomodate either M16 or M14 magas).

Even so, I swap them out about once every two months. I also have extra mags stored empty by themselves in ammo cans, usually also in bandoleers so they can be pulled out of the cans and boogied with.

Insofar as any advantage found by storing mags half full, I cannot say, but I rather think routine swapping out to be better.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the apparently well thought out answer. How do HK G3 type mags stack up? Will they "take a set?"