WWI 18pounder Field Artillery fired empty shell case


Look at these gems of my latest treasure hunt for the Woohoocuties’ shop: a beautiful double inkwell, a bundle of vintage keys and empty WWI war shell cases and one of them real trench art! I can imagine, certainly with the shell cases that non- military people have no idea what a wonderful story the markings at the bottom tell! So I thought I’d better write about them so that in case you buy one, you know what to look for.

If you ever buy one and markings are not clear: Get a used wet tea bag and wipe it over the base, this may highlight some markings without damaging the case. The key is to highlight the stamped marking without damaging the soft brass!

The remaining headstamp markings on these shells will vary considerably, according to manufacturer, date of manufacture, etc. Be ware for people selling shell cartridges, some found them as a live one, lever the shell off the case (containing a big bundle of cordite) to then sell the case as the real fired one of the war although it never has been used in the war! Just look at this one in the middle: you see at the dent it has actually been fired!


This first shell case I’m going to talk about, is the 18pdr Field Artillery piece. This shell and its associated ammunition is WW1 era. It was maintained between the wars and converted to 25pdr during WWII. So the date of the cart case could span a 40 year period.


Wikepedia gives the following information:

The Ordnance QF 18 pounder, or simply 18-pounder Gun, was the standard British Empire field gun of the World War I era. It formed the backbone of the Royal Field Artillery during the war, and was produced in large numbers. It was used by British and Empire Forces in all the main theatres, and by British troops in Russia in 1919. Its calibre (84 mm) and shell weight were greater than those of the equivalent field guns in French (75 mm) and German (77 mm) service. It was generally horse drawn until mechanisation in the 1930s.

The first versions were introduced in 1904. Later versions remained in service with British forces until early 1942. During the interwar period, the 18-pounder formed the basis of early versions of the equally famous Ordnance QF 25 pounder, which would form the basis of the British artillery forces during and after World War II, in much the same fashion as the 18-pounder had during World War I.

What is the info about the given numbers and letters on the bottom of the WWI shell:


Lot number: 871= the lot number of the cart case. Ammunition is manufactured in lots of a certain quantity (dependent on munition). A lot is deemed as homogenous. The lot number is very important in accounting control and in malfunction investigations.

This would be the empty cart case details, in this instance the cart cases will have been moved from the US and filled at an ROF filling factory. The propellant lot details will be recorded on the outer ammo container (and on a label in the lid).

EW.BC = manufactured by E.W. Bliss Company of Brooklyn, New York.

M (in square, vertical line in the middle of the M)= US Army Model Numbers: all army model numbers begin with the letter M. M means, “standard model”.(The M stands also for the month of December, in lot numbers that is!)

5/16 primer insert

CF = Charge loaded with cordite / Full charge. ). After 1916 when the majority of cart cases were refilled CF denoted Cordite Full Charge, CR denoted Cordite Reduced Charge (half).Cordite is the propelling charge. It’s a low explosive propellent which burns ferociously. Cordite looks just like a bundle of spaghetti sticks, they would have been tied using a cotton or silk ribbon down the centre of the case.
The primer in the base of the case had a gunpowder magazine behind the brass foil “star” disk which would have flashed when the cap was struck by the breech mechanism. This flash would have then ignited the cordite, which sent the projectile down the barrel. The back pressure from the charge is what pressed the “petals” of the primer back down. The primer has a one way valve in it to stop the gas pressure blowing the percussion cap out of the back of the case..

18 P r   =   (P = Filled with gunpowder not for blank cartridges, When the case was reloaded with either a full or reduced charge an additional “F” or “R” was added after the original stamp)

When the munition is ready for use it will consist of the cart case, propellent and filled primer. These will have their individual lot numbers. When grouped together to form a complete munition they become a batch and given its own batch number. This is identifiable from lot numbers by being underlined.

The 18 pounder was the standard weapon of the Field Artillery, the lighter 13 pounder being the Horse Artillery version. They look very similar in appearance, with only the barrel length differing. The usual projectile for these guns was a shrapnel shell. HE shell was available, but this came later in smaller quantities…

The standard wartime-manufactured British shell case for the 18pdr field gun has a broad arrow acceptance stamp on the base.

The inner circle is the percussion primer: Lot 1917 so WW1

10/15 month and year of manufacture

BSC = the primer manufacturer, in this case Bethlehem Steel Corporation a US company manufacturing for the British under contract. BSC is an engineering/manufacturing term. It may appear on designs, but is not marked on munitions.

US = The US simply indicates it was manufactured in the US. The country name means the origin of the cartridge case itself. The other marks will indicate where the shell was assembled (sized, primer inserted, powder charge filled and in most cases a shell added):



The cart cases will have been moved from the US and filled at an ROF filling factory. The propellant lot details will be recorded on the outer ammo container (and on a label in the lid).


Shell cases like this one should measure 84×295 (84mm at mouth and 295mm length)!

A lot to swallow but then again necessary information when putting money on the table for an item like this, you need to know what you are buying, whether there are still many available (price should be lower) and whether it was actually used in the war.

Good luck with your hunting and all these items will be available in the Woohoocuties’ shop of course.



1 Comment on WWI 18pounder Field Artillery fired empty shell case

  1. usm
    May 26, 2017 at 6:08 am (1 year ago)

    It is therefore of the first importance that in all cases the infantry must advance right under the field artillery barrage, which must not uncover the first objective until the infantry are within 50 yards of it”.


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