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Machine Rifle Ammunition Chest M1.
Early BARs were stamped "Browning Machine Rifle Model 1918", although the rifle was generally referred to as the "Browning Automatic rifle". This box measures 17" X 3-3/4" X 6 3/8". The maximum outside dimensions including handle and catch was 17" X 4" X 6 3/4". The box is marked " MACH. RIFLE AMM. CHEST M1, D3920". An almost identical box but with different internal spacers was used for the Browning water-cooled machine-gun M1917A1. It was known as the "Ammunition Chest CAL .30 M1A1". The M1A1 Chest held two 150 round cloth belts. Both chests were said to have been developed for use by the cavalry. It seems that both the M1 Machine Rifle Chest and the M1A1 Chest were considered to be clumsy to use and their service life was short. The carrying handles of both types were made of leather and attached by both stitching and the addition of a copper rivet on each end. The handle was identical to the type used on the M3 .50 Cal chest.
Machine Rifle Ammunition Chest M1. This chest was adopted in the 1930's and was designed to carry 15 Browning Automatic Rifle 20 round magazines for a total of 300 rounds of .30 caliber ammunition.

Adopted in March 1942 this type was quickly retired from service after WWII. No maker’s initials appear on the box. Many like this one served as toolboxes for many years.

M2 .50 Cal Ammo Box. The M2 was primarily used for .50 caliber ammunition. It opened on one side and had a rubber gasket. The closing clamp was secured with a cotter pin or seal.  The need for a pin to secure the clamp was a major failing of this design. The ring on this one is original and is held in a slot in the closing clamp.  Some makers used this style of ring retention but many lacked the slot. Some makers were known to use both styles.  This one was made by “MODERN”.

Left and below: Chest Ammunition Cal .50 M3. Adopted in June 1934, the M3 chest was made of aluminum and was similar to the M17 but had two metal loops (spacers) on the back. The M3 had a leather handle rather than cotton web. According to the August 1942 SNL-39 on the Browning Machine Gun It was the preferred type of box for use by cavalry. It was said to hold 120 rounds. Internal padding of a synthetic material similar to linoleum was possibly to deaden the sound of ammunition rattling or possibly to prevent the ammunition from denting of the box. The padding covered the inside of the lid, bottom and three sides but not the front of the chest and was riveted in place .The chest has a brass piano type hinge and the lid is not removable. According to "Notes on the Pack Equipment Cal .30 & Cal .50 from Rock Island Arsenal, January 1937" the M3 could be carried on a packsaddle using hanger ammunition M9. The box in the picture has black lettering but many have blue lettering. The drawing number of the M3 Chest was D7260.

Ammo Box Cal .50 M2.  This one does not have the ring retention slot in the clamp.  A hand grenade ring and pin have replaced the original ring. The original ring was seamless and slightly smaller. This Box was made by NMPC.

M2 Box by PALLEY, without the ring retention slot.

M2 .50 Cal. Ammo boxes showing typical markings.
   Two different manufacturing styles used on the M2 box by BURROWES and NMPC.  BURROWES, MODERN and possibly others, used one piece for the bottom and the long sides and a separate piece for each end.  NMPC and most other companies used one piece for all four sides and a separate piece for the bottom. MODERN made them both ways. The M2 was in use until the 1960’s and it may also have been made for several years after WWII.

   The M2 box held 105 rounds of .50 caliber ammunition with a gross weight of 35 pounds.  The normal packing was two M2 boxes placed in a wire-bound wooden box, with a gross weight of approximately 72 pounds. 
   The M2 box was still listed as an issue item in the June 1961, Army Small Arms Ammunition TM 9-1305-200. A picture of the M2 box, along with other boxes was still shown in TM 9-1305-201-20&P, October 1981. 

The experimental T4, manufactured by City Auto Stamping Co., Toledo, Ohio, was one of the first steel ammo boxes. It was intended for use in armored vehicles. Testing and revision ultimately led to the development of the M1.

M1 box: May 6, 1942

M1A1 Box: June 20, 1945

   The Cal .30 M1 Ammunition Box. The M1 had a foam type gasket which could be reused but wore out faster than a rubber gasket. The box held 250 rounds in a cloth or linked belt for the M1917A1 and M1919A4 and A6 machine guns. This one is marked “250 CAL .30 BELTED 4BALL 1TR, REPACKED LOT SLB93323”(200 rounds of ball 50 rounds of tracer). The “SL” in the lot number indicates Saint Louis Ordnance Plant the “B” indicates cloth (web) belted ammunition.
   Some M1 boxes have been found with unusual markings.  One often-pictured type is marked “CAL.30 AMMN BOX NR33”. This may have been an early type but the abbreviation “AMMN” rather than “AMMO” and “NR” rather than “No.” and lack of the ordnance flaming bomb and “U.S.” marking suggest this is a foreign copy. The lot number pictured (AI 60 LOT 9) also would suggest Artillerie-Inrichtingen NV (Netherlands).

The M1, Caliber .30 Ammo box.

Above: Three different makes of M1 Boxes (Reeves, Crown and Canco). Note the different hinge styles. All three companies used both styles of hinge. The type used by Reeves and Canco in the picture allowed the easiest removal of the lid and may have been the later type.

An embossed cartridge will be found in the bottom of the M1 box to show the direction the cartridges face. The M1 box measurers 7-1/4” x 3-3/4” x 10-3/4”.

Some M1 boxes were painted blue when loaded with blank ammunition. Blue was prescribed for marking bands on cartons and packing (wood) boxes when loaded with blanks but was not normally used to paint metal ammo boxes.

 Most M1 Ammunition boxes were sold as surplus in the 1950’s and 60’s.

M1 .30 Cal Box lids.  The one on the left has the typical foam gasket.  The one the right has a rubber gasket
M1 .30 Cal Ammo Box with logo of the Owens Illinois Can Company. Unlike other M1 boxes this one has a rubber gasket rather than the usual foam type.
The Cal .30 M1A1 box, side view showing nomenclature, maker’s name and side handle. The “flaming bomb” symbol of the Army Ordnance Corps was present on most WWII ammunition boxes.  This one was last loaded with 250 rd of .30 cal AP and tracer ammunition in links at the Twin Cities Arsenal.

The M1A1 box was designed for the M1917A1 Browning Water Cooled Machine Gun. It had a rubber gasket on the lid that was superior to the gasket on the M1 box and could be repacked and used again many times.

M1A1 .30 Cal. Box showing opener, wire handle and tripod catch. The M1A1 was designed for use with the M1917A1 Machine Gun.

Some M1A1 boxes have been found marked “Cal .30 M1 Box”.  On some of these boxes the “A1” has been added in black painted letters after “M1”. These were probably of earlier manufacture. A cartridge is embossed on each end of the lid of the M1A1 box to show the direction that the cartridges face. The M1A1 box measures 11” x 3-13/16” x 7-1/4”.

The catch on the end was used to fasten the box to the left side of the tripod of the M1917A1 machine gun but it was used with ammunition for other weapons as well. The M1A1 box was said to hold 275 rounds of .30 Cal. ammo in a link belt or a 250 round cloth belt with a gross weight of approximately 22 pounds. Four M1A1 boxes were shipped in a wire-bound wooden box labeled “1100 CARTRIDGES Cal .30, 275 RD LINKED BELTS”. The gross weight was 92 pounds.

M1A1 Ammo Box mounted on a M1917A1 tripod. An air-cooled M1919A4 stands in for the normal water-cooled M1917A1.

The lid of the M1A1 box must be opened or removed to mount the box as the fixed part of the lid latch forms the upper support of the box. The moveable catch on the bottom of the box latches it to the side plate.

The rectangular metal bracket on the left side plate of the M1917A1 mount forms the support that held the M1 and M1A1 box and the earlier wooden ammunition boxes. The curved sides of the support engaged in slots on either side of the wooden boxes and also served to keep the M1 and M1A1 boxes centered.

The Cal .30 M1 box mounted on the M1917A1 tripod

The M1 .30 Caliber box could also be attached to the M1917A1 tripod.  Unlike most later ammunition boxes, the M1 had the lid clamp attached to a hinge, which was attached to the body of the box rather than to the lid. The M1 box attached to the tripod by fitting the opener clamp hinge under the top rail of the mounting bracket.  The lower end of the lid clamp had a slot that engaged the stud on the bottom center of the bracket.  This was a somewhat awkward arrangement however. The small slot on the end of the clamp carried much of the weight of the box and was easily dislodged.  The weight of a loaded box helped to hold it in place but a slight upward movement of the box could cause it to fall off.  If the clamp slot was extra tight, the box could be difficult to remove.

The M1 box had a roll crimp seam on the bottom and a foam gasket on the lid. The M1 box had a raw edge on the top. This sharp edge shortened the life of the gasket and made the box weak at this point. The M1A1 box was developed as an improvement.  The M1A1 had a welded seam on the bottom, a rolled edge on the top and a rubber (Neoprene) gasket for the lid.

Left: M1 .30 Caliber boxes each with 250 rounds of cloth belted or linked ammunition were shipped four to a wire bound wooden crate for a total of 1000 cartridges. The weight of the crate when loaded was approximately 90 pounds.

The following is a quote from TM 9-1900 Small-Arms Ammunition, September 1947:

Paragraph 25. Metal boxes. 

“a. These boxes are standard for ground machine gun belt packings.  Each box has a hinged cover which presses close against a circumferential rubber gasket sealing the contents against moisture.  A toggle closing hasp and a carrying handle are assembled to each.  The box is capable of reclosure. 

b. Four caliber .30 boxes are packed in a wire-bound box and two caliber .50 metal boxes are packed in its wire-bound box. 

c.  Approximate gross weight of the caliber .30 box is 22 pounds, and that of the caliber .50 box is 35 pounds”.

The following is a sampling list of manufacturer markings found on WWII ammunition boxes. This is not a complete list:

M2 .50 Caliber

M1A1 .30 Caliber

Tank .30 Cal Box
City Auto Stamping Co

None available to examine.

M1 .30 Caliber (D44070)
Owens Illinois Can Company

M17 .50 Caliber (D39091) 
Not marked as to maker

Box ammunition 20mm Mark 1. This box was typical of ammunition boxes developed during WWII as it had a pattern of rectangles designed to give the box strength. The Mark 1 has a rubber gasket and six clamps for the lid, each of which has provision for a wire seal. It measures 18-1/2 x 9-1/2 x 14-5/8. Like many other boxes of the period the design was complicated and the lid would catch and hold water and dirt. After releasing all the clamps the lid could be difficult to remove, as the gasket frequently stuck and there was nothing to grasp but the narrow rim of the lid. The box pictured has no markings as to model number or maker. The gray color and model designation indicates that this box was originally a Navy issue item. The simpler M548 20mm box eventually replaced the Mark 1.
Collectors and re-enactors often find it necessary to repaint older boxes. The color of the paint used on WWII ammo boxes and other equipment vary somewhat. There appears to have been little adherence to standards of color.  Olive drab is a combination of green and brown. Many WWII ammo boxes were a dark semi-gloss OD color with a slight emphasis on the brown.  Many of the boxes depicted in these photos have a more green color, probably known as military OD shade 34088.  Other boxes have been found with a light OD color (common on repainted boxes) closely resembling OD shade 34087. Many boxes were repainted at least once while in service. Boxes used in tanks were sometimes painted white. The paint tends to fade with age and exposure. The correct color for each box can only be determined by examining the paint on the inside of the box.
M1 .30 caliber ammunition boxes showing color variations.  From left to right, the color of the first box is a light faded looking OD. This box was repainted while in service. Box 2, 4 and 5 appear to be a light green shade of olive drab, possibly military OD shade 34088. Box 3 is the darker OD shade found on many WWII and later boxes, probably close to OD shade 24087.
TM 9-1900 Ammunition General, Dept. of the Army and Air Force, June 1956, still mentions the M1A1 box (but not the M1 box) but pictures are no longer shown.