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M2A1 history

The history of the M2A1 is somewhat scattered across NATO documents (after it became standardized), early adoptions from gun manufactures, enthusiasts and many other ressources. Hence our collection of historical documents and references may not be right, so we always welcome new information from you, our customers and history buff’s like our selves. Please submit any information or reference to us for us to collect and share in our online historical database. Thank you from all of us at PPD-Outdoor.

Ca. 1919, first wooden ammunition chests

The first 0.50caliber or 12.7mm machine gun, developed by Browning, after World War I, came with a wooden ammunition chest. It was able to directly feed the machine-gun and easy the load on the operator. There were other wooden chest before this, however we think this is the first specifically made for the 12.7mm/0.5cal round.

Photo from olive-drab.com, showing John M. Browning firering his Cal. 0.50 Machine gun. 

Ca. 1920, the M17

The wooden boxes for .50 Cal. ammunition were originally issued in the 1920s for the then new .50 Cal. Browning machine gun and its associated .50 cal. cartridge in fabric belts. The boxes evolved in construction details and markings until replaced by the M17 .50 cal. ammunition chest in the 1930s.

Key construction details for the wood .50 caliber ammo boxes consisted of oak or ash material, dovetail joints, a leather strap on top fitted into a rectangular groove with a centered circular pick-up area, open-lid feed or gun-side panel feed slot (at top of gun-side panel), spring-loaded lid latch to gun-side panel, and far-end hinge. Boxes with a feed slot had latches on both sides since the gun-side latch would interfere with feed. It is possible some boxes had lap joints. The .30 caliber wood ammo boxes had screws holding the bottom panel to the sides, but no examples of similar contruction for .50 caliber wood boxes are available. If painted at all, flat olive drab paint was used for the box. The bottom of the interior of the box is stenciled with the orientation of the ammunition contents.

Ca. 1942, M2, the first metal ammunition container

The steel M2 Ammunition Can / Box was adopted 21 September 1942 for .50 caliber machine gun ammunition, replacing the M17 .50 cal. ammunition chest and other earlier containers. The M2 ammo can was designed to hold link belts of 105 cartridges of .50 cal. ammunition for the M2 Browning machine gun, but was in fact also utilized for other ammo calibers and packaging. M2 ammunition can with a belt of .50 cal. ammunition in the cradle of a Browning anti-aircraft machine gun, Normandy, France, 1944.

Construction details of the M2 .50 cal. ammunition can / box:

  • Steel material with welded seams, made in several different patterns
  • Top edge hinge consists of rolled small tubes attached to the body of the box and matching pins attached to the lid
  • Side-opening hinged lid, removable by sliding the lid pins off the hinge tubes
  • Metal bar handle attached to the lid by rectangular wire loops so it can fold flat for stacking or lift up for easy carry
  • A wire loop on lid edge is engaged by a latch panel to clamp the lid down
  • Rubber gasket under lid makes the box almost waterproof when clamped closed
  • Wire loop on the end panel to mount the box to a machine gun
  • Top and sides have embossed recessed areas for added strength

When the lid latch is closed, a small metal loop protrudes through a hole in the latch panel. A cotter pin, attached to a ring, is inserted in a hole in the metal loop to fasten the latch securely. The M2 ammunition box was painted semi-gloss olive drab. Two shades were used, one a little lighter than the other. Both are authentic for this ammo can. Embossed markings on the front say “Amm. Box Cal. .50 M2.” One end panel will have the Ordnance flaming bomb and manufacturer’s name embossed

An M2 ammo box sits among other equipment in a 25th Infantry Division .50 cal. machine gun emplacement, Korea, 12 August 1952.

Ca. 1950, the M2A1

The steel M2A1 Ammunition Can / Box (also called Chest Ammunition: M2A1 or Box, Metal, M2A1) was introduced during the 1950s for .50 caliber machine gun ammunition, replacing the M2 .50 cal. ammunition can / box. The M2A1 ammo can was designed to hold link belts of 100 cartridges of .50 cal. ammunition for the M2 Browning machine gun, but was in fact utilized to transport and store many other ammo calibers and packaging.

Construction details of the M2A1 .50 cal. ammunition can / box:

  • Steel material, seam welded
  • Latch, hinge, handle spot welded to body
  • End-opening lid with quick release hinge
  • Quick release latch
  • Rubber gasket under lid makes near waterproof seal when latched closed
  • Flat sides and lid
  • Metal bar handle attached to the lid by rectangular wire loops so it can fold flat for stacking or lift up for easy carry
  • Lid skirts protect contents when lid is partially opened

The lid skirts originally angled down from the hinge end, then ran parallel to the top as the skirt approached the latch end. Later model M2A1 boxes have a lid skirt that is shorter and parallel to the lid for the full length. The M2A1 ammo can is painted olive drab. Stamped markings may include the manufacturer’s name (eg SCF, EMCO), the model M2A1, and year made. A cartridge shape may be embossed in the lid to indicate direction of loading. Paint (usually yellow) will be used for stenciled markings identifying the contents.

The M2A1 ammunition box has been used by the U.S. military for small and medium caliber cartridges, for artillery fuses and more, including this partial list:

  • Cartridge 5.56 mm bandoleers and linked
  • Cartridge 7.62 mm bandoleers and linked
  • Cartridge .30 caliber carbine
  • Cartridge .50 caliber linked
  • Cartridge .38 special
  • Cartridge 9mm (20 cartons of 50)
  • Cartridge .45 ACP
  • Cartridge 12 gauge shotgun shell
  • Cartridge .22LR

The M2A1 ammunition can measures 12 1/32 in. (30.56 cm) x 6 3/32 in. (15.48 cm) x 7 1/2 in. (19.05 cm) in its outside dimensions.

It is defined by MIL-DTL-3060F (drawing number 7553296, Box, Ammunition, M2A1 Assembly) or earlier specs in the MIL–B-3060 series.

Two M2A1 boxes are packed into a wirebound, wood shipping crate (drawing number 7553347 – Box, Wirebound: Boxes, Ammunition, M2A1).

The M2A1 ammunition box is covered by NSN 8140-00-960-1699 and the shipping crate NSN 8140-00-078-8969.

Ca. 1950 to 2017

No major development or changes was made to M2A1 during this period in time. The few historical changes we have been able to find are down to material compound (different variants of steel), paint and gasket requirements. The overall design has not been changed since 1950.

January 2018

PlastPack Defence introduces the Light Weight Ammunition Case, the LWAC(R), to the general public at Shot Show in Las Vegas.

Major changes included:

  • Weight reduction: From 2,400grams to 750grams
  • Knobs for stacking security
  • The introduction of polymer composites
  • In fire, the case vaporises instead of exploding as shrapnel
  • Significant logistical savings for the armed forces
  • Prepared for built-in RFID tags for tracking and controlling
  • Low noise during handling and contact with steel surfaces
  • No risk of sparks
  • Fully compatible with existing steel boxes
  • Fully recyclable / reusable
  • Multiple color choice, e.g. color code according to ammunition type.
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