50,000+ WW2 Cartridge Cases – One Pit!

Every now and again someone will find a site with an astonishing array of WW2 relics buried beneath the ground. Some of my fellow WW2 relic hunters have, in the past, found 14,000 dogtags, thousands of buttons and even hundreds of SOE time pencils, all at different sites, but all in one small dump pit.

I have had some similar experiences in the past, but nothing like what was uncovered over the past week or two. Just a shame the discovery wasn’t made when the WW2 Treasure Hunters film crew was there!

A good friend of mine, and landowner of a farm that straddles an old WW2 airbase, alerted me to an incredible discovery, and kindly asked if I’d like to come along and see ‘if anything was of any use’. I duly turned up and discovered that an old WW2 dump pit had been found, in which were a very large number of bomb fuzes. On closer examination, the pit was 4 to 5 feet in diameter, roughly circular, and had obviously been dug by hand. At the bottom of the pit was a layer of cartridge cases, (we will come to those shortly!), then a layer of molten metal, (mainly zinc), then some badly fire damaged bomb fuzes, then at the top of the layer, some not so badly damaged bomb fuzes. In the molten metal layer and sitting on top of it were quite a few incendiary bomb tile breakers and the remains of various other bits of fully burnt out ordnance.

What appears to have happened is that, sometime after the end of the war, 4 or 5 junior servicemen, (officers or old salts aren’t going to do it!), were sent out into the middle of the field to dig a pit. Everything was layered in the pit and the combustible material ignited. Once the flames were out, the pit was filled up and forgotten about. Until now!

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A pic showing the size of the pit, with me in it taking pictures of the layers
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A pic showing the size of the pit, with me in it taking pictures of the layers. You can make out the top of the cartridge case layer, and the edge of the molten metal layer (beneath my feet at the edge of the water)
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No 848, No 860 and even No 859 fuzes, (along with arming vanes and many other parts), littered the spoil heap, all completely inert
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No 848, No 860 and even No 859 fuzes, (along with arming vanes and many other parts), littered the spoil heap, all completely inert. Lots of cartridge cases also visible in this pic
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No 848, No 860 and even No 859 fuzes, (along with arming vanes and many other parts), littered the spoil heap, all completely inert. Lots of cartridge cases also visible in this pic

 

The quantity of bomb fuzes was, in itself, astonishing. The fire had ensured that none had any of their small ‘magazines’ intact so they were fully inert and devoid of any explosive material.

However, the cartridge layer was even more astonishing.

The water table was quite high in the field, and just below the layer of molten metal, the cartridge cases were sitting in their own little pond. The molten metal had prevented any soil getting to the layer so it was basically a huge pile of cartridge cases in water. I did a bit of hand digging to try and determine how far down the layer went. I got my hand into the cartridge case layer up to my elbow and it WAS STILL GOING! Incredible.

Here’s a look at one small corner of the cartridge case layer….. (click on ‘full screen’…..I couldn’t work out how to shrink the vid!!)

 

 

We spent a few hours recovering as many cartridge cases as we could, but hardly seemed to be denting the pile. At one point we even found a seam of around 300 Lee-Enfield charger clips!

The cartridge cases were mainly 303s with quite a few 9mms thrown in for good measure, and the odd one or two 45cal ACP. As it was an old RAF base, it was assumed the 303s came from the bombers after a mission, but some of the 303s had Bren firing pin marks, and this theory wouldn’t support the presence of the charger clips or the 9mm or the 45s. So we finally decided that these cartridge cases had come from the small arms range, not that far away from the pit itself. At the end of the war, the RAF were doing a grand clear-up and just buried the lot beneath a pile of bomb fuzes, and set the whole lot alight. It was an incredible dig!

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Three buckets of cartridge cases. Note all the Lee-Enfield charger clips in the one at the back
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I managed to recover one or two in total, along with a few of the better condition fuzes, (completely inert), and parts
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Some of the more unusual cartridge cases in among the 303s
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.380 cartridge cases. Bottom Royal Labs Woolwich, top is totally unexpected……. Cartucheria Orbea Argentina, Argentina!
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9mm HN – Royal Ordnance Factory Hirwaun, South Wales BE – Royal Ordnance Factory Blackpole, Worcester WRA – Winchester Repeating Arms
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45cal ACP REM-UMC – Remington Arms Co., Bridgeport WRA – Winchester Repeating Arms
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30cal M1 carbine cartridge case. Peter’s Cartridge Co
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303 cartridge case Been involved in a fire as case has exploded out and the blast cap is gone. Weirdly for an RAF base, it’s a grenade launcher case! Royal Labs Woolwich, H = Grenade launcher cart, Mk I, Nitrocellulose fill
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303 cartridge case Another grenade launcher cart….. Royal Labs Woolwich, H = Grenade launcher cart, Mk I, Nitrocellulose fill
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303 cartridge case Another grenade launcher cart….. Royal Labs Woolwich, H = Grenade launcher cart, Mk I, Nitrocellulose fill
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Look at the condition of them! After a quick scrub the brass came back shiny and the charger clips were in an incredible condition given they have sat in water, 4 feet down, for more than 70 years
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1st type, markings still clearly visible
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2nd type (early type from WW1 and before)
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3rd type, again with markings clearly visible
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The 303s cleaned up very nicely. Only a few more to clean…..
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GB Greenwood and Batley, Leeds
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MF Small Arms Ammunition Factory No 1, Footscray, Melbourne, AUSTRALIA. 1936 dated as well
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RG Royal Ordinance Factory, Radway Green, Cheshire. Armour piercing as well (W)
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Crompton Parkinson Ltd., Guiseley, Yorkshire
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Thought I’d load up some of the cleaned charger clips. Why not!
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The charger clips I recovered following a quick clean.

 

Not one single live round was found during the whole dig, making it even more probable that this was the pile of spent cartridges from around the small arms range.

It’s going to take a long time to clean them, but I’ll get there. I have already promised to donate an awful lot to the various re-enactor groups out there to enhance their displays at military shows. But I’ll keep a few myself to make my own display!

It’s not every day you need to take buckets with you when recovering WW2 relics….

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