By Leszek Erenfeicht
People strive to do everything better and faster all the time - and it was not unlike that with firearms loading since the introduction of the fixed round. All the armies of the world at that time experimented with ways to improve the rate of fire of the individual rifleman. Of the many avenues of approach tested, only one proved viable - to increase the number of rounds loaded at a time into the weapon.
To achieve that goal, various ways were invented and some were quite bizarre. At first, various holders with ammunition were affixed to the action of the rifle; then someone invented the tubular magazine. The tube was a marked improvement, but soon manifested it’s drawbacks, too. The first tubular magazine was fitted into the stock of the Spencer carbine and fed the rounds forward. But the bigger the cartridge grew, the less could be loaded into the short butt tube. Thus, the tube was soon reversed, put under the barrel and then fed the rounds backwards. There was plenty of room for ammunition under the long barrel. Again, problems began to manifest themselves. The further the rounds traveled, the more the center of gravity shifted with each shot. And the rounds had to have blunt projectiles so that the recoil won’t drive the point of the bullet into the primer of the next cartridge. Moreover, it took an inordinate amount of time to insert six or seven rounds into the tube. All of that led to the introduction of the box magazine. The box magazine cured the magazine rifle of all tubular magazine drawbacks. The rounds were lying flat one over the other (or one next to the other, as in a Krag rifle), and the shape of the bullet became irrelevant; conveniently at time when ballisticians proved the superiority of the spitzer bullets. The rounds were fed up or down; therefore the center of gravity did not shift and they were fast to fill up with simple loading aids: clips and chargers.
To put it simply, a charger is a sheet-metal frame with cartridges that you load en bloc into the magazine of the weapon, while the clip is often similar in design, but you strip the cartridges from that into the magazine, hence the popular name of a “stripper clip.” Types and models of both clips and chargers are legion, and it is impossible to cover all of them in a relatively short article. The clips are usually simple strips of sheet-metal loaded single file with 5 to 10 rounds; but there are single-file clips with 15 rounds on them (Soviet for AK-74) and even staggered row ones for 20 rounds (Italian horse-shoe clip for the Breda M1930 LMG). Most are placed into slots over the mouth of the magazine and then the cartridges are pushed down into the magazine with a thumb. Sometimes there is a stripper slide built into the clip to protect the thumb (Roth M.07 pistol), but there are others, that you place into the magazine with the rounds - just like a charger - and then, upon tripping the cartridge retainer withdraw, leaving the cartridges inside (Breda LMG). They can have a cartridge retaining flat spring in the bottom, separate or integral, but they can also have springing sides. They can be made of metal, but also of plastic, or even of cardboard. The chargers are always metal, they can have high walls or be completely flat, single file or staggered column, but also rounded and lay flat perpendicular to the rounds.
Collectors were always mesmerized by their diversity, and in most countries these are not considered parts of weapons or ammunition, and therefore available for everyone to collect.
Following are the main types of the clips and chargers introduced all over the world with various semiautomatic pistols, revolvers, repeating and self-loading rifles as well as machine guns.
Flat stripper clips with bottom spring
This was the earliest introduced type of the stripper clip, with a separate flat spring inserted into the bottom. This spring can either contact the case heads directly, as in the German Mauser M98 stripper clips, but also a separate pressure plate might be inserted between the spring and the rounds. This pressure plate design was characteristic of the Czech strippers for both the pre-war vz.24 Mauser rifle and the 1950s vz.24/26 submachine gun; the latter stripper’s design being borrowed from the Austrian Steyr-Hahn M.12 pistol clip.
Flat stripper clips with integral spring
These are simple one-piece affairs. Their bottom has rectangular portions cut out on three sides that serve the role of the spring to retain the rounds in the stripper clip.
The first of the type was the M17 Mauser clip, a war-time economy rendition of the M98 clip, made of brass. The choice of material made them very short-lived things, as brass is too brittle to serve the purpose of the stripper for any longer.
The first viable clip of this type came into being in the late 1940s for the Soviet SKS rifle. This was a purpose-built design, made of high quality, heavy duty steel and, contrary to it’s predecessors, have years of service built into them. The same clip was also used for several Chinese select-fire rifles, as well as a Czech Sa-58 rifle.
The most recent rendition of the flat stripper with an integral spring is the plastic French 5.56mm strippers of injected polyethylene. The plastic is elastic enough to serve the role of the spring, and slick enough to facilitate loading without lubricating and thus inviting dust and dirt to the cartridges.
Stripper clips with side walls
There is also another type of the stripper clip, mostly used with the rimmed cased rounds: the side-walled clip. These are simple devices consisting of a single-piece sheet metal trough, with springing side-walls performing the role of the integral cartridge retaining spring. The most popular of these are the British SMLE and Soviet Mosin clips. The Imperial Russian Mosin clips had additional cartridge retaining tongues cut out of the side wall that the Soviets discontinued in favor of simple folded rims.
These were chronologically the earliest group of chargers introduced in the military. Their asymmetry stems from the rimmed cartridges it handled. To avoid jamming of the rimmed cases, the rims had to be staggered out of each other’s way in a single diagonal row. This solution was sound, but such chargers had a serious drawback: it always had to be loaded in the same way, one side up and the other down, or it simply wouldn’t fit into the magazine; not to mention working. This was awkward in the field and soon the asymmetrical chargers were phased out by their symmetrical brethren. The most recent example of the asymmetrical charger was the 5 round staggered row used for the bulky 14.5mm Soviet PTRS M1941 anti-tank rifle.
They were the development of the previously discussed asymmetrical chargers, enabling loading either way up - as long as the bullets were pointed forward, that is. The first such charger was introduced with the German M1888 rifle, the so-called Kommissionsgewehr designed by Armand Mieg. It was relatively easy to design a symmetrical charger like that for the rimless 7.92mm round, but very soon the symmetrical chargers for the rimmed rounds followed, as e.g. the Dutch Mannlicher M95, or the French Berthier. In 1936 the last of the staggered row symmetrical chargers was introduced with M1 Garand rifle. The symmetrical chargers were phased out shortly after World War II by the exchangeable box magazines.
The flat charger is the most recent rendition of the charger, first introduced with the American Smith & Wesson M1917 revolver. These revolvers were intended as a stop-gap weapon as deliveries of the M1911 Colt pistol were initially in short supply. They were chambered for the .45ACP round intended for the automatic pistol, and therefore rimless. It was necessary to fit them with some kind of a device enabling both the means of chambering and providing resistance for the firing pin to strike the primer, as well as the easy loading and unloading. Hence a three round, flat half-crescent shaped holder with three case retainers, called the Half-Moon Clip, was created. Two such chargers were used in filling the cylinder of the revolver.
Later, civilian variants of the revolver chargers appeared holding anything between two and six, or even eight rounds depending on the weapon involved. These later variants are called the Full-Moon Clips. In the 1990s, pistol cartridge chambered revolvers became fashionable and such devices were made on both sides of the Atlantic. Russian revolvers chambered for the 9x18mm Makarov round were also utilizing similar devices.
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