Raffica: November 1997

By Dan Shea

“There are going to be situations where people are going to go without assistance. That’s just the facts” – LA Police Chief Gates.

No particular reason for throwing in the above quote. None at all. I am not planning on waxing eloquently about the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, or anything like it. Chief Gates spoke this during the LA riots, and I think it speaks for itself. Raffica just wanted to toss it out there for you all to remember, the next time someone tells you how the “Thin Blue Line” can protect you and your family. I have yet to have a police officer tell me that- usually just a politician. Off the soapbox and onto the answer box….

Q1- I keep getting offered this “High pressure” 9mm ammunition. People say not to use it in handguns, but it’s all right in subguns. Why would they sell it if it can’t be used in handguns? Is it safe or not? Jim B.

A1- Jim, this is the Hirtenberger ammunition. This issue has been hashed around quite a bit, with some people taking the position that it is totally unsafe and others defining “Safe” according to what firearms are being used. I will quote here in a letter that was sent from Hirtenberger AG to Technology Branch of ATF and I received at my office shortly thereafter.

“It has come to our attention that up to 12 million rounds of 9mm L7A1 ball ammunition we manufactured during 1990-1992 for the British MOD shall have been sold on the world surplus market.

At the request of the British MOD this ammunition was loaded substantially higher than the usual order to insure proper functioning of their Sterling submachine guns also under adverse conditions. Because of the information we arranged firing tests of L7A1 ball reference rounds out of the production lots concerned according to CIO standard at the Austrian Proof House in Vienna, and the proof report showed an important excess of the maximum allowed pressure. The maximum allowed mean pressure according to CIP reads 2600 bar, whereas the pressure measured with our 9mm L7A1 reads 3773 bar. This ammunition is therefore totally unsafe for use in even the most modern 9 x 19 handguns.

We were informed that this ammunition is currently being offered to American surplus distributors for sale on the American domestic market. Hirtenberger AG will assume no liability for damages done if this high-pressure ammunition is released on the American market. The purpose of this letter is to inform the US Government of a potentially hazardous situation and we attach a copy of the ammunition’s head stamp for identification purposes, whereby the number 90 (=1990) may change also to 91 or 92.

The accompanying charts of testing that I received showed pressure measured in between 1750 and 2700 bar. I was unable to ascertain where the 3773 bar number mentioned in the Hirtenberger letter came from- nothing on the charts they supplied appeared close to it. Since the manufacturer knows best, and should be listened to, I would strongly advise against using this ammunition in any handgun. At the very least, many of the tests on the chart indicate max pressures for handguns. On the other hand- it was manufactured for use in the Sterling submachine gun, and it apparently met the British specs. Submachine guns are usually manufactured to higher pressure specs, and there is frequently ammunition loaded a little “Hotter” for them. This is by no means the first time something like this has occurred.

It is important to avoid bolt-cranial contact, or in the case of pistols, slide cranial contact. With that in mind, it would be prudent to only shoot this ammunition in healthy, well made submachine guns. The importers who sell it require a signed statement acknowledging that you will not be irresponsible with it. We have fired a significant amount of this ammunition from Uzi’s, Port Said’s, Sten’s, and Sterlings. No problems, very reliable ammo- and no sign of over-pressure cases. You can tell it’s hot by the recoil and somewhat increased cyclic rates. Take all of your safety precautions, and make your own decisions. I don’t have any problem with using this responsibly, but we make sure that there is no chance of mixing this ammunition into any “Smorgasbord” shooting piles. There is a potential for problems here. The manufacturer does not want you using it in pistols.

The 9 x 19 mm Hirtenberger ammunition in question is packed in gray cardboard boxes of fifty rounds per- 124 grain full metal jacket (Ball). The boxes are marked L7A1, and the headstamp is “HP” at 12 o’clock. At 9 o’clock is a circle with a cross in it. Spread over the 6 o’clock position is “L7A1”, and at 3 o’clock is the year- either “90”, “91” or “92”.

Q2- I have an M-60 and have been gathering spare parts. One of my concerns is the “Run-away” op rod. I keep hearing about this, and don’t want these in my inventory. How do I tell the difference? Ron

A2-The early Op rod is not really a “Run-away” piece. It doesn’t usually cause the problem. The original M-60 can turn into a run-away for any of a number of reasons; a worn or broken sear, a worn sear notch on the operating rod, or slightly underpowered ammunition. A freak circumstance of dirt or carbon build up can keep too much friction on the operating rod, making for “Sluggish” operation- it won’t recoil all the way to the sear notch. Run-away means- you take your finger off the trigger, and the machine gun keeps cycling ammunition. This is not a positive condition. Many injuries have occurred from this circumstance.

In the words of my old US Army machine gun instructor, this is “Bad- no like gun keep shooting when no want rock’n’roll”.

Careful inspection of the critical points on the firearm, combined with taking appropriate action as problems are found, will keep it running properly. In this case, the military has “Solved” the problem by adding another notch next to the original sear notch on the op rod. (See the diagram “P” is the standard location, “S” is the E3 additional notch) This modification is on the M60 E3 configuration guns. You can safely use these op rods in your standard M60. The idea is that in the case of a bolt carrier not going all the way to “Engagement” with the sear, as it slips forward it will drop into the secondary notch. This effectively stops the runaway. You may still have a run-away problem if you invert the sear on re-assembly, have a broken or worn sear, have a “Sticky” trigger, or have a carbon build up in the gas piston area (Remember that “Sluggish” problem?). Check all of these, and by all means, use the E3 type Op rod.

No answers yet on last month’s question about the HK-25- we went to press too quickly for anyone to answer, so I wanted to just give you a drawing to think about…. A little “Teaser” for you HK enthusiasts to stay up late at night over...

Questions to: Dan Shea
C/O the Small Arms Review

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V1N2 (November 1997)
and was posted online on December 29, 2017


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