Tag Archives: federal ammo

How the British Army’s mortar primer needs sparked an Ammo Plant in Minnesota

Federal ammo is celebrating its Centennial this year, as I’ve discussed before, and they are increasingly doing an archival dump, which I find very interesting. During WWII, the company was charged with standing up the Twin Cities Ordnance Plant by the Army, one that continued in operation through Korea and Vietnam. However, what really got Federal that deal was an earlier one for mortar shell igniters for the British Army.

As detailed by Federal:

In 1940, as World War II ramped up, the British Purchasing Commission placed an order for 1.4 million mortar ignition cartridges.

If you’re not familiar with the term, an ignition cartridge is essentially a blank 12-gauge shotshell that is inserted in the base of the mortar bomb just before firing. The bomb is positioned in the upward-pointing muzzle of the mortar tube. It is released to slide down the tube, and the primer of the ignition cartridge impacts on a fixed firing pin at the bottom

This ignites the powder charge in the ignition cartridge, which in turn ignites the propelling charge of the mortar round. In some mortars, this can be adjusted by adding or subtracting propellant rings on the round.

The British continued to order ignition cartridges, and soon the U.S. Army Ordnance Corps was buying them as well. Federal’s fast and reliable fulfillment of these contracts gave it the credibility to bid for the Twin Cities Ordnance Plant contract.

Federal’s first foray into military production was with 1.4 million mortar ignition cartridges ordered by the British in 1940. 

This led to similar orders from the U.S. military.

Federal also provided trap and skeet ammunition during the war for aerial gunnery training and recreational use. These were in Monark and Hi-Power configuration, while Hi-Power ammo was offered in 00 Buck.

USAAF gunner with a training weapon, a Remington Model 11 set up to emulate flexible-mount .50 caliber M2 Browning. The military used millions of rounds of low brass 12 gauge for training

On the skeet range at N.A.S. Saint Louis, Missouri, 29 April 1944. Gunner is Lieutenant Junior Grade Rothschild, instructed by Martin. Shotgun is a Remington Model 11, 12 gauge semiautomatic, on a shotgun mount assembly Mk. 1 Mod. 0 consisting of gun mount adapter Mk. 12 mod.2 and .30 caliber stand Mk.23 Mod.0. Note boxes of Peters “Victor” brand skeet cartridges. Description: Catalog #: 80-G-237387

Some buckshot loads were made with brass collars at the front of the hull for more reliable feeding from the variety of pump and autoloader shotguns being issued.

Federal supplied buckshot loads with brass collars at the front for more reliable feeding in the wide variety of shotguns in use by the various U.S. armed services.

Federal remains in the mortar igniter biz today, as the firm continues to make No. 150D primers for 60-120mm mortars and the No. 215D primer for the Mk 19 40mm automatic grenade launcher. These are almost identical to the Federal primers civilian handloaders use, except they have slightly shorter anvils, thus the D for “desensitized.” This lets them stand up to rough handling in combat.

Federal at 100

Minnesota inventors Louie and Harry Sherman founded a small shotgun shell business in 1920 and, as many small businesses do, it failed to thrive and was circling the drain less than two years later. Then, in April 1922, Charles L. Horn, backed with a little investor cash, bought the concern and named it the Federal Cartridge Corporation.

Trivia: the red-capped hunter on many of Federal’s old shotgun loads was based on the company’s first owner, Charles Horn

Growing from seven employees and a 9,000 sq. ft. facility, Federal soon went small but in a big way– opening relationships with barbershops, garages, and grocery stores for a bit of shelf space to showcase Federal’s shells and BBs, the latter a logical product for any shotgun shell company.

Over the years, they added the American Eagle, Dixie, Reliable, Monark, Favorite, and Hi-Power Oval branding, then expanded to make store-branded shells for Montgomery Ward and Sears.

WWII saw the company open, and run for 40 years, the Twin Cities Ammo Plant for the Army.

Then came more innovation and growth, adding centerfire rifle and handgun loads, introducing color-coded shotgun shells in 1965, and waterways-friendly steel shot in 1973.

In recent years, the company has introduced .327 Federal Magnum, .338 Federal, and .30 Federal Super Carry to the world.

Today, the modern Federal Ammunition factory in Anoka is 700,000-square-foot state-of-the-art facility. Inside, over 1,400 employees– everybody from engineers and machine workers to plumbers and electricians– work three shifts, around the clock, to produce millions of rounds of centerfire, rimfire, and shotshell ammo per day.