In a previous post I mentioned that I have a Carcano rifle. Military rifles are interesting, and oddball ones from secondary theaters of major wars even more so.
For reference, this is my 5-year-old holding the rifle. This is a cavalry version built in Brescia in 1934. It features a Mannlicher type action complete with the enbloc clip loading system. I plan to review this rifle and its history in a later post. For now I want to talk about the cartridge.
The original round-nose ball cartridge is shown on the right. I got a couple of boxes from Norma. On the left is one of my handloads. The cartridge designation is 6.5×52 Carcano. The COAL (Cartridge Over All Length) usually comes in around 2.90″. Norma factory loads clock in at about 2430fps. As soon as I have a chance I will clock my loads for comparison.
The Italians first adopted this round in 1891, and then never updated it to a spitzer bullet. The 1890’s were a time when every major power, along with every second-rate wannabe, was racing to get the best battle rifles for their armies. The Germans had the K-98, the British the Enfield. America had the 1903, the Russians the Mosin. France got the Lebel, Austria a Mannlicher, Japan the Arisaka and Italy the Carcano. Every one of those Nations switched to spitzer bullets as soon as they realized the improvement that a conical bullet gave over round ball.
Everyone that is, except the Italians. They continued to use round-nose ball until 1945. Its a shame they didn’t go pointy. This fine little cartridge has got itself a bad rap that it surely doesn’t deserve. Let me lay out some of the advantages that this little guy possessed over its bigger rivals.
The small size of the case means that more ammo can be carried by a soldier at a time. Small size also means less recoil than a Lebel or Springfield, for example. Shorter cartridges also make for shorter actions in rifles. This can mean quicker cycling and less time between shots fired. The long bullet cross-section makes for very stable flight characteristics. This same long cross-section also means that when soft tissue is hit, the bullet is liable to yaw or tumble. Carcano wounds tend to be nasty.
Other nations, particularly the Swedes, with their 6.5x55mm, used these smaller cartridges too. For a size comparison I have put the 5.56 NATO on the left and the .30-06 on the right.
It would be interesting to know why military small arms development went with the 5.56 instead of something 6.5 or .25 caliber.
The 5.56 cartridge has a muzzle velocity that ranges between 2900fps and 3100fps. In this respect it is quite a bit faster than the old 6.5mm. However, the energy in the bullet is more from a Carcano. At the muzzle, a 62g 5.56 going 3100fps has approximately 1300 ft/ibs of force. By comparison, the 156g Carcano at a velocity of 2430fps has approximately 2040 ft/ibs of force.
Heavier bullets hit harder. They also deflect less in bush, and penetrate obstructions easier. Smaller bullets are easier to shoot accurately in auto. A smaller guy can handle the recoil just fine. More ammo can be carried with greater ease. Manufacture is cheaper, as less material is required for each cartridge.
In all things, trade-offs must be considered. The .30-06 is a big round. It goes through lots of things, including soft tissue. The recoil in difficult to manage in an automatic weapon. Imagine taking your .30-06, full auto, and then try to imagine hitting anything. WW II BAR operators have my respect. A smaller bullet like the 5.56 may not take an enemy down. There are certainly many anecdotes from the Iraq and Afghan wars that seem to indicate there may be reason to reconsider the 5.56.
I think a case for the Carcano being a superior choice could have been made when NATO settled on the 5.56, and I certainly think that such a round should perhaps be considered by Canada in the future.