.315 bore casings found at Lakhimpur Kheri site: All you need to know about this cartridge

The all-India availability of the .315 cartridge and its relative inexpensiveness – a little over Rs 100 each - means it is the go-to round for illegal weapons, mainly country-made guns

FP Staff October 10, 2021 14:58:32 IST

The .315 cartridge is commercially manufactured only in India now.

Two cartridge casings of .315 bore have reportedly been found by a forensics team from the scene of the 3 October violence in Lakhimpur Kheri. Here's what you need to know about this cartridge, popularly called teen sau pandrah in India.

A Brief History of the Teen Sau Pandrah round

The number .315 is the bore or calibre of a firearm that can discharge this cartridge. The number .315 is the inner diameter of the barrel of the weapon in inches, a British system of denoting calibre that goes up to thousandths of an inch rather than the American system which goes to hundredths of an inch, for instance, .45 or 45-cal as they call it. In the modern system that uses millimetres, the .315 would be called an 8 mm cartridge.

The cartridge is based on the Austrian army's 19th-century 8 mm Mannlicher cartridge that was later extensively used in World War I, after which it was rendered largely obsolete because of better ammunition developed by practically every country. In India, the colonial policy meant that private gun owners were not allowed to possess firearms chambered for the British military .303 cartridge or the much more powerful .450 that big-game hunters like Jim Corbett used.

This cartridge is commercially manufactured only in India now; only a small number of firearm enthusiasts may be handloading some at home in other countries. In Germany, for instance, this cartridge was once popular for boar hunting. The tremendous vitality of this animal and its aggression when attacked says a great deal about the effectiveness of the cartridge.

The cartridge, as made in India by the Indian ordnance factories, features a rather long, cylindrical bullet - the part of the cartridge that is discharged from the business end of a gun barrel when the trigger is squeezed - with a copper jacket enveloping a soft lead core. This is meant to ensure that the bullet, or round as it is popularly called, mushrooms on impact, causing greater damage than a similar-sized bullet of a single hard alloy, say steel.

In practice, the generally poor quality of Indian-made ammunition means the bullet fragments into pieces on impact sometimes, causing shrapnel-like damage that is lethal for soft-skinned animals - man included- but may well fail against a heavier animal, say a nilgai bull, if this happens.

It's also a rather heavy round. Bullet weights are traditionally reckoned in grains, one grain being one seven-thousandth of a pound. In other words, 14.43 grains make a gram. The INSAS rifle used by the Indian Army for two decades, including in the Kargil war, fires a 5.56 mm round that weighs about 55 grains. That round comes out of the barrel at well over 3,000 feet per second, giving it an energy of about 1,300 foot-pounds.

Foot-pounds is the way most shooters reckon energy of the round which translates into its killing or stopping power. A medium-calibre handgun round, like the 9 mm round used by the police, generates close to 400 foot-pounds of energy; elephant killer cartridges like the .416 Rigby have close to 5,000.

The .315 bullet weighs 244 grains and goes at about 2,000 feet per second for an energy of about 2,200 foot pounds. These numbers are reckoned reasonably impressive.

The ballistics of the .315 aren’t too good for long-distance shooting, as the relative slowness of the round translates into a parabolic trajectory. At short ranges, however, of up to 100 to 150 yards, the bullet goes relatively flat and is effective.

The Indian-Made .315 Sporting Rifle

After Independence, the Indian Ordnance Factories started manufacturing sporting rifles for this cartridge based on the Lee Enfield military rifles that the Indian Army then used. The term 'sporting' means these rifles are used for shooting as a sport and for hunting, wherever allowed. Today this means hunters who get official permits to kill man-eaters, for instance, the legendary Lakhpat Singh Rawat from Garsain in Uttarakhand who has killed 55 man-eating leopards across his state and is practically worshipped in the dozens of villages he has protected. Rawat uses a .315 rifle, and swears by it.

Based on the Lee Enfield design, the .315 rifle has one of the smoothest actions ever made, meaning the manual cycling of the bolt to eject a used cartridge case and feed another into the breech of the weapon for firing. Starting before World War I broke out, the British Army imposed a test on its Lee Enfield-armed infantrymen, that of the 'mad minute': 15 rounds to be fired at a man-sized target 300 yards away within 60 seconds. Such was the effect of this training that German soldiers running into massed British infantry often believed they were under machine-gun fire. The Lee Enfield rifle, popularly called the .303 in India, has lasted into the 21st century, notably with the Indian police. It has surprised Western troops in Afghanistan where even older versions like the Lee Metford have been used to deadly effects against them.

The following video shows CRPF instructor SN Pal firing 31 rounds in one minute from a Lee Enfield rifle.

The civilian use .315 sporting rifle is of the same basic design, with the calibre changed, and is limited by a 5-round magazine rather than the 10 the Lee Enfield has. The rifle has been available to civilian enthusiasts for decades now, and till recently when the OFB offered another sporting rifle (in .30 calibre), it was the only powerful Indian-made rifle one could buy. After imports of better quality, and more expensive, firearms were stopped in 1984, it became the only India-made medium rifle an aspiring sportsperson could buy to get started. It is only the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI), the Sports Authority of India (SAI) and the Services Sports Control Board (SSCB) who can now freely import arms and ammunition for their own use or their affiliates. This has meant that older, used foreign-made weapons have become atrociously expensive in the small market for licensed gun-owners

Licenced users keep the .315 for self-defence; many go through the very tough licensing process in order to qualify as armed guards for banks, petrol pumps and similar installations.

Illegal Use of the .315 Round

The all-India availability of the .315 cartridge and its relative inexpensiveness – a little over Rs 100 each - means it is the go-to round for illegal weapons, mainly kattas, or country-made guns. These guns are rudimentary at best, featuring a crude barrel and even a cruder trigger mechanism. Most of them work, however, for the purpose they are built.

The spiral grooves cut into the inside of the barrel are the defining characteristic of a rifle. A bullet is fired out of the barrel by the rapidly expanding gases that are produced by igniting the gunpowder in the cartridge case. This ignition happens when a striker or firing pin strikes the rear of the cartridge on the trigger being squeezed. The primer at the bottom of the case ignites the gunpowder packed ahead of it, and the resultant explosion forces the bullet out of the barrel at great speed. The spin imparted by the rifling of the barrel stabilises the bullet in flight and makes it accurate.

Kattas or countrymade guns feature non-rifled barrels made from truck steerings or bicycle frames. These smoothbores, as they are called, usually have barrels that are oversized for the cartridge. This has important implications: one, a great part of the explosively expanding gases produced on firing escape out of the barrel without ‘pushing’ the bullet. This makes the weapon inaccurate but greatly reduces its recoil. A handgun with a rifled barrel of diameter equalling the cartridge would break the wrist of the user on being fired.

For katta users, accuracy is of limited concern, because most criminals use these weapons only at point-blank range. The reduced recoil also suits them, for obvious reasons.

Kattas are also made to use 12-bore shotgun shells which usually consist of a large number of pellets discharged from a cylindrical shell on firing. Because of their poor quality, the shell-using kattas are not as deadly as the ones that use proper cartridges like the .315.

One encounter specialist from Uttar Pradesh nailed it when he remarked to a reporter many years ago: “With a 12-bore katta, the person fired upon has an even chance of living, but when shot with a .315 katta "woh sirf muskurata hai.” The last part was a macabre reference to the usual death-grimace on the face of a person shot with a .315 katta.

The second implication is for forensics. A round fired through a rifled barrel bears microscopic scratches and indentations made on the bullet by its spiral grooves; these can be matched with a high degree of certainty to the weapon it was fired from. This fact has been used as evidence to clinch convictions in criminal cases.

In the case of a katta, no such tell-tale marks are created on the bullet. The only connection that can be made between a katta and a discharged round is between the cartridge case which bears the impression of the weapon’s striker that has fired a round. A direct connection between a recovered bullet and a weapon cannot be made. Besides, the match between the striker indentation on the case and a katta is not very good, and cannot be offered as clinching evidence.

Finally, no katta user will keep his empty cartridge cases; most will throw the weapon away to completely eliminate any evidence.

Also Read: OFB restructuring is progressive, but reforming the rules on civilian gun ownership makes sense too

Updated Date: October 10, 2021 16:00:21 IST

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