Belts or spring-powered magazines commonly feed ammunition in
automatic arms. These and other methods are described below.
Magazines enclose and move rounds typically under spring power. They can
be organized into straight or slightly curved boxes, drums, tubes, etc.
Magazines may be fixed or detachable, with the latter far more common
in modern automatic arms. Fixed magazines are found in the M1 Garand,
bolt action sporting rifles, tubular magazines of shotguns, lever-action
rifles, some rimfire rifles, an occasional old or new pistol design, etc.
Fixed magazines are built into the arm and are not normally removed.
Detachable box magazines with self-contained springs and followers
are common on most individual arms. Such magazines can be carried
in a pre-loaded, ready state and quickly exchanged.
Detachable magazines are sometimes made into drums
with a spiral or circular feed path. Box (stick) magazines
are generally considered more reliable.
Ammunition belts are usually used on machine guns of squad size and larger.
Belts can be cloth or flexible metal bands, or more commonly
now, individual links held in position by the presence of each round.
In the latter case the links disintegrate when the round is chambered.
The feed mechanism must be carefully designed to discharge the loose links
clear of the bolt, etc.
In U.S. practice, belts of .30 and .50 caliber (7.62 and 12.7mm)
are delivered in steel cans with removable tops.
The 1980s designed FN Minimi (U.S. M249) uses a
plastic box to hold its 5.56mm linked belt. The box attaches
to rails at the bottom of the arm. The minimi is unusual
among machine gun designs in that it can also accept M16
A strip is in essence a rigid belt. Fingers are formed in a strip of metal
to hold each round. The strip usually travels horizontally through the
gun and rounds are fed from it like a belt.
Short (3 round) strips are sometimes joined to form a longer belt.
A clip usually holding 8 to 10 rounds is pressed as a unit into
In the M1 Garrand it is called an en bloc clip.
The clip remains in the gun until its last round is fired.
That event usually ejects the clip and leaves the bolt open
for insertion of the next clip.
The clip itself has no spring, instead relying on the
magazine spring and movement of the bolt to feed out rounds.
Clips should be designed so that either end
can be inserted into the gun, simplifying their use.
A common complaint about clips is that less than full clips are difficult
to remove from the gun. However clips are otherwise convenient to use.
Clip-fed guns are sometimes designed so that loose rounds
can be inserted individually into the magazine,
with or without a clip in place.
Chargers (Stripper Clip)
Chargers hold ammunition rounds in such a way that they can be pushed
into a magazine with finger pressure. This is usually done in guns
with fixed (non-removable) magazines or with a detachable magazine
attached to the gun.
The charger usually engages guide slots above the magazine so rounds
can be pressed down into the magazine, and then the charger is discarded.
Chargers are sometimes designed for loading detachable magazines
while outside the gun. Operationally this serves a different function
than described above.
Designers have attempted, with little success, to feed from ammunition
dumped loosely into a hopper. The idea is that the hopper
aligns each cartridge properly so it can be fed into the arm
without other user intervention. As Belleisen points out,
belts are probably more practical since the loading function can be
performed efficiently off-line at a factory or in camp.
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