A Page From History: Clips and Magazines

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posted on November 3, 2016
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Above: The SMLE’s 10-round-capacity magazine was fed by two five-round stripper clips. The pictured rifle is a Mk III* adopted in January 1916, a simplified version of the MK III lacking the magazine cut-off, long-range “volley-sights” and other changes.

From the January 1956 issue of American Rifleman.

Clips and Magazines
Questions have been raised as to the popular practice of applying the word 'clip' to rifle and pistol box magazines. Some readers even feel that this practice should be condemned by The Rifleman in its capacity as an authoritative publication dealing with arms.

It is true that there has often been considered to be a basic difference between clips, which are essentially aids to loading, and the magazine, which is that part of the arm which holds cartridges ready for use in the action. It should be said, however, that the line between the two is not so easy to draw as might at first be thought. 

Clips and chargers are in a class together. Each is a holder for a number of cartridges, usually not fewer than five, for the magazine of a repeating arm. They are both aids in loading the magazine. Rather surprisingly, there is not agreement among official publications as to which is which.

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Left to right: clip for loading carbine magazines; magazine of .45 cal. pistol; charger for Lee-Enfield rifle; charger for Mannlicher rifle; clip for garand rifle; clip for Springfield rifle.

According to the official British Textbook for Small Arms, 1929, the charger is made so that on loading the cartridges are swept out of the charger into the magazine, the charger falling away. In short, it is used to charge the magazine. We at once recognize in this description the 'clip' of the Mauser 98 and Springfield '03 rifles. The Springfield clip is shown at right in the photo. To the left of it is the clip (U.S. nomenclature) of the M1 or Garand rifle.

On the other hand, the above-mentioned official British publication defines the clip as made to go into the magazine with the cartridges. With it, the cartridges are put in clipped together. It falls out or is ejected when the magazine is empty. According to the definition (which is not applied in the U.S. service, perhaps because we have no small arms operating on that system), clear examples would be the holders used in the German Model 88 and in various Mannlicher rifles, which drop out when the magazine is empty. One of these is shown third from the right in the photo.

By the distinction above made, the Springfield and the Garand devices cannot both be clips, since one is discarded on loading and the other is automatically thrown out only when the magazine is empty.

The Mauser and the Mannlicher devices look different, but mere appearance cannot be taken to show difference in function as between clips and chargers. For example, the charger (British nomenclature) for the SMLE rifle is shown fourth from the right. It looks like the Mannlicher holder, but works like the Mauser-Springfield one.

The above is enough to show it is a little hard to be positive in saying what a clip is. It is even possible to doubt that the familiar holder (fifth from right in photo) in which seven cartridges are loaded in the .45 M1911 pistol is really a magazine, though that is its official name. It is rather like a clip (British definition); in fact, it differs principally in that when empty it is taken out of the gun by the firer instead of being ejected automatically at that time.

While a 'clip-loading clip' might be hard to find, there certainly is such a thing as a clip-loader for a magazine. It is shown sixth from the right in the photo, and is used to load the carbine magazine with 10 rounds without the necessity for pushing them in one by one. A similar device is used to load the Browning Automatic magazine from Springfield clips.

Still more confusing, if taken seriously, is the meaning of "magazine". The latter has been defined as that part of the arm which holds cartridges ready for use in the action, and such a meaning when applied to a Winchester 86 lever-action rifle or Mauser 98 bolt-action rifle is clear. However, we have just noticed above that it also means a device for a pistol (to take but one example), which is not built into the arm at all, but rather used to carry ammunition separately. One may well ask how it is possible to apply the same word to two such different things.

What we are really up against is the fact that usage determines the meaning of words. Changing the current usage on clips, chargers, and magazine would appear to require going back to the beginning and starting over, which is hardly likely now.

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