Winchester = Out of ammunition?

Where did the usage of the word Winchester to mean Out of Ammunition in military terms come from? Did a quick search but my google-fu is weak and didn’t come up with anything.


‘Winchester’, as the code for ‘out of ammunition’, was used in Vietnam. I don’t know if it was used before then, but I’ve read it books about that war.

I’ve just read ‘Apache Dawn’ by Damien Lewis about British Apache helicopters in Afghanistan and its mentioned several times in that but I’ve come across it before. It does sound like something that has a story behind it but I don’t know what.

I wonder if there’s any significance to the pub in Shaun of the Dead being called the Winchester?

Just like feet wet and feet dry, winchester= no ammo came out of vietnam.

time to dee dee mau


‘Feet wet’ and ‘feet dry’ make sense, since they refer to crossing the coast. Winchester seems more obscure. For that matter, why ‘bingo’ for critical fuel?

The only thing that I could think of off hand was how fast a winchester/henry repeating rifle would burn through ammo, compared to a bolt action or single shot rifle. Bingo, I never really looked into its origin, in terms of flight, but just a wag I would put it at world war two, even Vietnam had inflight refueling and divert bases enough that time on station would be fluid.


Aren’t most military codes chosen because they are easy to understand on radio? If you look at the nato phonetic alphabet, you’ll see that none of the words rhyme.

Winchester sounds to me like a word that is unlikely to be confused with another often used word when heard over radio.
The fact that Winchester is a rifle just makes it easy to remember.

Is there any chance that “Winchester” simply meant ammunition at one time, and the usage shifted?

Bingo was used in the US Air Force as early as 1956 to indicate an empty fuel tank. Definitely used so it was clear on a radio transmission.

Someone at this site claims:

I almost posted it last night except that one person saying it on the internet seems iffy. But since no one else has any ideas… discuss.

19th Century American military equipment isn’t nearly as much my strong suit as 19th Century British military equipment, but I’ve never, ever heard of US soldiers calling “Winchester!” for more ammunition in that time period; in much the same way British soldiers at Isandhlwana or Khartoum were not calling out “Kynoch!” or “Eley!” when they ran out of Martini-Henry ammunition. (What they were no doubt actually calling out almost certainly isn’t suitable for publication anywhere delicate persons might read it, but that’s another thread entirely. ;))

It’s been my understanding that the term “Winchester” for “Out of ammunition” is related to the Winchester Repeating Rifle’s high rate of fire (ads at the time said they’d do two shots a second, meaning you could, in theory, empty the round in the chamber and the seven rounds in the tube in four seconds), but FWIW, I’ve seen no “historic” use of the term until after WWII.

I can only guess that the popularity of cinema Westerns in the '50s and '60s had something to do with the association of “Winchester rifle=fast-firing=Out of ammo quickly=No ammo”, but I’ve got absolutely nothing to back that up besides the fact it’s about as plausible as anything else anyone’s likely to come up with. :stuck_out_tongue:

Has its meaning changed then from the original samclem? Doesn’t bingo fuel (now) mean just enough fuel to get “home”?

It’s a heck of a lot better then broadcasting “Hey we are now out of ammo! (come and attack us now)”

I actually found a cite from 1961 saying just that. So, you’re correct. My main point was that it was invented so there was no misunderstood word over a radio.

I’m thinking that it originated with some fuel gauge that had five lights or indicators; once they were all filled, you had a 'Bingo".

According to the eminent 1998 Microprose Flight Sim European Air War, British pilots would pronounce “I’m Winchester” whenever they ran out of ammo during the Battle of Britain, I recall. However, if this is based on accurate research on the part of the developers of EAW or simply using a modern term in a WWII setting, I do not know.

BTW - Weren’t Winchester a major manufacturer of the .303 cal Browning machine gun ammo pre/during WWII? This was the weapon of choice for all British fighters early in the war - could the term have originated because of that?

ETA - maybe not: ““Modified” Radio Speech Packs from Cord’s EAW Page These eliminate some of the more annoying radio messages and particularly gets rid of the historically inaccurate British message of “I’m Winchester” (which we believe is a modern jet pilot term which was not used in World War II, and certainly not in the RAF!)” from this site.

The .303 Mk VII and Mk VIII service cartridges used in .303 machine guns during WWII were manufactured by a number of facilities, but generally they were manufactured (in the UK) by ICI (Imperial Chemical Industries), Kynoch, Eley, and various Government facilities including Radway Green and Woolwich Arsenal. The major British colonies (India, Canada, Australia, South Africa, and New Zealand) all had their own cartridge manufacturing facilities as well.

Winchester did supply cartridges for a number of years in the middle of WWII (1940-1943 or so) but generally the ammunition used in Commonwealth firearms was manufactured in the UK or one of the major Dominions/Colonies; at least to the best of my knowledge.