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June 14, 2004

You know you always wondered...

...why it was called cordite, didn't you?

You know you did. Now, you know. Look at the propellant in the cartridge case.

Corded. Ergo, cordite.

As in this bit, from this warrior turned peace protestor in Canada (I felt it rude to just snip his bit and not let you read the rest of his message...)

Mostly the memories which came back to me are not the sounds and the sights, but the smells: the smell of diesel exhaust from the tanks as we made our way up the spine of Italy is one smell that stays with me; the smell of cordite as we passed near heavy artillery sites soon after a barrage; the choking sweet-sickly smell of dead tank crews in burnt-out tanks in Italy; the distinctive smell of dead farm animals and tote-mules in the river valleys of Italy; the offensive odour of dead soldiers in Okinawa as I followed a truck of casualties being transported to the US embalming unit in the rear area. I had shoved these deep into my dead files. However, I'm afraid they've all come up again.

First off, I agree with him completely on the smell issue. The smell of burning powder, diesel exhaust on a crisp cold morning, ripe roadkill - those will all trigger memories, some good, some rather nasty. I know I sometimes attract looks on a cold morning if I'm anywhere near a running diesel and I stand there and take a good sniff... though every now and then someone standing near me will say something like, "Just like the DMZ, ain't it?" Or Graf, or Hohenfels, or Hof, or fill-in-the-blank, where-ever they spent a cold military morning with idling diesels. For aviators it's kerosene.

"The smell of cordite" has worked it's way into the vernacular, even though cordite is no longer routinely used as a propellant - unless you, like me, are shooting surplus ammo. It's a cliche'.

And now ya know what it looks like - at least in a WWI-era .303 Brit bullet. In tech jargon:

CORDITE, the name given to the smokeless propellant in use in the British army and navy. The material is produced in the form of cylindrical rods or strings of varying thicknesses by pressing the material, whilst in a soft and pasty state, through dies or perforations in a steel plate by hydraulic or screw pressure, hence the name cordite. The thickness or size of the rods varies from about I mm. diameter to 5 or more mm. according to the nature of the charge for which it is intended. The smallest diameter is used for revolver cartridge and the largest for heavy guns. When first devised by the Ordnance Committee, presided over by Sir Frederick Abel, in 1891, this explosive consisted of 58% of nitro-glycerin, 37 % of gun-cotton, and 5% of mineral jelly. This variety is now known as Cordite Mark I. At the present time a modification is made which contains gun-cotton 65%, nitro-glycerin 30%, and mineral jelly 5 %. This is known as Cordite M.D. The advantages of Cordite M.D. over Mark I are slightly reduced rate of burning, higher velocities~ and more iegular pressure in the gun, and lower temperature.

If you'd like to read more, go here.

If the picture above is too small for you, then hie ye here!