Archive Logo.jpg

December 12, 2005

Castle Artillery Pr0n

And now for something completely different, (ok, not really for longtime visitors), from the stocks of the Castle Armory. Since people who hide behind things but still want to sneak up on you (or even jump up, run at you and stick you with long pointy-things-with-sharp-edges really suck, people (i.e., artillerymen) thought up Shrapnel. In this case, a very specific artillerist, Major General Henry Shrapnel (though he invented it, I believe, when he was a mere Lieutenant).

So - from the Armory Holdings, a used WWI French Time/Impact Fuze. Of a type originally developed in 1889, this particular version is the 24/31mm Modele 1915, sitting in the nose of a 75mm Shrapnel round, seen here disassembled (albeit an empty round with none of the cool fiddly-bits).

Hosting provided by FotoTime

This is how you normally find them... with the nose of the projectile attached. In WWI, true shrapnel rounds (vice fragmenting HE now that the fact is that *all* fragments are called shrapnel) were essentially one-use mini-shotguns delivered over the target, where a small black powder charge in the base blew out a small plate, upon which were stacked lead or steel balls. The nose blew out, and the balls scattered like shot from a shotgun. Unlike the shrapnel rounds from the Civil War era, which suspended the balls in a matrix and then blew the whole round into pieces. Now when you read a WWI memoir that talks of the little puffs of white smoke from the shrapnel... you'll know what it means. It doesn't mean standard HE bursting in the air.

Hosting provided by FotoTime

Since you rarely see these old "beehive" fuzes intact, here are two - one ready for putting in the shell, the other with its lead foil protective cover. The cannoneer punched a hole at the appropriate time mark (there is a spiral powder train in the body of the fuze) so that when the round was fired, flame from firing would flash around the projectile as it left the muzzle, finding entry at the punch mark, igniting the powder train. Hence the lead foil cover - the flame exposure is very brief, so the powder has to catch quickly and must thus be protected from moisture. They also had an impact component, that series of pointy-things inside of springs running down the middle, as shown in this cutaway drawing:

Hosting provided by FotoTime

Here's a graphic cutaway from a Victorian-era Brit ammunition manual that shows what these rounds generally looked like. This particular round in the drawing didn't have a "blow-away nose" like the round in the Castle holdings - it just blew out the brass fuze, which being a softer metal, shears out before the threads on the baseplate of the projectile did. If it was a "burster" type round, the central tube would be filled with powder - here it's a flash-tube to convey the flame from the fuze-function down to the charge in the base.

Here is a photo of three Brit rounds from the 1890-1914 era. The two on the left have bursting charges in the base - you can clearly see the brass flash-tube running down the middle to the charge in the base. The one on the right has its bursting charge up top - meaning it probably blows out the base or shatters the round. Shattering the round is most likely, since the balls would not have near the velocity (and would have a much greater dispersion pattern, which can be good or bad depending on the way the target infantry is arrayed). I'm guessing that one didn't last long in service.

Lastly: Don't forget to Vote For Us!

To close this completely - you can see some of these fuzes larger cousins on the "ready rounds" in this engraving of French Artillery from WWI, with a 155mm on the left, and a 270mm Mortar on the right - the rounds for that monster are fitted with the Beehive fuze. The engraving is from a book published just after the war, and is in the Holdings of the Castle Library.