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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

Shrapnel Wounds & Bullet Wounds


PhilB

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Was there much difference between the typical wounds produced by shrapnel balls and bullets? Was the bullet more penetrative or did the ball have a "dum dum" effect?

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Phil. Dont know whether this will help, but I have the two wallets and the shrapnel ball that wounded Pte Giblin at Ligney-Thilloy, the ball was embeded in the wallets and in his hand writing in his copy of the 18th Manchesters History (now in my possession) says" severely wounded and captured in this battle" This ball did not penetrate but other(s) hit him and clearly damaged his chest according to his POW cards home to his Mum. Ralph.

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I guess a ball wound would be more variable than a bullet wound because the bullet retains most of its velocity over its effective battle range (say 200 yards) while the ball possibly loses speed faster due to its shape (& lower starting velocity?)

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I would suspect you are right, still wouldnt like to get in the way of either, thank you very much. Ralph.

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I have always thought of being hit by shrapnel as like being shot by a musket. I picked up a shrapnel bullet which had been badly deformed. The deformed surface is very smooth, almost glossy. I think that might imply local melting on impact. If that is so, it suggests a fairly high speed.

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would shrapnel from a disintegrating shell or steel ,brick etc have a more severe wound or injury , as opposed to a shrapnel round.

mike.

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We`re talking strictly shrapnel balls, Mike! The other projectiles you mention could do anything from obliterate a man to light bruising.

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I don't know how a wound from a projectile would be graded. Shrapnel killed and maimed many thousands and so did the fragments thrown up by high explosive. I suppose if you call being completely blown to bits, ' worse ' than being fatally hit by several lead bullets, then the answer would have to be yes.

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The other difference is that a rifle round travels (ideally) through the air till it connects to it's target. On the other hand a shrapnel ball has been part of an explosion at or near ground level and so travelling with it would be quantities of earth and other detritus which would be propelled into the wound. I've always assumed therefore that a shrapnel would would be a far more 'dirty' wound than an bullet wound.

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My understanding is that shrapnel wounds varied considerably depending on the height of the explosion as the balls decelerated rapidly (if you see what I mean!) so that, at too great a height, they might only cause contusions and surface wounds. If the shell exploded low then, from a 77mm field gun fired at 3,000 metres the balls would be travelling at 900 ft/sec after the acceleration from the explosive behind the balls. This was, for example, 150 ft/sec more than a British helmet was designed to withstand. A fast moving shrapnel bullet caused a wound similar to a musket ball and would usually cause large, cul-de-sac wounds (i.e. the bullet stayed in the body) but the penetration was not considerable. They did tend to carry with them significant amounts of uniform fabric and other material which could help cause infection.

Rifle bullet wounds were smaller and neater and surrounded by bruising from burst blood vessels. They penetrated considerably further into the body so that for, example, if a man was lying down a bullet could enter his shoulder and travel most of the way (if not the whole way) through his torso and even into the legs (an enfilade wound). If they went 'through and through' then there would be a larger exit wound with a ragged edge where the skin had been stretched. If the bullet hit a bone then they would either fragment or tumble through the body, along with the bone fragments, causing extensive damage. The high velocity bullets also drove fluids away from the path of the wound which so damaged the surrounding tissue that it would be effectively 'dead' and would need to be excised as part of the process of debridement of the wound, i.e. the wound was made larger before being dressed. Failure to do this properly was a major cause of gas gangrene.

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Bill, Many thanks for your post, I have a soldier who died of wounds having , and I quote the paper " been wounded by a bullet in the left buttock. He was operated on --- the operation discloses a broken thigh and the gas had developed" Always wondered. Regards Ralph.

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Bill, Many thanks for your post, I have a soldier who died of wounds having , and I quote the paper " been wounded by a bullet in the left buttock. He was operated on --- the operation discloses a broken thigh and the gas had developed" Always wondered. Regards Ralph.

Ralph,

Buttock and thigh wounds were especially prone to gas gangrene infections, I believe for the reason that there are large amounts of muscle which would be damaged by the passage of a high velocity bullet as per the previous post, i.e. damaged tissue, but also, I suppose, because any dirt/debris in the wound had plenty of flesh to disappear into and this made cleaning the wound more difficult to achieve.

Bill

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Remember the Shrapnel helmet was able to deal with 80% of potential head wounds caused by Shrapnel balls, because if the gunner is doing his job it should be exploding about 50 feet above you.

Fragment can very in size from a few millimeters to a few feet in length, and be up to white hot. It could completely cut you in half.

Projectiles will drag into a wound anything that is in its path, uniform, buttons, loose change, earth, wood, etc, and many men were killed by being struck by fragments of their comrades.

Gareth

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The high velocity bullets also drove fluids away from the path of the wound....

This phenomenon has been called a temporary wound channel. It's a hydrostatic process in which body fluids are pushed ahead of the path of the penetrating projectile. Fluids can't be compressed, so they have to go somewhere. It's also probably why exit wounds are so much larger than entry ones.

As a general rule I'd say that bullets are more deadly than shrapnel balls--in most cases with bullets the projectiles are larger and the velocities are higher than with shrapnel balls.

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The other difference is that a rifle round travels (ideally) through the air till it connects to it's target. On the other hand a shrapnel ball has been part of an explosion at or near ground level and so travelling with it would be quantities of earth and other detritus which would be propelled into the wound. I've always assumed therefore that a shrapnel would would be a far more 'dirty' wound than an bullet wound.

I'm afraid you are confusing the modern meaning of shrapnell with the meaning current in WW1. Shrapnel then was from a shrapnel shell which was timed to explode in the air and direct its contents of lead bullets at the target. What we now call shrapnel would have been described as shell fragments.

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We`re talking strictly shrapnel balls, Mike! The other projectiles you mention could do anything from obliterate a man to light bruising.

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fair enough phil, the reason i asked was that you see reports of 'died from wounds, shrapnel' or 'wounds, shrapnel' . i don`t think its well known to the average person [including myself till not long ago] that shrapnel itself is a weapon / ordanance.

cheers, mike.

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I noticed a couple of instances in the book 'Somme Mud' by EPF Lynch where he was wounded twice by shrapnel balls that literally broke the skin but did not penetrate deeply. In one case he picked it out with his fingers. So this is probably the minimum effect of a shrapnel ball hit. Others detonating closer would have penetrated helmets and lodged deeply in the body or head. I don't think a shrapnel ball had the power to pass right through a body like a rifle bullet. As previously mentioned, they had more the characteristics of a musket ball than a bullet.

General shrapnel was of course far more lethal. It would also have been the size of a large dinner plate, and could cut a man in half. I have shrapnel from both wars and all of it looks pretty evil. Perhaps the worst piece is a bit of WW2 German Bomb shrapnel I found embedded in the rafters of a house I bought. It's about 5 inches long and jagged in all directions. If it had ever hit anyone the wound would have been horrendous.

Gunner Bailey

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I`m assuming that, on a WW1 forum, "shrapnel" is taken to mean shrapnel balls, not shell fragments. I`m aware that later, and certainly current, understanding of the word has largely changed to meaning shell fragments and even detritus blown from shell explosion. It`s possible that this definition even was accepted in WW1, but I don`t know. On a casualty report, I doubt they`d always be able to distinguish between bullet, ball or shell fragment wounds?

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QUOTE (Phil_B @ Jun 14 2008, 09:08 AM) <{POST_SNAPBACK}>
I`m assuming that, on a WW1 forum, "shrapnel" is taken to mean shrapnel balls, not shell fragments. I`m aware that later, and certainly current, understanding of the word has largely changed to meaning shell fragments and even detritus blown from shell explosion.

Phil, the core of this thread seems to be shrapnel balls, but of course references to shell or bomb shrapnel are also made.

GB

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A bit of visual evidence of effect of shrapnel. This was extracted from my GF's left forearm and showns how it 'wrapped' round the bone shattering it. It was a 'Blighty' one and he was still receiving treatement for it 4 months later.

post-8000-1213436122.jpg

I believe this was as a result of 'friendly fire' from a British 18 pounder. Still it kept him out of the carnage of the Somme, otherwise I might not be here today!

Peter

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I notice that some of the posts assume that a high velocity bullet with great penetration will cause more injury. I do not think this is always so. A slower soft projectile with greater mass may well cause much more damage by transferring all of its kinetic energy. A bullet which has gone straight through may well cause less trauma. The difference between being pierced by a spear and hit with a sledge hammer.

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I notice that some of the posts assume that a high velocity bullet with great penetration will cause more injury. I do not think this is always so. A slower soft projectile with greater mass may well cause much more damage by transferring all of its kinetic energy. A bullet which has gone straight through may well cause less trauma. The difference between being pierced by a spear and hit with a sledge hammer.

I think the key point with HV rounds Tom is that they cause cavitation that does not occur with shrapnel of any kind.

GB

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A high volicity round will fishtail as soon as it hits any substansive resistance, a through and through will possibly only occur in lightly fleshed areas.

Just for comparison:

Shrapnel balls, lead, small and large, a steel German shrapnel ball and a .303 bullet.

Mick

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