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Remembered Today:

Lethality of Shrapnel Shells


mhurst
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It is easy to imagine how dangerous were the metal fragments from exploding HE shells - ragged pieces of metal would have caused serious wounds or often death.

But what about the shrapnel shells fired by both sides, which contained small metal balls, rather like the musket balls of old. These clearly could have been lethal, but at what range? The same applies to shrapnel shells - how close did the target have to be to face the prospect of death?

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Could be pure luck. I remember my uncle telling me of the time he and two others were sheltering in a shell hole when a shell landed in the same hole. Result. One uninjured. one killed and my

uncle wounded in the knee. I think there would be thousands of stories such as this to be told.

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Melvin from memory i think i read that on the introduction of the Brodie helmet head wounds from shrapnel shells were greatly reduced, fused correctly shrapnel was deadly and could break up an attack or prevent activity behind the lines.john

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When burst in the correct place a shrapnel shell projected its bullet cone up to 300 yards ahead of the point of burst. Given that shrapnel was burst quite low and with a flat trajectory, most of the ground up to 300 yards was covered by bullets. Obviously actual lethality in an area depended on how many rounds were fired. No battery ever fired single rounds!

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... most of the ground up to 300 yards was covered by bullets. Obviously actual lethality in an area depended on how many rounds were fired.

I would have thought that the danger to life for an individual had more to do with the speed of impact. At 300 yards from the point of detonation, would this still be enough to kill?

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300 yards was the accepted figure. Terminal velocity for the bullet mass gave enough KE for lethality.

I seem to remember reading something before in the Forum about terminal velocities, but surely that is related to an object falling vertically? For a shrapnel ball being expelled more or less horizontally wouldn't the effect depend on the same factors which would have determined the flight of a musket ball? At some point this would have lost enough KE to give a target a nasty blow, but without killing him? There are reports of men being struck by spent bullets and surviving, so I would imagine that the same thing could have happened with spent shrapnel balls. My question is to do with how far away the shell explosion needed to be in this case.

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To kill someone you need to hit where they are lethally vulnerable, that's only about 10% of the body area.

300 yards was the accepted figure for 18-pr and similar guns. In fact it was probably more because the pre-war figure was something like 58 ftlbs IIRC, proper research in WW2 revealed it was a lot less than this so projectiles were actually lethal at a greater distance. Shrapnel bullet velocity was the vector sum of the terminal velocity of the shell and the projected velocity of the bullet (same applies to HE fragments, although most fragments are projected outwards not forwards).

This page of my web site may help although it doesn't deal with shrapnel

http://nigelef.tripod.com/wt_of_fire.htm

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Although I cannot find the reference at the moment, I believe that the British Official History of Gallipoli contains a reference to naval shelling of Turkish trenches. When HE was used, the Turks soon learned that unless it fell very close, they were not in much danger if they kept their heads down. When the Navy switched to using shrapnel (or its equivalent - canister?) the effect on the Turks was much greater.

Ron

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To kill someone you need to hit where they are lethally vulnerable, that's only about 10% of the body area.

But a hit on the other 90% would usually put a man out of action and quite possibly kill him later through problems related to the trauma, infections or fat embolism.

They did come in different sizes.

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If I am following this then a shrapnel round was designed to explosively "push" out the shrapnel balls forward in similar fashion to a shotgun?

What was the typical height above ground of the detonation and what was the typical angle of the "cone" of damage. ie how wide would the "front" of shrapnel balls be at 300 yards?

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But a hit on the other 90% would usually put a man out of action and quite possibly kill him later through problems related to the trauma, infections or fat embolism.

They did come in different sizes.

And in WW1, pre-anti-biotics, the risk of severe infection was much greater. That's why you'll find the KIA/WIA ratio has improved during the 20th C, although widespread use of body armour has more latterly skewed the data. As for a 'hit' putting a man out of action, the answer is 'it all depends' - sometimes yes sometimes no, sometimes sooner sometimes later. Sweeping generalisations are likely to be misleading.

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If I am following this then a shrapnel round was designed to explosively "push" out the shrapnel balls forward in similar fashion to a shotgun?

What was the typical height above ground of the detonation and what was the typical angle of the "cone" of damage. ie how wide would the "front" of shrapnel balls be at 300 yards?

The shrapnel ejection charge added 150 - 200 ft/sec to the bullet velocity, in addition to whatever the terminal velocity was. Not having a 18-pr RT to hand I can't help with that.

Height of burst wasn't addressed as 'height of burst'. For 18-pr what mattered was the 'angle of height of burst', for maximum effect this was 15 minutes, which corresponded to about 90 yards from the target measured along the trajectory. This gave about 10% graze bursts but optimum bullet density. Unfortunately I don't have any bullet fan dimensions to hand.

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When at Sandhurst in the early 1980s we went to see a firepower demonstration put on by the RA. I can't exactly remember the range (Larkhill?) but we were crammed into a bunker with small observation windows so we could watch the impact area up close. We put an empty whiskey bottle in the middle of the impact area which was pulverised for a good 10-15 minutes (I don't recall the type of rounds used) and the whiskey bottle disappeared in a cloud of smoke... when the smoke cleared, the bottle was still intact. Admittedly a small target but completely unscathed.

I would assume the chances of being hit were largely a function of proximity to the point of explosion. Presumably it is a function of the square of the distance from that point....doubling the distance decreasing the probability by a factor of four (theoretically). Did shrapnel shells explode in a ball shape or did they have a cone of direction (for want of the proper technical term). I assume the case of the shell added to the destructive power. An Officer at Gallipoli was hit on the knee by a spent fuse from a shell and lost his leg then lost his life as a result of infection. Knollys I think his name was.

War Diary of the 1st/3rd County of London Yeomanry (Sharpshooters) dated 23rd Aug 1915:

"Heavy firing started at 5 a.m. Stood to arms. About 10 o'clock received a dose of shrapnel and KNOLLYS of the Roughriders had a leg nearly blown off by the fuse of one of the shells, the case falling between Col CLARKE and [illegible] The leg was soon afterwards amputated on the Hospital Ship - was subjected to various bursts of "hate" during the day and constant sniping although a quieter night."

The City of London Yeomanry - by A S Hamilton MM

"The protection the hill afforded was far from perfect and some part of it was shelled daily at dusk or dawn when men were likely to be moving about. On the morning after the Regt's arrival the "strafe" fell on the lower slopes where the officers wee standing in a group re-allotting dug-outs. Shrapnel spattered round them but the only casualty was Maj Knollys whose leg was smashed by a fuse. He was promptly sent off to the beach by ambulance accompanied by Father Day who later bought back word of a successful amputation. But after being evacuated to Alexandria, Maj Knollys was moved to England and died almost on arrival there. He was much beloved in the Regt and the loss of this ever-cheerful and gallant personality was deeply deplored by all ranks..."

MG

P.S. As an aside I spent 3 years on pack howizters at OTC which was immense fun. Great bit of kit. Design genius. Standing next to one when it fired was an experience second only to firing the Carl Gustav. I would not liked to have been on the receiving end. Sadly I never got above No.4 on the gun.

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Shrapnel shells didn't explode, they were a flying shotgun, they fired bullets through the nose.

Artillery is an area weapon, even using destruction procedures with a single gun it usually takes several rounds to hit a tank size target. Off course firing on artillery ranges in W Europe, safety regulations mean you can't use the optimum charge (ie the one with the least dispersion for the range). HE fuzed point detonating will always penetrate a few inches into the ground (unless its solid rock and then there's the chance that the fuze will shear off before the detonator functions), there are very few if any fragments travelling parallel to the ground. Casualties have to be above ground, every small fold in the ground gives protection . Until the late 1980s effective airburst fuzes were expensive and only held in small quantities (1982 was Argentine's lucky year, they got off very lightly due to the small UK holdings of airburst HE) . Airburst means that unless you have effective overhead protection then you are going to suffer heavy casualties.

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FR 75mm used bullets of size 38/lb, these were heavy but gave 300 metres effective range from point of burst due to the high terminal velocity and flat trajectory of 75mm.

GE used 45/lb, because their guns were lower velocity and they opted to maximise bullet diensity by having more per shell.

UK used 42/lb in 18-pr, 35/lb in 60-pr (and the old 15-pr).

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To kill someone you need to hit where they are lethally vulnerable, that's only about 10% of the body area.

300 yards was the accepted figure for 18-pr and similar guns. In fact it was probably more because the pre-war figure was something like 58 ftlbs IIRC, proper research in WW2 revealed it was a lot less than this so projectiles were actually lethal at a greater distance. Shrapnel bullet velocity was the vector sum of the terminal velocity of the shell and the projected velocity of the bullet (same applies to HE fragments, although most fragments are projected outwards not forwards).

This page of my web site may help although it doesn't deal with shrapnel

http://nigelef.tripo.../wt_of_fire.htm

The lethality figure has hardly changed today.

The energy transference considered necessary to incapacitate/kill a human target is still 80 joules, equivalent to 59 ft.lbs. Unlike a small arms bullet, it was unlikely that a shrapnel ball would pass through the victim, thus delivering all its energy to the body.

An 18 Pr shrapnel ball weighs 166.67 grains (42/lb) so to deliver 59 ft.lbs it requires a striking velocity of 400 ft. per second, this being the sum of the velocity of the shell plus that imparted by the ejection charge.

Regards

TonyE

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Detailed research by the OR organisation in WW2 determined that quite a lot less than 59 ftlbs was required, that's why the optimum size of artillery shell fragment is so small for APers use (HE VoD has increades but not by a huge amount).

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The lethality figure has hardly changed today.

The energy transference considered necessary to incapacitate/kill a human target is still 80 joules, equivalent to 59 ft.lbs. Unlike a small arms bullet, it was unlikely that a shrapnel ball would pass through the victim, thus delivering all its energy to the body.

An 18 Pr shrapnel ball weighs 166.67 grains (42/lb) so to deliver 59 ft.lbs it requires a striking velocity of 400 ft. per second,

Tony, how does that compare with the velocity of a Lee-Enfield .303 round at, say, 300 yards?

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