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Remembered Today:

Lyddite Shells


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hello

could any weapon experts supply me with abit of information on lydite,which as many of you know was a form of high explosive used during both the boer war and first world war?

william

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Ammonal or Ammatol, not sure which one. It produced lots of black smoke.

I am sure somebody will be able to provide you with a more accurate answer.

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Just for clarities sake, though the link is useful, and for anyone glancing at this page, Lyddite was cast picric acid not ammonal or amatol.

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Thanks for putting me straight.

Apart from Lyddite, does Picric Acid have a more common name?

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I just googled picric acid on wikipedia, informative for anyone like me who had not heard of it.

Barbara

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Not that I know of - it has sometimes been used in medicine and may go under another name there, but I really don't know.

The Germans called it granatfullung 88, the Japanese Shimose and the French.... something French.

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Not that I know of - it has sometimes been used in medicine and may go under another name there, but I really don't know.

The Germans called it granatfullung 88, the Japanese Shimose and the French.... something French.

acide picrique, mes amis <_<

cheers Martin B

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It's a yellow crystaline solid which incidentally, stains the skin and is the source of the word "canaries" with regard to munitions workers. Its chemical name is trinitrophenol. It is particularly sensitive when dry and is hazardous even today when WW1 an WW2 munitions are to be disposed of.

TR

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My mother had picric lint among dressings which could be applied for grazed knees (I think) or other medical needs. I think the lint looked orange/yellow in colour.

Quite alarmed that it may have been linked to explosives, but then we were quite used to hazardous substances in those days - asbestos, luminous paint, lead pipes etc.

kate

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True - and a fair few of the chemicals used as propellant/explosives do have medical properties.

Nitroglycerin is administered in aerosol form under the tongue in heart attack cases - it dilates blood vessels IIRC.

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Mum who is 80 remembers being told that in the great war, the family made an ointment that was sent to the troops, if not made very carefully it exploded, the family lived in the west riding, I'm now wondering if it could have been picric acid that made it explode?

Barbara

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Picric acid is a strong acid and I think was used as a dye in the wool mills of Bradford /Heavy Woolen area of the West Riding of Yorkshire. During this industrial era,effluent residues from chemicals used in wool dyeing found their way into both the Calder and the Aire which led to the decline of river wildlife.

Lyddite, as stated, was the covert cover name for the explosive, named after Lydd in Kent where the explosive was first tested.There must have been a British Army testing centre closeby in the late 19th century.

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Hi there Barbara,

Not in the context of Frank East's Lydd in Kent. but you are right about Barnbow as there was a massive Muntions factory there called the No5 Shell filling Factory, and a few of of us on this site have been studying what we call the Barnbow Canaries, in 3 explosions 36 of the workers where killed or died of wounds at the factory, mainly women and 32 of them died in just one explosion alone.

Cheers Roger.

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Barbara,

There was a factory at Low Moor that used Lyddite (picric acid) to fill shells.

Picric acid reacts with steel to form highly sensitive picrate crystals, a bit too unstable to withstand the shock of firing an artillery piece. Low Moor suffered a major explosion during the war, probably related to the creation of picrate crystals.

Barnbow also suffered accidental explosions in the factory (as noted above) but they were using Amatol (ammonium nitrate and TNT) to fill shells.

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Roger

Barnbow was No 1 National Filling Factory. I have a copy of "The Story of Barnbow" by R H Gummer (Chief Engineer) with additional chapters by W Herbert Scott dated 1919.

John

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Thanks Roger and Simon, that's very interesting, I think I mentioned somewhere else that I used to work opposite Barnbow and watch the tanks practice. So it's very interesting to find out what happened in a place I know, and also I've been learning a bit about the use of explosves on the western front, so this is a bit more information for me.

Barbara

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Hi there John,

Oooops, sorry my mistake I was waining a bit by then and starting to think about going out.

Cheers Roger.

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  • 1 month later...

In several accounts of the Battle of the Falklands, I have seen references to the crews of the RN warships "switching" to the use of Lyddite shells at some point during the battle (seemingly when the German ships were already heavily damaged). My questions regarding this are several:

1. I know that RN ships carried both high explosive and armor piercing shells. I can also see why the initial salvoes would ideally use AP shells to try to punch as many holes through the armor belts and decks of the enemy warships as possible. When these references refer, then, to lyddite shells, are they referring to the high explosive munitions (vs. the AP shells)?

2. How were the shells differentiated? Were they stored in separate areas of the magazines? Did all calibers of deck guns have both options (AP and HE)?

3. Was lyddite (a picric acid-based explosive) only used in high explosive shells or was it also the explosive component (in smaller quantity) in the armor piercing shells used by the Royal Navy?

4. Are these references from the Battle of the Falklands correct? Presumably, the reasons for switching to high explosive shells from armor piercing would be to do as much damage to the superstructure and personnel above the waterline as possible. Would this have been a common tactical choice, or were the RN ships' stores of armor peircing rounds depleted, forcing them to switch to high explosive shells?

Thanks,

Bucephalus

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Three types of shell were carried in the 12” shell rooms of INVINCIBLE and INFLEXIBLE. Nose-fused HE common shell filled with lyddite; common pointed shell filled with a large charge of black powder; armour-piercing shell with a small charge of black powder. The question of replacing these fillings with TNT was under consideration at the outbreak of war.

“A” Turret of INVINCIBLE had only HE lyddite filled shells remaining by the end of the action so it is possible that, at least in the case of INVINCIBLE, the switch to lyddite was caused by the expenditure of all rounds of the other two types, both of which could be used against armour.

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To address aspects other than the Battle of the Falklands, pre-war RN policy was to fire HE lyddite/common shells at long range and change to armour-piercing shells when the range shortened and trajectories flattened. This was why some officers were not overly concerned about the known problems of APC breaking up on the more oblique impact angles to be expected at longer ranges. The problem was known from testing 13.5” APC lyddite-filled shells against the old battleship EDINBURGH in 1909-10. As a result, 13.5” gun ships were instructed to open fire at long range with HE lyddite and CPC powder-filled shells and then to use APC lyddite as the range closed. 12” gun ships retained powder-filled common and armour-piercing shell and lyddite HE shells.

When the first of the 15” gunned battleships (QUEEN ELIZABETH) was commissioned only powder filled shells were available for her as the Ordnance Board and the navy had not made up their minds as to the filling to be adopted – TNT or lyddite.

Lyddite was certainly supplied for guns down to 4"”. Possibly for smaller weapons also

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