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A'PRIMER'ONCARTRIDGES

AnthonyGWilliams

withthankstoNelsonH.Lawryandothersforcomments

Adaptedfrom'RapidFire:theDevelopmentofAutomaticCannon,HeavyMachine
GunsandtheirAmmunitionforArmiesNaviesandAirForces',withadditional
informationfrom'AssaultRifle:theDevelopmentoftheMilitaryRifleandits
AmmunitionsinceWorldWar2'.

Thepurposeofthisarticleistoanswersomeofthequestionswhicharealwaysaskedby
peopleastheybecomeinterestedincartridgesandwanttolearnaboutthem.Itconsistsofa
basicguidetocartridgesincludingtheirdesign,namingconventionsandprojectiletypes.
Theemphasisisonmilitarycartridges,butsomeciviliantermsandexamplesareincluded.

Havingabsorbedthisarticle,thenextstageshouldbetoreadtheonesonBasicBallistics
andTheSearchforHighVelocity.Manyofthelargercartridgesareillustratedinthe
AmmunitionPhotoGalleryanddataareprovidedintheAmmunitionDataTables.Other
termswhichyoudon'trecognisemaybeidentifiedfromtheGlossary.Alloftheseareonthis
website.

Whatarecartridgesandhowaretheydescribed?

Acartridgeisaunitorroundofammunitionconsistingofaprojectile(whichmaybea
bullet,ashellorshot),propellanttothrusttheprojectilefromthegun,aprimertoignitethe
propellantandacartridgecasetoholditalltogether.

Cartridgesareusuallydescribedprimarilybytheircalibre(orcaliberintheUSA)thisisthe
diameteroftheprojectile,orsomethingclosetoit.Measurementsofthecalibremaybe
givenininchesormillimeters.Soa'.30calibre'cartridge(sometimeswritten.30")isonein
whichthebulletmeasuresabout0.30inchesindiameterthesamecartridgedescribedin
metrictermswouldbea'7.62mm'round.Whetherinchormetricdesignationsareusedisa
matterofchoicebythedesignergenerallyspeaking,Europeancartridgesusemetric
designationswhiletheUKandUSAhavetraditionallyusedinchmeasurements,buttheuse
ofmetrictermsisspreading.

Ihavesaidthatthecalibreisapproximatelythesameasthebulletdiameterbecausetwo
differentmeasurementscanbeused:thediameterofthebullet,orofthe'bore'(theinside
diameterofthegunbarrel).Gunbarrels,withtheexceptionofshotgunsandafew
specializedtankguns,are'rifled'theyhavespiralgroovescutintotheboretomakethe
projectilespin,greatlyimprovingaccuracy.Thebulletdiameterthereforeneedstobein
betweenthediameteroftheboreandthatoftherifling,sothatitisgrippedfirmly.

Thisispartofthereasonfordifferentcalibresbeingusedtodescribecartridgesofthesame
bulletdiameter.308and.300cartridgesactuallyusethesamebullets.308inchisthe
bulletmeasurement,.300thebore.Inaddition,cartridgesaresometimesgivencalibre
designationswhichdifferslightlyfromthese,simplytomakecartridgeidentificationeasier(or
toputitanotherway,todistinguishthemfromrivalcartridges).

Theactualmeasurementsofmanycommonriflecartridgesareshownbelow.Theseare
averages,sincemanufacturingtolerancesvary:


Bulletdiameter
mm/inches
5.60/.221

Borediameter
mm/inches
5.5/.217

5.69/.224

5.56/.219

6.2/.244
6.53/.257
6.71/.264
7.04/.277
7.21/.284
7.82/.308

6.0/.236
6.35/.25
6.5/.256
6.86/.270
7.0/.276
7.62/.300

7.90/.311

7.7/.303

8.20/.323
8.59/.338
12.9/.510

7.92/.312
8.38/.330
12.7/.50

Cartridgedesignations
5.45mmRussian
5.56mm,5.6mm,.218,219,.22,.220,.221,.222,.223,.224,.225,
.226
6mm,.240,.243,.244
6.35mm,.25,.250,.257
6.5mm,.256,.260,.264
6.8mm,.270,.277
7mm,.275,.276,.280,.284
7.5mm,7.62mm,7.63mm,7.65mm,.30,.300,.307,.308
7.62mm(Russian),7.65mm(Belgian),7.7mm,8mmSwedish,.303,
.311
7.92mm,8mm(mostbutnotall)
8.58mm,.33,.330,.338,.340
.50,12.7mm

Pistolcartridgesarelessconfusingastheretendtobefewerofthemforagivencalibre.The
followingtablegivesthemainexamples:

Bulletdiameter
mm/inches
5.33/.210

Borediameter
mm/inches

6.38/.251

6.2/.244

7.82/.308
7.85/.309
9.0/.355
9.1/.358
9.2/.363
10.16/.400
10.4/.410
10.9/.429
11.5/.452

7.63/.3005
7.73/.3045
8.83/.3475
8.85/.3485

10.02/.3945
10.62/.4185
11.25/.443

Cartridgedesignations
5.45mm
.25ACP
7.63mmMauser/7.62mmTokarev
.32ACP,.32Colt&S&W
9mm(nearlyall),.356,.380Auto
.38(most),.357
9mm(Makarov)
10mm,.40,.400
.41,.410,.3840
.44
.45ACP

Evenwithsucharangeofcalibredesignations,confusioncanstillexistbetweenmany
differentcartridgesofthesamecalibre,soadditionaltermsmaybeused.Thesecanbroadly
begroupedasfollows:

Thelengthofthecartridgecase.Thishasbeenusedininchmeasurementsinthepast
(especiallyoldBritishlargecalibrehuntingrounds,likethe.4503inch)butisstandardin
metricmeasurements,e.g.the7x57.Notethatthisisthelengthofthecaseonly,notthe
overalllengthofthecaseplusbullet(whichmayvarydependingonthetypeofbullet
loaded).Thesemetricmeasurementsarenowstandardfornearlyallmilitaryammunition,
includingintheUKandUSA.

Othercartridgedesignationsaremanyandvaried,andincludethefollowing:

theweightofpropellant,ingrains(.3030:usuallyfromtheblackpowderera,butinthis
examplenitropowder)
thedateofintroductionofthecartridge(.3006introducedin1906)
thevelocityofthebullet(.25030003,000fps)
thenameofthedesignerorfirm(.25Remington,.465"Holland&Holland)
thenameofasponsor(STWShootingTimesWesterner)

thenameofthecountryforwhichitwasintended,orwhichusedit(.44Russian)
thenameofagunparticularlyassociatedwithit(7.62mmAK/M)
adescriptionofthepropellanttype(Nitro)
anindicationofincreasedvelocitythroughalightbullet(Express)orabiggercaseformore
propellant(Magnum)
anametoexpressacharacteristicoftheround(.220Swift)
anametoimpress(.577Tyrannosaur)
mentionofthecartridgefromwhichitwasdeveloped(.450/400"or6.5mm/.284:notethat
intheformerBritishexample,theactualcalibrecomeslast,whileinthelatterAmerican
caseitcomesfirst:andcombinesmetricandinchmeasurements!).

Thesetypesofdescriptioncanbecombined,e.g.inoldBritishroundssuchasthe.450/400"
MagnumNitroExpress3".

Thiscalibredesignationsystemappliestorifleandpistolcartridgesandmodernmilitary
ammunitioningeneral.However,thereareothersystemsfordifferenttypesofweapons.
Shotgunsareuniversallydescribedaccordingtotheir'bore'or'gauge'thisisbasedonthe
weightofaroundleadballwhichfitsthebarrelcomparedwithaweightofonepound.The
term'twelvebore'meansthattwelveoftheseballswilltogetherweighonepound.Sointhis
instance,thesmallerthenumber,thebiggerthecalibreatenborehasalargercalibrethan
atwelvebore.Thissystemwasalsousedtodescribeold,blackpowder,largecalibre
huntingrifles.Theonecommonexceptiontothisisthe.410shotgun,whichisthecalibrein
inches(10.4mm).Shotguncartridgesarefurthermeasuredinlength,byinchesthelonger
theyareforagivengauge,themorepelletsorpropellanttheycarry.

Thecalibresofdifferentshotgungaugesareasfollows:

1bore
1.669"
42.4mm

2bore
1.325"
33.7mm

4bore
1.052"
26.7mm

8bore
.835"
21.2mm

10bore
.775"
19.7mm

12bore
.729"
18.5mm

16bore
.662"
16.8mm

20bore
.615"
15.6mm

28bore
.550"
14mm

Inthepast,theweightoftheprojectilewasalsousedtomeasureartillerypieces,particularly
intheUK.Gunsweredescribedas'pounders'(whichmaybeshortenedtoPdrorPr).This
referredtothenotionalweightinpoundsoftheprojectilefiredbythegun,sothe'25pdr'
gun/howitzernormallyfiredashellweighing25poundsor11.4kg.Originally,thebasisfor
measurementwasaroundsteelshot,butasriflingallowedtheuseofelongatedsteelshells,
thisrelationshipbrokedown.TheBritishperseveredwiththissystemuntilaftertheSecond
WorldWar,adjustingthe'pounder'measurementaccordingly,whichmeantthatsomeguns
ofthesamecalibreweregivendifferentpoundagemeasurementstodenotetheweightsof
theshellsfired.Thecalibresassociatedwithcommonpoundagesfollow:

37mm
40mm
47mm
57mm
76.2mm
83.5mm
88mm
127mm
(3inch)
(5inch)
12pdr
1pdr
2pdr
3pdr
6pdr
13pdr
20pdr
25pdr
60pdr
1pdr
17pdr

InBritishuse,'poundage'measurementswereusedalongside'inch'andevenmetric
measurements.Forexample,inWorldWar2theBritishArmyhadthe25pdrand5.5inch
fieldgunsandthe95mmhowitzer,alldevelopedinmuchthesameperiod.

Anothermethodofdesignationassociatedwithlargecalibreguns(butsometimesappliedto
theammunitionwhichtheyfired)isthe'calibrelength',whichmeasuresthelengthofthe
barrelasamultipleofthecalibre.Soa40mmL/70Boforsgunhasabarrel40x70=2,800

mmlong.Theammunitionitfiresisthe40x365Rbutitisoftenknownasthe40mmL/70.
Toconfusemattersfurther,therearedifferentpracticesinmeasuringbarrellengthwhichcan
giveslightlydifferentLnumbersforthesamegun.

Finally,thetermcalibreissometimesusedratherlooselytomeanmorethanjustthe
diameteroftheprojectile.Forexample,theterm'7.62mmNATOcalibre'meansthe7.62x
51,whileatermsuchas'39calibre'maybeusedtodescribea155mmartillerypiecewitha
barrelofthatlength.

TheCartridgeCase

Thecartridgecasehastwomajorfunctions.First,itholdstogetheralloftheactive
componentsofthecartridgetheprojectile,propellantandprimerinawaterproofcontainer
whichisruggedenoughtowithstandroughhandling,especiallyinautomaticweapons.
Second,whenthegunisfired,thecartridgecaseisexpandedbythepressureagainstthe
wallsofthefiringchamber,formingagastightsealwhichpreventsanypropellantgasfrom
seepingbackintothegunmechanismandpossiblyintothefirer'sface.

Thesecondfunctionexplainswhybrassisstillthemostpopularmaterialforsmallarms
cartridgecasesdespiteitsweightandcost.Standardcartridgebrass(70%copper,30%
zinc)hasexactlytherightcharacteristicsinthatitexpandsinstantlytoformasealwithout
beingsplitopen.Itmayalsobereloadedeasilyseveraltimes,whichmakesitattractiveto
thefrequentshooter.

Nowadayssteelisnormallyusedinlargercannon,particularlylinearactiongunswithahigh
rateoffire,becauseitsextrastrengthisbetteratcopingwiththeviolenttreatmentthe
cartridgeisgivenbytheloadingmechanism.Itisalsoslightlylighterandcheaper.
However,itrequiresmoreprotectionagainstcorrosionand,beinglessresilient,formsaless
perfectsealonfiring.Steelcaseshavebeenusedinmilitarysmallarms,especiallyby
GermanyinWW2,andarestillthenorminRussiaandChina,buttheyhaveneverbeen
popularforcommercialuse.

Light(aluminium)alloyhasevenmoreattractions(itsavesbetween2538%ofthetotal
weightofacartridge)butforalongtimeitprovedverydifficulttoachievesatisfactoryresults
withthismaterialandithasonlyrecentlycomeintocommonuse.Thefirstandmostnotable
exampleisthe30x173ammunitionfortheGeneralElectricGAU8/AfittedtotheA10
aircraft.Thishassuchalargeammunitioncapacitythataweightsavingofover270kgis
achievedcomparedwiththeOerlikonKCA'sdimensionallysimilarsteelcasedrounds(the
actualdifferenceinemptycaseweightbeing143ginsteadof350g).Lightalloyammunition
inthiscalibrehasalsobeendevelopedforthe30x113BusedintheM230ChainGun.
Attemptstodeveloplightalloycasesforsmallarmshavebeengenerallyunsuccessful,
althoughtheyareusedinsomedisposablepistolammunition.

Plasticshaveseenlittleusesofar,exceptinshotguncartridges(whichoperateatamuch
lowerpressurethanrifles)whereithasreplacedcardboard,buthavebeendevelopedfor
militaryrifle/MGroundsandmayenterserviceinthenearfuture.Suchcasesalwayshave
metalbasesastheplasticisnotstrongenoughtoresisttearingbytheextractor.

Finally,someroundshavecombustiblecases,designedtoburnupinthechamber,while
othersare'caseless'thepropellantisformedintoasolidblock.Withtheexceptionoflarge
artilleryandtankgunrounds,thesehavenotsofarenteredservice.

Theearliestcartridgecasesweremadeinmorethanonepiece,typicallyanironheadto
whichwasfixedatubemadefromcoiledbrass.Thesewereverymuchaninterimmeasure,

soonreplacedbytheonepiececasewhichhasbeenuniversalsincethelatterpartofthe
19thcentury.Thisisformedbydiscs,punchedfromathicksheetofmetal,beingrepeatedly
"drawn",thatismechanicallypressedintoahollowshape,untilthedesiredcaseshapehas
beenachieved.Atthesametime,informationsuchasthecartridgedesignation,makerand
yearofmanufacturearestampedintothehead.Thefinaloperationisusuallythecuttingof
theextractorgrooveclosetothehead.

Cartridgecasedesignisascienceinitself.Therearecertainbasicrequirementsthecase
mustlocatetheprojectileinpreciselythecorrectpositioninthefiringchamber(withthe
exceptionofadvancedprimerignitionAPIblowbackgunswhichfireasthecaseismoving
forwards),itmustbeeasytoextractoncefiredanditmustfunctionwellinautomatic
weaponsbuttherearevariousmethodsofachievingtheseaims.

Beforeproceedingfurtheritiswelltobeclearaboutthenomenclatureofcartridgecases.
Thebasicelementshead,rimandneckareshownHERE(unfortunatelythesetermsare
ratherconfusinginthattheheadisasfarfromtheneckaspossiblesoitisnowoften
referredtoasthebase).Casesusuallyhaveanidentifyingheadstamparoundtheprimer
pocket,whichcontaininformationaboutthecartridge.Rimlesscasesneedanextractor
grooveand"bottleneck"casesalsohaveashoulder,wherethecaseisreducedindiameter
downtotheneckincartridgesinwhichthecalibreissignificantlysmallerthanthecase
diameter.Somecaseshaveabeltanannularprojectionjustabovetheextractorgroove.

Theinformationprovidedbytheheadstampsvariesconsiderably.Inciviliancartridgesthis
usuallyconsistsofthecartridgedesignation(.460Weatherby),orthenameofthe
ammunitionmanufacturerifthatisdifferent(.303K=Kynoch).Inmilitarycasesthedateof
manufactureisusuallypresent(1943or43)togetherwithletterswhichindicatethe
manufacturer.Otherinformationmayalsobeincluded,andthesubjectissocomplexthat
therearewholebooksdevotedtoit.

Inmodernsmallarmscartridgestheinsideneckdiameterismadefractionallysmallerthan
thebullet,therebyensuringthatthebulletisgrippedfirmlyuntilitisfired.Inthelarger
calibresamoreauthoritativemeansofsecuringtheprojectileisnormallyrequiredandthisis
providedbycrimpingthecaseneckispressedintorecessesintheprojectile,eitherall
aroundthecircumferenceoratseveralpointsonit.

Accuratelocationinthefiringchamberisessentialtotheignitionoftheprimerthecartridge
needstoenterthechamber,butnottoofarorthefiringpin(orelectricalcontact)willnot
touchtheprimer.Itisalsoimportantintheinternalballisticsofthegun,astheprojectile
mustbeinthesameplace,relativetotheconicalsectionleadingtotherifling,toachieve
consistentpressurecharacteristics.Thedistancebetweenthefaceoftheboltandthepart
ofthechamberwhichlocatesthecartridgeisknownasthe"headspace".

Theearliestmethodofachievingaccuratelocationwasbymeansofarimaroundthehead
ofthecase.Thisremainsoutsidethechamberorinarecesssothatitisflushwiththe
breechface.Therimalsoprovidessomethingfortheextractortohookontoinordertopull
thefiredcasefromthechamber.Rimmedcasesarestillsatisfactoryexceptthattherimcan
complicateammunitionfeedarrangementsinautomaticweapons.Inspringloaded
magazinestherimscanfouleachotherifimproperlyloaded,whileinbeltfedgunsitis
usuallynecessaryforthecartridgetobewithdrawnbackwardsfromthebeltbeforebeing
pushedforwardsintothechamber.Thisdesignhasthereforelargelybeenreplacedfor
militarypurposes,althoughitisstillencountered,forexampleinsomeRussiansmallarms
andinlargercannonfrom40mmupwards.

Byfarthemostcommonmilitarycasetypeistherimless,inwhichtherimisreducedtothe

samediameterasthecasesothatthecartridgesinmagazinescanbestackedontopof
eachotherorbepushedforwardfromammunitionbeltswithoutriskofjamming.Togivethe
extractorsomethingtohookonto,anextractorgrooveiscutintothecase.Therehavebeen
afewexamplesofsemirimmed(orsemirimless)cases,inwhichtherimisonlyfractionally
widerthanthecaseandiscombinedwithasmallextractorgroove,butthesehavenotbeen
aparticularlysuccessfulcompromise.

Rimlesscasesneedamethodofaccuratelocationinthechamberandthisisnormally
achievedbyusingabottleneckcase,inwhichtheheadspaceisdeterminedbythecontact
betweentheshoulderofthecaseandthematchingpartofthechamber.Withstraightor
taperedcasesthisbecomesmoredifficulttoachievesosuchcasesoftenhaveaprojecting
beltjustinfrontoftheextractorgroovetoprovidepositivelocation.

Afewcaseshaveseenservicewithrebatedrims,i.e.witharimofsmallerdiameterthan
thecase.ThiswasessentialinAPIblowbackcannonwhichfiredbeforethecartridgewas
fullychambered,asitallowedtheboltanditsextractorclawtofollowthecaseintoan
extendedorhoodedchamber.Thisensuredthatthecartridgewasfullysupportedatthe
instantoffiring.Rebatedcasesaresometimesusedinriflecartridgesinwhichawidercase
iswantedwhileretainingthestandardboltheaddiameter.

Blowbackweaponsdonotstrictlyrequirecaseextractorstofunction,asthefiredcaseis
pushedoutofthechamberbygaspressure.Someearlydesignsforsuchweapons
accordinglyusedcartridgeswithoutrimsorextractorgrooves.Thiswassoonprovedtobea
badidea,becausetheonlywayofunloadinganunfiredcartridgewastopokeastickdown
thebarrel.

Lettersmaybeaddedtothecartridgenametodenotesomevariationfromtheusualrimless
head.The20mmBeckerisknownasthe20x70RBbecauseithasarebatedrimof
smallerdiameterthanthecase(sometimesexpressedasRR)the30mmAdeniscalledthe
30x113Bbecausethecaseisbelted(hasaraisedstriparoundthecasejustabovethe
extractorgroove)therimmed20mmShVAKwasknownasthe20x99Rthesemirimmed
1.1"USNavalroundasthe28x199SR.Examplesofthesedifferentcasetypesareshown
HERE.

Inartillerycalibres,adistinctionismadebetweenfixed,semifixedandseparated(or
separateloading)ammunition.Infixedammunition,theprojectileisfirmlyfixedintothecase.
Insemifixed,thecaseandprojectileareloadedasoneunitbutcanbeseparatedtopermit
varyingthepropellantquantitytomeetthecircumstances.Inseparatedammunition,the
projectileisloadedseparatelyfromthecasetoeasehandling.

Bynow,itshouldberealizedthatstoriesabouthowsomemilitarycartridgescouldbefiredin
gunschamberedfordifferentonesarealmostentirelyinaccurate.Thereisnowaythat
cartridgeslikethe.3006,7.62x54R,7.62x51or7.62x39couldbefiredinthesame
weaponwithoutatleastchangingthebarrel(andprobablydoingalotmoreinthecaseof
automaticguns).Theonlypartialexceptioniswherecartridgeshavebeengivendifferent
namesindifferentcountries:sothe.303"BritishwillchamberinWorldWar2Italianand
Japanese7.7x56Rweaponsandviceversabecauseitisinfactthesamecartridge.
However,eventhenthereisnoguaranteethatautomaticweaponswillfunctionproperly(or
thatallroundswillbesafetofireinallweapons),asthepressurecharacteristicsofthe
cartridgeloadingsmaybedifferent.

Incommercialrounds,straightcasedrimmedcartridgesofdifferentlengths(butotherwise
similar)canoftenbefiredinthesamegunbutonlyifitischamberedforthelonger
cartridge.Soforexampleshotgunschamberedforthe12gauge3"willalsochamber12

gauge2"ammunition,and.357"Magnumgunswillchamberthe.38"Special,butnotthe
otherwayround.Finally,somegunschamberedfor'improved'versionsofriflecartridges
canoftenfirethe'standard'roundsdoingsotypicallyexpandsthecasetothe'improved'
shape,aprocessknownas'fireforming'.

ProjectileTypes:SmallArmsandCommercial

Theprojectileiswhattheweaponisallabout.Everythingelsetherestofthecartridgeand
thegunitselfisconcernedwithensuringthattheprojectilehitsthetargetatthedesired
velocity.Thedesignoftheprojectileisthereforethemostcrucialaspectofammunition
design.

Thebasictypeofmilitarybulletisknownas'ball'ammunition.Thiswasnamedafterthe
roundleadballswhichwerethestandardsmallarmsprojectilesuntilthenineteenthcentury.
Thenameisstillappliedtostandardrifleammunition,inwhichthebulletconsistsofajacket
(originallycopper,nowavarietyofalloys)normallyenclosingaleadcore.Leadisstillused
becauseithasahighdensity(whichhelpstheballistics)andisrelativelycheap,although
steelissometimesusedasalternative.Itisenclosedinajacketofhardermaterialprimarily
topreventitfrombeingtornapartbytheriflingasitpassesupthebarrel,becausethisnot
onlyruinstheaccuracyofthebullet,italsoleavesanunwelcomedepositinthebore.Fully
jacketedbulletsalsoavoidanyaccusationsofillegalityas(unlikesoftpointhuntingrounds)
theydonotexpandonimpacttomaximisethewoundingeffect.Thejacketsometimeshasa
cannelurearoughenedbandrunningaroundthecentertoprovidealocationforthe
crimp.

Bulletsforriflesusuallyhavepointednosesinordertoreduceairresistanceandthereby
reducetherateatwhichtheylosevelocity.Sharppointedonesweredevelopedfirstin
Germanyandarestillsometimescalled'spitzer'bullets.Theircentreofgravityisbehind
theirmidpoint,sothatlefttothemselvestheywouldnaturallytravelbasefirst.Toprevent
this,theyarespunbythebarrel'srifling,whichprovidesstability.Manybulletsarealsogiven
taperedratherthanflatbases(alsoknownas'boattailed'or'streamlined'bullets)asthis
furtherreducestheaerodynamicdrag,particularlyatsubsonicvelocities.

Othertypesofprojectileusedinmilitaryammunitionincludearmourpiercing,orAP.InAP
bullets,muchoftheleadcoreisreplacedbyhardsteel,orinsomecasestungstencarbide
whichisharderandmoredenseforgreatereffectiveness(athighercost).Theyaretherefore
sometimescalledAPHC,forarmourpiercinghardcore,todistinguishthemfromotherAP
types.

Experimentalmilitaryrifleroundshavebeenmadetofireflechettes(littlearrows),which
arethin,finstabilisedprojectiles.Theyarenormallyfiredfromsmoothboredbarrels.Various
rifleshavebeendevelopedtofiresuchrounds,butnonehasyetmadeitintoservice.

Tracerbulletsarealsosometimesused,butmoreofteninlightMGs.Thesearehollowat
thebasetocontainachemicalwhichburnsinflighttorevealthetrajectoryofthebulletand
indicatewhethertheshootingisontarget.However,thebullettendstobelighter(andgets
lighterstillasthechemicalburns)andthegasemittedbythetraceralsoaffectsthebullet
drag,sonotracercanprovideexactlythesametrajectoryasaballorAPround.

IncendiaryandevenHEprojectileshavebeenusedinriflecalibreammunition,most
notablyfromWW1toWW2inaircraftguns.However,suchsmallprojectilesarebarelyable
tocontainenoughchemicalstomaketheeffortworthwhile.Theheavymachinegunisreally
thesmallestcalibreinwhichincendiaryshellsarecommon,withHEshellsbeingmore
commonincannon(20+mm)calibres.


Militaryriflebulletsotherthanthestandardballroundareoftenidentifiedbydifferent
colouredtips.Variouscolourschemeshavebeenusedindifferentplacesandatdifferent
times,butablacktipusuallyindicatesanAPbullet,aredtipatracer.Othercoloursare
muchlesspredictablee.g.theUSAusedagreentiptoindicatethe7.62x51M198Duplex
ballloading,butitisnowusedfortheM855SAP,whichistheircurrentstandard5.56x45
round.

Commercialriflebulletsarealmostalwaysmadetoexpandinordertoincreasethesizeof
thewoundchannelwhenhuntinggame.Thisisgenerallyachievedbyleavingtheleadcore
exposedatthetipofthebullet,buthollowpoints,withacavityinthenose,havebeenused
instead.Theonlyhuntingbulletsdesignednottoexpandarethosemadefordeep
penetrationonlargeAfricangamelikebuffaloandelephantthesearealsoroundnosedto
ensurethattheypenetratenosefirst(pointedbulletsgenerallytumbleonimpact).

Pistolbulletshavetraditionallybeenofleadalloy,andthatisstillcommonforlowvelocity
revolvers.However,inselfloading('automatic')pistols,theneedforthecartridgetofeed
smoothlyfromthemagazinetothechamber,coupledwiththegenerallyhighervelocityof
theweapons,ledtotheuseofjacketedroundnosebullets.Itiscommontoloadhollow
pointsforgreaterexpansion,buttheseareillegalinmilitaryuse.

Shotguncartridgesdoofcoursenormallyfireaquantityofmetalshot(sphericalpellets)
withtheaimofimprovingthehitprobabilityagainsttheflyingbirdswhicharetheusual
targets.Thesizeoftheindividualpelletsvariesaccordingtothesizeofthetarget.Shot
loadingsarealsosometimesusedinpistolcartridges,buttheyarelesseffectivepartly
becausetherifledbarreldisturbstheshotpattern(whichiswhyshotgunshavesmoothbore
barrels).Shotgunsmayalsofiresolidslugsforuseagainstlargegameoriginallyjusta
roundleadball,theyarenowshaped(oftenwithspiralgroovesontheoutsidetoencourage
spinning)andsomearesabotedasmallercalibreslugincontainedwithinaplasticsabotor
sleevewhichfallsawayatthemuzzle.

ProjectileTypes:HMGsandCannon

Inlargermilitarycalibres,projectilesarealsoavailableinawidevarietyoftypes,even
ignoringthoseintendedforpracticeordrillpurposeswhichareusuallymadetolookdifferent
fromstandardrounds.Serviceammunitioncanbeclassifiedintofourbroadcategories
ball,incendiary(I),highexplosive(HE)andarmourpiercing(AP)anyofwhichmay
alsobeequippedwithtracers(T)sothatthegunnercanobservetheaccuracyofhis
shooting.OthercommondesignationsareSAP(semiarmourpiercing),TP(targetpractice),
SD(selfdestruct),APDS(armourpiercingdiscardingsabot)andAPFSDS(armourpiercing
finstabiliseddiscardingsabot).ThetermsHV(highorhypervelocity)andSV(super
velocity)aresometimesusedtodesignatelightweightprojectiles(usuallyAP).Some
manufacturersusetheirowndesignationsforproprietarytypesofprojectiles.

Cannonprojectilesareusuallypaintedaccordingtotheirtypeforrapididentification
purposes(inHMGprojectilesitisnormallyjustthetipthatispainted).Colourschemeshave
variedbetweennationsandmilitaryblocsandwithinsuchgroupingsovertime,sothisisnot
theplacetoattemptacompletelisting.However,APprojectilesarenowadayscommonly
paintedblackandpracticeonesblue.Redsandyellowsfrequentlyindicatechemical
contents,eitherHE,incendiaryortracers.Combinedprojectilesoftenhavebandsofcolour
toindicatetheirparticularmixofcharacteristics,soprojectilescanbequitecolourful.

Themethodofconstructionofprojectilesvariesconsiderably.Incalibresofupto15mmitis
commontouseallenclosingsoftmetaljacketsaswithriflecalibres,designedtobeeasily

engravedbythebarrelrifling,withincendiaryandAPaswellasballrounds.Largercalibres
usesteelprojectilebodiesfittedwithseparatedrivingbands(US:rotatingbands)of
greaterthanprojectilediameter,whicharegrippedbytheriflinginordertospinthe
projectile.Originallydrivingbandsweremadeofcopper(stillfavouredbytheRussians)but
thisisnotstrongenoughtowithstandtheshearingeffectoftheriflingatveryhighvelocities,
sosoftirondrivingbandsareusedonmostWesternhighvelocitycannon.Theshellbodies
areoftenmadeslightlysmallerthantheboreinordertoreducefriction,andwillthenhavea
bourreletasectionmadeslightlywidertofittheborenearthenosetokeeptheshell
centredinthebore.

AftermuchexperimentationUSdesignershaveperfectedplasticdrivingbands,first
successfullyintroducedinthe1970sin30x173calibreforthe30mmGAU8/Aaircraftgun.
Theadvantageofplasticbandedprojectilesisthatbarrelwearisonlyonethirdthatcaused
bymetaldrivingbands.Plasticandironbandsalsoavoidtheproblemof"coppering"the
coatingoftheborewithcopperwhichhastobeclearedfromtimetotimewitha
"decoppering"round.

LightalloyprojectilebodiesareusuallyusedinAPCR(armourpiercing,composite,rigid)
shot,inwhichonlythehardcentralcorepenetratesthetarget,thelightalloybodybreaking
uponimpact.SubcalibreprojectilessuchasAPDSandADFSDSarenowadayscommonly
encasedinplasticsabots.Itshouldbenotedinpassingthatwhenprojectilesexceeda
certainlength(aroundfivetosixtimesthecalibre)itisnolongerfeasibletostabilisethemby
spinning,sotheyarefittedwithfinsinstead,likeanarrow.Theyarethenbestfiredfroma
smoothboredratherthanrifledbarrel.APFSDScanbefiredfromrifledbarrels,butthe
sabotsareusuallyfittedwithslipringstoreducethespinimpartedtotheprojectile.

ThesimplestformofcannonAPprojectileconsistsofapointedsteelshotthemilitary
term"shot"(fromthecannonballera)meaningasolidorverythickwalledprojectile,
normallywithoutanyexplosivecontent(althoughthereweresomeexceptions,mainlyin
19thCenturyusagewhentheterm'shot'couldbeusedforAPHE).Thesteelwillbe
hardened,atleastatthepoint,andtheshotwillhaveadrivingband.ThebestAP
performanceisobtainedwitharatherbluntpoint,sotheshotissometimesgivena"ballistic
cap"apointednoseconeusuallymadeoutoflightalloyorthinsteelinordertominimise
theaddedweight.Someprojectileswerealsogivenabluntcapofsoftsteelasthis
improvedpenetrationagainstfacehardenedarmour,leadingtodesignationssuchasAPC
(armourpiercing,capped)andAPCBC(armourpiercing,capped,ballisticcapped).

ThissimpletypeofAPshotwasusualinautomaticcannonuntilaftertheSecondWorld
War,whenitbegantobereplacedbymoresophisticatedcompositeprojectiles,suchas
APCR,APDSandAPFSDS,describedinTheSearchforHighVelocity.Heavymachine
gunshavetendedtofollowaslightlydifferentroute,retainingthecupronickelbulletjacketof
theballroundsbutinsertingahardenedsteelortungstenAPcoretoachievethedesired
effect.OneexceptionistheSLAP(sabotedlightarmourprojectile)APDSroundproduced
forthe.50Browning.

Theterm"shell"isagainofancientoriginandobviousmeaningahardoutercasing
protectingsomethingmorevulnerableinside,inthiscaseahighexplosiveorincendiary
compound.Inlargerartillerycalibres,shellscancontainawidevarietyofmaterialsincluding
smoketoobscurevisibility,starshellforillumination,chemicals,variousantipersonnel
rounds,andantitanksubmunitions(somecapableofhomingontotheirtargets).

Cannonshellswereoriginallymadebydrillingoutacavityoftheappropriateshapeinasteel
shottotakethedesiredexplosiveorincendiarycompound.Thisledtoarelativelysmall
capacityinsmallercalibres,however,soduringtheSecondWorldWar,Germantechnicians

perfectedthemineshell(MinengeschossorMGeschoss)whichwasmadebystamping
anddrawingtheshellfromathickdiscofmetalinthesamewayinwhichcartridgecasesare
made.Thisresultedinashellwiththinbutstrongwalls,withafarlargercapacity.Italsoled
toalightershelloverall(steelbeingmuchheavierthanexplosives),permittingahigher
muzzlevelocityattheexpenseofrange(aslightershellsslowdownmorequickly),which
madethisinnovationparticularlysuitableforaircraftcannon.

AntipersonnelshellsinlargercalibreshaveincludedShrapnel,canisterandbeehive
shells.Shrapnel(namedaftertheir18thCenturyBritishinventor)consistedinitslater,
developedversionofashellfilledwithleadballsandwithasmallburstingchargeinthe
base,ignitedbyatimefuze.Thefuzewassettobursttheshellopeninmidair,justbefore
arrivingatthetarget,sothatitdeliveredashowerofleadballs.Thiswasveryeffective
againstexposedinfantryandcavalrysowasthemostpopularfieldartilleryammunition
beforeWW1,butitfelloutoffavourduringthatconflictasitwasineffectiveagainsttrenches.
ThelastrecordeduseofshrapnelshellswasinWW2,althoughthemodernCCandAHEAD
roundshavesimilarities(seebelow).Nowadays,theterm'shrapnel'islooselyappliedtoany
shellfragments.Canisterroundsconsistofalead,steelortungstenalloyballscontained
withinathincase.Whenfired,thecaseburstsopenimmediatelyafterleavingthemuzzle,
sendingaconeshaped'shotgunblast'ofballswithconsiderableshortrangeeffectagainst
groupsofenemysoldiers.Theoriginoftheammunitionisancient,butitisstillusedintank
guns.The'beehive'artilleryshellscontainedalargenumberofflechettesandtheshellwas
burstopenbyafuze,againprovidingaspreadofantipersonnelsubprojectiles.Thesewere
usedbytheUSAinVietnam.

OnespecialisedformofHEprojectileistheHEAT(highexplosiveantitank)orshaped
chargeshell.Inthis,thereisaconeshapedhollow,linedwithmetal,leftatthefrontofthe
shell.AninstantactingfuzedetonatestheHEonthesurfaceofthetarget.Theexplosion
compressesthemetalliningtoformanelongatedhighvelocityjetwhosetipcanbe
travellingat8,0009,000metrespersecond,withconsiderablearmourpiercingcapability.
Thistypeofprojectileisstandardinmoderninfantryantitankweaponsandisusedinsome
largercannon.ItwasexperimentallyusedintheSecondWorldWarinammunitionfor
Germanaircraftguns,buthasnotbeengenerallyusedinsmallercalibresbecausethe
effectivenessislargelydeterminedbyprojectilediameterandisalsolessenedbybeingspun
bybarrelrifling.Arotationofonly150revolutionspersecondissufficienttoreducethe
penetrationby50%,yetacannonshellwilltypicallyrotateatconsiderablymore.

Inlargercalibres,thishasbeenresolvedbyfiringfinstabilisedshellsfromasmoothbored
barrel(whichiswhyAPFSDSandHEATarecommon'partners'inmodern,smoothbored
tankguns).IntheObus'G'ammunition(namedaftertheinventor,Gessner)fortheFrench
105mmrifledtankgun,thisproblemwasreducedbymountingtheshapedchargeonball
bearingswithinthecase,greatlyreducingthespinimpartedtotheexplosivesection,butthis
isnotfeasiblewithsmallcalibreammunition.

However,theproblemhasbeentackledbycarefuldesignoftheshapeoftheHEconeand
metallininggenerallyaflatterconeisneededandHEATammunitionhasquiterecently
becomeavailableforautomaticcannon.KnownastheM789HEDP(HEDualPurpose
antipersonnelaswellasantiarmour),itisthestandardtypeofammunitionusedinthe
30mmM230ChainGunfittedtotheAH64Apacheattackhelicopter,inwhichtheangleof
theriflinghasalsobeenreducedtotheminimumlevelneededtoachievestability.The
M789iscapableofpenetrating50mmofsteelaswellashavinga4mlethalradiusagainst
unprotectedpersonnel.

AnalternativetoHEandHEATinlargercalibersisHESH(HEsquashhead),alsoknownas
HEP(HEPlastic).Thisisabasefuzedshellwithathinshellbodydesignedtobesquashed

flatonimpact,formingapancakeofHEwhichisthendetonatedbythefuze.Thisisvery
effectiveagainstcertaintargetsasitsendsshockwavesthroughthematerialbeing
attacked,spallingoffhighvelocityfragments,butislesscommonnow.

Itshouldbenotedthatmilitaryterminologyisnotalwayslogical.Allprojectilesforthe20mm
Hispano,includingAP,wereofficiallyreferredtoas"shells"bytheRAF.

Itisusualforprojectilestocombinecharacteristicsinordertomaximisetheeffectonthe
target.Theterm"APshell"(whichshouldproperlybeAPHE)isusedtodescribean
essentiallyarmourpiercingprojectilewhichalsocontainssomehighexplosive(usuallyonly
averysmallpercentageoftheprojectileweight),intendedtodetonateoncethearmourhas
beenpenetrated.Itisgenerallyonlyworthdoingthisinlargercalibres,althoughnational
practiceshavevaried.InWorldWar2,forexample,BritishAPshotfortank/antitankguns
containednoHE,whiletheGermanequivalentsdid.

MoreofacompromiseistheSAPorSAPHE(semiarmourpiercingHE)shell,whichis
similartoanAPHEshellbuthasthinnerwallstoprovidemorespaceforexplosives,thereby
losingsomeAPperformance.BecauseofthenecessityforahardpointtobothAPHEand
SAPHEshells,thefuzesarefittedintothebase.

AcommonformofcombinationaddsatracerelementtoanHE,incendiaryorAPprojectile.
Theseusuallyconsistofapyrotechnicelementinthebaseoftheprojectilewhichburns
brightly,enablingthetrajectorytobefollowedandtheaimcorrectedasrequired.Theseare
obviouslymoreeffectiveatnightsodaytimetracerssometimesutiliseasmoketrail.Itis
usualforthetracerstoburnwithoutemittinglightforthefirstpartoftheirtravel("darktrace"),
partlytoavoidblindingthegunnerandpartlytoconcealthepreciselocationofthegun.An
originallyunintendedsideeffectoftracersispsychologicalthesightofastreamoftracers
headingtowardsanattackingaircraftcandistractthepilot.

Ammunitiondesignationsnowinclude"HEI"(highexplosiveandincendiary)and"APIT"
(armourpiercingincendiarytracer).Itispossibleforalloftheabovetypestobecombinedin
onemultipurposeprojectilebutthereisobviouslytheriskthatitwillnotbeveryeffectivein
anyofitstasks.TheNorwegianfirmofRaufosshasbeenparticularlysuccessfulin
developingMultipurpose(MP)ammunitionwhichcombinesachemicalimpactfuzewith
incendiaryandHEelementsandeven,inthe.50"calibreversionknownastheNM140,
someAPcapability.

Mostprojectilesarevariantsorcombinationsofthosealreadydescribed."Multiball"rounds
havebeendevelopedforheavymachinegunsaswellasinfantryrifles.Asthename
suggests,twoormoreshortprojectilesarestackedontopofeachotherinthecartridgecase
andallfiredatonce,withtheaimofincreasingthehitprobabilityagainstinfantry.Theseare
alsoknownasduplexortriplexloadings,whentheyhavetwoorthreeprojectiles
respectively.Theproblemisthat,beinglightfortheircalibre,theprojectileslosevelocity
andrangeratherquickly.

Adevelopmentofthisideaisthe"salvosqueezebore".Thisconsistsofanumberof
funnelshapedprojectilesstackedontopofeachotherandheldtogetherbyaplastic
sheath.Whenfireddownataperborebarreltheprojectilesseparateandare
simultaneouslysqueezedtoasmallercalibre.Eachcartridgefiredthereforeresultsina
streamofsmall,highvelocityprojectiles.Althoughextensivelytestedin.50"calibre
(12.7mm)bytheAmericans,whowereattractedbyitspotentialforshortrangedefence
againstambushes,itwasnotadopted.

Someprojectilesaredesignedtobreakupintoahailofsubprojectiles,eitheronor

immediatelybeforeimpactwiththetarget.Theformerarecalled"frangible",leadingtothe
"F"designation.Someofthesehavebeendevelopedfortraining,toensurethatthe
projectilebreaksuponimpactinsteadofricochetingalongwayintothedistance(or,inthe
caseofairtogroundfiring,backoffthegroundtohitthefiringaircraftasurprisinglyhigh
risk).Otherusesaremorewarlike,withtheprojectilesbeingintendedtobreakupafter
penetrationtocausemoredamagewithinthetarget.Thishasalsobeenappliedtothe
APDSprincipletocreateFAPDS,whichhasausefulcapabilityagainstaircraftandlight
armoursohasrecentlybecomeverypopularforAntiAircraftgunsin2330mmcalibre.A
specialversionofthisisNWMDeKruithoorn'sFMPDS(frangiblemissilepiercingdiscarding
sabot)whichisloadedintothe30x173cartridgesusedintheGoalkeepernavalantimissile
system.Foraircraftuse,inwhichsabotedammunitioncannotsafelybeusedforfearofthe
discardedsabotsbeingsuckedintotheengines,FAPhasbeendevelopedwhichis
increasinglypopular.AnewrivalforthisisPELE(Penetratorwithenhancedlateral
effectivness)whichalsocontainsnochemicalsandisdesignedtofragmentonimpact.

AuniquelightcannonvariantcurrentlyappliedtoRussianaircraftammunitionforground
attackpurposesistheME(MultiElement)orCC(cargocarrying)projectile.Thiscontains
subprojectileswhicharedischargedfromthebodyoftheprojectileatasetdistanceafter
firinginordertosaturatethetargetarea.Itisdesignedtocausesignificantdamagetosuch
targetsasaircraftparkedintheopen,butwouldalsobehighlydangeroustoanypersonnel
inthearea.Theversionforthe23x115cartridgecarries24x2gsubprojectiles,thatforthe
30mmguns28x3.5g.The30x165loadingdischargesatbetween1,100and1,800mafter
firing,thesubprojectilesformingaconewithanangleof8.Totalprojectileweightsand
muzzlevelocitiesaresimilartothatofstandardammunition.

AmoresophisticatedapproachisrepresentedbytheOerlikonAHEAD(AdvancedHit
EfficiencyAndDestruction)orKETF(KineticEnergyTimeFuzed)antiaircraft/antimissile
ammunitioninitiallyofferedin35x228calibre.Theshellistimedtodetonate25mbeforeit
reachesthetarget,creatinga5mwidepatternof1523.3gtungstensubprojectiles
travellingatextremelyhighvelocityduetoacombinationofthecarrierprojectilevelocityand
theforcewithwhichthesubprojectilesareejected.AntipersonnelversionsofKETFare
madein30mmand35mmcalibresforusedbyAFVs.

ArivaltoAHEADistheBoforsPFHE(prefragmentedhighexplosive)shellavailablein
40mmand57mmcalibresasacomponentofthe3Psystem(prefragmented,programmable,
proximityfuzed).ThisdiffersinbeinganHEshelllined(in40mmcalibre)with650tungsten
pellets,withdetonationnormallytriggeredbyaproximityfuze.Theeffectiveradiusofthe
exploding40mmshellisupto7magainstaircraftand3magainstseaskimmingantiship
missiles.

Rocketassistedprojectiles(RAPs)areusedinartilleryammunitiontoextendtherangebut
asthespacerequiredfortherocketreducestheHEcapacitybyabout50%theyarenot
usedinsmallercalibreweapons.However,anAPRAP(withthepropellantwrappedaround
thepenetrator)wasexperimentallydevelopedforthe30mmGAU8/Aaircraftguninthe
1970sanddemonstratedthesamepenetrationat1,800masthestandardAPCRcould
achieveat1,200m.

Notallprojectilesaredesignedforoffencesomeshellshavecontentsdesignedtodefend
aircraftagainstmissileattack.SomepostwarSovietaircraftcannonareavailablewithchaff
dispensingantiradarammunition(PRL23in23mm)andeveninfrareddecoyprojectiles
(IK23).The23x115versionoftheIRdecoyroundignitesaboutonesecondafterfiringand
burnsforsomefourseconds.The30x155Bchaffdispenserprojectileproducesacloudof
radarobscuringparticleswhichgrowsfromaninitial79m2toamaximumof1418m2in
area.

Fuzes

Thetriggeringofincendiarycompoundsmightnotbetoocriticalastheyburnfora
noticeable,albeitshort,periodoftime.HEshells,however,havetobedetonatedat
preciselythecorrectinstantandforthis,afuzeisneeded.

Everyfuzehastwodistinctrequirements.First,itmustreliablydetonatetheexplosivefilling
atthepreciseinstantrequiredthismightbetheinstantithitsthetarget,afractionofa
secondlater,atapresetpointofitsflight,orwhenitdetectsthetargetiscloseenough
(manyfuzesarecapableofbeingsettoachievemorethanoneofthese).Secondly,itmust
becompletelysafewhenbeinghandled(ormishandled)andfired.

Itisnoteasytoachievetheseaimsandfuzesareoftenintricatedevicesbuiltwiththe
precisionofaSwisswatch.Theythereforetendtobeexpensive,whichiswhytheyare
mostcommonincannoncalibreswherethecostcanbejustifiedbytheeffect.

Notallcontactfuzesaremechanical.Some,particularlyinsmallercalibres,usechemicals
whichdetonateonimpact.Thesearefarsimplerintheorybutverydifficulttogetrightin
practice,becausetherearenomechanicalsafetydevices.Thecharacteristicsofthefuze
compoundanditsmetalexteriorthereforehavetobeextremelycarefullyjudgedtoensure
thenecessarycombinationofreliabledetonationwithsafetywhenmishandled.Putsimply,
theshellmustneverdetonatewhendroppedpointdownontoaconcretefloor,butmust
alwaysdetonatewhenithitsatargetathighvelocity.RaufossMultipurposeammunition
usessuchfuzes.

Thevastmajorityoffuzesarefittedtothepointsofprojectiles.However,sometypesof
shellmakeuseofbasefuzes,asinthecaseoftheSAPHEshellsalreadymentioned.

Thereistheobviousriskthatshellsfiredatanattackingaircraftmightcarryontodetonate
onlandingsomedistanceaway,possiblyamongfriends.Contactandproximityfuzedshells
arethereforeoftenfittedwithaselfdestructdevicewhichdetonatestheshellafteracertain
periodoftime,whenitcanbepresumedtohavemissedthetarget.Sometimesthisisa
functionofthefuze,butasimplersystemusedinsmallercalibresisforthepropellantto
igniteaseparatechemicalfuzeinthebaseoftheshellareversiontotheoriginalformof
timefuze.Thismayalsobeachievedbythefinalstageofatracerburn.

Propellants

Theearliestmachineguncartridgesweredesignedtouseblackpowder(gunpowder)asa
propellant.Thisisasimplemixtureofsaltpetre,sulphurandcharcoal,andhasbeenused
forcenturies.Itisnotidealasapropellant,however,becauseofitsinefficientburning
characteristicsandthelargequantitiesofsmokeandotherresiduesgenerated.

Improvementsinchemicalscienceinthelatenineteenthcenturyledtothedevelopmentof
smokelesspowders,thefirstoftheseenteringserviceinFranceinthelate1880s.Other
nationssoonfollowedsuit,withtheBritishversionbeingknownas"cordite"becauseitwas
extrudedinfinestringsresemblingcords,whichwerebundledtogetherforinsertionintothe
cartridgecase.

Therearethreedifferenttypesofsmokelesspropellant,knownassinglebase,doublebase
andtriplebase.Allarebasedonnitrocellulosewithnitroglycerine(orequivalent)andnitro
guanidineasothermajorcomponentsinthemorecomplexversions,triplebaseincludingall
three.Corditeisadoublebasetype.


Theincreasingcomplexityofthepropellantsisduetotheconstantsearchfortheideal
combinationofcharacteristics.Theseincludemaximumpowerforahighmuzzlevelocity,
moderatepressureandtemperaturetominimisethestressesanderosiveeffectsonthegun,
aslittlefoulingandcorrosionaspossible,andaminimumofsmokeandflashatthemuzzle.
Manyofthesedesiderataaremutuallyexclusivesoeachpropellantisacompromise.
Particularpropellantsmaybeoptimisedforspecialpurposes,e.g.'flashless'propellantfor
nightfighting,whichmaylosesomeperformanceinordertoavoidanymuzzleflash.Aswith
otherchemicalammunitioncomponentspropellantsmustbeinsensitivetoroughtreatment,
provideconsistentperformanceoverawiderangeofclimaticenvironmentsandbetolerant
ofstorageforlongperiodsinpoorconditions.

Theperformanceofagivencartridgedependsuponthemaximumpressurewhichthegunis
designedtoaccept.Pistolsandshotguns,forexample,areusuallyonlyintendedtoworkat
relativelylowpressureswhilerifles,machinegunsandcannonaregenerallymuchstronger,
socartridgesforthemcanbeloadedtohigherpressuresandthereforevelocities.Notall
gunsarethesame,however,andsomecantakemuchhigherpressuresthanothers.This
isusuallydeterminedbythestrengthofthemechanismwhichlockstheboltorbreechblock
tothebreechattheinstantoffiring.

Propellantstodayaregenerallypreparedintheformofgrainsorsmallpellets.Theprecise
chemicalcomposition,andthesizeandshapeofthegrains,willvaryfromonecartridgeto
anotherinordertoprovidethepowerandpressurecharacteristicssuitedtothegun.

Primers

Primersareolderthanmetalliccartridges.Thefirstpercussionprimerwasdevelopedearly
inthenineteenthcenturyandthisinventionsoonreplacedtheflintlockinmilitaryservice.It
consistedofasmallcoppercapcontainingfulminateofmercury,whichproducedanintense
flashwhenstruckasharpblowfromahammerorfiringpinandtherebyignitedthe
propellantcharge.

Manyoftheearlymetalliccartridgesdepartedfromthisarrangementinthatthepriming
compoundwascontainedwithintherimofthecartridgecase,andfiredbytheimpactofthe
hammerontherim.Thisprovedinconvenientbecauseitrequiredtherimtobethinandsoft,
andalsomeantthattheusedcasecouldnotbereloaded.Therimfireprincipletherefore
soonfellfromfavourexceptinthesmallinexpensivecartridgesstillusedfortargetshooting.
Anothervariationwaspinfire,recognizablebythemetalpinstickingoutfromthensideofthe
case.

Rimfiresweresupersededbythereturnoftheseparatepercussioncap,nowhoused
centrallyinacavity,knownastheprimerpocket,intheheadofthecase(thecartridges
thereforebeingcalled"centrefire").Itwassoarrangedthatwhenstruck,theprimerfiredinto
thepropellantviaacentralholeorholesinthecavity.Oncefired,theprimercouldbe
knockedoutofthecasewhichcouldthenbereloaded.Inlargercalibres,theprimerignites
anintermediateignitercharge.

Littlehaschangedinprimerdesignsincethen.Fulminateofmercuryhasbeenreplacedby
lesscorrosivecompoundsandtheprecisedetailsofthedesignofthepercussioncaphave
beenrefined.Thepushfitoftheprimerinthecase,typicalofsmallarms,issupplemented
bymorepositivemeansofholdingitinplaceinlargercalibres,andEuropeancannon
primersareoftenscrewedintothecase,apparentlybecausethismakesiteasiertoreplace
thepropellant(thefirstelementofammunitiontodeteriorateafterlongstorage).Theonly
majordeparturehasbeenthereplacementinsomecasesofpercussionignitionwithelectric.


Electricignitionisachievedbypassinganelectriccurrentfromthegunthroughaspecial
primerwhichisheatedtoignitionpointvirtuallyinstantaneously.Itwasfirstusedin
automaticweaponsinGermanytofacilitatethesynchronisationofaircraftgunsdesignedto
firethroughthepropellerdiscofasingleenginedfighter.Previously,thishadinvolveda
complexmechanicalorelectromechanicallinkagebetweenthepropellerandthegunfiring
mechanismtoensurethatthegunfiredonlybetweenthepropellerblades.Itwasobviously
simplertodesignadirectelectricallinkbetweenthepropellerandthecartridge.Ironically,it
cameintoserviceinWorldWar2justbeforetheneedforitdisappearedbecauseofthe
adventofjetengines.

Electricprimingdoeshaveotheradvantages.Itsimplifiesgundesignbecausethefiringpin
anditsassociatedspringandmechanismforreleasing,withdrawingandrecockingthepin
arereplacedbyasimpleelectricalcontact.However,itobviouslyrequiresareliablesupply
ofelectricityandisthereforemostsuitedtovehiclemountedapplications.

Itisusualforcartridgestobedesignedeitherforpercussionorelectricignitionbutthereare
somecaseswhereaparticularcartridgehasbeenavailableinbothversions.Theyare
difficulttotellapartvisually,sinceonlytheinternaldesignoftheprimerisdifferent.
However,inelectricignitiontheprimerhastobeinsulatedfromtherestofthecaseandthis
insulationissometimesvisible.Needlesstosay,percussionandelectricversionsofthe
samecartridgehavetobeusedintheappropriategunastheyarenotinterchangeable.The
bestknownexamplesarethe15x96and20x82roundsfortheMG151,the20x128
Oerlikonandthe30x165Russian(whichuseselectricalprimingforthenavalandaircraft
weapons,percussionfortheAFVguns).Thereareothersthepercussionprimed20x110
widelyusedintheHS404andrelatedgunswasproducedinanelectricallyprimedversion
forthepostwarAmericanM24.

OtherIssues

Thereisoftendebateaboutthedistinctionsbetween'machinegun'(MG),heavymachine
gun'(HMG)andautomaticcannon.Therearenouniversalrules,andnamingpractices
havevariedindifferentcountriesandatdifferenttimes.However,itisnowgenerally
acceptedthatMGsfireriflecalibreammunition(5.457.92mm),HMGsarechamberedfor
12.715mmroundsandcannonfor20+mmcartridges.Asfarasprojectilesare
concerned,thegenerallyacceptedconventionhasbeenthatMGsandHMGsaredesigned
tofirejacketedball,incendiaryandAPbulletswhilecannonusuallyfiresteelHEshellsor
specialisedAPshot.However,therehavealwaysbeenexceptionstothissoitcannotbe
reliedon.

Itisoftenarguedthattherearelegallimitationsonthetypesandcalibresofweaponwhich
canbefiredatpeople.Thereissometruthinthis,butthereisalsomuchmisinformation.In
themiddleofthatcenturyexplosiveprojectileswereintroducedinsmallarms.Thesewere
felttobeinhumanewhenusedagainstsoldiers,soaninternationalconventionwasheld
whichledtotheSt.PetersburgDeclarationof1868,limitingtheirusetoartilleryprojectiles
weighingatleast400g(justunder1lb).Atthetime,thisequatedtoacalibreof37mmso
thisbecameaninternationalstandardwhichwashonouredforthenexthalfcentury.During
theFirstWorldWar,incendiaryandexplosivebulletsweredevelopedinriflecalibresforuse
byaircraft,andthissituationwasacceptedafterthewar(althoughtheywerestillsupposed
tobefiredatotheraircraftandvehicles,notpeople).

TheHagueConventionof1907bannedbulletscalculatedtocauseunnecessarysuffering,
whicheffectivelyexcludedthekindofexpandingbullets(softpointsandhollowpoints)used
inhunting.However,therearenorestrictionsbasedpurelyoncalibretheoftrepeatedstory

that.50calibregunsmaynotbefiredatpeopleisamyth.

Itmayalsobeworthaddinganoteontheinfamousdumdumbullets.Thesewere
developedattheendofthe19thCenturyintheIndianarsenalatDumDum(thenapartof
theBritishEmpire)torectifytheobservedineffectivenessofthenewroundnosed.303
bullets.Theyweremadebyremovingthetipofthejackettoexposetheleadcore,and
sometimeshollowingoutthetip,toencourageexpansion.Atfirsttheseeffortswere
unofficial,butaftersomeabortiveattemptsthe.303MarkVcartridgewasformallyadopted
bytheBritishin1899.Thisfeaturedadeephollowpoint(likesomehuntingbulletsofthe
period),butwaslaterdiscardedasitwasjudgedtobeincontraventionoftheHague
Convention.Theterm'dumdum'nowseemstobeusedtodescribeanybulletwhichhasthe
noseunofficiallymodifiedtoimproveexpansion.

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