Specifications of a Brass Artillery Shell

Written by timothy burns
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Specifications of a Brass Artillery Shell
Most modern ammunition is composed of a brass-jacketed projectile, manufactured with explosive powder. (PhotoObjects.net/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images)

Artillery shells and the cannons that fire them have been essential, heavy-duty weapons for military campaigns throughout time. In the middle ages, trebuchets and catapults launched rocks and pots of flaming oil. The Battle for the Alamo was started over the possession of a single cannon. As cannons have evolved, so have the brass artillery shells that are fired from them. Brass artillery shells have progressed through a long evolution after first appearing on the battle field in the American Civil War.

Type of Shell Cartridges

Brass artillery shells are divided into a number of categories. First and foremost, in the Civil War, brass artillery shells were solid brass projectiles, fired from front-loading and breach-loading cannons. As munitions evolved, brass artillery shells were manufactured with the explosive powder. Fixed round munitions had a brass shell casing that was crimped onto the projectile. Semi-fixed artillery shells feature a shell casing and a projectile that fit together but can be separated to modify the powder and firing charge. Separated munitions have a shell casing and propellant that aren't physically attached to the projectile. Such munitions are used in larger-calibre guns, like fixed mount artillery canons.

Shell Size or Caliber

The next set of specifications refers to the overall shell size, or diameter. Gun barrels for smaller guns are measured in calibres. One calibre is one hundredth of an inch, so a .38 calibre magnum revolver has a gun barrel with a 38/100 inch diameter. As the barrels get larger for artillery guns, measurement changes from calibre to millimetres, and then to inches. Artillery gun barrels on naval ships during WWII ranged in size from 1.1 to 2 inches. The large turreted, triple guns on American battle ships launched 16-inch explosive brass cased artillery projectiles.

Artillery Shell Configuration

Casing thickness and configuration depended on the shell's manufacturer, the type of gun from which the shell was fired and the amount of explosive charge in the shell. Brass shells are manufactured with either a rimmed, semi-rimmed or rimless shape at the base of the shell. Rimmed shells are the multi-component shells. The manufacturers designed the rim on the bottom of the shell casing to hold the casing during assembly. Rimless artillery shells are solid projectiles, forged from brass, and loaded into a gun with a separate power charge.

Artillery Shell Age

Brass artillery shells are divided into categories based on their age, or era. Solid brass shells were first introduced in the Civil War, as factories searched for a way to manufacture artillery shells more quickly than hewing solid stone cannon balls, and that were lighter than iron cannon balls. In WWI and later, as the industrial age took hold, solid shells that required separate charges and projectiles were replaced by the all-in-one artillery shells that had a brass or bronze projectile encased in a brass shell casing.

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