Page images

eight bullets on every square yard within this circle. At 100 yards from the point of burst the diameter of the circle holding all the bullets would be 14 to 17 yards, and there would be only about one bullet on each square yard. In the first case with the shell bursting 50 yards short, a man standing up would be hit in three or four places; but if it burst 100 yards short, only about two men out of three would be struck by one bullet each. If the target consisted of one row of men standing a yard apart, eight would be hit in the first case and eleven in the second; but if the men were lying down, the shorter burst would be the best, as some six men would be hit, against three or four at the greater distance. The best target for shrapnel is naturally a number of ranks of men, say 20 yards apart: the bullets which pass over the heads of those in front will strike those in rear. A group of men offers an excellent target, whilst, on the other hand, a single line of skirmishers or single rank manning a trench affords a very poor target. Where the target is a small one, such as a group of men manning a gun, the shell should be burst fairly close up; but when the enemy are scattered, as in a retreat, the fuse may be set to burst sooner with advantage.

A word or two is desirable as to the fuse itself, on which so much depends. The principle is similar to that of the oldfashioned wood-fuse: there is a train of composition which

If a

burns away whilst the shell is flying through the air, and when the flame comes to a certain point, which is in this instance a little pellet of powder, the position of which can be varied at pleasure, the flash ignites the powder and fires the shell. By moving a ring on the fuse the position of the little powder pellet can be altered as desired, and thus the time of the burst of the shell is governed. But the train of composition is only some four inches long, and whilst this is burning out the shell goes 4000 yards. So that one inch of composition represents 1000 yards, and one-tenth of an inch 100 yards. flurried gunner sets his fuse only one-tenth of an inch wrong the shell becomes useless: for good practice he ought not to vary his setting more than onethirtieth of an inch-and this with shells and bullets flying past him is not an easy thing to do. He may also set his fuse correctly, but may alter the setting in clamping the ring, or he may leave the clamp slack. The result of any of these mistakes is that the shell becomes harmless. An immense deal also depends on the care and skill with which the little 4-inch train of composition has been prepared. As was the case with the old wooden fuse, it is tightly pressed, but not into a hole, for a groove in the brass body of the fuse takes the place of the central hole in the woodfuse, and the filling of this groove is a delicate operation. The weather at the time of manufacture has a considerable effect on the uniformity of the

composition, and the shrouding of Woolwich in a damp riverfog may materially affect the efficiency of a shell fired a year afterwards at the Cape. The accuracy attained by the timefuses is also dependent on the rush of air past the head of the shell as the missile tears its way through the air. If the shell gets unsteady and wobbles about like a badly spun top, as may sometimes be the case, the fuse will not burn regularly, and all the care of the fusemaker is obviated by some little error in the manufacture of the shell. As a matter of fact, the accuracy of our fuses is now remarkable. It is seldom that the time of burning of a given length of composition, say, three inches, varies more than one fifth of a second, and it is common to fire fuse after fuse where the error from the mean is only one-tenth of a second.

With all its killing power under favourable conditions, the shrapnel shell has not a high moral effect. The comparatively feeble burst nearly 100 yards away is not startling, and though the swish of the sheaf of bullets may not be pleasant, it is not nearly as disconcerting as the roaring rush of the comparatively harmless common shell, whose explosion is also far more terrifying. Although the shrapnel bullet has less energy when striking at, say, 3000 yards' range than even a pistol-bullet, it inflicts a very nasty wound, distinctly more serious than that inflicted by any modern rifle, even including in this term the Martini. This is because the bullet is spherical,

and though the velocity may not be more than 500 to 600 f.s., this is quite enough to cause fatal injuries by piercing the body, even though the energy of the blow be relatively small.

The sphere of action of the field - gun, with its shrapnel shell, extends from that range where the power of the riflebullet is on the wane to the point where the shrapnel itself does little harm. What these ranges are naturally depends on the power of the rifle that propels the bullet and on the characteristics of the gun firing the shrapnel. All the magazinerifles with which the infantry are now armed are similar in throwing a light and extremely long bullet with a very high velocity, which reaches in some instances 2200 f.s. The cartridge, with charge and bullet complete, only weighs about half what the Martini or Snider cartridge weighed. A soldier can therefore carry double as many rounds for the same weight, and he can miss twice as often, and still produce an equal effect. This encourages long range firing. Moreover, the high velocity greatly improves the shooting at long ranges. The result is that at 1500 yards the magazine - rifle produces effect which the earlier rifles of, say, thirty years ago only produced at half that range. And it is only under the most favourable conditions that fieldguns can expect to remain in position within less than 1500 yards of good infantry without terrible loss. The extreme range of the modern rifle is well over 3000 yards. But no weapon save a howitzer

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]


is ever effective at its extreme range, because the difficulty of directing the fire is so great. And, as far as present experience extends, even the latest rifle can do little at 2000 yards. At 1500 to 2000 yards a field-gun can deliver an extremely efficient shrapnel fire. It is easy to get the range at this distance, because the fall of each shell can be clearly seen, and the accuracy being excellent, the shell may be trusted to go very close to the object laid for. The velocity of the bullets is high, and as the shell approaches the ground at a small angle, the bullets sweep along the ground more or less horizontally, covering a considerable depth. As the range increases, the difficulty of hitting increases greatly. In the first place, it is very difficult to see the enemy. I remember an instance on our practice - ground at Okehampton, when a battery of fieldguns was being tested in comparison with a battery of howitzers at a target representing a field-redoubt manned by dummies, who showed more of head and shoulders than the Boers ever do. The range was long, but much less than 4000 yards. Both batteries fired away all the rounds allowed without sending a shell near the "enemy." They both mistook a row of stones or some such deceptive appearance for the heads of the " "men manning the parapet. Even when the object is clearly seen, the difficulty of ranging is greatly enhanced, for it is much more difficult to locate the fall of the shell. Then the time-fuse is

getting to the end of its tether
and burns irregularly, added to
which the gun begins to be
inaccurate, so that when the
range has been obtained and
the gun correctly laid, the shell,
owing to the inaccuracy of the
gun, may after all go wide of
the mark.
the mark. Again, the velocity
of the bullets is small, and the
shell having lost velocity but
retaining its spin, scatters the
bullets widely. Finally, the
shell has such a steep angle of
descent that most of the bullets
plunge down from the place of
burst, which is some 30 feet
high or more, and stick into the
ground instead of sweeping
along it. Our fuses burn up
to about 4000 yards' range, and
the trials that have been made
at long ranges with field-guns
show conclusively that the
effect obtained at ranges ap-
proaching 4000 yards is SO
unsatisfactory that very little
is likely to be gained by having
a special fuse to burn longer
still. The longer a fuse burns
the more irregular it is, and our
existing fuse would be spoilt
by trying to make it burn
longer. If long-range fire of
shrapnel is desired, a new fuse
is necessary.

But could not greater range
be obtained by giving more
velocity to the shell, just as the
magazine-rifle has extended its
effective range owing to its high
velocity? Well, remember that
the Lee-Enfield bullet is only
half the weight of the Martini
Even when bullet. If the field-gun shell is
to lose half its weight, it will
have to part with more than
half its bullets, which is out of
the question. The alternative
would be to increase the weight

of the gun. We have an instance in the naval 12-pounders which were used at Ladysmith and Colenso. They weigh 12 cwt., as against 7 cwt. for the fieldgun, and, in order to get a high velocity, fire a shell 2 lb. lighter, with some thirty fewer bullets. The accuracy, remaining velocity, and angle of descent obtained with these guns at 5000 yards is about the same as that for the field-gun at 4000 yards: thus the common shell of the naval gun has about 1000 yards longer range than that of the field-gun. But shrapnel is far the best projectile in the field, and the fuse of the shrapnel for the naval gun only burns to 4500 yards, as the increase of velocity from 1580 f.s. to 2200 f.s. causes such an increase in the rate of burning that the fuse burns out sooner. Moreover, the regularity of the fuse is not so good, when thus fired with very high velocity. The difficulty of seeing the object and of locating the graze of the shell remain. Thus the enormous sacrifice in mobility entailed by the great increase in the weight of the gun may be taken as extending the effective range of shrapnel no more than 500 yards, and this at some siderable sacrifice of efficiency at shorter ranges, owing to irregularity of the fuse and the reduced number of bullets. Moreover, to obtain the high velocity the charge has to be doubled, and there is consequently a great increase of recoil, which makes quick firing out of the question. It is a curious thing that many newspapers have drawn invidious comparisons between the


"quick-firing" naval guns and their slow-firing fellows in the Field Artillery. The fact is, that the naval gun is only a quick-firer on its rigid ship's pedestal. Directly it is put on a field-carriage the comparative clumsiness of the carriage and the violent recoil makes rapid fire out of the question, because so much time is taken up in running the gun up and relaying it after recoil. The lack of mobility due to the great weight makes it impossible to take up many positions that would be otherwise desirable, and there seems no indication whatever that higher velocity is likely to be adopted for our field-guns.

One lesson of the war in South Africa is the value of the magazine-rifle to men in intrenchments. The magazine can be charged by a man in absolute security. He then bobs his head up, blazes off his eight or ten rounds, and bobs down again below ground. What is urgently required is a projectile which will strike a man whilst under cover.

There is nothing new under the sun, and the sort of projectile which is now coming in for the attack of trenches is essentially on the lines of the original shell which our forefathers used-that is, a shell which is lobbed into a trench. or other sheltered position, where it bursts. The ordinary common shell from a gun when fired against a trench is deflected upwards as it strikes the parapet. The burst may either be smothered by the earth of the parapet, or if the shell bursts on or near the surface, the pieces fly upwards, or at least horizon


tally very few take downwards, and none of these have sufficient downward angle to cause the least apprehension to a man in the trench. I may quote a case in which some 10,000 shells-mostly from fieldguns, but many from guns of position were fired against trenches held by the dervishes before Suakim in 1888. The range was generally very short, 1000 yards or so, though a good deal of firing was done at 2000 and 3000 yards, and some with reduced charges, to get a plunging fire. Common shell, shrapnel, and ringshell (the latter a common shell built up from rings, to facilitate its breaking up) were all tried, but with very little result. If a man showed his head he might be dropped by a shrapnel bullet; but the dervishes soon got sharp enough to duck to the flash of the gun, when they were quite safe. Some ancient smooth-bore mortars were then mounted, and much better results obtained, a proportion of the shells falling into the trenches and exploding

there with considerable effect.

[blocks in formation]

mum of exposure. As is well known, some of the guns now being used at the Cape fire lyddite shells. These are simply common shells filled with lyddite in lieu of powder. Lyddite, in common with other high explosives-such as gun-cotton, melinite, ecrasite, dynamite, &c.-is far more violent in its action than gunpowder. The fact is, that a shell filled with lyddite not only gives off much more gas than if it was filled with powder, but this gas is developed in a much shorter time and at a higher temperature. Such a shell bursts the moment the fuse acts; there is none of the delay which exists in a powder shell. The great energy developed is first manifested by the way in which the body of the shell is crushed and torn, some of the pieces being no bigger than a paring from a finger - nail. pieces are also more numerous, and they are projected with higher velocity than those from a powder shell. The cone formed by the fragments of a lyddite shell, instead of having an angle of only 45°, which is that of the ordinary powder shell, may have an angle of 160° to 180°, many of the pieces going nearly at right angles to the former path. The gas is also very destructive close to the place of burst; but in the open its effect is very local, so that if we take the case of such a shell as that thrown by the 47-inch gun, the fatal effect of the gas might not extend for more than a dozen feet or SO from the place of burst. The gas, too, takes the same direc



« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »