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Nordenfelt Ammunition

Nordenfelt guns used in the Royal Navy in the 1880s fell into three categories: rifle-calibre, 1 inch anti-torpedo boat bullets, and 6 pdr shells. Nordenfelt manufactured many other different calibres, but this section concentrates on the ones that were adopted and used at sea, as recorded in the Gunnery Manuals of the time.

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Rifle-Calibre Nordenfelt Ammunition

As with all machine-guns of the time, it was expected that a machine gun would fire the same round as used in the rifles issued to troops and sailors. This simplified the supply problem. However, in the early 1880's the standard rifle cartridge was the 'Boxer' as supplied for the Martini-Henry rifle. It was constructed (often by hand) from coiled sheets of brass,with interleaved sheets of paper, and riveted to the base.

Nordenfelt in 1883 [N2] reported that "In England, where the greater number of machine gun trials have taken place, the jambs when firing rapidly for any time have been principally caused by the English officials previously requiring the Boxer cartridge to be used during these experiments. The Nordenfelt rifle-calibre gun is the only type that has been adapted at all successfully to fire such ammunition."

 

A Short Rant at the Boxer Cartridge

BoxerCartridge

Construction of the boxer Cartridge used in Martini-Henry rifles and early Nordenfelt rifle-calibre guns [N5]

[Admiral Jasper Selwin, speaking at a presentation of the Hotchkiss revolving cannon at the Royal United services Institution in March 1880. He starts by referring to the Hotchkiss 37 mm cartridge being of rolled construction..][H4]

I object very much to the form of cartridge adopted here [the 37 mm coiled brass cartridge], for it is a recurrence to that most objectionable form, that compromise between Daw and the pure metallic cartridge known as the Boxer, in which several metals are used, and galvanic action is to be feared, and the base cup is attached by a variety of means best known to the inventors, but all more or less objectionable. The effect is very much superior with the simple metal, and there is much more room for powder. I prefer the simple American cartridge for all kinds of ammunition. The foil was adopted by Mr. Daw when he gained the 500 prize from Government, and it was very speedily followed by other persons, but as they had not the knowledge of practical work which he possessed, they added brown paper, and bees-wax, and varnish, and one thing and the other, till the made up the most desperate specimen of a cartridge that ever was got together by men who had neither practical skill nor inventive brains.

[Dr. Richard Gatling, speaking at the same meeting]

"...The Gatling, being the first of its kind, was ahead, if I may say so, of the ammunition, for even in America no one could make ammunition that was perfect, and I can say with safety that the Gatling gun has fired more worthless ammunition away than perhaps any gun in the world, and it had to take the discredit of all the bad ammunition that was made years ago. It was, however, the best that we could do. They did not know in America how to anneal the copper, and they did not know that certain kinds of copper were better than other kinds of copper. One of the little secrets they have in America is this: the copper mined pure in the Lake Superior district, having no foreign substance mixed with it, is of much greater strength and ductility than ordinary coppers, and its use is one of the secrets of the success of the cartridge makers in America.

Another is, that they have learned to anneal the copper, and not to burn or destroy the material. I have seen cartridges made so perfectly that there is no trouble now. The day of bad cartridges in America has passed, unless now and then they use up an old lot that were rejected years ago. On one occasion I was invited to a trial of a Gatling gun, which the Navy had purchased, at Fort Madison. They fired 100,000 rounds without a hitch or any interruption in the mechanism, 64,000 being fired continuously in the presence of a large number of Officers of the Army and Navy without their wiping the barrels out or stopping to clean the gun. That is an ordeal such as, in my judgement, no other gun has been put to. In Her majesty’s service they have not improved Gatlings, for the guns in the English service are all fed on the side, whereas the feed should be right in the centre. You will pardon me if I do not desire to fire the Gatling gun with Boxer ammunition. That was no doubt good in its day, but it is not the best ammunition now. The solid drawn case is the cartridge adopted by all the leading nations in the world save and except England, and the day is coming when that Boxer cartridge unquestionably will become obsolete." [h4] [1880]

[Nordenfelt, 1884] [N3]

"Solid drawn cartridges are now universally adopted for small arms... it is essential that rifle-calibre machine guns should only use the same ammunition as manufactured for the small arms of the Government adopting them.

The mechanism of the Nordenfelt small-bore machine guns remains the same whatever kind of ammunition it is required to fire, but the hoppers, carrier blocks and extractors require, more or less, slight alteration for each particular species of small arm cartridges they may be required to be adapted to."

 

Nordenfelt One inch calibre ammunition

inchammo

Ammunition for the 6 pdr (2.2 inch) QF Nordenfelt: solid shot, armour piercing, common shell, shrapnel and case shot

Nord1inchcartridge

1 inch cartridge for Nordenfelt anti-torpedo boat guns (Royal Armouries, Leeds)

inchshot

1 inch cartridge for Nordenfelt anti-torpedo boat guns in section

inchchilledArmourpiercingshell

6 pdr (2.2 inch) chilled armour-piercing shell

inchCommonshell

6 pdr (2.2 inch) common shell

inchShrapnellshell

6 pdr (2.2 inch) Shrapnel shell with time delay fuze in nose

Nordenfelt 1 inch bullets were manufactured in three materials. Lead and cast iron bullets were expressly intended for practice purposes, but cast iron bullets could be used for war purposes if steel bullets had bee exhausted. Cast iron bullets would give the same penetration at right angles as the steel bullets, but broke up against targets struck as acute angles.

The steel bullet is formed of hardened cast steel with a sharp-pointed head. Over the projectile, for the purposes of a gas check and for rotating the bullet is placed an envelope of brass, which is choked into a cannelure round its base.

The cartridge case is of solid drawn brass

The powder charge is pressed into the cartridge case, care being taken that it should always occupy the same space.

Bullet

Weight

Cartridge

Weight

Length

Powder charge

Cartridge case

Length

Total weight

oz.

inches

oz.

oz.

inches

oz.

7.2

2.67

1.54

2.5

5.0

11.21

Details of the Nordenfelt 1 inch Anti-torpedo boat gun cartridge. see also tables giving details of ammunition for medium and heavy versions of Nordenfelt 1 inch guns.

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Nordenfelt Shell Gun Ammunition

 

Projectiles for the 6 pdr Nordenfelt shell gun were designed to have a common weight, and a common calibre – 2.2 inches, so that the ballistics would be roughly similar, and there would be no need to change the sights or sight settings when switching from one type of shell to another. As a consequence, the length of the projectile differs from one type to another.

 

Armour Piercing Chilled Shells

These projectiles are made of cast iron or steel with chilled head. The fuze, which is a percussion one, is screwed into the base of the shell. The bursting charge of these projectiles is comparatively of small weight.

The advantages of placing the fuze in the base of the shell, and only using a small bursting charge is that its penetrative power remains almost equal to that of solid shot and at the same time the small burster causes the shell to be broken up into only a few pieces each of comparatively large weight, which, after the shell has burst, would have sufficient energy to effect serious damage to other plates, boilers, engines etc. inside the vessel aimed at.

 

Common Shell

These Nordenfelt projectiles are made of cast iron, with or without chilled heads, the fuze is also screwed into their base, but the bursting charge for these shells is considerably heavier than in the case of the armour-piercing projectile, for it is intended that this shell should be broken into many small fragments so as to give greater effects against troops. By pacing the fuze in the base of a common shell, greater penetrative power is gained, and also, after bursting, the pointed chilled head would continue its course with considerable remaining energy for further damage.

 

Shrapnel Shells

The body is formed of cast iron or steel, and is loaded with several hardened lead bullets resting on a wrought-iron disk; these are kept in place by melted resin or sulphur leaving a channel in which is inserted a brass tube leading from the fuze into the bursting charge in the base of the shell. Powder also surrounds the brass tube. In the head of this projectile is fitted a combined time and percussion fuze, of such construction that the fuze will with certainty act on the shell striking at a very acute angle, unless of course the time has previously expired for the time fuze to act.

 

Case Shot

The body and cap of this projectile are formed of thin zinc. Inside are placed several hardened lead bullets.

 

Details of Nordenfelt 6 pdr Shell Gun Ammunition [N1]

Weight of powder charge

31 oz

Cartridge weight

36 oz

Cartridge length

12.06 inches

Total weight of cartridge

10.4 lb.

Solid steel shot

weight

6 lb.

Length

7.2 inches

Armour-piercing chilled shot

Weight

6 lb.

Length

7.9 inches

Bursting charge

300 grains (0.75 oz)

Common shell

Weight

6 lb.

Length

8.04 inches

Bursting charge

1200 grains (2.74 oz)

Shrapnel shell

Weight

6 lb.

Length

7.85 inches

Bursting charge

1.6 oz

Number of balls

63

Weight of each ball

0.53 oz

Case shot

Weight

7.9 lb.

Number of balls

185

Weight of each ball

0.57 oz

 

Energy per square inch and velocities for 2.2 inch 6 pdr shells. [N3]

Muzzle

500 yards

1000 yards

2000 yards

3000 yards

4000 yards

Velocity

Energy

Velocity

Energy

Velocity

Energy

Velocity

Energy

Velocity

Energy

Velocity

Energy

ft/sec

ft-tons

ft/sec

ft-tons

ft/sec

ft-tons

ft/sec

ft-tons

ft/sec

ft-tons

ft/sec

ft-tons

1890

39.1

1595

27.8

1336

19.5

1008

11.1

852

7.94

735

5.8

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Nord1photo

Nordenfelt 1 inch casing, with a 1" aiming gun bullet and .577 lead bullets for size comparison

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