Scatter Projectiles

When one of our progenitors wrathfully seized a handful of pebbles and flung them at the flock of birds in his garden, he discovered the principle of the scatter projectile. Perhaps its simplest application was in the stone mortar (fig. 43). For this weapon, round stones about the size of a man's fist (and, by 1750, hand grenades) were dumped into a two-handled basket and let down into the bore. This primitive charge was used at close range against personnel in a fortification, where the effect of the descending projectiles would be uncommonly like a short but severe barrage of over-sized hailstones. There were 6,000 stones in the ammunition inventory for Castillo de San Marcos in 1707.

pedrero
FIGURE 43—SPANISH 16-INCH PEDRERO (1788).
This mortar fired baskets of stones.

One of the earliest kinds of scatter projectiles was case shot, or canister, used at Constantinople in 1453. The name comes from its case, or can, usually metal, which was filled with scrap, musket balls, or slugs (fig. 41). Somewhat similar, but with larger iron balls and no metal case, was grape shot, so-called from the grape-like appearance of the clustered balls. A stand of grape in the 1700's consisted of a wooden disk at the base of a short wooden rod that served as the core around which the balls stood (fig. 41). The whole assembly was bagged in cloth and reinforced with a net of heavy cord. In later years grape was made by bagging two or three tiers of balls, each tier separated by an iron disk. Grape could disable men at almost 900 yards and was much used during the 1700's. Eventually, it was almost replaced by case shot, which was more effective at shorter ranges (400 to 700 yards). Incidentally, there were 2,000 sacks of grape at the Castillo in 1740, more than any other type projectile.

Spherical case shot (fig. 41) was an attempt to carry the effectiveness of grape and canister beyond its previous range, by means of a bursting shell. It was the forerunner of the shrapnel used so much in World War I and was invented by Lt. Henry Shrapnel, of the British Army, in 1784. There had been previous attempts to produce a projectile of this kind, such as the German Zimmerman's "hail shot" of 1573—case shot with a bursting charge and a primitive time fuze—but Shrapnel's invention was the first air-bursting case shot which, in technical words, "imparted directional velocity" to the bullets it contained. Shrapnel's new shell was first used against the French in 1808, but was not called by its inventor's name until 1852.


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