Black powder and smokeless

Discussion in 'Military History and Militaria' started by heythrop, Jun 10, 2010.

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  1. There was a time when a charge of black powder could be set off by a percussion cap placed on the firing vent and duly struck. Then the percussion cap was placed in the base of a brass cartridge which contained a charge of black powder. All OK so far.
    Then smokeless powder was invented, and was fired by the percussion cap in base of cartridge. No change there.

    Qustion please: Would smokeless powder have worked if it had been loose , or bagged in the weapon, or did it only work because it was enclosed in a cartridge case
  2. It will burn if loose - possibly even to detonation.
  3. Black Powder (UK terminology gunpowder) is still in use in pyrotechnics and in igniters etc because it is very susceptible to ignition by spark.

    Poudre B (as the French who invented it called it) or cordite (in the English speaking world) was made it up into cartridge cases as that was the way forward to get a faster rate of fire

    Gunpowder is very easy to ignite (when not damp) much more so than cordite.

    Cordite can burn to detonation if you have enough of it. That is why those brave and dashing Ammunition Technicians when disposing of large quantities of propellant (A few tons) lay it out in a long trail and usually only one charge deep.

    To answer your question, if you were in a lab or or a testing range and had enough time and dry conditions, it would have been possible to use loose cordite - possible but not very practical when " The Gatling's jammed and the Colonel dead, And the regiment blinded with dust and smoke." Although the smoke would have been a lot less if gunpowder was not used.
  4. Additional to what's said and further to your question, if a smokeless charge was wadded and rammed - à la a Tower Enfield - and detonated with say a mercuric type cap, it should perform. Match or Flintlock, I would doubt? If you decant a smokeless shotgun cartridge, you'll probably struggle to get a 'genie' ;) The big caveat however, extremely dangerous practice if the barrel/s are not appropriately nitro proofed :omg: Saw a man firing smokeless from his Damascus 12 bore double. After a couple of rounds the breech blew and he escaped with a flared nostril and a tram-line along his forehead :D

  5. Thanks a million for those replies. Exactly the information I was looking for.
    I am working on an essay 'Weapons of the Matabele War 1893/94, The Rebellion of 1896/97, and their Development' in which I am including a section on 'Ammunition' and the question aroise after watching a programme of 'The Mythbusters'.

    I have an impressive selection of reference books, but none of them gave me the answer, nor could I find it on the internet, and I am left thinking if only the combined knowledge,on any subject, of the members of this forum could be put together in a book it would be a world best seller.

    My grateful thanks.
  6. deleted due to message being duplicated
  7. No one ever bothered, back in the day, to try smokeless in a muzzle-loader, since they were already extremely obsolete by the time smokeless was invented.

    There are some modern muzzleloading revolvers converted to Nitro, but they are not unproblematic. There is a harmonica-type 32 that seems to work okay though. The conversions involve using modern primers rather than percussion caps, since Nitro is harder to ignite than black, and the burning rate is enormously pressure sensitive.

    Also,Poudre B and cordite are not the same thing, by the way...
  8. The .303 was originally a black powder round. Increased pressures a heat led to the introduction of the then new enfield rifling that was deeper and more wear risistant than the original Metford version.

    There was more of a period of crossover between weapons than you might think due to us keeping Indian troops one step behind european after the mutiny
  9. seaweed

    seaweed LE Book Reviewer

    I have always understood that the reason Fuzzy-Wuzzy broke a British Square was because our troops were blinded by powder smoke.
  10. 303 Mark I Cordite had a lower peak pressure than the blackpowder 303.

    But cordite is a throat-eater compared to single-base (and even later double-base) powders.

    New Zealand, by the way, was still building Lee Metfords towards the end of the 1890s. I saw one with a 1898 date a few years back, which rather surprised me.

    There are also plenty of photos of Indian troops on the Western front in World War I with their version of the Charger Loading Lee Enfield.