This page describes the types of shell that were used:

  1. Shrapnel
  2. Common shell
  3. Case shot


Lieutenant Henry Shrapnel of the Royal Artillery invented 'a spherical case shot' in 1784.  This consisted of a circular missile, containing musket balls, and detonated by a time fuze.  Shrapnel remained in service until the end of the Great War.

The nose of the shell contained time and percussion fuze.  The fuse was set to detonate when the shell was just short of the target, and 15 to 20 feet (4.5 m to 6 m) above it.  The target for shrapnel was infantry in the open.  The fuse detonated the bursting charge at the base of the shell, which threw the shrapnel bullets, some 200 in number, forward in a cone shape pattern.

The range of shrapnel was limited by the time fuze.  For the 15 pounder, the maximum range was 4,100 yards (3,750m). The shell could be fired further, to 5,600 yards (5,120m) but would then explode on percussion.  Percussion detonation was not as effective as the shell casing prevented the shrapnel bullets being ejected in the optimal pattern.  The 'Blue Fuze' (No 57) was later adopted.  Fuse 57 increased the range to 5,800 yards (5,280 m).


Common shell was filled with lyddite and burst on impact.  After the Boer War, the lyddite was replaced by TNT and the shells were known as High Explosive (HE).  The use of common shell was limited in its effectiveness because of its poor fragmentation on bursting. The 5 inch howitzer fired common shell.

Case shot

This shell was fired in emergencies where there was the danger of guns being overrun.  The shell consisted of a flat topped cylinder, filled with shrapnel bullets and with a bursting charge at the base.  When fired, the shell broke up at the muzzle of the gun, ejecting 290 metal bullets to a distance of 300 to 400 yards (270 to 360 m).

Case shot was fired four times during the war:

  1. At Stormberg by the 74th and 77th Batteries RFA in December 1899
  2. At Silikat's Nek by Q Battery RHA in July 1900
  3. At Buffelspoort by the 75th Battery RFA in December 1900
  4. At Long Tom Pass by Boer artillery in September 1900

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