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Ammunition

Ammunition is a generic military term meaning (the assembly of) a projectile and its propellant. It is derived through French from the Latin munire, to provide. Ammunition for rifles and handguns are usually bullets, while large caliber guns such as artillery fire shells. The ammunition for shotguns is called shot.

The design of the ammunition is determined by its purpose; anti-personnel ammunition is often designed to break up or tumble inside the target, in order to maximize the damage done. Anti-personnel shells contain shrapnel and are designed to explode in mid-air, so its fragments will spread over a large area.

(add some info about other types of ammunition)

Popular types of military rifle and machine-gun ammunition include 5.45mm[?], 5.56mm and 7.62mm caliber. Main battle tanks use KE-penetrators to combat other MBTs and armoured fighting vehicles, and HE-Frag (High Explosive-Fragmentation) for soft targets[?] such as infantry.

(Below is an outdated text from 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica. It should be rewritten and moved to a history page IMHO.)


The components of ammunition intended for rifles and ordnance may be divided into (a) explosives and propellants, (b) projectiles of all kinds, and (c) cartridges. The military classification of explosives differs somewhat from that of the Explosives Act 1875, but, broadly speaking, they are divided into two groups. The first of these comprises explosives in bulk, made-up cartridges for cannon, and filled quick-firing cartridges; Group II contains small-arm cartridges, fuzes, primers, tubes, filled shells (fuzed or unfuzed), &c. Each group is subdivided, and arrangements are made for storing certain divisions of Group I in a magazine in separate compartments. All the divisions of Group II are, and the remaining divisions of Group I (comprising wet gun-cotton, picric acid and Q.F. cartridges) may be, stored in ammunition stores.

These general conditions apply to the storage of ammunition in fortresses[?]. Here the positions for the magazine and ammunition stores are so chosen as to afford the best means of protection from an enemy's fire. Huge earth parapets cover these buildings, which are further strengthened, where possible, by traverses protecting the entrances. For the purpose of filling, emptying and examining cannon cartridges and shell, a laboratory is generally provided at some distance from the magazine. The various stores for explosives are classified into those under magazine conditions (viz. magazines, laboratories and cartridge stores) and those with which these restrictions need not be observed (viz. ammunition and shell stores). The interior walls of a magazine are lined and the floors laid so that there may be no exposed iron or steel. At the entrance there is a lobby or barrier, inside which persons about to enter the magazine change their clothes for a special suit, and their boots for a pair made without nails. In an ammunition or shell store these precautions need not be taken except where the shell store and the adjacent cartridge store have a common entrance; persons entering may do so in their ordinary clothes. A large work may have a main magazine and several subsidiary magazines, from which the stock of cartridges is renewed in the cartridge stores attached to each group of guns or in the expense cartridge stores and cartridge recesses. The same applies to main ammunition stores which supply the shell stores, expense stores and recesses.

The supply of ammunition may be divided roughly into (a) that for guns forming the movable armament, (b) that for guns placed in permanent positions. The movable armament will consist of guns and howitzers of small and medium calibre, and it is necessary to arrange suitable expense cartridge stores and shell stores close to the available positions. They can generally be constructed to form part of the permanent work in the projected face of traverses or other strong formations, and should be arranged for a twenty-four hours' supply of ammunition. These stores are refilled from the main magazine every night under cover of darkness. Light railways join the various positions. The guns mounted in permanent emplacements are divided into groups of two or three guns each, and usually each group will require but one calibre of ammunition. A cartridge store, shell store and a general store, all well ventilated, are arranged for the especial service of such a group of guns. In the cartridge store the cylinders containing the cartridges are so placed and labelled that the required charge, whether reduced or full, can be immediately selected.

In the shell store also for the same reason the common shell are separated from the armour-piercing or shrapnel. Each nature of projectile is painted in a distinctive manner to render identification easy. The fuzes, tubes, &c., are placed in the general store with the tools and accessories belonging to the guns. The gun group is distinguished by some letter and the guns of the group by numerals; thus, A/1 is number one gun of group A. The magazine and shell stores are also indicated by the group letter, and so that mistakes, even by those unaccustomed to the fort, may be avoided, the passages are pointed out by finger posts and direction boards. For the immediate service of each gun a few cartridges and projectiles are stored in small receptacles -- called cartridge and shell recesses respectively -- built in the parapet as near the gun position as practicable. In some cases a limited number of projectiles may be placed close underneath the parapet if this is conveniently situated near the breech of the gun and not exposed to hostile fire.

In order to supply the ammunition sufficiently rapidly for the efficient service of modern guns, hydraulic, electric or hand-power hoists are employed to raise the cartridges and shell from the cartridge store and shell store to the gun floor, whence they are transferred to a derrick or loading tray attached to the mounting for loading the gun.

Projectiles for B.L. guns above 6-inch calibre are stored in shell stores ready filled and fuzed standing on their bases, except shrapnel and high-explosive shell, which are fuzed only when about to be used. Smaller sizes of shells are laid on their sides in layers, each layer pointing in the opposite direction to the one below to prevent injury to the driving bands. Cartridges are stored in brass corrugated cases or in zinc cylinders. The corrugated cases are stacked in layers in the magazine with the mouth of the case towards a passage between the stacks, so that it can be opened and the cartridges removed and transferred to a leather case when required for transport to the gun. Cylinders are stacked, when possible, vertically one above the other. The charges are sent to the gun in these cylinders, and provision is made for the rapid removal of the empty cylinders.

The number and nature of rounds allotted to any fortress depends on questions of policy and location, the degrees of resistance the nature of the works and personnel could reasonably be expected to give, and finally on the nature of the armament. That is to say, for guns of large calibre three hundred to four hundred rounds per gun might be sufficient, while for light Q.F. guns it might amount to one thousand or more rounds per gun. (A. G. H.)

Supply of ammunition in the field.

With every successive improvement in military arms there has necessarily been a corresponding modification in the method of supplying ammunition and in the quantity required to be supplied. When hand-to-hand weapons were the principal implements of battle, there was, of course, no such need, but even in the middle ages the archers and crossbowmen had to replenish the shafts and bolts expended in action, and during a siege stone bullets of great size, as well as heavy arrows, were freely used. The missiles of those days were, however, interchangeable, and at the battle of Towton (1461) the commander of the Yorkist archers, by inducing the enemy to waste his arrows, secured a double supply of ammunition for his own men. This interchangeability of war material was even possible for many centuries after the invention of firearms. At the battle of Liegnitz in 1760 a general officer was specially commissioned by Frederick the Great to pack up and send away, for Prussian use, all the muskets and ammunition left on the field of battle by the defeated Austrians. Captured material is, of course, utilized whenever possible, at the present time, and in the Chino-Japanese War the Japanese went so far as to prepare beforehand spare parts for the Chinese guns they expected to capture (Wei-Hai-Wei, 1895), but it is rare to find a modern army trusting to captures for arms and ammunition; almost the only instance of the practice is that of the Chilean civil war of 1891, in which the army of one belligerent was almost totally dependent upon this means of replenishing stores of arms and

cartridges. But what was possible with weapons of comparatively rough make is no longer to be thought of in the case of modern arms. The Lee-Metford bullet of .303 inch diameter can scarcely be used in a rifle of smaller calibre, and in general the minute accuracy of parts in modern weapons makes interchangeability almost impossible. Further, owing to the rapidity with which, in modern arms, ammunition is expended, and the fact that, as battles are fought at longer ranges than formerly, more shots have to be fired in order to inflict heavy losses, it is necessary that the reserves of ammunition should be as close as possible to the troops who have to use them. This was always the case even with the older firearms, as, owing to the great weight of the ammunition, the soldier could carry but few rounds on his person. Nevertheless it is only within the past seventy years that there has grown up the elaborate system of ammunition supply which now prevails in all regularly organized armies. That which is described in the present article is the British, as laid down in the official Combined Training (1905) and other manuals. The new system designed for stronger divisions, and others, vary only in details and nomenclature.



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