Written by: David Minshall
First published in ‘Black Powder’ magazine, Autumn 2004
(Muzzle Loaders Association of Great Britain)
For today’s researcher into Enfield ammunition, the definitive reference is “Rifle Ammunition. Being Notes on the Manufactures connected therewith as conducted in The Royal Arsenal, Woolwich” by Arthur B. Hawes, Captain (r.h.p.), Bengal Army and published in London, 1859. Hawes writes in his introduction: “These notes, intended at first only for myself, were, I am happy so say, useful to others; and from that reason more than any other, I am induced now to offer them, imperfect as they are, for the perusal of all who feel interested in the preparation of ammunition of different descriptions, with the exterior of which all soldiers are so familiar.”
What Hawes produced in his 100 page document is a comprehensive guide to the manufacture of small arms ammunition. Each element is discussed in considerable detail and there are chapters on:
- The Bullet
- The Plug
- The Cartridge
- Metallic Tubes (for preserving cartridges from damp)
- The Cap
- Ammunition Barrels
together with additional comment on the following:
- Rifle-Practice Targets
- Experimental Targets
- Rifle Rests
- The Micrometer
- Penetration of Rifle-Bullets
- Experimental Practice
- The Vernier
Before considering some of this information in more detail, Hawes observations on “What Small-Arms Ammunition Consists Of” are worthy of review.
The ammunition, as at present used for Small Arms in the British service, consists, in the first place, of the Bullet, with, in some cases, a plug of wood in its base, and in others an iron cup; the charge of Powder; and the Containing Paper. The greater part of the ammunition used in the British service is made up in the Royal Arsenal at Woolwich, although for Indian service a large portion has been, and is at present, made up on the spot where required, the necessary appliances for so doing having been despatched to the several presidencies.
Opinions vary on several important points connected with the ammunition for rifled arms; viz., as to the shape of the projectile, proportions of the hollow at its base, its weight, as to whether an advantage is gained by a plug or cup proportionate to the expense of its manufacture, and whether or no cannelures (or grooves round the cylindrical part of the bullet) are the best means of procuring that hold for the bullet in the grooves of the rifle sufficient to impart to it the required amount of rotation.
Some, again, strongly maintain that the bullet should be used naked, i.e. without the paper that serves to hold it in the cartridge; and in that case we should in all probability have to revert to the powder-flask for loading.
All seem, however, to agree that pure lead and correct manufacture of the projectile assist greatly in obtaining a good result.
But in studying these results, so many different points have to be considered and eliminated, as to what are really the moving causes, and what are the merits and demerits of any particular component of the ammunition, that unless a series of most careful and elaborate experiments under every different circumstance have been carried out, no decided opinion can be entirely depended upon.
The description of powder and the quantity used in the charge are points that influence in a very large degree the quality of the results obtained; and the mode of making the cartridge up is another important point, on which a diversity of opinions exists.
Lastly, the lubrication, or anti-fouling agent, as it ought to be correctly named, is a point upon which many different opinions have been freely expressed.
At the time when loading was performed by force, some (then properly called) lubricating agent was required to enable this operation to be performed at all; but on the introduction of the expansive or groove-taking-after-explosion systems, bullets of less diameter than that of the bore of the piece were used; and except where the windage (or difference between these two diameters) was very small, no lubrication was required to assist in the operation of loading, its real duty being to prevent the fouling, or the residue or ash of the powder after ignition from adhering to the sides of the barrel, and so, by combining with the residue, enabling the gases of the powder to expel it on ignition.
The description and texture of the paper used for the cartridge is another point requiring close attention; and, indeed, so many and various are the questions that have to be considered in the production of a perfect cartridge for a rifled arm, that the greatest care, patience, and no small amount of scientific knowledge are required on the part of those intrusted with this duty.
Some of the main points to be considered in striving to obtain such ammunition are as follows:-
- The projectile, if elongated, should have its centre of gravity as near its point as possible (note; opinions vary as to the advantage of having the centre of gravity in front. Captain Boxer thinks there is no advantage); but care must be taken, in so doing by making a hollow in its base, that the bullet is not rendered too weak to withstand, uninjured, the rough treatment it is subject to on service.
- It should be of such weight as to secure velocity of flight and good penetration, and still preserving the minimum of diameter and the maximum of length, to be of such proportions as not to be liable to “topple over” or revolve on its short axis during its flight.
- That the cartridge, when made up, should be strong enough to bear the rough treatment of transport on service.
- That in making up the cartridge, it should be so constructed as to prevent the possibility of the powder escaping between the bullet and paper, thereby rendering loading difficult and fouling inevitable.
- That the paper should not be too thick round the bullet, nor uneven in texture.
- That the paper should be so folded and contrived as to hold the bullet firmly, but still be easily freed from it on its leaving the muzzle of the rifle.
- That the lubricating or anti-fouling agent should be free from acids; as a very small proportion of acid will greatly affect the durability of the ammunition when in store, by penetrating the paper and corroding the lead of the projectile. These keeping qualities are very important.
- And lastly, the whole should be so constructed and arranged as to render the process of loading as easy and simple as possible.
Arthur B. Hawes, Captain (r.h.p.), Bengal Army
(published in London, 1859)