Just another ingenious way in the long list that the human race has devised over the ages when it comes to raining death and destruction upon itself.
These days, all too unfortunately, you hear the term “shrapnel wound” attributed more often than not due to shell fragments that are blown into bits and dispersed over a wide area when a bomb detonates and those tiny pieces of metal flying at blinding speed find their way into some poor unfortunate souls flesh.
Strictly speaking, that term is incorrect and has infiltrated the language much like the terms Kleenex and Q-Tip. According to our friends over at Wikipedia, the correct terms for injuries that result from a bomb exploding are “bomb fragments”, “bomb shards” or my personal favorite, “shell splinters”.
What's in a name?
We have to travel all the way back to 1794 when a gentleman by the name of Lieutenant Henry Shrapnel was busting his ass in the services of King George III in the Royal Artillery. Back in those primitive times, the use of a cannonball was the main weapon that was used in defense from infantry attacks but even though they traveled at great speed and could wreak havoc upon advancing troops (especially those who attacked in formation), their killing range was relatively small. As the years went on, that range got even smaller as formations began to spread out and the battlefield began to widen.
What was an Army to do?
Well, leave to Mr. Shrapnel to devise a thin canister made from a mixture of tin and cast iron that was filled with small iron or lead pellets. Unlike its predecessor, the cannonball which was filled with black powder and designed to explode on impact, the canister would detonate based upon a timing fuse inside it and spread its lethal cargo over a wider area. This also had the added benefit of speed since the projectiles encased in the canister would be traveling at the same velocity as the canister itself.
Its effectiveness was immediate. With some early modifications, by 1804, the killing fields were extended from three hundred meters in the days of the cannonball to over eleven hundred meters.
For his efforts, Shrapnel was promoted to Major…
You call this progress?
As the years went by and the design of the cannonball gave way to the invention of the cylinder shell, certain modifications were in order. First of all, the fuse had to moved to the nose of the projectile and ignited so that powder charge would detonate just enough to shear the cylinder and the balls would fly out at the missiles maximum speed.
This was all well and good against advancing or unprotected troops since the missile was fired at a low altitude but had little effect on those troops that were “dug in” or entrenched. The reason was that the “shrapnel” balls maintained the same altitude as the shell itself when they were ejected.
In the early stages of World War I shrapnel was being used by all sides as a favorite weapon of choice when it came to attacking large bodies of troops spread out over wide patches of terrain. As the war raged on and troops were dug in, more and more area’s known as no man’s lands were established and the shrapnel shell gave way to high explosives and primitive mortar rounds that would explode on impact.
Shrapnel, we hardly knew ye…
In subsequent wars such as World War II and the Korean War the use of shrapnel declined. In its never ending quest to kill as many people as quickly as possible without killing many of your own, mankind developed much more accurate and sophisticated weapons for just that purpose. This, along with the strategic importance over who controlled the skies rather than who occupied the ground almost made shrapnel extinct.
Shrapnel, it’s not just for breakfast anymore…
Enter the Vietnam War. The brilliant minds at the Pentagon probably figured that it was time to take an old idea and give it a new spin. They resurrected the shrapnel principle from the scrap heap and decided to give it a facelift.
Welcome to the Beehive shell.
First employed in Vietnam in 1966 the Beehive shell took the use of shrapnel to a new level. Instead of round balls or pellets, the shell contained about eight thousand individual tiny fuckin’ darts that would disperse in an ever widening cone shaped pattern when detonated. Although mainly considered an anti-personnel device, the Beehive also had some demoralizing effects upon the enemy. Not only could it kill you or maim you in a heartbeat, the sound of thousands upon thousands of tiny darts whizzing through the air at incredible speed also had added benefit of sounding like a swarm of angry bees, hence the name.
In modern conflicts such as the Gulf War and the War in Iraq, the use of shrapnel has fallen out of favor. Not only has the face of war changed but along with it, the face of the warrior. I think it’d be a cold day in hell if you ever saw two massive armies face off against each other over open terrain again. The face of the enemy has gotten smaller and harder to detect and things such as smart bombs (probably a misnomer) and other specialized equipment has all but made the use of shrapnel a thing of the past.
If you ask me, good riddance…