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Henry Shrapnel’s Lethal Shell

Posted in History, Interesting Words, Weapons on Monday, 28 February 2011

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This edited article about shrapnel originally appeared in Look and Learn issue number 909 published on 23 June 1979.

“As the soldiers advanced, shells were exploding at their feet and the air was thick with shrapnel.” How many times have you read a passage like that in an exciting war story? But have you ever wondered what this mysterious substance called “shrapnel” might be?

The battle of Waterloo. Illustration by Severino Baraldi

The shrapnel proves its lethal efficiency at the battle of Waterloo. Illustration by Severino Baraldi

Nowadays, shrapnel has come to mean any sort of flying metal that results from an exploding bomb or artillery shell.

Originally, however, a shrapnel shell was a particular type of missile – one which was filled with hundreds of little bullets. When these shells burst, the bullets fanned out in all directions – often with murderous effect.

The man who invented this shell and gave his name to it was a British soldier called Colonel Henry Shrapnel. In 1784, Shrapnel designed his shell and in 1803 it was adopted by the British Army. It was later to prove its lethal efficiency at the Battle of Waterloo.

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One comment on “Henry Shrapnel’s Lethal Shell”

  1. 1. Pipj69 says:

    Yes not the best way to be remembered – causing so much pain to humanity… however he did help save British lives and win many wars including Waterloo! However he never recived full recognition from the British Government and was never compensated for investing all his own money to fund development of the invention. He also went on to invent further ballistic weapons but again never recieved recompense by the Britsish Government and died virtually pennyless and unknown. Not even a statue or memorial exists to honour him other than a plaque on the side of a pub – the former site of his workshop. No columb for him to stand on overlooking London! There’s gratitude for you… happens to be an ancestor of mine on my fathers – mother’s side, so were still proud of him anyway 😉

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