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A Short Illustrated History of Cannon, Emphasizing Types Used in America
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PROJECTILES (continued)


The word "bomb" comes to us from the French, who derived it from the Latin. But the Romans got it originally from the Greek bombos, meaning a deep, hollow sound. "Bombard" is a derivation. Today bomb is pronounced "balm," but in the early days it was commonly pronounced "bum." The modern equivalent of the "bum" is an HE shell.

The first recorded use of explosive shells was by the Venetians in 1376. Their bombs were hemispheres of stone or bronze, joined together with hoops and exploded by means of a primitive powder fuze. Shells filled with explosive or incendiary mixtures were standard for mortars, after 1550, but they did not come into general use for flat-trajectory weapons until early in the nineteenth century, whereafter the term "shell" gradually won out over "bomb."

In any event, this projectile was one of the most effective ever used in the smoothbore against earthworks, buildings, and for general bombardment. A delayed action shell, diabolically timed to roll amongst the ranks with its fuze burning, was calculated to "disorder the stoutest men," since they could not know at what awful instant the bomb would burst.

A bombshell was simply a hollow, cast-iron sphere. It had a single hole where the powder was funneled in—full, but not enough to pack too tightly when the fuze was driven in. Until the 1800's, the larger bombs were not always smooth spheres, but had either a projecting neck, or collar, for the fuze hole or a pair of rings at each side of the hole for easier handling (fig. 41). In later years, however, such projections were replaced by two "ears," little recesses beside the fuze hole. A pair of tongs (some thing like ice tongs) seized the shell by the ears and lifted it up to the gun bore.

During most of the eighteenth century, shells were cast thicker at the base than at the fuze hole on the theory that they were (1) better able to resist the shock of firing from the cannon and (2) more likely to fall with the heavy part underneath, leaving the fuze uppermost and less liable to extinguishment. Müller scoffed at the idea of "choaking" a fuze, which, he said, burnt as well in water as in any other element. Furthermore, he preferred to use shells "everywhere equally thick, because they would then burst into a greater number of pieces." In later years, the shells were scored on the interior to ensure their breaking into many fragments.


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