Shrapnel, General Henry

Shrapnel, General Henry
SUBJECT AREA: Weapons and armour
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b. 3 June 1761 Bradford-on-Avon, England
d. 13 March 1842 Southampton, England
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English professional soldier and inventor of shrapnel ammunition.
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The youngest of nine children, Shrapnel was commissioned into the Royal Artillery in July 1779. His early military service was in Newfoundland and it was on his return to England in 1784 that he began to interest himself in artillery ammunition. His particular concern was to develop a round that would be more effective against infantry than the existing solid cannon-ball and canister round. The result was a hollow, spherical shell filled with lead musket balls and fitted with a bursting charge and fuse. His development of the shell was interrupted by active service in the Low Countries in 1793–4, during which he was wounded, and duty in the West Indies. Nevertheless, in 1803 the British Army adopted his shell, which during the next twelve years played a significant part on the battlefield.
In 1804 Shrapnel was appointed Assistant Inspector of Artillery and made further contributions to the science of gunnery, drawing up a series of range tables to improve accuracy of fire, inventing the brass tangent slide for better sighting of guns, and improving the production of howitzers and mortars by way of the invention of parabolic chambers. His services were recognized in 1814 by a Treasury grant of £1,200 per annum for life. He was promoted Major-General in 1819 and appointed a Colonel-Commandant of the Royal Artillery in 1827, and in the 1830s there was talk of him being made a baronet, but nothing came of it. Shrapnel remains a current military term, although modern bursting shells rely on the fragmentation of the casing of the projectile for their effect rather than his original concept of having shot inside them.
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Principal Honours and Distinctions
Colonel-Commandant of the Royal Artillery 1827.
Further Reading
Dictionary of National Biography, 1897, Vol. 52, London: Smith, Elder.
CM

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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