Monday, April 03, 2006

The Worlds Largest Shotgun

Carl and I play a game called Combat Mission. Instead of an old style type game that is "I go, You go" (turn based), Combat Mission is a "We go" style game. In other words, we both plot our moves via a text email file, and the computer generates the action. Real life is the rule. If a man is in front of a machine gun, he dies. If a scout car goes up against a main battle tank, the results are a foregone conclusion.

It is a matter of pride, almost better than winning the game for one person to be able to "canister" the men of the enemy. This is accomplished by moving a gun or tank up close to a concentration of infantry and hoping that your tank crew is competent enough to shoot a special canister shell at them, wiping them out or at least making them run away like little girls. We are such fans of this weapon that we have even taken "canister" and conjugated it. Quotes such as "I canistered the shit out of those commies" and "those krauts aren't going to like this canistering" are common. As an aside, in Combat Mission Carl always plays the Axis and I always play the Allies.

So what is it? Well canister shot has been around for a very long time. Back in the 17th and through 19th centuries it was called "grape". It got much more popular in the naval battles of the War of 1812 and during the Napoleonic Wars. "Canister" or "grape" consists of loading a shell (or in the case of older artillery, just stuffing the stuff down the cannon in front of the powder) with hundreds of steel balls, shards, nails or other sharp and destructive objects and shooting them at the enemy. In the naval battles they were intended to clear the decks of the enemy or foul the rigging. Naval shot also included "chain" shot where a large chain was actually fired out of the cannon, again to foul the rigging. In land battles there is one purpose - kill many men at once.

I often think how I would perform in certain battles. Would I fight well? Run for the hills? I think that if I was being shot at by a tank or gun loaded with canister that I would run away crying (if I was still alive) faster than you could say "die sucka!"

I am sure many tanks were loaded with it, but one of the best uses I can think of historically was in the Pacific theater when the Americans and Aussies loaded up the Stuart tank with it for the intense closeup battles with the Japs. I believe Shermans in the Pacific were loaded with them too. The Russians and Germans also had it. Getting shot at with canister is obviously something that you just cannot imagine as if you were getting shot at with it you probably didn't live to tell about it. I tried to use Google images to find some interesting photos of it, but I couldn't find any, even of testing. I assume images of this being used in battle are rare to non existent as if you are that up close in the battle you probably have other things on your mind than taking a nice photograph.

The Abrams tank commanders have been screaming for a while to get a canister type shell developed for the M1A1 main battle tank. They (and I) think it would be a great weapon for the in tight unit sized battles in Iraq and Afghanistan. The army of Israel has been using one for some time now in their fights in cities. Well, the American tank commanders finally got their wish late last year. This version of the canister when used with the M1A1 Abrams shoots a quantity of 1100 tungsten balls (10mm diameter each ball). The balls are considered lethal out to 700 meters. Remember, this is a 120mm shell we are talking about here. Good luck to any concentrated groups of terrorists that get hit with one of those. Game over.

Here is a photo of the actual shell (called a M1028) and a cross section. Nasty. Photo credit here.

And, of course, a gratuitous photo of the business end of the M1A1. Now the Worlds Largest Shotgun.
Photo credit here.


Steven Den Beste said...

I think they used to prefer rounds loaded with fl├ęchettes for this kind of thing. I'm not so sure but that a big round loaded with balls isn't better, since you get more projectiles than with fl├ęchettes. If the gun is big enough and the round is designed well, you still get enough kinetic energy for lethality, and this way you get more chances to hit. (1100 chances, to be specific.)

homebru said...

This obviously calls for a Box Of Truth comparison of the tungsten ball versus flechette.

spankthatdonkey said...

Great Post!!! My first impression was the "War of Northern Agression" where both sides faced this terrifying type of fire!!!

I would imagine that the real "trick" with the Abrams, was to develop a round that would not scar the grooving in the barrel..

The tank is most famous for being deadly accurate on the move!!!

Big Hal said...

Scarring the grooves in the barrel isn't a concern with the M1A1 since the 120 is a smooth bore.

Flechettes were used in 'Beehive' rounds used in Vietnam. The Beehive round had a time fuze that allowed it disperse the flechettes at a predetermined distance from the tank. The fuze could be set for muzzle action or any range out to around 3000+ yards. Cannister by contrast is only muzzle action, this makes it a brutally simple round. If you want to know more you can ask the fine folks at

mostly cajun said...

The 105mm "Beehive" flechette round carried a whole lot more than 1100 projectiles, each about the size of an 8-penny finishing nail with tiny little stabilzing fins. I don't remember the exact number, but it was in excess of 4000. I will have to admit that the lethality of a 10-mm tungsten ball is going to be higher than an 8-penny finishing nail.

Tankers need this stuff...


Anonymous said...

From a former Army tank commander in Korea with M60A3TTS, and having actually fired the 105mm Beehive round during gunnery.
That's one fire command I won't forget. GUNNER-BEEHIVE TIME-TROOPS. As the gunner calls out the range and the loader sets the time delay, I try to control my laughter.
The flechettes in the old 105 beehive were packed in the warhead like sardines, half pointing forward and half rearward. I guess that allowed more of them to get packed in. You shoot it, and the time delay sets off a burster charge about a hundred feet before the set range. When the warhead breaks open, about a quarter of the flechettes fly out 45 degrees from path of flight. Must be the ones packed backward. The rest spread out in a big cone toward the targets. On a dusty range this is visually impressive, it looks like the ground is being pulverized in a big fan pattern.
We were shown some target effect pictures and HS videos, and those nails are designed to tumble upon impact. Even at long range, that means troops in the open are turned into something like hamburger.
So, getting hit by giant buckshot (canister) or getting shredded by flying nails (beehive flechette)? Neither one is a very pleasant choice.

Dan from Madison said...

Cool comment!

Mavis Wanczyk said...
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