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.