Cordite

Cordite

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Cordite is a family of smokeless propellants
Smokeless powder
Smokeless powder is the name given to a number of propellants used in firearms and artillery which produce negligible smoke when fired, unlike the older gunpowder which they replaced...

 developed and produced in the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 from 1889 to replace gunpowder
Gunpowder
Gunpowder, also known since in the late 19th century as black powder, was the first chemical explosive and the only one known until the mid 1800s. It is a mixture of sulfur, charcoal, and potassium nitrate - with the sulfur and charcoal acting as fuels, while the saltpeter works as an oxidizer...

 as a military propellant. Like gunpowder, cordite is classified as a low explosive because of its slow burning rates and consequently low brisance
Brisance
Brisance is the shattering capability of an explosive. It is a measure of the rapidity with which an explosive develops its maximum pressure. The term originates from the French verb "briser", which means to break or shatter...

. These produce a subsonic deflagration
Deflagration
Deflagration is a term describing subsonic combustion that usually propagates through thermal conductivity; hot burning material heats the next layer of cold material and ignites it. Most "fire" found in daily life, from flames to explosions, is deflagration...

 wave rather than the supersonic detonation
Detonation
Detonation involves a supersonic exothermic front accelerating through a medium that eventually drives a shock front propagating directly in front of it. Detonations are observed in both conventional solid and liquid explosives, as well as in reactive gases...

 wave produced by brisants, or high explosives. The hot gases produced by burning gunpowder or cordite generate sufficient pressure to propel a bullet
Bullet
A bullet is a projectile propelled by a firearm, sling, or air gun. Bullets do not normally contain explosives, but damage the intended target by impact and penetration...

 or shell
Shell (projectile)
A shell is a payload-carrying projectile, which, as opposed to shot, contains an explosive or other filling, though modern usage sometimes includes large solid projectiles properly termed shot . Solid shot may contain a pyrotechnic compound if a tracer or spotting charge is used...

 to its target, but not enough to destroy the barrel
Gun barrel
A gun barrel is the tube, usually metal, through which a controlled explosion or rapid expansion of gases are released in order to propel a projectile out of the end at a high velocity....

 of the firearm
Firearm
A firearm is a weapon that launches one, or many, projectile at high velocity through confined burning of a propellant. This subsonic burning process is technically known as deflagration, as opposed to supersonic combustion known as a detonation. In older firearms, the propellant was typically...

, or gun
Gun
A gun is a muzzle or breech-loaded projectile-firing weapon. There are various definitions depending on the nation and branch of service. A "gun" may be distinguished from other firearms in being a crew-served weapon such as a howitzer or mortar, as opposed to a small arm like a rifle or pistol,...

.

Cordite was used initially in the .303 British
.303 British
.303 British, or 7.7x56mmR, is a .311 inch calibre rifle and machine gun cartridge first developed in Britain as a blackpowder round put into service in December 1888 for the Lee-Metford rifle, later adapted to use smokeless powders...

, Mark I and II, standard rifle
Rifle
A rifle is a firearm designed to be fired from the shoulder, with a barrel that has a helical groove or pattern of grooves cut into the barrel walls. The raised areas of the rifling are called "lands," which make contact with the projectile , imparting spin around an axis corresponding to the...

 cartridge between 1891 and 1915; however, shortages of cordite in World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 led to United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

–developed smokeless powders being imported into the UK for use in rifle cartridges. Cordite was also used for large weapons, such as tank gun
Tank gun
A tank gun is the main armament of a tank. Modern tank guns are large-caliber high-velocity guns, capable of firing kinetic energy penetrators, high explosive anti-tank rounds, and in some cases guided missiles. Anti-aircraft guns can also be mounted to tanks.-Overview:Tank guns are a specific...

s, artillery
Artillery
Originally applied to any group of infantry primarily armed with projectile weapons, artillery has over time become limited in meaning to refer only to those engines of war that operate by projection of munitions far beyond the range of effect of personal weapons...

 and naval guns. It has been used mainly for this purpose since the beginning of World War I by the UK and British Commonwealth
Commonwealth of Nations
The Commonwealth of Nations, normally referred to as the Commonwealth and formerly known as the British Commonwealth, is an intergovernmental organisation of fifty-four independent member states...

 countries. Its use was further developed in the early years of World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, and as 2 and 3 in (50.8 and 76.2 mm) Unrotated Projectile
Unrotated Projectile
The Unrotated Projectile, or UP, was a short range rocket-firing anti-aircraft weapon developed for the Royal Navy to supplement the 2 pounder Pom-Pom gun due to a critical lack of close-range anti-aircraft weapons. It was used extensively by British ships during the early days of World War II...

s for launching anti-aircraft weapons
Anti-aircraft warfare
NATO defines air defence as "all measures designed to nullify or reduce the effectiveness of hostile air action." They include ground and air based weapon systems, associated sensor systems, command and control arrangements and passive measures. It may be to protect naval, ground and air forces...

. Small cordite rocket charges were also developed for ejector seat
Ejector seat
In aircraft, an ejection seat is a system designed to rescue the pilot or other crew of an aircraft in an emergency. In most designs, the seat is propelled out of the aircraft by an explosive charge or rocket motor, carrying the pilot with it. The concept of an eject-able escape capsule has also...

s made by the Martin-Baker Company
Martin-Baker
Martin-Baker Aircraft Co. Ltd. is a manufacturer of ejection seats and safety related equipment for aviation. The company origins were as an aircraft manufacturer before becoming a pioneer in the field of ejection seats...

. Cordite was also used in the detonation system of the Little Boy
Little Boy
"Little Boy" was the codename of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 by the Boeing B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay, piloted by Colonel Paul Tibbets of the 393rd Bombardment Squadron, Heavy, of the United States Army Air Forces. It was the first atomic bomb to be used as a weapon...

 atomic
Nuclear weapon
A nuclear weapon is an explosive device that derives its destructive force from nuclear reactions, either fission or a combination of fission and fusion. Both reactions release vast quantities of energy from relatively small amounts of matter. The first fission bomb test released the same amount...

 bomb dropped over
Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki
During the final stages of World War II in 1945, the United States conducted two atomic bombings against the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, the first on August 6, 1945, and the second on August 9, 1945. These two events are the only use of nuclear weapons in war to date.For six months...

 Hiroshima
Hiroshima
is the capital of Hiroshima Prefecture, and the largest city in the Chūgoku region of western Honshu, the largest island of Japan. It became best known as the first city in history to be destroyed by a nuclear weapon when the United States Army Air Forces dropped an atomic bomb on it at 8:15 A.M...

 in August 1945.

Cordite is now obsolete, and it is no longer produced. It has been replaced by other propellants, such as the Improved Military Rifle (IMR)
Improved Military Rifle (IMR)
Improved Military Rifle describes a series of tubular nitrocellulose smokeless powders evolved from World War I through World War II for loading military and commercial ammunition and sold to private citizens for reloading rifle ammunition for hunting and target shooting...

 line of extruded powder or the WC844 ball propellant currently in use in the 5.56×45mm NATO. Production ceased in the United Kingdom, around the end of the 20th century, with the closure of the last of the World War II cordite factories, ROF Bishopton
ROF Bishopton
The Royal Ordnance Factory Bishopton was a UK Ministry of Supply, World War II, Explosive ROF. It is sited adjacent to the town of Bishopton, Renfrewshire, in Scotland....

. However, cordite propellant may still be encountered in the form of legacy ammunition dating from World War II onwards. The smell of cordite is frequently referenced (erroneously) in fiction to indicate the recent firing of weapons.

Replacements for gunpowder (black powder)


Gunpowder
Gunpowder
Gunpowder, also known since in the late 19th century as black powder, was the first chemical explosive and the only one known until the mid 1800s. It is a mixture of sulfur, charcoal, and potassium nitrate - with the sulfur and charcoal acting as fuels, while the saltpeter works as an oxidizer...

, an explosive mixture of sulfur
Sulfur
Sulfur or sulphur is the chemical element with atomic number 16. In the periodic table it is represented by the symbol S. It is an abundant, multivalent non-metal. Under normal conditions, sulfur atoms form cyclic octatomic molecules with chemical formula S8. Elemental sulfur is a bright yellow...

, charcoal
Charcoal
Charcoal is the dark grey residue consisting of carbon, and any remaining ash, obtained by removing water and other volatile constituents from animal and vegetation substances. Charcoal is usually produced by slow pyrolysis, the heating of wood or other substances in the absence of oxygen...

 and potassium nitrate
Potassium nitrate
Potassium nitrate is a chemical compound with the formula KNO3. It is an ionic salt of potassium ions K+ and nitrate ions NO3−.It occurs as a mineral niter and is a natural solid source of nitrogen. Its common names include saltpetre , from medieval Latin sal petræ: "stone salt" or possibly "Salt...

 (also known as saltpetre/saltpeter), was the original gun propellant employed in firearms and fireworks
Fireworks
Fireworks are a class of explosive pyrotechnic devices used for aesthetic and entertainment purposes. The most common use of a firework is as part of a fireworks display. A fireworks event is a display of the effects produced by firework devices...

. It was used from about 10th or 11th century onwards, but had a number of disadvantages, including the large quantity of smoke it produced. With the 19th-century development of various "nitro explosives", based on the reaction of nitric acid
Nitric acid
Nitric acid , also known as aqua fortis and spirit of nitre, is a highly corrosive and toxic strong acid.Colorless when pure, older samples tend to acquire a yellow cast due to the accumulation of oxides of nitrogen. If the solution contains more than 86% nitric acid, it is referred to as fuming...

 mixtures on materials such as cellulose
Cellulose
Cellulose is an organic compound with the formula , a polysaccharide consisting of a linear chain of several hundred to over ten thousand β linked D-glucose units....

 and glycerine, a search began for a replacement for gunpowder.

Early European smokeless powders


The first smokeless powder was developed in 1884 by the French
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 chemist Paul Vieille. It was made out of collodion
Collodion
Collodion is a flammable, syrupy solution of pyroxylin in ether and alcohol. There are two basic types; flexible and non-flexible. The flexible type is often used as a surgical dressing or to hold dressings in place. When painted on the skin, collodion dries to form a flexible cellulose film...

 (nitrocellulose
Nitrocellulose
Nitrocellulose is a highly flammable compound formed by nitrating cellulose through exposure to nitric acid or another powerful nitrating agent. When used as a propellant or low-order explosive, it is also known as guncotton...

 dissolved in ethanol
Ethanol
Ethanol, also called ethyl alcohol, pure alcohol, grain alcohol, or drinking alcohol, is a volatile, flammable, colorless liquid. It is a psychoactive drug and one of the oldest recreational drugs. Best known as the type of alcohol found in alcoholic beverages, it is also used in thermometers, as a...

 and ether
Diethyl ether
Diethyl ether, also known as ethyl ether, simply ether, or ethoxyethane, is an organic compound in the ether class with the formula . It is a colorless, highly volatile flammable liquid with a characteristic odor...

) resulting into a plastic colloidal substance which was rolled into very thin sheets, then dried and cut up into small flakes. It was immediately adopted by the French military for their Mle 1886 infantry rifle and called "Poudre B
Poudre B
Poudre B : was the first practical smokeless gunpowder. Originally called "Poudre V" from the name of the inventor, Paul Vieille, it was later renamed "Poudre B" to distract German espionage...

". The rifle and the cartridge developed to utilize this powder were known generically as the 8mm Lebel, after the officer who developed its 8mm full metal jacket bullet
Full metal jacket bullet
A full metal jacket is a bullet consisting of a soft core encased in a shell of harder metal, such as gilding metal, cupronickel or less commonly a steel alloy. This shell can extend around all of the bullet, or often just the front and sides with the rear left as exposed lead...

.

The following year, 1887, Alfred Nobel
Alfred Nobel
Alfred Bernhard Nobel was a Swedish chemist, engineer, innovator, and armaments manufacturer. He is the inventor of dynamite. Nobel also owned Bofors, which he had redirected from its previous role as primarily an iron and steel producer to a major manufacturer of cannon and other armaments...

 invented and patent
Patent
A patent is a form of intellectual property. It consists of a set of exclusive rights granted by a sovereign state to an inventor or their assignee for a limited period of time in exchange for the public disclosure of an invention....

ed a smokeless propellant he called Ballistite
Ballistite
Ballistite is a smokeless propellant made from two high explosives, nitrocellulose and nitroglycerine. It was developed and patented by Alfred Nobel in the late 19th century.-The development of smokeless powders:...

. It was composed of 10% camphor
Camphor
Camphor is a waxy, white or transparent solid with a strong, aromatic odor. It is a terpenoid with the chemical formula C10H16O. It is found in wood of the camphor laurel , a large evergreen tree found in Asia and also of Dryobalanops aromatica, a giant of the Bornean forests...

, 45% nitroglycerine and 45% collodion (nitrocellulose). Over time the camphor tended to evaporate, leaving an unstable explosive.

Development of cordite


A United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 government committee, known as the "Explosives Committee", chaired by Sir Frederick Abel
Frederick Augustus Abel
-External links:...

, monitored foreign developments in explosives and obtained samples of Poudre B and Ballistite. However, neither of these smokeless powders were recommended for adoption by the Explosives Committee.

Abel and Sir James Dewar
James Dewar
Sir James Dewar FRS was a Scottish chemist and physicist. He is probably best-known today for his invention of the Dewar flask, which he used in conjunction with extensive research into the liquefaction of gases...

, who was also on the committee, developed and jointly patented in 1889 a new ballistite-like propellant consisting of 58% nitroglycerine, by weight, 37% guncotton (nitrocellulose) and 5% vaseline
Petroleum jelly
Petroleum jelly, petrolatum, white petrolatum or soft paraffin, CAS number 8009-03-8, is a semi-solid mixture of hydrocarbons , originally promoted as a topical ointment for its healing properties...

. Using acetone
Acetone
Acetone is the organic compound with the formula 2CO, a colorless, mobile, flammable liquid, the simplest example of the ketones.Acetone is miscible with water and serves as an important solvent in its own right, typically as the solvent of choice for cleaning purposes in the laboratory...

 as a solvent
Solvent
A solvent is a liquid, solid, or gas that dissolves another solid, liquid, or gaseous solute, resulting in a solution that is soluble in a certain volume of solvent at a specified temperature...

, it was extruded as spaghetti
Spaghetti
Spaghetti is a long, thin, cylindrical pasta of Italian origin. Spaghetti is made of semolina or flour and water. Italian dried spaghetti is made from durum wheat semolina, but outside of Italy it may be made with other kinds of flour...

-like rods initially called "cord powder" or "the Committee's modification of Ballistite" but this was swiftly abbreviated to "Cordite".

Cordite began as a double-base propellant and later triple-base cordites were developed. Cordite was made by combining two high explosives: nitrocellulose
Nitrocellulose
Nitrocellulose is a highly flammable compound formed by nitrating cellulose through exposure to nitric acid or another powerful nitrating agent. When used as a propellant or low-order explosive, it is also known as guncotton...

 and nitroglycerine. Whilst cordite is classified as an explosive, it is not employed as a high explosive. It is designed to deflagrate
Deflagration
Deflagration is a term describing subsonic combustion that usually propagates through thermal conductivity; hot burning material heats the next layer of cold material and ignites it. Most "fire" found in daily life, from flames to explosions, is deflagration...

, or burn, to produce high pressure gases.

Nobel and Abel patent dispute


Alfred Bernhard Nobel sued Abel and Dewar over an alleged patent
Patent
A patent is a form of intellectual property. It consists of a set of exclusive rights granted by a sovereign state to an inventor or their assignee for a limited period of time in exchange for the public disclosure of an invention....

 infringement. His patent specified that the nitrocellulose should be "of the well-known soluble kind". After losing the case, it went to the Court of Appeal
Court of Appeal of England and Wales
The Court of Appeal of England and Wales is the second most senior court in the English legal system, with only the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom above it...

. This dispute eventually reached the House of Lords
House of Lords
The House of Lords is the upper house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Like the House of Commons, it meets in the Palace of Westminster....

, in 1895, but was finally lost because the words "of the well-known soluble kind" in his patent were taken to mean the soluble collodion, and hence specifically excluded the insoluble guncotton. The ambiguous phrase was "soluble nitro-cellulose": soluble nitro-cellulose was known as Collodion and was soluble in alcohol
Alcohol
In chemistry, an alcohol is an organic compound in which the hydroxy functional group is bound to a carbon atom. In particular, this carbon center should be saturated, having single bonds to three other atoms....

. It was employed mainly for medical and photograph
Photograph
A photograph is an image created by light falling on a light-sensitive surface, usually photographic film or an electronic imager such as a CCD or a CMOS chip. Most photographs are created using a camera, which uses a lens to focus the scene's visible wavelengths of light into a reproduction of...

ic use. In contrast, insoluble, in alcohol, nitrocellulose was known as gun cotton and was used as an explosive. Nobel's patent refers to the production of Celluloid
Celluloid
Celluloid is the name of a class of compounds created from nitrocellulose and camphor, plus dyes and other agents. Generally regarded to be the first thermoplastic, it was first created as Parkesine in 1862 and as Xylonite in 1869, before being registered as Celluloid in 1870. Celluloid is...

 using camphor
Camphor
Camphor is a waxy, white or transparent solid with a strong, aromatic odor. It is a terpenoid with the chemical formula C10H16O. It is found in wood of the camphor laurel , a large evergreen tree found in Asia and also of Dryobalanops aromatica, a giant of the Bornean forests...

 and soluble nitrocellulose; and this was taken to imply that Nobel was specifically distinguishing between the use of soluble and insoluble nitrocellulose.

Cordite formulations


It was quickly discovered that the rate of burning could be varied by altering the surface area of the cordite. Narrow rods were used in small-arms and gave relatively fast burning, while thicker rods would burn more slowly and were used for longer barrels, such as those used in artillery and naval guns.

Cordite (Mk I) and Cordite MD


The original Abel-Dewar formulation was soon superseded, as it caused excessive gun barrel
Gun barrel
A gun barrel is the tube, usually metal, through which a controlled explosion or rapid expansion of gases are released in order to propel a projectile out of the end at a high velocity....

 erosion. It has since become known as Cordite Mk I.

The composition of cordite was changed to 65% guncotton and 30% nitroglycerine (keeping 5% vaseline) shortly after the end of the Second Boer War
Second Boer War
The Second Boer War was fought from 11 October 1899 until 31 May 1902 between the British Empire and the Afrikaans-speaking Dutch settlers of two independent Boer republics, the South African Republic and the Orange Free State...

. This was known as Cordite MD (= MoDified).

Cordite MD cartridges typically weighed approximately 15% more than the cordite Mk I cartridges they replaced, to achieve the same muzzle velocity, due to the inherently less powerful nature of Cordite MD.

Cordite RDB


During World War I acetone was in short supply in Great Britain, and a new experimental form was developed for use by the Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

. This was Cordite RDB (= Research Department formula B); which was 52% collodion
Collodion
Collodion is a flammable, syrupy solution of pyroxylin in ether and alcohol. There are two basic types; flexible and non-flexible. The flexible type is often used as a surgical dressing or to hold dressings in place. When painted on the skin, collodion dries to form a flexible cellulose film...

, 42% nitroglycerine and 6% Vaseline
Vaseline
Vaseline is a brand of petroleum jelly based products owned by Anglo-Dutch company Unilever. Products include plain petroleum jelly and a selection of skin creams, soaps, lotions, cleansers, deodorants and personal lubricants....

 (petroleum jelly
Petroleum jelly
Petroleum jelly, petrolatum, white petrolatum or soft paraffin, CAS number 8009-03-8, is a semi-solid mixture of hydrocarbons , originally promoted as a topical ointment for its healing properties...

). It was produced at HM Factory, Gretna
HM Factory, Gretna
His Majesty's Factory, Gretna, or H.M. Factory, Gretna as it was usually known, was a UK government World War I Cordite factory, adjacent to the Solway Firth, near Gretna, Dumfries and Galloway...

; and the Royal Navy Cordite Factory, Holton Heath
Royal Navy Cordite Factory, Holton Heath
The Royal Navy Cordite Factory, Holton Heath, , was set up at Holton Heath, Dorset in World War I to manufacture Cordite for the Royal Navy. It was reactivated in World War II to manufacture gun propellants for the Admiralty and its output was supplemented by the Royal Navy Propellant Factory,...

.

Acetone for the cordite industry during late World War I was eventually produced through the efforts of Dr.Chaim Weizmann
Chaim Weizmann
Chaim Azriel Weizmann, , was a Zionist leader, President of the Zionist Organization, and the first President of the State of Israel. He was elected on 1 February 1949, and served until his death in 1952....

, considered to be the father of industrial fermentation. While a lecturer at Manchester University
Victoria University of Manchester
The Victoria University of Manchester was a university in Manchester, England. On 1 October 2004 it merged with the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology to form a new entity, "The University of Manchester".-1851 - 1951:The University was founded in 1851 as Owens College,...

 Weizmann discovered how to use bacterial fermentation to produce large quantities of many desired substances. He used the bacterium Clostridium acetobutylicum
Clostridium acetobutylicum
Clostridium acetobutylicum, ATCC 824, is included in the genus Clostridium, is a commercially valuable bacterium sometimes called the "Weizmann Organism", after Jewish-Russian born Chaim Weizmann, then senior lecturer at the University of Manchester, England, used them in 1916 as a bio-chemical...

 (the so-called Weizmann organism) to produce acetone. Weizmann transferred the rights to the manufacture of acetone to the Commercial Solvents Corporation in exchange for royalties. After the Shell Crisis of 1915
Shell Crisis of 1915
The Shell Crisis of 1915 was a shortage of artillery shells on the front lines of World War I, which largely contributed to weakening public appreciation of government of the United Kingdom because it was widely perceived that the production of artillery shells for use by the British Army was...

 during World War I, he was director of the British Admiralty Laboratories from 1916 until 1919.

Cordite RDB was later found to become unstable if stored too long.

Cordite SC


Research on solvent-free Cordite RDB continued primarily on the addition of stabilizers, which led to the type commonly used in World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

 onwards. In Great Britain this was known as Cordite SC (= Solventless Cordite). Cordite SC was produced in different shapes and sizes, so the particular geometry
Geometry
Geometry arose as the field of knowledge dealing with spatial relationships. Geometry was one of the two fields of pre-modern mathematics, the other being the study of numbers ....

 of Cordite SC was indicated by the use of letters or numbers, or both, after the SC. For example, SC followed by a number was rod-shaped cord, with the number representing the diameter in thou
Thou (unit of length)
A thou also known as a mil or point, is the verbalized abbreviation for "thousandth of an inch." It is a unit of length equal to 0.001 inch....

sandths of an inch. "SC T" followed by two sets of numbers indicated tubular propellant, with the numbers representing the two diameters in thousandths.

Two-inch (approximately 50 mm) and three-inch (approximately 75 mm) diameter, rocket Cordite SC charges were developed in great secrecy in the later stages of World War II for anti-aircraft purposes—the so-called Z-gun batteries, utilising Unrotated Projectile
Unrotated Projectile
The Unrotated Projectile, or UP, was a short range rocket-firing anti-aircraft weapon developed for the Royal Navy to supplement the 2 pounder Pom-Pom gun due to a critical lack of close-range anti-aircraft weapons. It was used extensively by British ships during the early days of World War II...

s.

Great Britain changed to metric
Metric system
The metric system is an international decimalised system of measurement. France was first to adopt a metric system, in 1799, and a metric system is now the official system of measurement, used in almost every country in the world...

 units in the 1960s, so there was a discontinuity in the propellant geometry numbering system.

Cordite N


An important development during World War II was the addition of another explosive, nitroguanidine
Nitroguanidine
Nitroguanidine is a chemical compound. It is a colorless, crystalline solid. It melts at 232 °C and decomposes at 250 °C. It is not flammable and is an extremely low sensitivity explosive; however, its detonation velocity is high.-Manufacture:...

, to the mixture to form triple-base propellant or Cordite N. This solved two problems with the large naval guns of the day as fitted to capital ship
Capital ship
The capital ships of a navy are its most important warships; they generally possess the heaviest firepower and armor and are traditionally much larger than other naval vessels...

s. Nitroguanidine produces large amounts of nitrogen
Nitrogen
Nitrogen is a chemical element that has the symbol N, atomic number of 7 and atomic mass 14.00674 u. Elemental nitrogen is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, and mostly inert diatomic gas at standard conditions, constituting 78.08% by volume of Earth's atmosphere...

 when heated, which had the benefit of reducing the muzzle flash, and its lower burning temperature greatly reduced the erosion of the gun barrel.

UK Government factories


In Great Britain cordite was developed for military use at the Royal Arsenal
Royal Arsenal
The Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, originally known as the Woolwich Warren, carried out armaments manufacture, ammunition proofing and explosives research for the British armed forces. It was sited on the south bank of the River Thames in Woolwich in south-east London, England.-Early history:The Warren...

, Woolwich
Woolwich
Woolwich is a district in south London, England, located in the London Borough of Greenwich. The area is identified in the London Plan as one of 35 major centres in Greater London.Woolwich formed part of Kent until 1889 when the County of London was created...

, and at the Waltham Abbey Royal Gunpowder Mills
Waltham Abbey Royal Gunpowder Mills
The Royal Gunpowder Mills, Waltham Abbey, an Anchor Point of the European Route of Industrial Heritage, , set in of parkland and containing 21 buildings of major historical importance, mixes history, science, and attractive surroundings...

 from 1889 onwards.

In World War I a great cordite factory, HM Factory, Gretna
HM Factory, Gretna
His Majesty's Factory, Gretna, or H.M. Factory, Gretna as it was usually known, was a UK government World War I Cordite factory, adjacent to the Solway Firth, near Gretna, Dumfries and Galloway...

, which straddled the Scotland
Scotland
Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Occupying the northern third of the island of Great Britain, it shares a border with England to the south and is bounded by the North Sea to the east, the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, and the North Channel and Irish Sea to the...

-England border at Gretna was opened to manufacture cordite for the British Army
British Army
The British Army is the land warfare branch of Her Majesty's Armed Forces in the United Kingdom. It came into being with the unification of the Kingdom of England and Scotland into the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707. The new British Army incorporated Regiments that had already existed in England...

 and for British Commonwealth forces. A separate factory, The Royal Navy Cordite Factory, Holton Heath
Royal Navy Cordite Factory, Holton Heath
The Royal Navy Cordite Factory, Holton Heath, , was set up at Holton Heath, Dorset in World War I to manufacture Cordite for the Royal Navy. It was reactivated in World War II to manufacture gun propellants for the Admiralty and its output was supplemented by the Royal Navy Propellant Factory,...

, was opened to manufacture cordite for the Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

. Both the Gretna and the Holton Heath cordite factories closed at the end of World War I; and the Gretna factory was demolished.

By the start of World War II Holton Heath had reopened, and an additional factory for the Royal Navy, The Royal Navy Propellant Factory, Caerwent
Royal Navy Propellant Factory, Caerwent
The Royal Navy Propellant Factory, Caerwent, Monmouthshire, UK, was dedicated to the manufacture of explosives or the storage of ammunition from 1939 to 1993....

, opened at Caerwent
Caerwent
Caerwent is a village and community in Monmouthshire, Wales. It is located about five miles west of Chepstow and eleven miles east of Newport, and was founded by the Romans as the market town of Venta Silurum, an important settlement of the Brythonic Silures tribe. The modern village is built...

 in Wales
Wales
Wales is a country that is part of the United Kingdom and the island of Great Britain, bordered by England to its east and the Atlantic Ocean and Irish Sea to its west. It has a population of three million, and a total area of 20,779 km²...

. A very large Royal Ordnance Factory
Royal Ordnance Factory
Royal Ordnance Factories was the collective name of the UK government's munitions factories in and after World War II. Until privatisation in 1987 they were the responsibility of the Ministry of Supply and later the Ministry of Defence....

, ROF Bishopton, was opened in Scotland to manufacture cordite for the British Army and the Royal Air Force. A new cordite factory at Waltham Abbey and two additional ROF's—ROF Ranskill
ROF Ranskill
The Royal Ordnance Factory Ranskill was a UK Ministry of Supply, World War II, Explosive ROF. It was located adjacent to what is now known as the East Coast Main Line railway at Ranskill, Nottinghamshire, just north of the town of Retford....

 and ROF Wrexham—were also opened. Cordite produced in these factories was sent to Filling Factories
Filling Factories
A Filling Factory was a munitions factory which specialised in filling various munitions, such as bombs, shells, cartridges, pyrotechnics, screening smokes, etc...

 for filling into ammunition.

MoS Agency Factories and ICI Nobel in World War II


The British Government set up additional cordite factories, not under Royal Ordnance Factory control but as Agency Factories run on behalf of the Ministry of Supply
Ministry of Supply
The Ministry of Supply was a department of the UK Government formed in 1939 to co-ordinate the supply of equipment to all three British armed forces, headed by the Minister of Supply. There was, however, a separate ministry responsible for aircraft production and the Admiralty retained...

 (MoS). The company of ICI Nobel, at Ardeer, was asked in 1939 to construct and operate six factories in southern Scotland. Four of these six were involved in cordite or firearm-propellant manufacture. The works at MoS Drungans (Dumfries
Dumfries
Dumfries is a market town and former royal burgh within the Dumfries and Galloway council area of Scotland. It is near the mouth of the River Nith into the Solway Firth. Dumfries was the county town of the former county of Dumfriesshire. Dumfries is nicknamed Queen of the South...

) produced guncotton that was converted to cordite at MoS Dalbeattie (triple-base cordite) and at MoS Powfoot (monobase granulated guncotton for small-arms). A smaller site at Girvan, South Ayrshire, now occupied by Grant's distillery, produced cordite and TNT. The ICI Ardeer site also had a mothballed World War I Government-owned cordite factory.

35% of British cordite produced between 1942 and 1945 came from Ardeer and these agency factories. ICI ran a similar works at Deer Park near Melbourne in Australia and in South Africa
South Africa
The Republic of South Africa is a country in southern Africa. Located at the southern tip of Africa, it is divided into nine provinces, with of coastline on the Atlantic and Indian oceans...

.

Overseas supplies


Additional sources of propellant were also sought from the British Commonwealth in both World War I and World War II. Canada
Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

, South Africa and Australia, had ICI-owned factories that, in particular, supplied large quantities of cordite.

World War I


Canadian Explosives Limited
Canadian Industries Limited
Canadian Industries Limited, also known as C-I-L is a Canadian chemicals manufacturer. Products include paints, fertilizers and pesticides, and explosives. It was formed in 1910 by the merger of five Canadian explosives companies...

 was formed in 1910 to produce rifle
Rifle
A rifle is a firearm designed to be fired from the shoulder, with a barrel that has a helical groove or pattern of grooves cut into the barrel walls. The raised areas of the rifling are called "lands," which make contact with the projectile , imparting spin around an axis corresponding to the...

 cordite, at its Beloeil
Beloeil, Quebec
Belœil is a city in southwestern Quebec, Canada on the Richelieu River, east of Montreal. The population as of the Canada 2006 Census was 18,927. It is part of the Regional County Municipality of La Vallée-du-Richelieu, within the Administrative Region of Montérégie. It occupies the west shore...

 factory, for the Quebec
Quebec
Quebec or is a province in east-central Canada. It is the only Canadian province with a predominantly French-speaking population and the only one whose sole official language is French at the provincial level....

 Arsenal
Arsenal
An arsenal is a place where arms and ammunition are made, maintained and repaired, stored, issued to authorized users, or any combination of those...

. By November 1915 production had been expanded to produce 350,000 lb (159,000 kg) of cordite per month for the Imperial Munitions Board
Imperial Munitions Board
The Imperial Munitions Board was a national agency, set up in Canada under the chairmanship of Joseph Wesley Flavelle by the British War Cabinet to alleviate the Shell Crisis of 1915 during the First World War...

.

The Imperial Munitions Board set up a number of additional explosives factories in Canada
Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

. It built The British Cordite Ltd factory at Nobel, Ontario
Nobel, Ontario
Nobel is a village located on the shores of Parry Sound, Ontario, Canada. It is located in the Municipality of McDougall in the District of Parry Sound. The community is named after Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite....

, in 1916/1917, to produce cordite. Production started in mid-1917.

Canadian Explosives Limited built an additional cordite factory at Nobel, Ontario. Work stated in February 1918 and was finished on 24 August 1918. It was designed to produce 1,500,000 lb (681,000 kg) of cordite per month.

World War II


The United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 did not use cordite, however, several ammunition filling factories were set up in Canada in World War II to fill American propellant supplied by the USA under Lend-Lease
Lend-Lease
Lend-Lease was the program under which the United States of America supplied the United Kingdom, the Soviet Union, China, Free France, and other Allied nations with materiel between 1941 and 1945. It was signed into law on March 11, 1941, a year and a half after the outbreak of war in Europe in...

. India
India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

, Pakistan
Pakistan
Pakistan , officially the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is a sovereign state in South Asia. It has a coastline along the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman in the south and is bordered by Afghanistan and Iran in the west, India in the east and China in the far northeast. In the north, Tajikistan...

 and Australia
Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

 were also approached. Cordite was used in "Little Boy
Little Boy
"Little Boy" was the codename of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945 by the Boeing B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay, piloted by Colonel Paul Tibbets of the 393rd Bombardment Squadron, Heavy, of the United States Army Air Forces. It was the first atomic bomb to be used as a weapon...

", the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan during World War II. A modified anti-aircraft cannon barrel using cordite fired one subcritical piece of U-235 together with another to form a supercritical mass.

Production quantities


Large quantities of cordite were manufactured in both World Wars for use by the military.

Pre–World War I


Prior to World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

, most of the cordite used by the British Government was produced in its own factories. Immediately prior to World War I, between 6,000 and 8,000 tons per year of cordite were produced in the United Kingdom by private manufacturers; between 1,000 and 1,500 tons per year were made by Nobel's Explosives
Nobel Enterprises
Nobel Enterprises is a chemicals business based at Ardeer, near to the North Ayrshire town of Stevenston in Scotland. It specialises in nitrogen-based propellants and explosives and nitrocellulose-based products such as varnishes and inks...

, at Ardeer. However, private industry had the capability to produce about 10,000 tons per year, with Ardeer able to produce some 3,000 tons of this total.

World War I


At the start of World War I, private industry in the UK was asked to produce 16,000 tons of cordite, and all the companies started to expand. HM Factory, Gretna
HM Factory, Gretna
His Majesty's Factory, Gretna, or H.M. Factory, Gretna as it was usually known, was a UK government World War I Cordite factory, adjacent to the Solway Firth, near Gretna, Dumfries and Galloway...

, the largest propellant factory in the United Kingdom, which opened in 1916, was by 1917 producing 800 ton
Ton
The ton is a unit of measure. It has a long history and has acquired a number of meanings and uses over the years. It is used principally as a unit of weight, and as a unit of volume. It can also be used as a measure of energy, for truck classification, or as a colloquial term.It is derived from...

s (812 tonne
Tonne
The tonne, known as the metric ton in the US , often put pleonastically as "metric tonne" to avoid confusion with ton, is a metric system unit of mass equal to 1000 kilograms. The tonne is not an International System of Units unit, but is accepted for use with the SI...

) of Cordite RDB per week (approximately 41,600 tons per year). The Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

 had its own factory at Holton Heath
Royal Navy Cordite Factory, Holton Heath
The Royal Navy Cordite Factory, Holton Heath, , was set up at Holton Heath, Dorset in World War I to manufacture Cordite for the Royal Navy. It was reactivated in World War II to manufacture gun propellants for the Admiralty and its output was supplemented by the Royal Navy Propellant Factory,...

.

In 1910, Canadian Explosives Limited
Canadian Industries Limited
Canadian Industries Limited, also known as C-I-L is a Canadian chemicals manufacturer. Products include paints, fertilizers and pesticides, and explosives. It was formed in 1910 by the merger of five Canadian explosives companies...

 produced 3,000 lb (1,362 kg) of rifle
Rifle
A rifle is a firearm designed to be fired from the shoulder, with a barrel that has a helical groove or pattern of grooves cut into the barrel walls. The raised areas of the rifling are called "lands," which make contact with the projectile , imparting spin around an axis corresponding to the...

 cordite per month at its Beloeil
Beloeil, Quebec
Belœil is a city in southwestern Quebec, Canada on the Richelieu River, east of Montreal. The population as of the Canada 2006 Census was 18,927. It is part of the Regional County Municipality of La Vallée-du-Richelieu, within the Administrative Region of Montérégie. It occupies the west shore...

 factory, for the Quebec
Quebec
Quebec or is a province in east-central Canada. It is the only Canadian province with a predominantly French-speaking population and the only one whose sole official language is French at the provincial level....

 Arsenal
Arsenal
An arsenal is a place where arms and ammunition are made, maintained and repaired, stored, issued to authorized users, or any combination of those...

. By November 1915 production had been expanded to 350,000 lb (159,000 kg) of cordite per month (approximately 1,900 tonnes per year).
The Canadian Explosives Limited
Canadian Industries Limited
Canadian Industries Limited, also known as C-I-L is a Canadian chemicals manufacturer. Products include paints, fertilizers and pesticides, and explosives. It was formed in 1910 by the merger of five Canadian explosives companies...

 cordite factory at Nobel, Ontario
Nobel, Ontario
Nobel is a village located on the shores of Parry Sound, Ontario, Canada. It is located in the Municipality of McDougall in the District of Parry Sound. The community is named after Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite....

 was designed to produce 1,500,000 lb (681 tonne) of cordite per month (approximately 8,170 tonnes per year).

Between wars


HM Factory, Gretna
HM Factory, Gretna
His Majesty's Factory, Gretna, or H.M. Factory, Gretna as it was usually known, was a UK government World War I Cordite factory, adjacent to the Solway Firth, near Gretna, Dumfries and Galloway...

 and the Royal Navy Cordite Factory, Holton Heath
Royal Navy Cordite Factory, Holton Heath
The Royal Navy Cordite Factory, Holton Heath, , was set up at Holton Heath, Dorset in World War I to manufacture Cordite for the Royal Navy. It was reactivated in World War II to manufacture gun propellants for the Admiralty and its output was supplemented by the Royal Navy Propellant Factory,...

 both closed after the end of the war and the Gretna factory was dismantled. This left the Waltham Abbey and Ardeer factories in production.

Uses in Popular culture



In honour of the military uses of cordite, the Royal Military College of Canada
Royal Military College of Canada
The Royal Military College of Canada, RMC, or RMCC , is the military academy of the Canadian Forces, and is a degree-granting university. RMC was established in 1876. RMC is the only federal institution in Canada with degree granting powers...

's mechanical engineering department built a ship and named it Cordite for use in thermodynamic research.

In both the book
The Day of the Jackal
The Day of the Jackal is a thriller novel by English writer Frederick Forsyth, about a professional assassin who is contracted by the OAS, a French terrorist group of the early 1960s, to kill Charles de Gaulle, the President of France....

 and film
The Day of the Jackal (film)
The Day of the Jackal is a 1973 Anglo-French film, set in August 1963 and based on the novel of the same name by Frederick Forsyth. Directed by Fred Zinnemann, it stars Edward Fox as the assassin known only as "the Jackal" who is hired to assassinate Charles de Gaulle.- Synopsis :The film opens...

 of Frederick Forsyth
Frederick Forsyth
Frederick Forsyth, CBE is an English author and occasional political commentator. He is best known for thrillers such as The Day of the Jackal, The Odessa File, The Fourth Protocol, The Dogs of War, The Devil's Alternative, The Fist of God, Icon, The Veteran, Avenger, The Afghan and The Cobra.-...

's The Day Of The Jackal the assassin chews cordite to give his complexion a grey pallor so that he might impersonate an aged veteran.