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Military Policy & Weapons/Artillery shells and how much gunpowder constitutes of their mass


How many percent of the mass of an artillery shell usually ison average gunpowder used to get the shell moving?

Very Enjoyable question and one that I had to look up to answer. I presume that you are referring to the entire weight (mass) of the projectile with the case and propellant charge as mass. The brass case probably weighs only a couple of pounds for a 75 mm shell while the weight of a gas projectile with liquid filler is about 12 pounds. A high explosive shell would roughly be the same weight depending on whether it was filled with gun cotton, cast TNT or something else. The weight of the propellant is roughly 2 pounds, case 2 pounds, projectile 12 pounds. Hence the propellant is about 2/16 of the total mass or 12%.  

It would depend upon the projectile weight and use, but a few examples will follow:

1. A 105mm gas shell(This projectile is 4.13 In. in diameter and 15.73 inches in length without the nose fuze) has a projectile weight of about 37.77 pounds filled with mustard gas(a liquid in the shell. The mustard liquid agent weighs only 3.17 pounds, (the bulk of the weight being the steel)and the burster charge .21 lb. Comp B tetryl). With this shell the propellant charge is 2.75 lbs. Dualron (M-1 class powder having an 85-10-5 formulation).

2. A 155mm gas shell (6.1 inch in diameter by 26.95 inches with lifting ring) weighs 100 pounds with the gas fill. Propellant weight M3 powder 5.5 lbs.; M4 powder 13.1 lbs., M6 powder 20.5 lbs. (My guess is that the spread of propellant weights is probably due to the type of gun and the range distance the shell is intended for rather than the difference in energy produced by the different powders.)

3. Large projectiles, like those on battleships, 8 inch through 18 inch are usually used in bag guns. The propellant is in bags and the number of bags used varies with the distance to the target. Smaller deck guns and field artillery pieces have the projectile and propellant  powder preloaded into a brass or steel metallic case. These are called case guns.

4. Bag gun projectiles for navy ships may be armor piercing. Thus the shells are solid steel. a 12 inch projectile can weigh up to 900 pounds for example. The standard British 12 inch gun in WW I used cordite charges for the propellant. Cordite (Nitroglycerine nitro-cellulose double base smokeless gunpowder, extruded into thin strands looking like mechanical pencil lead.) It was then was braided like cord and wrapped in cylindrical bundles (Just under 12 inches in diameter) without bags. A quarter charge was a cordite bundle weighing 63 1/2 pounds. Presumably a full charge was four of these bundles inserted into the breach after the projectile. The explosively configured projectile weighed 850 pounds. The gun barrel was 40 calibre (i.e. 40 feet long). Muzzle velocity was 2612 feet per second. The range was 14 Kilometers or 15,000 yards. The Italian version fired a 919 lb. projectile.

Hope this helps.  

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Richard Albright


Questions on chemical weapons, explosive ordnance, environmental cleanup of military bases and ranges.


Military weapons and antique firearms expert. Remedial Project Manager for 7 years cleaning up world war one's second largest chemical weapons manufacturing site. 1st Lt. USAR Vietnam Era.

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Author: Cleanup of Chemical and Explosive Ordnance. Published by Elsevier. Made Science and Technology Best Seller List Geophyisical Prove-Outs for Munitions Response Projects 2004, by Interstate Technology and Regulatory Council (64 pages, contributing author). Small Arms Range Technology (SMART II) 2005, by Interstate Technology and Regulatory Council (70 pages, contributing author). Technical Guidance-Perchlorate 2005, by Interstate Technology and Regulatory Council (70 pages, contributing author).

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