Did Cannonballs explode? I saw that old thread btw...

I was wondering if exploding cannon balls were used specifically during the First Barbary Wars. Does anyone know?

Thanks in advance.

Exploding shells were one of many options:

According to that page the exploding shell was invented in 1784. It was a British invention, but my guess is that the technology had probably spread to the US military by the time of the Barbary Wars (1801-1815).

Interesting. Thanks Machine Elf. I’m reading Brian Kilmeade’s and Don Yaeger’s new book ‘Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates. The Forgotten War that changed American History’. Excellent read.

I’m wondering if anyone knows for sure if exploding shells we’re employed. Although I agree, that if the technology was available, it’s possible that the US Navy used. But, was hoping to find out definitively.

Exploding shell, is that the same as a cannonball? Shrapnel invented an anti personal ball/projectile shot from a cannon. But, was wondering if ‘exploding shells’ for the purpose of destroying ships, fortresses, etc., we’re around.

The first item on the list I linked to described “cannonball” as a solid spherical projectile, i.e. non-exploding.

The exploding one that I was thinking of was listed there as a Shrapnel shot or spherical-case shot. The description indicates that the explosion was intended to be just big enough to rupture the casing in mid-flight and cause the interior collection of small projectiles to scatter a bit; it does not appear to have been a high-explosive device intended to create a destructive shock wave that would damage structures. In other words, if one of these Shrapnel shells became lodged in the wall of a fortress before the explosive charge went off, then the end result would be a collection of small projectiles lodged in the same space in the fortress wall.

What I failed to notice on that list was the entry right below the Shrapnel shot, for “Shell” projectiles, which fit your description as something you’d use against infrastructure. Much more info there, showing that they have a long history; from that, it seems likely that high-explosive ordnance was in use during the Barbary Wars.

I think you may be right.

The wiki link you provided has a section that states:

By the 18th Century it was known that the fuse towards the muzzle could be lit by the flash through the windage between shell and barrel. At about this time shells began to be employed for horizontal fire from howitzers with a small propelling charge and in 1779 experiments demonstrated that they could be used from guns with heavier charges.
The use of exploding shells from field artillery became relatively commonplace from early in the 19th century. Until the mid 19th century, shells remained as simple exploding spheres that used gunpowder, set off by a slow burning fuse. They were usually made of cast iron, but bronze, lead, brass and even glass shell casings were experimented with.[5] The word bomb encompassed them at the time, as heard in the lyrics of The Star-Spangled Banner (“the bombs bursting in air”), although today that sense of bomb is obsolete. Typically the thickness of the metal body was about 1/6 their diameter and they were about 2/3s the weight of solid shot of the same calibre.
In order to ensure that shells were loaded with their fuses towards the muzzle they were attached to wooden bottoms called ‘sabots’. In 1819 a committee of British artillery officers recognised that they were essential stores and in 1830 Britain standardised sabot thickness as half inch.[6] The sabot was also intended to reduce jamming during loading. Despite the use of exploding shell, the use of smoothbore cannons, firing spherical projectiles of shot, remained the dominant artillery method until the 1850s.
Despite the use of exploding shell, the use of smoothbore cannons, firing spherical projectiles of shot, remained the dominant artillery method until the 1850s.*

Exploding shell - ammunition that worked like a grenade, exploding and sending shrapnel everywhere, either by a burning fuse which was cut to a calculated length depending on the range, or (after 1861) on contact with the target. Shells were often used in mortars, and specialized and reinforced “bomb vessels” (often ketch-rigged so there was less rigging to obstruct the high-angle mortar shell) were adapted to fire huge mortars for shore bombardment. The “bombs bursting in air” over Fort McHenry in the American national anthem were this type of projectile.

Any more info/insights are greatly appreciated. - Thanks Joe

:confused: “ketch-rigged”?

Let’s hop in the way-back machine and travel to the year 2000:

Do cannonballs explode?

I had been wondering about this question for awhile, and googling turned up a later thread that then led me to that one.

Likely: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ketch

Already hopped in. Hence the title of my post :wink:

In the year 1775, various ketches were utilized as warships by the Sultanate of Mysore during the rule of Hyder Ali.
During the 17th and 18th centuries, ketches were commonly used as small warships, until superseded in this role by brigs during the latter part of the 18th century. The ketch continued in use as a specialized vessel for carrying mortars until after the Napoleonic wars, in this application it was called a bomb ketch.
The original Atlantis, the seagoing research vessel of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute commissioned in 1931, was a steel-hulled ketch.[5] In 1989 Bruce Farr designed the Maxi ketch Steinlager 2, the first maxi yacht built of composite carbon construction. This revolutionary lightweight design went on to win the Whitbread Round the World Race in 1989/90.

Nitpick: “high explosive” is a specific term of art that shouldn’t really be applied to black powder weapons.

Well, there were “The Bombs Bursting in Air”.