When a shell explodes, it isn’t usually the explosion part that gets you. It’s the shapnel. Shrapnel takes its name from Henry Shrapnel, an English artillery officer who invented a bursting shell designed to produce a huge number of deadly fragments.

Many times, pieces of shrapnel are small and loose their speed and energy at relatively short ranges, as little as 5 meters. Sometimes though, you get bigger pieces. They go a little further. For instance:


Flashback to 1989. I’m new to my unit in Germany. We are on the range at Grafenwoehr. I’m wating my turn to shoot and talking with the CO and the First Sergeant, the usual “getting to know you” stuff. We hear a buzz and a “thunk”. Close. REAL Close. A chunk of shrapnel about 11/2″ by 6″ smacked into the ground about four feet away.  Just so you know, shrapnel isn’t supposed to be landing here. It’s a major no-no. My CO absentmindedly bent over to pick it up. The First Sergeant and I were too slow to stop him. It burnt the hell out of his hand.

Turns out that one of the artillery units firing that day had made some sort of error, either in plotting where they were shooting, or in putting too much or too little powder behind the shell. All I know is that the closest I ever came from getting killed by shrapnel was by our own side.

4 thoughts on “Shrapnel”

  1. Living near Ft. Hood we usually hear more about accidents during training than your average guy would. It’s dangerous stuff, the Army has some pretty serious toys that are designed to kill people and break things. A mistake or a moment of carelessness can have some pretty ugly consequences.

  2. Dave, it happens more than we would like, because we have humans involved. Murphy is determined to pop up from time to time. When I was in Hawaii, the artillery used a range with a mountain as the backstop. They screwed up badly one time and forgot to reduce the charge for a shell. It went clean over the mountain and blew up some poor farmers barn.

    And the artillery isn’t the only folks who screw up. Back in 92 or 93, a Bradley commander mistook his own dismounts for pop-up targets (at Hood, IIRC) and laid a long stream of coax fire on them, killing and wounding several people.

    My own platoon had a moment of carelessness in Germany that resulted in a 7 round burst inside an APC. The track commander lost a leg and the driver was badly wounded and discharged with disability.

    You don’t get many bites at the stupid apple before someone pays a price, and it’s often someone who didn’t take a bite.

  3. Yes it happens in engineering a lot too. Playing with these things is really rather tricky. Sometimes you get lucky on a mistake but there have been cases of many being hurt or killed.

    Can’t really imagine the chagrin of having been the initiator and having to live with it.

  4. No chagrin, Argent. Court martial for negligence. It may not seem fair to send someone to jail for making a mistake (as opposed to choosing to do something dumb) but there it is.
    The guy in my company? 18 months.

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