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Fuze for ammunition

The fuzes first used were short iron or copper tubes filled with slow-burning composition. They were roughly screwed on the exterior to fit a similar thread in the fuze hole of the shell. There was no means of regulating the length of time of burning, but later, about the end of the 17th century, the fuze case was made of paper or wood, so that, by boring a hole through the outer casing into the composition, the fuze could be made to burn approximately for a given time before exploding the shell -- or the fuze could be cut to the correct length for the same purpose.

Early attempts to produce percussion fuzes were unsuccessful, but the discovery of fulminate of mercury in 1799 finally afforded the means of attaining this object. Some fifty years, however, elapsed before a satisfactory fuze was made. This was the Pettman fuze, in which a roughened ball covered with detonating composition was released by the discharge of the gun. When the shell hit any object, the ball struck against the interior walls of the fuze, the composition was exploded and thence the bursting charge of the shell. At present there are three types of percussion fuzes --

  1. those which depend on the gas pressure in the gun setting the pellet of the fuze free -- this type is necessarily a base fuze;
  2. those which rely on the shock of discharge or the rotation of the shell setting the pellet free, as in various kinds of nose and base fuzes;
  3. those relying on direct impact with the object.

The British base percussion fuze illustrates type (1). In this, before firing, the needle pellet is held back by a central spindle with a pressure plate attached to its rear end. For additional safety a centrifugal bolt is added which is released by the rotation of the shell. On discharge, the gas pressure pushes the pressure plate in, the central spindle is carried forward with it and unlocks the centrifugal bolt; this is withdrawn by the rotation of the shell, and the needle pellet is then free to move forward and explode the detonating cap when the shell strikes.

Type (2) is that usually adopted in small base fuzes and in the percussion part of "time and percussion" fuzes. Here the ferrule, on shock of discharge, moves back relatively to the percussion pellet by collapsing the stirrup spring; this leaves the pellet free to move forward, on the shell striking, and its detonator to strike the needle fixed in the fuze body. A spiral spring prevents any movement of the pellet during flight.

The direct-action or impact fuzes of type (3) are very simple. They are made of such a strength that during discharge nothing happens, but on striking an object the needle disc is crushed in and the needle explodes the detonating composition and thence the powder.

The action of all time fuzes is started by the discharge of the gun. By this the pellet strikes the detonator and so ignites a length of slow-burning composition which is pressed into a wood tube or into a channel formed in a metal ring. To regulate the time of burning of the wood fuze, a hole is bored through into the composition as before stated, so that when it has burnt down to this hole one of the side channels filled with powder is ignited and explodes the shell. Wood fuzes are now only used for R.M.L. guns.

With modern long-burning fuzes, two composition time rings are used. The lower of these rings is made movable so that it can be turned to bring any desired place over a hole in the body of the fuze, which is filled with powder and communicates with the magazine. On the gun being fired the detonator is exploded and its flash ignites the upper time ring. This burns round to a passage made in the lower ring, when the lower ring begins to burn and continues to do so until the channel to the magazine is reached. The gases from the ignited composition escape from an external hole made in each time ring.

Mechanical time fuzes depending on the rotation of the shell to give a regular motion to clockwork have been tried, but so far no practicable form of these fuzes has been found.

It is important that all fuzes should be rigidly guarded against dampness, which tends to lengthen their time of burning; hence they are protected either by being kept in hermetically sealed tins holding one or more fuzes, or by some similar means.