Cordite

Discussion in 'General Gun Discussions' started by PWC, Nov 2, 2021.

  1. PWC

    PWC Member

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    I know the big naval guns used black powder....I know the British used cordite.... whenever I read a WWII story there is always a reference to the smell of cordite. I just finished "The Last Lieutenant" and again the obligatory references to cordite. Just like after a 4th of July fireworks display, the smell of blackpowder hangs in the air

    Did we use cordite or would the statement be more correct to say gunpowder?
     
  2. .455_Hunter

    .455_Hunter Member

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    No- The US military did not use cordite.
     
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  3. .38 Special

    .38 Special Member

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    "Cordite" is actually all sorts of things. The name apparently encompasses many different forms of gunpowder, with the only real commonality being A) it is extruded into strands, and B) it goes boom.

    Apparently at least one form of cordite (Cordite N) was exported from Canada into the U.S. and was used by our navy in six and eight inch guns during WW II. http://www.navweaps.com/index_tech/tech-100.php

    It strikes me as unlikely that the typical novelist would explore the subject in such depth, and rather more likely that the author holds "cordite" as synonymous with "That's what they called gunpowder in the olden days", but it is at least remotely possible that it happened in that way.
     
  4. damoc

    damoc Member

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    I can't add much to this discussion but played with cordite from old 303 brit cartridges and I know both Canada and Australia used them and according to wikipedia the US did also on some occasions WW1 and WW2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lee%E2%80%93Enfield
     
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  5. klausman
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    klausman Member

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    Cordite is a double based (nitrocellulose & nitroglycerine) propellant created by British chemists. It has many forms for differing purposes and has been reformulated a number of times. It is usually found in long strands, ergo cords. When burned, it smells pretty much like any other double base powder smoke. I always took it to mean the smell of expending a quantity of ammunition.
     
  6. Riomouse911

    Riomouse911 Member

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    In the past I’ve pulled a bullet or two from my dwindling stash of Mk VII .303 rounds to check out the Cordite. In color and shape it really does look like uncooked strands of thin spaghetti.

    Stay safe.
     
  7. Carl N. Brown

    Carl N. Brown Member

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    Cordite was one one of the first widely used smokeless powders. Cordite has been abandoned because it does not keep well in long term storage. It burns hot and erodes rifle barrels real fast compared to nitrocellulose based rifle powders. Even the reformulated versions of cordite were simply less hot than the original.

    .303 British cartridges in a Lee Enfield stripper clip, cordite from a .303 cartridge with cardboard.over powder wad ( to protect base of bullet).
    20211102_093455.jpg
    (Reloading using Cordite in a bottle neck case would be a pain. I have read that the .303 cases straight necked were loaded with Cordite, then wad, then the neck was formed, then the bullet seated.)

    But a lot of 1920s and 1930s novels mention the smell of cordite probably because it was the only popular name they knew for smokeless gunpowder.

    In the novel "Day of the Jackal" by Fredrick Forsyth the assassin disguised as an invalid eats cordite to appear sick and avoid close scrutiny. That was a trick used by malingerers in the Army to get put in hospital to avoid duty. Another literary ref to cordite.
     
    Last edited: Nov 2, 2021
  8. GBExpat

    GBExpat Member

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    FWIW, I have always seen such apparently sloppy references as:

    Real Thing Name vs Similar Thing Name (generally accepted vernacular)

    Cordite vs cordite
    Formica vs formica
    Kleenex vs kleenex
    Cordura vs cordura

    et cetera

    :)
     
  9. PapaG

    PapaG Member

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    Cordite is the most overused word in detective, action, and suspense novels. "The smell of cordite lingered in the air." The last time I smelled actual cordite was when a buddy and I shot a bunch of surplus 303 out of a jungle carbine. Kicked. Stunk.
     
  10. CapnMac

    CapnMac Member

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    Only until smokeless powder became available, then the naval guns switched as well.
    Obscuring your target with a hundred or more pounds of powder was not seen as much of an advantage.

    Now, the powderbags did have an "igniting" charge sewn on the base of the powder bags which had a mix of black and flash powder, that would reliably respond to the primer loaded in the breech plug.
    It was around 5-6# of a 66# powder bag.

    Naval gun propellant often gets called "cordite" as it's typically "stick" powder.

    Those "sticks" are around 1" in diameter about 3-4 inches long, with a central, longitudinal, hole through them. They were stacked in the bags in bundles all aligned to the bore axis.
     
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  11. cjwils

    cjwils Member

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    I think a lot of gun-ignorant writers still refer to the smell of cordite because they read about it in Sherlock Holmes when they were kids.
     
  12. Odd Job

    Odd Job Moderator Staff Member

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    We went on a weekend cadet artillery outing in our final school year, involving 25-pounder Howitzer towed guns. The target was a bus a few km away.
    They burned a whole lot of cordite at the firing line after the session because we didn't need that extra charge for that range of target.
    It really did look exactly like spaghetti. I confess I liberated a small amount for research purposes :)
     
  13. theotherwaldo

    theotherwaldo Member

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    I've smelled cordite.
    Pieces that look kinda like old tubing wash up on Boca Chica beach, not far from the SpaceX site.
    Do NOT put them in your barbecue... .
     
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  14. tark

    tark Member

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    During WW II in the battle of Britain, the Spitfires and Hurricanes used eight Browning .303 machine guns, four in each wing. Browning's fire from the closed bolt position and the Brits discovered that cordite would "cook off" at a relatively low temperature. This presented a problem because the the powder would detonate instead of burning, damaging or destroying the gun. This was not a problem with the Vicker's gun because the water cooled barrel didn't get that hot. The aircraft's guns were converted to open bolt configuration and the problem was solved.

    This can be found in Dolf Goldsmith's "The Browning Machine gun vol. 1 Rifle Calibers."
     
  15. Jim Watson

    Jim Watson Member

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    British ammunition loaded with nitrocellulose powder gets a Z suffix.
    Don't use different ammo if you can help it. A machine gun with Mk VII cordite erosion will be wild with Mk VIIIZ nitrocellulose and boattail bullet, not safe for overhead fire over own troops.
     
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  16. Neo-Luddite

    Neo-Luddite Member

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    The word survives as a generic literary/lyrical synonym for powder because it is one of the few options available to add some variety to a narrative or a song. With some subtlety its inclusion may also remind the audience of the UK-derived identity of a character, locale or situation. I am sure that some find its imprecise application sloppy and maddening, but I am pleased that the word itself is enduring in common use into the 21st Century.
     
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  17. John_R

    John_R Member

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    I think writers like using the word Cordite because it sounds cool, and they think readers will think they're knowledgeable about firearms.

    In a similar way, people say "cinder block" even though cinders are rarely used in the concrete mix any more. It just flows off the tongue more smoothly than "concrete block."
     
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  18. herrwalther

    herrwalther Member

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    Cordite is still a common vernacular when referring to gun powder. After every Army range session in the 2000's I still heard at least one guy say "I love the smell of cordite in the morning/afternoon/night."
     
  19. Jim Watson

    Jim Watson Member

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    It was a rather long time ago, but when Winchester shortened the barrel of its African Model 70 to 22" and tinkered with powder choice in .458 Win Mag, velocity got low enough to worry the PWHs who had purchased this economy DGR. There weren't many handloaders in Southern Africa, but a few, and they got together for a remedy with what was on hand.
    They pulled the bullets, dumped the Ball powder, and replaced it with Cordite salvaged from .303s, adjusting the load to put it back in line with .450 NE.
     
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  20. Rule3

    Rule3 Member

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    :thumbup:

    Learn something new everyday (almost):)
    Never knew it was those spaghetti looking strands.
     
  21. Jim Watson

    Jim Watson Member

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    The load was specified by the length of a hank of rope-like Cordite down to the 20th of an inch. Bottlenecks like .303 were charged before the case was necked down.
     
  22. DukeConnor

    DukeConnor Member

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    I was in the field artillery (13E FDC)
    and we referred to the "powder" in the bags as cordite. It looked like small licorice sticks cut into small pieces. A small handful would get a canteen cup boiling pretty quick.

    I have no idea what it actually was.
     
  23. Jim Watson

    Jim Watson Member

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    Cordite is one of a few specific NC + NG + additive formulations extruded into strands. First generation Cordite had more NG than NC and was very erosive in spite of the petroleum jelly (Vaseline type) added. Second generation reversed the proportions to (small) majority NG. There are others. The strands could be loaded as such or chopped for use in revolver cartridges.

    Modern cannon powder is extruded but cut into granules and depending on the spec, can be single base NC, double base NC + NG, or triple base NC + NG + Nitroguanidine.
     
  24. Airborne Falcon
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    Airborne Falcon Contributing Member

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    AR vs AR vs AR (Armalite Rifle vs Assault Rifle vs Automatic Rifle) ... yep, you're right, things get so convoluted when it comes to the press, historians, writers and so-called "expert pundits."

    Lazy Boy vs lazy boy (I knew Pat Norton, the former CEO, and the aftermarket recliners advertised as lazy boys used to drive him crazy. He used-to sue the heckoutta small furniture companies over it.)

    There's a name for what you're talking about. I think the all-time big one that ended-up in court was Fridgedaire maybe? People used to call every fridge a Fridgedaire back in the day. I think maybe they were the first self contained refrigerator if I am not mistaken?

    And that's the key. Being something that is first and groundbreaking ... the name sticks forever. There are some other great all-time examples that I just can't think of at the moment but your point about Cordite is well taken.

    The history of firearms and cannon propellants is an interesting one for sure.
     
  25. Airborne Falcon
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    Airborne Falcon Contributing Member

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    I was Airborne, 11 Charlie in my early days, FDC Chief 60s, 81s, 4.duece ... we called them "cheese charges." I cannot remember exactly for sure but I think maybe they were nitroglycerin and beeswax. They did burn hot but man oh man if you got caught by the wrong higher-up burning a cheese charge to heat a C-Rat that was your 4th pt of contact, you were fubared ... instant UCMJ and busted down at least one rank.
     
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