Exploding Bullets

Exploding bullets are not a recent concept. About the middle of the nineteenth century two types of exploding rifle bullets were invented, one using a percussion cap and black powder and the other using mercury fulminate. Figure 11.5 illustrates both types.

During World War II several types of exploding rifle bullets were developed containing an integral striking pin. One contained a firing pin inside a brass bushing. The bushing was free to slide backward and forward inside a copper cup which had a small hole in the forward end. On firing, the pin moves back against the lead core. On impact, it moves forward and the point protrudes through the hole in the forward end of the copper cup and detonates the explosive mixture. This is illustrated in Figure 11.6.

Another similar design contains a firing pin which on impact detonates 0.42 g of mercury fulminate (42%) and potassium chlorate (58%) mixture. An exploding/incendiary bullet with its own firing pin was also developed,

Percussion cap rÖY

Black powder

Lead bullet

Wood or wax plug

Mercury fulminate

Lead bullet

Figure 11.5 Exploding bullets.

Bullet jacket Copper cup

Bullet jacket Copper cup

Lead core

Firing pi


Explosive mixture

Brass bushing

Brass bushing figure 11.6 Exploding bullet.

with the incendiary component 5 grains of white phosphorus and the explosive component 7 grains of a mixture of lead styphnate, barium peroxide, and calcium silicide. This is illustrated in Figure 11.7.

Firing pin

Firing pin

Jacket Explosive mixture

Figure 11.7 Exploding/incendiary bullet.

White phosphorus

A further design of exploding rifle bullet, without a firing pin, contained a primer with ~40 mg mercury fulminate in the nose of the bullet which on impact ignited compressed black powder and this in turn detonated a metal cup containing an explosive mixture of potassium chlorate (56%) and antimony sulfide (44%). PETN explosive has also been used in exploding rifle bullets.

Modern explosive bullets are available in the United States from Velet Cartridge Company and Bingham Limited (Exploder/Devastator). They are offered in a range of pistol and revolver calibers. The Velet exploding bullet is a normal semijacketed hollow point bullet with black powder or Pyrodex as the explosive ingredient and with a primer cap sealing the cavity. Depending on the caliber a lead pellet may also be present in the cavity. On impact the primer cup ignites and detonates the explosive mixture. Velet also manufactured mercury-filled projectiles. The Exploder bullet is basically the same as the Velet exploding bullet except that the lead shot is omitted.75

The assassination attempt on President Reagan involved the use of Devastator exploding bullets. These consisted of standard 0.22" LR caliber, copper-coated lead hollow point bullets, modified by deep drilling to accept a tiny aluminum alloy canister containing about 24 mg of lead azide. Nitrocellulose lacquer was used to seal the base of the canister. RDX explosive was originally used in these loads but was replaced by lead azide.76,77

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