What is a Lyddite shell?

What is a Lyddite shell?

Battleships / World War 1

Structure of picric acid

Lyddite shell is a type of explosive artillery shell that was used by the British Army during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was named after the town of Lydd in Kent, England, where it was first manufactured.

Lyddite shell became made of a mixture of picric acid, a powerful high explosive, and castor oil. Which became added to make the explosive more stable and less sensitive to shock. Designed to explode on impact, the shell created a devastating blast that could destroy enemy fortifications and personnel.

Lyddite shell was first used in combat during the Second Boer War (1899-1902).

Roberts Enters Kimberley - Boers (collage).jpg

Where it proved to be highly effective against the Boer fortifications. It also became used extensively during World War I. Although the use of it declined as more advanced high-explosive shells became developed.

Boers in a trench at Mafeking. 1899

Lyddite shells became eventually phased out of use. Because it had a tendency to become unstable over time, making it dangerous to store and transport. However, its development paved the way for the development of other high-explosive shells, which are still in use today.

What is the science behind Lyddite?

Developed in the late 19th century, Lyddite is a type of explosive. And its scientific history can become traced back to the discovery of picric acid in 1771 by a Swedish chemist named Carl Wilhelm Scheele. Picric acid is a yellow crystalline substance that has powerful explosive properties when it is properly purified.

Carl Wilhelm Scheele from Familj-Journalen1874.png
Carl Wilhelm Scheele from Familj-Journalen1874

In the late 1800s, a British chemist named Sir Frederick Abel developed a method for purifying picric acid, and he began experimenting with it as an explosive material. Abel’s experiments led to the development of a more stable form of picric acid, which he named “melinite” after his colleague, Georges Mélies.

George Melies.jpg
Georges Méliès (1861-1938)

However, it was not until the early 1890s that Lyddite became developed.

Workers filling shells with liquid melinite at a French munitions factory during WWI

In 1891, a chemist named James Dewar, who was working at the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich, England, discovered that adding castor oil to picric acid made it more stable and less sensitive to shock. The resulting explosive material named “Lyddite” after the town of Lydd in Kent, England, where it was first manufactured.

Lyddite soon became adopted by the British military, and it played a significant role in several conflicts of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including the Second Boer War and World War I. However, Lyddite became eventually replaced by other types of high-explosive shells. Such as TNT and amatol, because it was found to be too unstable for safe long-term storage.

In conclusion, despite its limitations, the development of Lyddite represented a significant milestone in the history of explosives and the science of chemistry. Its use in warfare shaped the course of history, and it paved the way for the development of more advanced high-explosive materials that are still used today.

Best Battleship Ever Made?

What is a Lyddite shell?