History of mine shells

So i thought it might be good do dedicate a thread to this historically important yet very elusive shell type as its history is shrouded in mystery besides its famous use by the Germans in WW2 and later by the French and the British in the DEFA and ADEN cannons. If you have not read the title of the thread i am talking about mine shells. Also known under these names.
German: Minengeschoß, alt Minengeschoss
Swedish Mingranat
Norwegian Minegranat
English 1 Mine-shell (most likely not an official military term)
English 2 High-capacity high explosive (not specifically for mine-shells but its a common substitute word for it)
English 3 Mine HEI (used on the international weapons market)
English 4 Shell-mine (during the 1800’s)
Italian Granata mina (at least during the 1800’s)
Spanish Granada mina (at least during the 1800’s)
French Obus fougasse (at least during the 1800’s)

Mine shells are high capacity high explosive shells which features thin walls to allow as much explosive filler (commonly HEI filler) as possible and are made out of high quality steel to not brake when fired at high velocity’s. Due to their high explosive load and minimal amount of metal they have different weight properties to normal HE shells and achieves higher muzzle velocities compared to equivalent HE types but loses momentum faster and therefore have more limited use at longer ranges. Their main use is to blow big main holes in their intended targets as their construction makes them give off less fragmentation and more pressure wave energy when exploding compared to common “high-explosive” shells. They often have a delayed fuse to maximize its entry hole. On older artillery shells delayed fuses were put at the bottom of the shell, while none-delayed fuses were put at the nose. On modern mine-shells the fuse is always at the front and has a mechanical fuse, even when delayed.

Where the name originates from is unknown but the word mine originally meant a big explosive device in several languages back in the pre-1800’s. (EDIT) As pointed out by Tony.Williams, the word mine most likely originates from actual mines (holes in the ground), either from explosives in mining or from tunneling explosives in siege warfare.

The name might also refer to actual sea mines as they kill ships with the same effect, that being pressure wave damage.

(Updated 2020-02-14)

1800’s > WWI
The earliest known mine shells are for medium to heavy artillery cannons (example calibers: 105-220 mm) with the earliest usage of the word dating to the mid-late 1800’s. Pointed out by the user “Fede” the Italians had mine-shells (or at least something going by this name) by 1870. Its actual origin though is currently not known. In the following years the shell can be found in several countries such as Spain, France, Sweden, Norway and Germany for example. The usage of mine-shells in combat prior to WW2 is generally undocumented but they most likely did see use as a common artillery shell against fortifikations. As pointed out by the user “EOD” the shell-type was effective against fortified land positions in the days before steel-reinforced-concrete. After WW1 mine shells for artillery cannons disappear from munition manuals for unknown reasons. Most likely as steel-reinforced-concrete became common which made the shell type less useful.

WWII > Cold war
The shell type would see a resurgence at the start of WW2 as Germany started using the type as aircraft and anti aircraft ammunition to shoot down bombers. This was previously not possible due to the limitation of steel-working technology needed to produce mine shells in the size of aircraft and anti aircraft cannons (20-37 mm). This was the first important historical use of mine shells as this allowed the Germans to fend of the Allied bombing campaigns for as long as they did. After the war other nations copied the idea and started making post war mine shells for aircraft and anti aircraft weaponry. Some examples are the previously mentioned French DEFA and the British ADEN but also the Swiss and potentially also the Swedish made mine shells in autocannon calibers. The continued development of mine shells during the cold war is fairly unknown but the shell type exists for the 23 mm GSh-23L, 35 mm Oerlikon GDF, 30 mm Oerlikon KCA and the 27 mm Mauser BK27.

Modern day
The modern day usage of mine-shells seems to be on the decline. For example, Sweden has replaced its Mauser BK-27 mine-shells with regular HE-shells and the shell-type is rarely mentioned on the modern weapons market. This is most likely due to anti air cannons nowadays relying on proximity-fuse pre-fragmented shells and airborne cannons being relegated as ground attack weaponry.

Here are some reference photos of early mine shells.

I have tried to puzzle together its history as good as i can but i am only human :smiley:

For future readers. This thread originates on this thread. Swedish 20x110 mm Hispano ammunition data help - #36 by Tony.Williams It features informative posts as well for the interested one.


Here ya go.

In Swedish and German the munition effect is called Minverkan/Minenwirkung and can be applied to bombs and any kind of munition really. For example minbomb/minenbomb.


“Minenwirkung” or “Gasschlag” in German actually relates to the pure blast effect. Just to have this definition in the bowl.

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Well that is the same thing. Also called tryckvågsverkan in Swedish. Pressure wave effect.

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Oops - sorry, I posted my message about this on the Hispano thread before I saw this new thread! I’ll repost it here:

I think that the origin of this use of the noun “mine” goes back to excavations to extract minerals from underground (coal mine, gold mine etc), those who did the work being miners. In medieval siege warfare, it was a standard tactic to user miners to dig tunnels underneath the walls of the town they were attacking, then set light to the timber pit props which were holding up the roof. As the pit props burned away the tunnel collapsed and (with luck) so did the wall above it. The wall was said to have been “undermined”.

Later, explosives were used instead of burning pit props, this practice probably reaching a peak on the western front in WW1 when miners on both sides engaged in an underground campaign. Huge quantities of HE were sometimes employed in mines to blow up the enemy defences above.

The term “mine” has since been used to describe explosive devices buried underground or underwater, or dropped from aircraft. In each case, they consist of lots of explosives with the blast effect doing the damage. So it was natural for the Germans to refer to their high-capacity shells as mine shells.

Mine shells have fallen out of fashion, with typical aircraft cannon projectiles now being of the multipurpose type - effectively, semi-armour-piercing HE incendiaries. Or they have no explosives at all, as in FAP or PELE ammunition.


“Minegranat” is a term in Norwegian as well. The definition given by Norwegian dictionaries and encyclopedias is:

Mine shell, a shell especially intended to have a mine effect, with a large explosive charge and a delayed ignition fuze to allow penetration before detonation.



Ole, this with the delay is a new definition then.

It seems to be defined with two definitions;
Firstly as artillery shells, fuzed to detonate after impacting and detonating (given examples are such as ship armor plates and earthern fortifications), and as well as automatic cannon-sized shells (so like examples given in the thread, for MG 151/20, MK 108, etc).

Depends on the context and source used, but it seems to have some historical basis. From what I can tell the artillery shell example is older, and the Norwegian Encyclopedia (SNL (not the comedy show)) mentions that current Norwegian artillery does not use mine shells, but instead regular HE-frag shells with adjustable timing/post-penetration detonation fuzes.
In whole, favoring artillery shell usage, but also applicable to automatic cannons.


Here we need to clarify that ship armor thing. It must be a missunderstanding as that usually does not work.
Projectiles made to pierce ship armor are usually AP types with very stroing bodies as they would shatter/break apart/deform upon impact on armor.

Projectiles used today in the “anti-ship” role are usually special HE with reinforced bodies or HE with nose fuzes made of heavy duty steel alloys and with mechanical parts placed deeply inside the fuze body. Actually Bofors made things along this line.
But these are for modern anti-ship use where basically no armor is existing anymore (so no true large caliber AP are made / used today, some remaining stocks may be around). Means these are meant to pierce 1" to max 2" steel plates and unfold effect behind a ship’s hull (inside).

Here for example a 57mm Bofors HE for anti-ship use (source undisclosed US doc):

Here a 120mm Bofors HE-RA for anti-ship use (image source: Swedish Digital Museum):

Here a typical AP against ship armor as used in the old days of battle ships:

And here something that would qualify as a “mine” with a delay fuze but not against ships. These were used against fortified land positions in the days before steel reinforced concrete was around. Means there were used against semi-hard targets and dug in positions where a delay fuze was essential:

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Alex, I agree it is a poor example, but wrote it as it was in one definition of mine shell. Don’t know however why it’s listed as an example. I’m inclined to say the only times I’ve seen valid uses of “minegranat” in Norwegian literature it has been for artillery shells, with the exception of that mentioning specifically Minengeschoß.

Some various Norwegian definitions (these being from online versions of published physical dictionaries/encyclopedias):

Granat (frå latin granatus , som inneheld kjernar, korna), prosjektil, ei metallhylse fylt med sprengstoff. Det finst fleire ulike granatar. Ein sprenggranat eller brisant-granat har tjukke veggar, slik at det skal oppstå kraftige splintar ved eksplosjonen. Ein minegranat er fylt med så mykje sprengstoff som råd. Ein pansergranat er laga av spesialstål, slik at han kan trengja gjennom panserplater. Av spesialgranatar kan nemnast lysgranatar, røykgranatar, tåregassgranatar og branngranatar. Granatar kan anten eksplodere i lufta eller etter nedslaget.

Minegranat, granat særskilt beregnet på minevirkning, med stor sprengladning og forsinkelsesbrannrør for at den kan trenge ned i jorddekninger o.l. før detonasjonen. I Norge har man ikke egne minegranater, men minevirkning kan oppnås med vanlige sprenggranater med tidsforsinkelse (0,05 s).

granat med minevirkning, dvs. med stor sprengladning og med forsinkende brannrør så den kan trenge ned i jorddekninger o.l. før detonasjon

| jf. sprenggranat

I also found “minegranat M/21” as listed as a shell for the Bofors 12 cm M.14, in Norwegian service designated as “12 cm felthaubits M/15”.


Ole, I think we always will get back to the points above where definitions are having remote roots but vary in meaning with country/language and time.

You can find “mine shells” mentioned in Italy as early as 1870. Italian term was granata mina, Spanish was granada mina, and the French equivalent designation -at that time- was obus fougasse (like the bread). Some early English translations of the former terms was “shell-mine” , while other sources indicate it was equivalent to the their “double shell”.



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So i have dug up information on mine shells in fairly modern Swedish manuals (1970’s - 1990’s).

When it comes to its use it is most often described as a shell type primarily meant against fortifications. This is interesting as the type has not been in active artillery service for basically 100 years (one manual even says that the type has not been in army use for a very long time) but have been in active use with the Swedish air force as aircraft ammunition since 1952.

As for its composition it has several descriptions depending on manual. One manual describes it as similar to high explosive (HE) shells but much longer in construction to feature a larger payload. It also says that it is used in caliber 15 cm (6 in) and above to be able to pierce into fortifications. The same manual also says that “high explosive shells” meant against aerial targets should primarily give off minverkan, or mine-damage in english, which basically means pressure-wave-damage. It follows this description by saying that to achieve this effect the shells has to have as big of a payload as possible and are thus constructed with shell walls just thick enough to handle being fired.¨

Another manual simply says that mine shells are shells designed to feature minverkan (mine-damage) and and are thus designed with as thin walls as firing of the shell allows to be able to fill it with a great payload. In the same manual it says that minverkan (mine damage) is preassure-damage (tryckverkan) from enclosed explosive charge.

Most other manuals has similar but less interesting descriptions. Descriptions found in older books and magazines says more or less the same things as the above descriptions but with the additions of its fusing. Mine shells are said to primarily feature tip-fuzes when used against fortifications, and more interestingly, with base-fuzes when used against ships! To achieve its mine-effect the fuze needs to have a delay, otherwise the shell is just a glorified high explosive shell. A book also specified mine shells as having 20-25% of its weight being high explosive payload, compared to high explosive shells with only 10% of its weigh being high explosive payload. Note that this boom is from 1924.

All this has made me come to this conclusion of why mine shells and its damage effect is called “mine”. As the type digs itself into the target and detonates from within it is similar to a description i found of “mines” (the weapon) in an old 1800’s french book (lost the source ;_;). It described mines as explosive sharges set undergroud, either from a pit like a traditional land mine, or from an actual underground mine, from which the term comes from.

So as a whole it seems the term mine shells etc originates in some European country who addopted the term mine as the term for ordnance meant to explode underground from the use of “mining” in warfare (probably the American civil war due to the english term), with the term mining itself mot likely originating from the word minerals which can be traced back to latin for example (mineralium).

mine shell > mine ordnance > mining in warfare > mining for minerals > minerals

Another note of interest is that the Swedish word for laying out mines (land/seamines), minera, is described in older dictionaries as setting explosive charges on buildings or fortifications, and “Google translate” even translates it to “mining” in English.

As for those interested in anti-ship mine-shells i have found this from Swedish sources. Mine shells against ships features a thicker tip for armor penetrating values and has the fuze at the base.

The French navy apparently tested these types of projectiles in 1908, called P-shells (Swedish: “P-granater”) (French: Obus P), as they were designed by general Perruchon. The tests were done with 24 cm cannons against the condemned ship Amiral Duperré and the ship sank after taking 3 hits to the stern and 6 to the superstructure. Apparently the boiler exploded. I might do a longer article on this later but now to the ammunition info.

The prototype shells used had a payloaf of 1.8 kg of the “then new” explosive type “cresite” (Swedish: “Kresyt”), which is said to be similar to melinite (Swedish: melinit) but much more powerful, melanite being a French invention by Eugène Turpin. According to a newspaper with some minor incorrect information cresite is suposed to be a derivitive of Phenol (Swedish: Fenol). The service shells weighed 220 kg with 17% of its weight being cresite (36 kg ) and had a muzzle velocity of 550 m/s.

During the tests the new service P-shells were compared to older ones (older naval mine shells?) featuring a melanite payload and the cresite shells were clearly a lot more powerful, being able to effectively demolish the stern of Amiral Duperré in just one shot, blowing the upper deck up. The shells could apparently also be fired at the waterline, hitting the ship underneath with somewhat effective results. The shells were however not problem free. When exploding they would create large yellowish clouds indicating incomplete payload detonation. Simplifying a longer story it seems the French decided to not use these new P-shells for naval-artillery, only for coastal-artillery. Instead new armour-piercing and semi-armour-piercing high explosive shells, as well as a basic high explosive type with 10% payload weight, was to be developed instead. No idea how the story ended.

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The high explosive cresite/melanite you mention seems to be picric acid (trinitrophenol).

Yes at least melanite is a synonym for picric acid.

I found this in the book “Naval Weapons of World War One: Guns, Torpedoes, Mines and ASW Weapons of All Nations”

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I wonder if that may have derived from the U. S. Civil War. In Petersburg, Va., at “The Battle of the Crater”, Saturday, July 30, 1864, where Union forces dug a tunnel, actually referred to as a “mine” in reports at the time:

“Part of the Union line was held by Maj. Gen. Ambrose E. Burnside’s Ninth Corps. Some of Burnside’s men were Pennsylvania miners, and they approached Burnside with a plan. They would tunnel underground from behind Union lines to a point underneath a Confederate position and fill the mine with explosives. When detonated, the resulting explosion would destroy a portion of the Rebel lines that could be exploited by infantry. Grant demurred but the digging began. On July 30th, after weeks of preparation, the Federals exploded the mine beneath a Confederate salient, blowing a gap in the defenses.”

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