Holland and Holland Chain shot

Thought I would share a recent acquisition which I have been after for some time. The round appears on the outside to be a straight forward Holland and Holland 12 Bore. The headstamp is. HOLLAND & HOLLAND. No 12 ELEY.
However the X Ray reveals it to be a Cartridge SA Chain Shot 12 Bore Mark 1. It was originally intended to be used by the in the early days of the Royal Flying Corps. When fired the chain shot was expected to damage propellers, struts and the fabric of the early WW1 aircraft.

I wonder if this was ever involved in the attempts to bring down the Zeppelins over London during WW1. It is an interest of mine because the flyer who brought down the first Zeppelin Capt William Leefe-Robinson VC is buried a couple of miles from my home. He survived the war only to die in the influenza epidemic on 31st Dec 1918.

They tried everything they could to fatally damage the fabric of the balloons and ignite the hydrogen inside. Ordinary tracer went through too fast to ignite the gas. Exploding rounds didn’t find anything solid enough to detonate them. They tried dropping hand grenades attached to grappling hooks, a form of early sticky bomb. I would not be surprised if they tried this chain shot as well.

Finally, “boffins” from London (Royal armouries?) were coming to the airfield in Hornchuch Essex daily with different batches of experimental ammunition to try out. The final result was (i believe) some form of air burst MG round in .303 based on the Pomeroy round. The idea being that if fired from the correct distance away it would burst at the very edge of the fabric causing a rupture and igniting the hydrogen.
The trouble is all the books are horribly vague when it comes to real detail about the ammunition
Anyway, it all came togeather on the night of 30th Sept 1916 and a Zeppelin was brought down in flames at Cuffley, just north of London, killing all on board. Leefe Robinson got the Victoria Cross and became a Celebrity. The technician who developed the ammunition, the real hero in my opinion, never got a mention and remains unknown to this day.

The Holland & Holland Chain shot was designed to tear through the rigging of aircraft and would have been largely ineffective against Airships. For this purpose, Buckingham had designed a .707 (12b) incendiary round to be fired from the same weapon as the chain shot. They also used Martini carbines and the Royal Laboratory “Flaming Bullet” in .577/450 calibre.These were used by the RNAS rather than the RFC, and were obsolete by 1916.

When Leefe-Robinson brought down the Shutte-Lanz SL11 (actually not a Zeppelin) in September 1916 he was flying a BE2c armed with a Lewis gun firing a drum loaded with alternate Brock and Pomeroy rounds.

The “boffins” you speak of would have been from Royal Laboratory, Woolwich, where people like Threlfall, Hardcastle, Todhunter, Jones et al were trying to develop effective explosive incendiary rounds for the .303 and later .5.

I agree that many books are vague on the subject of .303 special purpose rounds, and there are a confusion of types. Eventually research was concentrated on making an explosive bullet stable enough to be bore safe in a machine gun, yet sensitive enough to explode against aircraft or airship fabric. An added complication was that a slight delay was required to that the round penetrated before detonating. There was no airburst type.

The most successful type to actually enter service was the RTS, and there are even two or possibly three types of this round. RTS stands for Richard Threlfall and Son. Work was continuing on these and other types when the war ended.

Forgive me if I do not post too much more information at this point, as my putative Ph.D thesis is on the development of British special purpose ammunition in WWI, and the thesis is supposed to contain unpublished research!


Wow! What an interesting thread. I’ve learned more in two minutes than I have in the past two weeks!

Great thread, look forward to reading your thesis, Tony.