Mercury filled projectiles of Vietnam era

I work with an individual who says he has had a position in a super secretive US Air Force unit in Vietnam. They did a lot of stuff forbidden to regular troops. He mentioned having their own armourer manufacture mercury-filled ammo which they used. Any thoughts/confirmation on this subject? Lew? Unfortunately, no samples.

Mercury filled projectiles are for real. I have one, and have had several others, all in .38 Special caliber. Most, if not all of these, were hand made (not factory). This is how they were supposed to work, when fired and passing down the barrel of the gun the mercury would be forced to the rear of the cavity, when the projectile hit the target the mercury would be sent forward in the cavity with enough force to repture the nose cap, an disperse the mercury. The concept was not too much unlike the Glaser Saftey Slug concept. The mercury would burst into numerous small droplets and spread like a load of shot in the individuals body. Just like the Glaser bullet this would create tremendous shock to the human body. Additionally, if the shot didn’t neutralize the individual immediately there was the followup problem created of how to get all of the toxic mercury out of the wound (an impossible task). Sooner or later, the individual is going to die. Lake City Arsenal is alleged to have made some rifle caliber stuff but I don’t know if this is fact or fiction.

How was the mercury separated from the lead of the core of the bullet?

Mercury dissolves lead

I saw that in a movie once, so it must be true.

I’d say that Flyboy was looking for a one-way ticket to Leavenworth Kansas.


Mercury when mixed with quite a few different metals will form an almalgam. This will remain soft for varying periods of time only to harden and form a new compound. Silver amalgam dental fillings are an example. It used to be used by gold miners to extract gold it formed an almalgam and then the compound was cooked away leaving the gold behind and the mercury was reduced to a vapor. It doesn’t really ‘dissolve’ the metal, it softens it. It will form an amalgam with lead. Don’t handle mercury wearing a gold ring as it will readily stick to it. The purity of the lead will determine how readily the mercury will form the amalgam. It will stick to pure copper also. I always thought the mercury bullet idea was the result of an active imagine of spy/mystery novel writers. I would bet many people have tried making the bullets. Some probably with some success. I would think that unless the mercury was well sealed and without voids in it’s projectile envelope it would be incredibly unstable and might fly apart at the high revolutions imparted to any projectile. That said,
As a Viet Nam veteran I am always amazed at the incredible number of “shadow warriors” that allegedly served in RVN and were always involved with some sort of ‘black op’ unit. This has a slight odor of that sort of bovine scatological substance. Could be wrong…I thought I was once, but, I was mistaken. I can’t think of why such a bullet would be needed in VN for any reason, clandestine or otherwise. Every war has brought out wannabe’s. VN spawned more than it’s share. IMHO this has the earmarks of less than truth…?

  1. Being not as good as explosive bullets (fulminate or fuel loaded), the mercury bullets can work well. All depends of the target.

The idea is to get a mercury jet whith a speed higher than the initial bullet reaching the target.

let’s call
M the bullet weight (without the mercury)
m the mercury weight
V the velocity of the bullet reaching the target
v the velocity of the mercury jet

Conservation of momentum implies :
(M + m) V = m v
(This suposes the target is not moving back and the big mass M is just stopped in contact with the target)

Therefore v = [1 + (M/m)] V

If the ratio (M/m) is good enough we have v >> V

  1. About the fact the mercury will poison the guy, this is BS.


A very early application of mercury on bullets was patented by B. L. Williams in 1907, where he described a self-lubricating bullet made of eight parts of lead and one of mercury. During the past 30 years the use of mercury was also applied to some frangible bullets designs for pistols and shotguns (allied with other metals or in liquid form).

Other real use of mercury on bullets was discussed before in this thread:


I have a German pre-WWII mercury filled wooden bullet. There are a number of them out in collections including the Woodin Lab. They are all unheadstamped and all came from the same 16 round box unmarked that was in some facility-I never got a name - in Germany and now the box is in a lab and only has two rounds in it the last I heard. Clearly the rounds are legit.

I also ran across a US document document that discussed a Mercury fulled bullet. I think it was in 30-06, but could be wrong. This thing dated from WWII and discussed the use of mercury filled bullets for use against aircraft by agents. The idea is that firing mercury onto aluminum aircraft structure would destroy the crystalline structure of the aluminum alloys used in aircraft and the structure would fail under stress in flight. Basically this is true, but from the document it was impossible to tell if this was just a dream by some boffin or if somebody ever tried it.

When I was stationed at Eglin in the late 1970s I knew almost everyone in the small arms business who had been there during the Vietnam war. I was in the special ops business at Hurlburt Field before I moved over to Eglin main Base. The head of the ammunition directorate in the lab was a Colonel Joe De Arcy (probably bad spelling) and his civilian was Dale Davis who many of you know of. The key civilian was Jack Robbins and there were a pile of Techs who had been around forever. There were all kinds of things done like 50 Browning flechettes used for an antimaterial rifle on the Trail and a tungsten 9mm bullet (they gave me a copy of the drawing but the tech had no idea who it was made for or why). I never heard of any mercury bullets. If it was an official AF project it would have gone through Dale Davis and this directorate in the lab. Was it a wild hair by some bunch of guys, who knows!

That is all I know on the subject—short posting!!!


Lew, some time ago I was lucky to find documentation covering this rare mercury filled blank cartridge. It was designed in 1921 by Hans Stelter of Nürnberg and it was meant to match the weight of a ball loading and work the mechanism of the pistol without any special barrel attachment (like the one designed by Polte in 1925 for their blank ammunition). The Nürnberg address does make sense keeping in mind their finding in a storage area attributed to RWS.

The f indicates the mercury filling:

Wow Fede!!!

You have done it again. If I ever get you up to look through my collection, you would probably identify most of my unknowns!

My sincere thanks for this help. A bunch of us will be grateful.

You are correct. The note that came with the round is that it was an experimental RWS blank from the 1930s and that the mercury was there to make the bullet heavy enough to function the action without a blank adaptor. The Geco red paper bullet if filled with powdered iron for the same reason. I think Bill Woodin originally found the box and I heard the story from three or four other people who were allowed in to take one round, including the guy who took mine from the box.

Many thanks!


Lew, I’m glad this information helps to identify this rare cartridge. I had it for years and thought it was a description of a blank cartridge made in the 1920’s until I read that the filling was indicated as “Quecksilber” (Quicksilver) and learned that this was a common name for mercury!

“Quick” in the word “quicksilver” means “lively,” a reference to the fact mercury is a liquid at room temperature. This archaic usage is also seen in the Biblical phrase “the quick and the dead.” Jack

Jack, thanks a lot for this piece of info, explains a word we have in German.