Photographs of large naval and artillery shells

The discussion on 18" naval shells sent me looking for this picture postcard;

The hand-written text on the back reads “These shells were the same as we were firing from HMS Indomitable, weight 850lbs” which would make it for a 12" MkX gun, one of the largest in regular use with the British Navy.

At one time it was fairly common to see sea-mines and large artillery and naval shells being used in public places as charity collection boxes, there were shells at both Edinburgh and Glasgow railway stations when I was a child … does anyone else have pictures of these things being used for other purposes ?



Awesome image Peter!!!

Peter, great picture, thanks for sharing. I have an article from 1901 showing a redraw of the same photograph, where it is described as a 1250 lbs shell for 13.5" guns. The little girl is the daughter of Mr. Cosenz, a citizen of Southsea.



Hmmm … according to my well thumbed copy of Dittmar & Colledge’s British Warships 1914-1919, HMS indomitable was the product of the 1906 Naval Act and wasn’t launched until 1907 whilst the 13.5" guns weren’t introduced until the Orion Class of Dreadnaughts launched in 1911.

It’s all a part of what makes this such a sublimely interesting subject, at what point does something change from provisional to definitive truth ?


See here for earlier 13.5" gun (date in service 1885) -

Tim, was the 13.5" used on the HMS Indomitable as per this?

Just trying to put the correct caliber on that image for my files.

From Sandy Hook NJ Gateway National Park where the first proving grounds for the military tested all of our the ships barrels. 12 and 14 inch.

After WW1, everything was moved to Aberdeen Md.

Looking at the picture, was it usual for naval shells to have a front mounted fuze given that most were meant to be armour-piercing where detonation after penetration was important. I’ve checked what few drawings I have and all seem to be base-fuzed.

The 12" Mk.X gun page on Wikipedia has a picture of three of the shells, the shrapnel one seems to have a nose-fuze, presumably for firing against land targets, but would the walls of the shell have been quite so thick as in my first picture when the effectiveness of the load would be proportional to the amount of shrapnel carried ?

Mk.X Naval Gun

With all these questions you’ll have guessed that I know next to nothing on the subject, I bought the original postcard as I found it a captivating, yet bizarre image.


25 cm schwere Minenwerfer (SMW was 25 cm / A), heavy trench mortar, WW1

Photograph of Projectiles & Powder Charge Bags, 1870, Spain

Projectiles, Australian Navy WW2

10 cm brandgranat m1868, Sweden

3-p spetsprojektil, Sweden

17 cm granatkartesch m1887 Sweden

Studded Artillery Projectile French Next to Child, 1916

German 420mm shell, WW1


Artillery shell converted to airplane “Drop Bomb”, circa 1911

USS Brooklyn (CA-3) at League Island, Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, PA, in Feb. 1913

France, WW1 240mm projectile production

WW1 German troops with dud English 380mm (?)

WW1, German officers at a captured French Ammo-Storage at Breuil

Gunners Badeners a Heavy Artillery Battalion Landwehr (Landw. Fuss Art. Batla.) Shells with a 21cm (210mm).

Dynamite Gun Shell, 1897 U.S.
"36 inch overall, including tail made from hollow, brass capped iron tube with spirally twisted zinc vanes (to provide rotation in flight). The body of the shell, including fuse and 3/8″ lead sabot, measure about 23″ with diameter of 2.5″, the bursting chamber about 18″ and the screwed on combination fuse 3-1/2″. "

Child next to a 16 inch shell, WW1


WW1 German Postcard of unexploded shell in trunk of tree & a Russian Projectile


No, I believe they were obsolete before the Indomitable was commissioned.
If you look at the title of the photograph, one can see the plate/negative has been altered and the second hyphen is over what appears to be three figures 13.5?

Projectiles of this type, in this era, where known as ‘Common’ and ‘Common Pointed’ The former where nose fuzed and the latter base fuzed. According to the Textbook the wall thickness was 2.45" and the projectile contained 85 lbs of powder - I believe Picric powder, the Textbook is a little vague.

Interesting that you show a British 380mm, which is in fact a 15" Howitzer. I saw one of these on Wednesday, it had been left behind at an EOD establishment. It appears that it had been used for trepanning practice. I note that in your photo’ someone has already had the driving band away!

So the image shows a 13.5" but the ship name is incorrect?

I am not sure if Picric powder was used. I assume Picric Acid in solid state was used (unless I missed something as I never saw powdered Picric Acid being used).
Would the time frame maybe still allow for gun cotton?


National Shell Filling Factory Chilwell.

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Brian, thats not a german “housing” for artillerie-shells, but a captured french Ammo-Storage at Breuil, as it says in the pic:
ERBEUTETES französisches Munitionslager bei Breuil…

Thx for the pics, very interesting

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THANK YOU for the correction!!!

I will correct my description of the photo.



In the photo (background) below you can see a partial display of large projectiles
“…photograph making a light-hearted comparison between the size of the shortest soldier in the Company and an unexploded, large-calibre, British shell.”

French child poses with a German 250mm shell converted into a DROP BOMB. WW1


Japanese 460mm and 360mm.
Source internet.

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US 16" (406mm) HE.
Source internet.

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Russian sabot 305mm (12") and 356mm (14").
Source internet.


British naval 12" (305mm).
APHE, shrapnel and HE.
Source internet.


Not a shell, of course, but an interesting photo of a boy eating an ice cream cone on a potentially live mine. Reported to be either a German or British naval mine washed up on shore in Normandy in 1949. I don’t know enough about mines to ID it. Source:

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Here a US 16" MK23 nuclear projectile.



Here more 16" aboard USS New Mexico off coast Guam in July 1944. A really great image!



Here a 16" in a factory (at Midvale and Betlehem Steel Co)



Here a 16" fired AP proj… Looks like a test on an armor plate.



Here a 16" ICM including a cutaway.



Here a 16" discarding sabot proj. (with a 280mm projectile inside?).


Here a 16" discarding sabot proj. with a 280mm proj. inside (end 1960s). To my understanding the HE proj. of the “Atomic Annie” (using up surplus?).



Source of all images: internet.