U.S. Army WW1 time frame shell colors


I have a 3" or 75mm fired shrapnel shell with a fired nosecap and fuse (empty body) that I would like to display in the proper color with appropriate markings. When I bought it at a gun show in the 1980s it had been sloppily repainted silver so I stripped it and painted it mud brown.
It was fired in a gun with 24 groove rifling and the body has stamped “2934” and “A6113” with a partial stamp of the U.S. ordnance “flaming bomb”. the fuse is a Scovill model 1907M marked “LOT 135 G-A-109-17” and the nosecap with fuse may have been picked up seperately and matched with the shell body.
I have great references for U.S. civil war artillery ammo and U.S. ammo from the 1930’s on but I canot find anything about the WW1 period. Did we use common colors and markings with the French when we made 75mm for the Mle1897 gun? Was the rifling different between the U.S. M1903 3" gun and the Mle1897 75mm? I found out the Mle1897 has 24 groove rifling.



There are a few big ordnance collectors who visit here and hopefully one of them will be looking in today and answer your questions.

I can add this much from my own experience. Most of the Shrapnel projectiles and fuzes that you find will have been fired. Since the projectile body does not fragment they will usually be found intact. Likewise, the fuze and guts were ejected along with the shrapnel and they can sometimes be found in very good condition. Therefore, most complte projectiles that you find at shows or otherwise for sale have most likely been assembled from parts.

I can’t say what color the Army projectiles were painted but if all else fails you can always paint it to represent a U.S. Navy round. The correct color is white. No one but an expert would be able to tell the difference.

Being partial to the Navy, that’s what I did. Of course , it didn’t hurt that I also had a case to put it into.




Your 3" Common Shrapnel should be unpainted below the rotating band and black above it, with a one caliber wide (3") yellow band starting 1 3/8" above the band.  This is in accordance with the 1914 color codes.  Beginning in 1918, the U.S. adopted the French color codes for field artillery ammunition, and shrapnel projectiles were painted red overall with black stenciling.  Projectiles for fixed ammunition were unpainted below the band, but were always painted below the band if not for a fixed round.



Thanks Jim and Ray.
Even the USN bluejackets manual for 1917 and 1918 (in my collection) do not list color schemes for shells. There is a color plate in the 1940 edition though which shows shrapnel as Ray painted his - all white or white with black band ahead of bourrelet if with tracer.(All others - a white band means with tracer.)
By 1940 Shrapnel no longer appears in U.S. Army textbooks or manuals. Spherical case (Shrapnel) of the Civil War was also black and when strapped to sabot and powder bag, the tin ring around the fuze was painted red. So, in effect the same color scheme of black with a red ring for shrapnel (which also appears in the U.S. 1850 Ordnance manual) lasted until 1918.
Thanks Guys!



Good information. Thanks for posting it.

That combination of colors and copper/brass parts must have made for a striking looking round.

Maybe you can answer this for me. The Navy Shrapnel projectiles had 2 different types of tracers. A night tracer and a day tracer. I assume that the night tracer was the conventional type in the base of the projectile. I seem to recall reading somewhere that the day tracer was a part of the fuze, in that it (the fuze) had holes in the nose portion that threw off black smoke or a black fluid by centrifigal force. The fuze on my projectile does have 3 or 4 holes hidden under the tip portion and I can’t see where they serve any purpose other than possibly being a tracer.

Any ideas??


I have a 1939 Bluejackets Manual that has that same color plate. But there is another publication that gives the color schemes for the different projectiles. Unfortunately I do not have the full publication, I only have hard copies of most of the pages. The only title I know is “Naval Ordnance 1937”. I assume it is an official publication but can’t say for sure since the pages I have do not include the cover or table of contents.



Ray,if this is of any help?

From “Ordnance and Gunnery” , Ormond M. Lissak , 1915

Shell Tracers.
The tracer for use at night consist of a short metal cylinder filled with a slow burning substance that emits a bright flame during the flight of the projectile through the air.It may be screwed into a seat prepared in the base of any projectile.Ignition of the compound occurs in the gun.
For day tracing a special shell is prepared.The cavity of the shell is partly filled with a mixture of lampblack and water,the mixture having the consistency of thick paint. A small orifice is made through the base of the projectile on one side.The powder gases enter this orifice under the pressure in the gun,and filling the cavity in the shell force from the orifice during flight a spray of black liquid.In recent experiments the flight of a 6-inch day tracing shell was followed for over 7200 yards.

From “Handbook of the 3-inch gun materiel”



Thank you for that information. Very interesting. I would like to see a diagram of that special shell to see exactly where the black mixture is located.

That still leaves me wondering what the holes in the fuze nose are? I can only guess that they are there to release the smoke and gas pressure created by the burning of the fuze powder train. That in itself would produce a smoke trail that could be visible to the gun crew and maybe that is what is meant by a “smoke tracer”?




The holes you described under the mushroom-shaped cap are vents for equalizing the fuze internal pressure with the atmospheric pressure, to assure the fuze time ring composition burns at the correct rate so it will function when intended. You’ll find that all correctly designed powder train time fuzes have vents, often on the time ring(s).

Regarding the USN Day Tracer projectiles, I’ve only seen the design described on the One Pounder Heavy AA Smoke Tracer, Mk.VII. However, I have both 3 Pdr and 6 Pdr USN Smoke Tracer projectiles with a large central vent (like a modified base fuze), and have seen a 3"/50 projectile with the same design. The 3 Pdr and 6 Pdr are not dated, but are likely of pre-WWI vintage. The 3"/50 was dated 1904. This design seems to pre-date that of the One Pounder Mk.VII projectile as I’ve not seen a Mk.VII dated before 1915. These larger projectiles must have been filled and sealed at the loading plants also, as the nose is solid, with no provision for access to the interior of the projectile once it is crimped in the case. There is no mention of these particular projectiles in the 1905 or 1910 editions of “Ordnance and Gunnery”.




Your description of the “holes” in the fuze nose are exactly what I had assumed they were for. Otherwise the pressure from the burning powder train could possibly rupture the fuze body.

Somewhere, in the deep, dark recesses of my brain, I remember reading that those gasses and smoke being vented through those holes served as a tracer to a keen-eyed gunner. Or maybe I just imagined that I read it. ;)

The aforementioned “Naval Ordnance 1937” does have a brief description of the day tracer but no details. That would mean that they must have still been in use just prior to WW II. However, the reference is not caliber specific so it could have been referring to almost any round then in use.

In the drawing that Western posted, the Semple Tracer is the one most commonly found on the old projectiles but I still can’t picture in my mind how it could have been fitted to the 3" Shrapnel shell with it’s thin wall surrounding the black powder expelling charge. Have you ever seen one (Shrapnel Projectile) with a tracer attached?

BTW, the “Common Shrapnel” projectile illustrated appears to be an Incendiary Shrapnel rather the common round ball type. The square shaped balls with a hole in the center of each would seem to indicate that.

Great thread. I really enjoy discussing big ordnance, especially U. S. Navy stuff.




I don't know why the 3" Common Shrapnel balls are drawn as they are in the "Handbook of the Material".  They are circular balls, but do have some flat spots, presumably artifacts of the manufacturing process.  The matrix they're embedded in will produce some smoke when the projectile functions, but is not incendiary.  The HE Shrapnel balls are smaller without any flat spots and are embedded in high explosive.  You will get a black smoke cloud when the projectile functions, either in the air or on impact depending on the fuze setting, but that's because of the HE matrix the balls are in, and the HE filler in the head, which goes on to impact and detonate if the projectile is set to function in the air as a shrapnel projectile.

As for the 3" Field Gun Semple Tracer, I have both Common Shrapnel and Common with this tracer. The Common Shrapnel has a raised boss in the center of the base that is threaded to receive the tracer, while the Common has a special base cover with a raised center which is threaded to receive the tracer.




Here’s an excerpt from the 1937 publication:

". . .the balls may be replaced by small hollow open-ended cylinders in which phosphorus or other incendiary compound is packed. The object of this design is to add, to the local explosion and distribution of missiles, the probability of creating a conflagration. . . "

That may or may not be what the illustration was depicting. I assumed it was but I could wrong. (I am often wrong. Just ask my wife)

Thanks for describing the raised boss to receive the Semple Fuze. I have never seen one like that, or even a diagram of such.



From " Shrapnel Shell Manufacture ", 1915
Here you can see the tracer support at the base of the shell.



Great drawing. Thanks for posting it. I learn something new every day.




Thank you for posting the drawing of the Common Shrapnel with the Semple Tracer. My specimen (dated 1917) does not have the seperate base cover, but is made with a raised boss in the center of the base, which is threaded for the tracer.


I think the 1937 description of the incendiary pellets replacing the balls in a shrapnel projectile was an idea never adopted by the US, although it may have been tested experimentally. There were Incendiary Shrapnel projectiles made and used by both Germany and Japan during WWII, but they were specially made just for this purpose. The Japanese even had an Incendiary Shrapnel projectile for the 46cm Naval Gun. For both countries, the primary use of these projectiles was anti-aircraft.