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Sunday, September 12, 2010

Dum-Dum And Dumber


Dum-dum bullets. That sounds so wicked. Of course, everyone knows that they're nothing but hollow-points or soft-tip rounds.
It's a fairly old idea, messing with a bullet so that it makes a bigger wound. The name came about when the Dum-Dum arsenal in - wait for it - Dum-Dum, India made them famous for, of all things, reliability.
I guess on the face of it, any bullet manufactured there could be called a "dum-dum" round but it was the hollow-points that put them on the map.

According to the article above, New York Times, 1886, reliability was a big issue and in that regard the guys at Dum-dum seemed to have been doing a good job.
The Brits really liked dum-dums; and that all fed into the R&D frenzy that was going on in the weapons manufacturing industry at the time. The introduction of smokeless powder had really shaken things up.
The venerable.303 British round, first issued in 1888, started life as a black-powder cartridge for the then brand new Lee-Metford rifle.
The Lee-Metford marked the debut of the box-magazine and rear-locking bolt that made the later SMLE's such fast firers. The action was designed by James Paris Lee while Metford had designed a form of rifling less prone to fouling in black-powder rifles. Problem was - smokeless powder ruined the barrel - quickly - after something like a few thousand rounds. The design was then sent to the Royal Small Arms factory at Enfield, where the SMLE was developed, God's most perfect rifle.
But a problem arose over the Brits beloved dum-dum rounds. They were outlawed by the Hague Convention in 1899.
This sent the British on a different tangent. How about having the bullets turn sideways at the moment of impact and so tear a bigger hole? It wasn't as cool as an expanding bullet but it seemed feasible.
This is discussed at some length at the Great War, anorak site, The Great War Forum.
To this end the .303 projo was made with a lighter tip. The reasoning being: if the rear is heavier it will automatically shift sideways. Bullets were manufactured with tips of wood, aluminum and "compressed fiber" (read: cardboard).
They worked - really well. Go here for a demo.
Okay, we're finally ready for the dumber part.
Pictured next: a component that was integral to all the Lee-action rifles up to the MKIII*, adopted in 1915: The magazine cut-off.
It was nothing but a flap of steel that one could push in so that the chamber could be cleared without another round being sent put up the pipe.
But, check out what the Germans thought - or thought they thought.
They found an alarming number of intact .303 rounds that had either bent tips or had the tip broken off making them one of the forbidden dum-dum rounds.
Their subsequent rationale puts even Glenn Beck to shame.
They believed that the magazine cut-off was intended to be used as a field-expedient "dum-dum converter".
I crap you negative.
To our left, a German, propaganda postcard of the era, showing how the so-called "magazine cut-off" was employed to make the, otherwise tame .303 round so deadly.
As you can see (Don't try this at home) one simply inserts the tip of the bullet into the special hole made for it - then bends the shit out of it.
I have one of these things (an SMLE), WW2 vintage but still - I have trouble with soft tip rounds feeding sometimes. Actually, only FMG rounds feed reliably every time.
That horseshoe our German friend is holding wouldn't get in as far as the chamber.

Back to the anoraks, we'll always need anoraks. One of them was in possession of not only a period, pre MKIII* SMLE and period bulletage - but a camera.

Behold: the two ways that the benign and virginal .303 can be converted to the dreaded dum-dum - or not.
Short version: It doesn't work. it screws up a bullet (for this kid - about a buck apiece at Bi-Mart) so it won't feed - or fire - which is good as the guts of the round could blow through leaving the copper jacket in the chamber. Not good for anyone standing around for the next shot.

Lame, lame, lame, Uber Alles.
All the suspicious rounds the Germans found?
Mis-feeds. There were repeated problems with magazine lips. As far as feeding went, some magazines were completely unusable.
I can't believe that the rank-and=file Germans bought into this. In the heat of the moment one would, of course close the bolt with some alacrity. And, given obvious - albeit occasional - feed problems - the end result would be... a ground littered with "tampered" rounds.
Makes me ashamed to be 1/16 German.

2 comments:

Andy said...

That really is interesting shit Dan. I stopped saying "I knew that" when you said the Dum-Dum came from India...

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