Tracer shells question?

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Steve Crandell
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Re: Tracer shells question?

Post by Steve Crandell »

Thank you very much! I have saved the document and will peruse it when I have time. I hadn't realized what you had found.
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Re: Tracer shells question?

Post by Kev D »

paul.mercer wrote: Wed Jan 05, 2022 10:24 amJust a thought, could the 'glow' of the departing shell because the base of the shell was heated up by the explosion that sent it on its way or possibly the heat generated by the friction of travelling up the barrel?
Hi Paul. This was my first thought also, i.e. simply friction caused by either of the two points you raise.
wadinga wrote: Wed Jan 05, 2022 9:12 pmI'm still trying find an eye-witness reference to tracer use during Scharnhorst's destruction. Star-shell was used extensively, but with multiple vessels firing at a single target I have found no mention of "time sector" shooting so differentiating "own salvoes" to aid spotting would have been difficult unless something like tracer was used.
Hi wadinga. Below are a couple of pages excerpted from the book (The Iron Sea) that I mentioned in my OP, which include eye witness 'statements' so to speak. (FYI, the 'Ditchman' quoted at top of page 223 is Lt Ditchman aboard HMS Scorpion, one of the the DD's present.)

PS. I meant to add, a quick scan through the pages of the book describing the Scharnhorst sinking action does not immediately reveal a mention of Scharnhost firing 'tracer' from her main guns as I had previously stated, so it seems I may have misinterpreted a passage / description re an exchange between the two heavies. :oops: So seems it just mentions DoY's main guns firing 'tracer shells'.

Excerpt-from-'The-Iron-Sea'-p220.jpg
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Excerpt-from-'The-Iron-Sea'-p223.jpg
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PSS. Although I believe I have asked this question before ...........I have obviously forgotten the answer. :stubborn: So, how does one get the attachment to show / embed directly as an actual 'photo' (as I see in other people's posts in various threads) as oppossed to the above reading "not downloaded yet" and so having to click on the jpg 'link' to get to see the attachment?
We are off to look for trouble. I expect we shall find it.” Capt. Tennant. HMS Repulse. Dec. 8 1941
A review of the situation at about 1100 was not encouraging.” Capt. Gordon, HMS Exeter. 1 March 1942
paul.mercer
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Re: Tracer shells question?

Post by paul.mercer »

Gentlemen,
Having read all of your posts re tracer shells, I can understand why they were used in machine gun bullets to direct fire onto a target that was fairy near but I'm a bit confused as to why they would be used in large calibre naval shells. Surely, if a battleship is firing at another at any range the splash from any miss would be spotted and it would be unlikely for a tracer to be seen if the range was long?
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Re: Tracer shells question?

Post by Steve Crandell »

If the range was long, the tracer would probably burn out before a shell arrived at the target. BB tracers would indicate to other ships in the formation who she was shooting at, for purposes of choosing targets. Also, at night you don't always see the splash. Finally, if there was a flash on the target right after your tracer merged, that's a good indication of a hit. There are probably other good reasons to have tracers at night and I'm glad we seem to have determined that navies at least possessed the capability to use them. They were obviously of most use during night engagements, and the ranges would then be relatively short.
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Re: Tracer shells question?

Post by Thorsten Wahl »

If i remember correctly german heavy ships also used tracers Tirpitz at the Svalbard (Spitzbergen) raid, Admiral Scheer during Unternehmen Wunderland against Port Dickson
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Re: Tracer shells question?

Post by dunmunro »

From the Gunnery Pocket Book:

TRACERS AND IGNITERS.

201. To enable the flight of the projectile to be seen, a tracer may be fitted into the base. A tracer consists of a small tube or disc filled with tracer composition, which is ignited when the gun fires.

The igniter is a device to ensure self-destruction of the shell if the fuze has not operated by a given time.

The tracer and igniter is a similar device combining the functions of tracer and self destruction
.
http://archive.hnsa.org/doc/br224/part2.htm
paul.mercer
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Re: Tracer shells question?

Post by paul.mercer »

Gentlemen,
To reopen the question on whether tracer shells were used on large naval weapons, I found this bit in 'KGV class battleships when describing the 'North Cape' battle. It stated "Lt Cmdr Crawford, high up in the flagships director tower, counted to fifteen after the guns split wide the Arctic night with twenty-two flashes of bright yellow flame, he watched the tracer bands of the shells climb to their highest point then curve down until on the count of fifteen they obliterated Scharnhorst in a forest of huge 200 foot shell splashes which straddled her, Crawford also saw a greenish glow flash along Scharnhorst's waterline, indicating she had been hit "
If we assume that many of those 15 gun flashes and the corresponding 200 foot shell splashes were fired by DoY, it would seem that large calibre shells could be fitted with tracer bands.
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Re: Tracer shells question?

Post by Bill Jurens »

This passage would appear, at least to me, highly imaginative -- basically 'purple-prose'...

As others have pointed out, there is really little if any need for tracers for large projectiles as the point of impact is (usually) fairly clear visually and can be corrected by spotting. Tracers are only useful when the point of impact(and therefore the ability to spot) is uncertain, as when firing at aircraft or perhaps at troops in a tree-line, or when the time of flight is so short that corrections can be effectively made 'on the fly'. Though this is a relatively minor point, in fairly long-range naval gunfire, one is not really looking at the base of the projectile except during the first half of the trajectory; if the angle of fall is, say, 25 degrees, then one is looking at the base of the shell at an angle, rendering the tracer somewhat less visible, or perhaps entirely occluded, and likely giving an erroneous perspective of exactly where the shell is going. It gets worse -- in most practical naval engagements times of flight were so long that any tracer that would produce enough light to be visible over 30 second (or so) flight time and a range of (say) 25000 yards, would have to be quite a substantial unit indeed.

I don't know of any incidences where tracers were placed in larger shells. Rarely, they may have been put in larger proximity-fused bullets -- up to 6" or so in caliber -- which were used in anti-aircraft mode, as then the trajectory of missed shots that were too far out to trigger the fuses might be difficult to follow. An alternative at least during WWII, one simply mixed a few time fused shells in with the proximity loads, as these would -- as they exploded -- yield an indication of grossly erroneous fire-control setups.

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wadinga
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Re: Tracer shells question?

Post by wadinga »

Hello Bill,

Can you give your opinion on the reference I posted back on Feb 4th?https://bulletpicker.com/pdf/OP%201664, ... #page=145
Page 62 & 63 of the document I referenced on Tuesday there is a sectional drawing of a 16" projectile with the Mk 5 Tracer and base fuse installed. The previous page 24 I refenced showed all the options of base and nose fuses for these shells, including the Mk 5 Tracer.
If you like purple prose you'll love this:
ComCruDiv 14 (CTG 77.2) comments:
1. In this connection the comments of a Destroyer Squadron Commander are of interest. "It was a privilege of Commander Destroyer Squadron FIFTY-SIX to watch the gunfire of the cruisers from a position considerably removed from the line of fire. The devastating accuracy of this gunfire was the most beautiful sight I have ever witnessed. The arched line of tracers in the darkness looked like a continual stream of lighted railroad cars going over a hill.
I guess they were 6" but I believe the projectile article says tracers were available up to the largest calibres.

All the best

wadinga
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Bill Jurens
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Re: Tracer shells question?

Post by Bill Jurens »

Well, I'm fairly certain that although most large projectiles COULD be fitted with tracers, these would be -- as is noted in the text -- primarily used in such things as target practices, etc. rather than in combat. Most target bullets were not equipped with dye loads, so if one is firing salvos, it was, for example, sometimes difficult to tell which gun in a given salvo might be 'off' or out-of-pattern. If one were firing dye loads, this could be observed via splash colors, but with target bullets it might have been convenient to fit one gun in the salvo with a tracer round and follow it along. It's also possible that tracers were sometimes used in so-called 'Short-Range Battle Practices where ranges were typically under 5000 yards or so and one was interested in seeing which shell hit where in the target screen, or to determine some aspects of projectile stability close to the muzzle, where one might, with binoculars, be able to pick out cases of unusual 'wobble' by looking from directly (or nearly directly) behind the gun.

Also, there was some consideration in using large caliber bullets in anti-aircraft mode, particularly against fairly high-level horizontal bombers, etc. In those circumstances, tracers might have been occasionally fitted as well. I'd have to check out my gunnery practice records here to see how much of this was actually done in practice. My sense of it is 'not very often...".

I can still see no plausible reason at all to fit tracers in large-caliber bullets in longer range battle practices or combat shooting. The shell splashes alone are enough to tell you all you need to know about fall of shot.

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wadinga
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Re: Tracer shells question?

Post by wadinga »

Hello Bill,

I'm sure you are right. However, Surigao Strait was a night engagement so I imagine there may have been some value in an unusual use of tracer. The original question was about Scharnhorst's final battle, also conducted in pitch darkness, and the RN Gunnery pocketbook makes some mention of larger calibre tracers.

An unusual practice, pointless in daylight, but maybe of value in darkness with several ships firing without time separation and wanting to correlate their shots with radar splash detection.

All the best

wadinga
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paul.mercer
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Re: Tracer shells question?

Post by paul.mercer »

Hi Bill,
I'm afraid I had to look up the meaning of Purple Prose', which infers that it is a sort of way of exaggerating or perhaps putting a more 'flowery' statement on a subject. While I would not disagree with the points that you have made, I do wonder why an experienced naval officer in the spotting top of a battleship engaging in battle would bother to try and put a 'shine' on the events unfolding in front of him? Perhaps it was a case of seeing what he wanted to see? In any case, I believe that Scharnhorst was already illuminated by star shells, as both DoY and Belfast were firing them, perhaps that is what he saw. Also, in an earlier post I suggested that tracer shells may have been mistaken for the shell having its tail heated up by the cordite charge when it was fired, as the range was only 12000 yards and the time of flight about 15 seconds I wonder if that might have given the illusion of tracer?
Regarding Thorsten's post "If I remember correctly German heavy ships also used tracers Tirpitz at the Svalbard (Spitzbergen) raid, Admiral Scheer during Unternehmen Wunderland against Port Dickson". While I suspect that perhaps the two German heavy ships were bombarding with their lighter weapons which may have had tracer bands, but if the Germans had been able to fit them to their 11" and 15" shells, then surely it would have been possible for the RN to do the same if they wanted to?
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Re: Tracer shells question?

Post by paul.mercer »

Gentlemen,
Still on the subject of tracer shells, I found this in a book on the Scharnhorst by AR Jacobsen where is quotes comments from many of the RN participants and some of the Scharnhorst survivors.
This bit is a quote from Lt Ramsden who was in HMS Jamaica: "DoY fired her 14" and even to us now a thousand yards away the noise and concussion were colossal...." He went on, "as soon as she could be seen there was a deafening crack and a spurt of flame as we fired our first full broadside of 6", the concussion momentarily deafened me and my vision was blurred by the shaking of the director and the sudden flash out of the gloom".
"We could see the tracer shells coursing away like a swarm of bees bunched together and could follow them as they curved gently down towards the target"
It would seem that as Jamaica fired her guns almost immediately after DOY opened fire the tracer shells seem by Lt Cmdr Crawford on DoY were almost certainly fired by Jamaica and as Scharnhorst was lit up by a number of star shells he would have had no difficulty in seeing the 14" shell splashes.
Hope this clears it up!
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