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Alternative History of the Mine Ball

This is a discussion on Alternative History of the Mine Ball within the Military History forums, part of the Armed Services category; A few weeks ago we had some fun with a discussion of the technologies necessary to develop and field a Viet Nam Era type of ...


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Old May 17th, 2017, 10:25 AM   #1
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Alternative History of the Mine Ball

A few weeks ago we had some fun with a discussion of the technologies necessary to develop and field a Viet Nam Era type of gunship during or before WW-II.

So a new question: How early in milatery history could someone who knew that it could be done, have produced a hollow based lead bullet for an existing rifle regardless of ignition method?

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Old May 17th, 2017, 11:18 AM   #2
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Probably around 1830 . . .

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Old May 17th, 2017, 11:58 AM   #3
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Old May 17th, 2017, 12:07 PM   #4
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Probably around 1830 . . .
Well sure . . .but:

If someone had gotten the idea to do it, could it have been possible to make a hollow based lead bullet as early as, say 1775? The Revolutionary war might have been over years earlier. /the final outcome could have rapidly swung to the side that used it.

What about 1750 or before? Perhaps the push west over the mountains would have happened more rapidly (though therw were other, stronger social and political considerations hold settlers back).

Suppose someone whispered into the ear Leonardo as he was drawing the wheel-lock mechanism in the 1490s?

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Old May 17th, 2017, 01:02 PM   #5
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You are forgetting that just about every advancement in technology is build on the foundation of prior technology, and the economics surrounding that period.

Ever wonder why the rifle was never widely used as a military arm prior to the 1790s? It wasn't because Generals disliked change of thought that they were ungentlemanly, or that they fired to slow. Most generals at the time thought, and rightly so for the offense at least, that only one volley was really required, the rest of the fight was best handled by the bayonet. So, the rate of fire really isn't a factor.

It was because they were too damn expensive. And, why were they so expensive? After all you're really only adding a few hours work to cut rifling to the production time.

The answer is: How accurately can you control the diameter of a hole in a piece iron/steel, when you bore a hole 3 feet long in it?

If you measure the actual bore diameter of a whole bunch of Brown Bess muskets from the Seven Years War era, you'll get any where from 0.74 to 0.76 inch. That's the best economical tolerance you can get with the technology of the time.

James Watt was happy when he found a machine shop that could bore a steam cylinder and turn a matching piston that, "...had a gap between the two only the thickness of a shilling..."

A military issued rifle would have to have bore diameters controlled to a tolerance that allows for a patched bullet of standard size to fit tightly but not too tightly. The tolerances on the Baker rifle* bores (circa 1800) is about a tenth of that of the standard Brown Bess. And, they were expensive, about two and a half times the price of a musket.

By the 1820s, technology in machining had advanced to a point where you could bore a long hole and control the diameter to a few thousandths of an inch, this allowed steam engines to work efficiently, which in turn allowed for boring and rifling of gun barrels to be done relatively inexpensively.

Only then did it become economically feasible to think of equipping armies, instead of one or two regiments, with rifles.

Now, that we are thinking of issuing rifles on a large scale, we start to push for ways to address the problem of rate of fire. All of the technologies that lead to the massed issue of rifles/rifled muskets came together around 1830.

French Army Captain Henri-Gustave Delvigne invented a design that when the ball was rammed home in the chamber it deformed and expanded to fill the grooves in 1826. In 1846, Captain Claude-…tienne Miniť, furthered that idea by placing a wooden cone in the base on a conical bullet that was forced forward expanding the base of the bullet into the rifling. And finally, Captain James H. Burton, U.S.A., in 1849 realized that the gas pressure alone could supply the force required to expand the base of the bullet, and thus made the bullet far more economical to produce.

"What if", is only really interesting if the technological and economic factors that would lead to an invention are present, but the invention is bypassed to a later date.

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* When Britain issued rifles to Rifle Regiment, they addressed the rate of fire issue by issuing two types of ammunition, one was pre-packaged cartridges similar to the musket ammunition, but the ball was a caliber smaller that the nominal rifle bore, so they loaded like the muskets, the other type ammunition was: loose round balls of the proper caliber for the rifle, loose greased patches, paper cartridges with no bullet, and a flask of special fine grain priming powder. When a high rate of fire was required, the Baker rifle was loaded and fired like the musket, with musket accuracy, when the situation required accuracy, the Baker was loaded and fired with patched balls

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Old May 17th, 2017, 01:37 PM   #6
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Lysander: .

hadn't forgotten about the foundations of prior technology etc. I was just thinking about what it would take to create a three-part mold that could cast a Mine-type bullet. Your remarks about Watt's steam engine is right on point. The question of economics is also well founded, but I was simply asking about casting a more complex shape. A mine-type projectile could be used in anybody's rifle . . .I would leave it up to them to buy a rifle if they could. High-end firearms have high-end owners even today. Leonardo was drawing up plans for wheel-lock pistols at that time. Could they have made a mine-ball mold back then?

Some pretty complex gear was being created as early as the early 1500s (clocks and such) but only for the wealthy. By thw early 17oos, the American Long Rifle was getting used by some pretty common folk. I was just wondering if it were possible to make a Mine Ball mold that early?


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Old May 17th, 2017, 03:26 PM   #7
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Lysander: .

hadn't forgotten about the foundations of prior technology etc. I was just thinking about what it would take to create a three-part mole that could cast a Mine-type bullet. Your remarks about Watt's steam engine is right on point. The question of economics is also well founded, but I was simply asking about casting a more complex shape. A mine-type projectile could be used in anybody's rifle . . .I would leave it up to them to buy a rifle if they could. High-end firearms have high-end owners even today. Leonardo was drawing up plans for wheel-lock pistols at that time. Could they have made a mine-ball mold back then?

Some pretty complex gear was being created as early as the early 1500s (clocks and such) but only for the wealthy. By thw early 17oos, the American Long Rifle was getting used by some pretty common folk. I was just wondering if it were possivle to make a Mine Ball mold that early?
In 1775 the British Army bought over 15,000 muskets. How much did a Pennsylvania Rifle cost? (in man-hours) And, these rifles were provided their own molds so you could cast balls of the correct diameter to match the bore.

A Miniť ball will not work in any rifle. The bullet diameter needs to be around 0.015 to 0.020 inch less than the bore diameter, any more and the skirt will not expand sufficiently to engage the rifling.

Military weapons needed to be able to use ammunition of a common diameter. with a bore diameter variation of 0.02 to 0.03 inch, even Miniť balls would be unreliable in stabilization.

(One of the things the old arquebusers had to do was mold their own balls, as technology had not progressed to the point where even smooth bores could be standardized . . . ) As to making Miniť balls why would they even think to? A patched ball was quite good, and a smoothbore musket is accurate enough for the military work of the day.

And one last thing, most of da Vinci's "designs" were highly unworkable, even by standards of his time, and about the time he was doodling pictures of a wheellock, German gunmakers were actually making them.....

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Old May 18th, 2017, 05:38 AM   #8
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Yeah, Devinci thought the flying machine had to flap the wings. Wonder what he would have drawn if some one had described a hang-glider to him. His multi-canon turtle looking tank wagon was also not practical. and his wheel-lock drawings may just be documentation of an existing idea. My point in citing Leonardo was that complex things were being conceived and executed at that time. With the ability to creat a wheel lock (however expensive to make) lead me to think that a matching mold for a Mine-type bullet might have been possible back then. It would have to be made separately for each individual gun of course. As you have mentioned, repatability and precision did not become really possible till after 1800 or so.

Even the round ball molds for the American long rRfles were specific to each firearm. Another complication is that the optimum rate of twist is different for a longer and heavier bullet of the same diameter as a ball (quicker I think?).

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Old May 19th, 2017, 12:13 PM   #9
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RE-reading some of these exchanges, it occurs to me that I may be using the term "Mine Ball" too loosely. Perhaps I should have stuck with the more generic term "hollow based, conical lead bullet" or some thing similar. Of course a standard Civil War era Mine ball could not work in just any rifle. My thought was that a bullet of similar configuration could be made specifically to work in many rifled arms prior to the general usage in the 1830s or 1840s.

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Old May 19th, 2017, 10:25 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by ManxumFoe View Post
RE-reading some of these exchanges, it occurs to me that I may be using the term "Mine Ball" too loosely. Perhaps I should have stuck with the more generic term "hollow based, conical lead bullet" or some thing similar. Of course a standard Civil War era Mine ball could not work in just any rifle. My thought was that a bullet of similar configuration could be made specifically to work in many rifled arms prior to the general usage in the 1830s or 1840s.
Not in military use. The tolerance on bore diameter is to great, as explained.

Outside of military use, there is no driving force for the invention . . .

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Old May 20th, 2017, 05:11 AM   #11
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Not in military use. The tolerance on bore diameter is to great, as explained.

Outside of military use, there is no driving force for the invention . . .
Well yes . . .You have explained pretty much why the Mine type of bullet did not come to be instill well into the 19th Century.

The proposition is merely that if one had knowledge of the desigh and desired to make it happen, one COULD/MIGHT have been able to get elongated, hollow based bullets that properly fit a specific rifled firearm somewhat before their general introduction prior to the Crimean War.

Yolur reasoning also explains why the Chinese never developed hang gliders despite having all the materials (silk, bamboo etc) redily at hand.

On a photography based forum, we discussed wether or not a Daguerreotype photograph COULD have been made prior to 1839. Given knowledge of the process it might have been possible a few years earlier with the isolation of Iodine around 1800: Possibly, but not probably somewhat before then.


Last edited by ManxumFoe; May 20th, 2017 at 06:45 AM.
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