Armor-piercing shot and shell

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An armor-piercing shell is a type of ammunition designed to penetrate armor. From the 1860s to 1950s, a major application of armor-piercing projectiles was to defeat the thick armor carried on many warships. From the 1920s onwards, armor-piercing weapons were required for anti-tank missions.

An armor-piercing shell must withstand the shock of punching through armor plating. Shells designed for this purpose have a greatly strengthened case with a specially hardened and shaped nose, and a much smaller bursting charge. Some smaller-caliber AP shells have an inert filling, or incendiary charge in place of the HE bursting charge. The AP shell is now little used in naval warfare, as modern warships have little or no armor protection,[citation needed] but it remains the preferred round in tank warfare, as it has a greater "first-hit kill" probability than a high explosive anti-tank (HEAT) round, especially against a target with composite armor, and because of higher muzzle velocity, is also more accurate than a HEAT round.

Armor-piercing cartridges are also available as small arms ammunition, primarily for use as an anti-matériel round or to defeat body armor.



The late 1850s saw the development of the ironclad warship, which carried wrought iron armor of considerable thickness. This armor was practically immune to both the round cast-iron cannonballs then in use and to the recently-developed explosive shell. The first solution to this problem was effected by Major Sir W. Palliser, who invented a method of hardening the head of the pointed cast-iron shot. By casting the projectile point downwards and forming the head in an iron mold, the hot metal was suddenly chilled and became intensely hard (resistant to deformation), while the remainder of the mold, being formed of sand, allowed the metal to cool slowly and the body of the shot to be made tough (resistant to shattering).

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