Cordite is a family of smokeless propellants developed and produced in the United Kingdom since 1889 to replace gunpowder as a military propellant. Like gunpowder, cordite is classified as a low explosive because of its slow burning rates and these produce a subsonic deflagration wave rather than the supersonic detonation wave produced by brisants, or high explosives. The hot gases produced by burning gunpowder or cordite generate sufficient pressure to propel a bullet or shell to its target, Cordite was used initially in the. Cordite was also used for weapons, such as tank guns, artillery. It has been used mainly for this purpose since the late 19th century by the UK and its use was further developed before World War II, and as 2-and-3-inch-diameter Unrotated Projectiles for launching anti-aircraft weapons. Small cordite rocket charges were developed for ejector seats made by the Martin-Baker Company. Cordite was also used in the system of the Little Boy atomic bomb dropped over Hiroshima in August 1945. The term cordite generally disappeared from official publications between the wars, during World War II double based propellants were very widely used and there was some use of triple based propellants by artillery. For small arms it has replaced by other propellants, such as the Improved Military Rifle line of extruded powder or the WC844 ball propellant currently in use in the 5. 56×45mm NATO. Production ceased in the United Kingdom, around the end of the 20th century, with the closure of the last of the World War II cordite factories, triple base propellant for UK service is now manufactured in Germany. Gunpowder, a mixture of sulfur, charcoal and potassium nitrate, was the original propellant employed in firearms. It was used from about 10th or 11th century onwards, but it had disadvantages, the first smokeless powder was developed in 1865 by Major Johann F. E. Schultze of the Prussian artillery. His formulation was composed of nitrolignose impregnated with saltpetre or barium nitrate, in 1882 the Explosive Company of Stowmarket introduced EC Powder, which contained nitro-cotton and nitrates of potassium and barium in a grain gelatinesed by ether alcohol. It had coarser grains than other nitrocellulose powders and it proved unsuitable for rifles, but it remained in long use for shotguns and was later used for grenades and fragmentation bombs. In 1884, the French chemist Paul Vieille produced a smokeless propellant that had some success and it was made out of collodion, resulting in a plastic colloidal substance which was rolled into very thin sheets, then dried and cut up into small flakes. It was immediately adopted by the French military for their Mle 1886 infantry rifle, the rifle and the cartridge developed to use this powder were known generically as the 8mm Lebel, after the officer who developed its 8 mm full metal jacket bullet. The following year,1887, Alfred Nobel invented and patented a smokeless propellant he called Ballistite and it was composed of 10% camphor, 45% nitroglycerine and 45% collodion. Over time the camphor tended to evaporate, leaving an unstable explosive, using acetone as a solvent, it was extruded as spaghetti-like rods initially called cord powder or the Committees modification of Ballistite, but this was swiftly abbreviated to Cordite
A stick of cordite from World War II
A sectioned British 18 pounder field gun shrapnel round, World War I, with bound string to simulate the appearance of the original cordite propellant
Close-up of cordite filaments in a .303 British Rifle cartridge (manufactured in 1964).