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Cordite was a name brand smokeless powder originally developed by Sir James Dewar and Sir Fredrick Able (United Kingdom) in 1889. Cordite was produced to replace military gunpowder (now known as black powder ). Cordite was produced in rather long strands resembling spaghetti called “cord powder”. A major draw back to the original form, was that this cord powder, was so large it had to be put into cylinder cartridge brass before it was formed (create the bottle neck).
Cordite was developed by reverse engineering Alfred Noble's, Ballistite and Paul Vieille's, Powder B. The original mixture of cordite was about 37.5% nitrocellulose, 57.5 % nitroglycerine and 5% petroleum jelly and named Cordite Mk1. Cordite Mk1 is a double base powder.
Cordite was reformulated into several other propellants.
- Cordite MD was a modified mixture of Cordite Mk1 to burn cooler and save on barrel wear; 65% nitrocellulose, 30% nitroglycerine, and 5% petroleum jelly.
- Cordite RDB was developed with collodion (nitrocellulose in soluble form) 52% nitrocellulose, 42% nitroglycerine, and 6% petroleum jelly.
- Cordite SC was a process of producing cordite without solvents (solvents are what make nitrocellulose into collodion).
- Cordite N was produce by adding nitroguanidine to the nitrocellulose and nitroglycerine mixture making this cordite a triple base powder and specifically designed for naval guns.
Cordite was used initially used in the .303 British, Mark I and II, standard rifle cartridge between 1891 and 1915. However, shortages of cordite in World War I led to smokeless powders being imported into the UK from United States . Cordite was also used for large weapons, such as tank guns, artillery and naval guns. It has been used mainly for this purpose since the beginning of World War I by the UK and British Commonwealth countries. Cordite's use was further developed in the early years of World War II, for launching 2-inch and 3-inch diameter non-rotated, anti-aircraft projectiles. Small cordite rocket charges were also developed for ejector seats made by the Martin-Baker Company.
Cordite is now obsolete and it is no longer produced. It has been replaced by other propellants, such as the Improved Military Rifle (IMR) line of extruded powder or the WC844 ball propellant currently in use in the 5.56 x 45 mm NATO. Production ceased in the United Kingdom, around the middle of the 20th century, with the closure of the last of the World War II cordite factory at ROF Bishopton. However, cordite propellant may still be encountered in the form of legacy ammunition dating from World War II onwards.
The smell of cordite is frequently referenced (erroneously) in fiction to indicate the recent firing of weapons.