Dum-dum bullets at the Battle of Omdurman

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Dum-dum bullets at the Battle of Omdurman

Postby Mark » 05 Jan 2016 14:58

Would I be correct in thinking that British troops, armed with the .303 Lee Metford, made extensive use of the so-called dum-dum bullet at the Battle of Omdurman? I have found some vague references to this in period sources but am looking for something a little more concrete.

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Re: Dum-dum bullets at the Battle of Omdurman

Postby rd72 » 05 Jan 2016 17:25

Hi Mark,

There is a wonderful ammunition site here, https://sites.google.com/site/britmilam ... -page-2.... that will explain the marks of 303 ammo...

Dum-Dum would be a generic term for all expanding bullets, I would say. The origin of this (as you are no doubt aware) came from the following:

It would appear that there was a Mk II Special in Indian Service from 1896 (made at Dum Dum).... I take that to mean "for use with British troops serving with the Indian Army" as they'd be the only ones armed with the Lee-Metford .. The Mk II Special was a soft point version with the jacket cut away exposing the lead core, much like a modern hunting round.

The Mk III and IV were hollow point rounds adopted from Oct '97 and Feb '98 respectively for use by the British Army, generally. It seems by a bit of web searching that the Mk IV was issued for the expedition... by the dates of the LoC, this is certainly possible.
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Rob
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Re: Dum-dum bullets at the Battle of Omdurman

Postby Mark » 05 Jan 2016 21:58

Thanks, Rob! I found numerous references to it when I was researching the North West Frontier risings of 1897-98, but less so for Kitchener's re-conquest of Sudan.

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Re: Dum-dum bullets at the Battle of Omdurman

Postby rd72 » 05 Jan 2016 22:10

They weren't in service very long as the Hague Convention of '99 put an end to them... they went back to the Mk II and eventually the Mk VI with the thinner envelope in 1906.

It might be safe to say that any that were used on the NWF were of the Mk II Special type, then? The "true" Dum Dum bullet....
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Re: Dum-dum bullets at the Battle of Omdurman

Postby Maureene » 06 Jan 2016 04:59

This is an article called "Dum Dums" by Daniel E. Watters, Small Arms Historian
http://www.thegunzone.com/dum-dum.html
It says that the Mark IV used at Omdurman had been developed by the British Army, so was not the same bullet which was used in the Tirah campaign, although the name Dum Dum came to have a generic meaning for any expanding jacketed projectile that followed.

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Re: Dum-dum bullets at the Battle of Omdurman

Postby Mark » 06 Jan 2016 10:23

Thanks, Maureen! I don't intend to go into much detail so I think I probably have all I need now :)

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Re: Dum-dum bullets at the Battle of Omdurman

Postby RobD » 07 Jan 2016 00:41

"... the Hague Convention of '99 put an end to them.." - in theory, yes.
But battlefield pickups sometimes tell a different story, and pickups from Omdurman would be very interesting to analyse
Boer War Memorial 3.jpg
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.
For example, the armoured train incident of 15 Nov 1899 near Colenso (at which Winston Churchill was captured) was commemorated by a memorial, in which the letters are made from .303 cases from the site, set in concrete. Some of these are Mk IVs...
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Re: Dum-dum bullets at the Battle of Omdurman

Postby Mark » 07 Jan 2016 12:29

I believe both Britain and the US were very much opposed to the Hague Convention in 1899.

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Re: Dum-dum bullets at the Battle of Omdurman

Postby Annapolis » 08 Jan 2016 04:50

Mark: If you have a copy of John Meredith's compilation "Omdurman Diaries 1898," the original sources there make it clear that Gatacre's command were using Dum Dum style bullets. Here is a quoted letter from Gatacre:

"The present-shaped bullet .303 Lee-Metford rifle has little stopping power. Well, we have this class of ammunition, so I am altering the shape of the bullet to that of the Dum-Dum bullet, which has a rounded point. I do this by filing the point off. Before I left Cairo I provided four hundred files and small gauges to test the length of the altered bullet, and daily we have 2,800 men engaged on this work. I borrowed fifty railway rails and mounted them flat side uppermost, to form anvils on which to file. We have a portion of men unpacking, and another packing, so that the same men are always at the same work. The men are getting very sharp at it; it would make a capital picture. The men are working very well; we have no drink, and therefore no crime or sickness. I am getting on well with altering the ammunition. We have 3,000,000 rounds to alter, but are making good progress, altering 80,000 rounds per day." (p.26)

Other of the diaries describe this project:

Lieut. Samuel F. Cox (Lincolnshire Regiment):

"... [G]ot damned long lecture in the afternoon on the subject of filing down cartridges -- discovered that, when altered, magazines cannot be used. However, G.O.C. says he doesn't care, in fact says its rather a good thing. Don't know that I agree with him." Feb. 1st, 1898

Pvt George Teigh (Co F. 1st Bn. Lincolnshire Regiment: "I was on wood cutting for bakery in the morning. After dinner I was filing bullets till tea. That is what the rails were put round the square for to hold the bullet firm against till we filed off the top of the bullet. Feb. 2nd, 1898.

Lieut Cox: "Up at 7. Ammunition fatigue the devil, all available men and officers 6 hours daily for 30 days to file off the tops. Makeshift anvils made out of inverted railway lines resting on some pins with mud as mortar." Feb. 2nd

Lieut. Ronald F. Meiklejohn (Royal Warwickshire Regiment): "The General says our bullets have not got sufficient "stopping power" for savages, so we are to file off the tops to make them expand. Gauges have been issued and every bullet has to be gauged by an officer. When Gatacre was standing near, Colonel Longbourne audibly remarked of these gauges, "Damned things are all a different length." An evident fact, but the General was clearly annoyed and said we must judge for ourselves." Feb. 2nd.

Pvt. Teigh: We paraded at 5:30 and went on route march. We are to have one every Tuesday and Saturday. We formed up and marched a couple of miles over the desert and then the alert sounded and we formed into line and fixed bayonets and then we tot he order to fire 2 rounds of ball ammunition. After we had done that the General said we cold fire all the old ammunition, so we are going to use it up every route march. I think it will be good practice for us. He said we get the new Dum-Dum Bullets up now. May 10th.

**********

And so it goes throughout the diary entries. I take it from these entries and others like them that a clear distinction was being made between the standard issue .303 L-M bullet -- referred to as "ball" and the filed .303 L-M cartridges referred to as Dum-Dum. Maybe not "specification" Dum-Dum, but D-D in every real design and effect. Whether Gatacre's filed bullets traveled all the way up the Nile to Omdurman the diaries don't relate, but is seems reasonable that if 3 million were filed, it would be hard to have expended them before then.

Hope this goes toward you question. Annapolis
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Re: Dum-dum bullets at the Battle of Omdurman

Postby Annapolis » 08 Jan 2016 05:16

Mark: Here's one other source at hand on Lee-Metford "dum dum" ammunition. Our intrepid "embedded" reporter, Bennet Burleigh, writes:

"The War Office authorities have reams of correspondence on the valueless character of the Lee-Metford rifle bullet. Indeed, the rifle itself has come in for severe strictures, as being inferior in its magazine arrangement to the German and Italian weapons; whilst the cordite is described as "an indifferent explosive compared to the powder of other countries." However all that may be, certainly the soldiers have no faith n the stopping qualities of the Lee-Metford bullet. One million rounds had to be so dealt with. They were doing the same thing in Cairo arsenal. It is little short of a scandal that an army in the field has to sit down whilst the men re-make its ammunition. A bullet is put into a rifle to do certain work, and if it does not do so effectually, it is a failure, as the bullet is, in the opinion of most men who have seen it fire in warfare. A million is a big number. The tips are filed down till the lead showed through the nickel case. A bullet so treated expands mushroom fashion upon striking any object, and becomes a veritable "stopper."

From Bennet Burleigh, "Sirdar and Khalifa or Re-Conquest of the Soudan 1898," Chapman & Hall, London 1898, 106-107.

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Re: Dum-dum bullets at the Battle of Omdurman

Postby Mark » 08 Jan 2016 10:15

Many thanks, Annapolis! I have acquired a copy of Omdurman Diaries 1898 :)

Most useful.

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Re: Dum-dum bullets at the Battle of Omdurman

Postby RobD » 09 Jan 2016 12:20

Annapolis, that is very interesting indeed. You say there are more references in the diary to dum dum bullets; I for one would be very interested to read them in full, if you could bear to do so. The DD controversy in the Anglo Boer War was played out ad nauseam in the press of the day, and subsequently in endless articles; but the situation in Sudan has been entirely overlooked, at least as far as I see it.
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Re: Dum-dum bullets at the Battle of Omdurman

Postby Annapolis » 10 Jan 2016 03:22

Rob: The other entries are mostly one-liners of rather less substance. Nonetheless, taken together they reflect a significant use of publicized troop time during the month of February, 1898 -- perhaps as Gatachre's eye-catching reproof, if naught else, to the lads at Woolwich. Here's what I find:

1898'

Jan. 31. Teigh: "...They are getting on well with the railway, as there is a lot of rails passing through here daily. The General stopped a load of rails we had to unload them. There was 12 rails issued to each Battalion to put around the square."

Feb. 3. Teigh. "Each company got five boxes of ball ammunition to file and when we had finished that, we had done our task. We got finished at 12 noon."

Feb. 5. Teigh. "We paraded again at 9 am. For bullet filing in the hot sun, we had 8 boxes instead of 5, so we had to work again after dinner"

Feb. 7. Teigh. "At 8 [AM] the Company paraded again for bullet filing and got finished at 12 noon. Just then the Sirdar, General Kitchener arrived in camp and we had to turnout and have a field day. It was very hot. After dinner bullet filing again till tea time, which was at 4:30 pm. "

Cox: "Bullets at 9 am and we had a sudden parade at 11:45 for the Sirdar who arrived this moring, the C.O. let off steam after parade. Bullets at 3 PM."

Feb. 10. Cox: "The battalion finished their slice of ammunition today, so we will have a respite with that for a bit, thank goodness."

That's it on a first sweep. Hope this is as good a read for you as it is for me. Annapolis
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Re: Dum-dum bullets at the Battle of Omdurman

Postby RobD » 10 Jan 2016 14:29

Annapolis
Many thanks!
I have ordered a copy of Omdurman Diaries 1898 from Abebooks.
yours
Rob
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Re: Dum-dum bullets at the Battle of Omdurman

Postby terrylee » 12 Jan 2016 12:03

Photos taken recently at the Armoured Train Cemetery. Note the Mk.iV cartridge cases in the inscription.
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