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Police

History
Series

Dum-Dum Bullets
Mike Waldren QPM

2012 PFOA Police Firearms Officers Association


Head Office: PFOA, PO Box 116, March, PE15 5BA Tel: 0845 543 0163 Email: info@pfoa.co.uk
Registered Charity No. 1139247 Company No. 07295737

June 2012

Dum-Dum Bullets

It Will Rip The Arm From A Normal Healthy Human


The kind of ammunition used by police forces in the United Kingdom occasionally
becomes a subject for heated debate, particularly if there is any suggestion that the police
have used, are using, or intend to use, Dum-Dum bullets. Few people, however, have any
real idea of what such
a bullet actually is.
More often than not it
is described as being a
bullet that will rip the
arm from a normal and
healthy

human

or

Typical Modern Polemical Diatribe on Dum-Dum Bullets

cause some other unspeakable injury. That, so popular legend has it, is why it was outlawed
by civilised states including Great Britain in 1899 at the Hague Convention (although an
unspecified Geneva Convention is often substituted) thus ensuring that only humane bullets
have been used in armed conflicts ever since. The reality is very different and fallacies have
plagued the subject from the time the bullet was invented.

How It All Started


Chitral was a small principality in what today is the far North-West Frontier Province
of Pakistan on the border with Afghanistan. When the Mehtar (ruler) of Chitral died in 1892
the first of his seventeen sons, Nizam-ul-Mulk, claimed the throne. He enjoyed friendly
relations with the British but in January 1895 he was killed at the instigation of one of his
half-brothers, Amir-ul-Mulk, who promptly took over. Amir had no time for the British Raj
and a political agent, Surgeon-Major (later Sir) George Robertson, was sent with a small
military detachment to deal with the matter. Robertson deposed Amir and installed his more
compliant 12-year-old brother, Shujah-ul-Mulk, in his place. Amir appealed to his brother-inlaw, Umra Khan, and his uncle, Sher Afzal, for help. They agreed (probably intending to get
rid of him as well so that one of them could rule instead) and between 3,000 and 5,000
tribesmen laid siege to Robertson and his men in the small Chitral Fort.

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Dum-Dum Bullets
Two attempts at relief failed and with more Chitralis joining Umra Khan and Sher
Afzal every day the British government decided on a full scale expedition of 15,000 men.
While these marched up from the south and engaged the bulk of the opposition along the
way, a small secondary force commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel James Kelly marched from
Gilgit in the east. They
heroically crossed the 220
miles of mountains, some
of which were covered in
deep

snow,

to

reach

Chitral Fort in twentyeight

days

and

Umra

Khan

and

Sher

Afzal

abandoned the siege. The


main relief force arrived a
few days later. The British
suffered less than a hundred

British soldiers during the Chitral Expedition

casualties and although the losses suffered by Sher Afzal and Umra Khan are unknown, they
were reportedly in the thousands. It was the stuff of which glorious Victorian military
triumphs were made but it would have been consigned to the pages of history were it not for
the actions of some of the British soldiers who took part. It was the military expedition that
brought about the Dum-Dum bullet.
The late 1800s was a time of great change for all European armies in terms of what
firearms they carried and the ammunition they used. In the case of the British, 1866 had seen
the introduction of the breech-loading Enfield-Snider rifle which discharged an all-lead .577
calibre bullet at a muzzle velocity of 1,250 ft/s. This was superseded in 1871 by the MartiniHenry which fired a .450/577 calibre all-lead bullet at a similar muzzle velocity. In 1888 the
first true repeating rifle in the form of the bolt-action Lee-Metford was introduced. It had a
box magazine and the ammunition to accompany it was of .303 calibre. The smaller sized
bullet was lighter and this meant that the muzzle velocity increased to 1,830 ft/s thereby
increasing the range but there was a problem. Greater speed meant that more heat was
generated with the result that some of the lead adhered to the lands and grooves in the barrel
causing fouling. To overcome this, a cupro-nickel jacket was added to stop the lead coming
into direct contact with the rifle bore. The vast amount of smoke generated by the black

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Dum-Dum Bullets
powder charge was overcome when cordite (a mixture of nitro-glycerine, nitro-cellulose and
mineral jelly) was introduced in 1891 as a smokeless powder.
This also had the effect of increasing the muzzle velocity, this
time to 1,970 ft/s. The final development of the cartridge had a
round-nose fully-jacketed bullet and was officially known as
the Cartridge S.A. Ball, Magazine Rifle Cordite Mark I, later
to become the Mark II.
Soldiers themselves didnt like the new bullet for
several reasons. Firstly there was the soldiers traditional
mistrust and suspicion of anything dreamed up as being ideal
for their purposes by someone who, to borrow a military idiom
from later years, had never been up to their neck in muck and

Martini -Henry
.450/577

Mark II
.303

bullets. This was exacerbated by their not being able to see a


comforting lump of soft lead that would be sent hurtling toward the enemy and because the
bullet was smaller they believed that it was not likely to be so effective anyway.
Their worst fears were realised during the opening skirmishes in the Chitral
expedition when rumours started to spread of tribesmen who were still able to fight even after
they had been hit by several bullets. One story, which no doubt improved with the telling,
circulated widely about a tribesman who had been hit by six bullets and yet fully recovered
after hospital treatment. Given the average soldiers
talent for improvisation it was not long before one of
them discovered that by taking a bullet and rubbing the
nose of it against a stone it was possible to wear away
the top of the jacket so that the old familiar lead could
be seen inside. When this was fired at a charging
tribesman it had the desired result.
The need for the British to have an ammunition
factory in India had been recognised as early as 1846
and the first to be constructed was at Dum Dum, a
small town north-west of Calcutta (renamed as Kolkata
in 2001). At the time of the Chitral expedition the
Charging Chitral tribesmen

superintendent of the factory was a Royal Artillery

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Dum-Dum Bullets
Captain, Neville Bertie-Clay (sometimes spelt without the hyphen). Bertie-Clay had spent
much of his career so far in the Indian Ordnance Department and he was not one to approve
of soldiers messing about with his ammunition. He was, however, sympathetic and so he
started his own series of trials with the standard military bullet (the Mark II). He found that
the benefits of the cupro-nickel jacket which, it will be remembered, was only there to
prevent lead fouling in the barrel, were unaffected by the removal of the top one millimetre of
it to expose the lead and that the increase in the performance of the bullet in terms of stopping
power was significant. His factory therefore started to turn out what today would be called a
jacketed soft-point bullet and it is this that was the original Dum-Dum.
It was just in time because 1897 saw a general outbreak of rebellion against the
British. The Risings on the North-West Frontier was compiled in 1898 from the highly
detailed reports of special war correspondents and official dispatches, many of which it
quoted verbatim. It described the revolt as encompassing: From Waziristan on the left to
Bimer on the right a stretch of more than 400 miles of our borderland, inhabited ... by
200,000 first-rate fighting men. ... The tribes which immediately face us on this frontier line,
commencing at the top of the semicircle at Dirbund, on the Indus, are, taking them in their
order, the Bunerwals, the Swats, the Utman Khels, and the Mohmunds; then come the Khyber
Pass and the Afridis, and lastly, on the northern flank of the road from Kohat to Thull, the
Orakzai.

The Myths Begin


In the early stages this resulted in the formation of a punitive
expedition, under the command of the magnificently named MajorGeneral Sir Bindon Blood, which would gain international renown as a
result of a narrative by a young lieutenant who
accompanied the expedition. His name was

Blood

Winston Churchill and his book was entitled The Story of the
Malakand Field Force. In it, he described how during one action:
Determined and vigorous sword charges were now delivered on all
sides of the camp. The enemy, who numbered about 4,000, displayed
the greatest valour. ... The fire of the British was, however, crushing.
Churchill

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Dum-Dum Bullets
Their discipline was admirable, and the terrible weapon with which they were armed, with its
more terrible bullet, stopped every rush.
Churchill went on to write that: The power of the new Lee-Metford rifle with the
new Dum-Dum bulletit is now called, though not officially, the "ek-dum" (Hindustani for
"at once.") bulletis tremendous.
The soldiers who have used it have
the utmost confidence in their
weapon. Up to 500 yards there is no
difficulty about judging the range,
as it shoots quite straight, or,
technically speaking, has a flat
trajectory. This is of the greatest
value. Of the bullet it may be said,
that its stopping power is all that
could be desired. The Dum-Dum
A Malakand camp

bullet, though not explosive, is

expansive. The original Lee-Metford bullet was a pellet of lead covered by a nickel case with
an opening at the base. In the improved bullet this outer case has been drawn backward,
making the hole in the base a little smaller and leaving the lead at the tip exposed. The result
is a wonderful and from the technical point of view a beautiful machine. On striking a bone
this causes the bullet to "set up" or spread out, and it then tears and splinters everything
before it, causing wounds which in the body must be generally mortal and in any limb
necessitate amputation. Continental critics have asked whether such a bullet is not a violation
of the Geneva or St. Petersburg Conventions; but no clause of these international agreements
forbids expansive bullets, and the only provision on the subject is that shells less than a
certain size shall not be employed. I would observe that bullets are primarily intended to kill,
and that these bullets do their duty most effectually, without causing any more pain to those
struck by them, than the ordinary lead variety. As the enemy obtained some Lee-Metford
rifles and Dum-Dum ammunition during the progress of the fighting, information on this
latter point is forthcoming. The sensation is described as similar to that produced by any
bulleta violent numbing blow, followed by a sense of injury and weakness, but little actual
pain at the time. Indeed, now-a-days, very few people are so unfortunate as to suffer much
pain from wounds, except during the period of recovery. A man is hit. In a quarter of an hour,

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Dum-Dum Bullets
that is to say, before the shock has passed away and the pain begins, he is usually at the
dressing station. Here he is given morphia injections, which reduce all sensations to a
uniform dullness. In this state he remains until he is placed under chloroform and operated
on.
By way of contrast, The Risings on the North-West Frontier limited itself to saying
just once in its entire 250 pages with a further nine lengthy appendices that the Dum-Dum
bullet was most effective but Churchill was not the only one to indulge in hyperbole when it
came to describing the terrible Lee-Metford rifle and its more terrible bullet which caused
wounds which in the body must be generally mortal and in any limb necessitate amputation.
For Victorian readers this fed directly into their belief in the natural superiority of all things
British and they lapped up every bit of it with undisguised relish. Unfortunately it also started
a ball rolling that would prove impossible to stop.
The Geneva Convention referred to by Churchill took place in 1864. It related solely
to the medical care of the wounded and need not concern us. The Declaration of St.
Petersburg in November 1868 on the other hand had fixed the technical limits at which the
necessities of war ought to yield to the requirements of humanity and decreed: That the only
legitimate object which States should endeavour to accomplish during war is to weaken the
military forces of the enemy; That for this purpose it is sufficient to disable the greatest
possible number of men; That this object would be exceeded by the employment of arms
which uselessly aggravate the sufferings of disabled men, or render their death inevitable;
That the employment of such arms would, therefore, be contrary to the laws of humanity; The
Contracting Parties engage mutually to renounce, in case of war among themselves, the
employment by their military or naval troops of any projectile of a weight below 400
grammes, which is either explosive or charged with fulminating or inflammable substances.
The explosive bullet was a Victorian novelty used for a short while by hunters and
consisted of a bullet with an internal cavity which was filled with a mixture of chlorate of
potash and sulphuret of antimony in equal parts and closed with beeswax. This was
supposed to detonate inside an animal thereby increasing the internal injuries as indeed it did
when it worked. Modern versions are still available and one was used by John Hinckley in
his attempt to assassinate President Reagan in 1981. As far as the Dum-Dum was concerned,
it was not explosive or charged with fulminating or inflammable substances and so
Churchill had identified the wrong provision as being applicable. It should have been whether

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Dum-Dum Bullets
or not the wounds caused by the bullet uselessly aggravated the sufferings of disabled men,
or rendered their death inevitable. This was wide open to interpretation and the British argued
that without modification the standard (Mark II) bullet passed through the limbs or body
without causing immediate collapse unless some vital part or important bone was struck. In
European warfare this was of comparatively little consequence, as civilised man is much
more susceptible to injury than savages. As a rule when a white man is wounded he has had
enough, and is quite ready to drop out and go to the rear; but a savage, like the tiger, is not so
impressionable, and will go on fighting even when desperately wounded. The effect of the
bullet was therefore not useless; it was considered essential.
In February 1898 Sir Howard Vincent, who had been the Director of the Criminal
Investigation

in

the

Met

before

entering politics in 1888, asked the


India

Secretary,

Lord

George

Hamilton, whether it was true that the


Queen's enemies in the operations on
the North-West Frontier have obtained
possession of the latest arms of
precision, and particularly of Lee-

Afridi tribesmen

Metford magazine rifles and DumDum bullets. Hamilton replied that: The so-called Dum-Dum bullets, which are not
explosive bullets, have been used against the troops in the recent Frontier
campaigns, and are probably part of a large quantity of ammunition captured
from a convoy by the Afridis.
Something about the Dum-Dum name caught
the public imagination and its notoriety started to grow
as did all kinds of rumours over its effects. Also in

Hamilton

February 1898 Lord Stanley of Alderley, who has the distinction of


being the first Muslim member of the House of Lords, asked Her
Majestys Government whether they will lay on the Table any
Findlater

surgical reports on the wounds of Piper Findlater and others caused by


Dum-Dum bullets, so that the country may judge whether these are

not contrary to the spirit of the Convention against explosive bullets [and] whether Her

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Dum-Dum Bullets
Majesty's Government sanctioned the issue of Dum-Dum bullets for military purposes. The
story of Piper Findlater was being widely reported at the time. On 20 October 1897 during
what was known as the Tirah expedition the Gordon Highlanders stormed an Afridi position
on Dargai Heights. George Findlater was a junior piper and after being shot in the ankles he
was unable to walk but he continued playing to encourage the battalion's advance. He was
invalided home, found that he had become a national hero and awarded the Victoria Cross.
Stanley continued: The Afridis say that we have used poisoned bullets. They
consider that the bullets are poisoned in consequence of the very few recoveries from wounds
that have been observed by them. And besides the injury done by the shreds of nickel, it is
said that the lead becomes so [crushed] as to enter into and poison the system. If any of those
whose primary duty it is to advance medical and surgical science, have wished for subjects
whose position would ensure the greatest attention to their wounds, their desire has been
fulfilled in the cases of two of the most popular men wounded in the Frontier War. I refer to
the two Gordon pipers. One of these pipers, Milne, was hit by an honest Lee-Metford or
spherical bullet [implying that any other bullet must therefore be dishonest], and he has
written to the papers to say that he was shot through the chest and through the lungs, but that
he would soon be all right. The other piper, Findlater, was shot by a Dum-Dum bullet in both
ankles, and it was said that his bones had been reduced to a pulp. It was not certain whether
he had not suffered amputation, or might not still be exposed to that calamity.
In fact, Findlaters wounds were nothing like as serious as
was being claimed. He fully recovered, left the army and used his
celebrity to go on the music-hall stage from which he earned
enough money to buy a farm. On the outbreak of World War I he
rejoined the colours as a sergeant piper when the 9th Battalion of
the Gordon Highlanders was formed in September 1914. He was
wounded at Loos and again invalided home. He died in 1942 aged
seventy. In any event the Under-Secretary of State for India, the
Earl of Onslow, was unmoved and replied that: We have had no

Findlater in later life

reports on the wounds of Piper Findlater and others caused by


Dum-Dum bullets. These bullets are not explosive at all, and their use is not contrary to the
spirit of any convention or custom of war. No special sanction has been given by Her
Majesty's Government for the use of those bullets, as none was asked for or required.

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Dum-Dum Bullets
Nevertheless the level of misinformation that was circulating about the supposed
devastating effect of the Dum-Dum bullet was illustrated again when the subject came up for
discussion in the House of Commons on 1 March 1898. The India Secretary was asked
whether the specific quality of the Dum-Dum bullets supplied to the British troops to be
used against the Afridis consists in crushing and pulverising the bone so as to defy all
surgical skill employed in setting; in what respects are the Dum-Dum bullets less calculated
than explosive bullets, to inflict incurable injury; and, what is the authority for the statement
that the Dum-Dum bullets are consonant with international law or the usages of civilised
warfare? Hamilton replied that: According to the information supplied to me, the effects of
this bullet are not more serious (indeed, I believe, they are less serious) than those of the old
Snider bullet nor than those of the Martini-Henry bullet. But, on the other hand, as was
clearly shown during the Chitral expedition, the Lee-Metford bullet frequently failed to attain
the object with which all missiles are discharged in war, namely, that of disabling the enemy
with the least possible suffering. The Dum-Dum bullet fulfils this purpose, as did the bullets
previously used by the British Army, and fulfils it in the same way. When pressed on the
wounding effect of the bullet he said that: There is no doubt that the so-called Dum-Dum
bullet inflicts a more serious wound than a [Mark II] bullet from the Lee-Metford rifle, but
not more so than the bullet previously in use. I believe anyone can convert the Lee-Metford
bullet into a Dum-Dum bullet by simply flattening its head.
Meanwhile momentous events had been taking place on another continent. MajorGeneral Charles Gordon had been killed in Khartoum in 1885 and the Sudan was lost by the
British to the forces of the Mahdi. In 1895 the British government
agreed that Horatio Kitchiner, a Major-General in Egyptian service
at the time, could mount a campaign to retake the Sudan and he
formed the Anglo-Egyptian Nile Expeditionary Force of 25,000
men, 8,600 of whom were British. The campaign started in 1896
and in September 1898 the final decisive battle took place at
Omdurman just outside Khartoum. With Maxim machine-guns,
artillery, Lee-Metford rifles (for the British), and Martini-Henry
and Remington rolling-block rifles (for the Egyptian and

Kitchiner

Sudanese), Kitchiners men mowed down the attacking Dervish army. It was an astonishing
victory, albeit over less well-armed foe.

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Dum-Dum Bullets
However in February 1898 the Under-Secretary of State for War had been asked in
the House of Commons whether his attention has been called to a report to the effect that the
British troops with the advance force in Egypt have found it necessary to alter the LeeMetford bullet; and, if this report be correct, will he state why unsuitable bullets have been
issued to the troops, to what extent the issue has been made, and the nature of the alteration?
It was the Financial Secretary to the War Office, Joseph Powell-Williams, who replied that:
It has for some time past been recognised that the .303 bullet is deficient in stopping power,
and a slight modification has been made on the spot in the bullets issued to the troops in
Egypt, which will, it is believed, remove this defect.
On the spot modifications
suggests that Mark II bullets were
converted by flattening the head but
a problem with the Dum-Dum bullet
had already been identified. Because
the cupro-nickel jacket no longer
completely covered the lead core of
the bullet there was the potential for it
to strip away as it went down the
British soldiers with Lee-Metford rifles at Omdurman

barrel and this


could occur even

with factory-made rounds. The ordnance factory at Woolwich in


England had therefore designed two expanding .303 calibre bullets, one
of which had a 3/8 inch deep hole in its nose. This created a round-nose
hollow-point bullet and after trials it was this that was adopted as the
Cartridge S.A. Ball .303 inch Cordite Mark III. A few months and a
few modifications later it was renamed the Mark IV followed by

Powell-Williams

Mark V. To distinguish them from the modifications made in India


they were all known as Woolwich bullets.
The body responsible for overseeing British government spending and proposing
changes in taxation to meet demand at the time was the Ways and Means Committee. During
a meeting on 14 March 1898 John Dillon, a formidable Irish politician with a talent for
upsetting ministers, said that: I am very anxious to call the attention of the Under Secretary
of State for War with reference to the Dum-Dum bullets. We are informed that they have
Page
10

Dum-Dum Bullets
been served out in large quantities to the new force which has been formed for service in
West Africa, a force which may be most unhappily brought into conflict with the troops of a
civilised Power and he drew attention to the sum of 158,000 (equivalent to about 15
million today) allocated for ammunition. The Committee Chairman, James Lowther, said
that: That is not for the so-called Dum-Dum bullets, but for
ammunition made in England, and not ammunition made in India.
Powell-Williams added that: These are the ordinary bullets. When
asked to say that none of this money is to be spent on Dum-Dum
bullets Powell-Williams replied: Yes. Dillon stuck with it and
asked: Is the hon. Member in a position to assure the Committee
that none of this money will be spenteither in supplying the troops
in India with Dum-Dum bullets, or issuing them to the troops who
Dillon

have gone to West Africa? Powell-Williams replied: That is

precisely the assurance I would give the Committee. The bullets to which the hon. Member
refers are made in India. Dillon would not give up and said: But is it or is it not the fact, and
it is important that it should be stated, that these Dum-Dum bullets have been served out to
the British troops sent to West Africa? It has been stated positively in the Press, and it is very
important that we should have an authoritative statement from the War Office, as to whether
that is or is not the case, for it is going to be a matter of discussion in the French Chamber in
the next few days. Powell-Williams replied: I think I disposed of that point when I stated
that the bullets included in the Supplementary Estimate are the ordinary bullets.
Dillon was asking the wrong question because the ordinary bullets that were now
intended for issue to the army outside India, including the part of it that was with the AngloEgyptian Nile Expeditionary Force, were the hollow-point Woolwich bullets but there was an
obvious reluctance to say so. It may have been that Dillons abrasive style induced a natural
disinclination to give an unreserved answer. Alternatively the British government was well
aware that the wildly exaggerated claims of the injuries caused by the Dum-Dum bullet in
India were arousing something of an international furore and it was anxious that a similar
frenzied head of steam did not develop over the effects caused by the successor to the Mark II
everywhere else. If that was the case then for quite a while it was successful.
Ten days later, on 24 March, in the House of Commons Dillon was back on the trail
again and asked who is responsible for the issue of Dum-Dum bullets to the troops in India;
and whether the India Office has any information as to the effect of these bullets on men or
Page
11

Dum-Dum Bullets
animals? This time it was Hamilton who replied that: These bullets were issued by order of
the Government of India. No further sanction for their issue was necessary, nor was any such
sanction either asked for or given; but Her Majesty's Government were fully informed as to
the proceedings of the Government of India, and saw no reason for questioning their
propriety. Dillon then asked whether Dum-Dum bullets have been served out to any troops
directly under the control of the War Office; and who is responsible for the supply of these
bullets to troops serving in West Africa? and was told that: The Dum-Dum bullet has not
been issued to any troops directly under the control of the War Office.
On 7 July 1898 Dillon got a little closer when he asked whether a special bullet has
been manufactured to be used by the British troops in the Khartoum expedition; if so, on
what grounds has it been found necessary to supply the troops with a special bullet? It was
Powell-Williams who replied that: No special bullet has been manufactured for use in Egypt.
The bullet sent is that which has been adopted for general use in the Army after experiment
and medical report. When asked Is that the Dum-Dum bullet? he replied No, Sir, it is not.
Of course, Powell-Williams and Hamilton were being quite accurate in their answers. They
were just being economical with the actualit. Interestingly The River War, Churchills
book about the Khartoum expedition published in 1899, makes no mention of the kind of
ammunition used by the British and it is tempting to speculate that this was because he had
regrets over the controversy that he and a few others had unintentionally helped to start.

More Fuel Is Added


European armies began to complain about the Dum-Dum bullet almost as soon as it
was introduced, fearing no doubt that the rumours about it could be true
and that one day it may be used against them. In April 1898 the critics
were given medical support when Paul von Bruns, a professor of surgery
at the University of Tbingen in southwest Germany and SurgeonGeneral in the Wrttemberg Army Medical Service, gave an address to a
meeting of the German Chirurgical (Surgical) Society during which he
suggested that, as a result of experiments he had conducted, the use of
Dum-Dum bullets in warfare was brutally inhumane.

Page
12

Von Bruns

Dum-Dum Bullets
Surgeon-Colonel William Flack Stevenson, Professor of Military Surgery at the Army
Medical School, Netley, responded by writing in the British Medical Journal on 21 May that
the way this address was being reported in the press, and the questions being asked in the
House of Commons, are sure to conjure up before the minds of hysterical persons who have
no means of knowing the facts of the case the notion that the English Government has
selected for use in the English army a small-arm projectile which in the spirit, if not the letter,
contravenes the agreement come to at the Congress of St. Petersburg, in 1868, not to use
explosive shells of less than 400 grammes in weight. As a matter of fact, there is no doubt
that the effects of the Dum-Dum bullet have been exaggerated. ... The Snider bullet was
probably the most destructive small-arm projectile ever used in an army but the inhumanity
of its employment in war was never suggested. When travelling at the same velocity [as the
Martini-Henry bullet] it produced more extensive fractures of bones than any small-bore
bullet, Dum-Dum or other. ... I have made experiments with Dum-Dum bullets; I have seen
our men who have been hit with them on the Indian frontier, and I have received numerous
letters from medical officers who saw and treated injuries in the Tirah campaign, and I am
convinced that an exaggerated idea of their effects exists. At the time Stevenson was
considered the British expert on the subject and he had already written the definitive Wounds
in War The Mechanism of their Production and their Treatment which had been published
in 1897.
Alexander Ogson (later Sir), the Regius Professor of Surgery at the University of
Aberdeen and Surgeon in Ordinary (a consultant) to Queen Victoria, had
been present when von Bruns gave his address. He had a keen interest in
military surgery and had assisted during several campaigns, being
awarded the Egyptian campaign medal and the Khedive of Egypts
Bronze Star. He managed to get hold of a copy of von Brunss final paper
entitled On the Effects of Lead-pointed Projectiles (Dum-Dum Bullets),
which called on the German military authorities to to obtain, by
international agreement, such a modification of the St. Petersburgh [sic]

Ogson

Convention that only allows such small-bore leaded bullets be employed in


war as are wholly steel mantled, or at least mantled at their tip.
This was too much for Ogson and in September 1898 he decided to enter the fray by
pointing out that: Von Brunss experiments were made with the German Mauser bullets,
some of which were altered by removing part of the mantle at the apex so as to imitate as
Page
13

Dum-Dum Bullets
nearly as possible what the Dum-Dum bullets were supposed by him to be. But it is important
to observe that von Bruns has evidently never seen or experimented with the genuine DumDum bullet. ... [his] experiments were not made with Dum-Dum bullets at all, but with softnosed Mauser bullets, such as are manufactured for German sportsman for use with the
Mauser rifle in shooting big game. ... Hence it is clear that von Brunss experiments were
made with projectiles too unlike the Dum-Dum to justify us in at once accepting his
conclusions as being true of it.
The government strategy of keeping quiet about the Woolwich bullet, if indeed that
was what it was, came to an abrupt end in March 1899 when von Bruns published his On the
Effects of the Most Recent Bullets in Use in the English Army (Hollow-Fronted Bullets). In
essence the conclusion was that compared with the leaden-pointed bullets they produce
decidedly less severe injuries of the soft parts (flesh) but equal them in destructive power
should they strike bone. In response it was once again pointed out that the comparisons with
leaden-pointed bullets were done with the Mauser bullet and not the Dum-Dum.

A Crusade Against British Rule In Africa


International politics now played their part. Tsar Nicholas II of Russia proposed a
conference on arms limitation in August 1898. All kinds of ulterior motives have since been
attributed to the Tsar, including his need to reduce spending on conventional weapons so that
he could increase the size of the imperial fleet. Whatever the reason, on 18 May 1899 the
conference opened in The Hague in the Netherlands with twenty-six nations represented.
Three Commissions were set up to go
through

the

proposed

subjects

for

discussion with a sub-commission of the


First Commission given the topic of:
The interdiction of the employment in
armies and fleets of new firearms of every
description and of new explosives, as well
as powder more powerful than the kinds
used at present, both for guns and

Hague Peace Conference

cannons

to

examine.

The

purpose,

explained Colonel J. Gilinsky of Russia, was not to proscribe new inventions as such, but of
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Dum-Dum Bullets
agreeing upon a moratorium, fixing a term during which existing material was not to be
replaced, based on the Tsars desire to mitigate the heavy burdens imposed on the taxpayer.
The focus of the discussions should therefore have been on finding a way of
implementing such a cost-saving moratorium but instead at the first meeting Colonel Arnold
Knzli of Switzerland almost immediately proposed a ban on the Dum-Dum bullet which, he
said, caused incurable wounds. The Dutch representative, General Den Beer Poortugael,
jumped in and said that he had been specifically briefed by his government to ask for the
absolute prohibition on the use of Dum-Dum bullets and similar projectiles because they
burst in the body and are not necessary. The British found themselves ambushed and
unprepared. Even the results of the tests conducted by von Bruns were being exaggerated and
the leading British representative, General Sir John Ardagh, tried to explain that the
experiments were flawed anyway but by now the stories of how the Dum-Dum burst in the
body causing incurable wounds had developed a life of their own.
Ardagh was Director of Military Intelligence at the War Office at the time but during
his career he had seen service in both India and Africa. He
sought directions from home and produced The British
Declaration on the Dumdum Bullet. After explaining the
history of the subject it said that: The committee which
investigated the question [of bullets with sufficient stopping
power for use outside India] recommended two bullets, one
which proved to make more severe wounds than the other. Her
Majestys Government, however, rejected the one making the
more severe wounds and decided to adopt the less destructive
bullet, now known as the Mark IV, as giving the minimum
stopping effect necessary. This bullet has a small cylindrical

Ardagh

cavity in the head, over which the hard metal envelope is


turned down. There is nothing new in this cavity in the head of the bullet. It existed in the
Snider bullet, with which Her Majestys troops were armed for many years a bullet which
was perfectly well known to all the Powers of Europe, which was actually in use in Her
Majestys army at the date of the St. Petersburg Convention of 1868, and to which,
nevertheless, no objection was ever raised on humanitarian grounds. The Indian Government
for the same reasons adopted the so-called Dum Dum bullet, in which a very small portion of
the head of the leaden bullet is not covered by the hard metal envelope. Her Majestys
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Dum-Dum Bullets
Government are unable to admit that a bullet which has been adopted by them as possessing
the minimum of destructive effect necessary, can be considered as inflicting unnecessary
suffering and in view of the fact that until recently all rifles of all Powers fired bullets
consisting of lead without a covering, and that the bullet with a cavity in the head was the
bullet in use in Her Majestys army at the date of the St. Petersburg Convention, and for
many years subsequently, they are equally unable to admit that there is anything in either the
exposure of a small portion of lead or the existence of a cavity, to justify the condemnation of
either of these methods of construction. The experiments conducted in this country led to the
conclusion that the wounds inflicted by these bullets are not more severe if so severe as
the wounds inflicted by larger bullets fired from previous rifles: therefore Her Majestys
Government, while entirely sympathetic with the desire to avoid the use of missiles which
inflict wounds of unnecessary severity, are unable to admit that this is involved by either of
the above methods of construction.
It was also pointed out that the Swiss and the Portuguese used bullets that were the
equal of the Dum-Dum without voices being raised in protest but this made little impression
and it gradually dawned on the British that the reason had nothing to do with the European
powers having concern for the wellbeing of their fellow man. Instead, this was the period of
history now known as the Scramble for Africa (generally seen as starting in earnest as a
result of the Berlin Conference in 1884 and of which Kitchiners expedition was a part) with
Belgium, Germany, Spain, France, Italy and
Portugal also staking their claim and some if not all
of them saw an opportunity to score points off
Great Britain to their own advantage. The Russians
on the other hand had their eyes elsewhere. To
them, this was all part of The Great Game, the
competition for political influence in countries
European delegates at the Berlin
Conference on Africa

bordering

the

North-West

frontier

including

Afghanistan which, if the British lost, would give

Russia direct access to India the Jewel in the British Crown. The subject was highly
topical and would become the background to the novel Kim by Rudyard Kipling, first
published in serialised form in a monthly periodical in 1900 and as a best-selling book in
1901. Anything which could put even a small crack in the monolith that was Great Britains

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Dum-Dum Bullets
colonial power would benefit the Russians. As Ardagh saw it, the whole discussion ... was a
crusade against British rule in Africa, orchestrated by Russia.
On 29 July 1899 the wording adopted by the full conference, drawn up largely by
Russia, Romania and France despite the objections of Great Britain and the United States,
was: The Contracting Parties agree to abstain from the use of bullets which expand or flatten
easily in the human body, such as bullets with a hard envelope which does not entirely cover
the core, or is pierced with incisions. The present Declaration is only binding for the
Contracting Powers in the case of a war between two or more of them. It shall cease to be
binding from the time when, in a war between the Contracting Parties, one of the belligerents
is joined by a non-Contracting Power.
It is widely believed today that once the Declaration was made it automatically
applied to all parties at the conference but this was not the case. Great Britain continued to
argue its corner and, along with the United States, Portugal and a few others, declined to be a
Contracting Power, officially on the grounds that the discussions had been based on
erroneous experiments which drew invalid conclusions. Unofficially it was because the
British knew that they had been well and truly outmanoeuvred in a course of action aimed
directly at them and didnt like it.

The Dilemma
In October 1898 George Wyndham had taken over the post of Under-Secretary of
State for War and as soon as the conference started in The Hague rumours about what was
being discussed were widespread. Even before the wording of the
final Declaration had been agreed, on 11 July 1899 Wyndham was
asked in the House of Commons whether he will consent to lay upon
the Table of the House accounts of the surgical experiments as to the
effects of the Mark IV missile, on the basis of which experiments the
bullet is now being served out to British soldiers sent on service to
South Africa; and if he can state whether the reported condemnation
of the Dum-Dum bullet by the Peace Conference at the Hague has
been officially brought under the notice of the War Office
Wyndham

authorities. Wyndham replied that: The Mark IV has been the

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Dum-Dum Bullets
service bullet for the British Army since February, 1898, and, as such, has been issued to our
troops in South Africa. I cannot lay before the House reports either of the experiments which
led to the adoption of that bullet or of more recent experiments, since they contain
confidential information. These experiments were not merely, as the hon. Member suggests,
of a surgical character. They were conducted to solve a number of physical problems, in
considering which the humanitarian aspect of the question was not left out of sight. Our
representatives at The Hague have reported the proceedings of the Conference from time to
time; but these interim reports have necessarily been partial and inconclusive. When asked:
Is it not a fact that this bullet has been constructed with a view to expand on striking like the
Dum-Dum bullets? Wyndham replied with what has since come to be regarded as a classic
of its kind: The bullet has been constructed to achieve a number of objects, one of which is
that its calibre should be greater later on than when it leaves the muzzle of the rifle. Two
days later Wyndham told the House of Commons that: The Mark IV ammunition was used
by several battalions of British troops at Omdurman, and was reported on favourably.
The reason for the request for information about South Africa (and undoubtedly the
motivation behind the resolve of the Dutch to weaken the morale and effectiveness of the
British army by getting a prohibition on Dum-Dum and Woolwich bullets) was because of
increasing tensions there between the British and the Dutch
settlers (Boers). There had already been one war (1880-81)
and the Second Boer War started on 11 October 1899. It
descended into a guerrilla war which lasted until May 1902
and it cost about 75,000 lives of whom about 22,000 were
British soldiers. The war started only ten weeks after the
Declaration in The Hague and during the build-up to it the
British found themselves presented with a dilemma because by then it was the Mark V
Woolwich bullet that was on general issue. The Boers were not party to the Declaration but
on the other hand they were neither tribesman nor savages.
With all the uproar over Dum-Dum bullets still hanging in the air, caused not least
by Great Britains refusal to accept the Declaration, the British government realised that the
Boers would be handed a propaganda gift if it left the Mark V in use. After much discussion
and soul searching it bowed to the inevitable and reluctantly withdrew it. Wyndham was
asked on 23 March 1900 whether either explosive or expanding bullets have been sent to
South Africa for the use of the troops there or for any other purpose? He replied: The bullet
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Dum-Dum Bullets
in use in South Africa for the rifle is the Mark II solid bullet. Mark V bullets were recalled,
and have never been used by the troops. Neither have any Dum-Dum bullets been used by the
troops. This last statement was perhaps a little naive because the Mark II was still just as
susceptible to improvised modification as it had been during the Chitral expedition. Each side
accused the other of using Dum-Dum bullets at one time or another during the war.
The Mark VI bullet introduced in 1904 was similar to the Mark II but the jacket was
made thinner so that it was more likely to break up on impact. A second peace conference
took place in The Hague between July and October 1907 and one result, under the heading of
Means of Injuring the Enemy, Sieges and Bombardments, was the declaration that: In
addition to the prohibitions provided by special Conventions, it is especially forbidden - ... To
employ arms, projectiles, or material calculated to cause unnecessary suffering but this
added little to what already existed as far as bullets were concerned.

Getting Around The Declarations


In August 1907 Great Britain announced that it would adhere to the Hague
Declaration but only after it had realised that the inventiveness of man was not likely to be
frustrated by a mere declaration. Development had started on the Mark VII Spitzer (pointed)
bullet which was finally introduced in 1912. The Mark VII had a muzzle velocity of 2,440
ft/s and was Hague compliant in that it was fully-jacketed but appearances were highly
deceptive. Described in 1915 by Dr. J. Hartnell Beavis, a former director of the British Field
Hospital for Belgium, as an ingenious
advance on the Dum-Dum, it was
specifically made to be tail-heavy.
There was no mention in the Hague
Declaration that the central core had to
be made of nothing but lead and so the
front third of the jacket was filled with
aluminium, wood pulp or compressed
paper.

This

greatly

increased

its

tendency to deform or topple (turn end


over end) when it hit something and
this, when combined with an effect known as bullet cavitation which was a natural
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Dum-Dum Bullets
consequence of the increased bullet speed, considerably amplified the internal injuries
caused. It was likely to pass through its primary target and strike another standing behind but
this was not considered to be a problem as long as it did sufficient damage to the first. Indeed,
it was preferable that it did the same to the second. The need for a disabling round similar (if
not worse) in effect to the Dum-Dum and the Woolwich bullets was satisfied and there was
no international conference in the offing at which a form of words could be found which
would prohibit the Mark VII as well.
After Beavis let the cat out of the bag it was claimed that the Mark VII was a DumDum bullet in all but name but this was dismissed with a simple statement that the bullet
complied with the wording of the 1899 Declaration. Nobody was prepared to be so
unpatriotic as to pursue the matter because by then Great Britain was at war with Germany, a
country that was paying scant attention to
the other measures supposedly prohibited
as a result of the two Hague Conferences
including the use of poison gas. It also did
not stop the British from complaining,
with staggering hypocrisy, that the pointed bullet (Spitzgeschoss) being used by the Germans
caused more extensive injuries than the Dum-Dum bullet ever did.
The Mark VII bullet would see Great Britain through two world wars with few people
even today having any idea of why controversy could so easily have engulfed it. The clever
internal construction was hidden inside a jacket and so what was out of sight remained out of
mind.

Police Ammunition
All of this was of little or no interest to the British police. No one suggested for a
moment that the Hague Declarations applied to police ammunition and police forces
continued to use whatever they had for the weapons on issue. For a long time after the
outbreak of World War I the most common (but by no means the only) weapon found in
police armouries was the Webley & Scott .32 self-loading pistol for which the ammunition
just happened to be jacketed (.32 ACP). In the 1950s the weapons available in many forces
depended on what was left over from the pistols or revolvers surrendered during World War

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Dum-Dum Bullets
II and not handed back (see The Wartime Years 1939 - 1945) although the Webley & Scott
.380 Mark IV revolver was usually the preferred purchased weapon and this fired an alllead round-nose bullet.
In 1972 the Home Office Scientific Advisory Branch
(HOSAB)

published

an

Information

Note

(No.1/72)

recommending what weapons police forces should adopt. This


attempt at standardisation was largely at the instigation of the
Police Federation and it noted that: The selected gun must have
sufficient striking energy to ensure that the opponent is
incapacitated but not so overpowered as to cause excessive
penetration leading to the possibility of wounding someone else
beyond the target or to a serious risk of
ricochets. The nominated weapon intended as
General Purpose Police Revolver was the Smith and Wesson Model 10
Military and Police Revolver in .38 Special Calibre with a 4 inch heavy
barrel. This fired an all-lead round-nose bullet with no hard envelope and
there was no discussion anywhere about the need for it to be Hague
compliant.
The first mention of the Hague Conventions, although not directly, in connection with
police ammunition came in 1985. After several incidents in which the standard police bullet
did not seem to have the desired effect: The [ACPO] Joint Standing Committee on the Police
Use of Firearms asked the Home Office Scientific Research and Development Branch
(SRDB) [as HOSAB had been renamed] to investigate handgun ammunition for the police
service. The chief requirements were that the ammunition should offer greater stopping
power than currently available from the 158 grain round nose lead bullet, be readily and
cheaply available, comply with the spirit of International Conventions, and be compatible
with the Smith and Wesson model 10 revolver. The resulting report (No. 24/85)
recommended that the police change to the 125 grain semi-jacketed semiwadcutter configuration but introducing it proved to be a problem for
those forces that used 9mm self-loading pistols. Weapons standardisation
had been given up as a lost cause some years earlier and no 9mm
ammunition of that description existed and so they adopted the nearest
equivalent which was 95 grain jacketed soft-point. Both rounds would have been described as
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Dum-Dum Bullets
being Dum-Dum-like a century earlier and as far as is known no normal and healthy
human has had their arm ripped off as a consequence.
In 1988 attention turned to rifle ammunition. The recommended rifle in 1972 had
been the Service L39A1 Target Rifle, produced by the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield,
and modified by Parker-Hale Limited of Birmingham. This became known as the Enfield
Enforcer and it had been chosen because many police officers were ex-servicemen and they
would have been familiar with the mechanism already. The ammunition was NATO fullmetal-jacket 7.62mm as provided for the Service Sniper. As had been the case with
handguns, standardisation of rifles had disappeared by 1988 and there were a variety of
makes in different calibres being used by forces. In particular, some forces had adopted an
intermediate calibre rifle in either .223 or .243.
A report (No. 12/88) by SRDB noted that the policy of successive Home Secretaries
towards ammunition has been to comply with the spirit of the Hague Convention, even in
peacetime, [and] the choice of rifle ammunition has been restricted to those full metal
jacketed types which supposedly [my italics] show little if any expansion or breakup on
impact. ... The type of ammunition that satisfied the Hague Convention and is currently
specified for police use may have serious operational limitations because of its potential for
over-penetration, and that only bullets with a soft point are likely to satisfy the requirement.
The police requirement may be satisfied by several different calibre weapons using the
appropriate weight soft point bullet, the final selection resting on the engagement distance
anticipated by the police force in the knowledge of their particular environment. Once again,
this bullet would have been described as being Dum-Dum-like a century earlier.
The obvious gap left by there being no provision relating specifically to police
ammunition was finally filled in 1990 when the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and
Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials was adopted at the Eighth United Nations Congress
on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders. In its
General Provisions it requires that: Governments and law
enforcement agencies shall adopt and implement rules and
regulations on the use of force and firearms against persons by law
enforcement officials. Under its Special Provisions it reads:
Rules and regulations on the use of firearms by law enforcement
officials should include guidelines that ... prohibit the use of those

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Dum-Dum Bullets
firearms and ammunition that cause unwarranted injury or present an unwarranted risk. This
deliberately avoids the wording used in the Hague Declaration and does not specify which
particular bullet types should be prohibited the only requirement being that each state
identifies which firearms and ammunition it considers cause unwarranted injury or risk and
therefore cannot be used by its police.
The International Red Cross, in its study of international humanitarian law in 2005,
found that several States have decided that for domestic law-enforcement purposes, outside
armed conflict, in particular where it is necessary to confront an armed person in an urban
environment or crowd of people, expanding bullets may be used by police to ensure that the
bullets used do not pass through the body of a suspect into another person and to increase the
chance that once hit, the suspect is instantly prevented from firing back.
This was not meant to be in any way critical. It was a straightforward statement of
fact but that is not to say that the subject
is no longer controversial. When the
Swiss police announced its intention of
adopting an expanding bullet in 2006, the
local branch of Amnesty International
objected. Dismissing the UN Basic
Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms as though they were irrelevant it said that: We
still think that as these bullets are prohibited for use in wartime that Switzerland, as the
depositary state of the Geneva Conventions should not introduce them. The Swiss Medical
Association also expressed its concerns about new ammunition that causes permanent injury
or which results in an increase in life-threatening injuries. However a spokesman for the
Swiss Federal Police said that Germany has been using expanding bullets for about four
years and the mortality rate has not risen as a result. ... The bullets in use at the moment
generally pass through the body. ... Expanding bullets should not do this ... [and] this will
avoid the possibility of two or three people being struck by the same bullet.
If the use of expanding bullets by the police can still generate excitement, their use by
the armed forces does so even more. However, battles where an army in uniform has a standup face-to-face fight in fields and open country with the uniformed army of another state are
the exception. The combat environment today is far more likely to be urban with the enemy,
many of whom are no less fanatical than their predecessors, concealing themselves amongst,

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Dum-Dum Bullets
and dressing like, the local population. This increases the potential for collateral damage
with innocent parties being hit by bullets which overpenetrate or ricochet. Military forces are questioning
why they are restricted in the kind of ammunition they
can use when the conditions surrounding such use are
not that different from those encountered by the police.
In some cases they are even working alongside the
police but a solution is far from simple. Even if the British government were to just
unilaterally announce that it no longer intended to apply the Hague Declarations to its armed
forces because of the change in the way wars are being fought there is now a more
formidable obstacle to overcome.
According to the Rome Statute of the
International Criminal Court adopted in Rome in
1998: An International Criminal Court ("the
Court") is hereby established. It shall be a
permanent institution and shall have the power to
exercise its jurisdiction over persons for the most
serious crimes of international concern, as referred
British soldiers working with Afghan Police

to in this Statute, and shall be complementary to

national criminal jurisdictions. After affirming that the most serious crimes of concern to
the international community as a whole must not go unpunished it then, without questioning
whether the wording of the 1899 Hague Declaration was
still relevant given the imaginative ways that have since
been found around it, specifically makes: Employing
bullets which expand or flatten easily in the human body,
such as bullets with a hard envelope which does not
entirely cover the core or is pierced with incisions a
War Crime (Article 8 Paragraph xix).
As we have seen, the British government has been recommending the ammunition
that can be used by the police since 1972. In September 1998 the Home Office Police
Scientific Development Branch (PSDB, as SRDB had been renamed) published its
Performance Specification for 9mm 95 Grain Jacketed Soft Point Ammunition for Police Use
and this emphasised that hollow-point ammunition was not acceptable. However, in
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Dum-Dum Bullets
September 2007 the PSDB reviewed the 1998 specification and produced its Comparison of
9mm 95 grain Jacketed Soft Point with Selected Hollow Point Ammunition. Strangely for a
document of such importance it makes no mention of the UN Basic Principles on the Use of
Force and Firearms as being relevant despite quoting from both the 1899 and 1907 Hague
Declarations which it admits are only strictly applicable to armed conflicts between
participating nations. It does make the point that the police in both Finland and Sweden had
adopted jacketed hollow-point bullets after extensive trials and intensive scrutiny to ensure
that it complied with international humanitarian law and the PSDB conducted its own trials to
reach the conclusion that consideration should be given to the use of hollow point
ammunition as an appropriate configuration for police firearms operations.

Fere Libenter Homines Id Quod Volunt Credunt


Men are nearly always willing to believe what they wish [to believe] (Julius Caesar 101 44 BC)
The story of extraordinary phenomenon that was the short-lived career of the DumDum bullet, from its rise as a solution to a very real life-threatening problem, to its
questionable notoriety and its subsequent denunciation as a result of dubious medical
experiments followed by its fall as a victim of international political intrigue has long since
been forgotten. Today, reality as far as Dum-Dum bullets are concerned has been almost
totally replaced by alarmist mythology. When the Met announced in May 2011 that it
intended to change from 95 grain soft-point to 124 grain hollow-point ammunition the force
had to stoop to the level of arguing that the bullets were not Dum-Dum. The days when a
sensible and informed discussion can take place seem to be as far away as ever.
Note:
If you have any information on developments to do with police firearms in your force/area
please contact mike.policehistory@yahoo.com.
Mike Waldren

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