My watch list  

Shell Crisis of 1915

The Shell Crisis of 1915 brought down the government of the United Kingdom during World War I because it was widely perceived that the production of artillery shells for use by the British Army was inadequate.

After the failure of the Battle of Neuve Chapelle, the British Commander-in-Chief Field Marshal Sir John French mentioned to The Times war correspondent, Colonel Charles Repington, that it failed due to a lack of shells. The Shell Scandal was reported back to the Home Front by The Times, which described the scandal in graphic detail, clearly pointing the finger of blame at the government.

A new Government and the creation of the Ministry of Munitions

This led to the Shell Crisis of 1915, which brought down the Liberal British government under the Premiership of Herbert Henry Asquith. He formed a new coalition government dominated by Liberals and appointed Lloyd George as Minister of Munitions. It was a recognition that the whole economy would have to be geared for war if the Allies were to prevail on the Western Front.

Supplies and factories in British Commonwealth countries, particularly Canada, were reorganised under the Imperial Munitions Board, in order to supply adequate shells and other materiels for the remainder of the war.

A huge munitions factory, HM Factory, Gretna was built on the English-Scottish border to produce Cordite.

An idle part of a factory in Silvertown was pressed into service to manufacture TNT; this exploded, killing 73 and injuring 400.

Causes of the ammunition shortfall

While this article focuses on the UK, similar problems arose for all the combatants of 1914.

During the war, consumption of field artillery ammunition, particularly the then standard shrapnel-shell was far higher than anticipated.

The Western Front started with a brief period of fairly quick German advances. However, the time fused shrapnel shell and the machine gun proved very effective in stopping them --- far more so then projected. The war shifted very rapidly to trenches, and then to siege conditions. The latter inevitably led to high ammunition consumption; the demand for shrapnel shell rapidly exceeded the available reserves and projected production, causing a first crisis.

As shrapnel is less lethal against dug-in targets High Explosive (HE) shells became the preferred projectiles. The volume demanded by artillery unit was immense, far exceeding available capacity. As HE is a very different proposition to make and use compared to more traditional shells, it was at the time not well understood and mature. An out of specification HE shell --- for example with a higher gauge than specified --- is likely to explode in the gun barrel, called a barrel premature. Unlike a shrapnel shell, such an explosion will destroy the gun and kill the gun's crew. The rate of these gun accidents rose sharply until 1918.

The problems were still not fully resolved when the great bombardment began for the Battle of the Somme.


  • Adams, R.J.A., (1978). Arms and the Wizard: Lloyd George and the Ministry of Munitions 1915 -1916. London: Cassell. ISBN 0-304-29916-2.
  • Carnegie, David (1925). The History of Munitions Supply in Canada 1914-1918. London: Longmans Green and Co.
  • Lloyd George, David, (1933). War memoirs of David Lloyd George. London: Ivor Nicholson & Watson.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Shell_Crisis_of_1915". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
Your browser is not current. Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0 does not support some functions on Chemie.DE