The Soldier at the Western Front – The Use of Dum-Dum-Projectiles

“By its outer appearance each bullet looks like one of ours. This changes as soon as the tip is broken. To achieve this aim English rifles are equipped with a special device that allows them to transform normal bullets into Dum Dum Bullets in an instant, and there is no chance to proof this evil deed.” (source 1: War Diary of Ernst Pauleit)

The soldier Ernst Pauleit not alone reports about the alleged daily use of Dum Dum Bullets by the Englishmen, but also about the possible fast production of this type of ammunition (source 1). The colloquially term “Dum Dum Bullet” – even though common in the First World War – meant originally rifle ammunition with an uncovered lead core at the top (soft point bullet) or a covered but cylindrical drilled out bullet (hollow point bullet). The ammunition was named after the Indian town Dum Dum near Kolkata. The local ammunition factory produced hollow point bullets for the British army at the end of the 19th century. The British used these industrial produced bullets, as well as manual made bullets which points had been filed of, during the later course of the Sudanese Mahdist War as in India.
Postal card: The infamous Dum Dum Bullets (probably 1915)

Dum Dum Bullets have been banned already in the first Hague Conventions of 1899, because of their capability to expand or flatten inside the human body. Their use was subject of § 23 of the Hague Convention from 1907 (source 2). Already in the first weeks of the war the respective war parties accused each other to use this ammunition banned by international law. These propagandistic accusations and hostile allegations can be verified for the German side with a broad spectrum sources – these range from books and articles in newspapers over postal cards to war memories and diaries of individual soldiers. The postal card “Greetings from Germany” (trans.: Gruss aus Deutschland) that was produced in many versions, saw the bombardment with 42cm shells as the proper answer to the alleged use of Dum Dum Bullets (source 3) The “Frankfurter Zeitung” assured that Germany practiced a “human conduct of war”, only to denounce immediately afterwards the massive use of Dum Dum Bullets by France and England in November 1914 (source 4). Kaiser Wilhelm II mentioned the issue in a telegram to Woodrow Wilson, the President of the United States of America (source 5).

The use of different types of deforming projectiles during the First World War can‘t be denied, because of severe gunshot wounds and preserved remains of projectiles. On the other hand today it is accepted that in none of the belligerent nations the Dum Dum Bullets have been systematically used by order. It was rather the initiative of the fighting soldiers themselves: even though the different types of distributed ammunition already had a high precision and a sufficient capability to kill (source 6), the distributed ammunition was never the less manipulated to harm the enemy even more. This manipulation was – as already mentioned – comparable fast and easy, the point of the bullet only had to be filed of or notched to transform a normal projectile into a Dum Dum.

Hagen Schönrich, Dresden 2015


Source 1: War Diary of Ernst Pauleit

Source 2: Hague Convention, Article 23

Source 3: Postal card: Greetings from Germany

Source 4: Frankfurter Zeitung September 1914

Source 5: Cable from Kaiser Wilhelm II. to President Wilson

Quelle 6: Muntionsarten bei Max Schwarte: Die Technik im Weltkriege

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