Thursday, November 26, 2015

Ball busters: Experts render safe ordnance recovered from CSS Georgia

A Dahlgren round is rendered inert (Photos by Jeremy Buddemeir, USACE)

While the Confederate ironclad CSS Georgia didn’t get to fire upon the enemy during the Civil War, her underwater graveyard was packed with potential peril for 150 years. That’s been remedied, thanks to a crew of technicians and engineers who rendered more than 100 artillery projectiles harmless after they were brought up by Navy divers.

Brooke shell will undergo conservation (USACE)

The 9-inch Dahlgren and 6.4-inch Brooke rifle rounds were recovered -- along with much of the scuttled ship’s wreckage -- from the Savannah River in Savannah, Ga.

The MuniRem Environmental crew used an array of technology and equipment to drill holes into each round and extract black powder, all the while ensuring they’d be safe during the “breaching” process. It used a chemical solution to flush black powder.
View from barrier with drill mechanism in background

The company said on its website: “Contrary to some expectations, less than 1% of the munitions had seawater seepage; the black powder main and primary charges were essentially dry and of high energetic hazard.”

By drilling a hole in the side of the munition, the crew was able to not disturb the fuze, the most hazardous part of the entire shell. “With the removal of the main charge the threat of a detonation and fragmentation of the munitions case was avoided,” the Georgia-based Muni Rem said. “The amount of explosives remaining within the projectile was contained within the fuze. Subsequently, the fuze was rendered safe by drilling directly though the fuze body to access and neutralize the explosives.”

A Dahlgren round resembles a bowling ball (USACE)
A fuze after removal from Brooke shell

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers district in Savannah has overseen the CSS Georgia recovery. The shells were sent to Texas A&M University’s Conservation Research Laboratory for conservation.

• More details of the delicate operation

A Dahlgren round is readied for breaching (USACE)

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