'Wind of ball' injuries
March 18, 2007 12:21 PM   Subscribe

Projectile filter: Anyone familiar with the injury known as "wind of ball"?

I've just read Ian W. Toll's fascinating book "Six Frigates" about the early days of the U.S. Navy. Twice he casually mentions sailors of that era being injured or even killed by the wind of a cannonball passing close to them. "Wind of ball" was apparently used as a cause of death in the navies of the 18th and 19th centuries. Can anyone explain how such a thing is possible?
posted by bryon to Health & Fitness (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Here's an interesting description. Linked to a cached page so the term would be highlighted for easy-finding (it's about halfway down the page).
posted by amyms at 12:32 PM on March 18, 2007

Some very interesting reading on the phenomenon on pp. 132-136 in Gunshot Injuries, Their History, Characteristic Features, Complications, and General Treatment (1895), by Thomas Longmore. Start reading at "Subcutaneous contusions without external marks," and pay close attention to "Further explanations of such injuries," starting on p. 134.

Also if you want to search further, another source notes that the phenomenon may also be referred to as blast concussion & reflex paralysis, blast chest, shell shock, vent du boulet, wind of shot, or breath of the cannon ball.
posted by Partial Law at 12:47 PM on March 18, 2007

A large mass moving at high speed would cause turbulent forces around it. If said turbulent forces were large enough they could do some damage - I'm envisioning a situation where a cannonball wooshes right past someone's face and the turbulent air around it whips their neck around and breaks it.

Whether a cannonball would create large enough forces, I don't know. I always used to refer to this effect as "weight turbulence" but Google has nothing on that. And if you doubt that any turbulent forces are strong enough to do that, I dare you to go stand at the end of the runway underneath a landing 747!
posted by alby at 12:58 PM on March 18, 2007

It's been said that a bullet fired from a .50 caliber sniper rifle (M82 Barrett) will kill a person, if the shot is within a foot or two. The explanation I've always heard is that the turbulence from the bullet going by is enough to pull the skin on the person's face off.

I'm sure the same thing is possible with a cannonball.
posted by DMan at 1:02 PM on March 18, 2007

It's not turbulence, it's the shock wave. That's at its strongest when the projectile is moving faster than the speed of sound, but even at speeds somewhat below that the shock wave is, or can be, quite strong, especially if the projectile has a wide cross-section.

I seriously doubt that Age-of-Sail cannonballs broke the sound barrier, but it's completely plausible that a near miss from one could cause fatal damage from the shock wave.

[When I first read this I thought I saw "ball of wind" instead of "wind of ball" and thought to myself, "Is that one of the spells that Lina Inverse uses?"]
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 2:26 PM on March 18, 2007

By the way, modern big guns cause monumental shock waves. On a WWII battleship, any crewmen on deck near one of the big turrets when the guns fired would be killed instantly by the shockwave, so part of the battlestations drill was to clear the deck. That's why a lot of their antiaircraft guns were inside turrets; it was so that they could be crewed when the big guns were firing.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 2:31 PM on March 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

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