Arguably one of the most important military inventions of World War 2 was the proximity fuze. It greatly increased the lethality of artillery shells, since an airburst has a higher chance of covering trenches with shell fragments, and soldiers laying on the ground in as low a position as possible are more likely killed or injured by artillery shells exploding in the air because of the larger cross section when the shell explodes in the air.

I would think that, since the invention of the proximity fuze was such an important one, that all wars fought after World War 2 would use the proximity fuze in all artillery shells.

However, all of the news today I have read about the Ukraine War seems to indicate that neither side is using proximity fuzes. I assume that land-based artillery today doesn't use proximity fuzes today, which seems strange. At least in 1945 a single fuze cost $18, which in today's money is $314, an insignificant fraction of the price of a 155mm artillery shell. And today, due to integrated circuits and transistors, I think the cost could be even reduced from $314.

What has happened to proximity fuzes after World War 2? Has the production of proximity fuzes been shut down, with nobody being capable of mass-producing them anymore? This seems strange, since in World War 2 times, they had to use vacuum tubes, whereas today semiconductors would withstand the launch of artillery shells much easier.

Is there any documented evidence of proximity fuzes being either used or not used in the major wars fought after World War 2? For example, did the major supporter of Ukraine, United States, use proximizy fuzes in the wars it fought? Did Soviet Union ever have the capability to mass produce proximity fuzes?

  • 4
    Proximity fuses seem to be alive and well and airburst munitions exist for a variety of modern platforms.
    – Steve Bird
    Commented Apr 27 at 8:02
  • 2
    Which news "indicate that proximity fuzes are not used"? I think that this statement is wrong. For example, the standard 155 mm shells come with a variety of fuzes, including proximity fuzes. How do you know which of them are delivered to Ukraine?
    – Alex
    Commented Apr 27 at 13:13

1 Answer 1


I think the assumption behind the question, which is that proximity fuzes are not used anymore, is wrong. And this answers the question. Below some explanations to be more precise.

Proximity fuzes are of different models for different usecases:

  • In ship to ship artillery, they were not used in WW2 because the need was to pierce ships's armour and explode inside rather than to explode before the impact. This was true for plenty of ammunition dotation after WW2. For ship based anti-aircraft artillery, see below
  • In land to land artillery, what you mention "since an airburst has a higher chance of covering trenches with shell fragments" is more like timed shells (also known as shrapnells): a timing is set for the detonation of the shell after it is fired, and the artillery men have two correctly set it up so that it explodes above ennemy trenches/troops. In 1945 a true type of proximity fuzes was used to make artillery shells fly straight above ground and detonate when they encounter a closer object (hopefully an ennemy tank). This was very interesting not against trenches, but to use heavy campaign artillery (105, 155 mm) to defeat German tanks that could resist medium-caliber AT artillery
  • In anti-armour artillery, classic AP shells with an hardened head were not used, as for antiship artillery. HEAT shells in contrast, which had to detonate a distance from the armour to perce, could use them. In antitank missiles, an alternative was often used: a long and thin nose was pointing forward, pushed back inside the missile when impacting and triggered the explosion of the HEAT charge
  • In anti-aircraft artillery, proximity fuzes were important because they allowed small-caliber shells (20, 35 mm) to detonate close to aircraft when passing by and inflict multiple damages. Those fuzes were later used in missiles
  • As said in comments, torpedoes also used proximity fuzes (in principle, technology was different from the ones of shells). They were useful in enhancing lethality of torpedoes, that otherwise often passed under ships without exploding
  • 1
    Imho, the most devastating use of it is in torpedoes. Torpedo with the proximity fuze goes under the ship and bursts from below. As the burst in water goes mainly upwards, the effect of the burst on the target ship is much stronger.
    – Gangnus
    Commented Apr 28 at 21:16
  • You're right, I forgot this usecase but yes, provided they were reliable (which they were truly not sometimes for the Germans for example during WW2) they were devastating Commented Apr 29 at 19:23
  • AFAIK, PFs were not used in torpedoes during WW2, but my info is from a very unreliable source. But surely, they ARE used on the contemporary torpedoes practically always... And don't forget to add torpedoes to your list. :-) After that I'll upvote it.
    – Gangnus
    Commented May 1 at 16:37
  • 1
    They were used in German torpedoes. not sure if the term "proximity fuzes" is technically correct but the principle is similar: magnetic signal from the hull of the ship triggers the detonation Commented May 1 at 20:48
  • 2
    @Gangnus, magnetic triggers were used by American, British, and German torpedoes during WWII, with varying degrees of success. Degaussing of ships' hulls was invented during the same time period to counter them.
    – Mark
    Commented May 2 at 3:13

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.