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If you find a shell, the only safe thing to do is assume it’s live.

I came across this object while hiking near Pyramid Peak in Unalaska, Alaska. Due to safety concerns, I left it in the mountains. It’s roughly 10 inches long; can you tell me what it is? —Erika Hundrup, Federal Way, Washington


Unalaska’s Pyramid Peak is in the Aleutians, near Amaknak Island, location of a place likely familiar to readers of this magazine: Dutch Harbor. On June 3 and 4, 1942, Japanese forces attacked the military facilities at Dutch Harbor. One of the units defending the harbor was the 206th Coast Artillery Regiment, an Arkansas National Guard unit. The regiment, inducted into federal service on January 6, 1941, deployed to Dutch Harbor that August. An antiaircraft regiment, it was equipped with three-inch M3 antiaircraft guns.

The item pictured appears to be a fired three-inch shell; rifling marks indicate it has passed through a barrel. Judging by the numbered kitchen timer-like device on one end (top, right), it looks as if the shell had a time fuze, intended to delay explosion for a calculated duration so it could reach the target aircraft’s altitude before detonating. The shell also would have had an impact detonator fuze, so it would explode if it hit something. 

For whatever reason, this shell did not explode. Unexploded shells are very dangerous; they can be set off by being moved, struck, or just touched, and can become more unstable over time. If you find a shell, the only safe thing to do is assume it’s live, leave it alone, and contact local authorities so they can dispose of it safely. 

In 1942, the 206th helped bring down a Japanese Zero, gaining an important war trophy. Restored to flyable condition, it became useful in teaching American pilots and tacticians how to counter the Japanese fighter.

—Tom Czekanski, senior curator and restoration manager, The National WWII Museum 

Have a World War II artifact you can’t identify? 

Write to with the following:

Your connection to the object and what you know about it.
The object’s dimensions, in inches.
Several high-resolution digital photos taken close up and
from varying angles.
Pictures should be in color, and at least 300 dpi.

Unfortunately, we can’t respond to every query, nor can we appraise value.

This article was published in the October 2019 issue of World War II.