Soft‐recovery plate impact experiments have been conducted to study the evolution of damage in polycrystalline Al2O3 samples. Examination of the recovered samples by means of scanning electron microscopy and transmission electron microscopy has revealed that microcracking occurs along grain boundaries; the cracks appear to emanate from grain‐boundary triple points. Velocity‐time profiles measured at the rear surface of the momentum trap indicate that the compressive pulse is not fully elastic even when the maximum amplitude of the pulse is significantly less than the Hugoniot elastic limit. Attempts to explain this seemingly anomalous behavior are summarized. Primary attention is given to the role of the intergranular glassy phase which arises from sintering aids and which is ultimately forced into the interfaces and voids between the ceramic grains. Experiments are reported on the effects of grain size and glass content on the resistance of the sample to damage during the initial compressive pulse. To further understand the role of the glass, plate impact experiments were conducted on glass with chemical composition comparable to that which is present in the ceramic. These experiments were designed to gain further insight into the possibility of ‘‘failure waves’’ in glasses under compressive loading.