A hand grenade (Germany: HGr, Switzerland: HG) is a grenade that is thrown at a target by hand . Hand grenades are hollow metal or plastic bodies filled with an explosive charge and equipped with a time or impact fuse . To increase the splintering effect, the wall of the hollow body can be provided with predetermined breaking points or even contain further metal parts (for example balls). Some models work through the use of warfare agents or incendiary agents .
Hand grenades have been known in the older form of the fuse grenade since the Middle Ages and were used as a weapon of grenadiers by almost all European armies at the end of the 17th century. Later hand grenades with an impact fuse were mainly used. In the newer form of the egg or stick hand grenade with detachable fuse or lever fuse, they have been part of the arsenal of all armies since the First World War . Early forms are known as incendiary projectiles from ancient times.
The word "grenade" comes from Latin, from " grānātus " = "provided with grains, pips ". This goes back to the name of the pomegranate = " [mālum] grānātum ", which also distributes its many "seeds" explosively when it is forcibly attacked.
The first evidence of the use of the weapon dates back to the Song Dynasty China (960 to 1279). In the west, it was first demonstrably used in the Byzantine Empire and at the latest since the 16th century in Europe. Initially, they were ceramic or glass grenades filled with black powder and equipped with wooden detonating tubes with a slowly burning powder mixture. They were probably developed from earlier storm pots . Several hundred ceramic (hand) grenades from the 17th century, which were unearthed during the construction of an underground car park in 1983, have been preserved from the Ingolstadt state fortress . From the 17th century onwards, ceramic and glass grenades were increasingly replaced by metal grenades made of cast iron or bronze . However, there are also variants made of wood which, in addition to those made of cardboard, were used as training hand grenades. In the 17th and 18th centuries, soldiers and entire units specialized in hand grenade combat were integrated into most European armies; these soldiers were called grenadiers . In the American Fort Ticonderoga , spherical iron hand grenades from the 18th century were found. After the mid- 19th century , hand grenades were used extensively in the Crimean War and American Civil War . In the Russo-Japanese War of 1904/05, they were last used on a large scale before the First World War.
Since 1914, the weapon was used in trench warfare during the First World War. Here the attacker was able to throw without lifting the body out of cover. This made it possible to avoid getting into the area of action of enemy shooters or shrapnel. At the beginning of the war, only the German and Turkish armies had sufficient quantities of hand grenades. The British Army had already withdrawn its hand grenades in 1870 and now had to introduce the Mills grenade in 1915 after resorting to makeshift stick grenades ("potato masher") .
Well-known models from the Second World War are the US Mk 2 ("pineapple") and the Soviet F 1 , from the Vietnam War the US M61 and M67 . The Japanese type 4 ceramic hand grenades , which were developed and used due to the increasing shortage of metal towards the end of the Second World War, are remarkable .
In tactical use, the hand grenade is generally used to fight soldiers up to a distance of about 30-40 meters, that is, the distance that can be reached by human throwing ability. It is used where the opponent has limited mobility , such as in house-to-house combat , trench warfare and attacks on bunkers , and to fight targets from cover without having to expose himself by using hand weapons. The explosion of a hand grenade in a closed room is usually fatal for everyone in the area of action.
Offensive and defensive use
When using weapons, different tactical situations require different relationships between throwing distance and fragment radius.
Offensive grenades have a relatively small danger area below the throwing range and can therefore also be used without the attacker being covered. They are used to penetrate enemy positions, are usually only provided with a thin sheet metal jacket or plastic housing and have almost no splintering effect. They are limited to the pressure wave effect of their explosive charge.
Defensive fragmentation grenades, on the other hand, are thrown from cover, for example from or into a trench. The fragment radius is greater than that of comparable offensive hand grenades and greater than the throwing range, i.e. H. the thrower must take cover. They are either provided with a thick splinter casing or the plastic housing also contains splinter bodies. By sliding on splinter rings, offensive grenades (if this option is provided) can be converted into defensive ones.
Hand grenades are also widely used to make improvised booby traps .
The essential elements of a hand grenade are:
- Explosives filling
- Additional damaging elements such as splinters, poisons or incendiary agents
- Impact or time fuse
The illustration shows a DM58 training hand grenade (from left to right): lever (which alone secures the hand grenade after pulling the pin, either in the hand of the thrower or by other methods), safety pin, trigger mechanism and ignition charge, actual explosive filling and casing element og components (here splinter jacket).
The explosives are usually used for hand grenades today are TNT , RDX , PETN and Composition B . In contrast , the Molotov cocktails , which are also used as hand grenades, have highly flammable liquids as a filling. The secondary components of the hand grenade are located radially outside the explosive core in order to achieve an optimal effective radius.
Hand grenades that ignite impact cause the weapon to explode when it hits the ground by means of various mechanisms. This technique has the advantage that the opponent can neither evade the weapon nor throw it back, and the risk of rolling back on sloping terrain is excluded.
Structure and function of the elements of a hand grenade
The various components of a typical hand grenade can be seen on the basis of the schematic representation of the structure of a stick hand grenade. First of all, the detonator that the soldier has to insert into the grenade head immediately before the grenade is deployed should be mentioned. This is to prevent unintentional ignitions with explosive effects. If a grenade was detonated without a detonator, the chemical reaction stopped without generating the necessary energy to ignite the main charge. The danger that would have arisen from a fire or great heat development in their own ranks was also reduced. Even if a grenade of this type were exposed to high temperatures (> 600 ° C) without a detonator, the explosion reaction of the main charge would be delayed and less violent. This would give the soldiers the necessary time to take countermeasures, i.e. to move away or to put out the fire. Even with modern grenades of this type and egg hand grenades, it is common to insert a reaction element before use.
Further safety measures are lead bead and lead sheath as elements of the ignition unit. The lead bead that divides the tear cord should prevent duds . If the stick grenade was exposed to high temperatures (over 327 ° C, the melting point of lead ), it was likely that the entire ignition mechanism burned down. This could not have been recognized from the outside, at most through the resistance of the tear cord when triggered. In this case, the hand grenade would have been armed. For safety reasons, the soldier should have thrown such a grenade away anyway. The area in which this hand grenade was located would have been endangered by the possibility of spontaneous ignition. So it was better to weed out duds from the start. If the lead jacket had also melted away, ignition by frictional energy was no longer possible. This should prevent the dreaded 'smoldering' of grenades that were exposed to temperatures shortly before the ignition unit was ignited. At temperatures around 350 ° C, the explosive had already reacted 'quietly' under certain circumstances and then burned down irregularly and with a delay (smoldering, hence smoldering ignition) after ignition. Such or similar safety precautions are used in almost all modern hand grenades.
The time stamp should receive special attention. With it it was possible to determine and vary the time between the ignition and the explosion of the hand grenade. However, this has usually already been done in production. The common soldier was usually unable to set the timestamp. The delay time up to the explosion of the grenade could be set in the time stamp both by means of the reaction mixture used ( reaction rate ) and the distribution and the amount of the reaction mixture. Different variations of time stamps are necessarily used in all hand grenades. In the model of a time stamp shown, the ignition unit is also integrated. The lead jacket was pulled over the friction cap by jerking the tear cord. As a result, the frictional energy, similar to a commercially available match, ignited the ignition material in the delay tube. The reaction energy increased: starting with the burning of the friction cap, through the burning of the delay tube, up to the explosion of the detonator, which triggered the main charge.
Types of hand grenades
In the Byzantine Empire , hand grenades made of ceramic were filled with Greek fire . Arabic ceramic hand grenades were filled with naphtha . Chinese soldiers poured black powder into their ceramic hand grenades.
American Civil War hand grenades
The hand grenades of that time mostly had impact fuses (but there were also older spherical models with fuse).
The Northern States ketchum grenade ( Ketchum's Improved Hand Grenade ) came in a variety of sizes (1, 3, and 5 pounds). At the rear of the egg-shaped iron body was a square wooden stick with stabilizing fins as a tail unit or a cardboard strip folded up like an accordion so that the grenade hit the detonator first after it was thrown. The firing pin had a washer at its tip to increase the ignition reliability when it hit soft or irregular surfaces.
The Confederate Rain hand grenade was essentially the same as the Ketchum grenade, except that it had no disc at the tip of the detonator. A simple strip of fabric was also used as the tail unit.
The spherical Excelsior grenade consisted of the actual explosive device as well as an outer hollow sphere, the two halves of which could be screwed together. The inner sphere had 14 primers on its outside, which gave it a hedgehog-like appearance. When the grenade hit, these primers hit the outer edge and the grenade exploded. Due to this all-round arrangement of the detonators, the grenade did not need a tail unit, which made it smaller and more manageable. However, these grenades were also very fragile and many accidentally exploded before they were thrown.
The stick grenade, commonly also stick grenade and by the Allies of World War II because of their appearance colloquially " potato masher called" consists of a stem with a screwed it warhead. The handle extends the limb lever and thus enables greater throwing distances. It is therefore also a suitable hand grenade for the attack due to the smaller fragment radius compared to an egg hand grenade. Usually the time fuse is housed in the handle. At the lower end of the stem, normally protected by a screw-on cap, is the tear-off cord for the friction detonator with the pearl attached.
In its most famous form, it was first used in World War I, but at that time it still had a handle attached to the warhead, which allowed it to be easily and relatively safely attached to the belt .
Even in the Second World War , stick grenades were mainly used by the Germans. These hand grenades no longer had the handle and so the soldiers often had to clamp the grenade loosely under their belt or put it in their boot shaft.
The model 24 was constructed as described above. In March 1944, the simplified Model 43 came to the troops. This stick grenade corresponded in size and effect to the older grenade; however, the detonator was now at the top. This made production easier because the handle no longer had to be hollowed out; In addition, the grenade could now also be thrown without a handle. However, the detonator was no longer so well protected against external influences.
For both models there were clip-on metal splinter jackets (reinforcement jacket made of cast iron ) to increase the splinter effect.
Primarily when used against bunkers and other fortifications, the explosive effect was intensified by the so-called “ concentrated charge ”. Six more warheads without detonators were attached around the warhead of the grenade using wire (this provisional solution produced in the field should not be confused with the Swiss series-produced variant).
Stick hand grenades were also used in the Swiss Army under the designation HG 43 until the 1990s . It was constructed as described above and contained 380 g TNT . As an additional element, the head of the HG-43 contained two additional threads: an external thread on the upper end and a matching internal thread on the lower end of the handle. So you could screw any number of grenade heads together to form a so-called stretched load against barbed wire obstacles, among other things. Alternatively, an additional load of 1.5 kg TNT was available, into which the HG head with the external thread could be screwed. Such a so-called concentrated charge had an increased effect. Stretched loads with up to three grenade heads can still be thrown by hand. Longer versions were usually permanently mounted and ignited remotely using an extended cord. A fragmentation jacket could also be screwed onto the external thread of the HG-43 for defensive purposes.
Another weapon that was quickly assembled in the field was another variant of the straight charge. It consisted of several explosive charges of stick hand grenades attached about 15 cm apart, which were attached to a board with wire, for example. This was then mainly pushed under a barbed wire fence and detonated from a safe distance. The barbed wire was mostly cut through the explosion and the considerable fragmentation effect, allowing infantry to cross the area.
A stick grenade typically has a delay of about three to five seconds. It is thrown immediately after being pulled, combined with the typical warning call “Attention, hand grenade” or, as is customary in the Wehrmacht, “Burns!”. The short wait before throwing, known as “boiling” (or “tempting”), is neither trained nor should it be used because the risks for the thrower are too high. Throwing back is practically impossible, the time is too short. In contrast to an egg hand grenade, a stick grenade must be thrown after it has been pulled, as the ignition is not delayed by a held safety clip. The stick grenade has become an unusual weapon of war today.
An estimated 75 million pieces were produced by German industry during World War II, and around 300 million pieces in World War I.
The egg grenade roughly has the shape of an egg, apple or tangerine. At the top it has a percussion detonator with a delay rate of about three seconds. This percussion detonator is held in its cocked position by a bracket that rests against the shell of the grenade and is secured with a split pin. During use, the grenade is held firmly in the hand with the handle , the handle must be in the palm of the hand . The hand with the egg hand grenade is placed on the thigh of the throwing hand and then the splint is pulled. Even now there is no ignition delay, the grenade can still be held in the hand. The egg grenade is then thrown over the head in a bow throw, which allows greater range and better aiming. Other throwing techniques carry the risk that the thrower throws the grenade directly in front of him by opening his hand too early. The lever is only released when the hand is thrown, the percussion detonator ignites the delay set, the charge explodes after about three seconds.
In addition, the bracket served as a means of identifying the shape of the blast. A partly red, partly blue color makes the bracket recognizable even in the dark. The designation of the grenade shape was applied in the blue color field (e.g. "E-Grenade" = explosive grenade or "S-Grenade" = smoke grenade , sometimes just the letters, without "Grenade"). The hand grenades manufactured up to mid-1943 often had brief instructions printed on them (e.g. “Pull the ring and throw”), which were later omitted.
The original form of the egg grenade comes from the time of the First World War - provided with a detonator (friction fuse). During the Second World War, the German side again produced a special form of the egg hand grenade with a detonator functionally identical to the stick hand grenade. The egg grenade 39 was built more compact than this one and could be carried in larger numbers or even concealed.
The can-shaped hand grenade, which was widespread in Italy during World War II, is a special form. The actual explosive charge was located separately inside the outer shell, and it was ignited on impact (impact fuse). The ignition device implemented using different means ensures ignition in every impact position. Similar detonators were being made in Great Britain at the same time.
The British Mills hand grenade is similar to today's standard model, but the detonator is located entirely inside the hand grenade. This was screwed in on later models and the German and American models produced at the same time. On the Russian models with a slightly different appearance, the striker spring piece was replaced by a spiral spring. In Japanese hand grenades from the Second World War, the spring striker was completely missing, the hand grenade had to be detonated by a blow on the firing pin before being thrown. The mechanical detonator with firing pin from Yugoslavia, which was produced later, appears safer.
Today, the egg grenade in various external forms with the screw-in percussion fuse mentioned is the predominant form of hand grenade. The splinter body can still be constructed as a cast metal or sheet metal body, but also made of plastic with cast-in notch wire or shotgun pellets. On some models, the splinter jacket is adaptive. The fuse on the inside of early models - ignited by percussion or tear-off fuse, ultimately an adaptation of the original grenadier grenade - was later replaced by somewhat more reliable pyrotechnic detonators.
The external shape of the hand grenade serves partly as a synonym for the colloquial designation (egg grenade, pineapple, potato masher, etc.).
Discus hand grenade
In 1915 the German military introduced the M15 discus hand grenade. It consisted of two plate-like components and each version weighed between 360 grams and 415 grams. There were two variants for offensive and defensive use. Due to their weight and shape, they allowed greater throwing distances than the previously used ball hand grenades. Because of their shape, these grenades were also called "turtle grenade" or "grenade tortue" by Allied military units. The lens-shaped chapel storey , which is similar in design, had not caught on a few years earlier. The M15 discus hand grenade has also not achieved any noteworthy popularity.
Anti-tank hand grenade
Early anti-tank hand grenades only worked because of their shock wave. They were not thrown, but placed on the turntable of the tower or on the chains of the tank to make it inoperable. Before they were used, some of them (like the British HGR No. 74) were coated with strong adhesive.
With the development of shaped charge weapons, anti-tank hand grenades with shaped charges were also introduced during World War II. They are usually constructed like stick grenades. Since the shaped charge only acts in one direction, it must be ensured that the grenades hit the target with the front side after the throw, where they detonate by impact ignition. The grenades are therefore aerodynamically stabilized after the throw by umbrellas or other stabilizing surfaces on the handle. The German anti-tank mine (Lang) had surfaces of fabric that were wrapped around the handle and unfolded like tail units after being thrown. In the case of the Soviet RPG-43 , after the throw, a feather struck a sheet metal umbrella at the end of the stem, which unfolded a narrow fabric umbrella along the stem.
Technical data of the hand grenade 85 (HG85) ( CH )
- Manufacturer RUAG
- Total weight approx. 465 g
- Weight of explosives ( TNT ) approx. 155 g
- Igniter delay time 3.5-4.5 s (at 20 ° C)
- Total about 2000
- at a distance of 5 m from the detonation point 4–5 per m²
- Energy per splinter at a distance of 5 m from the detonation point approx. 80 J
Thanks to its specially designed detonator and packaging, this hand grenade is considered particularly safe and is therefore used in some European armies.
Egg grenades are available in different versions and shapes, with and without splinters, with an additional splinter casing, in egg, orange, pineapple, can and spherical shape, with steel and plastic outer casing (pieces of iron wire cast in plastic).
In addition to the regular hand grenade detonator, there are also (more rarely) impact detonators and adjustable time detonators. In some models, the regular detonator is integrated into the actual hand grenade, analogous to the older British Mills grenade. The percussion detonator can have the regular mainspring or, in the Russian form, a spiral spring. There was a version of the German egg hand grenade, the detonator of which was delayed by a second or less and was sometimes identified by a red button instead of a blue button. These specimens were left in abandoned positions as "prey".
In addition to normal explosives (usually TNT ), such hand grenades can also contain napalm , phosphorus , poison gas , thermite , tear gas or a mist-forming mixture (the latter has usually consisted of potassium chlorate and lactose for over 100 years ). The Nipolit, which was partly used at the end of the Second World War, did not have an outer shell and the explosives were sufficiently strong.
There is also the so-called “non-lethal” grenade, the “lightning / bang” or “stun” grenade (English to stun = to stun) or stun grenade . Such grenades produce an extremely bright flash that blinds the unprotected eye temporarily or permanently, and a very loud bang that disturbs the sense of balance via the inner ear and possibly tears the eardrums. Both together make the victim temporarily disoriented and incapable of fighting. Such grenades are used by special police forces, for example, to end a hostage-taking without bloodshed if possible.
Ancient sticky leads based on glue or magnets, with regular or hollow charges , can represent a special form of hand grenade, intended for anti-tank combat. The concentrated charge, a hand grenade with several linked warheads or a large bulk charge, is another option. The combination of a petrol can and a hand grenade, a special form of the Molotov cocktail , should also be mentioned.
During the First World War, there were working experiments with throwing machines for hand grenades. There were special discharge chutes for hand grenades in forts. The rifle grenades are based on designs for hand grenade throwing.
Hand grenades from the world wars can still be found today, for example in 2015 on a playground in Vienna, where a mound of earth had been piled up the year before. Further finds of hand grenades were made with an accumulated layer of rust in the Adriatic Sea off Croatia, during field work, in the forest or after floods. A hand grenade weighing around 1 kg from World War I "possibly of German origin" came to Hong Kong via a shipload of potatoes and was discovered in a food processing plant in February 2019 and detonated in a controlled manner.
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