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"A Brief History of the Grenade Launcher"
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13th Century Grenades
The beginning of explosive ordinance was the advent of black powder, followed by Chinese firecrackers, Roman Candles and Greek Fire Bombs. England's Roger Bacon in the middle of the 1200's and Germany's Berthold Schwarts a hundred years later left written records of experiments with explosives (sulfur, carbon, and potassium nitrate). The early 13th Century Chinese may have expanded the use of fireworks to bombs and grenades. But, the first documented proof of the use of grenades to protect or defend against another militant force is in the 14th Century, when the hand cannon, stationary cannon and field cannon first came into use. By the time the Spanish were destroying the native American population in the "New World", the soldiers had grenades to use.
American Revolution Grenades
The British restricted manufacturing and accumulation of black powder in their colonies, which the American Revolutionary Forces found out the hard way. The small black powder factories that sprang up, produced a poor variety and the Continental Congress worked to get better black powder from Germany. Besides developing a poison rifle ball, Ben Franklin designed a grenade made from sheet lead in the form of a number of small hexagons folded to make a softball size container. The grenade container was filled with black powder, broken glass and fragments of rusty old nails. The hole in the grenade was then sealed with a wick sticking out of wax. Too heavy to throw, the Franklin grenade would be rolled down an incline. No one knows if this first American grenade was ever used. The British, on the other hand, did have a small grenade that used a1/2 pound of black powder which was used during the Revolutionary War.
Civil War Grenades
During the Civil War, the impetus for creating new ways to wage war included the "Universal Model" cylindrical grenade manufactured in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for the Union Army. One grenade version had simple black powder as filling, while a more advanced grenade added metal fragments and a strychnine-like compound to the mix. A ceramic sphere packed with black powder with a cork in the hole required a fuse to detonate the grenade. The fuse had to be lit before the hand grenade was thrown. Ketchum made an 1861 patent of a hand grenade with a percussion cap activated by a "plunger" inserted just before the grenade was thrown. A year later Hanes developed the "Excelsior" grenade - a cast-iron shell with 14 nipples, each requiring attachment of a percussion cap before throwing the grenade. It would only take one cap to trigger the explosion, and soldiers trying to use Hanes's grenade found out the hard way that it was too easy to accidentally set off one of the percussions caps. This resulted in the Excelsior grenades never being used in battle.
Louisiana Confederates made their own grenades by sticking short fuses into 6 and 12 pound cannon shells. These hand grenades were lit before rolling them into Union ranks. The Federal troops learned the trick and used their own rolling hand grenades against the Confederate lines at Knoxville and against General Longstreet's troops at Chattanooga. What the Civil War demonstrated was the practical need for hand thrown grenades (versus a grenade that would only roll).
19th Century Grenades
In the last of the 19th Century, the Germans were more likely to use hand grenades than any other nation. Both the French and Germans used iron ball grenades similar to the size of the popular 6 pound cannon ball. This basic "state of the art" grenade used timed burn delay fuses, activating a charge of primarily black powder to rupture the grenade shell made of cast iron.
World War I Grenades
The Great World War (1914-1918) saw French grenades using a smooth iron ball with a friction fuse in a wooden plug. A tether allowed the solder to be relatively clear when pulling the primer . The French also issued the "racquet grenade" which was attached to a wooden paddle. By the end of World War I, the Germans reverted to the use of concrete hand grenades due to a critical materials shortage. The British were inventive and created both simple and complex grenades. None of these early WWI grenades were effective in the trench warfare that evolved.
When the battle lines became fixed with armies in a stalemate within yards of each other, the WWI grenade became the weapon of choice. Innovations by the dozens came from both sides in the quest for the perfect grenade. Each nation attempted to develop reliable grenade fuses and fragmentation patterns for both offensive and defensive operations. The defensive grenade was designed to project fragments up to 100 yards out, under the assumption a defending soldier would be in a protected location. The offensive grenades were limited to a 8-10 yard fragmentation area beyond the explosion, to protect the grenadier and other friendly troops.
The Europeans developed weather proofing, timed delayed fuses, and high explosive ordinance for their grenades, before the US entered the war. The American grenade had a complex impact fuse system that needed to land soundly on the primer. To ensure correct flight and landing, the grenade had a kite-like rope tail which streamed behind the grenade when it was thrown and enhanced the likelihood it would go off during landing. But in the muddy trenches of Europe, this grenade would fail.
In 1917 the US Army Trench Warfare Section designed a new grenade resulting in an initial contract for 5000 grenades. This number was quickly expanded to 68,000,000 grenades manufactured by a number of companies. Production of the American grenade was in full production within 120 days. All of this grenade manufacturing came to an immediate halt when the battlefield reports arrived. To protect the grenadier, the grenade had a complicated 5 step process to become armed. Numerous reports came back about grenades being thrown without being armed, only to be returned by the enemy who had discovered how to arm the American grenade. A million grenades were tossed to the salvage bin and the American Expeditionary Force began serious warring with no grenades in July 1918.
The Americans had to turn to their allies for grenade support and particularly the French. The French F1 grenade had a hollow cast iron body with a fragmentation enhancing pattern that gave a "pineapple" look to the grenade. With the grenade's weather proof strike primer, the soldier removed a safety cover and hit the cap to blow it off the grenade initiating a timed burn fuse. While there were numerous versions of grenade fuses, by 1917 the Billant grenade fuse system was in favor. This automatic grenade fuse system used a cast metal fuse screwed into the grenade's casing and secured with a safety pin and lever. The solder would pull the grenade pin causing the lever to release a plunger causing two hammers to fall and explode the primer and grenade. A 5 second time delay burn began within the fuse which would then set off the detonator and explosion that ruptured the grenade casing into fragments.
The Billant grenade fuse principals were incorporated into a new system for the redesigned US grenade. The new grenade used a safety lever secured by a safety pin with a ring attached. The Billant plunger was later replaced with a spring loaded hammer that immediately contacted the primer causing the time delay burn within the grenade. The new fuse system was used in the old US grenade castings for training purposes. A newly developed US grenade body patterned after the F1 grenade but with fewer fragmentation checking on the casing reduced the grenade weight. This basic hand grenade was used throughout WWII, Korea, and Viet Nam.
Rifle Grenade Launchers - World War I
Even in WWI, there were developments to project a grenade farther than a human could possible throw one. In Russia, the WWI Mosin-Nagan 91 rifle grenade launcher was mounted on the bayonet as a grenade launcher cup. A 42mm grenade delay fuse was located on the bottom of the grenade. Blank ammo fired through the rifle launched the grenade.
Russian Red Army Grenade Launcher
The Russian Red Army was one of the pioneers of the rifle grenade, including the Diakanov Rifle Grenade Launcher. This drawing from a 1932 book shows the Russian rifle model 1891-30 with the Diakanov rifle grenade attachment. It is unknown whether the Red Army soldier quoted below refer to the Diakanov or some other rifle grenade launcher:
We received rifles and grenades which could be fastened onto the rifle barrels. Well we tried them but they proved totally worthless. When you pressed the trigger the grenade flew only about five meters and failed to explode. We then turned all that junk in. Vitjuk I. M., Red Army soldier
The Red Army strived to obtain a firepower superiority over their prospective 1930's opponents and pushed development of the rifle grenade launcher. Unlike other rifle grenade launcher systems that required the use of a special bullet in the rifle to propel the grenade, the Djakonov used a standard cartridge with the VDG1930 grenade. The VDG1930 had a hole through the middle, allowing the bullet and accompanying gases to pass which launched the grenade. The Djakonov Grenade Launcher created a spin to the grenade providing some flight stability and was supposed to obtain an 800 meter range. With no safety device, the VDG1930 grenade did not detonate on impact. Instead the grenade had a fragmentation jacket and a fuse which would detonate the grenade after a flight of 140-800 meters. There were supposedly several different explosive loads for the grenade.
The Russian Mosin-Nagan rifle grenade launcher fired a D-32 rifle grenade. The grenade had a bullet passage lined with a steel tube that can be seen in the photo to the left. This grenade's bullet passage had a similar diameter to the Russian rifle bullet.
With the growing use of Picatinny Rails, the M203PI Universal has been modified to attach directly to rail systems certified by the weapon manufacturer for use with 40mm grenade launchers. RM Equipment now offers the M203PI Universal Mounting Kit that combines the rail mountable launcher with the Tactical Mounting System that can be converted to a pistol mount. One launcher provides three types of shooting platforms.
With addition of the M203grip accessory, ULTIMATE CONTROL of your enhanced weapon provides more accuracy and safety.
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RM® and the "Bang" are Registered Trade Marks and may not be used without written permission from RM Equipment, Inc. RM's product improvement process is continuous, so current versions may vary from those shown on this website. © 2012 RM® Equipment, Inc.