GRENADES! Artillery by the Fistful
ABOVE: A red hot blizzard of small, uniform-sized steel fragments blasts out from detonation of a single M67 grenade during a training exercise in 2017 at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska. Carefully engineered to kill the enemy without maiming the thrower, the grenade’s lethal radius is 5 meters and wounding radius is 15 meters. But soldiers are warned that wayward fragments can still fly out to 230 meters. The M67’s consistent burst pattern and frag spray far outperform the old cast iron “pineapple” grenades of World Wars One and Two. Photo Credit: US ARMY
“There will be times in the Army when you will need a weapon you can throw … It is an added weapon to your rifle and bayonet. It is a weapon of the rifle squad.
On the defensive you can use the grenade against an approaching enemy. On the offensive, you can use it for getting rid of the enemy in pillboxes, knocking out gun positions and for close fighting anywhere.
When you are on a combat patrol, you and your detail are on your own. At times you may be entirely alone and in a situation where your grenades may be your most useful weapon. Experience in combat taught us that every man must know when to use and how to throw grenades. You will use it very often in the Army, many times when you are in a tight spot.
Take advantage of the information in this manual. Learn to use the grenade correctly and how to throw it accurately.”
U.S. Army Field Manual 23-30 Hand and Rifle Grenades, April 1949
This dramatic tribute to the utility and combat effectiveness of an ancient weapon brought into the modern age introduces a comprehensive reference source and guide to practical applications for the American Army’s many types of specialized hand-thrown munitions, developed and refined during World War II.
Then and perhaps more so now, the combat soldier needs grenades of many kinds to deal with all manner of situations. The 2005 edition of Army Field Manual 3-23.30 gives us a quick guide to available types:
“U.S. Forces use colored smoke, white smoke, riot-control, special purpose, fragmentation, offensive, and practice hand grenades. Each has a different capability that provides the soldier with a variety of options to successfully complete any given mission. Historically, the fragmentation grenade has been the most important; the soldier’s personal indirect weapon system. Offensive grenades are much less lethal than fragmentation grenades on an enemy in the open, but they are very effective against an enemy within a confined space. Smoke and special purpose grenades can be used to signal, screen, control crowds or riots, start fires, or destroy equipment. Because the grenade is thrown by hand, the range is short, and the casualty radius is small. The 4 to 5 second delay on the fuze allows the soldier to safely employ the grenade.”
Technological advances and the changing nature of warfare over the dozen years since that FM was published have given rise to further specialization and innovation of grenades employed by U.S., allied and adversary forces. Pointedly, the need for safety of throwers of less than optimum strength and sufficient training–while increasing target effects but minimizing “collateral damage” on the bursting end–is being met by scores of firms worldwide.
Among the best of these is the Nammo group, represented in the U.S. by Nammo Talley. Their hand grenade line covers the full spectrum including frags big and little, color smokes (with a white one that’s non-toxic) and a novel approach to offensive tools.
Perhaps mindful of the WWII German trick of wiring a cluster of detached grenade heads around a central stick grenade, the Nammo version stacks up to three, letting the grenadier choose how much bang is just right for the target of the moment. Snake eaters of U.S. Special Operations Command have been enthusiastically using enormous numbers of these for several years now, so they must be good.
Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center
The Army’s weaponry wizards at Picatinny Arsenal have also been on the trail of better hand bombs. Naturally, they’re part of the Big Green Machine’s evaluation team considering adoption of Nammo’s triple stack.
And long needed safety improvements for regular frags are being addressed, among them replacing problematic pull rings with a clever lever that’s southpaw-friendly and detonator-detaching for added safety.
Pushing the perimeter of physics, there’s ARDEC’s Enhanced Tactical Multi-Purpose (ET-MP), with instant selection of frag vs. blast with a twist of the wrist.
Meanwhile over in Sweden, FMV’s “jumping grenade” (Blast Grenade 07) has an initial booster charge that propels it straight up a couple of meters before exploding and sending most of it fragments directly downward. How? The accompanying news release says it “knows up from down” and explodes accordingly.
Grenade, Hand, Fragmentation, Delay, M67
While all this (and much more we aren’t being told about yet) is going on, the well-respected M67 has soldiered on since 1968 as the standard frag for all the U.S. Armed Forces as well as numerous allies. A pretty good grenade, it brings forward all the best aspects of a long line of metal chunk blasting predecessors. It’s light, small, easy to throw, highly reliable, nastily effective and safer to carry and chuck than just about anything else in widespread use.
Interestingly, most of the rest of America’s current grenade catalog has types that have been around since WWII. But don’t think they’re old-fashioned; these 1940’s era smokers, gassers, burners and others were pretty close to semi-perfection back then and still are today.
Soviet F1 Limonka
Not exactly a direct counterpart to the M67 but far more widespread in use today is the old Soviet Union’s F1. It’s the AK-47 of frags, made in untold tens of millions since 1941 and found in just about every corner of the world. Immediately dubbed Limonka (lemon, for obvious reasons) by Red Army grunts in the “Great Patriotic War” against Hitler, its 60 grams of TNT blasts big chunks of cast iron in erratic patterns. While replaced in Russian service by the RG series, it’s still in daily production and used elsewhere.
Blast from the Past (Some Hand Grenade History)
Historians tell us that hand bombs in various forms have been in use since 700 AD when napalm-like “Greek Fire” in breakable clay pots was tossed from wooden ship to ship. Gunpowder grenades almost certainly originated with those innovative Chinese of the Song Dynasty some 300 years later.
It took four more centuries before the first cast iron Grenatos (name derived from the look-alike pomegranate fruit) were reportedly used in disturbingly common European conflicts, mostly tossed into or out of stone castles.
Grenading proceeded by fits and starts for another four centuries when siege and trench warfare of the American War Between the States inspired some rather novel inventions. The Yankee Army’s novel Ketchum Grenade is perhaps best known of these due to its distinctive appearance; sort of a 19th Century lawn dart of gunpowder-filled cast iron with a wood stick tail and cardboard fins.
Reportedly dangerous to throwers and frustratingly unreliable, it had to be carefully armed, carried and tossed into an enemy trench. With amazing luck it would hit nose first, firing a percussion cap and detonating among the unlucky Confederate troops.
Grenades got better over the next 50 years of sporadic warfare, but it wasn’t until WWI that they really got the engineering attention needed to make them relatively reliable, effective and somewhat safe. The Yugoslavs made their first fuzes in 1890s, perfected in the 1912 model. By 1915, all of the major combatants had developed damn good ones including Germany’s iconic stick grenade, Britain’s Mills Bomb, France’s F1 and America’s Mark 1.
[Editor’s Note: Not to overlook how the rapid development at this time of rifle-launched grenades increased their employment range, but we’re concentrating here on the ones heaved by hand]
Inevitably, the “War to End All War” didn’t, and when it all started up again around 1940, another burst of hand bomb innovation occurred. Among countless notables, the Germans had the improved Model 24 Sheilhandgranate, fitted when needed with a slip-on fragmentation sleeve, and the Brits issued a glue-globbed “sticky grenade” for anti-tank purposes.
American Soldiers and Marines made do quite well with the old “pineapple”—now the improved MKII—as did Brit Tommies with Mills Bombs, Frenchmen and Russkis with their respective F1s. Japanese troops smacked Type 91 and 97 frags against their helmets to ignite the fuze train.
Back for a moment to anti-tank grenades, those carrying newly developed, shaped charge warheads are only truly effective when delivered straight-on to armor plate. Accordingly, the Germans put Ketchum-like pop-out fins on the handle of their Panzerwurfmine so it would more likely hit nose first on a tank’s turret top or engine deck. The Red Army quickly adapted this tail dragger concept in the RPG-43 and then the postwar RKG-3 with its drogue parachute.
Candelario Garcia, GI Grenadier
(Army Office of Public Affairs 2014 News release)
Medal of Honor recipient Sergeant Candelario Garcia distinguished himself on Dec. 8, 1968, while serving with Company B, 1st Battalion, 2nd Infantry, 1st Brigade, 1st Infantry Division as a team leader during a company-size reconnaissance-in-force mission near Lai Khe, Vietnam.
Garcia’s platoon discovered communication wire and other signs of an enemy base camp leading into a densely vegetated area. As they advanced they came under intense fire, causing several men to be wounded and trapped in the open.
Ignoring a hail of hostile bullets, Garcia crawled to within 10 meters of a machine-gun bunker, leaped to his feet and ran directly at the fortification, firing his rifle as he charged. He jammed two hand grenades into the gun port and then placed the muzzle of his weapons inside, killing all four occupants.
Continuing to expose himself to intense enemy fire, Garcia raced 15 meters to another bunker and killed its three defenders with hand grenades and rifle fire. After again braving the communists’ barrage to rescue two casualties, he joined his company in an assault, which overran the remaining enemy positions.
The American Lemon
Most likely the grenades Sergeant Garcia used to such devastating effect were M26/M61s, nicknamed “lemon frags” for their obvious shape. By no means a lemon in reliability and performance, the M26 series was far better in every way than the old MKII “pineapples” they replaced.
Recent Recruit Quality
Ace military reporter Matthew Cox’s February 2018 feature on Military.com set off a metaphorical flash-bang grenade by quoting remarks by Maj. Gen. Malcolm Frost, newly installed commanding general of the U.S. Army Center of Initial Military Training. Speaking to Cox and other reporters about his command’s desperately needed overhaul of Basic Combat Training, Frost noted plans to remedy systemic problems with too many BCT graduates who were self-centered, undisciplined, sloppy and not physically fit.
Aside from lamenting the inevitable and obvious results of the Obama presidency’s punitive social engineering demands on the military, what’s relevant to this feature relates to lowering previous standards of competence with grenades as a graduation requirement.
“We are finding that there are a large number of trainees that come in that quite frankly just physically don’t have the capacity to throw a hand grenade 20 to 25 to 30 meters,” Frost noted. “In 10 weeks, we are on a 48-hour period; you are just not going to be able to teach someone how to throw if they haven’t thrown growing up.”
So, instead of lengthening the BCT cycle for increased emphasis on soldier pride, discipline and physical fitness, grenade training will be sharply shortened to make room.
But Frost, with skills honed from his previous assignment as Chief of Army Public Affairs, was quick to try reassuring observers; most notably currently serving combat arms soldiers and already cynical veterans. “They are going to learn all the technical aspects of the hand grenade, and they are going to learn tactical employment and they will throw a live hand grenade,” he said.
Meanwhile, Big Army must continue the hunt for hand grenades that even the weakest would-be soldiers can throw safely and–with some luck–effectively without killing their fellow soldiers. Perhaps Arges of Austria’s 5.8 ounce HG80 mini frag or Nammo’s 6.7 ounce HGF 60? Probably in stylish colors if requested.
Handy Hand Grenade References
This necessarily brief photo feature is intended as a way to stimulate an appetite for more research on the world’s fascinating array of hand-delivered munitions. As such, we offer some for starters:
Grenades overview online
Grenades (and just about all other explosive ordnance)
The Hand Grenade by Gordon Rottman,
U.S. Army Field Manual 3-23.30 Grenades
Video: “Grenades Throughout History”
Best overall for vintage grenade collectors