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November 11, 2003

When the pin is pulled, Mr. Grenade is not your friend, Part 1.

All right, it's Veteran's Day. Veteran's Day started out as a commemoration of the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. The cessation of WWI armed hostilities. The war didn't officially end until the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, and the hostilities continued, breaking back into open warfare, into WWII. So, for all us Vets out there, it's WWI weapon day at Castle Arrgghhh! Even as we speak, I'm working on the Rifles of the Major Combatants! I'm going to keep this post at the top today, so if you check back to see the new stuff, just scroll down!

Update: Having had some time to think about it - I'm also going to include some of the little things in the life of the soldier. Today is about the warrior who puts life and limb on the line - and while I am going to showcase a lot of the weapons, I'm going to dig into the other boxes, and show you some of the other stuff of day-to-day life. So, start coming back mid-afternoon (got a business meeting to deal with first!) and see some more little bits and pieces of the life of the soldier.

Okay - what do all the things in this picture have in common?

Give up? They are all grenades, and they were all used during WWI. Many Nations went into WWI with grenades that required lit fuzes (though not the Germans). They came out with grenades we'd recognize today. I thought I would share a bit of my ordnance collection with y'all. Normal disclaimers apply - it's all legal where I live, which wouldn't be true if I lived in California - while they are all inert, they are not full of MT-5 epoxy filling. For the record, since I never intend to use them, if I was moving to California (I can't imagine why, I'd have to leave some guns behind) I wouldn't object to filling them - although persnickety collectors have a cow over that. Which is okay - they are allowed to have a cow. Or a moose. Anyway - let's lookit some engines of destruction!

Nations represented in the lead pic are Britain, Germany, France, Russia, Italy, Austria, and Serbia. There are home-made improvisations, cottage-industry built, and your regular, run-of-the-mill industrial giant production. There are percussion fuzes, friction fuzes, wicks, and variations of a theme.

Let's start with these:

On the left, a British No. 15 grenade. On the right, a French M1884. Both required a flame source to light off. As the Brits found out at the Battle of Loos, that was a problematical issue in a driving rain storm. The Brits give great credit to that little problem as a major contributing factor to the loss at Loos.

Another fuzing attempt was the 'bracelet' grenade. Here are two french ones: one the left, Model 1847 „Luis Phillipe" with 1882 mods. On the right, the Model 14. Yes, they went to war with a grenade dating from 1847, if improved.

The soldier wore a leather strap around his wrist that terminated in a hook. The hook engaged the loop in the fuze. You reached back and threw. Several advantages - no flame, no hard surface needed. Drawbacks? You had to throw hard, which was fine for distance, but tough for close in, and accuracy suffered. The grenade on the left had a different problem - it's a simple wood plug, jammed into the ball. Like as not, it just pulled out, leaving the now-inert ball sailing away, only dangerous if it hit your target in the face. The one on the right is a product improvement - the fuze screws in.

Let's leave fuzes for a minute and talk about availability...

The nations went to war in 1914 unprepared for a war of such magnitude. Not surprising, since no one had really been expecting a big war at all - and certainly not the one the developed and took on a life of it's own. This forced some improvisation, as above and below. Above: two french 'petard' grenades, handmade in the trenches, or locally by enterprising businesses. The top one is essentially an fire-lit pipe bomb for anti personnel work. The lower one is a friction-ignited grenade for blowing up wire or clearing bunkers. Below are two examples of British Battye grenades, designed by a British engineer officer and produced by french engineers at Bethune in 1915 during the great ordnance crunch. Simple segmented bodys, filled with ammonal and a wood plug, held together with wire. The one on the left has a Bickford fuze, the one on the right is a chemical fuze. I should take this opportunity to remark that segmenting iron on the outside has little impact on fragmentation, though it does enhance grip. The way that iron/steel fractures means that segmenting should be done on the inside. But that makes it very, very much more time consuming and expensive to make the grenade!

Back to that vexing fuzing issue. The top grenade below is a Brit No19Mk 1. Below it is a No1Mk1. Both have impact fuzes, and represent the early and late methods, in numerical order so to speak. Both have handles to increase leverage to get distance - and height. Both are built to try to get them to land on the head - the No19 having cloth streamers (should be three, missing one - hey, I was lucky to find anything original!) to help stabilize the grenade. The No1 uses a cup on the head of the grenade to carry a pin to initiate the detonator. Problem with that is that the brass deforms easily just being carried around, much less thrown, so the cup didn't always compress properly. The No 19 has that flat plate. To work, they need to come down fairly vertically, and hit something hard. This limited how far you could throw since they need high arcs, though the No19 design is more forgiving in that respect. Mud was not good. Another not good aspect is they were very hard to throw properly from the prone position. And kneeling or standing was a good way to attract a machine gunner's attention. The frag ring on the No1 was next to worthless as well. Often as not, the No1 blew out both ends, leaving the casing, and ring, intact.

Okay, what are some of the other options?

Above, a french Model 16 "Citron Foug", and below it a Serbian 'egg' grenade. Both required the soldier to remove the cap and rap the grenade on something hard. The Citron Foug uses a nail. Simple, right? As long as it isn't muddy. You can't even used your shoe if it's muddy. Ever wonder what some of those dents are from you see on WWI helmets? Nope, dang it they still don't work well so we're still searching for a reliable method and a good shape.

And that is a post for a different time!

John | Permalink | Comments (0) | Ammunition | General Militaria | Grenades
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