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Vivien-Bessières Rifle grenade and launchers. Part II

[The original of this series of posts has apparently been lost in the mists of time and some hole of the blog back-office, orphaned during the last update - so I'm reproducing it here. It's going to be new to most of you, anyway...-the Armorer]

The French led the way with the ‘cup discharger” (as the Brits called them) style of grenade launching. The Brits, Germans, Russians, and the US followed them in close order. When US forces arrived in theater in France in 1917, we discovered that while it looked cool and impressed the ladies that you could stand up and toss a grenade 50 yards, the veritable sheet of lead the Germans were sending about 1 inch over the top of whatever cover you were behind tended to spoil your aim. So the US simply adopted the French version in-situ and over time made some minor changes in light of experience. The Brits, Germans, and Russians all developed their own launchers and grenades. I’ll cover the German discharger in a later post – and I’ll cover the Russian, too, if I ever score a launcher. I can cover the Russian grenades.

The British version (also a post for a later time) used standard grenades, with or without a special baseplate, and launched the grenades using the special blanks (in this case, Austrian) already developed for the rod grenades. The French, German, and Russian models were all bullet-through’ grenades, designed to be launched using standard ball ammunition, with the bullet passing through a tube in the center of the grenade. In the French version adopted by the US, the bullet also initiated the fuze, which is kinda cool. You could also load two grenades into the launcher and launch them together, with a concomitant decrease in range, but more fun in the target area (as long as you weren’t the poor dumb b*st*rd in it)

The upside of this type of launcher is that it used standard ball (‘ball’ being the technical term for regular bullets, being a holdover from when bullets were balls) ammunition and didn’t damage the bore of the rifle in the way rodded grenades did. On the debit side, in addition to putting all that weight on the end of the barrel (affecting accuracy should the soldier have to do some shooting beyond grenades) the god of recoil still demanded payment, sometimes in the coin of broken stocks. This is reportedly the primary reason the second recoil lug was added to the stock of the M1903 rifle in 1917.

The normal firing mode was to place the butt of the rifle on the ground, align the rifle to the target, and adjust for range by raising or lowering the barrel (pivoting on the butt for you snarky purists). The French went so far as to make special racks that you could load multiple rifles into and salvo fire. These racks had vernier adjustments and simple range tables, enabling more accurate (and comparative saturation) fires than individual soldiers firing their rifles, though obviously not terribly practical in the assault.

The US adopted the V-B system in July 1917 for use with the M1903 and M1917 rifles. Until production was established for US rifles, some number of Lebel and Berthier rifles with launchers was issued to US units, and came with some french trainers. Despite the usual grumblings from the Ordnance establishment regarding non-standard ammunition and weapons, the field commanders said “Tough shit, I want something, and all you offer is nothing, so suck it up, bub!” and took the rifles and went out and killed Germans with ‘em.

As is ever the case when you leave the troops alone for a minute, clever (but not necessarily technically competent) troops started adapting the Lebel V-B launchers to the US rifles. A surviving report from the 42nd Division covers the topic:

“Someone at the Ordnance Base re-designed the base of the French tromblon to that it would fit the muzzle of the Springfield rifle, but they failed to take into consideration the great difference in pressure developed by the propelling charge of the American cartridge. It seems that the Rainbow (nickname of the 42nd Div) was the first to receive this new brainchild and they were promptly issued to the infantry squads in the divisions. The next day many of the men were in the hospital and their rifles were beyond repair.”

Part III. The Launchers.

 

2 Comments

dad John, this is quite a work on Military History, I need a few clarifications to make sure of the accuracy of my understanding.. 1.) It appears that you are saying, "The Elites are fresh out of bullets, for that matter, never had them.  2.) I was always taught you had a choitce on where you wanted to wear your 'brass, on your shoulders or down below, your choice.'
 
The present V-B system:
www.victoriabitter.com.au

Cheers