Today we are used to the idea of an underslung grenade launcher for the SA80, this has been used very successfully in conflicts for the past fifteen years. Before this was introduced though, the SA80 was issued with a rifle grenade that fitted over the muzzle of the rifle and was fired by a cartridge from the breach of the gun itself:To accompany this grenade, a special pouch was created as part of the PLCE webbing systems. Originally in olive green, this carrier was later produced in DPM:The original design was a full pouch, this DPM version though is just a skeleton pouch. Two white plastic cups in the base of the carrier hold the noses of the grenades:Two little lids are provided, one for each grenade:Straps underneath the lid help hold the tails of the rifle grenades secure:The pouches are designed to be used in a number of ways and so the back of them is very ‘busy’:A flap is provided on the back for a belt to pass through so the pouch can be worn on the belt:Under the flap are a pair of ‘T’ bar fasteners that lock into the belt of the PLCE system:Primarily however it was expected that a pair of pouches would be zipped to a bergan in place of one of the standard side pouches. In order to do this a heavy duty zip is fitted round the outside rear of the pouch:Fastex clips are also fitted to allow a shoulder strap to be fitted or to attach the pouches to the day sack yoke:This particular pouch dates back to 1997:The muzzle launched rifle grenade was only a short lived concept, the much smaller and more effective underslung launcher replacing it and rendering these pouches obsolete. As such they are readily available on the surplus market and a cheap addition to the collection.
There are certain items of military equipment that are fundamentally good designs and last in service for decades- the Mills Bomb and Lee Enfield rifles being two examples of this. Another long lasting design was the No83 smoke grenade. This smoke grenade was designed during the Second World War and is a pressed metal cylinder with a ‘fly off’ lever type igniter:The original No83 grenade used a friction match type striker mechanism:This was replaced by the MK II in February 1944 which has the striker mechanism that screws into the top and used a spring and pressed metal handle:The handle is made from one piece of metal, stamped and folded into shape:The grenade was very easy to use, a safety pin was pulled out and when hand pressure was released from the metal handle an internal spring threw the handle off and set off the fuse:The smoke grenade came in four colours; red, yellow, green and blue and smoke was emitted for between 25 and 45 seconds through a hole in the base of the grenade:There was a four second delay before the smoke was emitted allowing the grenade to be thrown into position. Grenades were issued in a B166A ammunition box that carried 24 of the grenades, weighing in at a hefty 47 lbs. This grenade is extremely worn and has virtually no external paint left. What is left is an apple green colour indicating this is a post war example- the type remained in use up until the 1970s. This design was very successful and set the basic design of a smoke grenade up until the present day- look at the modern smoke grenades I posted here and the design lineage is very clear.
“Grenade, British and Commonwealth Hand and Rifle Grenades” was first published back in 2001 but I have only recently added a copy to my reference library and I suspect many of you, like me, had not realised just what an excellent book it is. The book is currently selling for eye watering prices on Amazon, however far more affordable copies are available for purchase and I include a link at the end for a more sensibly priced supplier.Grenades have been used for many centuries, but rather fell out of favour in the nineteenth century. The Great War though brought the back to the frontline and there was a massive proliferation of these weapons in many different configurations. Happily for the authors and ourselves, these grenades were logically numbered from ‘Grenade No1’ onwards in a standard sequence and the authors look at each design in turn, drawing heavily on contemporary sources for descriptions, preparation and use of these munitions. Obviously some grenades get more detail than others- the various iterations of Mills bomb being an obvious example. The book is profusely illustrated throughout with black and white photographs and original diagrams illustrating the internal workings of each grenade. In a nice touch, many of the sections on grenades include information on the packaging of the grenades and the markings on ammunition boxes.The book is slightly weaker on more modern grenades, for the simple fact that as many are still in use or covered by the thirty year ruling, they were still classified at the time of the book’s publication. With the authors hailing from Australia, there is also quite a bit of detail on Australian grenades, but less so on other commonwealth countries, although Canada is covered briefly. The book is rounded out by a section on grenade launchers and launching cartridges- an often overlooked topic as well as methods of carrying the grenades and a few examples of heroism from soldiers who won the VC with grenades.This is truly an authoritative volume and I have learnt an awful lot from it- indeed I heartily wish I had access to it whilst writing some of the grenade posts on to blog as it would have helped provide me with a lot more information. I have no hesitation in recommending this book, and copies can be purchased for £40 each plus postage from here.
As mentioned a few weeks back when we looked at a drill igniter for a Mill’s bomb here, the igniter is a sensitive piece of explosive that can be set off by rough handling. It was therefore common practice not to fit the igniter into a Mill’s bomb until it was actually needed and to transport the two components separately. These igniters were carried in special metal tins that held them securely and offered them some protection from the elements and being knocked about. Large examples existed that could hold twelve igniters, but tonight we are looking at a smaller tin that held just three:These tins seem to be universally painted red, here with a stencilled filling date of 1958. This tin was sold out of army service in 1970 and so has a large label pasted on it confirming it is free from explosive:Inside the tin a set of holes are provided to hold the long tubular detonator securely:These are part of an internal removable cradle that can be taken out of the tin if required:Each detonator fits into one of the holes, with the cap resting in the top part, the two outer examples facing one way, and the centre cap facing the other:This tin dates from 1952 and has the date impressed in the metal on the base:As with so much ammunition packaging these tins were, to a degree, disposable so they are not all that common today. Having said that they are out there with a bit of hunting and are a great addition to my little grenades collection. Here we see a Canadian Company Sergeant Major taking advantage of a quiet period in Ambelie France on 7th August 1944 to fit the igniters into No 36 Mills bombs:
Although inert Mill’s bombs are pretty easy to find, the igniter sets that go inside them to actually fire the grenade are much harder to find. Live examples are of course illegal, but inert drill igniters are legal to own, however they can be rather scarce. My thanks therefore go to Andy Dixon for his help in adding this one to my collection:The igniter is used to explode the grenade and on a live version is consists of a .22inch cap in a chamber, a short length of safety fuse bent to shape and a detonator, as illustrated in this diagram from the 1951 army pamphlet of grenades:My example is clearly stamped drill on the cap chamber:The detonator also has large holes drilled through it to show it is for training purposes and not live:There are tiny date numbers on the back of the cap chamber, and I believe these are for 1943 or 1944 (they really are miniscule!):Live igniters are obviously very dangerous, and this safety warning comes from the pamphlet:
The set must be handled carefully, holding by the fuze and cap chamber; it must never be struck or crushed and it must be kept away from heat and not allowed to become damp. No attempt will be made to strip down any part of the igniter set.
The manual also instructs users on how to insert the igniter into the grenade:
…to prime the grenade the base plug is removed; the detonator sleeve must then be inspected to ensure that it is free from any obstruction and has no rough edges. Holding the igniter set by the cap and fuze between finger and thumb, squeeze them very gently together to ensure that they will go into the grenade easily. The detonator is then inserted carefully into its sleeve and the cap chamber pushed in as far as it will go. If for any reason the igniter set cannot be inserted easily into the grenade, both should be rejected. The base plug is replaced and screwed up with the base plug key.
By 1940 it was obvious that the Boys Anti Tank Rifle was completely obsolete. It would take time to develop a new anti-tank weapon (what would eventually become the PIAT) and what was needed was something in the interim that was cheap to produce, effective against armour and could be got out to troops rapidly. The design that was eventually produced used the SMLE cup discharger (normally used for throwing Mills bombs) to fire a grenade holding a shaped charge at short range. Although often forgotten today, the No68 Grenade as this new weapon was called, was a major technological leap forward when it was introduced, even if two years later it had been superseded by technology. The manual instructed troops:
The No 68 A.Tk Grenade has been introduced with the object of damaging hostile AFVs. It is fired from the discharger fitted to the service rifle, a 30-grain ballistite cartridge being used.
The grenade itself consists of a small die cast cylinder, with four stabilising finsAnd a circular iron plate on the end to allow it to work with the cup discharger:As can be seen this example is painted white, indicating it is a drill grenade. This is also indicated by the large holes bored into the head of the weapon to show it is free from explosives:This example is solid inside to allow troops to practice firing it safely, the live examples used a shaped HEAT projectile, as illustrated in this contemporary diagram:The round had to hit the target at an angle of +/- 15 degrees and had a range of about 50 yards so the user had to be exceptionally brave to use it! The manual instructs:
It must be realised that the ballistite cartridge used in conjunction with the grenade gives a considerable recoil; and, owing to the flat angle at which the rifle must be held it is essential to place the butt of the rifle against a sand bag or similar object…
Considerable initiative must be displayed in preparing positions from which to fire the grenade. These may be from behind low cover, from trenches or from the loopholes of pill-boxes. Returning to my example, it can be seen that there is a split pin and pull ring on the grenade fin:This again mirrors the live example where these were used as a safety pin to prevent premature detonation. The fins themselves have the grenade type cast into them:And the date of manufacture, 1942:Although it is hard to make out there is a small cast ‘PDC’ on the base of the fins:This stands for ‘Patent Diecasting Co’ who were one of the companies who manufactured the grenade bodies. The grenade eventually reached a Mk VI version and was removed form service by 1945, although by that point it was really only the Home Guard who made use of them. About 8 million of these grenades were made in various types, the training ones are uncommon but still around as they were used by the Home Guard and not always returned to stores!
During the Second World War the British Army had made good use of the PIAT as an anti-tank weapon, however it was clear even then that it was something of an anachronism. Sadly the British Army rather ignored infantry anti-tank weapons until the need became desperate and they British ended up buying a Belgian designed anti-tank rifle grenade called the Energa that could be launched from the No4 service rifle:I have been lucky enough to pick up an early practice version of the Energa rifle grenade, painted in black:The grenade is marked with white lettering on the main body:Later training examples were painted blue. The tail unscrews from the main body:Note how one of the fins has snapped off; this seems to be a common problem with training examples where the alloys used in manufacture couldn’t stand up to repeated firing, this problem of course not being an issue on live examples as they were only used once! The grenade was fired using an overpowered blank called a ballistite round and could penetrate 7.8 inches of armour, using a special launcher that fitted over the muzzle of the rifle:The grenade was first issued to British troops on the Rhine in 1952 and as with other British weapons a training pamphlet explained the characteristics of the grenade:
The Anti-Tank Grenade, No. 94 (ENERGA)
- This grenade has been introduced to provide the infantry section with a powerful and effective anti-tank weapon. It is discharged from a projector attached to the No. 4 rifle, and fired by means of a special grenade cartridge.
- The weapon’s chief characteristics are its great power and lightness. It is highly efficient against armour, concrete, etc., and can be used against “thin-skinned” targets.
- Performance.—The grenade will penetrate the sides and rear of the heaviest known tank. The effect of the explosion is to burn a small hole through the armour. Through this hole a high velocity jet of burning gases and molten metal from the grenade is projected into the tank. This, besides causing casualties to the drew, may set fire to the fuel and ammunition.
- Accuracy.—The grenade is a first-class and efficient weapon. For an unrotated projectile its accuracy is of a high standard. A trained soldier should, after very little practice, group to approximately 30 inches at 75 yards. The shock of discharge on firing is, not unduly great and the firer, or any observer, can easily follow the flight of the grenade to the target.
- Effective range.—Ideal ranges are from 25 to 50 yards. Moving targets can be engaged with reasonable accuracy at any range up to 75 yards.
- Carriage.—The projector, when not on the rifle, is carried in a care which is attached to the waist belt. Grenades are carried in containers holding two grenades each.
- The primary role of the section anti-tank weapon is the destruction of tanks. In its secondary role, it can be used against thin-skinned vehicles and other targets, such as personnel, houses and concrete emplacements.
- When the weapon is sited for use in its primary role, the following points must be considered:
(a) It needs a field of fire of only just over 100 yards.
(b) Surprise and concealment are most important.
(c) Any obstruction in its path is likely to detonate the grenade before it reaches its target.
(d) It must cover likely tank approaches, such as gaps in minefields.
(e) It is best to engage the side or rear of a tank.
(f) It is normal to fire it from a fire trench.
(g) Few grenades are carried, and fire must be held till a kill is certain with each grenade.
(h) Some defilade from the front is desirable.
- The uses of the weapon in its secondary role are manifold. Some suggestions are:
(a) House clearing and street fighting.
(c) Concrete emplacements and fortified houses.
(d) Assault boats crossing rovers, and beach landings.
(e) Enemy concealed in trees, hedges, etc.
(f) Soft-skinned vehicles.
- When it is decided to use the weapon in is secondary role it must never be forgotten that the weapon is primarily anti-tank and that sufficient grenades must be kept for this purpose.
- In addition to his anti-tank duties, the Energa rifleman is a member of the rifle section; if the tank threat is remote, his section commander will site him as a rifleman rather than as a tank killer.
Whilst my example is an inert training version, the following diagram shows the interior of a live grenade:The rifle grenade remained in use after the No4 rifle was replaced by the SLR and was finally superseded, in the UK at least, by the Carl Gustav recoilless rifle in the 1970s.