The Number One Infantry Weapon in WWI
As with numerous weapons significantly developed upon during World War One, the use of grenades (whose name probably dates from the French word for pomegranate) dated back some hundreds of years - to the fifteenth century in fact.
Grenade Supplies in 1914Regarded as practical for siege operations only since Napoleonic times however, the grenade came to the attention of German army planners (notable among others) during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05.
As with most things at the start of the war in August 1914, the Germans were ahead of the pack in terms of grenade development. Even as war began the Germans had 70,000 hand grenades in readiness, along with a further 106,000 rifle grenades.
Curiously, when many, perhaps most, people are asked to consider the means of trench attack most popular during the First World War, the rifle or bayonet is often suggested as the most likely answer.
Bombing PartiesIn fact both of these weapons were to be used chiefly to defend the grenadiers: those men tasked with the bombing of trenches and positions using grenades of various types. Bombing parties grew in number and frequency as the war progressed and formed a major component of any infantry attack by the war's close (although US forces used them less, chiefly on account of supply shortages).
The British bombing team usually consisted of nine men at a time: an NCO, two throwers, two carriers, two bayonet-men to defend the team and two 'spare' men for use when casualties were incurred.
As an attack or raid reached an enemy trench the grenadiers would be responsible for racing down the trench and throwing grenades into each dugout they passed: this invariably succeeded in purging dugouts of their human occupants in an attempt at surrender (often not accepted as they were promptly shot or stabbed).
Not that this was always the case during the war. When Britain entered the war on 4 August it did so with just one type of grenade in its armoury (suitably named 'Mark 1'), and not very many of those. As with the machine gun the British high command could not see much use for the hand grenade.
This situation soon changed however; indeed, within a year Britain was producing up to half a million hand grenades each week (with an average of 250,000).
Even so, British forces outside of the Western Front - which was given first call on grenade supplies - were lacking in supplies of grenades until well into 1916.
The French and Russian armies were rather better prepared than the British, since they fully expected to be in the position of besieging German fortresses: a task ideally suited to the grenade.
Two Forms of DetonationGrenades - either hand or rifle driven - were detonated in one of two ways. They were either detonated on impact (percussion) or via a timed fuse.
Generally speaking, infantrymen preferred timed fuses (of whatever amount of time) to percussion devices, since there remained the constant risk of accidentally jolting a grenade while in a trench and setting off an explosion.
The idea of using a pin, extracted by hand from a grenade, to set off a timed fuse quickly became commonplace and was a feature of most later grenades. Another, earlier, method of igniting the fuse was via the so-called 'stick' grenade, where the fuse was lit when the grenade left the handle (stick) to which it was attached.
Yet another type, cylindrical and referred to as the 'cricket ball' grenade, was ignited by striking the grenade like a match before it was promptly despatched skywards.
Home-made GrenadesThat first British grenade, the Mark 1 used in 1914, proved highly unpopular with soldiers. Forming a canister with a 16-inch cane handle, it was ignited by removing a safety pin through the top. When thrown, the handle (and attached linen streamers) ensured it landed nose down so that the striker was forced into the detonator.
However the Mark 1 caused widespread distrust given that it was liable to explode prematurely if it came into contact with an object while in the act of being thrown: again entirely feasible in a trench environment.
Consequently many British soldiers - and those based in Gallipoli who had no access to grenades of any type - resorted to the construction of home-made, or 'jam-tin' bombs.
So-named because they were literally made out of jam tins, each was packed with gun-cotton or dynamite, together with pieces of scrap metal.
A length of fuse would project through the top of the tin, with each inch of fuse giving approximately 1.25 seconds delay. Other home-made grenades of differing designs were widespread and were seen in various fronts (including in Arabia and in Russia).
Grenade DevelopmentHowever grenade development soon took off and, at least on the Western Front, ad-hoc types dwindled in numbers as better models appeared.
Rifle grenades were simply attached to a rod and placed down the barrel of a rifle, or instead placed in a cup attached to the barrel, and were launched by the blast of a blank cartridge. Such grenades were never popular however, and were deemed (correctly) as inaccurate. The Germans ceased using rifle grenades in 1916, although they continued to experiment with revised models.
The British and French however persisted with cup grenades. The British, who had pioneered their use, together with the French improved the range of cup grenades from the average 180-200 metres to an impressive 400 metres (using fin grenades).
The Germans belatedly restarted using cup grenades in 1918.
The first truly popular British hand grenade - simply referred to as 'No. 15' - was churned out in huge numbers by the close of 1915, although its lack of performance in wet weather promptly led to a sharp downturn in its popularity. Whereas up to half a million No, 15's were produced in the autumn of 1915, they were seldom used at all beyond the turn of the year.
The Mills BombThere were innumerable types of grenade designed and produced during the war - well over 50 - but one that endured, and which retains a popular awareness even today, is the Mills bomb, designed by William Mills in 1915.
Actually referred to officially as 'No. 5', the Mills bomb was introduced in May 1915 and became the dominant British grenade for the remainder of the war. Weighing 1.25 lb, the Mills bomb's exterior was serrated so that when it detonated it broke into many fragments: thus, a fragmentation bomb.
To use the Mills bomb the thrower first removed the safety pin while holding down the strike lever beneath it. When the grenade was actually thrown the strike lever ejected and a four-second fuse was set off.
British and Empire soldiers were instructed to lob the Mills bomb using a throwing action similar to bowling in cricket. Classes were taught instructing soldiers how best to do this.
The Mills bomb was improved upon in 1917 with a revised model, No. 36M. This was filled with explosive and then dipped in shellac, which served to seal the grenade and thus prevented rapid deterioration (markedly reducing the number of 'dud', i.e. ineffective, devices). Its base plug was also strengthened, for use on a rifle discharger (when its fuse was lengthened to a seven-second delay).
Transported in boxes of twelve with detonators carried separately, British soldiers found that they could not readily carry multiple Mills bombs on their person on account of their closer fitting uniforms. Their Australian allies, with looser clothing, could carry around half a dozen Mills bombs with reasonable comfort. The British took to carrying green canvas buckets filled with Mills bombs (up to 24 at a time) for use in an attack.
The detonators were supposed to be attached to the actual grenade before the boxes of grenades reached the front line. It was not unknown however for a box of Mills bombs to be opened for use only to discover that they were without their necessary detonators.
It has been estimated that during the course of the war approximately 70 million Mills bombs were thrown by the Allies, with perhaps 35 million other types; a testament to the overwhelming popularity of the Mills bomb itself.
German ModelsThe German army, having popularised use of the grenade at the start of the war, developed numerous models over the ensuing four years.
These included the Stielhandgranate (stick bomb), the Diskushandgranate (disc grenade), Eierhandgranate (hand grenade) and Kugelhandgranate (ball grenade, which included the grenade referred to by the British as the 'pineapple grenade').
With the Germans disliking impact (percussion) grenades as much as the Allies, all bar the disc grenade were activated by a time fuse. Those grenades used by storm troopers utilised the shortest time fuse: a mere two seconds (so that their targets were given no time to seek shelter from the resultant explosion).
The Stielhandgranate - stick grenade - proved highly popular among German soldiers. Some exploded on impact but most were set to detonate after either a 5.5 or 7 second delay. German soldiers often carried such grenades in satchels thrown around their necks.
The Eierhandgranate - egg grenade - was also popular given its great throwing range, up to 50 yards. The German army also made use of gas grenades, containing a poisonous liquid that discharged on impact.
Greatest Grenade Battle of the WarUndoubtedly the greatest grenade battle of the war occurred on the Pozieres Heights on the night of 26-27 July 1916.
Lasting for twelve-and-a-half hours without a break the Australians, with British support, exchanged grenades with their German foes (who threw multiple types of grenade: sticks, cricket balls, egg bombs and rifle grenades). The allied contingent alone threw some 15,000 Mills bombs during the night.
Many grenadiers were killed that night, while many others simply fell down due to complete exhaustion.
World War One and Thereafter...With the conclusion of World War One the grenade continued to hold its place firmly within the armoury of every nation's army. During World War Two the US alone manufactured some 50 million fragmentation grenades.
Its development has continued to the present day.
Most nations had very new army recruits. There was not enough or time or officers to help these recruits learn speed and accuracy with every shot under all circumstances. The average rate of fire for these weapons with new army recruits was about eight to twelve rounds per minute with a possible range of around 4,600 feet or 0.87 of a mile, (In Moody, it would be about the distance from C.V.S. in Moody to Jack's in Moody). Though it could shoot this far without any thing stopping the bullet it would not be an accurate shot. An accurate shot could only be made at a range of about 1900 feet or 0.36 of a mile. (In Moody, it would be about the distance from Moody Park to Freds.)
The rifle was mostly used by soldiers in the infantry on the front line in order to shoot long range and by snipers. Snipers could hide themselves and accurately shoot rifles over long ranges. Snipers were valued soldiers. They worked day and night, targeting any moving object behind enemy lines. If a sniper was taken prisoner he could expect no mercy, on either side.
The rifle was the most used weapon because the rifle is a good offensive weapon. Rifles are long range weapons and do significant damage to moving targets. Bayonets could also be attached to rifles to make them a dual weapon. When ammunition ran out in close range combat, the bayonet could be used for self -defense and offensive battle.
Inefficiencies Lead to Improvements
The inefficiencies of the rifle led both sides to do extensive research in order to produce better rifles. The most notable improvements to rifles were making the bore of the gun smaller and adding bolt-action. These improvements allowed rifles to fire multiple rounds from a spring-loaded clip inserted into a rifle magazine.
Surprisingly over the course of the war, improvements were not made to rifles. It wasn't until after the Great War that these inefficiencies of the rifle were corrected. During the war, the chief concern of nations was ensuring that their nation had the money, supplies, and people to keep up a high level of rifle manufacturing. Research and development during the war was devoted to other weapons such as artillery, mortars, grenades and poison gasses.
Vocabulary to Know
ammunition: the bullets or shells shot from a weapon
bayonet: a large jagged knife that attached to the end of a rifle barrel in order to turn the rifle into a thrusting weapon
bolt action: when a sliding rod or bar shoves a cartridge into the firing chamber of a weapon
bore: the hollow part inside a gun barrel or other tube
clip: a device that is used to store multiple rounds of ammunition together as a unit to be inserted into a magazine
defensive battle: a defense; when a nation or group of nations attempt to protect their territory from attack or invasion
defensive weapon: a weapon - usually having a short range - made or adapted for protecting a person by causing serious injury or death to the attacker
front line: the place where fighting is done face to face in a battle
inefficiencies: the inability to do something in the best way possible; when something valuable (ex. time, money, lives, ammunition) is wasted in the process of doing something
infantry: Infantry is the branch of an army that fights on foot — soldiers specifically trained to engage, fight, and defeat the enemy in face-to-face combat; and thus bear the brunt of warfare, and suffer the greatest number of casualties
magazine: the cylinder part of a weapon that holds a clip of ammunition; used to speed up the process of loading and reloading a weapon because several rounds of ammunition can be loaded at once, rather than one round being loaded at a time
manufacturing: producing a large amount of one product in a factory using machines, an assembly line, and division of labor
offensive battle: an invasion; when a nation or group of nations initiate an attack with the intent of taking over territory from the nation they are attacking
offensive weapon: a weapon - usually having a long range - made or adapted for attacking another person and causing serious injury or death
range: the distance something has covered or reached
rate of fire: the amount of bullets or ammunition a weapons can fire without having to reload
rifle: a gun, esp. one fired from shoulder level, having a long spirally grooved barrel intended to make a bullet spin and thereby have greater accuracy over a long distance.
sniper: a gunman who's job is to pick of targets on the opposing side in a battle because he is an expert at shooting accurately over a long range
standard issue: the basic supplies given to everyone in the armed forces when they become a soldier