“Frag Grenades” of the Great War

The trench stalemate on the Western Front during World War One lead to nefarious new methods of killing. The grenade was one of those new weapons, refined from previous incarnations.
   
    Named after the French word for pomegranate, the weapon mirrored the shape of the fruit and the shrapnel, its seeds. The lack of supply on the British side early in the war led the ingenious Tommies to create jam tins filled with any available scrap metal and explosives. The British also created the requisite manual outlining how to make them. However, this was a dangerous game and there was a need for reliable manufactured grenades. Ultimately, World War One grenades were used for illumination, gas, smoke or fragmentation. Here we’ll look at fragmentation grenades of the United States, Britain and Germany.

BRITISH GRENADES

   
    British engineer William Mills (1856-1932) from Birmingham developed the self-named Mills Bomb in 1915 which gave the British a safe, reliable weapon for close combat. Mills bombs were packed 12 in a box with 12 igniters and a key for screwing in the base plug. The base plug was unscrewed and the igniter set inserted only when the bomb was in the trenches.1British Mills Nos5,23,36.jpg
From left to right are examples of Mills grenades No 5, 23 and 36. The No. 23 was adapted to be fired from a rifle. Mills grenades like all collectibles are dependant on condition and sell in the $150 to $250 range. Ed Strazdes
  
    The spring-loaded striker was held back by an external lever and safety pin. When the pin was removed the lever was held down by the hand, closed around the grenade. When thrown, it released the lever allowing the striker to ignite a time fuse with various time delays between 4 and 7 seconds.
   
    A Mills weighed about 1.5 pounds. In an understated English way, the instructions for throwing the Mills bomb told the user “it is essential the lever be held securely against the grenade, otherwise the collar that holds the striker may release and ignite the fuse.”  The explosion contained in the cast iron casing produced a shower of metal fragments. Mills bombs were immediately popular and in short supply through 1916.

1V37984-1.jpg
The British No. 34 Mk III “testicle” grenade was introduced in 1917 to rival the lightweight German Eierhandgrenate. www.advanceguardmilitaria.com
 
 
    In total, 33 million were issued and it remained virtually unchanged for 5 decades. William Mills received a knighthood in 1922. A Mills grenade with a red band indicated it had an explosive filling; the second band of color indicated the type of explosive, green indicating Amatol and pink denoting Ammonal or Bellite. A standard stamp on the bottom would be Mills Munitions Co. No 5 5/16 Birmingham.
   
    Examples of Mills Bombs are readily obtainable. Prices vary depending on condition and can sell for up to $150.

UNITED STATES GRENADES
   
    The United States entered the Great War in 1917 with no reliable grenade of their own. So, they  used French grenades and British Mills bombs. The US Trench Warfare Section developed fragmentation grenades based on these but incorporated changes in the igniter mechanism.

1US Mark 1 and Mark2.jpg
This is a grouping of the classic US Mark 1 and 2 fragmentation grenades. The pineapple grenade remained a staple, in modified form, of the American fighting man’s arsenal through the Vietnam War. Ed Strazdes
 
    The Mark 1 had an effective range of 75 yards with a 5-second fuse delay and packed a punch of 4 ounces of TNT. The Mark 1 had a complicated arming and firing procedure and, in action, troops would miss steps, resulting in the enemy arming the device and throwing it back.
   
    August 1918 saw introduction of the Mark 2, which used Mark 1 bodies but simplified the arming mechanism and introduced a safety pin ring. The Mark 2 weighed 22 ounces was 4-7/16 inches high with a diameter of 2-3/16 inches and a fuse delay of 4 to 5 seconds.
   
    By the end of the war, daily production was over 250,000 with about 21 million produced during the war. Over 500,000 are estimated to have been sent overseas. Training grenades were solid molded shapes with the same weight of a real grenade and painted black. Some training grenade examples may have a white band or white markings and a number cast into the body on the left side of the safety lever.

GERMAN GRENADES
   
    The Germans began the war with the Kugel grenade, a heavy device with sphere segments on the outside made with cast iron and a brass fuse. A pull on the wire loop ignited the fuse with a 7-second delay and the main black powder charge was detonated. It was low technology, but was useful if the thrower was protected from the resulting shrapnel shower. It weighed 2.2 pounds with 1.5 ounces of black powder-based mixture and could be thrown about 50 feet.

1Egg and Kugel Grenade.jpg
The smaller example is a German egg grenade. This 320 gram little devil packed a limited punch of 30 grams of explosive power. Examples sell in the $85 to $100 range. The other is a German Kugel grenade, in use from the beginning of the war. The external 70 plus squares created a shower of shrapnel on detonation. Examples can be found for $200. Ed Strazdes
  
    The Model 1913 oyster-like iron shell of the Diskushandgranate had six projections. The safety pin was removed, the bomb was thrown and, on impact, one of the projections caused a striker to ignite the detonator which exploded the main charge. It was not reliable, but thought useful enough that a new type was developed in 1915.
   
    The 1916 Eierhandgranate or “egg grenade “could be thrown 50 yards as it only weighed 11.25 ounces. The cast iron egg-shaped grenade was 2.3 inches long with a 1.77-inch diameter. There was a hole at the top with a plug, which was removed to insert the friction igniter, which was operated by pulling a hoop. There was a 5-second fuse delay.

1German M1917 Stick.jpg
The classic German stick grenade with the screw cap base. This version has a metal clip for attaching to the belt. Prices range up from $250-$500. Mint examples can go as high as $800. Ed Strazdes
  
    Egg grenades were used for keeping attackers away during trench raids as they could be thrown further, with the stick grenades used for closer work. It had an ounce of black powder punch. An early version had a smooth exterior but later versions had a row of raised metal around the center to assist in gripping the grenade.
   
    The classic German “potato masher” stick grenade was developed in 1915. The explosives were encased in a tin 4 inches by 2-7/8 inches. Instructions in white lettering were stenciled on the green tin: “Von Gebrauch Spring Kapsel Einsetzen” meaning “before use insert detonator”. The wooden handle was 9-7/8 inches long and attached to the green metal top explosive can.

1V37976-1.jpg
The early style Model 1917 Egg Grenade had a smooth, cast iron fragmentation body. www.advanceguardmilitaria.com
  
    Examples can be found with the time delay of the fuse stamped into the wooden handle, close to the can. In early versions, the user untaped the pull cord from the base of the handle, gave the cord a quick pull activating the friction igniter. A five or seven second fuse ignited the charge.
   
    By 1916 the handle and cord arrangement were altered, the cord being under a screw cap at the bottom. This made the ignition system less susceptible to damp and gave a more substantial grasp when lighting the grenade. There were less common versions, which exploded on impact and another with a spring igniter. Examples weighed 1.8 pounds with 9.5 ounces of ammonium nitrate explosive power.
   
    Collecting grenades is a relatively inexpensive hobby with examples available in a wide range of prices. The styles and types offer enough variety to satisfy collectors of all stripes from the most expensive mint examples selling for hundreds of dollars down to the end screw cap from a stick grenade for $5.
   
    A number of Web sites exist providing information on grenades. Highly recommended are www.inert-ord.com and www.millsgrenade.co.uk, each with excellent photos and information.

Related Posts:

Leave a Reply