Described by Sgt. Donald D. Kyler,
16th Infantry, 1st Division
|Grenades Used by the AEF|
[During our training at Domremy-la-Pucelle] we were given instruction in the use of grenades. At first it was by French non-commissioned officers, using their grenades, which were of several types. The first was a training grenade, made of sheet metal, and could be thrown about ten yards away and left to explode with little danger of fragments harming the thrower. But they were not to be closer than that. We had a few cases of men being injured by not throwing quickly enough or far enough. The second type was a fragmentation grenade, made of iron, and with much more explosive power. It was for longer range use, or to be thrown around or behind something, or in a hole or dugout. It would be dangerous to be thrower if it exploded anywhere near him. Another type, heavier and with more explosive power, was for throwing into the openings of caves or fortifications, etc. Immediate cover had to be taken by the thrower to escape the resulting blast.
Those devices were all pear shaped, with a pin sticking out of the small end about half an inch. That end had a metal cap covering the pin, secured with sealing wax. When ready to use the grenade, the cap was twisted off and the pin pushed in, which ignited a time fuse. Five to seven seconds after the pin was pushed in the blast would occur. So there was no time to be lost in throwing the grenade. The short time fuse was necessary so that the enemy would not have time to throw the grenade away from him. However, they have been known to do so. Ideally, the timing should be such that the grenade would explode just as it reached the target.
The grenades came to us packed tightly in wooden boxes and were well protected. In taking them into the field or trenches, it was our practice to carry them in bags. Rough handling sometimes loosened the protecting cap over the firing pin. I heard of an accident when grenades in a hag exploded, causing causalities.
Another type of grenade was the rifle grenade, which was fired from a grenade launcher. The grenade launcher was shaped like a beer bottle with the bottom removed. The neck of the launcher was placed over the muzzle of the rifle and locked in position by a twisting motion. They were issued one to each squad. The grenade had a hole through its center the same size as the rifle barrel, and was placed in the open end of the launcher and let slide down until it came to rest on the decreasing inside diameter of the neck part of the launcher. The butt of the rifle was placed on the ground and was ready for firing. When fired, after the bullet had passed through the grenade, there was an area of high pressure still in the rifle as the bullet left it, which gave the grenade a considerable boost into an arched trajectory. The maximum range could be achieved by holding the axis of the launcher at slightly more than 45 degrees from the horizontal. At a [greater] angle than that the range would decrease, until by holding it straight up, theoretically the grenade would come down on the launcher. From the maximum range of perhaps two hundred yards the range could also be decreased by holding the launcher at an angle less than 45 degrees from the horizontal, until at the horizontal the range would be only a few yards, which was impractical for a number of reasons.
|A Member of the 369th Infantry [Harlem Hellfighters] |
Firing a Rifle Grenade
The grenade had a time fuse which was ignited when the bullet struck a projection as it passed through the hole in the grenade. To depress the muzzle toward the target would flatten the trajectory and decrease the range and lessen the time of the grenade in flight. The grenade, when striking the ground, would not explode promptly and would thus give the enemy time to take evasive action.
It was necessary to have the butt of the rifle against the ground or some solid object, because of the recoil. In no case should it be rested against any part of the body. Some of our rifle's stocks were broken by the force of the recoil when using the launchers.
The rifle grenade, like the fragmentation hand grenade, had a powerful explosive charge. It filled the need for a plunging type projectile beyond the range of the hand grenade and less than the range of the light mortar. It could be fired over the tops of embankments, walls, buildings, or trees. Like the light and heavy mortars, howitzers, and certain high angle guns of the artillery, its fire was of the plunging kind. It was designed to fire at a high angle into the air, and the angle of arrival of the projectile at the target at a steeper angle than that at which it was fired. Therefore, that type of fire power was very useful in getting into ravines, behind buildings, and in thick woods.
The disadvantages of rifle grenades were that they lacked accuracy, and the difficulty of supply of grenades at the right place at the right time. Their weight made it impractical for a soldier to carry them on his person, so special means of supply had to be adopted when they were to be used.
|Men of 83rd Division in Grenade Training|
The rifle grenade was operationally an extension of the hand grenade, and like it, no aiming devices were used when firing. By much practice with it we became able to place the grenade in its effective explosive zone. Like a hand grenade, its fuse was ignited when fired or thrown and would explode in a few seconds. A hand grenade was not to be thrown like a baseball. It was much too heavy for that. The throwers arm should be kept extended, and the grenade heaved high into the air with the arc of the throw at an angle of about forty or fifty degrees from the horizontal. Otherwise, the throwers arm would soon be strained and the ability to throw gone.
I had great respect for the value of hand and rifle grenades, hut regarded them as secondary in importance to the rifle and bayonet. If the infantry is to be very mobile, and not loaded down with excessive weight, then their use was of necessity limited to defensive positions or to selected and well supplied periods of attack. Like the ammunition for machine rifles, a carried supply was soon exhausted when going forward in an attack. And going forward to attack was necessary if we were to be successful in war.
Grenades of other types were also supplied. For example: smoke grenades for laying a smoke screen, toxic gas grenades, and incendiary grenades. Rocket type grenades for signaling, for use in the grenade launcher will be described later.
We used the French grenades until the summer of 1918, when grenades of our own were supplied to us. They did not have a pin to be pushed in, hut instead had a small handle to be held down while a cotter pin with a ring on the end was pulled out and discarded, which allowed the spring loaded handle to rise when released. When throwing the grenade, the handle was released when leaving the hand which ignited the fuse, which was timed for five seconds. Those grenades were much safer in use and in handling than the others had been.
Sources and thanks: Thanks to Martin Marix Evans and Hanna Lundstedt of Taylor & Francis for making possible this selection from American Voices of World War I: Primary Source Documents, 1917–1920. Illustrations are courtesy of Bruce Canfield and Tony Langley.