-A Reading from the Book of Armaments, Chapter 4, Verses 16 to 20:
'Saint Attila raised the Hand-Grenade up on high saying, "O' Lord, bless this thy Hand-Grenade that with it thou mayst blow thy enemies to tiny bits. In thy mercy." And the people did rejoice and did feast upon the lambs and toads and tree-sloths and fruit-bats and orangutans and breakfast cereals … Now did the Lord say, "First thou pullest the Holy Pin. Then thou must count to three. Three shall be the number of the counting and the number of the counting shall be three. Four shalt thou not count, neither shalt thou count two, excepting that thou then proceedeth to three. Five is right out. Once the number three, being the number of the counting, be reached, then lobbest thou the Holy Hand Grenade in the direction of thine foe, who, being naughty in my sight, shall snuff it."'
— "Monty Python", Monty Python and the Holy Grail
"Hand-flung bomb" is not Chinese for grenade!
Etymology & History
Whatever the Chinese may be for it1 a grenade is, more or less, a hand flung bomb. That is, it is an explosive device designed to be thrown by hand - there are also rifle grenades and grenade launchers, but those tend to use something a little different. Strictly, the "manual version" can be called a hand grenade, but since these are the default type (for the time being) the "hand" is usually assumed.
The name comes from the word for pomegranate - due to the resemblance of early models to the fruit in question - and they seem to appear first in the Eastern Roman Empire in the 8th Century AD. Ironically they contained Greek Fire or naptha at that point and were glass or ceramic shelled - more like molotov cocktails than a modern grenade.
For an explosive filler we need to look to the Chinese, who seem to have had primitive black powder grenades on issue by the 11th century, possible inspired by the Byzantine devices which by then had been copied by their mutual neighbours the Baghdad Caliphate.
Explosive grenades seem to appear in Europe around the 17th Century - the classic "flaming onion" design of a cast iron sphere with a burning fuse poked into the top. Most nations developed hand picked corps of "Grenadiers" to use these weapons … and then, in general, used such elites for other duties, reflecting the fact that the grenades of the time were not much help outside a few limited contexts2. The grenade then pops up from time to time, frequently improvised by cunning infantrymen, appearing in the War Between the States, the Crimean War and the Russo-Japanese Wars, until WW1 where the development of trench warfare made the grenade suddenly very useful.
Two main types were developed - the stick grenade, or "potato masher", (consisting of a charge on a long wooden handle for easy throwing), which was mainly used by the Central Powers and the egg grenade (sort of egg shaped) mainly used by the Entente. These were used fairly promiscuously and remained pretty much unchanged into WW23, after which the stick grenade finally died out, leaving egg types in control of the market.
The Modern Grenade
Modern grenades are perhaps best divided into explosive vs. everything else.
Explosive grenades further divide into offensive and defensive grenades - the former being lighter and generally soft-cased, making them easier to throw further so that advancing troops can throw them ahead of themselves without too much risk of fragments flying back at them. Defensive grenades, by contrast, are designed to be thrown from hardened positions and so are heavier and contain more fragment producing material4 in the casing. Some modern designs - termed offensive/defensive grenades have a removable sheath of fragmenting material around an offensive design of grenade. Remove the sheath and you have a usable offensive grenade, keep it on and you have a deadly defensive weapon.
By rule of thumb, explosive grenades can be expected to kill at about 5m from point of detonation and wound out to 15m, but this can vary both in terms of offensive/defensive role and around things like the surface it detonates on. Older designs tended to have a larger fragment radius - sometimes more than the distance that they could be thrown by an average soldier. This also tended to be a problem with early white phosphorous grenades (see below).
"Everything else" would normally include the following:
- Chemical Agent (normally CS or similar … not much point to anything else)
- Smoke (white, coloured or white phosphorous)
- Incendiary (white phosphorous, red phosphorous or thermite/thermate)
- Stun (aka. "Flashbang" - designed to stun with bright light and loud noise)
- Stingball (a less lethal weapon that fires a spray of rubber balls - and often CS)
- Paint (mainly a toy, but used for marking work in crowd control)
- Anti-armour (largely obsolete, uses a shaped charge to penetrate vehicle armour)
A grenade will be detonated by one (or both) of two methods:
- Time delay: the operator starts a timer (usually a chemical fuse) which, after a set delay, fires the charge.
- Impact: the operator arms an impact sensor which fires the charge when the grenade strikes a hard surface.
Where the two types are combined, the timed fuse generally acts as a backup to the impact fuse.
Ideally a grenade will also have one or more safety devices - a classic, egg style grenade is made safe by the lever (also called the spoon) - once this is released, the timer starts and cannot be stopped. The function of the pin is to hold the lever in place.
Despite the demise of the stick grenade, modern grenades have occasionally been seen with bits of pipe or broom handle glued to the bottom to extend throwing range. Whether or not this is worth the effort is at least debatable.
"Once you pull the pin, Mister Grenade is no longer your friend!"
The most common use for explosive grenades is in clearing the space behind an obstacle, whether that be the parapet of an enemy trench or the wall of a building. The operator arms the grenade and then throws or posts it into the space he wishes to clear where it bursts, attacking any targets present with blast and shrapnel. If the grenade is only expected to travel a short distance, the operator is advised to let any timer that is fitted run down as far as can be safely allowed to prevent the recipients of the grenade from returning it undetonated. Explosive grenades can also be used to attack groups of enemies in the open or as explosive charges to destroy structures as required. Large explosive grenades - or bundles of smaller ones - were often used to attack AFV before specialised anti-armour grenades became available.
"Flashbang"/stun grenades are used in the same way as explosives, but as a less-lethal alternative which incapacitates targets for capture or selective killing - e.g in prisoner rescue or policing situations, typically where there may be friendly or neutral units in the target area.
Smoke grenades are used to generate line of sight obstructions in the traditional manner and the useful secondary properties5 of white-phosphorous smoke are never-and-not-at-all used to suppress enemy infantry as well as blocking their LOS, making it a popular source of emergency smoke cover for ambushed troops6.
The majority of incendiaries are used more to destroy inanimate objects than as weapons in the truest sense of the word - thermite/thermate devices in particular are placed on top of (or inside) sensitive parts of the target structure and allowed to detonate. Bursting incendiaries such as white or red phosphorous are more used for starting terrain fires.
Chemical agent grenades are almost all7 CS style irritants and incapcitants and they and stingball grenades are mostly used for civil order work to suppress or disperse mobs. The customs and usages of warfare (mainly the Hague Conventions) preclude the use of chemical agents in conflict under the majority of circumstances.
Anti-armour grenades are an obsolete application of shaped charge armour piercing technology, mostly introduced during WW2 and made obsolete in the course of the same conflict because they were unable to keep pace with improvements in vehicle armour.
Grenades can also be used for booby trapping - attaching a tripwire to the pin, or placing the grenade in a tin can and removing the pin are favourites. They can also be used as an anti helicopter trap (by tying a ribbon of cloth to the pin and leaving it on a suspected landing site where the ribbon will get pulled into the helicopter's rotors and arm the grenade).
Grenades are also very useful in night fighting - throwing a grenade generates no muzzle flash and thus attracts no return fire. The detonation, on the other hand, will often draw jitter fire from all sides, hopefully luring the enemy into a friendly fire battle whilst the thrower slips away8.
"Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades."
Game and Story Use
- Very much a military weapon, grenades will cause a great deal of alarm if used in general business. Expect people in general not to be prepared for their use and to be very unhappy about it.
- Traditionally sane people ship grenades without the fuse/detonator assembly fitted. If a PCs is going to get roasted on a black market deal, he just gets the grenades…
- Some historical grenades have been as dangerous to the user as the target - a good proportion of the Japanese production in WW2 had an alarming level of variation in how long the alleged five second fuse took to burn down9 and the 'all ways' impact detonator in the Italian "Red Devil" grenades (also from WW2) might go off on impact … or a few seconds later … or when the grenade was next moved … or never … or even whilst it was being thrown. You could never tell…