Stielhandgranate

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Two First World War Stielhandgranaten alongside a vaguely similar Austrio-Hungarian ceramic design. The front Stielhandgranate is the Model 1917, and the back Stielhandgranate is the Model 1916. Note the visible belt clips.
Cross-section of the later Model 1924 Stielhandgranate (the standard-issue grenade of the Wehrmacht). Note the unique steel rod and fusing mechanism.

The Stielhandgranate (German for "stalk hand grenade") was a German hand grenade of unique design. It was the standard issue of the German Empire during World War I, and became the widespread issue of Nazi Germany's Wehrmacht during World War II. The very distinctive appearance led to it being called a "stick grenade", or "potato masher" in British Army slang, and is today one of the most easily recognized infantry weapons of the 20th century.[1]

Origins[edit]

Germany entered World War I with a single grenade design: a heavy 750-gram (26 oz) ball-shaped fragmentation grenade (Kugelhandgranate) for use only by pioneers in attacking fortifications. It was too heavy for regular use on the battlefield by untrained troops and not suitable for mass production. This left Germany without a standard-issue grenade and improvised designs similar to those of the British were used until a proper grenade could be supplied.[2]

The 'stick grenade' first appeared in the midst of World War I; it was introduced in 1915 for use by the German Empire's armed forces. As time went on, the design further developed, adding and removing certain features. Aside from its unique and unusual appearance, the Stielhandgranate used a friction igniter system, a method very uncommon in other nations but widely used in German grenades.

During World War I, the original design of the Stielhandgranate, under the name M1915 (Model 1915), was in direct technological competition with the British standard-issue Mills bomb series. The first design model of the Mills bomb – the Grenade No. 5 Mk. 1 – was introduced the same year as the German Model 1915, but due to delays in manufacturing it was not widely distributed into general service until 1916. (There was a small period of time where German troops had large supplies of new Model 1915 grenades, while their British opponents only had a very small number.)

As World War I progressed, the Model 1915 Stielhandgranate was further improved with various changes. These received new designations corresponding for the year of introduction, such as the Model 1916 and the Model 1917.

Production variations[edit]

Model 1915 (M15)[edit]

Model 1915 Stielhandgranate
Place of origin German Empire
Service history
In service German Empire (1915–1918)
Used by See Users
Wars World War I
Production history
Designed 1915
Specifications
Filling Trinitrotoluene
Detonation
mechanism
friction igniter and ​4 12 second delay

In 1915, industries of the German Empire designed and began production of the original Stielhandgranate, appropriately named Model 1915 (M15). It utilized a priming system, unlike the percussion cap pin used in most grenades of the period. The easily recognizable "potato masher" shape is a result of a number of different styles and choices of the design. The grenade mounted a charge head within a sheet-steel cylinder atop a long hollow-wooden handle. Internally, the explosive – initially ammonal but later approximately 170 g (6.0 oz) of trinitrotoluene filling[3] – was connected to a detonator, and a pull cord ran from the detonator down the length of the hollow handle, emerging from the base. To use, a soldier would simply pull the string downwards, dragging a rough steel rod through the igniter within the fuse. The rod's abrasive contact would cause sparks and a flame to light from within, setting the fuse burning. This fuse took approximately four and a half seconds to reach the detonator before exploding.

The Stielhandgranate's handle design provided a lever motion in a throw, significantly improving the effective range of use. It could be thrown by the common German infantryman approximately 27 to 37 metres (30 to 40 yd), whereas the British Mills bomb could often only be thrown about 14 metres (15 yd).[4] The British War Office report "WO 291/472 Performance and handling of HE grenades" gives an average figure for a standing throw of a Mills bomb as 27 m (30 yd), (23 m (25 yd) when crouched and 22 m (24 yd) lying prone). One issue that hand grenades of the time had was unpredictable rolling after landing. The German Stielhandgranate did not suffer nearly as much, and in some respects not at all, from this problem as the handle together with the charge head resisted rolling. Instead of rolling straight down a hill or across rough terrain, the Stielhandgranate could create an axis for rotation: it would instead roll from side to side, because the charge head and length of the grenade acted as a balance. However, the additional length of the handle and the irregular overall shape meant that fewer grenades could be carried. It also took longer to prime the grenade than an allied counterpart, such as the Mills Bomb.

The Stielhandgranate primarily relied on a concussion blast effect, the container creating little fragmentation compared with many grenades of the time, such as the Mills Bomb and the French F1 Grenade, the later World War II American Mk 2 grenade, and the Soviet F1 Grenade. Fragmentation produced shrapnel which could wound enemy infantry over a large area, a factor which made these types of grenade very good for open areas, such as fields, the blasted expanse of no man's land, beaches, spacious trenches, and wide city streets. Concussion grenades, on the other hand, based their wounding ability purely on the shock and blast of the explosives. The Stielhandgranate was extremely effective and reliable in clearing enclosed areas, such as buildings, fortifications, and the fighting compartment of an enemy tank. On the other hand, performance in wide open areas was less than satisfactory. The blast effect could only go so far before dying out, while pieces from an equivalent fragmentation grenade could fly hundreds of metres (it was not unrealistic to expect that metal shrapnel could hit a soldier that the grenade was not intended for, especially in open areas).

Model 1916 (M16)[edit]

Model 1916 Stielhandgranate
Place of origin German Empire
Service history
In service German Empire (1916–1918)
Used by See Users
Wars World War I
Production history
Designed 1916
Specifications
Filling Trinitrotoluene
Detonation
mechanism
friction igniter and ​4 12 second delay

The original M15 grenade suffered from an unfortunate design issue. The pull cord which activated the grenade's fuse extruded from the base and could get caught in debris or clutter on the battlefields of World War I, causing the fuse to be ignited, and the grenade to explode on the belt of an unaware infantryman. This resulted in the introduction of the Model 1916 (M16).

Functionally identical to the M15, the M16 included a vital change in the base design. A small porcelain ball was placed at the base of the grenade, attached directly to the pull cord. This prevented the string from being exposed. The small bead was partially enveloped in the wooden handle, meaning that some force was needed to pluck it out. Operation was nearly identical, except that a soldier no longer needed to pull the string itself.

Model 1917 (M17)[edit]

Model 1917 Stielhandgranate
Place of origin German Empire
Service history
In service German Empire (1917–1918)
Used by See Users
Wars World War I
German Revolution
Production history
Designed 1917
Specifications
Filling Trinitrotoluene
Detonation
mechanism
friction igniter and ​4 12 second delay

Another development of the Stielhandgranate was implemented during the later stages of World War I, affecting the priming system. The base of the Stielhandgrante's handle was slightly redesigned, and a metal cover cap was introduced. This cap concealed the porcelain bead and pull cord, allowing it to simply rest freely inside of the handle. The cover cap would simply be pulled off before using it as with the M16.

Model 1924 (M24)[edit]

Model 1924 Stielhandgranate
The Model 1924 Stielhandgranate.
Place of origin Weimar Republic
Service history
In service Weimar Republic (1924–1933)
Nazi Germany (1933–1945)
Used by See Users
Wars Spanish Civil War
World War II
Production history
Designed 1924
Specifications
Weight 595 g (1 lb 5.0 oz)
Length 365 mm (1 ft 2.4 in)
Diameter 70 mm (2.8 in)

Filling Trinitrotoluene
Filling weight 170 g (6.0 oz)
Detonation
mechanism
fricion igniter and 4¹/₂ second delay

Upon the German Empire's defeat at the conclusion of World War I, the total and complete collapse of industrial capability and military strength of Germany left many projects and ideas lost and forgotten for a number of years. When the newly created Weimar Republic progressively began to repair the both physical and economic devastation, a slow rebuilding of the armed forces was allowed under the limitations set by the allies.

The Weimar Republic revived the Stielhandgranate, and created a new version in 1924, the "Model 1924 Stielhandgranate" (M24). While retaining the same explosive and fuse, the main distinction between the M24 and the original M15 is a slightly shorter charge head and the removal of a belt carry clip. Another change in the design was a lengthening of the wooden handle. The intent of these design alterations was simply for mobility; German soldiers could easily (and often did) tuck the grenade in behind their uniform's belt, held tight and secure. Being slightly lighter, and smaller in thickness, this improved overall use.

The M24 is well known as the standard hand grenade of the armed forces of the Wehrmacht during World War II. Adapting to the rapidly changing field of modern warfare, German soldiers would carry the M24 directly in front, allowing quick and easy access. However, in the later years of the war it was often advised to carry them in a different manner, as it was very likely any sort of explosion or heat could light the fuse from the grenade on the belt, resulting in unnecessary casualties.

The Model 24 Stielhandgranate was stored in specially designed crates during transport, which could carry up to 15 individual grenades. As a safety precaution, units of the Wehrmacht were advised to only insert the actual fuse assemblies when about to go into combat. Later in the war, however, many soldiers of the Wehrmacht would always have their weapons ready, due to the fierceness seen in the Soviet Red Army in the east and the progressive advance of the Allies on the Western Front. During production, a reminder was stenciled on each explosive charge: Vor Gebrauch Sprengkapsel einsetzen ("Before use insert detonator").

The Model 1924 was rather ineffective by itself at damaging or disabling an enemy armored vehicle or destroying fortifications. It also lacked the shrapnel effect of most other grenades of the time. To overcome these faults, various German industries during World War II produced a number of variants that widened the utility and capability of the M24.

K variant[edit]

During numerous operations of the invasion of the Soviet Union, the Wehrmacht found that under freezing conditions the M24's fuse could fail to ignite. In response, a variant with a cold-resistant explosive was developed and supplied to most units deployed on the eastern front (especially into present-day Russia). During production, the metal charge head was marked with a letter 'K', referring to the German word Kalt (English: cold).

Nebelhandgranate[edit]

The Wehrmacht lacked a proper smoke grenade to allow infantry to cover advances or retreats, or blind foes while assaulting a position. To solve this, Germany designed and produced a nebel (English: fog) grenade that was essentially a M24 with a remodeled fuse mechanism and the explosive filler replaced with a smoking material; smoke was emitted from small holes cut into the underside of the metal charge head. In addition to markings inscribed on the charge head, a large white band painted onto the handle distinguished it from a standard M24. Later, a relief texture was added to the handle to distinguish it by touch. This variant is often referred to as a nebelhandgranate (English: fog hand grenade).

Training variants[edit]

Like most of the forces that took part in World War II, the Wehrmacht produced inert (not able to explode) versions of the standard-issue grenade, designed to aid recruits on how to properly throw and operate the weapon during training.[5]

Improvised "bundle charge"[edit]

Stielhandgranate bundle.

To counter the lack of effectiveness against hard targets such as tanks and buildings, a common solution was created in the form of an improvised "bundle charge". The charges of a number of M24 grenades – their handles and fuses removed – would be strapped around a complete grenade, usually with simple rope, cloth, or metal wire. These could be crafted with up to six additional charges, and in battle the most-common styles to see were the addition of four or six. Unofficially, these improvised bundle grenades were known as Geballte Ladung (English: bundled charge or concentrated charge).

As a result of this cost-effective and reliable solution, the standard infantryman of the Wehrmacht could quickly improvise a grenade with up to seven times the explosive power. However, the added weight made it more difficult to throw, and the increased size meant that it wasn't practical to carry with one hand and that far fewer could be carried. These factors meant that infantry squads, if faced with an armored enemy, would have to close to a reduced range if they wanted to use the bundle charges. During the early years of World War II, there was little in terms of truly effective German handheld weaponry designed to fight hard targets such as armored vehicles and structures, and even later in the war this style of bundle grenade remained useful to the common Wehrmacht infantryman.

Foreign designs[edit]

Separate from Nazi Germany, the Model 24 Stielhandgranate was used globally during World War II. A number of nations either directly acquired or purchased stockpiles of the grenade, or created similar versions with very slight adjustments.

Type 23[edit]
Chinese workers making their own variation of the M24 by hand (known as the 'Type 23' during World War II)

In 1933, the Chinese designed and produced a grenade based on the German Model 1924. This grenade was deployed under name 'Type 23' by the National Revolutionary Army. In comparison to the M24, the Chinese version was shorter in length and had a smaller diameter. The Type 23 operated very similarly to its German counterpart, but with a few exceptions: the fuse delay was five and a half seconds, a small thumb-release lever held the screw-on cap in place, and there was no porcelain bead attached to the fuse's pull cord. Some of these Type 23 grenades were used as booby traps by attaching the pull cord to a tripwire. As the United States entered the war and operations in the Pacific Theater began, the Chinese Type 23 grenade was mistakenly listed in early intelligence reports as being Japanese made.[6]

Following World War II, one further version of the Type 23 grenade was manufactured by the Chinese Communists, who intended to supply the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam (NLF) and the People's Army of Vietnam. This was designated as the 'Type 67'.[7]

Type 98[edit]
Chinese suicide bomber putting on an explosive vest of M24/Type 23 hand grenades to use against Japanese tanks at the Battle of Taierzhuang.

In 1938, the Imperial Japanese Army copied the Chinese Type 23 and produced them at a Japanese factory in Manchuria. These were designated the 'Type 98'. Unlike both the original German M24 Stielhandgranate and the Type 23, the Type 98 was a fragmentation grenade. The charge, however, was weak and only contained 85 g (3 oz) of picric acid (more powerful but less safe than TNT). The weapon had a pull ring attached to the igniting cord, and the fuse delay was 4 to 5 seconds (varying from grenade to grenade). Like the Type 23, it was a crude copy of the Model 1924 and a number of issues plagued its effectiveness.[8]

Model 1943 (M43)[edit]

As the war progressed and the Wehrmacht began to lose strength and momentum against the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany began implementing measures to ensure the safety and reliability of its weapons. The Wehrmacht needed to minimize the risk of injury or death caused by faults of its military equipment, munitions, and weapons.

Germany's industrial capabilities decreased as the war progressed. As a result, the production of munitions, equipment, and weaponry had to become easier and more cost-efficient. Some of these, like the Maschinengewehr 42, were more than a success on the level of resources, but many were only simpler and less-expensive versions of an existing item. The Model 1924 grenade was technically "succeeded" by the Model 1943 (M43). This was a copy with a few expensive parts removed or replaced for easier production – and because of this, the original remained in service with Wehrmacht infantry right to the end of the war. The M43 was known as an ersatz production version – a lesser-quality design of an already used item.

The only truly significant alterations in the M43's design was the inclusion of a self-contained detonator, meaning that the fuse and the explosive were directly linked. The M43 also utilized an entirely different fuse assembly, very similar to that of the Model 39 grenade, another German hand grenade of the time.

Users[edit]

A Chinese infantryman wielding a M24. The German-made uniform and equipment was a result of German involvement in modernization of the Chinese Army.

Following its introduction in 1915, the German Stielhandgranate has been used globally during a number of different conflicts, most significantly during World War I and World War II.

A list of the various users of the Stielhandgranate is as follows:

Official and unofficial users of all versions of the Stielhandgranate
User Type of service Self-Manufactured Version
Model 1915 Model 1916 Model 1917 Model 1924 Model 1943
Official users
 German Empire Full military service X X
 Weimar Republic Full military service X X X X
 Nazi Germany Full military service X X X
Unofficial users
 Austria-Hungary Leased/purchased X X X
 Kingdom of Hungary [9] Leased/purchased X X X X
 Independent State of Croatia[citation needed] ? X ? ? ? ✓? ✓?
 Finland Leased/purchased X X X X X
 Sweden[citation needed] ? ? ? ? ? ? ?
 Soviet Union Captured/scavenged X X X X
 Latvia Captured/scavenged X X X
Foreign designs
User Type of service Version
Type 23 Type 98 Type 67
 Empire of Japan Captured/Local design produced X
 Republic of China Local design produced X X
 People's Republic of China Local design produced X X
 Indonesia[citation needed] captured ? ? ?
 North Vietnam Leased/purchased X X

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Bishop, Chris (1998), The Encyclopedia of Weapons of World War II, New York: Orbis Publishing Ltd., ISBN 0-7607-1022-8 .
  2. ^ "Intro & History", Bergflak's Lounge 
  3. ^ Chen, Peter. "Model 24 Stielhandgranate Grenade". ww2db. Lava Development LCC. Retrieved 8 March 2017. 
  4. ^ The Discovery Channel: "Weaponology: Episode 10: Frags, Pineapples, and RPG's", 2007.
  5. ^ http://www.bergflak.com/m24ub.html
  6. ^ Rottman, Gordon (2009), World War II Axis Booby Traps and Sabotage Tactics, New York: Bloomsbury Publishing plc, p. 23, ISBN 1-8460-3450-7 .
  7. ^ Peverelli, Lex. "Stick Grenade Type 67". lexpev.nl. Lex Peverelli. Retrieved 2 April 2017. 
  8. ^ Rottman, Gordon (2009), World War II Axis Booby Traps and Sabotage Tactics, New York: Bloomsbury Publishing plc, p. 23, ISBN 1-8460-3450-7 .
  9. ^ Tibor, Rada (2001). "Német gyalogsági fegyverek magyar kézben" [German infantry weapons in Hungarian hands]. A Magyar Királyi Honvéd Ludovika Akadémia és a Testvérintézetek Összefoglalt Története (1830-1945) (in Hungarian). II. Budapest: Gálos Nyomdász Kft. p. 1114. ISBN 963-85764-3-X. 

External links[edit]