Grenade marines DATE 08122022 CREDIT MOD Crown Copyright.jpg
A hand grenade is primarily used in offensive operations against enemy combatants (Picture: MOD).
Weapons and Kit

Deadliest weapons: The high-explosive hand grenade

Grenade marines DATE 08122022 CREDIT MOD Crown Copyright.jpg
A hand grenade is primarily used in offensive operations against enemy combatants (Picture: MOD).

For hundreds of years, hand grenades have been used on the field of battle and they don't appear to be leaving it anytime soon.

A hand grenade is an anti-personnel weapon designed and is used to clear out enemy fortifications, buildings or trenches.

They can be used with devastating effects in confined spaces, against unprotected enemy combatants.

smoke grenade up front DATE 08122022 CREDIT MOD Crown Copyright.jpg
Smoke grenades can be used to mark helicopter landing sites so that pilots can easily identify correct landing zones (Picture: MOD).

It has been known for poorly trained soldiers or new recruits to throw the pin and drop the grenade at their feet. There is also the threat of an enemy fighter having time to throw the grenade back.

To ensure maximum destruction, grenades are designed to fire omnidirectionally to increase the killing radius.

Throwing almost 2,000 metal shards hundreds of feet per second, grenades are designed to seriously maim or kill anyone in their path.

Grenade shrapnel is also known as, or nicknamed, 'military confetti' by those who use them.

Here we answer some questions often asked about grenades.

Since World War One and trench warfare, grenades have now been used in most major conflicts. This is especially the case when getting up close and personal with the enemy.

Grenades come in many different variants including high-explosive fragmentation grenades, smoke screening grenades, stun grenades, infra-red marking grenades, and many others.

There is sometimes a downside to using them in war. Accidents can and do happen.

As recruits are often told: "When the pin is pulled, Mr Grenade is no longer your friend."

Where does the name 'grenade' originate?

The word grenade is thought to derive from the French term for pomegranate, as the grenades used in the 16th Century resembled the pomegranate fruit. They also contained large grains of gunpowder, like seeds.

The French first formed a regiment of Grenadiers – specially trained soldiers to throw grenades large distances. They were chosen based on their height, strength and grenade-throwing ability.

The British Grenadier Guards won their title after defeating the French Grenadiers during the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

Historically, Grenadiers in all infantry regiments across the British Army were typically the tallest men within their regiment and responsible for lobbing grenades.

Even now, The Queen's Company Grenadier Guards mainly employ men over 6ft tall for ceremonial purposes, although during wartime operations, this rule is slightly relaxed and shorter individuals are permitted to serve within the ranks, if they have sought-after qualifications.

What is the lethal killing distance of a grenade?

Without body armour or protection, a single grenade can kill an individual up to 10 metres away and can cause serious injuries up to 20 metres away.

Shrapnel can reach as far as 200+ metres distance from the detonation point. However, it becomes much less effective.

Why are some grenades shaped like a pineapple?

The grooves are purposely machined into grenades giving them the appearance of a pineapple, and they were produced that way so that a soldier with muddy hands could have a much better grip when throwing the grenade.

It is not to aid in fragmentation, which some people may believe.

What are the components of a hand grenade?

The main body consists of a metal casing, filled with RDX/TNT explosives as well as:

- Fuse

- Trigger

- Safety pin

- Matt black safety clip

- Fly-off lever

Who invented the hand grenade?

The first-ever 'safe-to-use' grenade was designed by British engineer William Mills in 1915 which he named the 'Mills Bomb'.

Prior to this, most grenades were unpredictable and could sometimes cause injuries or death to those preparing to use them.

What types of hand grenades are used by the British military?

L109 HE (high-explosive) fragmentation grenade

Used in defence operations and can be used effectively in offensive operations if the user is well trained.

Smoke screening grenade

Used to block lines of sight, they can also be used for deception.

White phosphorus grenade

White phosphorus grenades are used to create instant smoke screening. They can also be used as anti-personnel grenades when fighting in trenches or bunkers. They contain phosphorus, which ignites on contact with the air, burning at very high temperatures.

In 2017, a haul of up to eight WWII white phosphorus grenades was discovered by road workers in Devon.

It is thought they were buried by members of the Home Guard, in case there was a German invasion. However, records of their location had been lost over time.

Stun grenade

For non-lethal building/room clearance, they are used to distract the occupants upon entry, giving the upper hand.

Signal smoke grenades

These grenades are produced to smoke and come in a variety of bright colours including red, yellow, purple, green and blue. They are typically used by troops to mark their location, so they can be easily identified by other friendly forces.

They can also be used to mark helicopter landing sites (HLS) so that pilots can identify correct landing zones.

What is the impact range of a hand grenade?

The lethal proximity of a high-explosive hand grenade differs between variants but typically the blast radius of a grenade is 20 metres – anyone inside this range could be incapacitated or killed.

Watch: Irish Guards practise throwing (L109) live high-explosive grenade, above.

For when a single grenade just isn't enough …

There's always the grenade machine gun. It is 40 millimetres in calibre and capable of firing grenades out to a distance of 2,200 metres.

Support Company 2 PARA Grenade Machine Gun Picture: CSgt Crisp (PARA)
Support Company 2 PARA with the 40mm grenade machine gun (Picture: CSgt Crisp (PARA)).

The grenades are belt-fed and come in belts of 32 grenades.

These grenades are designed to detonate on impact, rather than a time-delay like the standard issued hand-thrown grenades.

How long does it take a grenade to explode?

From pulling the pin and throwing a grenade, it usually takes anywhere between two to six seconds before detonation occurs.

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