Today we begin a series of posts on German hand grenades of the Great War, and the posts will do exactly what it says on the tin. Until we get to Austro-Hungarian grenades. Which we shall, never fear.
What better place to start, then, than with the German Army’s first hand grenade, the Kugelhandgranate Model 1913 ‘Aa’.
Most articles you read about the development of hand grenades in modern warfare begin with the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, and they do so because it is a very sensible place to start. Despite having been around for several hundred years, the hand grenade had become a forgotten weapon, to a great extent, until the trench warfare that took place during the war in Korea and Manchuria brought back the need for a weapon to combat an unseen enemy dug in at close quarters, and observers from Germany were among those to take note of the fact.
In the years leading up to the outbreak of war in 1914, all the major European powers revisited the whole hand grenade concept, although in the German Army they were considered weapons primarily for use by pioneers assaulting fortified positions, and thus on the outbreak of war the Germans only had one grenade available for use in large numbers, the Kugelhandgranate Model 1913, introduced in, yep, 1913.
The Kugelhandgranate 1913 was a spherical shaped cast iron grenade measuring just over three inches across, weighing in at about twenty one ounces, and filled with one and a half ounces of a compressed mixture made up of black powder, barium nitrate and potassium perchlorate.
Its weight made its range quite short – an experienced thrower could hurl one of these accurately up to about fifty feet, and using a catapult extended its range considerably – and the body of the grenade was divided into deeply grooved raised sections for maximum fragmentation, although this made manufacturing a more complex process, and was the main reason for its replacement by a new model in 1915.
Unscrewing and removing the zinc alloy transportation cap,…
…would allow a friction igniter to be inserted into the top of the grenade. These igniters for the Model 1913 were made of bronze and had a delay of either five or seven seconds, depending on which fuse was used (they originally would have had red markings to differentiate between the two). A brass wire inserted in the top of the igniter, flattened and serrated once inside (see inset) and dipped in a glass, manganese dioxide and potassium chloride solution, was embedded in a friction block containing the ignition compound; the wire, when pulled, would scrape through the block, igniting the compound, the delay would then burn through, followed by a flash from the bottom of the igniter to set off the main explosive within the grenade (and hence my use of the term ‘igniter’ for these fuses).
Pulling the loop (long gone now, but you’ll see an example in the shot of a fuse coming up shortly) on the priming wire at the top of the igniter could be difficult for cold and wet hands, so soldiers were issued with a wrist lanyard (insets above, diagram below) with a snap hook to pull the wire, and the countdown would begin. There was no requirement for a detonator.
And here’s an example of a loop, although this fuse is not a fuse for the Model 1913. Actually this is not a fuse for a grenade at all, although it could be, and was, used to detonate them. I will explain all in a later post. Back to the Model 1913.
The Kugelhandgranate Model 1913 proved quite successful during the early months of the war, particularly as its igniter was designed to be impervious to changes in humidity, a common problem, it seems, with earlier grenades.
The igniter designed to be used with the Model 1913, on the left, was designated the Mle. 1913. On the right, the zinc-alloy Mle.1915 igniter, designed for use with the Kugelhandgranate Model 1915 that would replace the Model 1913 in 1915, but either igniter was interchangable. This Mle.1915, you will notice, has done its deadly work.
There were a few small variations to the Model 1913, a ‘Na’ version featuring a much smoother body, easier to manufacture but it seems less effective, as I don’t think too many were made, but it was not long before the Model 13 was replaced by the Model 15, which we shall look at next time.