Italian Grenades of the Great War Part Five – The Excelsior-Thévenot P2 Hand Grenade

Allow me to introduce you to the Excelsior-Thévenot P2 hand grenade. 

Hang on a minute.  Thévenot?  Isn’t this supposed to be about Italian hand grenades, because that sounds more than a bit French to me?

Which of course it is.  The grenade was designed by a Frenchman, one François Thévenot, no less, and after its introduction into the French Army in 1915, it was soon being made, under licence, I presume, in Italy for the Italian Army.  Several Italian factories began manufacturing the grenade resulting in, as is so often the case, a number of variants, but there were two main versions; my example in the main photo, and a rifle grenade version, essentially the same grenade head with a rod and tube replacing the stick, as seen in the black & white inset above (there would also be a Thévenot Launcher, actually a 86mm mortar, which could fire, among other things, incendiary Thévenots).

The Thévenot was based on the Aasen grenade that I told you about in a recent post, as the diagrams of the Aasen Type C above show; the lower photograph shows a variety of Aasens, including a rifle grenade (far right), in case I have lead you to believe that there was just the single type.  Aasens too, as the diagram centre left shows, could be fired from launchers (‘Peinte en gris foncé’, incidentally, means ‘painted dark grey’).

One for our French speakers, I think.  Perhaps one will translate it?  Oh no they won’t!  Oh yes they will……

Early use of helmets, protective armour, and what looks like a Great War version of a stab vest, the French soldiers’ equipment on the left including eight Aasen grenades (the two men in the centre and on the right – brothers, maybe?).  On the right, Italians, the man in the centre holding a Thévenot in either hand.

Anyway, this isn’t an Aasen, this is a Thévenot, and it’s an Italian version, because I know pretty accurately from whence it came; the wooden handle’s preservation, despite a certain amount of shrinkage, is thanks to the glacial lakes of the Alpine Front.  Anyway, both Aasen & Thévenot being percussion grenades,…

…the main obvious difference between the two,…

…note the hole in the screw for the safety pin, by the way,…

…is the sprung propeller demonstrated above,…

…pictured here detached from the grenade, spring clear to see,…

…and detailed here on the right (‘Elica metallica’ means metal propeller, ‘Molla’ means spring, and also note the ‘Coppiglia di sicurezza’ – safety pin, running through the screw).  And if it all looks a bit complicated, the bottom line is, being a percussion grenade, it needed to land on its head to detonate, and in order to help it do so, the grenade featured an attached parachute (‘Paracadute’), as seen in both the diagram and the black & white inset photo which sports, surely, a modern replica ‘paracadute’ (and is why the Italians referred to the Thévenot as the Ballerina – more later).  My guess is that this was a reasonably safe grenade to use, although much more expensive to produce than other French grenades like the Citron that would soon be making an appearance.  On removing the safety pin the grenade could be thrown, all the working parts operating once in flight.  The propeller would spin as the grenade arced through the air, the attached screw simultaneously screwing into the head of the grenade until the propeller spring touched the head of the grenade, where it would stay until the grenade landed, at which point the spring would depress (demonstrated earlier by yours truly), pushing the far end of the screw within the grenade into the mercury fulminate capsule & detonator (see diagram – work it out!), resulting in an explosion.  Much rested on hurling the grenade far enough; too short a throw and the screw would not have had time to depress far enough (I have read that three full 360° turns were required), and on impact would not reach the detonator to fire it.

Now it so happens that I also have this fragmented Thévenot relic (most likely a French version, but there is really no way of telling that I know of),…

…which enables me to show you the one-centimetre thick sheet metal casing, devoid of any fragmentation lines within or without, which might explain why this example simply split in two on detonation.  The capsule & detonator would have been at the end of the central tube, the rest filled with just under three ounces of explosive.

The handle once covered the seam (left), the centre photograph shows evidence that when the grenade split into two pieces this whole section hit something very hard indeed (the nut at the top is also completely sheared in two), and the picture on the right shows that, sneakily, the inside of the casing was a mixture of steel fragments fixed with rosin, for maiximum killing effect.

And you can compare all that with my other version, handle removed on the right, and sheet metal casing still in decent condition.

Photographs of these grenades in action are few and far between.  This picture shows a French Poilu using a Thévenot in a defensive situation from a trench,…

…and here, on the left, an Italian soldier does likewise.  On the right, two Italians with three Thévenots between them, the parachutes clear to see, as is the slight difference in the shape of the head of the grenade in the belt of the soldier on the right when compared to those of his colleague – as with many grenades, Thévenots were made by different manufacturers and thus there were several varieties with slightly different head shapes.  Nonetheless, the propeller identifies these as Thévenots.

And finally, why did the Italians refer to the Thévenot as the Ballerina?  This extremely odd Italian Easter (‘Pasqua’) card, printed in 1919, featuring two types of hand grenade, the Ballerina and the S.I.P.E. that I showed you recently, perhaps explains. The text, translated literally, says, ‘Through the slit the leg will show the dancer in the dance, and the SIPE full of sugared almonds will offer themselves to the boys for Easter.’  Er, no thanks……

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2 Responses to Italian Grenades of the Great War Part Five – The Excelsior-Thévenot P2 Hand Grenade

  1. ALAN says:

    Sounds far too complicated to me. Pull the pin chuck it and duck snd hope it doesn’t come back sounds much simpler

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