The Rifle Grenade Part One (or Italian Grenades of the Great War Part Six) – The Benaglia Rifle Grenade

I am not a serious collector of rifle grenades, but bearing in mind the recent post on Grenade Throwers & Launchers, a couple of basic posts on rifle grenades might not go amiss, illustrated by a few examples that I do happen to own. 

This is the Italian Benaglia rifle grenade, actually a rod grenade, there being different ways of launching a grenade from a rifle.  The rod grenade was patented by an Englishman named Frederick Martin Hale, an employee of the Cotton Powder Company at Faversham in Kent, in November 1909,…

…and these are the original diagrams from his patent application from the previous year.  The following extract from the accompanying text explains the basics; ‘The object of this invention is to construct an explosive grenade which is provided with a rod which fits the barrel of a service rifle, carbine or other type of small arm, and is propelled therefrom in any desired direction by the firing of a cartridge.’

And, theoretically, this all sounds fine.

Unfortunately, in practice, the rod grenade turned out to be an impractical weapon of dubious accuracy that caused stress on the rifle barrel, and which soon necessitated special rifles dedicated to the role, an additional cost hardly envisaged when they were introduced.

So here’s how to use a rod grenade: Insert the rod of the grenade into the barrel of the rifle, and a blank cartridge in the chamber*, place the butt of the rifle on the ground and, holding the rifle barrel with one hand, remove the safety pin, if there is one, from the grenade with the other hand.

*use a live round, and the whole thing, rifle & grenade, is likely to explode, and you along with it.  Hence my use of the word ‘impractical’.

With the same hand then find the rifle’s trigger and fire.  And my best advice would be to do this pretty damned quickly, because you have the length of the delay on the grenade’s fuse to fire it and get it to its target before it explodes.  Nevertheless, once the concept was introduced, all the major combatant powers leapt on the bandwagon and introduced their own models.  These are Austro-Hungarian troops with Zeitzünder rifle grenades as well as, in the background on the right, Ball Rohr hand grenades.

And, inevitably, various contraptions would soon appear, to make firing easier and safer, and to improve accuracy.  Essentially metal tripods attached to wooden footplates which allowed height and direction to be adjusted, these soldiers are using the first of these devices introduced into the German Army,…

…the Schießgestell – shooting frame – Model 1913, on to which a Mauser (1895 or 1898 versions) rifle was clamped, using the two clamping screws (Klemmschrauben).

This method was superseded by the Schießgestell Model 1915, seen in diagram form above, and in action below,…

…an altogether more sophisticated device, equipped with a spring (Spiralfeder) to absorb the recoil (clearly visible in both shots; the soldier in the foreground on the left has his right hand on the Spiralfeder).  According to the Ladybird Book of the Schießgestell, a 50° angle was best for firing, hence the raised Schießgestellen in the left picture, recessed in the wall of the trench; the men in the right picture are, very sensibly in their case, ignoring the book entirely.

So, back to the Benaglia, a cast iron grenade designed to be fired from the Carcano M1891 rifle and introduced into the Italian Army in 1916.

Several variants of this grenade were used during the second half of the war, although the two that you are most likely to come across are shown in this diagram.  The most common version, with metal fins attached, is seen here on the left, and the Gussi variant, the fins replaced by a wooden plug (Tappo in legno), is seen centre right.  Differences between versions included the loading screw (Vite caricamento) on the shoulder of the grenade – the earliest examples featured two screws (top right), later examples just a single one (left), and if you look at the transport caps (Tappo a vite), the one on the left, shaded in blue, was convex in shape, and that of the Gussi, shaded in green, slightly concave,…

…as in my example, with its two screw caps.

The transport cap is actually made of Zamak, a zinc-aluminium alloy, Zamak being an acronym of the German words for zinc (zink), aluminium, magnesium & copper (kupfer).

Removing the cap would allow the firing mechanism and fuse, deconstructed in the inset, to be placed in the head of the grenade.  Frankly, I am not going into the details of the working parts on this occasion, because really all you really need to know is that, being a percussion grenade, it needed to land on its head in order to work correctly (hence those attached metal fins), but at least it was reasonably safe to fire.

Many examples of this grenade have a deeper fragmentation pattern than mine, which appears almost eroded, like a pebble on the beach, although this sharp join along the side may simply suggest how cheap and cheerful the manufacture, at least of this particular example, actually was.

I have no idea what the optimum length of a rod might be – presumably their length was dependent on the weight of the grenade – but I do know that the length of the rod could vary from the short rod, just seven inches long, of the Benaglia,…

…to the long rod of the Austrian Universal Grenade (rifle grenade version), a full twenty eight inches in length…

…that I showed you in detail in a previous post,…

…or what we’ll call the medium-length rod of the German Karabingranate M1914 (above & below).

And that will do for rod grenades.  Another way of firing a grenade from a rifle, this time without the need for a rod, involved fixing a cup, to hold a small grenade, on the end of the rifle, and this method would revolutionise the whole concept of rifle grenades, as we shall see next post.

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2 Responses to The Rifle Grenade Part One (or Italian Grenades of the Great War Part Six) – The Benaglia Rifle Grenade

  1. Nick Kilner says:

    Excellent post M! Love the diagrams

    • Magicfingers says:

      Thanks mate. Fascinating diagrams, I agree. And thanks once again, btw, for the little book – much appreciated; it has a good home now.

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