Many of the early hand grenades in use during the first few months of the war, across all the combatant nations, were improvised explosive devices, tins full of bits of metal or anything likely to cause damage, often attached to handles for easier throwing. The Austro-Hungarian Army was no different, but by the spring of 1915, these improvised hand grenades were being replaced by not only the German Stielhandgranate, which the Austrians soon began importing in large quantities, but by other Austrian-manufactured stick grenades, and in particular the Rohr hand grenade.
The Rohr hand grenade was a cast-iron cylinder concussion grenade, filled with explosive, and generally attached to a cardboard handle, again as opposed to the German Stielhandgranate with its wooden stick. I say generally because some photos I have seen appear to be Rohr grenades with wooden sticks, so I wouldn’t rule that out completely. Nonetheless, because the handles were generally made of cardboard, you simply don’t find many around today, although there are some marvellous replicas, if that is your thing.
The ignition system was similar to the German Stielhandgranate, with a seven-second delay fuse, and, other than the Stielhandgranate, the Rohr grenade would become the standard Austro-Hungarian grenade of the Great War.
This example, however, is no replica.
This is a rare example of the real thing, and you can either trust me on that, or spot the clues.
Austrian soldier demonstrating how to throw a Rohr from both standing and kneeling positions – look closely at the ammunition bag around the soldiers’ neck in the picture on the right, and you’ll spot the outline of a Ball Rohr grenade inside.
The head of the grenade was a cast-iron cylinder, considerably thicker than the German Stielhenadgranate, filled with explosive, and designed to kill through concussion. My two examples show slight manufacturing variations in the positioning of the belt handle.
The ignition system was similar to the German Stielhandgranate, with a seven-and-a-half second delay fuse, and the instructions for use were printed on the label handily stuck to the cardboard handle,…
…here seen with cap removed. Note the construction of the tube with a vertical joint, unlike, for example, a modern toilet roll, which you might well find on a ‘replica’. The example shown in the inset, actually the twin to mine, although they are now forever separated, shows some of the inner workings and the ring pull, exposed when the cap is removed.
The cap appears to be simply leather and canvas,…
…much like the examples in this photograph, the labels on the grenade handles also clear to see.
Bemedalled Austro-Hungarian stormtroops, three with neat moustaches, most with German Steilhandgranates (or Austrian copies of German Steilhandgranates),…
…of various sorts, as on the left here, but one, seen here on the right, patriotically packing Austrian Rohrs, although these are apparently labelless (mind you, looking at this particular soldier in the previous shot, I suspect that he, along with his mates, probably knows what he’s doing, and the labels are very, um, white. Not good on a raid, I wouldn’t think). Note the caps at the end of the Rohr grenade handles once again, like mine far more Heath-Robinson than the metal caps of the German grenades on the left.
In essence, the Rohr grenade was a cheap version of the German Stielhandgranate, as this shot comparing the Rohr with a German example from 1916 (which, by the by, we shall be looking at in-depth at some time in the future) shows. And that was exactly the point.
Austrian soldiers pose with Rohr grenades, although the soldier on the right, who is wearing, incidentally, what was known as a Berndorfer helmet, might consider removing the cap from the base of the grenade handle so that he can access the ring pull before he throws. As I said, posing.