The Hand Grenade, according to Ian Skennerton's An Introduction to British Grenades, can trace their origins to at least the 15th Century. Mention is made of them in many European battles in the 1500s and 1600s, but "seem to have disappeared from the battlefields" by 1760. Skennerton surmises that because warfare had changed in nature from a series of defensive actions to one of movement, particularly the Napoleonic Wars of the early 1800s, there may have been little use for them.
While the rifle grenade is remembered today as an invention of the First World War, English muskets in the late 1600s were actually modified to become grenade projectors and may have been produced up until the late 1800s. It was not until the Russo-Japanese War (February 1904 - September 1905) that the "renaissance" of the grenade was to occur. Following successful use of modernized hand grenades in this conflict, many nations followed suit with their own testing of these weapons.
The No. 1 Hand Grenade was introduced into British service in 1908. After the outbreak of war in 1914, and by the time the war ended in November 1918, the number of grenade types in service in the British Army numbered more than 60, including all types (Numbers) and variations (Marks). Canadian soldiers were issued with many different models of British grenades as arms and ammunition began to be standardized in 1915 for the Canadian Division and the other divisions that followed it to create the Canadian Corps.
By 1939, there were 66 separate grenade types on the books (many with several variations), and the increased demands of mechanized warfare led to the creation of even more types - with Numbers 67 to 89 being produced during the war. Again, Canadians equipped themselves with British style grenades.
After the Second World War, the Canadian Army planned officially to re-equip with all-American weapons, unfortunately, the Korean War interrupted these plans and so Canadian soldiers once again went into combat with British-designed weapons and ammunition. Following the Korean War, a trend developed slowly of adopting proven American designed weapons and ammunition, and eventually supplanting much of this with weapons and ammunition of Canadian design and/or manufacture.
First World War
Soldiers in the trenches in 1915 did not have factory made hand grenades in large numbers, and improvised devices were by putting gun-cotton and scrap metal in empty jam tims. "Jampots" were crude; Desmond Morton describes one method of making them in When Your Number's Up:
Private W.S. Lighthall of the Royal Canadian Dragoons was taught to empty the jam tin, line it with burlap and an inner lining of mud. "Insert old nails and broken metal, centre a primer of gun cotton and make a small hole for the copper detonator and a short length of fuse. Cramp (sic) the copper with your teeth (dangerous). Apply more mud to hold the fuse in position, tie burlap around the fuse, light it with a cigarette, and wait five seconds for the explosion, preferably at a distance."
It didn't take long for the Mills Bomb to make its way to the trenches (by 1916, seventy-five million Mills Bombs had been produced). With a self-contained fuse that required no external ignition device, all one had to do was pull the safety pin and throw. Nonetheless, infantry battalions formed specialized platoons - grenadiers were called "bombers" - and these specialists were given 78 hours of training which included drill and bayonet training - "until the staff learned that almost anyone could learn to use them."
Bombing section of the 8th Battalion (Winnipeg's "Little Black Devils"), photographed in May 1916. LAC photo.
Even late in the war, soldiers were taught the elaborate routine of throwing grenades that would bear little resemblance to real practice. Tom Dinesen - who won the Victoria Cross with the 42nd Battalion (Royal Highlanders of Canada), wrote after the war that the training was useless, and they were
...taught exceedingly carefully how to stand in a strange, theoretical position, left foot forward, body curved backwards; right arm pretending to hold the grenade at backward stretch; right foot at right angles to the given direction; then raise left arm; aim just above the knuckle of forefinger; swing right arm, stretched, in circular motion across shoulder, stretch right knee, bend left knee etc. etc.
Rifle grenades were also revived; the No. 23 Mills bomb was mounted on a steel rod and discharged from the rifle by firing a blank cartridge. The device was not popular nor particularly successful; accuracy was hard to achieve and the extra pressure caused by the device would cause rifle barrels to burst. During 1917, infantry platoons were organized into four sections; one consisting of bombers, another of rifle grenades (the other two were a rifle section and a Lewis Gun section). The organization would change again in 1918, as the grenade ceased to be a "specialist" weapon.
Second World War
The Second World War saw widespread use of the 36M Hand Grenade - often incorrectly dubbed the "Mills Bomb", but used universally in all theatres of war (and would be used again in Korea and in fact remain on inventory into the 1970s).
Other types of grenades were introduced during the war and show the changes and altered threats to soldiers in modern warfare. Infantrymen now had to be able to provide smoke cover to hide from enemy automatic weapons, and be able to deal with enemy armoured vehicles which were mechanically reliable and sometimes present on the battlefield in great numbers and at close ranges. New grenade types also allowed the infantryman to call for air support or signal tactical movements by the use of coloured smoke.
David Gordon lists the main grenade types developed in the Second World War in his book Weapons of the WWII Tommy as follows:
1976 Grenade Manual
WEAPONS VOLUME 5 - GRENADES AND PYROTECHNICS (Canadian Forces Publication B-GL-317-005/PT-001) 9 Feb 1976 lists the major types of grenades in use, or planned for use, in the Canadian Forces in the mid 1970s, many of which continued in use to 1999 and beyond. Specific characteristics of these grenades are mentioned on other pages of the Weapons section. Additionally, other devices - specifically pyrotechnics, trip flares and smoke pots - are described in this manual and information regarding them is also reproduced on this website.
The introductory notes to this manual are paraphrased here in part:
Grenades were items of explosive or chemical ammunition used for attacking enemy troops, vehicles or fortified positions at close range. They were usually hand thrown (handgrenades) but some types were also launched from rifles (rifle-grenades). Most varieties of hand-grenades were cheap and easy to manufacture and could be used effectively by troops with little training. The grenade manual advised that "Despite the trend of modern technology to develop ever more complicated weapons, the simple hand-grenade remains a valuable infantry weapon."
Grenades were designed primarily to be thrown and therefore were small in size. The shape of the grenade varied with the type and purpose. For example a fragmentation grenade was usually oval in shape in order that the shrapnel would cover a given area with equal density when the grenade exploded. Smoke and chemical grenades, however, were usually larger than fragmentation grenades, and cylindrical in shape in order to contain a relatively large volume of smoke-producing chemical filler.
Most grenades were fitted with a safety lever and safety pin. The pin held the lever in the "safe" position and when the pin was pulled and the lever was released the grenade became "armed". Fragmentation grenades had a "delay" fuze which burned for a specific period of normally a few seconds before exploding a detonator. The explosion of the detonator set off the main explosive charge scattering shrapnel in the immediate area. Smoke and chemical grenades were also equipped with "delay" fuzes which burned for a few seconds before exploding a detonator and starting the production of the smoke or chemical agent. Most grenades were issued with the fuze and primer already in place; unlike the earlier M36 grenades, for example, which had to be manually fitted with a fuze by the soldiers in the field.
The types of grenades in use in
the Canadian Forces at this time were, in part as listed and illustrated
Pyrotechnics were used in the Canadian Forces for both operational and training purposes to produce smoke, battlefield illumination, signals, and battlefield noises, and were very similar to civilian fireworks in design and operation.
Trip flares were designed to provide warning and disclose the location of night infiltration by hostile forces. When a wire attached to the flare was pulled or tripped, the flare ignited and lit up the surrounding area. They were not intended as a substitute for normal vigilance and alertness at night but when properly used would give added warning to a defender and increased visibility.