Friday, January 20, 2012


Revisiting the Rifle Grenade

Modern MECAR M200 HEDP(High Explosive Dual Purpose) bullet-trap rifle grenade.

Although in existence since the First World War, the concept and use of the rifle grenade never really caught on in American military circles. Simply put, the rifle grenade uses a grenade projectile fired from a rifle to a distance far beyond throwing range.

I suspect a major portion of the reason the rifle grenade never caught on in the U.S. Army was the lack of meaningful training. “Weapons familiarization” involved firing a single inert grenade in basic training. Soldiers were hazed with tales of how bad the recoil would be long before they fired it, so many were actually afraid to shoot the damn thing. Talk to veterans of the M1 Garand era and their only impression of the rifle grenade was how, “It kicked like an SOB!”

Another reason was that earlier rifle grenades were pretty darned inconvenient to use. They required a launcher be attached to the muzzle of the rifle, the grenade slipped over the launcher, and a special grenade-launching blank inserted into the chamber to fire it. Needless to say, trying to launch one with a live round was a fast way for the folks back home to collect some GI life insurance. When the US Army landed in North Africa in 1942, every squad still had one bolt-action 1903 Springfield rifle to be used as a grenade launcher.
The Caliber .30 grenade launching cartridge was NOT interchangeable with the standard blank round, which had a wax wad. Note the "star-crimped" nose.

Some post-war Belgian rifle grenades used propulsive rounds that was not star-crimped. FN offered a short and long range launching blank consisting of a standard 7.62x51mm casing with a thin wad sealed with varnish. The short range launching cartridge had 1.70 grams of (unspecified) propellent and the long-range round 3.30 grams. Whatever the type, a special round had to be single-loaded for every grenade.

While launchers were eventually developed for the M1 Garand and M1 carbine, the launcher blank was still a major problem, especially with the Garand’s 8-round enbloc clip. Later, newer weapons like the SKS, M14 and FN FAL required turning the gas plug on and off in addition to all of the above steps.

Lastly, M9A1 HEAT grenade was touted as an anti-tank weapon, a role in which it was not very effective, especially as tank technology and armor protection increased at a frantic rate during WWII. It only remained useful against light armor like halftracks and armored cars.

An interesting aside, the M9A1 rifle grenade was ineffective against tanks, and the M1A1 2.36-inch (66mm) bazooka was also obsolete against German tanks by the end of WWII. In 1950 Soviet-built North Korean T-34-85 tanks rolled right over ROK and American forces armed with the above weapons. There was a mad scramble to get the 3.5-inch (90mm) “Super Bazooka” and the Energa (detailed below) rifle grenade into the hands of the troops to stop such tanks.

Yet after the Korean War, the US Army adopted the LAWS rocket, in 66mm. It proved ineffective against even the light amphibious PT-76 tank in Vietnam.

US Marine on Peleliu firing rifle grenade in indirect role from his M1 Garand.

Back to WWII. Although not a good anti-tank weapon, those GIs and Marines who became good shots with the rifle grenade, (their good training consisting of firing live rounds in combat) found it quite useful for many other purposes.

I was surprised how many references I found to use of the rifle grenade in the War Department study Small Unit Actions, detailing a battle for Santa Maria Infante in the rugged hills of Italy on the night of May 11/12 1944.

“The rest of the 3d Squad opened up on the two German machine guns with everything they had, shooting rifle grenades and throwing hand grenades at the two positions. When the shower of explosives was over, the machine guns were silent…(p131)” “After firing antitank grenades at the machine guns, Sergeant Eddy and his men decided to wait for reinforcements from the 1st Platoon, which was supposed to be following the 2d Platoon (p137)” “Sergeant Eddy's force tossed hand grenades, then shot an antitank grenade that landed in the enemy group, dispersing the Germans and putting an end to the fire fight (ibid)” [After mortars failed to silence a MG nest]….”Captain Nelson grabbed an M-1 rifle from one of his men and fired a grenade point-blank at the machine gun, knocking it out and killing the two gunners.(p138)” “…Pvt. John Rocke fired several rifle grenades. Their efforts or those of adjacent or supporting units must have been effective, for the fire from the nearest gun stopped.(P141)” “Colonel Champeny sent a squad to wipe out the enemy machine gun and Pvt. Harold W. Saager knocked it out with a rifle grenade. (p149)”

The 5th Army’s official “lessons learned” encyclopedia from the Italian Campaign also noted:

“The fragmentation rifle grenade was also very effective, and with a little training soldiers became very accurate in its use. It was used against groups of personnel in the open, against MG positions, and in clearing houses by firing through open doorways and windows. Frequently it was used in conjunction with AT grenades in attacking occupied houses; AT grenades were fired through doors or windows and the rifle grenades fired close to the house to inflict casualties as the occupants came out. The AT grenade was effectively used against armored vehicles, pill boxes, houses, and dug in gun positions. This grenade had a terrific concussion effect as well as penetrating power. In one instance the use of AT grenades broke up a three tank attack on a company position at a time when artillery support was not available. In another instance a light tank was knocked out and the crew killed by' hits from two AT grenades.”

A veteran of the Normandy hedgerow fighting put it this way: "I think what kept me alive was my love for the rifle grenade. I always had them handy. You know those stories about someone attacking a machine gun with hand grenades? I just took them out using my grenade launcher and a rifle grenade...Normally, you were only a couple of hundred yards away from the target and with a lot of practice [emphasis added] the rifle grenades were very accurate."

Doggies and Jarheads in both the ETO and Pacific soon figured out that the projection adapter designed to launch a conventional “pineapple” hand grenade could be readily adapted to instead launch a 60-mm mortar shell for extra punch. It was particularly popular for street fighting. Lobbing a 60mm mortar round through a window generally took out everyone in the room.

Grenade Adapter M1; it's not just for pineapples anymore.

“Use of 60mm Mortar as Rifle Grenade

From the Twelfth Army Group, ETO: “An infantry regiment has found that the 60-mm mortar shell HE may be fired from the M1 rifle by means of the grenade launcher M7 and the fragmentation-grenade projection adapter M1. Six inches of wire per shell and a pair of pliers are the only additional materials needed."

That same adapter could launch a WP (White Phosphorous) grenade in lieu of the pineapple as well. Later, dedicated WP grenades were introduced. Rifle grenades could lay down colored smoke for signaling, regular smoke for screening, or provide immediate night illumination with parachute flares.

Signal Corps personnel in the mountainous Italian campaign converted rifle grenades into grapnel hooks for stringing communication wire across deep ravines or up steep slopes. This adaptation was also used by infantry and engineers to clear areas of tripwire mines and to snare and pull clear barbed wire entanglements while the soldiers remained safely under cover.

With graduated marks on the rifle sling, rifle grenades could also be used for immediate indirect fire in a commando mortar role.

They discovered other little tricks of the trade as well.

“The bazooka and rifle grenade are very effective against enemy dug in along a tree line. A hit above the emplacement on a tree trunk is highly effective.” (Infantry lieutenant, Normandy.)

“Our men like the WP grenade a great deal because they get the Heinies out of their holes. If you hold your rifle at about 30 degrees, you can get air bursts by using the grenade projection adapters. Our men have learned to burst these grenades over the Heinies’ holes, and PWs say they really hate it.” (G-3, 29th Inf, France.)

GI in the ETO firing the M19A1White Phosphorous rifle grenade from the short-ranged M1 carbine.

In the post-WWII era, the rifle grenade became popular in Western Europe and elsewhere around the globe, with the most widespread weapon in use the Energa rifle grenade.

R1A1 "Super Energa"

Diameter: 73mm
Length: 14-1/2 inches
Weight: 1.58 pounds
Filling: 12 ounces RDX/Wax 97/3
Penetration: 200mm (7.87 inches) steel armor
Muzzle velocity: 203 fps
Range: 375 meters

Originally manufactured by MECAR of Belgium, the Energa was used by England, Belgium, Switzerland, South Africa and other nations through the end of the 70’s. It was a shaped-charge anti-armor grenade designed to be fired from just about any 7.62x51mm rifle. Some required adapters, but most European armies standardized their flash suppressors to 22mm in diameter so that rifle grenades could be used universally between NATO forces. The Yugoslavian SKS also has a 22mm muzzle, as Tito was one of the few Eastern European leaders able to stand up to Stalin, making his country “non-aligned” with Soviet satellite countries. Despite widespread use of the PRG-7 in the former Soviet Bloc, Poland also produced large numbers of rifle grenades for their riflemen and for export.

The Yugoslavian SKS has a 22mm grenade launching flash suppressor to take standard rifle grenades.

From 7.62x51mm rifle the Energa had a maximum range against area targets of around 350 yards and could penetrate, supposedly, eight inches of steel armor plate. Range against point targets such as the vulnerable areas of a tank, was only 75 yards. The nose fuze itself was actually a tiny shaped charge of its own. Upon impact, it fired off its shaped-charge jet down the hollow interior of the nose cone to strike and set off the booster charge which in turn detonated the filling of RDX High Explosive. A slightly improved version, the R1M1, was as of 2000 still manufactured and used in South Africa.

The Energa's shrapnel effect when used against soft targets was nowhere near as good as a fragmentation grenade, but it was often used as such simply because it was the only thing available. SAS troopers in Aden quickly discovered that an Energa fired into a cave full of rebels damped their enthusiasm with the concussion from the blast alone.

The best, however, was yet to come, since the Energa still required a special grenade launching blank. A new breed of Bullet Trap and Bullet-Through rifle grenades were developed. These could be fired with any rifle round, requiring no single loading of special propulsive cartridges. Thus, the soldier had a handy one-shot explosive weapon with the first round, and was instantly ready to open fire with conventional ammunition as the next round chambered.

Tail assembly tube of MECAR bullet trap rifle grenade before and after firing.

While admittedly a sales pitch, MECAR said of their bullet-trap grenades:

“The low recoil of the 40mm grenades permits their firing from any conventional rifle position or by propping the rifle, mortar like, on the ground. Several 40mm rifle grenades can be readily carried by the rifleman without hindering his freedom of action. As a result, the FRG-RFL-40 N extends the rifleman’s capability to handle the enemy in concentrations or in single combat. It avoids the need for light mortars at a corresponding reduction in logistic load on the platoon and the supply lines while substantially increasing the firepower of the rifle squad.”

The Israelis have been particularly fond of the rifle grenade from the FAL of the 70’s to today. I tend to believe that if the Israelis use something, it must work pretty well. A good example of the bullet-trap grenade is the Israeli BT/AT.

Jerusalem, 1967: Israeli grenadier with BT/AT 52 bullet-trap rifle grenades. Such weapons have been useful in street fighting since WWII.

This rifle grenade has a steel tail unit, inside of which is stacked a series of steel discs designed to collapse in succession, slowing the bullet to a stop while using it and the propellant gases to launch the grenade up to 300 meters. As a safety feature in the event of some malfunction with the discs, a hardened steel alloy bullet deflector shoots the rifle projectile out the side of the tube so that it cannot possibly hit and detonate the warhead. It has an impact fuse which can detonate the main charge of RDX/TNT at angles of as low as 15 degrees.

BT/AT 52
Diameter: 50mm
Length: 15.75 inches
Weight: 1 lb 2 oz
Range: 300 meters

Beruit, 1982. The IDF has gone from FALs to M16s but is still using the same rifle grenade.

The Belgian arms firm of MECAR has been manufacturing and selling a variety of bullet-trap grenades for decades. Their BTU series of 35/40mm bullet-trap rifle grenades are compatible with all the standard 22mm launcher muzzles and have been used by 35 countries around the world. Models include HE, HEAT, smoke, illumination, and CS (tear) gas.

The newest MECAR series is the M200 HEDP (High Explosive Dual Purpose) 35mm rifle grenade. It can be used with either 5.56mm or 7.62mm weapons with the standard 22mm muzzle devices. The shaped charge can penetrate 80mm of rolled homogeneous armor yet when used in the anti-personnel role it has fragmentation comparable to conventional hand grenades.

The French firm of Luchaire also manufactures a variety of similar bullet-trap rifle grenades, against standardized for 22mm flash suppressors. Although in the process of adopting a 40-mm under-barrel grenade launcher like the M203, the British Army purchased a large lot of these as the “RGL” (Rifle Launched Grenade) for use in the First Gulf War.

The Bullet-Thru™ rifle grenade

Fabrique Nationale of Belgium, as in FN of rifle fame, makes a really unique rifle grenade called the Bullet-Thru™. With a telescoping tail, it is pulled out to make the grenade safe, not only separating the firing pin from the detonator but also separating the HE charge from the fragmentation sleeve. When fired, the bullet passes through a polycarbonate plug while retaining enough gases to launch the grenade, and as it is fired, a spring retracts the body and tail back together, arming the weapon. Range from a 7.62x51mm weapon is 400 yards.

FN Bullet-Thru

Diameter: 37mm
Length, collapsed: 7.44 inches
Length, extended: 11.4 inches
Weight: 11.3 ounces
Maximum range (7.62mm rifle): 400 meters
Lethal bursting radius: 10 meters

Polyvalent Grenade

Another extremely clever rifle grenade that combines features wanted since Guadalcanal is the Polyvalent Grenade developed and manufactured by Losfeld of France. The Polyvant combines three weapons into one. It can be used as an offensive hand grenade (blast), a defensive hand grenade (fragmentation), or as an anti-personnel rifle grenade. The pieces include the explosive body, a fragmentation sleeve, and a tail assembly. The nose-mounted fuze has three settings; impact, 5-second fuze, or both.

Three different tail assemblies are made to tailor the Polyvalent Grenade to the particular weapon issued. The F1 tail is intended for use with conventional grenade launching blank cartridges. The F556 is a bullet-trap style for use with 5.56mm (.223) rifles and the heavier, stouter F762 model for 7.62x51mm (.308) rifles.

It was used by France and several other countries until the last 10 years or so. The listed data is for a Polyvalent fitted with the F762 tail assembly.


Length: 14.17in (360mm)
Weight: 1.14 pounds
Muzzle velocity: 310 fps
Range: 225 meters

This is not a completely new idea. German HE rifle grenades of WWII could have the driving band for the rifled spigot grenade launchers removed and be used as a conventional hand grenade. The Japanese had a grenade which could be used in rifle grenade launchers or the 50mm knee mortar and still be used as a hand grenade.


This is another unconventional and very interesting 53mm anti-personnel “rifle grenade” fairly recently developed and manufactured by the Israelis. It doesn’t launch a grenade projectile per se; it blasts out a cloud of flechettes, small, sharp, finned steel darts. The AP-50 shoots a swarm of 160 of these flechettes across a 10-degree arc to an effective range of 50 meters. Such a weapon would be deadly in the jungle, MOUT, night fighting, and other close and dirty situations. It has been referred to as the “Rifle Claymore”.


Another well-liked and often used rifle grenade, in both WWII and Korea, were the parachute flares. The M17A1 illumination round, pictured below, had a powerful thin-cased flare with a folded-up parachute in the nose. A 5-1/2 second fuze ignited a small smokeless powder propelling charge when the grenade was fired. This charge detonated at about 600 feet of altitude, igniting the flare and ejecting it from the thin sheet metal grenade case. The flare burned at 20,000 candlepower and the parachute kept it aloft for up to 30 seconds of illumination.


One other special purpose military grenade that comes in handy is the smoke grenade. Smoke screens are used a great deal by infantry, especially in city street fighting, but the standard smoke grenade cannot be thrown far enough to do more than cover the crossing of a street. Obviously, the smoke rifle grenade can lay down smoke in a great many more places and at longer ranges.

Belgium’s MECAR, originator of the Energa, makes an HC (Hexachlorethane) smoke grenade that lasts for 35 seconds. The manufacturer claims four grenades will cover a 200 meter front. I.M.I. (Israeli Military Industries) makes a similar grenade, and also a red phosphorous round good for 20 seconds. The French Luchaire smoke grenades last around 25 seconds.

VC unpack a shipment of Chinese-made rifle grenades.

A detailed read of ground combat accounts in Vietnam reveals widespread use of the rifle grenade by the VC/NVA.
In addition to normal combat uses, it was also a handy weapon to lob inside of American compounds. Fired with a fairly flat trajectory, it befuddled counter-mortar radars and the shooter would be long gone before any counter-fire could be laid into the location.

Despite the proliferation of dedicated grenade launchers attached to rifles, such as the American M203, Russian GP, and a host of others, the rifle grenade still soldiers on in some militaries around the world.

The Communist Chinese are still cranking out rifle grenades in large numbers. “Reverse-engineered” from the Belgian MECAR grenade, the Chinese Type 90 40-mm rifle grenade is a bullet-trap design which can be used with live ammunition instead of grenade launching blanks. A disposable ladder-type sight, graduated to 260 meters, is attached to the grenade itself. Models of this grenade include an armor piercing anti-tank round, an anti-personnel fragmentation model, a dual-purpose that works for both of the afore-mentioned uses, smoke and incendiary grenades. Being still an infantry-heavy army despite new modern heavier weapons, this adds considerable firepower to the riflemen of the Hordes.

French FAMAS 5.56mm assault rifle with Luchaire grenade and Chinese Type 95 5.8mm assault rifle with Type 90 grenade. A little "reverse-engineering" going on somewhere?

Don't get me wrong. I really like the M203 grenade launcher and consider it a very good weapon. With practice one can become very accurate with a 40mm grenade launcher. I found the 203 to be quite accurate when using the basic foundational skills of regular rifle marksmanship. Long-range indirect work requires getting the "feel" of the weapon as well as aiming. Perhaps it was just my perception, but I found live HE rounds to be much more accurate than the orange "powder puff" training rounds.

But there is the whole one-weapon-per-squad thing with the 203. I certainly don't advocate getting rid of the 203. Keeping the grenadier with the M203 and adding similar capability to every other rifleman would make a difference in gaining fire superiority over the enemy in the first critical minute of an engagement, or break up enemy concentrations later in the battle.

For instance, in Helmand Province Afghanistan in 2006, a platoon of the Royal Gurkha Rifles was pinned down behind a mud wall by a swarm of concentrated small arms and machine gun fire from a more numerous group of dug-in TAQ insurgents. Raising one's head over the wall to return direct fire was a losing proposition. When other groups of jihadists tried to encircle the Gurkhas from both flanks, they were able to break up these attacks as they formed with rifle grenades firing indirectly. The report didn't mention what kind of rifle grenades; I imagine Luchaires or something similar.

All this, of course requires live fire (or dummy fire) practice with either grenade launchers or rifle grenades, just like the rifle. Ah, therein lies the rub. One argument in favor of the rifle grenade is low cost since one can fire dummies all day, retrieving them and shooting them over and over. Getting the Army to spend a day at the range training with any ammunition is another matter. And, once proficiency is achieved, it has to be maintained.

The jihadists have found that the good old RPG-7 rocket propelled grenade pretty ineffective against modern heavy armor. Their solution is swarming, firing simultaneous volleys from several different RPGs concentrated on a single target. The more hits, the more damage done, and the greater the chance for a crucial hit.

Such concentration of fire from multiple weapons is hardly a new concept.

"M1 Grenade Launcher, Private First Class Paul Hogan [no relation to Crocodile Dundee], 30th Inf Div, Normandy: The M1 grenade launcher is really a perfect weapon. We wiped out two armored cars at about 175 yards with one round apiece from four M1's. The hits tore holes 6 to 8 inches in diameter in the sides, killing the men inside. One shell hit a gas tank and the car blew up."

God knows the modern Western infantryman carries waayyyy too much weight already without the addition of another two pounds for two rifle grenades, however. But a swarm concentration of numerous rifle grenades fired at a single target would work the same as an RPG swarm. Not gonna happen, though. Not even if the infantry's weight in other areas was sacrificed, such as dispensing with the large hard-bound volumes of State Department legal interpretations of the laws of war, which, I believe, one must consult before every shot fired.

Perhaps the best use of rifle grenades would be for folks who don't have access to M203s. Hmmm.

For some good information on rifle grenades see:

Combat Reform

Western Rifle Shooters Association


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Steve Jackson said...

While rifle grenades have had a limited go in the United States military, being nearly abandoned after the SPIW research results lead to the 40mm round, they have been key to the success of one military, the French.

The French "discovered" the rifle grenade in WW1. French soldiers, loosing huge numbers of casualties to machine guns and incompetent commanders, developed an innovative method of advancing in the face of enemy fire to take objectives. At the time there were two schools of thought: the élan vital mode favored by the British Army and French commanders like Joffre, and the firepower model developed before the war by the French and abandoned after generals like Joffre read the book "The Creative Revolution." The Germans were the big proponents of firepower, and had equipped their army with machine guns and cannon that matched this tactic.

The war slaughtered the allies and the allied generals staffs were unable to change their tactics for fear of being blamed for the huge casualties of the first months of the war, but in the trenches and supported by a few generals (notably Petain) the infantry themselves figure out a third way to fight. The élan vital model killed lots of soldiers and resulted in no gained objectives. Firepower required that the general staffs purchase and put into place serious technological assets which they were slow to do. The third way was a maneuver and fire system.

The maneuver and fire system had French units developing and carrying light machine guns (like the Chauchat), designated marksman rifles, and short-range explosive throwers - the grenade launcher. Rifle marksmanship in general was less important since most people in the team did not use their rifles that way. The goal was for a light machine gun to disrupt supporting infantry to a machine gun, while one or more snipers fired aimed shots from specially modified rifles at the machine gun. In the meantime grenadiers with rifle grenades would rush forward in small teams until they could take out the opposing machine gun with a rifle grenade.

This proved to be the holy grail of small unit maneuver warfare, and it was developed in 1915 by the French. The Germans are credited with similar developments with their stormtroopers, but they actually captured an French book on the subject that aided their development of these teams.

By WW2 everyone used some type of these tactics.

The French though have consistently used them and planned their weapons systems around them from the ground up. The French MAS 49 and 49/56 was equipped to universally fire rifle grenades and to serve as a sniper rifle with a integral grenade launcher with accurate sights, and a mount for a telescopic sight.

While not having a 40mm GL is a great reason to use rifle grenades their is another reason, and that is versatility and firepower. In a French squad every soldier is trained to be a grenadier. In an emergency every French infantryman can launch a grenade from their rifle with little trouble. Rifle grenades carry more explosives than 40mm grenades and are usually more accurate. Having 9 rifleman rain down grenades on an enemy at the start of an action is a great way to ruin their day, especially since the average French grenade is accurate within its burst radius, something not true for the M203 in combat (the M79 was another story - it was much more accurate).

Great article by the way.

ademar said...

amazing! i hope you help me to find more blogs about blank firing guns.

S O said...

The photo is not a photo of a Polyvalent MDF.
See here
I confirmed this with Jane's Infantry Weapons.

M. D. said...

If you guys want to see the extreme of rifle grenades, look up some Yugoslav civil war sources on the topic. Some of their rifle grenades had almost as much explosive filler as their 82mm mortar shells, 600 grams (1.3lb) of explosive filler. Now imagine a platoon of guys launching those every time you challenge them.

Or check out the RAW (riflemans assault weapon) research/prototype from America, a spherical grenade spun so rapidly that gyro effect caused more inherent accuracy in MOA terms than the rifle it was attached to.
Not sure if it passes for a rifle grenade, but you'd have to be crazy not to want that kind of compact and capable firepower!

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