WW II German Infantry Anti-Tank Weapons
Page 9: Hand Grenades & Related Anti Tank Devices
One of the most primitive, easily ad-hoc manufacturable yet early in the war rather effective AT devices was what has become known as the Molotov cocktail or simply the Molotov. This is essentially a regular glass bottle filled with highly flammable liquid, plugged by a cloth drenched with flammable liquid and set afire before throwing the weapon. Upon impact, the bottle breaks and the contained liquid is ignited from the cloth and the burning fuel is sprayed over the target. Although all combinations of flammable liquids essentially work for this kind of fire bomb, it is preferred to use a mixture of a longer lasting and more intensely burning ingredient such as oil or tar that will also stick to the target better, and a more volatile ingredient such as gasoline that will ensure ignition of the mixture upon impact. The name Molotov is related to the known russian foreign secretary of the 1930ies. Molotov's are still widely used as a weapon of terrorists, guerilla forces and revolting citizen since the means necessary to build them are easy to obtain; almost daily they can be seen in the news used by violent demonstrators everywhere in the world.
Molotov's were used to quite some success by the fins in the Winter War against isolated russian tanks. Naturally, the effectiveness of these weapons deteriorated against the newer tank designs late in the war; the problems are the same encountered with using flamethrowers against tanks: the flaming liquid needs to ooze into the vulnerable interior of the tank or heat up exposed fuel or ammunition to cook it off. The newer tanks sometimes addressed these vulnerable aspects by an increased overall armor and special air venting and other means to protect the engines from being attacked with Molotov - type weapons.
Although the german forces like any other, especially the russian, forces made up their own ad-hoc Molotov weapons of glass bottles filled with flammable liquids, the germans also standardised this weapon and factory - mass-produced them in large quantities.
The first such weapon was the Brandflasche ("flame/incendiary bottle"). It was a glass bottle that was 25cm high and had a diameter of 7cm. It was filled with one third of the same flaming liquid that was also used by the flamethrowers and called Flammöl ("flame oil") and two thirds gasoline.
The other Molotov - weapon was the Brandhandgranate 48/57 ("flame/incendiary hand grenade"). It was a glass container of 10cm height and 8cm diameter. It contained 0.5 liters of a mixture of gasoline fuel and benzole.
Handgrenades are often used against tanks, usually not due to any special AT capability of these weapons but because of their availability. Although a regular handgrenade could not kill a healthy full-grown tank it might damage it esp. immobilize it with a lucky explosion in the track. But there were also special AT handgrenades dedicated to fight armor.
The most famous german hand grenade is probably the Stielhandgranate 24 ("stick hand grenade"), often referred to as the stick grenade or the potato masher by allied soldiers. The grenade's time fuse was activated by unscrewing the bottom and pulling the Abreisszünder ("rip detonator") safety cord (see picture at right). It weighed 480g, had an overall length of 35.6cm and had a warhead with a length of 7.5 cm and a diameter of 6cm that contained 165g of explosives (different explosives were used over the course of the war).
The cylindrical warhead was also available as a hand grenade without the stick under the designation Handgranate 43. This cylindrical warhead could be used for other purposes: combined with a pressure-activated trigger they served as mines.
Several Handgranate 43 warheads could also be combined with a Stielhandgranate to make a large explosive grenade bundle. This combination of one Stielhandgranate 24 with 6 of the same warheads without the stick was very popular and often referred to as the "Geballte Ladung" ("forceful/big charge") by the troops although this designation is rather colloquial and was actually semi-officially in use for an engineer weapon. The complete weapon combination looked like a flower with the grenade stick of the central Stielhandgranate as the stalk and the Hd.Gr.43 warheads surrounding it like petals (see sketch at right). It was often used as an improvised makeshift AT weapon.
To increase the shrapnel effect (the handgrenades had a very thin metal skin and were intended to rely on blast rather than fragmentation) later the Splitterringe ("shrapnel rings"; see picture of Panzerfaust 150) could be attached to the cylindrical warhead; use of these shrapnel rings was copied from the russians who used this method for their RGD 33 hand grenades.
Of both the Stielhandgranate 42 and the Handgranate 43 together a total of 81 Mio. were produced before and during the war.
A smaller handgrenade was the Eihandgranate 39 ("egg hand grenade"). It weighed only 230g and contained 112g of explosives; it's small size reduced the lethality of the weapon but greatly improved handling and conveniant stowage. Having a length of 7.6cm and a diameter of 6cm, a total of 84 Mio. Ei-Hdgr. 39 were produced beginning in early 1940.
Later in the war due to shortages Eihandgranaten were manufactured of concrete (with scrap metal pieces in the cast) instead of metal. Because these concrete egg grenades had problems with the concrete becoming brittle, another solution was found: the Volkshandgranate 45 ("people's hand grenade"). It was basically a cardboard can with a diameter of 5cm and a height of 7cm filled with a mixture of 70g concrete, 75g gravel and 350g scrap metal pieces, with a core made of only 36g of explosive (due to shortages). The can was closed with a sheet metal lid with the same Abreisszünder rip-cord used on the Stielhandgranate. The company Preussag in Rudersdorf produced 784,200 beginning in January 1945.
Shortages in critical raw material had also led to the development of
the Behelfshandgranate ("makeshift hand grenade"), which
was introduced in March 1943. It weighed 550g and consisted of a concrete
pot with a length of 9cm and a diameter of 7cm, into which the explosive
(Bohrpatrone 28 explosive cartridge) and a wooden stick were cast.
An invention that was not really a normal handgrenade but shall be mentioned here as a rather interesting idea were the so-called Detonierende Pulverscheibe ("detonating powder disc"), often abbreviated as DPS and later designated by the army as Scheibenhandgranaten ("disc hand grenades") were discs maufactured from Nipolite. Nipolite was a newly invented explosive that didn't require a casing and was easy to manufacture. They were intended as AT devices: the discs had a diameter of 8cm and were only 1.6cm thick. they were to be inserted into the observation slits of tanks. The discs weighed 125g of which 87g were explosive. Several discs could be combined to increase effect. The company WASAG also developed a version of their invention to be used against bunkers and fortified positions which weighed 1kg of which 450g were a combination a Nipolite and phosphor. However, a production of these close-range AT weapons has probably not started since other means of fighting armor such as the Panzerfaust had been developed in the meantime.
The Rollbomben ("roll bombs") weapons are closely related
to the Handgranaten, although they carried a considerably bigger punch.
The smallest model weighed 1kg and contained 700g of explosive; bigger
models contained 3 and 3.5kg of explosives respectively. A monster in this
family was the Rollbombe 30kg, It was a large ball of 30cm diameter
and weighing 30kg made of reinforced concrete with 4kg of scrap metal pieces
cast in that contained 5.5kg of explosives. It's detonation reportedly
was of spectacular effect.
Nevertheless, the Rollbomben never grew beyond being a rather odd weapon and weren't too numerous.
Nebelhandgranaten & Blendkörper
Nebelhandgranaten ("smoke hand grenades") could be used to mask and protect from enemy fire. The first pre- and early war model was the Nebelhandgranate 39. It weighed 720g and resembled the Stielhandgranate 24 in outward appearance. The warhead however here contained 420g of a mixture of zinc powder and hexachlorethane which produced a smoke cloud upon detonation. An improved successor model, the Nebelhandgranate 41, was a can (6.6cm diameter; 7.3cm length) without the stick and weighed 530g, which included 440g of the same smoke mixture used in its predecessor.
7,393,200 Nebelhandgranaten were produced during WW II (plus 65,100 from pre-war production) until production was switched over in 1943 to the Nebeleihandgranate ("smoke egg hand grenade"). The latter had a diameter of 6cm and a length of 13.5cm. A total of 1,835,500 were produced until the end of the war.
A closely related weapon family to the Nebelhandgranaten were
the Blendkörper ("blinding devices"), although the
latter were intended as a designated AT weapon. Introduced in 1943, the
first model Blendkörper 1 H or BK 1H weighed 370g and
was a little unwieldy at a diameter of 6cm and a length of 15cm. Therefore,
after 225,200 BK 1H production was switched over to the second model,
the BK 2H. This was a glass bottle with a length of 12.8cm. It contained
290g of a mixture of calcium chloride / titan tetrachloride / siliciumterachloride
which were separated from each other with by a disc. The whole device weighed
The idea behind the Blendkörper was that when thrown, the explosion blinded the crews of enemy tanks. Then, the ensuing smoke cloud with irritant was to make the crew exit their vehicle. Despite appearing to be a bizarre weapon, the Blendkörper were rather common in use. 5,142,800 of the BK 2H were produced and practically all were used up until the end of the war.
The first special AT hand grenade was the Panzerhandgranate 41.
It weighed 2kg and was effective against armor of up to 30mm thickness.
504,600 were produced in early 1943. Further developments of AT handgrenades
utilising shaped charges had
trouble stabilizing the flight which was necessary for the shaped charge
to work (this lead to the development of the Panzerwurfmine).
The SS-weapon's academy then invented the HL-Handgranate that was also often referred to as the SS-HL-Handgranate to denominate it's inventor (see pictures at left and right). It had a length of 19cm, weighed 420g including the shaped charge of 210g and had a diameter of 7.2 cm. It's front consisted of a felt disc which was 6mm thick and drenched with glue. The idea was to run up to the tank and stick the grenade onto the armor. This method to attach the AT grenade to the tank proved to be less practical than intended, the weapon proved rather unsuccessful and unpopular, therefore further developments centered around the Hafthohlladung which seemed more promising.
Another way conceived to fight the armor with hand grenades was the use of a Motorstopmittel ("engine stop agent"). A handgrenade was filled with fine powder - Stopsand - that was to be sucked into the tank's engine. It was obvious that the weapon would be useless if appropriate air intake filters were installed on the tanks.
The next filling was to consist of an agent that was to produce flakes and therewith completely clog up the air filters. The idea worked - but only on smaller vehicles with small filters. The last idea for a filling was ozone. Brought into the engine it would have decreased the fuel's octane level and thereby deteriorate combustion. In trials the engines coughed and sputtered but kept running.
The whole Motorstoppmittel-Handgranate project was abandoned early 1943.
A very limited prototype series was built of the small Haftkörper
("attaching device") devices. These were small sticky attachment
devices that could be combined with different "warheads", or
rather cannisters, such as the Motorstoppmittel described above or with
incendiary - type cans containing flammable liquid.The small attachment
devices weighed 0.5kg, they were considered an unfeasible idea and the
program was stopped again rather quick.
Because of the problems to stabilize the dedicated anti-tank grenades for flight - the shaped charge needed to be pointed straight at the armor to work efficiently - the Panzerwurfmine ("tank throw mine") or PWM (L) (L for "lang" = "long") was developed by the Luftwaffe weapon's bureau (the Luftwaffe also contained ground forces in the form of it's field units and the paratroopers).
The weapon weighed 1.36kg, had a length of 53.3cm and used a stabilizing assembly of four fins made of canvas at it's rear. It was introduced into service in May of 1943 but proved rather impractical. Still, 203,800 were produced in 1943.
It's successor model was the Panzerwurfmine Kz (Kz = kurz ("short")) that weighed only 1 kg. Flight stabilization now was achieved by a long canvas strip that rolled out when the weapon was thrown and extended from it's rear. The warhead had a diameter of 11.4 cm and carried a shaped charge of 500g that had an armor penetration of 150mm.
Panzerhandmine / Hafthohlladung
Small early trials with Panzerhandminen with shaped charges of 300 and 400g did not prove successful. The first usable weapon, the Panzerhandmine 3 or PzHM 3, had a bottle-like shape with a length of 27cm and a diameter of 14cm. Three strong U-magnets were to fix the weapon to steel armor of the tank it was attached onto by daring infantrymen. It carried a shaped charge of 1000g capable of penetrating 130mm of armor. The successor model, the Panzerhandmine 4, was a little bigger and had stronger magnets and an improved penetration performance of 150mm.
First use of the PzHM 3 was in the battles at the Wolchow in russia in May 1942; production and destruction figures are unknown.
The Panzerhandminen were succeeded by the larger weapon family of the Hafthohlladung ("attach hollow charge") which were basically enlarged Panzerhandminen. The single important type, the Hafthohlladung 3, had a shaped charge of 1.5kg that could penetrate 140mm of armor, had a diameter of 15cm; with it's three magnets the weapon was 27.5 cm tall. the complete weapon weighed 3kg; the magnets exerted an attachment force of 45 kg. To arm the weapon, the Sprengkapsel 8 ("detonator cap") detonator and the time fuse had to be inserted into the top. The weapon detonated after 7.5 seconds. The first shaped charges of the HHL 3 were hemispherical; later the shaped charge was improved to a more effective tapered / conical shape of 1.7kg resulting in a total weight of now 3.5kg. 553,900 were produced.
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© 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 created by M.Hofbauer August
29th 1998; document ver. 1.4 mod 150102
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