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U.S. M31 HEAT cutaway

A rifle grenade is a grenade that uses a rifle-based launcher to permit a longer effective range than would be possible if the grenade was thrown by hand. The practice of projecting grenades with rifle-mounted launchers was first widely used during World War I and continues to the present, with the term "rifle grenade" now encompassing many different types of payloads including high explosive, fragmentation, and anti-tank warheads as well as concussion, smoke, incendiary, and flare missiles. Many armies have replaced rifle grenades with dedicated grenade launchers - often attached as an auxiliary weapon on a rifle.

Advantages and disadvantages

Inert blue ENERGA anti-tank rifle grenade and Mills Bomb.

A rifle-grenade compared to a standard hand-grenade:

Advantage Disadvantage
A rifle grenade can be projected to a much greater distance than a hand grenade. A rifle grenade requires a rifle to launch.
A rifle grenade can carry a larger, heavier payload than a hand grenade. A rifle grenade is more complicated to use than a hand grenade.
A rifle grenade can effectively project a shaped charge warhead which can penetrate armor. A rifle grenade is larger and heavier than a hand grenade.
A rifle grenade has the advantage of detonating upon impact. A rifle grenade produces very high levels of recoil when launched from a rifle.
A rifle grenade is more accurate than a hand grenade.

A rifle grenade compared to a dedicated grenade launcher:

Advantage Disadvantage
Rifle grenades can use a variety of different sizes and shapes of warheads and payloads. A rifle grenade will temporarily disable the normal use of the rifle.
Rifle grenades can be projected from any rifle fitted with an appropriate muzzle base or spigot tube fitting. In essence, every soldier armed with a rifle can be a grenadier. A dedicated grenade launcher can be fired from the shoulder without undue discomfort, something not normally possible with a rifle grenade.
The rate of fire for a modern bullet-trap rifle grenade is up to 20 grenades per minute for area suppression. A soldier armed with a dedicated grenade launcher can carry 2 to 3 times more grenade ammo than rifle grenades.
A dedicated grenade launcher is more accurate than a rifle grenade.

A rifle grenade compared to a rocket launcher:

Advantage Disadvantage
Rifle grenades have a curved trajectory. This allows indirect fire against targets in defilade, behind walls and buildings or rooftops. Rocket launchers have a flatter trajectory making them more accurate "point-and-shoot" weapons.
Rifle grenades are much lighter and don't require the user to carry a bulky launcher tube. Rocket launchers generally have more powerful warheads.
Rocket launchers generally have a longer effective range.


Mills bomb N°23 Mk II, with rod for launch by rifle.

Drawing of the Mills N°36 rifle grenade, with its gascheck disk for use with cup-launcher.

A French Mark I V-B rifle grenade and launcher

Rod-Type Rifle Grenade

The rod-type rifle grenade is a standard hand grenade with a metallic rod attached to the base. They were developed prior to World War One. To use:

  • First…Insert the rod-type rifle grenade down the barrel of a standard rifle.
  • Second…Insert a special blank cartridge into the rifle’s chamber.
  • Third…Place the rifle’s butt-stock on the ground.
  • Fourth…While holding the grenade’s safety spoon with one hand, remove the safety pin with the other.
  • Fifth…Place free hand on the rifle’s grip and prepare to fire.
  • Sixth…Release the grenade’s safety spoon, quickly place said hand on the rifle’s fore stock and immediately fire the rifle.

If the soldier does not immediately launch the grenade, it will time out and explode. It was later found that the repeated launching of rod grenades caused damage to a rifle’s barrel and the rod-type rifle grenade fell from favor.

Cup-Type Rifle Grenade

The cup-type launcher replaced the rod-type rifle-grenade during World War One. This soup-can shaped launcher is attached to a rifle's muzzle. The cup-type launcher could launch a standard hand-grenade or a purpose built cup-type grenade. To use…

  • First…Insert a grenade into the cup launcher. When using a standard hand-grenade remove the safety pin, the cup holds the safety-spoon in place until launched.
  • Second…Insert a special blank cartridge into the rifles chamber.
  • Third…Place the butt-stock of the rifle on the ground and fire from this position.

"Shoot-Through" Type Rifle Grenade

The cup-type launcher has the advantage of using standard hand-grenades. However, the need to load a blank cartridge into the rifle’s chamber in order to launch the grenade proved to be clumsy in combat. This difficulty lead to the development the French “Vivien and Bessières” shoot-through grenade (or VB grenade). As the name implies, these grenades allow for the use of live ammunition. The VB grenade has a hole through the middle that permits the passage of a standard bullet; this arms the grenade, the expanding gasses launch the grenade, and the grenade explodes 8 seconds later. This removes the need to provide a special blank round to launch the grenade. To use…

  • First…Insert VB grenade into the cup-type launcher.
  • Second…Place the butt-stock of the rifle on the ground and fire from this position.

Spigot-Type Grenade Launcher

The 22mm type rifle grenade launcher was developed prior to World War Two. This type of launcher is attached to a rifle’s muzzle and allows for the use of a wide range of rifle-grenades, from powerful anti-tank rounds to simple finned tubes with a fragmentation hand-grenade attached to the end. These rifle-grenades come in "standard" type, which are propelled by a blank cartridge inserted into the chamber of the rifle. Or, "bullet trap" and "shoot through" types, which allow the use live ammunition. All modern 22mm rifle-grenade explode on impact. All Standard issue NATO rifles are capable of launching STANAG type 22mm rifle grenades from their integral flash hiders without the use of an adapter. Modern bullet-trap rifle-grenades such as the French APAV40 can be fired as fast as a soldier can place a grenade on an FAMAS rifle’s muzzle and pull the trigger. To use…

  • First…Place 22mm rifle-grenade over the spigot attachment or the rifles flash hider.
  • Second…Aim at target and fire rifle.


The grenade is an ancient weapon, and its revival and adaptation into the rifle grenade began around 1904. The first experiments are credited to a Japanese Colonel Amazawa, who experimented with rifle fired grenades during the Battle of Port Arthur in the Russo-Japanese War, and the idea was further used by the Spanish, though the French were the first to put it to widespread use during the trench warfare of World War I.[1]

In 1907, Martin Hale developed the rod grenade.[2] "A simple rod was attached to a specialized grenade, inserted into the barrel of a standard service rifle and launched using a blank cartridge."[2] The British did not immediately adopt the idea and entered World War I without any rifle grenades.[3] However, as soon as the trench warfare started, there was a sudden need for rifle grenades. The British government purchased a rodded variant of the No 2 grenade as a temporary solution.[3]

By 1915, Hales had developed the No 3, which is commonly known as the Hales rifle grenade.[4] The Hales grenade was improved throughout WWI to make it more reliable and easier to manufacture. However, production of the grenade was slow. In order to speed rod grenades to the front, the British also made rodded versions of the Mills bomb.

Although a simple approach, launching a rod grenade "...placed an extreme amount of stress on the rifle barrel and the rifle itself, resulting in the need to dedicate specific rifles to the grenade launching role, as they quickly became useless as an accurate firearm. This led to the search for an alternative and resulted in the reappearance of the cup launcher during the latter years of World War I."[2] After World War I, the rod-type rifle grenade was declared obsolete and the remaining Hales were replaced with gas-check equipped Mills Bombs shot from a rifle via a cup launcher.

The French grenade, named the V-B grenade after its inventors, Vivien and Bessières, was fired from the standard service rifle with the use of a special adapter and a standard cartridge, providing an effective range of around 175 to 200 yards, while the effective radius of the bursting grenade was 75 yards. The grenade had a hollow through the middle, allowing the bullet to pass through, while the muzzle blast was captured by the launching device and used to propel the grenade. The bullet, after passing through the body of the grenade, struck a small plate that ignited primer. This then lit the fuse in the grenade, providing an eight second delay before detonation. It could be fired from the shoulder, but due to the heavy recoil and poor balance of the rifle fitted with the grenade, it was more common to fire it with the butt of the rifle resting on the ground, and either held at an appropriate angle, or resting on a tripod. The rifle grenade was useful in offense, particularly in attacking sandbag fortified machine gun nests, as well as in defense. Eight men armed with rifle grenades could fire 150 shots in a minute, providing a heavy barrage to break up an attacker's lines.[5][6][7][8]

Upon entering World War I, the United States attempted to adopt the V-B grenade, but this was not very successful. The difference between the French and American service cartridges (8 mm vs. 7.62 mm) meant that the grenade had to be re-designed with a smaller hole, but even this was not sufficient to ensure reliable functioning, due to differences in bullet design. The American bullet would often break apart in the grenade, and this led to the V-B derived grenade design being scrapped in May 1918.[6]

Diagram of a Babbitt rifle grenade, used by the United States in World War I

The next United States attempt at a rifle grenade was to return to and develop an improved rod-grenade. The Babbitt grenade, developed by Colonel E. B. Babbitt of the U. S. Ordnance Department, used a long stem projecting from the rear of the grenade, which was slipped into the barrel of the Springfield 1903 rifle, and propelled with a special blank cartridge. The stem was calibrated with a number of grooves and a split ring, which allowed the user to set the grenade to slide a certain distance into the muzzle of the rifle. With the stem was inserted only part way, the chamber pressure upon firing was reduced, propelling the grenade a shorter distance. When fired at a 45-degree angle, ranges from 50 to 300 yards were possible; with the rifle angled at 80 degrees, ranges as short at 15 yards were possible. In addition to providing the force to propel the grenade, the gases from firing were directed through a hollow in the stem, and provided force to arm the grenade. Once armed, the grenade had a heavy plunger that would detonate the grenade upon impact.[9][10]

Japanese rifle grenade adapter

Japanese Type 91 grenade, w/o tail assembly for spigot launcher

Swiss anti-tank grenade with 22mm launcher (left) and accessories.

French AC58 anti-armour rifle grenade

After World War I, the rifle grenade was steadily modified to increase its effectiveness when launched from the rifle. The Japanese Army continued to experiment with rifle and hand-thrown grenades between the wars, and appear to be the first to have developed the rifle grenade as part of an entire weapons system. As part of this new concept, the Japanese Army adopted a new series of grenades, along with a new type of rifle grenade launcher. Rather than using the old cup-type launcher, like the French V-B grenade, the Japanese rifle grenade launcher was much smaller and lighter, and did not obstruct normal use of the rifle or its sights. Clamped to the muzzle of the rifle, a corresponding hollow-based, finned grenade fitted over the launcher tube, or spigot. The resulting assembly superficially resembled a spigot mortar, and became known in the West as a 'spigot' rifle grenade launcher. These spigot launchers still used special grenade-launching blank cartridges for firing.

Prior to 1932, the Japanese Army had adopted a set of fragmentation grenades with almost universal adaptibility. Introduced in 1931, the Type 91 fragmentation grenade could be thrown by hand, discharged by a lightweight mortar-like projector (the Type 89, or knee mortar), or fitted with a stem and tail fins and fired from a spigot-type launcher as a rifle grenade.[11] As the Type 91 grenade was fitted with a time fuse, it did not explode upon contact, and was designed to ignite its fuse while in flight when fired from the spigot launcher. Instead, a weak creep spring inside the grenade firing mechanism caused the firing pin to be thrown back upon launching, igniting the time fuse. Using this system, Japanese rifle grenades could be launched right through jungle cover or through small openings without the danger of premature detonation in the event the grenade struck an object on its way to the target.[12]

The Italian Army adopted an unusual spigot-type 38.5 mm rifle grenade launcher bolted to the side of a normal Carcano 6.5 mm carbine, the Moschetto di Fanteria Mod. 91/28 con Tromboncino. In use, the rifle's bolt was removed and installed in the spigot launcher. The rifle was placed butt-first against the ground, a grenade blank and grenade were loaded, and the grenade was launched. The necessity of changing the rifle bolt kept the rifle out of use until the bolt could be replaced, a slow and clumsy procedure. The bolt-changing procedure could also result in lost rifle bolts in the heat of battle, putting the weapon out of action completely. As a result, this design was not adopted by any other nation. Today, it can be seen as an early, if unsuccessful ancestor of modern under-barrel grenade launchers such as the M203.

In the years just prior to World War II, the United States adopted the spigot-type 22mm rifle grenade launchers. Having come into wide acceptance during World War II, these rifle grenades were increasingly used in the years after the war. These 22mm grenade types range from powerful anti-tank rounds to simple finned tubes with a fragmentation hand grenade attached to the end. They come in "standard" type which are propelled by a blank cartridge inserted into the chamber of the rifle. And, the newer "bullet trap" and "shoot through" types, as their names imply use live ammunition.[13]

After World War II, more and more countries began to adopted 22mm anti-tank rifle grenades with shaped-charge or HEAT warheads. The Belgian ENERGA anti-tank rifle grenade design in particular was widely adopted by Western nations. The bullet-trap rifle grenade design also saw increasing use during the years after World War II, most notably the French AC58 anti-armour and APAV40 multi-purpose grenades. The 22mm rifle-grenade launchers were further simplified, becoming an integral part of the rifle itself. All current NATO rifles are capable of launching STANAG 22mm rifle grenades from their flash hiders without the use of an adapter.

By the late 1970s, rifle grenades and their launchers began to be replaced by dedicated grenade launchers. First seen in the United States armed forces, these grenade launchers generally took form of a separate weapons, such as the M79 grenade launcher. Or, as an under-barrel attachment to an assault rifle, such as the M203 grenade launcher attached to an M16 rifle.

Today, there is a return to the concept of the rifle grenade, such as the SIMON breach grenade, the IMI Refaim and FN Herstal Telgren advance grenades. Modern combined arms doctrine dictates that every infantry unit should have a certain percentage of dedicated grenadiers, or soldiers equipped with a grenade launcher or combination rifle/grenade launcher. The criticism of this doctrine is that if the grenadiers in a group are disabled or separated from the group, then the group has completely lost the grenade launcher as a heavy fire support. With the addition rifle grenades, each soldier would be equipped with a small number of rifle grenades, so every individual soldier could use some form of heavy firepower. The United States military does not generally use rifle grenades,[notes 1] however they are used by other nations. All of these rifle-grenades add additional weight to the soldiers war-load and as a consequence they must reduce the amount rifle ammunition that they carry. For example, a modern French AC58 "bullet trap" rifle grenade weighs .5 kg, the equivalent of a loaded M16 STANAG magazine.

The AK-47 can mount a (rarely used) cup-type grenade-launcher that fires standard Soviet RGD-5 hand-grenades. The soup-can shaped launcher is screwed onto to AK-47’s muzzle.[14] To fire…First, insert a standard RGD-5 hand-grenade into the launcher and then remove the safety pin…Second, insert a special blank cartridge into the rifles chamber…Third, place the butt-stock of the rifle on the ground and fire from this position. The maximum effective range is approximately 150 meters.[15] The M16 has a similar device used to launch tear-gas hand-grenades.[16]



Britain put the first anti-tank grenade into the field during World War II in late 1940 with the No 68 AT Grenade, which was one of the first "any" type anti-tank weapons of the shape charge or HEAT type.

Non-lethal use

A riot control grenade in a launching cup attached to a Mossberg 500 riot shotgun

The advent of less lethal grenades for riot control has led to the creation of gun launched versions of these grenades, though they are typically launched by riot shotguns, not rifles. These systems use a cup-type launcher attached to the muzzle of the gun to launch various less lethal grenade types.[17]

Propaganda grenade

During the Second World War, Nazi Germany developed and fielded a propaganda rifle grenade (Gewehr Propaganda Granate). It was designed for front-line troops to disperse propaganda leaflets via a rifle grenade that, on impact, would disperse the printed material via a small ejecting charge.[18]

Golf ball launcher

A golf ball launcher is a cup-type launcher which is used for sport or recreational purposes. These launcher will shoot a standard golf ball over 250 yards with little to no recoil. These launchers are designed to replace an AR-15 type rifles flash hider.[19]

Legal issues

In almost all countries, grenades are illegal for civilian ownership.

In the United States, rifle grenades containing explosive material are covered under the National Firearms Act as "destructive devices". Inert rifle grenades are not federally regulated, nor are rifle grenade launching attachments and devices. However, such items may be restricted by local legislation, as is the case in California.

See also

M7 grenade launcher with 22 mm grenade fitted on the end of an M1 Garand rifle.

Großdeutschland Division private with Karabiner 98k and mounted Schießbecher cup-launcher.

Rifle grenades:

  • V-B Rifle Grenade (French shoot-through rifle-grenade)
  • Babbitt Grenade (American rod-type grenade)
  • Hales rifle grenade (British rod-type rifle-grenade)
  • No. 68 AT Grenade (British anti-tank rifle-grenade)
  • 22mm type rifle-grenades come in a verity of types, shapes and sizes, and are used by the United States, NATO and other countries.
    • ENERGA (Belgium anti-tank rifle-grenade)
    • M31 HEAT (U.S. high-explosive anti-tank rifle-grenade)
    • AC58 (French bullet-trap anti-armour rifle grenade)
    • APAV40 (French bullet-trap anti-personnel (AP) and anti-vehicle (AV) rifle-grenade)
    • SIMON (Israeli door breaching bullet-trap rifle-grenade)
    • Refaim (Israeli bullet-trap rifle-grenade)
    • FN Telgren (Belgium shoot-through rifle-grenade)
    • Type 06 rifle grenade(modern Japanese bullet-trap rifle-grenade )

Multi-purpose grenades:

  • No 2 grenade (British pre-WW1 multi-purpose grenade)
  • Mills Bomb / Mills Grenade (British multi-purpose grenade with rod attachment, or gascheck attachment for use with cup-launcher)
  • Type 91 fragmentation grenade (Japanese multi-purpose grenade when used with cup-launcher)
  • Mk 2 grenade (U.S. fragmentation grenade when attached to a 22mm stabilizer tube and fins, into which a Mark 2 grenade is inserted.)


Comparable weaponry:


  1. Cornélis De Witt Willcox, Edwin Roy Stuart. The International Military Digest Annual. p. 236. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 "Evolution and Demise of the Rod Grenade". 2003-01-31. Retrieved 2013-10-06. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Saunders, Weapons of the Trench War, p.97-99
  4. Saunders, Weapons of the Trench War, p.98
  5. Walter Hines Page, Arthur Wilson Page (1918). The World's Work: A History of Our Time. Doubleday, Page & Co.. p. 501. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 United States War Dept. America's Munitions 1917-1918. pp. 208–209. 
  7. Anne Cipriano Venzon, Anne Venzon, Paul L. Miles (1999). The United States in the First World War: An Encyclopedia. Taylor & Francis. p. 172. 
  8. Robert B. Asprey. At Belleau Wood. p. 19. 
  9. United States Army. Ordnance Dept, Ordnance (1917). Description and Instructions for the Use of Rifle and Hand Grenades. 
  10. William Harvey Tschappat (1917). Text-book of Ordnance and Gunnery. John Wiley & Sons, Inc.. p. 511. 
  11. George, John B. (LTC), Shots Fired In Anger, NRA Press (1981), ISBN 0-935998-42-X, p. 343
  12. George, John B. (LTC), Shots Fired In Anger, NRA Press (1981), ISBN 0-935998-42-X, p. 350
  13. Franklin D. Margiotta, Gordon R. Sullivan (1997). Brassey's Encyclopedia of Land Forces and Warfare. Brassey's. p. 40. ISBN 1-57488-087-X. 
  14. File:AK47Figure54.jpg – Wikisource. Retrieved on 2011-09-27.
  15. [1][dead link]
  16. ImageShack® – Online Photo and Video Hosting. Retrieved on 2011-09-27.
  17. MILITARY POLICE INSTRUCTION COMPANY (14 August 2007). "INSTRUCTOR OUTLINE Civil Disturbance Lesson Plan". UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS.  (Word document)
  18. "German Propaganda Rifle Grenade, WWII Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 43, January 27, 1944". Lone Sentry. Retrieved 2013-10-06. 
  1. The USMC is currently seeking to purchase commercial off-the-shelf bullet-trap or shoot-through rifle-grenades. These grenades will provide individual Marines additional firepower and will allow indirect fire against targets in defilade, behind walls and buildings or rooftops and elevated positions at ranges between 30 and 150 meters. [2]

External links

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