Characteristics of Hand Grenades

Many insurgency groups in Africa have access to hand grenades.

According to humanitarian aid workers in Bujumbura,Burundi, grenades were periodically tossed into gardens where meetings were being held.  Although the grenades often had the pin still inserted, the message was clear and demonstrated that neighbours wanted the noise of the meetings to be kept low.  Fortunately, no casualties were incurred despite the nonchalance with which these dangerous cans of explosives were thrown around.

The first historical evidence of grenades in the Western world was from the 15th century when iron balls filled with gunpowder were detonated with burning fuses.  However, the Chinese were the first to use grenades as a more offensive application of their combustible invention, gunpowder.

Yet, the name comes from the Spanish word for a pomegranate – “granado” – and the Spaniards used them fairly extensively during the 16th and 17th centuries, and they proved highly effective given the slow rate-of-fire of muskets on the battlefield.  However, by the First World War, grenades had not been in common use owing to their poor design and ill-timed detonations.   The British inventor of the golf club, William Mills, also invented the “pineapple grenade” which has continued in use into the 21st century.  During the First World War, the British attached these grenades to sticks and used a long fuse to make them easy to throw a fair distance.  But, because the German soldiers in the trenches often threw them back, the fuses were reduced to the 4.5 second delay that exists today.  By the Second World War, the grenade had been improved and included various applications using smoke (signalling and screening), phosphorus and fragmentation (to produce casualties) and gas (for both casualty and riot control effects).

The general characteristics of hand grenades are as follows:

–  the range that a grenade can be thrown is about 35 metres

–  at least 50% of exposed personnel become casualties within a radius of about 15 metres from the blast

–  most grenades do not detonate on impact, but chemical grenades only have a 2 second delay fuse element

–  a grenade consists of a filler, body and fuse assembly

–  all grenades are hollow to contain a filler, and they have an opening or threaded hole to receive the fuse

–  the filler is put directly into the grenade body and can include TNT, black powder, thermite incendiary or white phosphorus

–  the fuse assembly is a mechanical and chemical device that causes the filler to detonate or burn

–  fuses that detonate are used to explode fillers; those that burn are used with chemical grenades


Should you find a primed grenade, it will not explode until the safety pin has been removed.  You need to hold down the safety lever before pulling the safety pin.  Once a safety pin has been removed, and you loosen your grip, the safety lever will be forced free by a spring allowing a striker to hit the primer.  The primer creates the delay element that burns into the detonator and ignites it.  This chain reaction is completed by exploding or burning the filler in the grenade body.

Beware: the chain reaction only take a few seconds.

The two legs of the safety pin should be spread for safety reasons when carrying the grenade.  To help you pull the pin quicker, shorten the distance between the legs of the safety pin.

Grenades are a powerful and dangerous arm used by local gangs and terrorists.

However, kidnappers and terrorists often use firearms.

During our H.E.A.T. courses, we spend an entire afternoon at the Glencaim shooting range in Cape Town.  A qualified gun maker and a Firearm instructor will teach you how to fire a wide range of arms: shotguns, pistols, rifles (AK47) and machine guns.