SOME WW1 BRITISH GRENADES

Version francophone




N24 Mk I grenade
INTRO : THE WW1 BRITISH GRENADES

HAND GRENADES
'Battye' grenade
N5 Mk I & II, N23 Mk I, II & III, & N36 MkI & II 'Mills' rifle & hand grenade
N34 MkI, MkII, MkIII & MkIV hand grenade

RIFLE GRENADES
N2 Mk I and Mk II rifle and hand grenade 'Marten Hale'
N3 MkI and Mk II rifle grenade
N20 MkI and MkII rifle grenade
N22 MkI and Mk II 'Ppin' rifle grenade
N24 MkI and Mk II rifle grenade
N35 MkI and Mk II rifle grenade

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British Grenades

One important difference between the British Army and the other ones entering into war in August 1914 was the fact it had recently participated to a conflict during the Boer Wars in South Africa, fighting a non conventional army however equipped with modern weapons. These campaigns learnings had consequences on British artillery evolution, as well as on the introduction of modern grenades, the very first one appearing in 1908. This 'Grenade Nr 1, General Service' equipped the British Expeditionary Corps participating to the fist battles on the continent.

The experience of the early trench fights induced the same need for every country : more grenades, and better ones ! As a consequence, improvised models were produced in parallel to the development of new reglementary ones.

The Mills grenade appearing in 1916 is one of the latter, and will be by far the best hand grenade of the WW1, continuing its international career until the 1970's.





Hand grenades


Battye hand grenade
Major Battye improvised handgrenade

Battye grenade Empty battye grenade

Just like most of the fighting nations armies, Great Britain Army had to compensate the lack of reglementary grenades at the beginning of the war by a parallel production of improvised weapons. The Battye grenade was born in 1915 and was an idea of a major named Battye, built on the basis of a simple prefragmented cylinder made in Bethune (France) by the thousands.

This grenade body was filled with an ammonal explosive load, and closed by a wood plug. A simple wick or a more complex igniting device (traction or percussion) connected to a 5-seconds delay was introduced through that plug.

The use of improvised grenades such as this one was forbidden at the end of 1915 in the British Army, because of too numerous accidents.

Total weight 550 g including ammonal explosive load

Battye grenade.
Empty Battye grenade.
Battye grenade - wartime scheme with a simple percussion igniter



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Mills rifle and hand grenade
N5 MkI, II - N23 MkI, II and III - N 36 MkI grenade

Before the war start, two Belgian citizens - Albert Dewandre (an engineer) and the Captain Lon Roland (from the Compagnie Belge des Munitions Militaires) - designed the principles of this modern grenade : an automatic ignition system fully located inside the grenade body and therefore waterproofed. The start of the great war brutally stopped this invention development (the Captain Roland being capured by the Germans as a prisonner). But a talented English manufacturer, William Mills, who met Dewandre at the end of 1914, made the theoretical concept possible, and introduced a patent as soon as February 1915.

The grenade n5 MkI (Mills patent) finally appeared on the front in May 1915, but its distribution to the fighting units was relatively slow : some British soldiers were not given such weapons before another year. This grenade was made of a outside prefragmented cast iron body, with a lateral filling hole, another hole at its top for plugging the striker lever mechanism, and a bigger hole at the bottom shut by a brass base plug giving access to the igniter body.

The ignition system was contained into a central compact body : a mobile firing striker compressed with a spring was facing a starter cap fixed behind the grenade bottom plug. The firing striker top was attached to an external striker lever secured by a safety pin. To use the grenade, a soldier just had to remove the safety pin and keep the striker lever pressed with the grenade body inside his palm. When the projectile was launched, the freed spring action moved the lever up, propulsed the firing striker pin towards the starter cap, whose ignition set fire to a delayed wick, finally igniting the detonator after time delayed combustion.

Safe and waterproof, this grenade has been by far the best handgrenade of WW1, and was even adapted as a rod rifle grenade by the addition of specific devices. The Mills system has been the subject of 3 major evolutions during the war :

  • N5 MkI and MkII hand grenade : the MkII lever was made more rigid thanks to a bend
  • N23 MkI, MkII and MkIII hand and rifle grenade : the MkI appeared in 1917 with a narrower base and a base plug drilled with a central threaded hole for the optional screwing of the rod needed to transform the projectile into a rifle grenade. The MkII and MkIII were variants only designed to improve the manufacturing productivity and lower the production costs.
  • N36 MkI hand grenade : May 1918 evolution, rounder 'belly' for a more stable station in the rifle launching device, and larger safety pin location ears.
These differnt version life was so long that this grenade was still in use in WW2, and only removed from the active service in the 70s ! More than 50 millions Mills grenades have been produced during WW1, all variants included, by more than a hundred subcontractors. Its handsome shape, fragmentation properties and internal igniting device both safe and waterproof were the fundamentals of this huge success.

Weight 770 g, including the diverse expolosies used (Alumatol + Abelite + Cilferite, or Amatol, or Ammonal + Bellite)

N5 MkI Mills grenade.
N5 MkI Mills grenade, front view with the filling hole brass plug.
English mills grenade English mills grenade,
N5 MkI Mills grenade. Bottom view, base plug removed showing the detonator.
N5 MkI Mills grenade. Base plug detail with manufacturer marks (october 1915 - Calthorpe Motor)
N5 MkI Mills grenades. The left body has been observed in Flanders Fields, near Hooge.
N5 MkI Mills grenades. Wartime scheme.



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N34 hand grenade
Ptard de la IIIe Arme de 12.5cm x 3cm

The small and handy German egg grenade '('Eierhandgranate')' inspired the British designers who introduced in the end of 1917 a copy made of a cast iron body and a simple percussion igniting plug, with a 5 seconds delay. This new Hand Grenade n34 is known in 4 successive variants :

  • hand grenade N34 MkI, ovoidal body shape with a percussion igniter, safety spring and removable safety pin, delay 5 seconds
  • hand grenade N34 MkII, shape identical to the one of the MkI with a percussion igniting plug, shearable metallic safety wire and safety pin, delay 7 seconds
  • hand grenade N34 MkIII, elongated ovoidal shape with the MkII percussion pin
  • hand grenade N34 MkIV, shorten ovoidal shape and prefragmented belt, with the MkII percussion pin
All 4 models were equipped with a brass plug closing a lateral filling hole.

Unknown weight, alumatol explosive

Handgrenade n34 Mk III - view showing the charge loading hole plug
Handgrenade n34 Mk III - igniter threaded hole
Handgrenade n34 Mk III - dismantled percussion igniter, no detonator



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Rifle grenades


Percussion rifle and hand grenade MARTEN HALE 'Mexican'
Rifle and hand grenade N2 MKI and MkII

Using the same technological basis than the reglementary percussion hand grenade N1 MkI, MKII and MkIII General Service made by the Woolwich Royal Laboratory (1908) issued from the Boer war experience, the private company Marten Hale Cotton Powder Ltd was already manufacturing a percussion grenade for the Mexican Army in 1907. Facing the insufficient production of the reglementary grenade N1 compared to the British Army needs in 1914, the headquarters adopt this private grenade and name it the Rifle and hand grenade N2 MKI (the French army will use it as well shortly).

The grenade cylindrical brass body was containing the explosive charge. The percussion igniter, working on a pure momentum principle was located inside a central tube, and was blocked at rest by a safety pin. A double prefragmentated cast iron belt circled it all.

A 40 cm wooden handle with a 90cm ribbon was added for use as a percussion hand grenade having to land vertically on the head in order to explode. A 25 cm long and 7 mm diameter steel rod was replacing the handle for use as a rifle grenade for the British infantry weapons. A 8 mm rod could ne mounted for use with the French Lebels.

The hand grenade N2 MKII only differed by the ribbons length and numbers. This weapon was really insecure, too sensitive once the safety pin was removed.

Unknown weight, Tonite explosive

Rifle grenade N2 Mk I reassembled. Markings : 'THE COTTON POWDER Co Ltd - HALES PATENT LONDON - 8 M/M - B'. The '8mm' means this item is the model adapted for use with French Lebel rifles.
Rifle grenade N2 Mk I. Detail of the body cut in two for trench art making.
Rifle grenade N2 Mk I. wo of them mounted as a war souvenir trench art item.
Rifle grenade N2 Mk I - wartime scheme.



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Rifle grenade N3
Rifle grenade N3 MkI et MkII

Capitalizing the experience acquired with the manufacturing and use of the rifle grenade N2, the company Marten Hale Cotton Powder Ltd designed a new percussion rifle grenade equipped with a much more sophisticated safety system, and a bigger lethal power.

This 'Commercial' Marten Hale percussion grenade body was now a steel cylinder, externally prefragmented, with a small tube inserted axially and carrying a detonator and a starter cap. A mobile needle pellet secured from the starter by a safety 'creep spring' was located inside a brass base piece. The mobile needle pellet movements were made impossible at rest by two lateral retaining bolts blocked under a wind vane rotating ring. A sliding releasing socket equipped with a safety pin was impeding the vertical movements of this wind vane ring.

Before use, the safety pin had first to be removed. At the departure, the momentum pulled the releasing socket back. The flight air flow rotated the impeller of the wind vane around a thread, finally freeing the lateral movements of the retaining bolts. Then only the needle pellet movements were made possible after 10 meters of flight, for a percussion detonation at the impact.

This grenade could be used as a hand grenade (with a wooden handle and a string), or as a rifle grenade (with a 10 inches rod and spring clips for securing the grenade on the rifle tube). It was never officially adopted by the Britsh Army, but imortant stocks of 'Commercial' Marten Hale grenades were used by the British soldiers in 1915.

Meanwhile the British Army ordered Marten Hale the design of a very similar model, only differenciated by a thin brass base piece instead of an aluminium thick one. This grenade became officially the rifle grenade N3 MkI in February 1915.

The rifle grenade N3 MkII only differed from the MkI by a little alteration of the external shape to improve the aerodynamics properties and the air flow on the wind vane (elongation of the body length, and smoother transition between the cylinder base and the brass base piece)

Unknown weight, ammonal, amatol or TNT explosive

Rifle grenade N3 Mk II.
Rifle grenade N3 Mk II. View on the wind vane, one of the two spring clips and the releasing socket still secured by the safety pin.
Rifle grenade N3 Mk II. View on the top cap, which was in fact the detonator holder.
Rifle grenade N3 Mk II. Markings on the wind vane : 'THE COTTON POWDER Co Ltd - LONDON - HALE'S PATENT'.
Rifle grenade N3 Mk II. Wartime scheme.



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Rifle grenade N20
Rifle Grenade N20 MkI and MkII

As seen above on this page, the new rifle grenade N3 inspired from the commercial percussion grenade Marten Hale appears in 1915. This design solved most of the safety issues associated to the rifle grenade N2. However, if the ingenious mechanism based on the release of the safety chain by the in-flight air flow on a wind vane was efficient, it also induced too much manufacturing complexity and costs.

The rifle grenade n20 Mk I, dated June 1917, is a simplification of the rifle grenade n3, making it more economic and simple to manufacture, without sacrifying anything on the safety side. Both the externally prefragmented steel body and the internal percussion detonator mechanism remain unchanged, but the safety wind vane is replaced by a simple sliding releasing socket pulled back by the departure momentum, blocked at rest by a safety pin.

A further simplification of the steel body machining was introduced later with the rifle grenade n20 Mk II, whose prefragmented body was only having parallel circular machined grooves instead of the classical square pattern.

As all these kinds of projectiles, this rifle grenade was used inserting the tail rod inside a usual infantry rifle gun, but armed with a blank cartridge bullet-free. The accidental use of a conventionnal bullet was the main cause of incidents.

One should note in the same family the

  • rifle grenade N20 conversion Mk I : N3 MkI grenade body mounted on the N20 new base
  • rifle grenade N20 conversion Mk II : N3 MkII grenade body mounted on the N20 new base

Weight unknown, ammonal

Rifle grenade N20 Mk I
Rifle grenade N20 Mk I. Top view with the detonator holder plug unscrewed
Rifle grenade N20 Mk I. Plug top - markings 'G.T.L.'
Grenade fusil n20 Mk - Zoom on the base including the arming system. See the sliding socket retained by a safety pin.
Grenade fusil n20 Mk I - Wartime scheme



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Rifle grenade N22 'Ppin'
Rifle Grenade N22 MkI and MkII

From May 1915, the British Army organizes in Hazebrouck the manufacturing of prefragmented hand grenades having the shape of a grapefruit grain (in French 'Ppin') named 'Hand grenade Newton Ppin'. Dangerous, they will inspire the French grenade Citron Foug, as well as the British rifle grenade N17 MkI (June 1917), that has been rapidly improved to become the rifle grenade N22 Mk I.

Just as the original handgrenade model, this grenade was composed of an externally prefragmented steel body and a central detonator. On the top of the body, a percussion pin bearing soft metal cap was covering the grenade and was equipped with a safety pin. This apparatus was made to provoke an explosion at the impact. Attached to a 38cm rifle rod, this grenade was exploding too often on the departure shock action.

This problem was partly fixed with a October 1917 evolution, the rifle grenade N22 Mk II whose percussion pin bearer cap was lighter and less enclined to be affected by the departure momentum. It was not equipped with a safety pin anymore.

Unknown weight, ammonal, amatol or alumatol

Rifle grenade n22
Rifle grenade n22, typical body shape (wine glass)
Rifle grenade n22, top view.
Rifle grenade n22. Wartime scheme.



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Rifle grenade N24
Rifle Grenade N24 MkI and MkII

The rifle grenade N24 Mk I is another June 1917 simplification of the rifle grenades series N3 and N20.

Changes are only applied to the parts shapes and dimensions, but the way it worked was strictly similar to the preceeding models, so that no specific training was needed for its use. The prefragmented body was machined with external circular parallel grooves only.

A further simplifacation was adopted suppressing every external fragmentation grooves with the rifle grenade N24 Mk II dated May 1918, whose cast iron body was smooth, all the other components being unchanged.

Unknown weight, ammonal, amatol or alumatol

Rifle grenade n24 Mk I. Transverse prefragmented body - Picture courtesy Luc Malchair
Rifle grenade n24 Mk I - Wartime scheme
Rifle grenade n24 Mk I prefragmented body
Rifle grenade n24 Mk II smooth body
Rifle grenade n24 Mk II, tail body detail with safety pin
Rifle grenade n24 Mk II, top detail, unscerwed plug (lost)



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Rifle grenade N35
Rifle Grenade N35 MkI and MkII

Ultimate evolution dated May 1918 of the prolific British rifle grenades family, the rifle grenade N35 Mk I is a simplification of the rifle grenade Nr24 MkII, whose brass body has been shortened further and whose safety pin is passing through the sliding socket instead of below it.

In an exhaustive spirit, one must note the rifle grenade N35 Mk II with an improved water-proof property for use on the Middle-East front.

Poids inconnu, ammonal, amatol ou alumatol

Rifle grenade N35 Mk I, smooth body
Rifle grenade N35 Mk I, zoom on the shortened tail base, with safety pin
Rifle grenade N35 Mk I, top view. Markings 'Nr35 MKI - 1917 - W.S. & S.
Rifle grenade N35 Mk I. Dismantles grenade with baklite plug, detonator tube, brass tail base showing the percussion pin tube and spring, safety socket and safety pin, and the steel rod.



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