A reader sent me a link to a pretty cool image gallery showing the basic clothing and equipment of five different major combatant powers from mid-WWI. I have re-uploaded the individual photos in case the […]
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Hand grenades were very much an unknown quantity in WW1, simply because organized development of same and training in their use had ended in most armies about half a century earlier.
The first German grenades in 1914-15 were nothing more than preserved meat cans filled with blasting explosive, plus a blasting cap and a short piece of time fuze. Light, throw, and duck. Some were made a bit more lethal by adding a handful of pebbles, nails, or whatever. Similar field expedients were perpetrated on the other side of No Man’s Land as well.
Devices like this were concocted to throw the grenades simply because the trench lines settled down at a distance greater than a man could throw a grenade himself. In addition to improvised gadgets like this, there were also formalized “trench catapults”, like the West Spring Gun;
Also known as “racket grenades”, these devices were used by both sides from about the spring of 1915 until more orthodox grenade patterns began to be issued in the late summer.
Contrary to popular belief, the Stielhandgranate was not the most common German grenade in either war. “Egg” grenades, as they were called, were made and used in greater numbers both times because they were cheaper and easier to manufacture, and could be thrown farther because they weighed less, not having that wooden handle that added mass but no explosive or fragmentation effect and was basically only useful for adding moment arm to the throw, after which it was just along for the ride.
In fact, a “stick grenade” generally can’t be thrown any farther than a more conventional “pineapple” type, because the extra weight of the “stick” tends to cancel out the greater moment arm effect. And “stick” grenades could not be thrown by devices like this or, later, by rifle dischargers.
Catapults like this were largely superseded by the rifle dischargers, cup or otherwise, as well as trench mortars, by mid-1916. Most suffered the same fault as the West Spring Gun; the springs lost tension fairly quickly and consequently range and payload suffered.
Also, to be really effective, the catapult had to be sited on a fire step up high enough for its launch trajectory to clear the parapet. This generally meant that when uncocked, its arm projected far enough above the parapet for enemy observers to spot it, which usually meant the unwelcome attention of an enemy machine gun team, if not a howitzer or two.
For lobbing a poison gas cannister (this was WWI, after all) a spring-loaded catapult would have the obvious advantage of more stealthy operation, compared to a mortar, with its loud bang alerting the opposing forces that something unpleasant is headed their way.
The effectiveness of poison gas as a battlefield weapon would of course be highly dependent on its ability to be delivered unnoticed.
The problem with that is that most WW1 war gases, like phosgene or chlorine, required a massive amount on target to generate a lethal concentration. The nerve gases that were lethal down to one or two parts per million in air were still in the laboratories until around mid-1918, and most never saw deployment until WW2 or even later.
The major method of achieving concentrations was the “cloud gas attack”, or its later and more sophisticated variant, the “beam attack”;
The ultimate answer was the Livens Projector, which used en masse basically allowed a cloud or beam attack to be delivered onto the intended target with a Time On Target salvo of what were basically primitive mortars;
Interesting thing is that western powers ignored use of grenades in both Russian-Japanese and two Balkan wars. As a consequence of Balkan wars both Serbia (Vasic M.12) and Bulgaria (Odrin) introduced grenades as as standard infantry kit.
These ‘troops’ are actually N.C.O.s of the ‘Schutzpoliziei’, i.e. the uniformed civil Police of the Third Reich, and the photograph would seem to date to after 1943. The two men kneeling are wearing the German Army’s Model 1943 ‘Feldbluse’, adopted by ‘Schutzpoliziei’ combat units (which served in a security capacity in the occupied territories of the East) to replace, for field service, the pre-war, piped tunic with dark-brown collar and cuffs, as worn by the man lying down. What could be happening here is the training, in Germany, of a member of the ‘Schutzpoliziei Wachbataillone’, formed from older and less fit policemen to provide mobile security in areas of heavy bombing or, as the front-line shrank within the borders of the Reich, in the rear areas of combat zones. I say this photo is probably taken in Germany due to the interesting helmet worn by the man on the left: it’s one of the myriad of lightweight, non-combat grade helmets adopted for use by German police organisations before the war.
Well, since the Treaty of Versailles says “no modern artillery,” what about stuff from the Middle Ages? There is no clause in the treaty that says you can’t used improvised catapults to toss rocks and grenades at your enemies… And it’s not like officer cadets have access to mortars whenever they want to harass cranky old people. Just be sure Mr. Wilson isn’t prepared for whatever is coming his way…
That was where the V-1 (Fi-103) and V-2 (A-4) came from. The Versailles Treaty restricted the Wehrmacht from having long-range artillery pieces and the “German Air Service” (it only became the Luftwaffe in 1932) from having heavy bombers and long-range fighters.
Long-range rockets (on the Army side) and long-range pilotless flying bombs (on the Air Force side) simply weren’t mentioned.
If they’d asked Charles Kettering and/or Frederick George Miles, they might have had some extra wording in there;
All the V weapons were developed years after Hitler had unilaterally declared that Germany would no longer honor the treaty requirements for weapons and other military matters. The Luftwaffe for example developed the Do-19 strategic bomber already in 1936, but it was abandoned after General Walther Wever’s death.
German Army interest in rockets as long-range artillery predated Hitler coming to power. The major motivator was Gen. Karl Becker, co-author of Kranz-Becker: Ballistics (1926), which included a chapter on the subject.
Wernher von Braun ended up working for the German army at Kummersdorf because Rudolf Nebel, then-secretary of the VfR, sent an overlong and rather senseless “Confidential Memo on Long-Range Rocket Artillery” to Becker, who was head of the Army Ordnance Bureau, in October of 1932.
After interviewing Nebel and realizing that he wasn’t much more than a PR man, he hired von Braun a month later when the VfR closed down after declaring bankruptcy. This was two months before the game of Musical Chairs in the Reichschancellery that ended up with Hitler as Reichskanzler.
Hitler in fact didn’t think much of the V-2 at all. His major complaint being that it wasn’t capable of “annihilating destruction”. Among his bright ideas was loading it with LOX instead of HE and firing it into the English Channel to produce… instant icebergs.
As for the V-1, he wanted to know why it couldn’t be launched from large fixed installations instead of semi-mobile launchers. According to Adolf Galland’s biography, Fighter General, it was apparently impossible to explain to Hitler that large fixed sites would be bombed to gravel by the RAF and USAAF before they could be made operational.
One trick the bomber units used was to wait until the concrete had been poured for walls, etc., then bomb the site while the concrete was still setting.
A lot of German “defense sites” ended up as freeform concrete “sculpture” that way.
Source; Ley, Willy. Rockets, Missile, and Space Travel. New York; Viking Press, 1954.
“Treaty of Versailles”
If they would want to have “no modern artillery,” they would (and they did) develop and produce it under fake designations:
10,5-cm-leichte Feldhaubitze 18 was de facto developed around 1928/29 year not 1918
7,5-cm-leichtes Infanteriegeschütz 18 was de facto developed around 1927 year not 1918
7,5-cm Feldkanone 18 was de facto developed around 1938 year not 1918
Schwere 10-cm-Feldkanone 18 was de facto developed in 1926-29 years not in 1918
15-cm-schwere Feldhaubitze 18 was de facto developed in 1926-1933 years not in 1918
15-cm-Kanone 18 was de facto developed in 1933-1938 years not in 1918
21-cm-Mörser 18 was de facto developed in 1933 year not in 1918
8,8-cm-FlaK 18 was de facto developed in 1920s not in 1918
this was applied not only to artillery:
MG 13 Dreyse was de facto developed around 1930 year not 1913
tanks prototypes were designated: Grosstraktor, Leichttraktor, Landwirtschaftlicher Schlepper (this later become Panzer I), according to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LK_II The Germans later bought a main share of the Landsverk Company and made Otto Merker the main designer and in 1931, it produced the Strv m/31 (L-10), which was the first tank produced in Sweden.
There are other holes in the upright piece, as though it could be adjusted for range. If this was a defensive unit, and it seems to be from the comments, then maybe it was intended to lob grenades a set distance. That could be useful for someone, maybe someone who was not good at throwing things like an older or infirm person, defending a gate or bridge from a set distance. Maybe the people in the photo were setting it up and trying to dial in the right setting to cover some point so if the invaders came they could lob one or two grenades before being overran.
I’m currently under contract for weapons development in a peninsula country only recently freed from the evil overlord’s clutches. As it were, the small power in question has little to nothing of the enemy’s weapons technology development, as most factories here were blown to bits by our friendly forces or by the enemy (to prevent anything good from falling into our hands). There’s very little time for getting this recovering nation able to defend itself, because it just got invaded again while our main forces were elsewhere! If you’re with me, I hope you can help equip the local troops and hold out until help arrives. Bad news is that most of the available gear is outdated.
Current front: coastal area bordering the evil overlord’s domain to the east. Most of the beaches are not completely ideal for landing craft, being littered with large rocks. Further inland is dense forest. Current enemy forces consists of two main groups, an armored division conducting a blitzkrieg from inland and an amphibious invasion fleet.
The best stuff we have near the front lines amounts to the lists below:
1. Mannlicher M1905 pistol
2. Rast & Gasser M1898
4. Steyr Kropatschek M1893
5. Walther-Heinemann sporting rifle given gas ports and strengthened for 9.3x64mm Brenneke AP
6. Hotchkiss M1922 (strip fed)
1. improvised grenade catapults, fireworks, and even a medieval trebuchet
2. 17 cm Minenwerfer
3. 7.5 cm Infanteriegeschütz 37
Vehicles, boats, and planes
1. Humber Light Reconnaissance Car MK II
2. M3 Gun Motor Carriage
3. Vickers Light Tank MK VI C
4. V-105 Class Torpedo Boats
5. Avia B.534
6. Morane-Saulnier MS 406
7. Dornier Do-26 C
Well, that’s just about it while the invaders probably have better items and even a “Metal Gear.” Any ideas on how to improve the stuff at hand?
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“If you’re with me, I hope you can help equip the local troops and hold out until help arrives.”
So you need weapons FAST? Then the answer is: manufacture sub-machine guns. Additionally it should work quite well in “dense forest”. There are very many sub-machine gun designed with cheapness in mind – Korovin 1941 sub-machine gun should be good choice if you still have some factories able to use stamping technology, so far I know 80 (metric) ton press was used (which is small by industry standard), OWEN sub-machine gun seems to be good choice if you don’t have that technology but have machining/milling able industry. More recent example of (stamped) cheap sub-machine gun is Armenian K6-92: http://world.guns.ru/smg/rus/k6-92-borz-e.html
If the invasion is already underway it’s too late to manufacture new armaments. Especially when the infrastructure was destroyed. Cherndog do we have trucks at least? And does the enemy have air power? Initial reaction: high explosives are your friend here. Blow or rig every bridge, ridge ditch and choke point. Use your limited artillery and armor to set them up or delay them for explosive ambush. I hope there are a lot of those Hotchkiss MGs at least! Decent weapons.. Set up the Trebuchet in the forest ranged in on the beaches. And run a night raid on the invasion fleet using the coastline to hopefully clutter their RADAR probably a one shot with high risk to be a suicide mission.
1. Yes, we do have trucks, Fiat 634s, to be precise.
2. Enemy airpower consists mainly of Mil Mi-6 troop-carrying helicopters and strange tilt-rotor gunships accompanying the tank force. We have not been able to gauge the tilt-rotor’s defensive capabilities against antiaircraft weaponry yet (not that we have any heavy flak guns or Stinger missiles lying around here). There are also MiG-17s flying around, so I’m pretty sure our outdated fighters won’t stand a chance unless we attack while the MiG’s are returning to their base.
Other things: There are probably 10 times more obsolete rifles than machineguns, but yes, there are plenty of Hotchkiss 1922s. We’ve blocked the tunnels with boulders and manually since we’re running out of explosives. The bridges were already destroyed when the enemy was driven out last month. Fortunately for us, the enemy armor is restricted to traveling along the main highway because the forest is not tank friendly (even worse than the Ardennes). And are you suggesting sending all available aircraft and the torpedo boats out to attack the invasion fleet at night? In my opinion, only biplanes with fabric skin will ever get past the radar. And then what, have the torpedo boats attack bigger ships and have the planes strafe the barges?
It’s not a design that was used by the Wehrmacht . . . as I said in an earlier post, it’s one of a number of lightweight, non-combat grade helmets adopted for use by German police organisations pre-war . . .