American Viven-Bessières WW1 Grenade Launcher

The standard American grenade launching system in World War One was the Viven-Bessières, borrowed directly form the French. It had been adopted by France in 1916, replacing copies of the British Martin-Hale rod grenades. The V-B was a cup type launcher using a pass-through type of grenade and standard ball ammunition. A hole through the body of the grenade allowed the bullet to pass clean through the grenade, triggering a 5-7.5 second time fuse in the process. The gas pressure behind the bullet would then launch the grenade to a distance of 80-190 yards, depending on the inclination of the rifle. It could be fired from the hip if necessary, but firing form the shoulder was just a bad idea. The intended firing method was to rest the stock on the ground – although launching racks were also built for using the system from fixed positions in trenches.

The US would develop 4 iteration of the launcher, basically to improve its fixation to the rifle. This example is a Mk IV, with a spiral locking channel to firmly fix the launcher behind the rifle’s front sight. Two versions were made; a smooth one for the 1903 Springfield and one with a knurled ring at the muzzle for the 1917 Enfield. Both were identical in function, but dimensioned to fit the specific barrel diameters of the two different rifles. The Model 1917 V-B launcher would remain in US service until the 1930s, actually seeing some use in WWII in the Pacific theater.



  1. How much stress can this take before the rifle barrel needs to be repaired? And why not just use a dedicated grenade launcher instead? Perhaps this is why the under-barrel launcher with a self-contained cartridge grenade was a better idea…

    • Both rifle grenades and UBGL have their place IMO. First one give you much bigger payload, at a cost of accuracy. 2nd one give you accuracy, but payload is pretty wimpy.

    • The rod-grenade launcher? As Ian said, it really did wonders for barrel erosion and wear what with the steel rod scraping the inside… As for the VB, the bullet goes out the front, arming the fuse on the way, and the propellant gases lob the thing on its way…

      The Viven-Bessieres grenade launcher was the best type in WWI, and even zee Ghermans copied it–faint praise indeed!

      As Ian indicated about early WWII use in Bataan, Wake, etc. these were also used by the USMC in the Solomon Islands campaign/ Guadalcanal. Imagine that the Japanese have two models of grenade dischargers, both used at a 45 degree angle, and with other means of varying the range, and also cup-type grenade dischargers on rifles…. Meanwhile U.S. forces have just the VB. Makes one wonder if VB grenades that could be armed and thrown by hand were ever considered like the Japanese models of hand grenades that could be thrown or used with a small charge to be lobbed out of the so-called “knee mortar?”

      • As my great uncle who served in the Great War told me, a VB could be hand thrown by simply whacking the little lever/firing pin that ignited the fuse with the butt of the rifle bayonet first, and then throwing it.

        He advised throwing it immediately because the VB grenade’s one fault was that its time fuse, stated as five seconds, sometimes burned as short as three.

        Always remember the Litany of the Grenade;

        “This is Mr. Grenade. This is his associate, Mr. Pin. Once you pull Mr. Pin out of Mr. Grenade, Mr. Grenade is no longer your friend.”



        • “He advised throwing it immediately because the VB grenade’s one fault was that its time fuse, stated as five seconds, sometimes burned as short as three.”
          Uncertain time of burn was also encountered in other models of grenade. In fact this time has not to be super-extra precise just precise enough.
          Also in history of 20th century there were developed various explode-at-impact hand thrown fragmentation grenades (AT hand grenades MUST work this way) and used often with limited success, examples are:
          German World War I-era Diskushandgranate
          – offensive:
          – defensive:
          Italian World War II-era OTO Mod. 35

          U.S. World War II-era T13 BEANO

          all having some sort of problems with reliable detonation or sensitivity
          Soviet forces during intervention in Afghanistan found RGD-5 to be dangerous to use in mountain environment as it might go back to thrower, so new grenades were developed:
          – defensive:
          – offensive:
          unlike other it has both impact and delay fuse, which mean if it did not struck anything hard enough, it work as normal (time-fused) grenade and explode after few seconds.

          • About fifty years ago I read a book called “Of Spies And Stratagems” by Stanley P. Lovell. He worked as a research scientist for the OSS during WWII. Note that the title of the book can be abbreviated to “OSS.” He describes developing many sabotage weapons for the OSS. His group developed an impact sensitive grenade that was armed by flying through the air for a certain distance. It worked well and a demonstration for the brass was arranged. Unfortunately the man doing the demonstration was a soldier who hadn’t been fully briefed and he pulled the pin and just held the grenade in his hand. This scared the hell out of the officers, but he said, “see? It’s safe until it impacts something.” Then he threw it up in the air and when it came down he caught it, which was enough impact to set it off. He was killed and the project was cancelled. Lovell’s book is not available in digital version, but old hardbacks are priced reasonably. You might pick up the copy I read.

    • Is there likely to be much extra stress on the barrel? Presumably as soon as the bullet leaves the barrel the gas expands into space behind the grenade in the millisecond before the bullet is travelling up the grenade? That seems like much less ,likely stress than firing a blank into a sealed barrel, which is what a cup grenade discharger does.

      Is there any description of using this from WWI?

    • “why not just use a dedicated grenade launcher instead(…)this is why the under-barrel launcher with a self-contained cartridge grenade was a better idea”
      When Great War broke out large-scale most countries did not except trench.
      First experiences in such warfare shows great usefulness of high-angle artillery pieces and others explosive lobbing machines. So various weapons were procured to fill that gap, also ancient artillery pieces were returned for service for example:
      VB grenade launcher is one example of such weapon, which was really needed. Thus it make sense it was relatively easy to procure, as minimum number of moving parts was used and can be easily added to rifle. Such under-barrel grenade launcher would need own breech system, own trigger system and most crucially – method of fixing it to rifle, rather problematic in rifles of that era. Maybe bayonet lug might be used, however I am not sure if it would work well after several shot?

    • “This is first bullet-thru type grenade I have seen.”
      should be:
      This is the OLDEST bullet-thru type grenade I have seen.

      • There was also the WW2 Italian grenade launcher attached to the Carcano rifle that Ian did a video on a month or so ago, that had a bullet-trap built into the launcher itself, with vents around its “barrel” to allow the powder gases to expel the grenade.

        I assume the best way to use that one was to remove the spent slug after every grenade launch.



      • Type 100 Rifle Grenade Launcher was probably the strangest way to have a conventional weapon with grenade-launching capabilities, as the bayonet isn’t in the way and one can still stab an opponent to death with the rifle-bayonet combination AFTER throwing explosives in the victim’s face without yanking the launcher off.

        • MODEL 100 GRENADE LAUNCHER has additional sense in Japanese usage as it would allow firing SAME grenades from 6,5-mm and 7,7-mm weapons. Launcher itself differ between “6,5” and “7,7” version, but if you would use “bullet-through” you would need different grenades.

  2. It isn’t the barrel that gets overstressed, it’s the stock.

    The weight of the grenade, as per Newton’s Third Law of Motion, generates much greater recoil than a standard live rifle round. (Incidentally, this is why firing the grenade in the conventional rifle manner, from the shoulder, is definitely not recommended.)

    This extra recoil shock tended to damage the stock over time, first loosening the barrel and action in the bedding, and once they were loose enough to move in the stock, literally hammering the stock until it eventually split.

    The British solution to this was the EY rifle version of the SMLE;

    Note the wire bindings around the forestock and just ahead of the action. Some also had it on the stock wrist.

    While originally concocted during WW1, as you can see from the markings this one was made in 1944. The discharger cup on the muzzle is for the British Grenade, Hand or Rifle, No. 36M, more commonly known as the Mills Bomb;

    There was an earlier version, the No. 23, as well. The main difference between the two was that the 36 had a larger filler-plug hole than the 23 did.

    Unlike the VB grenade, the Mills required a blank cartridge. The “M” stood for a special waterproofing applied to the filler plug and etc. to allow for use in “Mesopotamia”, modern Iraq, which was a British protectorate at the time (1917).

    By the time the Mills 36M was officially obsoleted (in 1968!), very few people had any idea what the “M” stood for. Of course, hardly anybody but storeskeepers ever called it the “36M”, anyway.



    • Weren’t the Mills Bombs also used in the Holman Projector? And how does one prepare a grenade like the Mills bomb for rifle or mortar launching?

      • Yes, the Holman used Mills bombs. Interestingly enough, when fired up in the air, they produced a black puff of smoke they didn’t generally produce on the ground. This tended to make Luftwaffe pilots engaged in mast-top level attacks on Channel convoys think they were under fire from something more serious than a compressed-air or steam-powered mortar firing hand grenades.

        BTW, they were initially worried about mixing Mills bombs with hot, high-pressure steam. so as a test they dropped a mills into the Holman, and let the steam from the freighter’s boiler “cook” it for half-an-hour. Nothing untoward happened, so then they fired it and it exploded correctly. Mills bombs were pretty tough.

        See The Secret War aka Wheezers and Dodgers by Gerald Pawle;

        As for preparing a Mills for firing from a discharger, check the diagram I linked to. The baseplate was threaded, and you screwed that bronze disc up into it. That was it. The disc acted as a “pusher” plate to fire the grenade from a rifle discharger cup or the Holman.

        In the discharger cup, you could pull the pin after the grenade was in the “cup”. On the Holman, you had to pull it after you had inserted the Mills halfway into the muzzle (so the bore could keep the “spoon” in place), but before you let go of it and let the grenade slide down the tube- a drill World War One mortar men were familiar with, with the time-fused and later “all-ways” impact fused bombs of the original three-inch Stokes trench mortar.



    • Eon said: “to allow for use in “Mesopotamia”, modern Iraq, which was a British protectorate at the time (1917).”

      Not exactly. Iraq was part of the Ottoman Empire. The British and French fought the Ottomans in the Middle East and did eject them from the area during the war and so were the occupying powers.

      Iraq formally came under British control as a League of Nations mandate in 1920. Britain got Iraq, Jordan, and Palestine, while France got what are now Syria and Lebanon and a share of the oil in Iraq.

      Bahrain, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and Aden became British protectorates over the course of the 19th century (stopping the endemic piracy and the slave trade were some of the motivations for those), and Qatar also during WWI. In the 1920s the British backed the Saud family take over of the central part of the Arab peninsula in order to keep the wild tribes of the interior out of British controlled territory.

  3. “Grenade, Hand or Rifle, No. 36M”
    Idea of usage of hand grenade in launchers seems to be still alive, such launcher:
    was produced in Transnistria and observed in usage during Transnistria War (1990s). It is cup launcher accepting RGD-5, which should be inserted in such way to lock spoon (see 3rd photo from top), then safety pin can be removed from grenade. Blank cartridges are used for propelling grenade.

  4. The US Army training film “Signal Communication Within The Infantry Regiment 1933” shows what may be a VB launcher mounted on a fixed ground mount firing a smoke signal. It’s on the ‘net for those interested.

  5. Could the W stand for Winchester? I know the P14 and M1917 had parts compatibility issues between the Winchester produced rifles and Remington and Eddystone (a Remington subsidiary) produced rifles, could that have applied as well to the barrels and front sights?

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