The Fragmentation Grenade

 

After the M-16 rifle, the most common infantry weapon was the fragmentation grenade.  I carried as many as eight: four attached to my ammo pouches, and four suspended from my shoulder straps.  The outside of the grenade was smooth and about the size of a very large egg.  A detonator mechanism sat on top.  A thin metal handle was held in place by a cotter pin with a large metal ring through it.   To use the grenade you placed your finger through the ring and pulled the cotter pin out.  This released the handle, which was flung aside by a concealed spring.   You then disposed of the device as quickly as possible.  The timing mechanism was very reliable.  You had five seconds before the grenade exploded.  That left about four seconds to throw it before it removed your hand or head, whichever was closer.   The killing radius was 15 meters, and the injury radius up to 35.  You had to throw it far to keep from sharing the shrapnel with your intended victim.

Fragmentation Grenades Hung on Ammo PouchUnlike the old World War II pineapple grenade which broke into large fragments, these had stainless steel wire inside, serrated into thousands of tiny pieces.  The high explosive core pushed the thin shell aside and threw tiny fragments in every direction.   Those fragments were deadly.  I never saw one of our grenades fail, though many enemy grenades were exposed to moisture and didn't work.  We were always grateful Charlie didn't have grenades like ours.

Of course, sometimes we were our own worst enemies.  On night ambush, some GIs straightened the cotter pins to make them easier to pull, and placed the grenades on the dike in front of them, ready for use.  The pins were thin.  After repeated bending and unbending they broke off.  One evening, a month after I had returned from the field to desk duty in Cu Chi, I drove the battalion officer in charge to the Medevac hospital to inspect casualties brought in from the field.  One man had set his grenades out as usual, straightening the pins.  Unseen in the dark, the broken pin fell out and the handle ejected.  Five seconds later the grenade exploded right in the faces of the entire squad.  Five men were killed, and three seriously wounded.   When we arrived, the five bodies lay beside the helipad, waiting for transportation to the morgue.  Most had no hands, one almost no head.  Too late for these men, a new rule went into effect - no more unbending the pins.

 

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The Fragmentation Grenade:  Tales Of A War Far Away
Copyright 1995 Kirk S. Ramsey
Last modified: March 02, 1995