Stick Grenade, the Rethinking of Grenade Design

The origins and design of the German Stielhandgranate, commonly known as the “stick grenade,” are rooted in the early 20th century and reflect a significant shift in military ordnance design.

The grenade is comprises of a tin cylinder, equipped with a belt clip on one side, attached to a hollow wooden handle. To activate it, the metal cap at the end of the handle is unscrewed and connected to a wire pull. Pulling this wire ignites the friction lighter.

The duration for which the safety fuse would burn, typically either 5.5 or 7 seconds, was marked on the side of the grenade. Containing up to 10.5 ounces of high explosive, the entire grenade weighed approximately 29 ounces.

Prior to the advent of the Stielhandgranate, traditional grenade designs were predominantly spherical. However, the onset of trench warfare during World War I necessitated a rethinking of grenade design for both safety and effectiveness.


WW1 Stick Grenade

The German military, recognizing the need for a more practical and safer grenade for trench combat, introduced the Stielhandgranate. This grenade’s most striking feature was its design: a cylindrical explosive charge attached to a long wooden handle.

Stielhandgranate 15
Stielhandgranate 15

This gave it the distinctive appearance and the nickname “potato masher.” The handle was not merely an aesthetic choice but a functional one. It provided leverage, allowing soldiers to throw the grenade much further than traditional spherical grenades.

This longer throw range was crucial in the expansive trench networks, where the ability to clear or attack distant enemy positions could turn the tide of an engagement.

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Another critical aspect of the Stielhandgranate’s design was its safety and reliability. The elongated shape significantly reduced the risk of the grenade rolling back towards the thrower – a common and deadly problem with spherical grenades.

Additionally, the Stielhandgranate was designed to produce a powerful blast with minimal fragmentation, categorizing it as an offensive grenade, ideal for assaults where the thrower would be close to the point of detonation.

Training diagram Stielhandgranate 24, Canadian War Museum in Ottawa
Training diagram Stielhandgranate 24, Canadian War Museum in Ottawa

The early models of the Stielhandgranate, particularly the Model 1915, introduced during World War I, set the standard for subsequent developments. These early versions utilized a pull-cord ignition system, a common method of the time.

Over the years, the design was refined for greater efficiency and ease of use. Features such as belt clips for carrying and modifications for increased fragmentation were introduced in later models.

Stick Grenade During the Interwar Years

The interwar period, spanning the years between World War I and World War II, was a time of significant transition and reevaluation in military strategies and technologies, including the development and refinement of the Stielhandgranate.

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Following the end of World War I, the Treaty of Versailles imposed stringent restrictions on Germany’s military capabilities, significantly impacting the country’s ability to develop and produce armaments.

Despite these limitations, the period was marked by clandestine developments and innovations in military technology, setting the stage for the eventual rearmament of Germany under Adolf Hitler’s regime in the 1930s.

Exposed pull cord on M17 grenade
Exposed pull cord on M17 stick grenade

During this time, the Stielhandgranate underwent further development, albeit discreetly due to the constraints of the Treaty of Versailles. The lessons learned from the trenches of World War I were instrumental in refining the design of the grenade to better suit the evolving nature of warfare.

German engineers and military planners, recognizing the effectiveness and potential of the Stielhandgranate, sought to enhance its reliability, safety, and usability. This effort was in line with the broader trend of rethinking military equipment and tactics based on the experiences of the previous war.

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One of the critical advancements made during this period was the development of the Model 24 Stielhandgranate. Introduced in the interwar years, this model addressed several of the shortcomings identified in earlier versions.

It featured a more reliable and safer friction igniter, which was a departure from the pull-cord system used in previous models. This change not only made the grenade more dependable but also easier to use, especially under the stressful conditions of combat.

M17 grenade among a British Mills bomb grenade and a M1879 Reichsrevolver
M17 stick grenade among a British Mills bomb grenade and a M1879 Reichsrevolver

The Model 24’s design also focused on ease of production and efficiency, factors that would become increasingly important as Germany began to rearm and expand its military forces.

The grenade’s construction was streamlined, making it lighter and more cost-effective to produce, without compromising its effectiveness. This was crucial as Germany, under the guise of rebuilding its infrastructure and economy, secretly began to rebuild its military strength.

Stick Grenade in WW2

The advancements made during the interwar period now came to fruition, as the Stielhandgranate was further refined to meet the demands of modern warfare.

The Model 24 Stielhandgranate, developed in the interwar years, became the standard issue for the German military during World War II. This model boasted several key improvements over its predecessors, primarily its friction igniter, which replaced the less reliable pull-cord system.

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This change significantly enhanced the grenade’s safety and usability, making it more suitable for the rapid and varied combat scenarios of World War II. The friction igniter was both more dependable and quicker to use, an essential factor in the high-stress environments of battle.

German soldier with Nebelhandgranate 39
German soldier with Nebelhandgranate 39

Moreover, the Model 24 was designed for mass production, a critical aspect considering the scale of the conflict and Germany’s strategic focus on widespread military engagement.

The grenade was lighter, simpler to produce, and required fewer materials, aligning with the wartime imperative of efficient resource use. Its design allowed for a throwing range of up to 40 meters, an advantage in both offensive and defensive situations.

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As the war progressed and the demands on German industry intensified, the Stielhandgranate saw further modifications, leading to the introduction of the Model 43. This version was even more streamlined for production, reflecting the increasing pressures on resources and manufacturing capacity.

The Model 43 featured a shorter handle, reducing the amount of wood needed, and a screw-off bottom. This design allowed soldiers to insert additional explosive charges, thereby enhancing the grenade’s destructive power.

Traditional stick grenade designs were predominantly spherical

The tactical use of the Stielhandgranate during World War II was diverse. It proved effective in various scenarios, from urban warfare and forest engagements to defensive actions and assaults on fortified positions. German soldiers, well-trained in grenade tactics, utilized the Stielhandgranate’s extended range and powerful blast to great effect.

Tactical Use and Effectiveness

In World War I, the Stielhandgranate’s extended throwing range and blast effect made it an ideal weapon for trench assaults. German soldiers could clear enemy trenches and bunkers from a safer distance, a significant advantage in the static, close-quarters combat that characterized much of the Great War.

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The grenade’s design minimized the risk of the weapon rolling back towards the thrower in the trenches, a common hazard with spherical grenades. Additionally, its blast pattern was more controlled, making it suitable for offensive operations where German troops would advance immediately following the explosion.

Two First World War Stielhandgranaten alongside a vaguely similar Austro-Hungarian ceramic design. The front Stielhandgranate is the Model 1917, and the back Stielhandgranate is the Model 1916 with visible belt clips.

During World War II, the Stielhandgranate’s role expanded to fit the more mobile and varied nature of combat. It was used extensively in both offensive and defensive operations. In offensive roles, it was effective in clearing enemy positions, bunkers, and urban structures.

In defensive scenarios, the Stielhandgranate was used to halt or slow enemy advances, cover retreats, and protect strategic positions. The improved Model 24, with its friction igniter, enhanced the grenade’s safety and usability, crucial in the fast-paced and diverse battlefields of the second global conflict.

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M1 Garand gun

The Stielhandgranate was not only a standalone weapon but also part of broader tactical maneuvers. German infantry were trained extensively in its use, ensuring they could employ the grenade effectively under various combat conditions. This training made German soldiers proficient grenadiers, capable of using the Stielhandgranate to its full potential.

Despite its advantages, the Stielhandgranate had limitations. Its effectiveness was somewhat reduced against well-entrenched or heavily fortified positions, where its blast and fragmentation were less impactful. Nonetheless, its psychological effect on enemy troops was significant. The distinctive shape and explosion of the Stielhandgranate made it a feared weapon, contributing to its effectiveness beyond its physical capabilities.

“bundle charge”: Geballte Ladung

The M24 grenade was notably limited in its effectiveness against robust targets like tanks and buildings. A widely used solution to this problem was the creation of an “improvised bundle charge,” officially termed the Geballte Ladung, which translates to “concentrated charge.”

Improvised “bundle charge”: Geballte Ladung

This method involved attaching the heads of several M24 grenades, with their handles and fuses removed, around a complete grenade.

The assembly was typically secured using simple materials like rope, cloth, or metal wire, a technique originally devised during World War I with M15, M16, and M17 grenades. These bundle charges often featured the addition of four or six M24 heads, significantly amplifying the explosive force.

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This cost-effective and practical approach enabled standard Wehrmacht infantrymen to quickly create a grenade with up to seven times the standard explosive power. However, the additional weight of the bundle charge made it more challenging to throw, and its larger size meant it was impractical to carry in one hand.

Additionally, fewer of these improvised grenades could be carried at one time. As a consequence, infantry squads facing armored adversaries often had to approach much closer to effectively use these bundle charges.

In the early stages of World War II, the German military had a limited array of effective handheld anti-armor weapons. Even as the war progressed, these improvised bundle grenades continued to be a valuable asset to the regular Heer (German Army) infantryman in combating hard targets like armored vehicles and fortified structures.