2nd Amendment to the Constitution of The United States of America

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

"I ask sir, what is the militia? It is the whole people except for a few politicians."
- George Mason (father of the Bill of Rights and The Virginia Declaration of Rights)

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Evolution of the 40mm grenade launcher in the Army...


Well, the Army done pissed me off again. The changed the grenade launcher and didn't inform me or ask my advice...the nerve of them...

Last month I posted about the Army needing to start making and using the RPG as a long range anti personnel weapon for distance engagements over in Afghanistan. I mentioned about the 40mm M203 as being inadequate in that post. Well, in reality it does have many uses that it is very good in. It extends the soldiers range much farther than hand thrown grenades. And while the explosive power of the standard HE round is lacking in comparison to the RPG it does have its advantages. When fighting in close up areas you don't necessarily want to shoot large amounts of explosive in close proximity to yourself as not to receive your own shrapnel or cause damage that may impede your progress.

Grenades come in many flavors to include explosive, smoke, incendiary, CS (tear gas), riot control, concussion and even a grenade utilizing the Ghost Chili pepper in use in India.  Of course the grenade we are concentrating on here is the classic explosive fragmentary type.

The are two broad categories of these types of grenades, defensive and offensive. A classic defensive grenade would be the US "Pineapple" grenade of WW1 and WW2 fame, heavy and with a lot of power, it was designed to be used by troops in defensive positions or under cover that could throw it and duck out of its blast. The other type is, of course, the offensive grenade. Smaller with less shrapnel and blast, it is intended to be used by troops advancing rapidly behind it. The German "Potato masher" type grenade was one of these, it only looks big because of the wooden handle used to facilitate throwing it farther (those Germans and their engineering). While the pineapple grenade had an iron body segmented to make big fragments, the German design relied on a thin metal can to produce small fragments and relied on the blast for its effectiveness (later in the war a metal sleeve was fielded to be used over it to produce more fragmentation..result of the vicious fighting in Russia).

potato_masher “And und Hans…ven ve are done making with the war ve will mash potatoes for the potato pancakes…yah….”

Of the two types of grenades, the 40mm HE round most commonly used in the M203 is more of an offensive grenade. It is ideal to use in both open and built up areas for point work against unarmored and lightly armored targets. There are many other rounds that can be fired from a 40mm system to include smoke, WP, Dual Purpose (HEAP), CS, Parachute Flare, buckshot, and "less than lethal" rounds.


And of course in our ongoing war against extremists there have been other developments in offensive weaponry (its a joke, those of you viewing my page from Pakistan – and apparently there are more than a few of you by the stats – please do not take offense)

But how did we get to this point (warning: condensed history lesson to follow)...

Traditionally, grenades have been hand thrown. Ever wonder why so many units in Jolly Olde England are called "Grenadiers"? They were the crazy bastards that would go running across the battlefield with a flaming bomb in their hand and lob it at the enemy. These guys were the elite of their time..they were chosen for their size and their strength, as much was needed to hurl iron bombs at the enemy far enough to harm them and leave the thrower (relatively) unscathed. These were the guys that the girls were looking for down at Ye' Olde Pub after work and war were completed. Today the name is mostly ceremonial but the grandstanding under the title continues I am sure.

Nice hat…

So for quite a while throwing these orbs o’ death was primarily done by hand. Even today hand grenades are still used when fighting is up close and personal.  It helps when clearing a room to toss in a little party favor before entering to help “clear the air” so to speak. 

Here is a picture of US soldiers training for WW1 unleashing what I would call “Doughboy rain”..

As trench warfare went on and static defenses could saturate “no man’s land” with both accurate automatic and sniper fire the concept of sending someone running up to a trench and tossing in a grenade to make way for an advance (a la German Stormtroopers) became less and less a viable option.  Many types of “trench launchers” were developed and tried by both sides with some limited success.  Basically just a small mortar they were not all that mobile..but they did pave the way for more practical developments to follow.

Picture of a French designed grenade launcher that was powered  by compressed air…I believe that is a German soldier using it…

Later on the rifle grenade was developed to extend the reach of the foot soldier to safely employ a grenade a distance from the enemy.  The system used an adapter that fit on the end of a standard infantry rifle and either blanks or ball ammo to launch the grenade to its target after the safety had been removed (of course).  While a vast improvement over having to toss your grenades by hand over long distances these systems still had their disadvantages.  The main one was that while preparing to launch your grenade your primary rifle system (the rifle) was out of commission. Also, due to the fixed amount of energy available to launch the grenade the size of the projectile was limited.  Around the world the concept has not gone away with various countries and organizations creating and improving on existing designs, but for the US military it is pretty much an abandoned concept.

M1 Garand, 1911 by his side, steel pot on his head…grenade launcher ready to go…yeah, this is the REAL infantry here!


So the problem being that the rifle couldn’t be used at the same time as the rifle you would think someone would of thought up a way to attach the launcher to the rifle next, right? Wrong.  They decided to make the grenade launcher its own weapon system so that the gunner didn’t need to be worried about that pesky rifle thing.  Enter the M79 into US service.  It is a pretty awesome launcher in an off itself and performed well in Vietnam in its intended role.  The gunner was usually armed with a .45 for up close threats but could also chamber “buckshot” rounds if needed for defense in the “blooper”.  Many gunners were able to learn the relative “drop” of each type of round at distance and could effectively fire the weapon without the use of sights after a while.  While an effective system in its own right, this did not resolve the issue with losing a rifle in each fire team though.

M79 in Vietnam

In the later stages of Vietnam the military experimented with a grenade launcher that mated with the standard M16 and allowed use of both systems independently.  It was eventually adopted as the M203 grenade launcher in 1969 and has been in service ever since.  Its a single shot, breech loaded launcher that turns a regular M16/M4 into the ultimate in over/under combinations.  The system is aimed either using a rear quadrant sight normally attached to the carrying handle or a pop up leaf style sight that is positioned directly behind the front sight post.  Of the two sighting systems I always preferred the leaf sight as I thought it was quicker to use and the rear sight was a pain and was damaged easily.  Somehow I always “lost” my quadrant sight right after we got in the field and “found” it when we got back into cantonment.


Some “Hollywood” type slinging a M203 under his M16A2 without any type of sight on it for the launcher…yeah, he must be that good.

We did a rotation out at the National Training Center (NTC) once at Ft. Irwin, CA where we got to actually use live rounds on a range.  The range was pretty cool as they had old, broken down vehicles downrange to use as targets.  My “claim to fame” with the 203 came on this range when I was able to hit an old M113 at about 300 meters twice in a row with the launcher.  A voice over the tower said something to the effect “OK lane number 7, you think you’re pretty good…betcha can’t drop one in the top of that track”…next round right in the top of the open troop compartment!!  Pure luck but nobody needed to know that at the time!

OK, but that story doesn’t hold a candle to this next video here (of course my tale happened back in 1989 before everyone and their Mom had a video camera with them 24/7)..impressive take down of a fuel tanker to deprive the insurgents…yeah, its got fuel in it that creates the major part of the explosion (fuel vapor more likely, fuel air explosions are nasty!)…but still good shooting!!


Now it looks like the M203 is being replaced by a new system under the barrel of the M4 called the M320 (tough luck if you’re dsylexic).  It a version of the German made H&K G36 launcher and pretty much is employed the same way as the M203.  The main improvement is since the barrel breech opens to the side of the weapon instead of simply sliding forward as on the M203, that a larger variety of rounds can be used in it as length is not as much a consideration.  Seems pretty cool, but again I wish they had really sought out my guidance before just picking a replacement willy-nilly like….


M320 in service overseas….my grenade launcher is cooler than your grenade launcher…damn, the only thing that troop doesn’t have hanging off of that carbine is an espresso machine…oh, wait, there it is…

Here is a somewhat lengthy video of actual combat in Afghanistan with the M320 being used.



I guess no discussion of the history of grenade launching the US military would be complete without at least mentioning the Mk-19 system.  Basically, its a 40MM GRENADE LAUNCHING MACHINE GUN!  Hellfire incarnate!  Normally too large to be transported by hand and employed, it is primarily found mounted on vehicles and helicopters and in static defensive emplacements on FOBs and outposts. It is an effective area denial and suppression weapon as well as having very good light anti-armor effectiveness as well with the right ammo (the talibastards really don’t use armor unless putting an IBA on a donkey counts).


Want to know what a bad day is like? Imagine your a talibastard on the receiving end of this stuff over on that hillside…

OK, so going back to my original post in December about how does all of this measure up to the RPG….well, in my opinion it doesn’t.  Maybe we don’t need a man portable system right now powerful enough to take out enemy armor (like that donkey thing)…but I think until they can get something to bring a large amount of fragmentary explosive over large distances that an average grunt can carry, I think its a good choice.  Yes, I know about the SMAW and all that…the RPG is simpler and more portable.  Once again, opinions differ so feel free to let me know how messed up my thinking is or whatever.  I post every comment received unless it is a blatant spambot type message (make note, do not put an email address “in the clear” on the blog). 


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey you forgot the semiauto M32.