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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Grenades - reliability


Old Tom
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A thought comes to mind having read a thread about stupid things done with grenades found on the battlefields. I have read that 50,000,000 Mills grenades were made which may be a simple explanation of the numbers that keep turning up. Clearly these did not explode and those that I have seen were too corroded to see if the pin was still in place. Some are found in groups and may be a unit holding or store that was overtaken by events but most, I think, are individuals, presumably having been thrown but failed to explode. If that is the case a question of the reliability of the Mills comes to mind. My very limited experience of the No 36 a long time ago suggests that failures were extremely rare. Can anyone comment on the 14/18 type

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Tom

The production figure for WW1 Mills was 75 million in WW1 13 million of which were used in training.

When the Mills No 5 was introduced it had problems like all new weapons. Most of the manufacturers were more used to making boiler pipes, bicycles, general castings, motor trade stuff and not grenades or shells. The initial problems were with badly fitting levers that released the striker too early plus a minority of fuzes that burned through very quickly. This led to an accident rate of 1 per 3000 grenades, which was too much. Also troops were often releasing the lever and delaying throwing. Another cause of problems. Pressure to produce the No 5 was very high and Haig at one time in 1915 telegraphed William Mills to demand delivery! This sort of pressure led to inspection standards being lax. William Mills had to spend a huge amount of time in 1915 visiting the new manufactures advising them. He also made a film for the Army to show how a grenade should be primed and thrown.

The majority of grenades found in France and Belgium are not blinds, and all still have the pins and levers in place in my experience. They were generally lost in the course of battle often by the caseload. I recently heard of a farmer on the Somme who ploughed through 500 Mills No 5 still in their boxes a few months ago. A few years ago one individual found a Bomb dump with 5000 Mills Grenades. These were confiscated by the Police. Many grenades were of course thrown into shell holes as battlefields were cleared post war. As fields are ploughed deeper and deeper and soil erodes we can be sure more hardware will appear over the coming years.

Essentially the Mills No 23 Mk III and the Mills 36 cured all the early issues. Casting was easier leading to a better lever / striker, lever / shoulder fit, the striker had a slot in it to aid ignition, the makers by then knew what they were doing and the standard of inspection in the factories had improved and had settled down by 1917 as well. So basically by late 1917 the Mills 23 Mk III and the Mills 36 were the reliable grenade they continued to be into the 1970's.

John

How Not to Do IT!

post-8629-0-87622200-1465127972_thumb.jp

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post-8629-0-94993900-1465131143_thumb.jp

Part of the iron harvest. All had levers or part levers attached.

Near Ulster Tower (awaiting collection) a few years ago.

John

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