Posted: 24 December 2010 21:04
Question: what do you do with 1,200 grenades, 180 mortar bombs and 1,000 thunderflashes? Answer: have some fun! However, one day of exercises resulted in 4 casualties.
The "Vikings" undergoing Commando-style training on the Sussex coast worked their way through a large allocation of pyrotechnics in a variety of exercises.
One notable exercise that proved fun for all (except perhaps those injured during the day) was in street fighting in a bombed-out area of Eastbourne:
Our day of street fighting has been quite a success. During the morning, 'A' Troop went through the area (a blitzed one which the Mayor of Eastbourne was kind enough to let us have for the training) in very good order. We were not without casualties however; Lt Turner was hit by flying brick and two of the 'I' Section...were hit by shrapnel when a 2" mortar bomb landed near them. Fortunately, none of these were serious.
'B' Troop put on a particularly good demonstration during the afternoon at which General Pearkes was a very active spectator. He followed the sub-sections so closely that he was forced to duck on several occasions when grenades were thrown near him...This was the first chance that many of the men have had to actually do street fighting on proper houses with live ammunition and they got a great kick out of it...both the CO and General Pearkes both appeared very pleased with the exercise, the General exclaiming that he hadn't so much fun since Vimy (1917)!
There were only 72 2-inch mortar bombs available for training and it sounds as though a fair proportion might have been expended in the two sessions of street fighting described above. The bombsite was eventually cleared and redeveloped after the war, obviously erasing all trace of what went on there.
The troops had 996 Mills Bombs (36M) for their training, and it was probably some of these and the 102 No.69 grenades being used in the Eastbourne exercise. The main types the Vikings were using throughout their training are shown below (not to scale).
The 36M was the standard British 'defensive' grenade (ie, its power was such that the thrower would need to take cover to avoid its effect and is assumed to be in a defensive position).
The No.68 was an anti-tank grenade designed to be launched from a cup discharger fitted to a rifle; this would have been an alternative anti-tank weapon to the cumbersome and increasingly ineffectual Boys Rifle.
The ST grenade was better known as the 'Sticky Bomb' and comprised a glass bulb of explosive covered with stockinette coated with a strong adhesive with an aluminium protective cover removed prior to use. The cover was removed and the bomb then either thrown (at the risk of it sticking to the thrower) or directly smashed against the side of a tank - an equally dangerous way of using an unpopular weapon.
The No.69 was an 'offensive' grenade in that its power was far less than the No.36M and so could be thrown whilst in the open and attacking an enemy position with quick follow-up. Its effect was more disorientating/demoralising than lethal, partly as a result of being made of bakelite.
The photo at right shows the safety cap of a No.69; I found this at a site known to have been used by the Vikings and it was only by chance that I picked it up.
Thinking it was a modern drinks bottle cap, it was only the feeling that it was bakelite that made me hang on to it. The screw thread high up in the top of the cap and the fact it fitted perfectly on an intact No.69 (far right) positively identified it.
Other grenades also used the same cap, but they do not appear on the Viking's ammunition schedule. We can't of course rule out these other types absolutely, but my money's on a No.69. The training area in question was later used for other purposes and I have a feeling that military training on it probably ceased. The known dates would make the Vikings the last occupants to be using live ordnance there.
This particular area was, however, the scene of a night time exercise after the street fighting at Eastbourne, and it was here that the fourth and final casualty of the day occurred when a Private Gray stepped on a No.69 grenade; the extent of the injury is not recorded.
More fun with explosives will be described in the next post.
British hand grenade developed from 1915. The No.36 M grenade was the standard type during WW2 until 1972.
The S.T. Grenade, also known as a Toffee Apple comprised a spherical bomb mounted on a throwing handle designed to stick to the target by the use of an adhesive substance enveloping the charge. A metal casing protected the adhesive; this was removed just prior to use. Unpopular due to the danger of the thrower getting the bomb stuck on their clothing. Image shows a training model.
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Hibbs, Peter Viking School (4) - Mortar and Grenades (2017) Available at: http://pillbox.org.uk/blog/216674/ Accessed: 25 September 2017
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