Grenades in the 16th century

May 2019
81
Earth
#1
I have seen a few references to grenades in 16th century warfare. For example, page 68 of the book 'Malta 1565: Last Battle of the Crusades' by Tim Pickles mentions that Grand Master La Valette of the Order of Malta was wounded in the leg by a grenade during this campaign. Page 33 of the book 'Dutch Armies of the 80 Years War (2)' by Bouko de Groot says that grenades were used at the siege of Steenwijk in 1592.

I'd like to learn a bit about the designs and variations of grenades during the 16th century. Bouko de Groot's book mentions 5lb brass spheres filled with gunpowder and fitted with fuses. What about other types of grenades, or indeed other hand-thrown explosives during this period (e.g. incendiary bombs, stink-pots, smoke bombs, etc.)?
 

sparky

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
4,707
Sydney
#3
grenades were used , there even was special troops called grenadiers
the flaming grenade was and is a common patch on military symbols

flaming grenade symbol - Google Search

it fell into disuse since it was as dangerous to the user as the recipient and of uncertain effect

grenades were re-invented during the Russo /Japanese war of 1905 since there was some amount of trench warfare
explosive would be thrown at the enemy , the handles were quite long in the first models

WW1 and more trench warfare , the new ( old ) device catched on , one could throw a bunch while keeping low
it became a major way of keeping the other side at bay or clearing a set of trench , underground shelters , machine gun nest
they also were used for night time raid on forward position
the German stormtroopers would leave their rifle behind but carry a pistol and a couple of haversack full of them

modern tactics use them at the assault distance , either to attack or to defend
 
Mar 2014
6,632
Beneath a cold sun, a grey sun, a Heretic sun...
#4
What about other types of grenades, or indeed other hand-thrown explosives during this period (e.g. incendiary bombs, stink-pots, smoke bombs, etc.)?
At Malta in 1565 flaming hoops were used in abundance. These were lightweight hoops as tall as a man, covered with combustibles. They could be thrown or rolled down onto attackers. When used against troops who had light, flowing garments, they were devastating.
 
May 2019
81
Earth
#5
Difficult subject. I researched it some time ago and I didn't find anything more than passing references. I would like to know if someone has some references.
Likewise. It's been much easier for me to find sources on grenades in the 18th and 19th centuries than in the 16th. I'd like to find some details on these passing references to hand grenades in the 1500s that I've come across...

grenades were used , there even was special troops called grenadiers
the flaming grenade was and is a common patch on military symbols

flaming grenade symbol - Google Search
I'm aware of grenadiers (as units of big lads who threw hand grenades) in the 17th and 18th centuries. But I wasn't aware they already existed as specialist troops in the 16th century. What sources/historical campaigns in the 1500s have you come across that included grenadier units?

At Malta in 1565 flaming hoops were used in abundance. These were lightweight hoops as tall as a man, covered with combustibles. They could be thrown or rolled down onto attackers. When used against troops who had light, flowing garments, they were devastating.
Ah, I remember coming across those in a book about the siege of Malta (think it was Crowley's 'Empires of the Sea'). Thanks for reminding me.
 

sparky

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
4,707
Sydney
#6
grenades should strictly be understood to be explosive packaged in a fragmenting vessel manufactured for this purpose

it is very probable that some type of home made throwing bombs were made and used from the earliest days of gunpowder
to have a large batch of them prepared and allocated to be used by some personnel also seems likely
gunpowder was quite pricey and of limited quantity , one wouldn't really want to waste the stuff
that's possibly also one of the reason their use was abandoned , Louis XIV was the first to create Grenadiers units
Louis XIV armies - Google Search:

there must have been quite a lot of misfire , a bit of water would have extinguished the wick
sticking it in the wet mud or any other wetness
the best counter at a grenade being thrown was the old solution of throwing it back
with the result of a grenadier exploding with all his stock in your ranks
since the timing of the fuse was very approximate ,a short fuse had to be avoided , this made a return throw a clear possibility
 
Last edited:
Apr 2018
280
USA
#7
Quite a few 16th-17th century military treatises and books on gunnery tended to include extensive lists of recipes for creating various incendiary weapons including grenades, rockets, fireballs, petards, flame throwers, trunks, fire arrows etc. In addition to how to prepare flamable mixtures with very different properties, for instance if you want the grenade or mortar shell to just explode with as much force as possible vs if you instead want a substance that instead spreads out and easily sticks to clothing and armor while burning, or if you want it to burn extremely hot, or burn for a very long time, or burn extremely brightly so that you can fire a shot into the air and make it easier to see the enemy army at night, or if you just want to impress your friends by setting your hand on fire without being hurt.

Lucar's Appendix in particuar has a pretty good compilation, though you need to log in through a university to read it : https://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/eebo2/...t;view=toc;q1=Gunnery+--++Early+works+to+1800

Exactly how often any of this stuff was used or how effective it actually was I'm not entirely sure. Military treatises tend to recommend that ordinance officers in addition to being skilled in the use of their artillery should also be knowledgeable of various military fireworks and have extra ingrediants on hand to produce them if needed. As an example form Thomas Styward in 1581:

>Item, to haue such gouernours as are not onelie skill∣full in the readie managing of their peeces, but also in the making of trunkes, bawles, arrowes, and all other sortes of wilde fire, and for the continuall supplie of them, they ought to haue in a readinesse greate store of Sulphur, Salt-peter, Rosin, Calx viue, Lint seede Oyle, and com∣com Lampe Oyle, Pitch, Tarre, Campher, Waxe, Tu∣cia, Ars-nicke, quicke siluer, and Aquauite: hereof to frame bals to burne in the water, cressets, and torches, that stormes and winde cannot extinguish, murdering bullets to shoot out of morter peeces, and such like. <

That said, it seems that most of these weapons perhaps didn't prove all that useful outside of extremely niche situations when compared to just shooting the enemy with muskets or cannons.

In William Bourne's 1578 "inventions or devices" he seems to have been unimpressed by most of these "fireworks" being used at the time: "As diuers Gunners and other men haue deuised sundry sorts of fire-works for the annoyance of their enemies, yet as farre as euen I haue seene or heard, I neuer know not heard of any good seruice done by it, neither by sea nor by land, but onely by powder, and that hath done great ser∣uice, for that the force of it is so mightie, and commeth with such a terror." He then goes on to describe the one type of these weapons that he considered the most useful out of all of them, a simple, round, fragmentation grenade packed with gunpower:

>But for their other fire-workes, it is ra∣ther meetest to be vsed in the time of pleasure in the night than for any seruice. And for to make this kind of ball, do this: Prepare the mould of a double Culuering shot, and that is fiue ynches high, and then take clay, and make it round in a ball, as much as a Minion shot, that is three in∣ches high, and then let it be dried as the Founders doo vse to drie their moulds, and then stick that clay round about with yron nayles, leauing the nayles an ynch without the clay, and then put that moulde of clay into the moulde of the Culuering shot, and looke that the nayles do so beare, that the ball of clay doo stande right in the middle of the mould of the Culuering shot, and also, make the mould of clay, so that it may haue a tuchhole to come into the clay, and then take Bell mettle or other course pot brasse, and then fill the mould of the Culuering shot with that met∣tell, and that being done, then it is finished, and so make as many of them as you list, and then that being done, picke out all the clay againe that is in the ball, that was cast in the Culuering shot mould, and then fill that with good corne powder, and then that beeing filled neere full, then take some receite of soft fire worke, that will not burne too ha∣stily, and fill vp the rest of the ball, and then it is perfectly finished. And then in the time of seruice either by sea or by land, it is very good to throw in amongst your enemies, where they doo stand thicke, as they bee very good to de∣fend a breach, or such other like causes, as this, to take it in his hand and to fire it, and then to throw it amongst your enemies, and as soone as the fire-worke is burned vnto the powder, the ball will breake in a thousand peeces, & euery peece in a manner will doo as much hurt as a Harquebuze shot, so that there is no kind of fire-worke comparable to this kind of Ball, for seruice in the time of neede. <
 
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sparky

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
4,707
Sydney
#8
It is quite telling that grenades fell into disuse ..........military men tend to be very practical

the re-discovery of grenades was once smokeless powder and friction fuses were invented
the grenades were lighter but more lethal
it pack much more of a punch ,can fracture metal casing to create shrapnel , much less of a misfire problem and easier to keep dry
 

Nemowork

Ad Honorem
Jan 2011
8,396
South of the barcodes
#9
theres one other thing to consider.

most military campaigns were fought out on open ground so you could manouver and mass men. Generally speaking the blast range of a grenade is larger than its throwing range and theres no point using a grenade when a musket can reach out and touch somebody whos standing out in the open in a sky blue coat anyway.

Grenades come into use when theres urban fighting, people in the next room you cant see, when the thrower has a wall to hide behind or a trench to hide in.

thats why theyre popular in naval boarding parties, siege warfare andso on. that doesnt happen much, they can be improvised on campaign but the professional production of grenades doesnt come back until siege warfare is a permanent event for the military.
 
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sparky

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
4,707
Sydney
#10
Grenades came in their best for trench warfare
lots of nooks and crannies , same with urban fighting and assaulting a position
dive flat , lob a couples then charge
field books recommend digging a small pit in the corner of a trench
to kick the incoming grenade which has fallen at your feet
of course a competent soldier would "cook " his trow to leave no time to do that

there is offensive grenade with a small radius and no big shrapnel
modern grenades have a steel wire coiled around its explosive core
it fracture in many small shards who loose velocity in a few meters
 

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