During the Second World War, a large number of unusual weapons were created in Great Britain. Many of them were not created from a good life. After the defeat of the expeditionary force in France and the loss of a huge amount of various weapons in Great Britain, they seriously feared a German invasion of the islands. To fend off the threat, a militia was massively created in the country, military training sessions were held and various samples of ersatz weapons were created. Among other things, the local volunteer defense forces armed with ampulamets, throwing Molotov cocktails (Type 76) at armored vehicles. The second brainchild of the British genius was sticky anti-tank hand grenades, also known as No. 74 anti-tank hand grenades.
If you thought that these sticky ammunition only existed in video games or feature films, then you were wrong. A canon picture in this regard is the film “Saving Private Ryan”, in which Captain Miller, played by Tom Hanks, creates sticky bombs from what is at hand not from a good life. In life, everything sometimes turns out to be even more interesting than in the movies. British-made # 74 anti-tank hand grenades were a glass ball on a Bakelite handle. An unusual sample of anti-tank weapons was produced from 1940 to 1943, in total, approximately 2.5 million of these grenades were fired.
Prerequisites for a sticky bomb
New British anti-tank grenade, created in 1940, was named “sticky bomb” (from the English Sticky Bomb). It was also known as the ST grenade, or Anti-Tank No. 74. The anti-tank hand grenade was created for use in the British army and militia as one of the solutions to the problem of the lack of anti-tank weapons in the army.
Such weapons were not created from a good life. Great Britain did not have a strong land army, relying on its own fleet and island location. The defeat of the British Expeditionary Force after the German attack on France in May-June 1940 was a serious shock for all the armed forces of the United Kingdom. After the evacuation from Dunkirk, where a huge amount of various weapons and military equipment had to be abandoned, the British army faced serious problems.
After the disaster at Dunkirk, only 167 anti-tank guns remained at the disposal of the British military. With this arsenal, London had to somehow defend the islands from a possible invasion of German troops. The prospects were extremely vague and alarming, while the tank threat was obvious. The French campaign of 1940 demonstrated to everyone how successful German tank and motorized units can be and what success they can achieve.
In order to solve the problem of the shortage of anti-tank weapons as quickly as possible, various special anti-tank weapons were urgently developed in the UK. These include the previously mentioned Northover Projector ampulomet, and a specially designed sticky hand-held anti-tank grenade. They were going to arm the militia with new weapons. It was planned to use grenades at roadblocks, in ambushes, as well as during hostilities in settlements, when grenades could be dropped onto armored vehicles from above from windows or from the roofs of buildings.
Sticky hand-held anti-tank grenade device
The development of the grenade was carried out by a team from the military research organization MD1 (abbreviation for Ministry of Defense 1). This British organization, which specialized in weapons research and development during the Second World War, was also known as Churchill’s Toy Store. The unusual grenade was developed with the direct participation of Majors Millis Jeffers and Stuart McRae, who were key figures in MD1.
As conceived by the developers, the new grenade solved two problems at once. First, it made up for the shortage of standard anti-tank weapons. Secondly, it provided the “fixation” of the grenade on the armor of the enemy’s military equipment. The development of a grenade began in 1938. One of those who then began to work on the creation of the “rebel anti-tank grenade” was Millis Jeffers. Even then, the goal of the development was the invention of such an anti-tank weapon that could be effectively used even by poorly trained people. In 1940, it became obvious that the development was prophetic, since a new, simple and cheap anti-tank weapon was required “yesterday”. It was at this stage that Stuart McRae got involved in the design.
The two military inventors were quick to figure out the details. The main principle of the grenade was to be the “squash head” effect, which implies the effect of plastic explosives on the armor. The designers understood that the effect of the explosive charge increases with a snug fit to a flat surface (armor). To achieve this, they turned to the unusual shape and content of the anti-tank grenade.
The British Army No.74 Sticky Anti-Tank Hand Grenade was a hollow glass ball or flask with a Bakelite (plastic) handle. The glass flask was covered on top by a special metal jacket-shell, which protected the grenade during transportation and had to be removed before use. The glass ball itself was completely covered with an adhesive mass. In the course of the tests carried out, it was found that the best effect is provided by “bird glue”, which was used in bird traps. The designers stopped at it. A powerful explosive, nitroglycerin, was used as a filling in a glass flask, into which special additives were placed to increase viscosity and increase stability. In the end, an explosive was obtained, in its consistency comparable to petroleum jelly.
Outwardly, this “sticky bomb” looked like this: a light metal case, assembled from two halves, was attached to a bakelite handle. The casing was made of lightweight sheet metal. It protected a glass sphere on all sides, inside which was placed approximately 1.25 pounds of explosive (0.57 kg). The sphere was covered with a cloth to which “bird glue” was applied. The handle had two pins and a safety lever. The first pin was pulled out to reveal the protective shell. After the cover was removed, the fighter could remove the second pin, which activated the firing mechanism of the anti-tank grenade. British # 74 Anti-Tank Hand Grenade weighed 2.25 pounds (just over 1 kg) and was 230 mm long and 100 mm in diameter. It was believed that the grenade would be quite effective against armor up to one inch (25 mm) thick.
After the soldier released the safety lever, he had five seconds before the detonator detonated. It was planned to use the grenade primarily against light armored combat vehicles. At the same time, it was possible to both throw a grenade at the target, and hit a grenade on the armor of a combat vehicle with such force that the glass shell broke and the viscous explosive filling adhered to the armor. Such a weapon seemed ideal for night sabotage and attacks by armored vehicles at dusk or at night, when visibility from the tank was seriously limited. Also, grenades could be used in urban areas and on narrow roads.
Disadvantages of the “sticky bomb”
Like any weapon, the sticky bomb had its drawbacks. Given the specificity of the weapon and the context of the launch into mass production, this is not surprising. The first problem was that grenades adhered very poorly even to vertical armor plates. And if the armor of combat vehicles was covered with a layer of mud or was wet, then fastening became almost impossible. At the same time, dirt on tanks is their usual state in combat conditions.
The second problem was the danger of the grenade to the soldiers themselves. The anti-tank hand grenade could stick to uniforms, equipment, or various objects in a room or in a trench. With this development of events, the fighter found himself in an extremely unenviable position, especially if he had already removed the grenade from the fuse. To part with his equipment or the form to which the grenade stuck, he had five seconds, otherwise he could part with his life. Another problem that was revealed over time was that nitroglycerin began to deteriorate, becoming unstable. This fact further limited the possibilities of using a grenade.
In this regard, it is not surprising that the grenade practically never reached the advanced combat units of the British army and was used extremely limitedly. It is known that the British and the armies of the Commonwealth countries used this ammunition to a limited extent in North Africa, and the Australians also in battles with the Japanese. At the same time, from 1940 to 1943, British industry released 2.5 million “sticky bombs”, which remained mostly on the islands and were intended to arm the local militia.