The 8-cm Granatwerfer 34 (GrW 34) - Heavy Grenade-Launcher Model 1934 - was a German Army favorite throughout the whole course of World War 2. Despite the official designation classification, she was often classified as a medium mortar and was produced from 1934 into 1945. The system performed highly-effectively (particularly in the hands of a trained mortar team) and was respected by Allied troops for her excellent rate-of-fire and high accuracy at distance. The weapon proved so critical to German Army operations that it was fielded wherever her troops were fighting. Her production in number and her general battlefield usefulness ensured her place in World War 2 lore.
Rheinmetall-Borsig AG was charged with the design and development of this mortar system. The protracted design period lasted from 1922 to 1933, a period which saw German rearmament in spite of the restrictive powers of the Treaty of Versailles following World War 1. The mortar system was nothing more than a revision of the influential French Brandt mle 27/31 81.4mm system of 1927, this time with a German branding. Crews were trained in her basic functions but soon - moreso through operational experience - developed speedy response times in her deployment, aiming and firing - making themselves one of the more feared adversaries of the war. German mortar crews represented some of the finest masters of their craft in the entire conflict. To keep up with demand, several manufacturing firms were enlisted to lend a hand in wartime production of the GrW 34 while still more were used for production of the all-important projectiles needed to make the GrW 34 a successful weapon system.
Despite her dedicated pages in World War history, the GrW 34 was anything but a unique and wholly special design, passing on much of the kudos to her excellently trained crews. Her design was highly conventional for its time - her arrangement consisted of nothing more than the standard base plate, a bipod (with aiming optics and handwheels) connected to the firing tube and the firing tube itself. The system could break down into these three major components for ease of travel. The firing tube itself was of a smoothbore internal design. Two barrel types existed in a steel and alloy form, differentiated by the systems overall weight gains as 136.6lbs and 125.6lbs respectively. Barrel length measured in at 45 inches (1,143MM). The base projectiles were 7.71lbs in weight and activated via percussion fuses. Range could be slightly extended through use of additional powder charges. The base plate was rectangular in shape and fitted to the bottom of the firing tube. There was a rounded handle for carrying the individual component from location to location. The bipod fitted most of the critical aiming functions of the GrW 34. There was a traversing handwheel as well as a cross-leveling handwheel for general aiming while a panoramic sight afforded for finer adjustments against a target area. Elevation fell within a range of 45- to 90-degrees while traversing was limited from 10- to 23-degrees. Muzzle velocity was listed at 571 feet per second and the weapon was ranged out to 2,624 yards (2,400 meters).
The GrW 34 was cleared to fire the conventional High-Explosive (HE) and smoke projectiles but her true arsenal was more expansive. She could fire illuminating rounds for night-time work as well as any captured enemy ammunition fitting her caliber (at the loss of some performance however). There was an interesting bouncing projectile known by the designation of "8-cm Wurfgranate 39" that utilized a tiny rocket motor to "bounce" itself off of the ground of a target area, exploding in mid-air and spewing her dangerous fragmentation payload about the surrounding area. These, however, proved too costly to produce in any number and were therefore something of a rarity.
The basic pear-shaped projectiles (stabilized by multiple small fins at the rear of each shell) were dropped from the muzzle-end of the firing tube straight down the awaiting barrel. They then struck the awaiting firing pin at the base of the firing tube, subsequently igniting the propellant charge and sending the projectile on its flight trajectory based on the predetermined path through careful aiming. A trained crew of three could let off between 15- to 25-rounds per minute. One crewmember managed the ammunition supply while another fine-tuned the aiming adjustments. The third crewmember served as an assistant and could also stabilize the bipod by hand when the system was fired for even more steadiness. All three helped to transport the three components of the GrW 34 system.
The base Granatwerfer 34 was spawned into a few published variants. These included the Granatwerfer 34/1, a modified Granatwerfer 34 for use on self-propelled vehicles such as the SdKfz 250/7 series halftrack, and the kurzer 8-cm Granatwerfer 42 (or "Stummelwerfer"), essentially a lightened form of the base model (with half the range) sporting a shortened barrel system for use by airborne personnel. The Stummelwerfer saw service beginning in 1942 but was rarely in use with her intended airborne forces. Instead, the system went on to replace the complex and expensive 5-cm lwGrW 36 light mortar series keeping all of her GrW 34 benefits minus the excellent range.
Other than the German Army, the other key operator of the Granatwerfer 34 system was ally Bulgaria.
8-cm Granatwerfer 34 - Base Series Designation
8-cm Granatwerfer 34/1 - Modified GrW 34 for use on Sd/Kfz 250/7 series halftracks.
kurzer 8-cm Granatwerfer 42 (Stummelwerfer) - Modified GrW 34 for use by German airborne forces; beginning service in 1942; lightened overall load with shortened barrel and half the range.
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