The Stielhandgranate was the quintessential hand grenade of the German Army in both World War 1 and World War 2. The type became an easily recognizable weapon of its time while its unique dimensions ensured a firm hold with impressive range. While generally referred to as a "stick grenade", the type was also given the nickname of "Potato Masher" by the Allies due to its shape rather resembling the kitchen utensil. The Stielhandgranate entered service with the German Army during World War 1 in 1915 and was retired at the end of World War 2 in 1945. An improved, economically-minded form of the stick grenade appeared during the latter half of World War 2 as the Model 43 Stielhandgranate which was intended to replace the original Model 24 series.
The battlefields of World War 1 produced a variety of new-fangled weapons which came to include the tank ("landship"), the fighter aircraft, the bomber aircraft, poison gas, the light machine gun, the submachine gun and the flamethrower. The war had bogged down into a stalemate of static warfare which required warplanners to discover new ways to dislodge their respective foe. As such, the war turned into a game of "technology chess" as each side attempted to outdo the other in turn. One other practical weapon utilized during this period became the hand grenade and both sides featured this implement prominently. Hand grenades proved useful offensive and defensive weapons and could be used for psychological effect, suppression effect, to dislodge an entrenched enemy or maim/kill said enemy. Prior to World War 1, the hand grenade was primarily considered a siege-type weapon for attacking enemies behind fortified positions and not so much a direct-contact weapon. Considering the nature of trench warfare of the time - and the thousands of craters left from artillery and bomb strikes - the grenade proved as extremely useful a weapon in such quarters. Of course with the benefits of such a weapon came its limitations - environmental factors that might limit a hand grenades usefulness for example, or poor production quality or exposure to enemy fire when attempting to throw the grenade. As hand grenades were "thrown" weapons, this also limited their inherent ranges.
The original German stick grenade of note became the Model 24. Its basic design essentially comprised a hollowed wooden stick that acted as the handle which itself was attached to the base of a cylindrical metal can, the latter becoming the grenade proper. A pull-cord was exposed at the bottom of the base of the stick handle and, once pulled, the grenade's five second fuse timer was set and the grenade could be throw at a target area. Its design ensured (to an extent) that the fallen grenade would not roll back in the direction of the thrower (of on a relatively smooth, angled surface). However, its rather larger size (for a hand grenade) made it possible for enemies to identify the thrown grenade, recover it before detonation and throw the weapon back in the direction of the enemy. If accomplished in due time, this could of course hold disastrous effects on the original thrower's position. After some operational use, the Model 24 was revised in1916 with a screw-bottom cap at the bottom of the stick handle which needed to be removed to access the pull-cord. This was brought about as snagging of the exposed pull-cord in the original design became a rather lethal problem in-the-field. Beyond this, the hand grenade functioned in the exact same way.
The detonating portion of the grenade was its cylindrical "head" (of iron or steel construction). It was comprised of trinitrotouene filling - otherwise known by its abbreviation "TNT". As the TNT detonated, the metal cylinder shattered into multiple fragments. However, the German stick grenade was not a true "fragmentation" grenade weapon - it relied moreso on the shock value of its blast than endangering targets with shrapnel. Only a 1942 development, essentially a metal sleeve fitted over the head of the grenade, transformed the stick grenade into something akin to a conventional fragmentation grenade. Model 24 stick grenades did not arrive ready for use - its detonator needed to be installed prior to use by unscrewing the wooden handle from its grenade head and inserting the detonator into the open end of the delay fuze. The handle and head were then reattached as normal.
Stick grenades were transported either in a case of 15 (with 15 corresponding detonators) or in a sleeveless jacket worn by a soldier. These jackets allowed 10 grenades to be carried with five across the front and the remaining five across the back. Grenades were inserted with the heads facing down. A third option was a basic belt with loops which allowed several grenades to be inserted handle first.
A trained German grenadier could lob a stick grenade generally out to 35 yards depending on situation and environmental factors. Usually, such an infantryman was crouched or laying prone which reduced the overall range of the throw somewhat. The blast radius of the detonated grenade varied from situation to situation but its lethal range was as good as any other grenade in use - ranged out to approximately 14 yards. "Soft" targets clumped together were proper targets and grenades thrown into fortification openings benefitted from the shot trap inherent in such structures. As the overall length and (365mm) of the stick grenade was longer than a traditional "pineapple" or "egg" of the time and this meant that an infantryman could actually carry less of these weapons into battle - and this often at the expense of extra ammunition for his service rifle. However, stick grenades were generally lighter than, say, the British "Mills Bomb" of World War 1 which evened out the playing field in a direct comparison.
The German stick grenade remained in wide circulation throughout the interwar years following World War 1 and leading up to World War 2. As such, it held its place as the standard German hand grenade during this volatile period and, during World War 2, it became as much a "collectible" item to Allied soldiers as the Luger pistol. To make for a more effective anti-personnel/anti-fortification weapon, six stick grenade heads were attached to a single stick handle (containing its own original grenade head). In this fashion, the weapon's firepower was multiplied considerably and could even be fielded as an anti-tank measure - though its vastly increased weight limited actual throwing ranges. This modification was known as "Geballte Ladung". It was also not uncommon to use the stick grenade in a booby trap fashion to which the delay fuse was removed. If the friction wire were pulled, the grenade detonated instantly (sans its 5-second delay). One other additional use of the stick grenade was as a bangalore "torpedo" to disrupt or destroy barbed wire or similar obstacles. A complete stick grenade was set upon one end of a long board or pole to which three or more grenade heads were affixed (with gaps in between), all mounted in line. The operator need only actuate the complete grenade via a long cord or wire to detonate the remaining grenades.
Several other experienced-based modifications soon arose including a cold weather variant for use on the Eastern Front. It was found that original Model 24 grenades had a tendency to fail in the unforgiving Soviet winter which plagued the Germans attempting to reach Moscow and other strategic strongholds. As such, a new filling was engineered for the Eastern Front and appropriately marked along the grenade head with "K" for "kalt" (meaning "cold") to differentiate their cold weather operation. Beyond that, the Germans also engineered a smoke-producing variant (Nebelhandgranate 34) which could be used to screen movements and a non-detonating trainer variant educated up-and-coming grenadiers in the finer points of the weapon. The original Model 24s were fielded alongside the more compact (and traditional) Model 39 egg grenades (Eierhandgranate 39) which began appearing with the German Army in 1939.
The original Model 24 was eventually superseded by the streamlined Model 43 of 1943 (during World War 2). The type was simplified in terms of production cost so, theoretically, more could be made in less time and in the required quantities of the German Army. Both served until the end of the war in 1945 to which Germany - yet again - was restricted in her war-making capacity.