By Michael Heidler
In rivalry with the Wehrmacht, its aerial warfare branch, the Luftwaffe, had developed its own anti-tank rifle grenade launcher for its paratroopers. But in the end, the fin-stabilized grenade was inferior to the Army model.
After all units had to return their launcher cups to the depots in 1928, rifle grenades were no longer part of the armament in the following years, and they were not considered during training. Only in the course of the 1930s did they gradually shift more and more into the awareness of the military again. The Wehrmacht leadership expressed serious interest in a further-developed rifle grenade and so in early 1938, the company Theodor Bergmann & Co. from Bernau near Berlin began working on a rifle grenade and a new launcher in accordance with the requirements set in cooperation with the Heereswaffenamt (German Army Ordnance).
The work continued to the early stage of World War II. It was only in April 1942 that the so-called Gewehrgranatgerät (rifle grenade device) was adopted by the German Army. The new device could be attached to almost all Model 98 rifles thanks to its clamp mounting. According to archive files, the delivered number of devices until the cessation of production in May 1944 reached nearly 1.5 million pieces. In the following years, a variety of different rifle grenades like high-explosive, hollow-charge and flare grenades, and even propaganda grenades for leaflet distribution, were developed and introduced.
Actually, a very effective weapon was created early on. But the rivalry of Heereswaffenamt (Army), Marine-Waffenamt (Navy) and Technisches Amt der Luftwaffe (Air Force) prevented for the time being a combined use in all three Wehrmacht organizations. Each of these ordnance offices developed its own armament program, which competed with the other two for money and material resources. And so the Air Force tried to create its own rifle grenade device while ignoring the Army development.
Its history began on September 15, 1941. On that day, engineers from the Westfälisch-Anhaltische Sprengstoff-Actien- Gesellschaft (WASAG) from Reinsdorf met with representatives of the Air Force for a discussion on anti-tank weapons for airborne troops. The WASAG presented an already elaborated proposal for an armor-piercing rifle grenade based on the hollow- or shaped-charge principle. Only a special fuze was missing. The company Deutsche Waffen- und Munitionsfabriken Aktiengesellschaft (DWM) assured the accelerated production of the elongated cartridge cases was needed as a propelling cartridge and also promised to try to design a fuze. The DWM Research Institute in Lübeck would become involved. After delivery of the propelling cartridges and the new fuze, a comprehensive test took place on October 20, 1940, on the shooting range in Hildesheim.
At the end of 1940, WASAG completed its development work to the satisfaction of the Luftwaffe. Officially, the new device was called “Schiessbecher mit Klappkorn” (cup launcher with folding sight) and launched the “Gewehrgranate zur Panzerbekämpfung Modell 1940” (anti-tank rifle grenade Model 1940), in short GG/P40. However, the name is very misleading: In contrast to the Army’s device, in which the grenades are inserted into a rifled cup, the Air Force’s device consists of a kind of barrel extension. The hollow tail of the grenade is pushed onto this extension from the front.
The new weapon was already urgently awaited by the paratroopers. Although the order ran under the highest priority level, the WASAG initially did not cope with the production. General of airborne forces, Kurt Student, therefore in January 1941 changed the delivery order as follows: 5,000 devices and 30,000 grenades until middle of March 1941, and the rest (25,000 devices and 270,000 grenades) were to be delivered over the months of April to possibly July 1941.
At the end of January, the Führer personally intervened and demanded a lecture from General Student about the new anti-tank weapons. In preparation, on January 24, General Student was once again briefed by a WASAG employee on the Kampfpistole (flare pistol with rifled barrel) and the rifle grenade. At the same time he ordered another trial to be carried out in order to reach a range of 150m, as this range had been demanded in the lecture which he had given a few days earlier to Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring.
The launcher was now finished. What was still missing, however, was a sighting device. For this reason there was a meeting on February 4, 1941, of representatives of the companies DWM and Mauser at the WASAG plant in Reinsdorf. First, minor changes to the fuze were again discussed, and a final design was determined. Fifteen preliminary series fuzes brought by DWM were fired without any failure after the meeting. In question of the grenade sight, Mauser agreed to design and manufacture a suitable sight. Likewise, Mauser expressed the desire to take over the production of the launchers.
A month later, three different sights were finished and were demonstrated at a meeting at the Mauser factory in Oberndorf. The decision was made in favor of a sight consisting of a pivoting box, laterally attached to the stock next to the normal rear sight. The box carries an U-notch at its front and a scale for setting the ranges for 25m, 50m, 75m and 100m at its rear. It is attached to the stock by means of a flexible steel band and a clamping screw with a knurled nut. The sighting line is 35mm offset to the left of the barrel axis. All other demonstrated sight models would have required permanent changes to the rifles.
On March 17 another meeting was held at DWM in Borsigwalde with all involved companies. It was about the planning and execution of mass production. For the initial production (400 pieces at Mauser and 100 pieces at WASAG) on the basis of the previous drawings, slight deviations of the dimensions were accepted. Also, the foresight was mounted rigidly (instead of hinged) to speed up the production. The delivery date was April 15. For the upcoming large-scale production, Mauser should make and distribute new factory drawings for the launcher, foresight and grenade sight until March 22 at the latest. Mauser’s launchers were manufactured at the Berlin plant. Whether the sights should also be made in Berlin or in Oberndorf, was still open at this time.
Then on May 9, 1941, it was done. The first 450 complete devices were shipped to the Luftlande-Sturm-Regiment 1 (Airborne Assault Regiment) under the command of Colonel Bernhard Ramcke. Just in time, because on May 20, the operation Merkur was launched—the airborne invasion of the island of Crete. Curiously, on the few known combat and propaganda photos showing the launcher, no grenade sight is visible. Special pouches for storing the launcher, tools for maintenance and cleaning or other accessories have not been mentioned in any documents, let alone issued to the troops.
The “Schiessbecher” (spigot launcher) weighs 495g and consists of a cylindrical smooth tube (outer diameter 24mm, length 230mm), a permanently affixed mount (same design as the mount of the bayonet) and a hinged foresight on the left side. This can be folded down when not in use. On the underside of the launcher tube, a leaf spring of 8cm in length is fixed with a small screw. Its purpose is to hold the GG/P40 grenade in place. The cleaning rod of the K.98k can remain on the weapon while the launcher is attached, since the mount has a corresponding through hole. The launcher is simply pushed onto the muzzle until the springloaded locking mechanism of the mount engages in the recess of the bayonet lug. Detaching is done in the same way as with the bayonet by pressing a round release button located on the right side of the mount. Since the launcher does not block the muzzle but acts as a barrel extension, ordinary bulleted ammunition can be safely fired if necessary without removing the launcher.
The GG/P40 was the only grenade developed for the spigot launcher. No other types of grenades were planned, so the enemy infantry had to be fought with this grenade if necessary; not a very effective use of hollow-charge ammunition because of the low splintering effect in the open. The grenade weighed 515g and was used at distances of 50m to 100m. Its maximum penetration was 35mm of armor, and the maximum range when fired at an angle of 45 degrees was 275m. The special propelling cartridge named “Patrone G” weighed 15g and was filled with 3.6g of powder. Its hollow wooden bullet was yellow-colored to avoid being confused with the standard blank cartridge with purple bullets.
The Luftwaffe seemed to have created an easy-to-use and flexible anti-tank weapon for its paratroopers, which usually did not have heavy weapons at hand in the early stages of their missions. The device was much handier, easier to use, less sensitive to rough handling and less expensive to manufacture than the rifle grenade launcher of the Army.
End of the GG/P40 and Spigot Launcher
But then, quite surprisingly, everything was over. On April 10, 1942, a demonstration of the improved grenade with a lengthened cap, serving as a spacer, took place in Kummersdorf. Thus, the grenade was now 295mm long and could penetrate 50mm of armor. At 65mm it still achieved deep indents with a splintering effect inside the vehicle. According to the WASAG Reinsdorf department, the spin-stabilized grenade already introduced by the Army could penetrate 65mm but only with a diameter of a few millimeters. The GG/P40 was thus more effective. A disadvantage of the fin-stabilized grenade, however, was the gusty wind, which greatly reduced the accuracy. On April 20, the Reinsdorf team received an angry letter from the Berlin WASAG headquarters: “The test firing on 10.4. has unfortunately showed the total uselessness of the current design of the Gg.P.40, as in gusty winds at distances of 50 meters and less, only 9 hits could be scored from 30 grenades fired […] We agree that you will provide Wa Prüf 1/II with about 50 grenades to complete the performance tests but that they will complete the work on this project. We express our surprise that your report, in perhaps misunderstood whitewashing, did not express the total failure of the Gg.P.40.”
This sealed the end of both the GG/P40 and the spigot launcher. How many launchers had been delivered is not known. Later in the War, the Luftwaffe received an additional 9,585 pieces of the Army rifle grenade launcher. The improved large anti-tank rifle grenade of the Army, which was introduced in October 1942, even achieved a penetration of up to 80mm of armor. Much more than the GG/P40.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V23N10 (Dec 2019)