by Cmdt O.E.F. Baker, DWD
Hand Grenade, No 82., Mk 1 and Mk 1/1 (The 'Gammon' Grenade). The grenade in this illustration is filled with explosive. (With acknowledgements to 'Great Britain. War Office. Regulations for Army Ordnance Services, Part 7. Pamphlet No 12. Grenades. London, HMSO, 1945)
The trite title of 'Grenade, Hand, No 82 mk 1 and 1/1' lamentably fails to reveal the allure and legend that this particular grenade attracted from the moment that it was introduced in 1943. In actual fact, the above official designation was only reluctantly accorded, some considerable time after the weapon's initial manufacture and usage in combat occurred. Being an unorthodox pattern of grenade (a 'funny' weapon), it took the War Office some time to appreciate its value and usefulness and, having done so, were forced to dignify it with an appropriate official nomenclature. The parachute soldier who originally conceived of the idea and made the first prototype was also accorded instant fame, in so far as his name was attached to the popular designation of the grenade (the 'Gammon' bomb or grenade).
Capt R.S. Gammon, MC, one of the original volunteers of 1 (British) Parachute Bn, was the inventor.(1) He, together with numerous other British and Allied soldiers in the early years of World War II, had become extremely wary of what was then termed the 74(ST) Grenade or, more popularly, the 'Stickly' bomb.
This grenade had the unnerving characteristic of sometimes 'sticking' to the thrower; hence its nickname.(2) The Sticky bomb was essentially an anti-vehicle and anti-AFV (Armoured Fighting Vehicle) weapon which had been produced in 1940, strongly encouraged by the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill.
Numerous people, including Gammon, decided that a less dangerous and more effective grenade should be sought. Dick Gammon's design and original model were accepted. The basic design was to use a fuze, already available in the 69 Grenade, which was then inserted into the mouth of an elasticized stockingette bag. This bag could then be filled with up to 0,9kg of moulded plastic explosives which was part of the paratrooper's normal equipment. The amount of plastic explosive varied according to the job for which it was designed. Priming of the detonation occurred when a steel ball dropped on the action of the bomb being thrown. Upon impact the bomb exploded. The fuze setting was originally a four second one through a weighted tape unravelling from the fuze after being thrown. Ordnance 'boffins' were appalled at the shortness of fuze, and the quantity of explosive that the bomb could contain, and accordingly ordered a seven seconds delay in order to ensure the thrower's safety. However, most users preferred the shorter tape, irrespective of the danger involved, and cut the tapes back to a four second delay.(3)
The Gammon bomb became a great favourite with British Airborne forces, and the uses to which it was put were both varied and veritably hair-raising. Possibly the most famous occasion occurred on D-Day (6 June 1944), when 9 Bn of 6 Airborne Division had to attack and destroy the guns of Merville Battery, which was bombarding the seaborne assault of Normandy. A record states that 'the guns which turned out to be 75mm, and not 150 mm as anticipated were spiked and put out of action by Gammon Bombs' (4)
In North Africa during 1943, an incident involving members of 1 Parachute Bde who were staging an ambush featured this weapon. In order to complete the arrangements made for the reception of the enemy, Lts Mellor and Kellas crouched in a ditch beside the road, equipped with a supply of Gammon bombs. The enemy column hove into sight; every man in the British ambush team had been ordered to hold his fire until the leading vehicle struck a mine. The leading vehicle proved to be an armoured car, and it duly detonated the mine; it then rammed the side of the hill, thus blocking the road. The two Scout cars behind it received a volley of Gammon bombs and burst into flames; their occupants - four to each car - were killed and cremated.(5)
During the invasion of Southern France in 1944 members of 5 Parachute Bn, in order to prevent movement from, or to, the beachead, took up positions in overhanging trees above access roads. Half-charge Gammon bombs, filled with road tarmac-mixing stones for anti-personnel purposes - in place of the customary plastic explosives - were dropped into open troop carrying vehicles with considerable effect.
The grenade could, on occasion, be detonated by a rifle shot when safety was of paramount importance. The Gammon bomb's versatility - being capable of taking varying amounts of explosive, and in multiple forms - was a particular boon to airborne troops who, after the parachute drop, were limited to the amount of munitions a man could carry.
The grenade's inventor mirrored the weapon's charismatic adaptability in his own person. Capt Gammon was wounded in North Africa where he won the Military Cross. In Sicily he dropped directly on to an anti-aircraft battery, which caused his ear drums to burst. Subsequently his battalion would not allow him to return as a result of these injuries, so he transferred to the Raiding Support Regiment, who were not so scrupulous concerning medical reports. He served with this unit in occupied Greece for some months under the famous Springbok and Irish rugby wing, Maj Jack Gage, MC. Eventually Capt Gammon re-joined the Parachute Regiment and served once again in Greece; although on this latter occasion with a different battalion.(6)
Other grenades, such as the Mills and Hales, were given their inventors' names and were accorded great military fame. The Gammon Grenade, which was not nearly as well known as its two above named colleagues, enjoyed a relatively short life, but nevertheless enjoyed a great rapport with all British Airborne soldiers of World War II. Its official title and number were almost completely unknown to all who used it, but it nevertheless enjoyed a tremendous accolade as the 'Gammon bomb', and its demise could not obscure its fond memory. In military history it is renowned as being the only officially issued 'do-it-yourself' grenade.(7)
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