Unusual Ordnance Sighting of the Week: M-31 Rifle Grenades.

I recently watched a group of demolition specialists setting up a series of 1000-pound shots down South, and happened to spot a few curiosities in the pile of ordnance to be destroyed.

Among them were these — a small stack of M-31 high-explosive anti-tank rifle grenades. These are weapons designed for another time, back in the decades when armor roamed the battlefield but guerrillas and infantrymen as yet did not enjoy the near universal access to under-barrel grenade launchers and lightweight anti-tank rockets that are available today. (Think of rifle grenades as artifacts from before the RPG-7 Age, or as weapons that predate the time of the M79, M203 and their many cousins.)

The photogrophs above show an American stopgap system, which was designed for attachment to the muzzle of a M1 Garand rifle and converted the rifle into a single-shot grenade-launching platform. These particular items were manufactured in the 1950s, perhaps for the Korean War, as you can see from the lot number markings. Once affixed, such weapons were fired via the use of a special cartridge (the M3, also shown, above, in several orientations, including the headstamp) that was chambered in the rifle.  

Rifle grenades are essentially retired, thus their placement in this demolition stack. But they do still turn up out there, often in conflicts in which old government storehouses have been raided by insurgents and guerrillas.  We were fired on by weapons of this sort in Anbar Province, Iraq, in 2006, and saw a few of them kicking around in Libya last year. They make a distinctive pop when shot off a barrel, and then fly silently over a short distance, often about 200 yards or less, and in a trajectory roughly like that of a golf ball. The fins stablize the projectile in flight and orient the small charge toward the ground as the grenades fall, allowing for the shape charge to have an armor-penetrating effect should they strike a vehicle squarely.  M-31s (and their many relatives, including of the ENERGA brand) have long ago been replaced in conventional Western military inventories, but they are bound to keep turning up in and around nations that lose control over stockpiles, or sell legacy stocks.

Note for those who follow trafficking: the M3 cartridges attach via small paper pouches to the M31 projectiles for storage and shipping. In this configuration, two cartridges are packaged with each grenade.


The last hours of a few M-31s, and their associated M-3s. By the author. Last week. For those interested in identifying (or learning more about) Western rifle-grenade cartridges, there is a discussion with photographs on the site of the International Ammunition Association.


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