Grenade Launchers Used from the 1500s Through the Early 1800s
The hand mortar is an early example of a grenade launcher used in the late 17th century and 18th century. Designed to throw an exploding grenade a further distance, and with more accuracy than could be done by hand, the hand mortar has a wide barrel, typically of bronze, mounted on a musket stock.
It was first developed in the mid-1500s but became popular during the period 1670-1750. Although employed in relatively small numbers compared to other more conventional types of musket, hand mortars were used by most European armies. Hand mortars can lob shots over the heads of intervening troops, even over high walls.
The type of grenade used in a hand mortar was mentioned in a 1472 work entitled Valturius, where an incendiary prototype may have been produced. The earliest known Hand Mortars (grenade launchers) were Wheellocks of the 1580s. The grenades were lit separately then the gun was fired to launch it.
However, widespread use of the explosive grenade does not occur until the early-to-mid-16th century during the reign of Francis I of France.
After priming the firearm and adding the gunpowder, the shooter would light a grenade fuse, place the grenade in the muzzle of the mortar and then fire it at the enemy. The barrel was short, usually less than 2 inches to 4 inches long (however, some barrels are reported to be up to 13 inches long), and had a large bore to accommodate the grenade, usually between 2 and 2.5 inches.
However, accidents could occur if the weapon misfired and the lit grenade remained in the barrel, resulting in an immediate explosion. An early casualty of this type of grenade was Count de Randan, who died of shrapnel wounds to the legs from a grenade during the Siege of Rouen in 1562.