One of the war or action movies’ staples is the hand grenade. You know how when the main character would pull out the grenade pin with his teeth, yank it to the enemy position, and wait for that fireball explosion. Bonus if he walks away without looking back as the flames engulf everything behind his back. While this was no question cool and badass, it’s inaccurate. In fact, there were quite a lot of things that are wrong in terms of how films depict hand grenades, and we’re here to point those things out.

A Quick Grenade History

First of all, we have to set things straight and know exactly what a grenade is. Like most of the ones that we have today, a grenade is made up of three components: an inner explosive charge, a detonator, and an internal striker to detonate the charge. All these three are held together with a lever and pin safety device. Depending on the purpose, there are different kinds of grenades available, although the most common one is the fragmentation grenade.

A quick tour back in history would tell us that the Byzantine Empire first used grenades. Theirs were small, pomegranate-shaped ceramic explosive jars filled with a combustible compound typically used during naval battles to burn down the enemy ships called Greek fire. It is said that it could be ignited even in contact with water and that the victims who caught its fire would still continue to burn even after being submerged in water.

Byzantine Hand Grenades. (Photo credit: Amir Gorzalczany, Israel Antiquities Authority via byzantinemilitary.blogspot.com)

The Chinese also had their grenades made of ceramic vessels with gunpowder and fuses inside, something that was developed sometime during the Song Dynasty from 960 to 1279 AD.

It was in 1906 that the first modern grenade was developed in Britain and was adopted by their army in 1913. When World War I broke out, it also prompted the creation of different hand grenade models throughout Europe.

Today, aside from the fragmentation grenade, we also have the high explosive ones, flashbangs, and anti-tank grenades, each with different purposes. Anyway, now to the movie errors.

Pulling the Safety Pin with Teeth

Has anyone ever really done that in real life?

The thing about the safety pin is that it was placed there so that the grenade doesn’t explode accidentally, which means that it is not that easy to pull one out, just like how the movies depict. If it were, then there would be a huge problem with its safety and reliability, especially during transport. Clenching that metal pull ring between your teeth and yanking on the grenade to release the pin, would probably cost your your front teeth.

The truth is that grenade pins are fairly hard to pull out by hand requiring 7-9 pounds of force to yank out the cotter pin.  During WWII, soldiers would bend the pins inward in advance to make them easier to pull.  Sometimes, they even attached the pull ring to their shoulder rigs.  This was proven to be very dangerous as the grenade could snag on brush or dislodge when the soldier dove for the ground to take cover. Now you have a loose grenade next to you and about 5 seconds to get away from it.

In summary, it doesn’t make much sense to pull the grenade pin using one’s teeth, and it’ll be much easier to do with the hand.

That Dramatic, Massive Fireball Explosion

So the main character throws the grenade and runs away in slow motion as the massive fireball explosion starts behind him. In reality, this is not how it works. Grenades are made to launch pieces of shrapnel a few meters around them instead of causing huge fireballs. According to Action on Armed Violence,

On average a grenade can be thrown between 20 and 40 meters. The casualty radius of a grenade is between 5 and 20 meters; with a minimum of 50% of exposed personnel becoming casualties within a radius of around 15 metres from the blast. A single grenade can kill an individual up to 10 metres away and can cause serious injuries up to 20 metres away. However, grenade fragments can travel beyond 230 meters from the point of detonation.

So while the fragments from the grenade explosion are no question deadly, the weapon does not have the capability to create that huge fireball that movie characters run away from.

A typical grenade explosion will be a flash throwing off some smoke and dirt from the ground.  They aren’t very dramatic.

Throwing Grenades Back

According to Forces.net, “From pulling the pin and throwing a grenade, it usually takes anywhere between two to six seconds before detonation occurs.”

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Having that in mind, a movie trope that has the character picking up the grenade thrown in his direction and yanking it back to the thrower is less likely to happen in reality. Not saying that it is entirely impossible, but only in some circumstances. Plus, it’s very, very dangerous to do that.

The U.S. Army – Hand grenade training. (The U.S. Army, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

The gap of two to six seconds between the pin being pulled and the grenade going off means that the only possible way that one could throw it back is if he would catch it mid-air, but if the explosive already rolled and bounced on the ground, and the character has to run up to it, grab it, and throw it back before it explodes, it’s kind of hard to do making it a bit impossible. Add the fact that it weighs around 400 grams, depending on its model, so it’ll take some arm power and practice before one could learn to throw a grenade far enough to avoid being reached by the 20-meter-wide shrapnel radius.

These things, of course, are for cinematic and dramatic effects, and we wouldn’t disagree that these movie things keep things cooler and more entertaining than the real-life ones, even when they’re a bit unrealistic.