Mines, Grenades and Grenade Launchers
Mine warfare are explosives concealed underground or underwater, used primarily by military forces for defense purposes. The first mines were chambers or tunnels dug under fortifications and filled with explosives. They exploded as part of a larger attack. Today mines are self-contained explosives that explode when a target either touches them or passes close by. Areas where mines have been placed are known as minefields.
Mines represent an extremely dangerous threat to troops and ships because they are difficult to detect. They can make an attacking force slow down, or make the force avoid the mined area altogether. Because mines do not require people to operate them, their use enables the defending force to focus its military personnel elsewhere. Mines are easy to lay, and once laid, a minefield does not need to be maintained.
Underwater mines, known as naval mines, are much larger than land mines. They are more sophisticated because they must endure in water for long periods of time and generally require special equipment or aircraft to lay them. Naval mines can be triggered either by direct contact or by indirect influence, such as the sound from the ship’s engines. When a mine is triggered, the expanding gas ball from the explosion sends a shock wave through the water. When the wave hits a ship’s hull, the force of the shock wave can punch a hole through it, damage systems in the ship, or even break the ship’s back by buckling its keel.
Land mines are grouped into two broad categories, depending on whether they target people or tanks. Anti-personnel mines hurt or kill troops when triggered and are designed to explode in various ways, whereas anti-tank mines are designed to disable or destroy tanks and other large vehicles.
Nearly all anti-personnel mines consist of an explosive and a detonator. The explosive and detonator are packed in a case made of plastic, steel, wood, or even cardboard. Other types have fragmenting cases similar to grenades that send out deadly metallic splinters. Stepping on a pressure-sensitive button on the mine usually triggers the detonator. Other mines use thin tripwires that extend outward from the mine on the surface. When a tripwire is disturbed, the detonator is triggered and the mine explodes.
Anti-tank mines are similar to antipersonnel mines, but they generate a much larger blast and require heavier pressure to set them off. Most anti-tank mines go off on contact, but some are designed to count a preset number of pressures before going off. By delaying detonation, a large number of enemy vehicles and troops might travel deep within the minefield before knowing the area is dangerous. A mine explosion under a tank tread will often knock the tread off, immobilizing the vehicle and possibly trapping other tanks behind it. If the mine goes off under the hull, it can destroy the tank.
A grenade is a small projectile filled either with an explosive charge, or with incendiary, smoke-producing, illuminating, or chemical agents that explodes a short time after release. Grenades are used to attack enemy troops, vehicles, or fortified positions at close range and are thrown by hand or launched by rifles or by special grenade launchers. Grenades that are designed to be launched are more streamlined than hand-thrown grenades, and occasionally have small propellant charges to increase their range.
Explosive grenades are used against barricaded personnel and unarmored transport vehicles, projecting shrapnel. Incendiary grenades set fire to flammable military structures. Smoke grenades are used for identification or for signaling; illuminating grenades produce light that is particularly effective as a defense against night infiltration and sabotage attempts. Grenades filled with chemical irritants are used to force the withdrawal of the enemy, and are also used to control rioting crowds.
A grenade launcher is a weapon that launches a grenade with more accuracy, higher velocity and to greater distances than a soldier could throw it by hand.
Grenade launchers can either come in the form of standalone weapons (either single-shot or repeating) or attachments mounted under the barrel of a rifle. Rifles have been designed to fire rifle grenades either from their muzzle or from a spigot-type detachable launcher. Larger grenade launchers may be mounted on vehicles.
Most grenade launchers are man-portable, shoulder-fired weapons, usually mounted on a rifle such as the AK-47 or M16 assault rifle. Grenades can also be fired from an underbarrel weapon attachment which is permanently mounted on the rifle. In underbarrel systems, the rifle portion and launching portion of the weapon can both be carried loaded and ready to fire. Underbarrel tubes generally have their own trigger and use the rifle's magazine as a grip for the firing hand. The M203 is an example of a modern man-portable grenade launcher which mounts to a service rifle.
There are also heavier examples, including automatic grenade launchers for ground and vehicle use, such as the American Mk-19. Capable of a relatively high rate of fire, these automatic grenade launchers are used for suppressive fire and to destroy or disable light vehicles and buildings.
Some armored fighting vehicles also mount fixed grenade launchers as a means of defense, usually firing smoke grenades to conceal the vehicle behind a smoke screen, though can also be loaded with chaff, flares, or anti-personnel grenades to repel infantry attacks.