Excelsior-Thevenot type AF Grenade
Manufactured by F. Thevenot fils in France c.1914-15 for the French and Italian armed forces.
60mm caliber, 220mm height, 80gr explosive charge, 40-100m range, sheet steel and brass.
The Excelsior grenade launcher is somewhat of an oddity, even among other ad-hoc French WW1 artillery, in that it could almost be compared to the single-use recoilless AT weapons used by modern armies, in design if not in purpose.
Thevenot’s Excelsior grenade was originally a percussive stick design, meaning the impact of it landing caused it to explode. Unlike other percussive grenades, it used an impeller to measure some time of flight before arming itself, which made it safer for its user but also more likely to be a dud due to possible malfunction of this mechanism.
The Excelsior was called the P2 in French service, for percussive, and also the “ballerina” for its fabric skirt. This was supposed to make sure the grenade would fly impeller first, so it would arm itself properly.
Because the French army is not known to let any stockpiled ordnance go to waste, the hand grenade was redesigned into a rifle grenade, and more interestingly into a light mortar. Both these designs increased the projectile’s range which in turn made sure its arming device based on air-time would work reliably.
The lightweight launcher was built out of sheet steel, painted blue for explosive and red for incendiary ordnance. It carried a single Excelsior grenade, now with a rounded brass shell and a steel finned body.
For firing, the soldier would kneel and set the bottom of the mortar firmly into the ground. The launcher’s cap would be removed as well as the firing system’s cover, exposing the hammer and propellant cartridges. Because of the layout of the weapon but mostly because this is a French weapon, the cartridges were Gevelot&Gaupillat 24mm pinfire brass-and-cardboard designs.
The hammer was cocked by being turned to either side to strike the chosen cartridge, with the left one ranged for 40m and the right for 100m at a 45° angle. The device was aimed at the correct angle using the simple alidade on its side. Before firing, the safety pin of the grenade was removed to unlock the impeller.
Although the Excelsior-Thevenot type AF launcher is recorded to have been used as a trench mortar, offering continuous light artillery support to infantry, but the instruction label on it clearly states that spent launchers were to be brought back to an ordnance depot, indicating a single-use system.
It is not clear why this discrepancy exists.
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The Christmas Truce
I don't know how many people are aware of this (I only learned about it a few weeks ago), but on Christmas, 1914, there was a widespread series of unofficial ceasefires along the Wester Front during World War I. Of course, not all of the battles ceased, but for that specific day enemy soldiers played ball together, swapped gifts, and shared stories of home. Both sides were able to collect the dead and just generally take a break for once. The night before this event, the Germans had started singing a Christmas carol, to which the opposite side (mainly British) responded with their version of the song.
The truce came to an end when the top dogs heard about it and ordered them to return to their posts or they'd start shooting. Random truces like that were made illegal afterwards.
It's honestly remarkable and probably the most wholesome thing I've heard about the First World War so I just thought I'd share with those who haven't heard of it.
[Image: Opposing troops play football (soccer) on the battlefield]
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