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Subject: WWII satchel charges dangerous? rss

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James McHaffey
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While playing Combat Commander a friend and I were discussing the merits of equipping every squad with satchel charges. Trained engineers were needed for proper placement to destroy a bridge or blockhouse, but they could also be effective against infantry and tanks if thrown. Does anyone know offhand if WWII era satchel charges (presumably composed of dynamite or TNT) were known to detonate undesirably prior to the advent of RDX based compounds like C-4? I.e. were they a really bad idea to just hand to any ole GI???
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Joseph
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I think the issue would be less a matter of stabity of the explosives and more a matter of usefullness vs hassle of carrying around. According to wikipedia a satchel charge weighed almost 9 pounds. That seems like a lot of weight for a one time weapon you would throw.
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James McHaffey
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Well a Panzerfaust weighed 13 lbs and pretty much every squad did carry one by 1945. Prior to HEAT weapons, Molotov cocktails and satchel charges were an infantryman's best bet against a tank.
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Joseph
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From what I see, the Panzerfaust had a range of 30 meters (100 feet). I don't see many men throwing a nine pound satchel charge that far. Plus, the satchel charge doesn't explode on impact.

Panzerfaust destroy tanks, satchel charges just blow off a tread if you're lucky, you would still have to deal with an active, even if immobile, tank. And you're much closer then if you had used a Panzerfaust.

I'm not saying it wouldn't useful to have a satchel charge when you needed it but it's still a lot of weight to carry around, I'd rather have an extra 9 pounds of ammo for my main weapon.
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Bill Eldard
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heinz_guderian wrote:
Well a Panzerfaust weighed 13 lbs and pretty much every squad did carry one by 1945. Prior to HEAT weapons, Molotov cocktails and satchel charges were an infantryman's best bet against a tank.


Using a stachel charge against a tank requires the infantry get within meters of the target; if the tank is protected by supporting infantry, the satchel charge bearer won't get close. A panzerfaust or bazooka allows the infantryman to engage at a reasonable range.

The panzerfaust was issued late in the war because the Allies were greatly superior in numbers of tanks, so the weapon was necessary.

Molotov cocktails are even less effective then satchel charges. To be truly effective, the weapon must be broken on the metal grating over the engine in order to ignite it, and allow the fire to explode the ordnance. Against the armor of the tank, it's useless.
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Michael Tan
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I believe most manufactured satchel charges, as opposed to improvised, were relatively stable. TNT, PETN, and RDX were already in widespread use by WWII and those compounds are much less sensitive than nitroglycerin based dynamite. I believe that the main advantages of C-4 is that it is a shaped charge that is almost invulnerable to environmental changes like extreme heat or cold - thus it has a much greater shelf life than TNT or dynamite. The volatility of flamethrowers and satchel charges has been grossly exaggerated by Hollywood...
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Michael Tan
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Eldard wrote:
heinz_guderian wrote:
Well a Panzerfaust weighed 13 lbs and pretty much every squad did carry one by 1945. Prior to HEAT weapons, Molotov cocktails and satchel charges were an infantryman's best bet against a tank.


Using a stachel charge against a tank requires the infantry get within meters of the target; if the tank is protected by supporting infantry, the satchel charge bearer won't get close. A panzerfaust or bazooka allows the infantryman to engage at a reasonable range.

The panzerfaust was issued late in the war because the Allies were greatly superior in numbers of tanks, so the weapon was necessary.

Molotov cocktails are even less effective then satchel charges. To be truly effective, the weapon must be broken on the metal grating over the engine in order to ignite it, and allow the fire to explode the ordnance. Against the armor of the tank, it's useless.


Tell that to the Finns who used the Molotov cocktail and satchel charge with great effectiveness against Soviet tanks. Granted we're talking pre T-34 Soviet armor...
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Joseph
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m3tan wrote:
Eldard wrote:
heinz_guderian wrote:
Well a Panzerfaust weighed 13 lbs and pretty much every squad did carry one by 1945. Prior to HEAT weapons, Molotov cocktails and satchel charges were an infantryman's best bet against a tank.


Using a stachel charge against a tank requires the infantry get within meters of the target; if the tank is protected by supporting infantry, the satchel charge bearer won't get close. A panzerfaust or bazooka allows the infantryman to engage at a reasonable range.

The panzerfaust was issued late in the war because the Allies were greatly superior in numbers of tanks, so the weapon was necessary.

Molotov cocktails are even less effective then satchel charges. To be truly effective, the weapon must be broken on the metal grating over the engine in order to ignite it, and allow the fire to explode the ordnance. Against the armor of the tank, it's useless.


Tell that to the Finns who used the Molotov cocktail and satchel charge with great effectiveness against Soviet tanks. Granted we're talking pre T-34 Soviet armor...


I'm not saying they won't work against tanks, but it's not your first choice when it's time to tank hunting. The Finns used Molotov cocktails and satchel charges because they didn't have anything else.
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Pokey 64
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heinz_guderian wrote:
Well a Panzerfaust weighed 13 lbs and pretty much every squad did carry one by 1945. Prior to HEAT weapons, Molotov cocktails and satchel charges were an infantryman's best bet against a tank.


Prior to HEAT weapons the infantryman's best bet was anti tank guns, anti tank rifles, land mines, physical obstacles, on call heavy artillery and aircraft.

Molotov cocktail is an improvised weapon. Not a military weapon. Dangerous to use and dangerous to employ. The satchel charge isn't far behind it. Not as dangerous to use but still dangerous to employ.
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Joseph
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panzer6 wrote:
heinz_guderian wrote:
Well a Panzerfaust weighed 13 lbs and pretty much every squad did carry one by 1945. Prior to HEAT weapons, Molotov cocktails and satchel charges were an infantryman's best bet against a tank.


Prior to HEAT weapons the infantryman's best bet was anti tank guns, anti tank rifles, land mines, physical obstacles, on call heavy artillery and aircraft.

Molotov cocktail is an improvised weapon. Not a military weapon. Dangerous to use and dangerous to employ. The satchel charge isn't far behind it. Not as dangerous to use but still dangerous to employ.


He must know what he's talking about, he has a picture of a tank under his name.
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Joe B
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m3tan wrote:
Eldard wrote:
heinz_guderian wrote:
Well a Panzerfaust weighed 13 lbs and pretty much every squad did carry one by 1945. Prior to HEAT weapons, Molotov cocktails and satchel charges were an infantryman's best bet against a tank.


Using a stachel charge against a tank requires the infantry get within meters of the target; if the tank is protected by supporting infantry, the satchel charge bearer won't get close. A panzerfaust or bazooka allows the infantryman to engage at a reasonable range.

The panzerfaust was issued late in the war because the Allies were greatly superior in numbers of tanks, so the weapon was necessary.

Molotov cocktails are even less effective then satchel charges. To be truly effective, the weapon must be broken on the metal grating over the engine in order to ignite it, and allow the fire to explode the ordnance. Against the armor of the tank, it's useless.


Tell that to the Finns who used the Molotov cocktail and satchel charge with great effectiveness against Soviet tanks. Granted we're talking pre T-34 Soviet armor...


Soviet tank-infantry cooperation wasnt good enough to protect the tanks from it, besides being in dense forests most of the time, allowing a brave infantryman to get near enough.
Plus, a tank that has at least one crewmember dedicated to watching out for danger (the commander not busy with the main gun) and one to relay information about an enemy infantryman to the other tanks nearby (the radioman, of course, with radio) is much more dangerous to infantry than the T-26 and BT-7 lacking those features.

Even then, assaulting a tank without ranged weapons is very dangerous.
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Pokey 64
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ElCid91 wrote:
panzer6 wrote:
heinz_guderian wrote:
Well a Panzerfaust weighed 13 lbs and pretty much every squad did carry one by 1945. Prior to HEAT weapons, Molotov cocktails and satchel charges were an infantryman's best bet against a tank.


Prior to HEAT weapons the infantryman's best bet was anti tank guns, anti tank rifles, land mines, physical obstacles, on call heavy artillery and aircraft.

Molotov cocktail is an improvised weapon. Not a military weapon. Dangerous to use and dangerous to employ. The satchel charge isn't far behind it. Not as dangerous to use but still dangerous to employ.


He must know what he's talking about, he has a picture of a tank under his name.


I learn alot from watching movies, The History Channel and YouTube! cool
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Nathan
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It may have been the case that satchel charges were provided to a section/platoon just prior to a suitable engagement.

Let's say they have plans to raid a town to disrupt communications. The CO might give three sections (out of let's say nine) satchel charges (which he would take from a supply stock) and those specific sections the the responsibility of blowing up certain buildings. Other sections may just provide covering fire, etc. It's unlikely it was something most men would carry around every day.

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Andy Daglish
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heinz_guderian wrote:
While playing Combat Commander a friend and I were discussing the merits of equipping every squad with satchel charges.


the immediate question would be requirement, and troop quality. So paratroops tended to get them.

Quote:
Trained engineers were needed for proper placement to destroy a bridge or blockhouse,


A very large bridge yes, as this was major demolition work. A single charge job is fairly easy.

Quote:
but they could also be effective against infantry and tanks if thrown.


An overall problem is blast and/or lethal radius, which even for fragmentation grenades is longer than the maximum throwing distance. Clearly this is a much bigger problem for satchel charges. Throwing them is therefore a desperation tactic. Placing one in the angle between a turret and the engine decking of a stationary tank and running for cover, or better still dropping one on a tank from an upstairs window, is preferable. Fuzes/detonators for large amounts of explosive that were sensible to use in combat conditions had a high rate of poor function.

Quote:
Does anyone know offhand if WWII era satchel charges (presumably composed of dynamite or TNT) were known to detonate undesirably prior to the advent of RDX based compounds like C-4? I.e. were they a really bad idea to just hand to any ole GI???


Contemporary fuze detonators relied on chemical reactions which could be affected by ambient conditions, like for example the bomb on Hitler's Condor in March 43 [the start of the Valkyrie film], which presumably failed due to the low temperatures in the cargo hold. Striker detonators relying on impact were obviously dangerous, perhaps the worst case being PIAT bombs, which were immediately discarded at the war's end. Infamously the sticky bomb was most likely to stick to the user, or his friend, and it killed about as many friendlies in training as enemy tanks ie. a small handful of each. Millions were produced. Not for nothing are electronic digital detonators and timers used presently.

To give another example -- the man who used to live next door to my brother was an artillery sergeant in 11th Armoured. There's a group photo featuring him in one of Patrick Delaforce's books, where he looks a large and confident young man. One day their Sextons were doing a shoot when one of them spontaneously exploded, and a probable contributory factor was that it was a hot summers day. This is why the vehicles were always dispersed, and why they might remove ammunition carried on-board if there was time.
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Seth Owen
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aforandy wrote:


To give another example -- the man who used to live next door to my brother was an artillery sergeant in 11th Armoured. Thee's a group photo featuring him in one of Patrick Delaforce's books, where he looks a large and confident young men. One day their Sextons were doing a shoot when one of them spontaneously exploded, and a probable contributory factor was that it was a hot summers day. This is why the vehicles were always dispersed, and why they might remove ammunition carried on-board if there was time.


Andy is quite right. All these explosive related materials are inherently very dangerous and become more so when exposed to extreme conditions -- which is quite likely to be the case in combat zones. On top of that, you have to remember that among the ranks in any army you're going to have certain number of foolish guys (most of them are young men, after all), inexperienced guys, profoundly fatigued guys and other folks are aren't at the tops of their games all the time. You don't want to hand out things like satchel charges like popcorn.

An additional consideration is weight. While 9 pounds may not seem like a lot, it is when you're the dude who has to lug it around all the time. Given the relatively rare situations when a satchel charge would be useful for the typical squad, it's not going to be worth the hassle. Better to carry an extra nine pounds of ammunition for the squad LMG.
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Greg S
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Having some experience with demolitions, I couldn't agree more with the previous two posts.

Explosives are inherently dangerous, since there are many factors involved in their proper use. I would venture to say that a fair percentage of accidental detonations, as well as collateral damage, occurred due to human error.

As has already been said, the use of satchel charges against live targets (as opposed to use against a static (read: building) target) required intimate contact with the enemy, with all of the associated risks.
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One thing that hasn't been emphasized enough is that satchel charges were not designed as an anti-tank weapon. They are meant for minor demolition work (including smaller wooden bridges, but not larger highway bridges) - say breaching a building wall so that your troops don't have to advance down a street covered by an enemy MG, throwing into a bunker or blockhouse where a regular grenade wouldn't have the lethality to kill all the defenders, or knocking down a wall to create a hasty barrier.
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Chris Miller
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I still smile when I think about reading Lock'n'Load V3 rules that state "Satchel charges may be used in melee combat". When I first read that I had this image of someone swinging a bag of explosives at another soldier.

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Cal Macewan
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If troops had access to plastic explosives, a more versatile and easy way to use them offensively was The Gammon bomb.

This was an elasticated bag with an attached grenade fuse, which could be filled with varying amounts of explosive, say half a stick for offensive anti-personnel, the same with a handful of any improvised shrapnel for a defensive grenade, or pack it with loads of explosive for anti-vehicle use.

The grenade fuze was impact triggered, so it worked better in an anti-vehicle fashion than a standard timed grenade. (the downside being it couldn't be bounced or skipped, but the loose bag wouldn't be much good for that anyway)
 
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