MIGHTY TACTICAL
Karl Smallwood

Can you actually pull a grenade pin with your teeth?

GatGatCat asks: Is cooking grenades and pulling the pins with your teeth something people really do or just something in games?

We've all seen it — the protagonist of a film whips out a hand grenade, dashingly yanks the pin with his teeth as his hair flows in the wind, counts one-potato, two-potato, three and hucks it at nearby teeming hoards of enemy swarming on his location. But is this actually a thing in real life?

First thing's first, yes, if you have hair, it is possible for it to flow in the wind… As for the grenade part, the generally recommended proper technique is — "proper grip, thumb to clip, twist pull pin, strike a pose, yell frag out, hit the dirt".


On the first step of "proper grip" it is particularly important to make sure to NEVER adjust your grip on the lever (called "milking") once the pin is pulled. Doing so may let up enough on said lever to allow the striker to do its thing to the percussion cap, which in turn creates a spark, thereby causing a slow burn of the fuse materials lasting approximately 2-6 seconds for most types of grenade, after which the main charge will ignite, sending shrapnel in all directions. So should you adjust your grip, you could potentially have a really bad time, even should you re-squeeze the lever after. Such a thing has caused the deaths of many a soldier, for example thought to have been the cause of the death of Specialist David G Rubic who had an M67 grenade explode in his hand as he was about to throw it during a training exercise.

M67 grenade.

(Public domain)

As you can see from these steps, at no point is taking your sweet time getting rid of the grenade after you release the lever, called "cooking", mentioned. Nevertheless, cooking the grenade is not without its virtues, with the general idea to minimise the window of opportunity the enemy has to react to said grenade — potentially throwing it back or diving for cover.

That said, while in film throwing the grenade back is a common trope, this is an incredibly difficult thing to pull off in real life. Consider that when the grenade is thrown, it is likely going to be in the air or bouncing around on the ground for a couple seconds in most scenarios, and thus about the only chance of someone actually picking it up and throwing it back successfully is if they Omar Vizquel'd it and caught it in the air and immediately hucked it back. But even then, whether it would get back to the thrower before exploding is anybody's guess — quite literally given, if you were paying attention, that rather variable estimate of 2-6 seconds from lever release to explosion, depending on model of grenade.

For example, the US Army's own field manual on the use of grenades and pyrotechnic signals states the fuse time tends to vary by as much as 2 whole seconds with, for example, the M67 grenade then having an estimated "3-5 second delay fuze". So counting one-potato, two-potato potentially only gives you one potato to go through the throwing motion, then take cover. And if you happen to be on the 3 potato end of things to boom, that grenade is going to be extremely close to your position when it sings the song of its people.

It's at this point we should point out that in many common grenade designs the potential lethal area is approximately 15-30 metres (50-100 feet), with the risk of injury from shrapnel extending to a couple hundred metres with some types of grenades. As you can imagine from this, potentially under one-potato just isn't a good enough safety margin in most scenarios.

For this reason, both the US Army and the Marines Corp strongly advise against cooking grenades with the latter referring to it as the "least preferred technique" to throw a grenade. As for the most preferred technique, to quote the Marine Corps manual on Military Operations on Urbanized Terrain:

The preferred technique involves throwing the grenade hard enough that it bounces or skips around, making it difficult to pick up. The hard-throw, skip/bounce technique may be used by Marines in training and combat.

That said, there are edge cases where cooking a grenade may be beneficial where the reward outweighs the risks and potentially environmental factors make it a safer prospect. As such, the same manual notes that cooking a grenade is a technique that can be used "as appropriate" based on the discretion of an individual Marine, but should never be used during training. Likewise, the US Army notes in its field manual on the use of grenades that the act of cooking off grenades should be reserved for a combat environment only.

As for situations where cooking a grenade is deemed potentially appropriate, the most common are clearing rooms and bunkers where there are nice thick barriers between you and the impending blast. (Although, it's always worth pointing out that while many a Hollywood hero has taken cover on one side of a drywall wall, this isn't exactly an awesome barrier and shrapnel and bullets easily go through the gypsum and paper. Likewise as a brief aside, any such hero ever trapped in a room in many homes and buildings can quite easily just smash a hole in the drywall to escape if they so chose. It's not that difficult. Just make sure not to try to punch or kick through the part with a 2×4 behind it…)

In any event, beyond urban environments, hitting very close enemies behind heavy cover is another common scenario cited in field manuals we consulted for cooking a grenade.

As for the amount of time it is advised to cook a grenade before throwing it, every official source we consulted notes that 2 seconds is the absolute maximum amount of time a soldier is advised to hold onto a live grenade before throwing it, with emphasis on MAXIMUM.

(U.S. Marine Corps photo)

All this said, technology has improved this situation in some newer designs of grenades that use electronic timer components, rather than unpredictable burning fuses. In these grenades, you can be absolutely sure that from the moment you release the lever, you have exactly the amount of time the designers intended, making cooking these grenades a much safer prospect in the right circumstances. Further, there are also new grenade designs coming out with position sensors as an added safety mechanism, via ensuring they cannot detonate unless the sensor detects the grenade has been thrown first.

But to sum up on the matter of cooking grenades, soldiers can and do, though rarely, "cook" grenades to minimise the time an enemy has to react to them, although doing so isn't advised and requires, to quote a book literally titled Grenades, "great confidence in the manufacturer's quality control". And, of course, similarly a soldier with balls or ovaries of solid steel and compatriots who are extremely trusting of their ability to count potatoes accurately — when literally a one second margin of error may be the difference between you dying or not, a sloppy seconds counter is not to be trusted.

Now on to the matter of pulling a pin with your teeth… While designs of grenades differ, from accounts of various soldiers familiar with a variety of grenades, as well as looking at the manufacturers' stated pull power needed — it would seem trying to pull a grenade pin with your teeth is a great way to put your dentist's kids through college.

For example, the relatively common M67 grenade takes about 3-5 kg (about 7 to 11 pounds) of force to pull free stock. The Russian F1 grenade takes about 8 kg (17 pounds) of pull power to get the pin out. Or as one soldier, referring to the Singapore SFG87 grenade, notes, "The pin was actually partially wrapped around the spoon(handle) of the grenade and was extremely stiff. You had to literally twist and yank the pin out, which made your fingers red and hurt a little."

Frag out!

(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Staci Miller)

Even without bent pins, to illustrate just how hard it can be to pull these pins in some cases, we have this account from Eleven Charlie One Papa by James Mallen. In it, he states,

[The] new guy had entered the hooch and hung up his gear, apparently from the canvas web gearing of his LBG but actually hanging on the pull pin of an HE fragmentation grenade, and then decided to go off somewhere. Worse still, the guy had not bent the cotter pin of the grenade over, so that at any moment…the gear would fall, the pin would be pulled out, the grenades' primer would ignite, and give seconds later everyone in the hooch at the time would be killed or horribly wounded.I had a mini heart attack and turned immediately to jump out but a soldier behind me was blocking my way, whereupon I mostly violently pushed him out of the way, up the stairs and outside, to escape a quick and violent end…
I learned that the guy who was responsible for it would return soon. I decided that he would have to take care of it… After about ten minutes that soldier … returned…He went back down, seemingly unconcerned, and rearranged his LBG so that it was hanging by the suspender strap instead of the pull-pin of a hand grenade….

Going back to bent pins, while many grenades don't come stock with the pins bent, this is a common practice done by soldiers the world over anyway, making it even more difficult to pull the pin. The primary purpose behind this is to ensure that the pin doesn't accidentally get pulled when you'd rather it not, like catching on a stray tree branch as you're trotting through the jungle, or even in combat when you might be hitting the deck or scrambling around haphazardly with little thought to your grenade pins.

Illustrating this, in Eleven Charlie One Papa, Mallen states, "I pointed out to him that the grenade cotter pin wasn't even bent over and he said that he was completely unaware that he should have them bent over. So for the last week or so we had been humping the bush with this guy whose grenades could have easily been set off by having the pin catch in a big thorn or spike. I guess it was our fault for not telling the guy things like that, things that were never taught in basic or advanced infantry training back in the states."

This practice, although widely utilised by soldiers is sometimes discouraged by some in the military precisely because it makes it extremely difficult to pull the pin if one doesn't first take the time to bend the metal back. This not only makes the grenade potentially take a little longer to be deployed in a pinch, but is also thought to contribute to soldiers unintentionally milking the grenade directly after the pin has finally been pulled with extreme force. This is what is speculated to have happened in the aforementioned death of Specialist David G Rubic, as noted by Colonel Raymond Mason who was in charge of figuring out what went wrong. In the investigation, it was discovered that Rubic had, according to witnesses, both previously bent the pin and been holding the lever down at the time it exploded in his hand.

(U.S. Marine Corps Photo by Cpl. Dengrier Baez)

Of course, if one throws the grenade immediately upon pin removal, whether you milk the grenade or not makes little difference — with it only being extra risky if you choose to hold onto it for some number of potatos. On top of this, regardless of what superiors say, many soldiers are unwilling to entrust their and their compatriots' lives to a mere 3-8 kg worth of pull force, which a tree branch or the like while jogging can potentially exert.

That said, a tree branch is not your teeth and whether bending the pins or not, as Sergeant Osman Sipahi of the Turkish Armed forces states, you can pull the pin this way, "but there is a high probability of you fucking up your teeth. It's the same as biting the top of a beer bottle off; it's doable but not recommended."

Or as Lieutenant Colonel Bill Quigley, author of Passage Through A Hell of Fire And Ice, sums up: "The business in the movies of the guy grabbing the grenade ring in his teeth and pulling out the pin is a load; it does not happen unless he is prepared to throw out a few teeth with it as well. We have all commented how we would like to get some of those Hollywood grenades that allow you to bite off the pin, throw the grenade a few hundred yards, and never miss your target, going off with the blast effect of a 500-pound bomb…"

Bonus Facts:

Any article on the discussion of grenade usage would be remiss in not answering the additional question often posed of whether you can put the pin back in after you've pulled it and still have it be safe to let go of the lever — the answer is yes, but this must be done VERY carefully, as letting up even a little on the lever before the pin is fully-re-inserted can cause the striker to do its thing, potentially without you knowing it, as illustrated in the death of one Alexander Chechik of Russia. Mr. Chechik decided it would be a good idea to pull the pin on a grenade he had, take a picture, then send it to his friends. The last text he ever received was from a friend stating, "Listen, don't f*** around… Where are you?" Not responding, reportedly Chechik attempted to put the pin back in, but unsuccessfully. The grenade ultimately exploded in his hand, killing him instantly, while also no doubt making him a strong candidate for a Darwin award.

(US Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Justin J. Shemanski)

Next up, as occasionally happens to all of us, if you happen to find a grenade thrown at you or drop the one you're holding with the pin already pulled, if no readily available cover is nearby the general recommendation is to lay flat on the ground with, assuming you remembered to wear your Kevlar helmet like a good soldier, your head towards the grenade. These helmets are designed to be an effective barrier against such shrapnel. This position also ensures minimal odds of any shrapnel hitting you in the first place via reducing the cross section of you exposed to the grenade's blast.

Now, you might at this point be thinking as you have your shrapnel proof Kevlar helmet, why not just put it on the the grenade? Genius, right? Well, no. While these helmets can take a barrage of quite a bit of high speed shrapnel, they cannot contain the full force of the blast of a typical grenade, as was tragically proven by Medal of Honor winner, Jason Dunham. In his case, not trusting his helmet to contain the blast, he also put his body on top of the helmet to make sure nobody else would be hurt by the dropped grenade. He did not survive, but those around him did.

In yet another case of a soldier jumping on a grenade to save his fellow soldiers, but this time with a reasonably happy ending, we have the case of Lance Corporal William Kyle Carpenter. On November 21, 2010 while in Afghanistan, a grenade was thrown into his sandbagged position. Rather than run, he used his own body to shield the other soldier with him from the blast. Miraculously, though severely injured, Carpenter lived and was awarded the Medal of Honor in June of 2014.

In a similar case, during a battle on Feb. 20, 1945, one Jack H Lewis and his comrades were advancing toward a Japanese airstrip near Mount Suribachi. Taking cover in a trench under heavy fire, Jack realized they were only feet away from enemy soldiers in a neighboring trench. He managed to shoot two of the soldiers before two live grenades landed in his trench. Thinking quickly, Jack threw himself on the first grenade, shoving it into volcanic ash and used his body and rifle to shield the others with him from the pending blast. When another grenade appeared directly after the first, he reached out and pulled it under himself as well. His body took the brunt of the two blasts and the massive amount of shrapnel. His companions were all saved, but his injuries were so serious they thought he had died. Only after a second company moved through did anyone realize he was somehow still alive. Jack endured nearly two dozen surgeries and extensive therapy and convalescence. Despite the surgeries, over 200 pieces of shrapnel remained in his body for the rest of his life which lasted an additional six decades. He died at the ripe old age of 80, on June 5, 2008 from leukemia.

This article originally appeared on Today I Found Out. Follow @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.