PNG images: Grenade Launcher
A grenade launcher is a weapon that fires a specially-designed large-caliber projectile, often with an explosive, smoke or gas warhead. Today, the term generally refers to a class of dedicated firearms firing unitary grenade cartridges. The most common type are man-portable, shoulder-fired weapons issued to individuals, although larger crew-served launchers are issued at higher levels of organisation by military forces.
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Grenade launchers can either come in the form of standalone weapons (either single-shot or repeating) or attachments mounted to a parent firearm, usually a rifle. Larger crew-served automatic grenade launchers such as the Mk 19 are mounted on tripods or vehicles.
Some armored fighting vehicles also mount fixed arrays of short range, single-shot grenade launchers as a means of defense.
The earliest devices which could conceivably be referred to as grenade launchers were slings, which could be used to throw early grenado fuse bombs. The ancestors of modern ballistic grenade launchers, however, were simplistic muzzle-loading devices using a stake-like body to mount a short, large-bore gun barrel into which an explosive or incendiary device could be inserted; these were later refined into shoulder-fired blunderbuss-like firearms referred to as "hand mortars". These weapons were not highly regarded due to their unreliability, requiring the user to ignite a fuse on the projectile before firing and with a substantial risk of the explosive failing to leave the barrel; attempts to ignite the fuse on firing using the gunpowder charge resulted in weapons that would often force the fuse into the grenade and make it explode in the barrel.
During the First World War a number of novel crew-served launchers designed to increase the range of infantry hand grenades were developed, such as the Sauterelle crossbow and West Spring Gun and Leach Trench Catapultdevices. None were particularly effective, and such devices were ultimately replaced by light mortar systems like the Stokes Mortar, while the task of increasing the range of infantry explosive projectiles was primarily taken by rifle grenades.
A late example of such a system was the Japanese Type 91 grenade, which could be used as a thrown hand grenade, or fitted with adaptors to either be fired as a rifle grenade or used as a projectile by the Type 89 grenade discharger, a light infantry mortar.