How effective is throwing yourself on a grenade to minimise casualties?

Recently, a soldier, Jason Dunham, was killed in Iraq after he unfortunately had to put his theories of containing a grenade attack to the test.

Supposedly, he thought that one could minimise casualties if you were to throw your helmet over the grenade and yourself on top. His fellow marines suggested, reportedly, that a flak vest would more aptly protect your vital organs and others if you threw yourself on it and held it in with your forearms.

As the way Dunham handled it, the blast sent shrapnel into two of the surrounding marines, but they lived. Dunham suffered shrapnel wounds to the face, and neck. The shrapnel had penetrated his skull and ultimately he died in a hospital in Germany.

Is there an official best way to minimise the effect of a thrown grenade, if escape/ throwing it back isn’t an option?

In no way am I trying to minimize the bravery of someone defending our freedoms in a foreign land, but…

Jeez. :rolleyes:

I think the idea is to cover the grenade with a helmet, then dive on top of the helmet, keeping it under your belly. Even this is a stupid trick. There is no way you can contain a grenade blast just holding the helmet with your arms. But he did minimise casualties…only three people got hurt, as opposed to…?

In Vietnam and elsewhere, if you had a prepared position, soldiers would dig a grenade pit in the center of the foxhole. That way you could kick the grenade into the pit, where its blast and shrapnel would be directed upward, minimising damage to occupants of said foxhole.

I’m not sure I fully understand the OP. Did the soldier throw himself on a grenade which had been thrown on him and his buddies, or did he use his own grenade to test his theory?

He was defending his battalion from attack, according to the news reports.

If he used his own grenade, he’s definitely a Darwin Award candidate. Either way, another casualty in the fight against ignorance.

Way back in WW1 Sergent John Carmichael won a VC after using the ol’ helmet & grenade trick:

“For most conspicious bravery. When excavating a trench, Sergeant Carmichael saw that a grenade had been unearthed and had started to burn. He immediately rushed to the spot, and shouting to his men to get clear, placed his steel helmet on the grenade and stood on the helmet. The grenade exploded and blew him out of the trench. Sergeant Carmichael could have thrown the grenade out of the trench, but he realised that by so doing, he would have endangered the lives of men working on top. By this splendid act of resource and self sacrifice, Sergeant Carmichael undoubtedly saved many men from injury, but it resulted in serious injury to himself.”

John Carmichael, V.C.

When I was with the 2nd MarDiv in Gulf War, Episode One, a few days before the ground assault, we heard a “boom” that didn’t sound quite right. That part is fact. Story was, a recon Marine had returned from snooping and pooping across the border in Kuwait, and they were removing their armaments. He had a grenade “John Wayne” style, hung by the spoon on his flak jacket, and when he removed it, the spoon flew off and the grenade fell. The witnesses were not sure if what happened next was heroic or reflex, but he essentially fell on it, and his soft tissue absorbed the blast. He did not survive the incident, but no other Marines were hurt. I cannot corroborate that last part as fact.

I don’t know if this is still in vogue – and apparently it’snot in Corporal Dunham’s outfit – but dugouts and bunkers can be built with what are called “grenade pits.” It’s just a deeper, narrow hole in the floor of the bunker. You sweep the grenade into it, and it becomes something like a vertical shotgun --atever energy that’s not absorbed by the earthen sides of the pit is directed straight upward. If you’re not over the pit opening, you’re reasonably safe.

I can’t speak to which is safer to try – a helmet or a flack jacket. Frankly, I’d try a sandbag before either of them.

According to the Marines, Dunham died when his squad responded to a roadside ambush of a convoy including the battalion commander. Not a prepared position (so no chance for a grenade pit) and not his own grenade (so not a Darwin Award candidate). In fact, he’s been recommended for quite a different posthumous award – The Medal of Honor.

From what I have heard, that the best strategy for saving oneself from a grenade (when there is no reasonable alternative) is to hug the ground as flat as possible preferably belly down and head away from the grenade.

You will suffer some damage, but it greatly lessens the chances of death.

“Hit the dirt!”

I don’t like going out on a limb, and maybe I’m taking a risk here, but I think that, as a general rule, jumping AWAY from a grenade is safer than jumping TOWARD it.

IANAWarHero, but I’d be interested in the depth of the hole, the soil characteristics and compaction, and several other key variables. Anyway, you’d think the dispersal pattern and explosive charge of a hand grenade would greatly exceed that of a so-called “vertical shotgun.”

Carnac the Magnificent!,

I am certainly not an expert, but I doubt that even the people who dig the holes can answer your questions. The general answer would be, dig it as deep an you can and have time to, My WAG is thaAnd, yes, I agree that the effect would be far more powerful than a shotgun, but I was speaking figuratively - that the shrapnel blast would come up out of the pit scattering like shot.

I Googled with mixed results. A couple of anecdotal soldier stories about putting in grenade pits into dugouts, and surprisingly, a completely different definition of what a grenade pit is. On training ranges, one throwes a grenade from a greande pit into a target are.

I always wondered how someone had time to do this. Presumably, the grenade thrower has held it for the prescribed time before throwing it. The purpose of holding it for that amount of time is to provide the target minimum opportunity to deal with the grenade once it appears in close proximity. Wouldn’t there be only a very short time to react to a thrown grenade?

What is the maximum time involved? How long between pin-pull and kaboom? It just seems like there would be a lot to accomplish in that time period, e.g.

  1. Recognize that grenade is present;
  2. React (i.e. think of a course of action)
  3. Reach up and remove helmet;
  4. Approach grenade;
  5. Position body and helmet over grenade.

As an extremely rough estimate, I would guess steps 1 and 2 would require somewhere between .25 and .50 seconds each. Step 3, about a second. Step 4, anywhere from 0 to 2 seconds. Finally, step 5, 1 to 2 seconds.

So my extremely wild guess would be that it would take a minimum of around 3 seconds to dive on the grenade. How often would one have 3 seconds to take that action?

That time frame might be significantly altered if you saw the grenade coming. In some movies, they make a hissing sound, though I can’t say whether that is true. But it seems conceivable that in some circumstances you might be aware of the grenade before it even leaves the thrower’s hand.

This is a big assumption. Even trained soldiers are leery of holding onto a grenade long enough to make sure it explodes the instant it arrives downrange. Fuses are variable, and most users chuck the sucker the second they pull the pin. The spoon flies off enroute, and you get an extra second or two within which to act.

Uh, folks, the reason a person throws him/herself on a grenade is so that by their sacrifice the rest of the platoon or unit can survive. If you have time to think and act, you put something between yourself and the grenade, but if you don’t, you just throw yourself down on top of it and hope that your comrades are able to avenge your death. I learned this from my high school chemistry teacher who was in 'Nam. He said that the instructors in bootcamp will throw themselves on an errant grenade, sacrificing themselves in order that the recuit(s) might live, should such a situation arise. Soldiers are trained to do this. There’s no thought to the matter, only conditioned reflex.

Maybe drill instructors are trained to do this, but I doubt there is any training given to gereral infantry for this. You just don’t want the whole friggin’ squad to leap towrd the grenade to save their buds. I imagine what training there is involves seeking cover and protection.

Of course, I’ve never been a soldier, and I could be wrong. Bit I’ve known lots of soldiers, and even looked through training manuals, and I can’t eber recall hearing of “jump on the grenade training”. But it may well be the kind of thing discussed in barracks among buddies. I imagine that the idea is pretty freely circulated, if not actually trained for.

Geez, you ever watch a war movie? Damn near everyone of 'em has some guy throwing himself on a grenade at some point. Now, I realize that movies ain’t reality, but if nothing else, the image is so ingrained in people’s consciousness that it’d be the first thing that I’d do if I were someplace and a grenade landed at my feet.

Let’s look at what the terrain most likely would have been in this instance: flat desert. There’s no foxholes to dive into, and you cannot runaway from the grenade, nor can you pick it up in time to throw it out of harms way (a grenade has something like a ten second fuse, and in talking with ex-military types about grenades, they’ve all told me that no matter how far you throw 'em you still get bounced a bit by the shockwave of one), and if you don’t do something, everybody’s going to be dead, so you sacrifice yourself for the common good.