How does a nearly 100 year old WWI German mortar grenade evolve into a 50,000 sq. ft. Museum?  The journey begins with a step back in time, back to 1918 to a smoke-filled war trench that is under fire on the worn torn battlefields of WWI.  Within the trench are some mortar grenades.  It is late in the war, and at least one of those grenades will – for whatever the reason - remain intact.


The Journey Begins

German Mortar Grenade at AFHM on the GR 16 Launcher

Now advance roughly 50 years to 1955.  That same mortar grenade which once sat in the war trenches of the Great War is given to young Marine as a gift.  That Marine was John J. Piazza, Sr., the founder of the Armed Forces History Museum. At the time, he didn’t even know exactly what the item was or the history it housed.  That information would not be discovered until after the turn of


A WWI soldier peers over the trench to assure safe passage for AFHM visitors.

the century.  The item still, however, manages to spark an even deeper commitment to the military in which he has served and acts as a catalyst to begin one of the single most impressive military collections of the 20th century, a collection which would eventually be generously donated to a 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization – The Armed Forces Military Museum (now dba as the Armed Forces History Museum).  Almost 100 years later, after that mortar grenade travelled the world, for an unknown distance and through unknown hands, it is now displayed, and appropriately so, in a case inside a replica of that very WWI trench where it first sat.


Plan A Visit

Conveniently located just off Ulmerton Road in Largo, FL, the Armed Forces History Museum is a must see attraction.  Once inside, you are transported with interactive, detailed dioramas and displays which submerge you as they bring the past to life.  Visit their homepage at for more information on hours of operation, driving directions and admission prices.


History of the Mortar Grenade and the German Grenade Thrower

The German mortar grenade was used back in WWI with the Granatenwerfer 16 (GR 16) – the name given to the German grenade-launcher.   (A rare find, the GR 16 is also part of this incredible WWI collection at the Armed Forces History Museum.)  The launcher allowed the grenades to be propelled a greater distance (compared to throwing them by hand), making it an effective weapon in trench warfare.  The range varied depending on the angle of the GR 16, but it was capable of reaching just over 1,500 feet.  Its rate of fire and explosive capabilities made this weapon very popular among the German soldiers.   The various angles ­­­­­­­­­­­available on this particular launcher meant it could also be safely fired from within the trench, maximizing distance and destruction while minimizing exposure to enemy gunfire.


The GR 16 weighed in at roughly 84 lbs, making it a relatively portable piece of equipment.  The mortar grenades weighed just over 4 lbs.  The segmented head on the grenade would ignite on impact, propelling the grenade up to 4 ft. in the air where it would explode into individual fragments that proved deadly over a large area.


Mortars, along with the launchers, were often used to take out machine gun posts, possible sniper posts, sentry posts and other various infantry targets.   The Germans had a distinct advantage at the beginning of WWI as it had been stock piling mortars since the end of the Russo-Japanese War in 1905.  During that war, German military observers came away with a newfound perspective and respect for the use of hand grenades (which they had witnessed) and began expanding on the idea.


Throughout World War I, Germany and its Allies would rely heavily upon the skillfully produced minenwerfer designs.    But by wars end, both sides would possess a full range of carefully produced mortar grenades - grenades which proved to be extremely deadly.