Repository: Alfredo González-Ruibal Personal Collection
Fond or Collection
Research Project, 2017
Repository and Location
Alfredo González-Ruibal Personal Collection, Place
Extent: 1 item
Geographic Region: Madrid, Spain
The Lafitte grenade is one of the most iconic weapons of the Spanish Civil War. It was based on the French pétard Thévenot of the First World War, which entered service in 1915 and was used by both French and Italian forces. A version of the artifact was introduced in Spain in 1921. By the start of the war they were standard issue and were used by both sides. They were much more common among the rebels, who controlled factories that produced the grenades in large numbers throughout the entire war.
The Lafitte was an offensive grenade, used in attacks and therefore lacking shrapnel (to prevent the user being hit by fragments of his own bomb). It weighed 415 grams, of which half consisted of the explosive, ammonium nitrate. It had a complex mechanism: first the safety pin had to be pulled to release the safety plaque. The grenade was then thrown, which unfolded a piece of fabric that made the plaque fall and an element blocking the firing pin. Once the pin was unblocked, any blow would release the firing pin and make it impact the detonator, which in turn would ignite the explosive charge. It is very common to find great numbers of safety plaques and other elements belonging to Lafitte grenades in the battlefields of the Spanish Civil War. They are evidence of raids and combat at close quarters.
This is the case with the place where the grenade in the photograph was found: the University Hospital of Madrid. During the Battle of Madrid (8-23 November 1936), the hospital was the object of several attacks and counterattacks in which soldiers even fought room by room, until it was finally captured by the rebels. Grenades played a very important role in these raids, as they did in later fighting in this sector. The Republicans never abandoned the idea of recapturing the hospital and they raided it and mined it frequently. After the explosion of a mine, Republican soldiers provided with pistols, shovels, rifles, bayonets and grenades would storm the enemy parapets. These were savage encounters that produced many victims and no results. Our grenade is probably a material witness of one such raid.
Something striking in the grenade from the University Hospital is the piece of fabric that fastened the safety plaque and that, in this case, has been preserved. It is a piece of reused cloth, apparently from a shirt. Although it could have been improvised at the front, it is more likely that it came that way from the factory. Lafitte grenades were made of tin plate, which was often recycled: it is common to observe the stamps of sardine or olive cans on the grenades, mostly on the safety plaque. In fact, some canning factories shifted to the production of Lafitte grenades during the war.