30

It seems using a sling is far more effective than throwing things with your bare hands. As far as I know, slingers were widespread in the Ancient era, as well as in the Middle ages:

a slinger

However, in XIX-XX hand grenades were thrown, well, by hand:

a grenadier

Googling "sling grenadier" gives a bunch of fantasy troops. The only one mention was the Spanish Civil War sling grenadiers:

a sling grenadier

Slings were way more compact in comparison with a grenade launcher. However, using slings for throwing grenades wasn't so popular. Or was it? And why?

Updates

"There are situations where you actually can't use a sling (trenches, indoor, under fire, etc.)" - I'm not talking about using a sling every time INSTEAD of throwing a grenade by hand, but in addition to. It's like a rock - you can use it as a sling ammo, but you can still throw it by hand, no problems.

Slings have low accuracy - A sling target used for competitions is ~1.5 meter wide. You are supposed to hit it from a 90 meter distance. So, slings have decent accuracy.

Grenades have another use-cases - indeed, you don't need a long distance to, say, throw a grenade into a room. But there are still use-cases where you need that distance. That's why we have grenade launchers. But you can't carry a grenade launcher in your pocket. Also, a sling are way cheaper.

Fusing problems - I know grenades have safety handles and you're supposed to grip it when you throw a grenade. Using a sling will make this mechanism unsafe and doubtful. But that is kind of deductive fallacy - grenades have safety handles BECAUSE we throw them by hand. If slings were used, there would be different safety mechanisms.

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    What springs to mind is that slings are built for velocity and distance, whereas the typical use for a hand-grenade is to lob an explosive somewhere to a very specific spot from a position of relative safety. I'm not sure slings would be good for that use-case at all. – T.E.D. Sep 30 '16 at 17:38
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    There were some units that used lacrosse sticks for throwing grenades in WWI. It's not quite a sling, but a similar concept -- and not by hand. – Roddy of the Frozen Peas Oct 1 '16 at 12:44
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    The man in the third picture is actually throwing a bunch of dynamite and not a hand grenade — The caption reads "one of those expert dynamite men who throw their projectiles with marvellous confidence and accuracy." I'd believe it's actually safer to throw dynamite than a hand grenade, as you could put out the wick if it fell into your own trench. Besides, many miners fought in the Spanish Civil War and they would have a better knowledge of how to handle dynamite. – JMVanPelt Oct 1 '16 at 15:30
  • 1
    Just a fact for you: in Russia military nowdays, people train to use grenades. Usual typical grenades. Trainees first use imitations, until they can show a proper movement. They they throw a live grenade in the field. The fact is: many, if not most, trainers have experienced a case where a trainee dropped that live grenade under his feet, or thrown it backwards, or to the side. They even use special training moat where you can hide from grenade whereever it landed. Now imagine that with a sling added. – Barafu Albino Oct 2 '16 at 20:46
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    @T.E.D. Well, slings are used with non-explosive ammunition. Of course it was designed for hitting something with great accuracy - how else would you use it for hunting? Your second argument is better - they're somewhat tricky to use indoors or from a trench. Of course, just because you have a sling for a grenade doesn't mean you have to use it always. – Luaan Oct 3 '16 at 9:11

12 Answers 12

24

@KorvinStarmast has the correct answer for hand grenades. But we did use slings to lob grenades. Just think bigger.

A Trebuchet

A trebuchet is basically a big staff sling used to throw a projectile. That big beam is a lever serving the same role as the staff (or your arm).

The large size and time period makes it practical for explosive devices during a time when cannon were prohibitively expensive or non-existent. The larger ammunition size allows for more safety measures. The longer flight time allows for a longer, safer timed fuse. The higher impact velocity allows for a safer impact fuse. Since it's a siege weapon, accuracy isn't all that important.

A trebuchet can sling solid shot (ie. rocks), incendiary devices, explosives, or a pimped ride.

A "grenade" is an explosive or incendiary device which is thrown by mechanical action, not gunpowder. Early grenades were ceramic pots filled with Greek fire, burning tar, or other sticky, incendiary material. It could be lit or fused with a lit rag. When thrown at the enemy the pot would shatter spilling the sticky, burning (or lit by the rag) contents all over the poor sod it was heaved at. A molotov cocktail is the modern day equivalent.


Specific Examples

Romans used onagers, small trebuchet powered by twisted rope, to hurl incendiary devices.

Roman Onager

Later would come the fused explosive, the classic bomb with a burning fuse from cartoons. I don't have a medieval example, but I came across some curious WWI mechanical bomb throwing devices! In their desperation for trench artillery WWI troops tried out some curious trench catapults. The best is the West Spring Gun, a sort of spring powered hybrid ballista/trebuchet.

West Spring Gun

Source: Australian War Memorial

...a multi-springed (24) bomb-thrower of erratic tendencies which first saw service in 1915. The weapon, which was based on a Roman stone-throwing engine, was silent and relatively accurate up to a range of about 240 yards. It was much mistrusted by its operators as it was not unknown for mis-directed bombs to rebound from the thrower's own trench parapet.

Source: Imperial War Museum

I think the reports of mis-directed and rebounding bombs sums up the problem with slinging grenades. And this was with a large, firmly planted device and a (hopefully) trained crew. If that was unreliable, imagine the soldier next to you trying it with a hand held sling.

Such trench catapults threw hand grenades, such as the No 15 ball grenade, or the No 21 R. For the catapults they'd use a longer nine second fuse.

No 21 R Type Grenade

When grenades weren't available, troops got creative and bodged together some umm... front line expedient explosive devices to sling at the enemy. I give you the "jam tin grenade"!

Jam Tin Grenade

How'd you like to be the one that has to light and lob that?

  • 2
    Touche! :-) Given the pictures supplied, I confined my answer to hand grenades, but yeah – KorvinStarmast Sep 30 '16 at 19:55
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    @KorvinStarmast Don't you mean *sunglasses* trebu-touche? *YEAAAAAH!!!* – Schwern Sep 30 '16 at 19:58
  • groan Ba-dump-tsch! – KorvinStarmast Sep 30 '16 at 20:00
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    Could you give more detail about the actual ammunition you're talking about here? And in what sense it would be considered a "grenade"? In common speech, I seriously doubt anyone would use the term for anything but a hand grenade. – jpmc26 Sep 30 '16 at 21:46
  • @jpmc26 The answer is a bit tongue-in-cheek, but also to answer the "if not, why" part by examining the practical (and impractical) attempts to use mechanical energy to throw an explosive device. I expanded the answer to explain how I'm using "grenade", and also found a fascinating rabbit hole to run down: WWI trench catapults! – Schwern Sep 30 '16 at 23:35
42

Two reasons why not to put a grenade in a sling, based on the fusing/arming system

(An additional reason is that there are rifle launched grenades, if you need more range).

enter image description here enter image description here

Features of a hand grenade

There is a double safety feature on a typical hand grenade that prevents it from blowing up before you have sent it to its target. The modern hand grenade uses a delayed explosion, once it is armed, as a design feature to account for the approximate time of flight of a lobbed grenade. (Most of which are descendants of the Mills Bomb from WW I).

Safety feature one. The pin holds the handle in place. Grenade not armed.
Safety feature two. The handle held down? Grenade not armed.

The handle, once the pin is pulled, can be held in place to keep the fusing from beginning the sequence that leads to detonation. (Typically 3 or 5 seconds, depends on the grenade ... there are a lot of different models)

In order to arm the grenade, you pull out the pin, and once you throw it the handle flies off. At this point you have a finite number of seconds before it blows up. (For a rifle grenade, the launch from the rifle is what begins the arming/detonation sequence).

A sling launched grenade would, due to how one uses a sling, eat up some of that time to (1) insert the grenade into the sling and then (2) use the longer release arc to get the velocity generated for launch. (Compare a compact throw from second base to first versus a pitcher's full body extension in terms of release time) This increases the likelihood of the grenade exploding before launch (ouch!) or exploding too soon after launch to do damage to the target. (Blow up halfway there). It also adds additional motions/movements that can go wrong. The grenade lob is a comparatively simple, compact motion.

A further risk is the grenade slipping out of the sling during the launch process, and placing your own comrades at risk. (Nooooo!)

Using a sling needlessly complicates the use of a modern hand grenade.

Rifle Grenades

Modern technology has arrived at a variety of rifle grenades, which date back in concept to 20th century warfare (WWI and WWII). Those grenades were adapted to be fired from a rifle if extra range was needed.

Nowadays, there are whole families of grenade launchers meant to launch longer range grenades, like the M40 grenade(the only one I have experience with), to include the M79 and M203. (Pics at that link, and I have used them both).

Final answer

(1) Using a sling eats up too much of the time before detonation, so that the grenade most likely won't blow up at the target. (Needless complexity)

(2) Safety for the grenadier and his allies. (A mistake could be lethal).

(3) If you need the range, use a rifle grenade/grenade launcher (The right tool for the job)

Sources:
(1) Wiki on hand grenades (where the pictures came from)
(2) (Experience) Military training received in how to use a hand grenade and grenade launchers.

  • 1
    AFAIK you aren't supposed to spin the sling in order to generate the velocity. The launch itself is performed with one single move. You're probably talking about so-called long sling, but that's another story. – enkryptor Sep 30 '16 at 19:12
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    Actually, even with a long sling you don't GENERATE the velocity by spinning it, but you swing it slowly to make it don't touch the ground. The launch itself is performed in one fast move as well. – enkryptor Sep 30 '16 at 19:28
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    Just a note on grenade launchers: they already existed in the 17th century. They were, however, not wide-spread, because they were very unsafe: the grenades were fired from matchlock muskets, and they themselves had a burning piece of rope as fuses. So you had to light the grenade on fire, place it inside a muzzle-loading gun while taking care not to set it off, and then use another piece of burning rope to ignite the gunpowder which would launch the grenade. If it failed, you now had a jammed grenade launcher with an armed grenade inside it, ready to explode any moment in your hand. – vsz Sep 30 '16 at 22:25
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    Reason (4) - I'd expect the time taken to learn to use a sling to sling a grenade would be significant. Like years to be really good. Modern armies have a time problem fitting in training, so even if slinging was practical in all other aspects it would take too long to teach. so there's that. – Jason Tan Oct 1 '16 at 11:02
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    Doesn't it look a bit circular? Grenades intended to be thrown by hand are bad at being thrown by sling because sling is not a hand. I suppose question why these were not intended to be used with a sling in the first place is more fitting. – Daerdemandt Oct 1 '16 at 14:53
23

The main reason for avoiding the sling is that it is a difficult weapon to use.

Requires training to do right EVERY time. So your slinger could expect a short career indeed which would abruptly end the very first time a live grenade slips the string and falls at his feet.

Very bad trade-off for more range at questionable accuracy.

What you had instead for more range with accuracy was this weapon: The stick grenade. It was widely used during both WWI and WWII.
enter image description here

  • 3
    I wonder why nobody said this.Throwing grenades is easy to learn, which is an important advantage in comparison with using a sling. – enkryptor Oct 1 '16 at 9:57
  • The German "potato masher" was a devastating infantry assault explosive in World War 2. Again though...now we have drones...super cheap, for all intents and purposes 100% instant situational awareness by the user. Once you have that all you need is a mortar. You simply don't have the time anymore to stand out in open ground, pull something from a pouch, stick it in a "sack thingy", wind it up then fling it. You'll be dead by the first wind up in the age of Total Information Awareness. – Doctor Zhivago Oct 1 '16 at 23:54
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    @enkryptor Well, I wouldn't say throwing is easier. It's actually pretty much the same kind of complexity as slinging. The important point is that most people already have plenty of experience throwing, since it's so common in sports etc. Look at a baby/child learning to throw, and you'll see how hard it actually is - and I know plenty of adults who can't even pass a ball, much less something like a stick grenade. Of course, you need to be extremely clumsy to throw something backwards, while someone clumsy with a sling can easily do that. Throwing badly from a trench isn't too dangerous. – Luaan Oct 3 '16 at 9:05
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    Throwing a grenade is something that MUST go right EVERY time. When you have millions of soldiers around the world practicing with live rounds or using them in combat, then statistics says that a certain percentage of them will screw it up, drop it and blow up the wrong person. That is also why the highly exaggerated throwing procedure is taught to this day - it is a lame throwing procedure that costs some distance, but it's the hardest method to screw up. – Smith Oct 4 '16 at 14:30
9

Other alternatives are better

We can see that many grenades were designed to be thrown by hand. Sure, attempts to throw those using a sling would end badly. However, that does not answer the question why thrown-by-hand design was adopted in the first place.

grenade on a rope enter image description here

Let's compare sling-thrown grenade to alternatives. I suppose grenade with a rope attached would be better than sling-thrown in almost any way. Mechanics are the same, lesser risk of grenade slipping out and so on. U.S. Army Improvised Munitions Handbook has a section about doing that (adapting hand grenade to be used with a rope).

enter image description here

What else is similar to grenade-on-a-rope? Grenade-on-a-stick of course. Grenade on a stick requires even less skill to launch and still provides increased range. So, if you think about designing grenades for a sling and equipping your troops with those, you're better off giving grenades with ropes attached, and grenades on a stick are even better than that. And those have actually seen their uses!

Sling grenades could probably provide more range than stick grenades. However, you have rifle grenades for that which require less skill to use. They also require less room, which is important because:

You don't have much room in trenches

There were threnches, lots of those and you should generally be in one of those too. You can throw a regular grenade while you're in a trench, albeit less effectively. Throwing grenade on a stick would be harder (because there's not much room). Additionally, accidently chipping trench's wall with tip of a grenade is easy and would set off some early ones immediately.


So, there are 2 and a half options - "regular" grenade, stick grenade and sometimes rifle grenade. Sling grenades would be inferior to those, especially in trenches which were prominent when grenades were being developed.

7

After looking into it, it looks like slings have indeed been used to throw grenades, although it isn't common.

There's video evidence of a sling being used to throw grenades during the Spanish Civil war (by the Republican side?), and I've found reports of Finns using them against the Russians in WWII. You can find reports online of slings being used recently by protestors to launch improvised grenades (Molotov Cocktails) in Ukrainian(YouTube) and Palestinian protests.

enter image description here REUTERS/Mussa Qawasma

It appears that the common thread is a relatively under-equipped force using the sling as a poor-man's grenade launcher. A fully-equipped military would likely use actual grenade launchers instead.

  • 1
    Slings are devastating and have been used to devastating effect by regular Armies up until Napoleon. I think boleros were used by Mexican "forces" well into the 19th Century. Once you have ranged artillery and mass Cavalry that's it for slinging. Now we have Drone Wars so even as an irregular form of fighting slinging is ineffective. Drones can be and apparently are used by irregular forces now though...apparently quite often in the current War in the Donbass in Ukraine. – Doctor Zhivago Oct 1 '16 at 2:57
3

One big problem with a sling in modern warfare is, you have to be standing up, in the open, with nothing near you, to use the sling.

That might work fine in edged weapon times, but today you'd just be making yourself a great target. They'd shoot you the moment you stood up, and then your compatriots would have to deal with the live ordnance your dead hand just dropped.

Which is probably why launching methods that don't require standing up were developed: rifle grenade launcher, mortar, etc...

Having said that, there were some sort-of slings developed by Germany late in WW2, for tossing anti-tank bombs. These were developed more out of desperation and lack of materials than as an effective weapon. They weren't successful.

2

First, various explosive devices have been used with slings in the past, and they are still used by paramilitaries. The typical example is the Winter War, where Finns used slings to throw Molotov Cocktails at enemy armour. There are also records of them being used in the Spanish Civil War.

A trained slinger can shoot a projectile with great accuracy and range, and while the rate of fire is slower than with a bow, it isn't necessarily slower than a thrower. So in a scenario where you want to launch a grenade at great range, they would work great.

The thing is, there are already better options for that in most cases. We have grenade launchers, rifle grenades, and the doctrines that make you close on your enemy very quickly. There simply aren't too many scenarios where lobbing a grenade far would be very useful. The main exception was where slings were actually used (until better weapons appeared and got reliable) - like the anti-armour use I already mentioned.

Now, add the training. Most people already have plenty of experience throwing things. If they can pass a ball, they're pretty close to being able to throw a grenade safely. Most people don't have sling training; and while training to use a sling isn't quite as hard as training to use a war bow, it isn't trivial either. Rifle grenades are a lot easier to use.

Slings do require some clearance. It's not impossible to use them indoors, but it's definitely awkward. And imagine how a bunker would have to be built to allow you to sling grenades on the enemy (they did have grenade chutes). You also have a bit less control over the trajectory - while you can target them precisely, you might have trouble with enemy cover, even trees.

You can't just use a hand grenade in a sling - that would be quite dangerous. You need a shot designed to be fired from a sling, and that means yet another piece of ammunition that gets through your whole logistic chain, that has weight you have to carry, and there are pretty much no circumstances under which it would be better than a rifle grenade or a hand grenade. Now, it might be possible to design a grenade that can be used both with a sling and as a hand grenade, but it's another piece of complexity for an explosive - hand grenades are plenty dangerous already, and they need to be very cheap to be useful. Mind you, neither would be a problem in most modern armies - but most modern armies (again) have better weapons.

Finally, you need to ask how grenades are actually used. A typical anti-personnel granade has two main use cases - getting enemies out of cover, and killing clusters of soldiers in closed spaces. For both, you already need to be pretty close, and in a cover of your own. Why use a sling to throw a grenade when you get artillery ready to rain accurate fire on the enemy? Are you going to shoot a grenade through a window? That's the perfect use case for a rifle grenade :)

With the grenadiers of old, they were used against enemy formations, mostly in the clear with no cover. The grenades had rather long fuses, and the enemy had limited maneuvering to get away from the grenades. And you had two hundred grenades being thrown at you at once - quite a rain of explosion. Of course, slings aren't easy to use in a tight formation, and armies relied on tight formations for defense against cavalry, so this wasn't really used much in a real battle anyway.

  • > Most people already have plenty of experience throwing things. It's not only about experience, throwing is like one of human's natural weapons. – Daerdemandt Oct 4 '16 at 9:49
  • @Daerdemandt Sure, but slings exploit the same adaptations (and mimic them for extra effect!). As do bows. Humans' first weapons were built entirely around what the human body was good at - and to an extent, this keeps going on (e.g. the fact that we use rifles for accuracy, even though they're bulkier than pistols - it's a consequence of human anatomy). That doesn't change the fact that throwing takes lots of training - it's a very complex thing, and it only feels easy because human brains have trouble understanding how hard something is once learn how to do it. – Luaan Oct 4 '16 at 11:01
  • @Luaan: No, the greater accuracy of rifles compared to pistols is a direct consequence of the longer barrel. This has nothing to do with human anatomy. – Pieter Geerkens Dec 14 '18 at 13:52
  • @PieterGeerkens No, human anatomy has effect long before the longer barrel does. You first need to fix the ergonomic issues (shoulder stock, two-handed, sighting...), and then you get a great benefit from the other adaptations of the rifle (longer barrel, lighter ammunition etc.). – Luaan Dec 15 '18 at 8:48
2

My father served in the Coldstream Guards in WW1 and early in his career he was the Guards Divisional Trench Mortar officer. In 1952, when I was 16, I wrote down his account as follows.

"He had been one of the only people to fire a type of sling like a cross-bow that they used for projecting "cricket ball" grenades, with any success. After a lot of aligning and sighting he managed to get the sling set. It consisted of two pieces of wood or metal, the cross-piece fixed by pieces of six-inches wide elastic, and having a cup for the grenade. After this adjusting was completed he struck the fuse on a piece of striker round his arm and released the cross piece. The grenade landed plumb in a bomb crater filled with Germans and caused them to evacuate a dangerous and menacing position."

My father won the DSO and MC with the 1st Battalion and then was the acting CO of the 3rd Bn. All his other recorded recollections have proved very accurate.

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    This makes no sense what-so-ever: "*a type of sling like a cross-bow *" – Pieter Geerkens Jan 23 '18 at 12:34
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    I think a crossbow is distinct from a sling. – Mark C. Wallace Jan 23 '18 at 14:15
  • I suspect that he was talking about a simpler version of one of these grenade-throwing crossbows – sempaiscuba Jan 23 '18 at 16:04
  • David, was the device (if you do recall) similar to the picture linked by @sempaiscuba? – KorvinStarmast Jan 23 '18 at 22:06
2

Staff slings were used to throw petards (16th century bombs), particularly over walls, such as castle walls, as you could obtain more height & distance using a staff sling than by hand.

As for typical slings, there are multiple methods to use slings and not all require a lot of room or complex twirling pattern. Short slings typically use a single throw stroke just like a staff sling.

So yes, slings can and were used to hurl explosives, particularly to gain greater distance than possible by hand and, as shown above, to reach positions otherwise thought safe. Grenade launchers have replaced such devices in modern warfare.

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1

Imagine pulling the pin and putting your grenade in the sling. Then you start swinging that sling and it bumps or catches on something behind you that you didn't notice; tree branch, fellow soldier, the corner of a building and the grenade falls to the ground at your feet with only a second or two left on the timer. Buhbye

Also, if you want to stand up in a foxhole on a battlefield so you have enough clearance to swing that sling, be my guest. Just don't do it in my foxhole, please, because I don't want you to catch the sling on something and drop that grenade in my lap.

1

A hand grenade is lethal for only a few meters, and dangerous for only about 10-15 meters. They are used when you have a specific target that needs to be cleared. In other words, they are a precision weapon.

Throwing the grenade by hand allows one to place this precision weapon precisely: behind a wall, around a corner, etc. Slings would not provide the precision necessary for the grenade to be effective. I assume that you suggest using a sling to increase the distance that the grenade can be used, but distant targets is not the use case that a hand grenade is designed for. Doing so in a pinch might be more dangerous to the thrower than to the target, as the standard M26 detonates after 4.5 seconds. Watching Palestinian children use slings, they seem to take a significant portion of that 4.5 seconds just getting the rocks in the sling and swinging them around, often longer.

Furthermore, the standard M26 has an initial "pop" that goes off half a second after the lever is released, which I imagine would complicate any attempts to keep the device secure in the sling.

  • 3
    I can't agree slings aren't accurate. The size of a target used in a sling competitions is about 1 meter wide. The competitors are supposed to hit them from the 90 meter distance. – enkryptor Oct 1 '16 at 10:00
  • @enkryptor: Thank you, I had no idea! I suppose that the training time that would have to be spent on training soldiers to sling accurately would simply be better spent training on other things as modern soldiers already have weapons accurate to 1 meter at 90 meter's range. – dotancohen Oct 1 '16 at 18:56
  • I went hiking in the mountains of Chiang Mai in Thailand about 16 years ago. Our tour guide kept shooting snakes out of the trees with his home-made slingshot. Pencil-thin snakes, from about 10m range. We would never even notice them before he'd shot them. He shot six over three days, and never missed once. – Dewi Morgan Oct 1 '16 at 23:14
  • Slingers exist to get the folks in heavy armor to fall over...thus causing other heavy infantry to fall over, etc. Great trade off because you have unlimited ammo too...and can travel fast over uneven ground...really make a mess of things. As former light infantry assault I can tell you straight up nothing beats a carbine. Smoke grenades are way better than the explosive kind, always carry a sidearm (pistol.) You simply can't be in the open in modern war anymore...hence "War in the Donbass" which is a fight over...and most likely in...a massive coal deposit. "Carbines and handguns... – Doctor Zhivago Oct 2 '16 at 0:06
  • @DewiMorgan Slingshots and slings are very different weapons. – Loren Pechtel Apr 23 '18 at 2:21
1

The answers on here mostly focus on the fusing problems. Of course you would have fusing problems trying to adapt a hand weapon for sling use. You would fare much better making a grenade for sling use in the first place. Take an ordinary grenade and move the pin to the top, right on the center of mass. A cord on the sling connects to this pin--thus the pin is only pulled when the grenade leaves the sling.

However, you still have problems. Throwing by sling isn't nearly as reliable or accurate as throwing by hand. A bad throw can leave a live grenade in your vicinity. If it slips from the sling during a throw it might go flying into friendly forces.

Furthermore, at this point the weapon isn't really accurate enough to target a single soldier. Any weapon that is normally used ballistically is aimed at masses of troops. (Note that this is changing in the modern era with the ability to put seekers or precision guidance on ballistic weapons.) You're going to stand up there (a sling isn't something you can generally use from cover) against a bunch of guys with guns and try to sling a grenade? Sounds like a recipe for suicide! Slingers were from the era before guns when standing in the view of the enemy wasn't so dangerous.

Sure, you'll see improvised uses of slung grenades (see T.E.D.'s answer) but that is done by forces that don't have access to proper factories, or which must improvise on the spot to deal with the unexpected. Note, also, that his first example is with a molotov cocktail--a weapon that doesn't have the fusing issues with grenades, nor nearly the danger range of a grenade.

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