AskDefine | Define grenadier

Dictionary Definition



1 an infantryman equipped with grenades [syn: grenade thrower]
2 deep-sea fish with a large head and body and long tapering tail [syn: rattail, rattail fish]

User Contributed Dictionary



From French grenadier, corresponding to grenade + -ier.


/grɛnəˈdɪə/ (UK)


  1. A type of soldier, originally one who threw grenades, later a member of a company formed from the tallest men of the regiment; now specifically, a member of the Grenadier Guards.
  2. Any of various African weaver-birds or waxbills, especially the common grenadier or the red bishop.
  3. Any of various deep-sea fish of the family Macrouridae that have a large head and body and a long tapering tail; a rat-tail.



From grenade.




fr-noun m
  1. pomegranate tree
  2. grenadier



  1. Person from Grenada

Related terms

Extensive Definition

A grenadier (derived from the word grenade) was originally a specialized soldier, first established as a distinct role in the mid to late 17th century, for the throwing of grenades and sometimes assault operations. At this time grenadiers were chosen from the strongest and largest soldiers. By the nineteenth century, the throwing of grenades was no longer relevant, but grenadiers were still chosen for being the most physically powerful soldiers and would lead assaults in the field of battle. Grenadiers would also often lead the storming of breaches in siege warfare, although this role was more usually fufilled by all-arm units of volunteers called forlorn hopes, and might also be fufilled by sappers or pioneers.
In the nineteenth century, certain countries such as France and Argentina established units of "Horse Grenadiers". Like their infantry grenadier counterparts, these horse-mounted soldiers were chosen for their size and strength (i.e. heavy cavalry).


The concept of throwing grenades may go back to the Ming Dynasty, when Chinese warriors on the Great Wall were reported using this weapon. The earliest references to these grenade-throwing soldiers in Western armies come from Austria and Spain. References also appear in England during the English Civil War. However, it was King Louis XIV of France who made the grenadier an official type of soldier and company during his army reforms late in the 17th century. According to Rene Chartrand, Lt. Col. Jean Martinet introduced the idea of having men detailed to throw grenades in the Régiment du Roi in 1667.


The first grenades were small iron spheres filled with gunpowder fused with a length of slow-match, roughly the size of a cricket ball or a baseball. The grenadiers had to be tall and strong enough to hurl these heavy objects far enough so as not to harm themselves or their comrades, and disciplined enough to stand at the forefront of the fight, light the fuse and throw at the appropriate moment to minimize the ability of an enemy to throw the grenade back. Understandably, such requirements led to grenadiers being regarded as an elite.

Early distinctions of dress and equipment

The wide hats with broad brims characteristic of infantry during the late 17th century were discarded and replaced with caps. This was originally to allow the grenadier to sling his musket over his back with greater ease while throwing grenades (initially, only these troops were provided with slings). Additionally, a brimless hat permitted the grenadier greater ease in throwing the grenade overhand. By 1700, grenadiers in the English and other armies had adopted a cap in the shape of a bishop's mitre, usually decorated with the regimental insignia in embroidered cloth. In addition to grenades, they were equipped with contemporary longarms. The uniform included a belt tube that held the match for lighting the fuse; this feature was retained in later grenadier uniforms.

Elite status of grenadiers in 18th century

Grenade usage declined significantly in the early 18th century, a fact that can be attributed to the improved effectiveness of massive infantry line tactics and flintlock technology. However, the need for elite assault troops remained, and the existing grenadier companies were used for this purpose. As noted above physical size had been considered important for the original grenadiers and, in principle, height and strength remained the basis of selection for these picked companies. In the British regiments of foot during the 18th century the preference was however to draw on steady veterans for appointment to individual vacancies in a grenadier company (one of the eight companies comprising each regiment). The traditional criterion of size was only resorted to when newly raised regiments required a quick sorting of a mass of new recruits. Whether for reasons of appearance or reputation grenadiers tended to be the showpiece troops of their respective armies. In the Spanish Army of the early 1800s for example, grenadier companies were excused routine duties such as town patrols but were expected to provide guards at the headquarters and residences of senior officers.

Mitre cap

The mitre cap, whether in stiffened cloth or metal, became the distinguishing feature of the grenadier in the armies of Britain, Russia, Prussia and most German states during the 18th century. French grenadiers had other distinctions such as fringed epaulettes and dyed feathers in their tricorn hats. Austrian and Spanish grenadiers favoured high fur hats with long coloured cloth backs to them. The mitre was gradually replaced by bearskin hats in other armies and by 1914 it only survived in three regiments of the Prussian and Russian Imperial Guards. Russian grenadiers had worn their brass fronted mitre hats on active service until 1809 and some of these preserved for parade wear by the Pavlovski Guards until 1914 still had dents or holes from musket balls. Some have survived for display in modern museums and collections.
In addition to the mitre (later bearskin) headdress, grenadiers of the British Army were distinguished by flaming grenade insignia on belt-plates, pouches, coat-tails and collars plus shoulder wings. These distinctions disappeared when the "flank companies" (grenadiers and light infantry) of each regiment of line infantry were discontinued shortly after the Crimean War.

Grenadier regiments

The term grenadier was retained or adopted by various elite infantry units, including Potsdam Grenadiers, the Fusilier-Grenadiers and Tirailleur-Grenadiers of Napoleon's Imperial Guard, the Imperial Russian Grenadier Leib Guards Regiment, Britain's Grenadier Guards and the 101st Grenadiers. The latter was part of the British Indian Army and claimed to be the first and oldest grenadier regiment (as opposed to grenadier companies) in the British Empire. During the American Revolution of 1775-1783, the Connecticut 1st Company Governor's Foot Guards and the 11th Regiment of Connecticut Militia had grenadier companies. New York City also had a Grenadier unit
With the standardisation of training and tactics, the need for separate grenadier companies at regimental level had passed by the mid nineteenth century and the British, French and Austrian armies phased out these sub-units between 1850 and 1860. However as late as 1914 the Imperial German and Russian Armies included a number of grenadier regiments. In the Russian Army these comprised the Grenadier Guards Regiment as well as the Grenadier Corps of sixteen regiments. Five regiments of the Prussian Guard were designated as Garde-Grenadiers and there were an additional fourteen regiment of grenadiers amongst the line infantry of the German Empire. In both Russian and German armies the grenadier regiments were considered a historic elite, distinguished by distinctions such as plumed helmets in full dress or special braiding. Their role and training however no longer differed from that of the rest of the infantry.

Modern usage

In modern times, regiments using the name grenadiers are effectively indistinguishable from other infantry, especially when hand grenades, RPGs, and other types of explosive arms have become standard-issue weaponry; however, such regiments retain at least the tradition of their elite past. Grenadier can also refer to soldiers utilizing grenade launchers, including those mounted on rifles. During World War I a proposal to designate specialist grenade launching units in the British Army as grenadiers was vetoed by the Grenadier Guards who considered that they now had exclusive rights to the ancient distinction, and the term Bomber was substituted.
During World War I, German troops referred to as pioneers, who were early combat engineers or sappers began using two types of hand grenades in trench warfare operations against the French to clear opposing trenches of troops. The more effective of the two was the so called "potato masher" stielhandgranate, which were Stick grenades.
The German motorised and mechanised infantryman of World War II were known as panzergrenadiers serving in both Panzer and Panzergrenadier Divisions. In the Vietnam War U.S squads usually had at least one soldier whose role was that of a grenadier. He was usually armed with an M79 grenade launcher, although towards the end of the war it was replaced with an XM148 grenade launcher underslinging an M16 rifle. In infantry squads the grenadier was dedicated to his weapon, meaning that he usually carried only the M79 and a Colt 1911 side arm. In some cases, grenadiers were not even issued this sidearm. The M79 was designed to bridge the gap between the maximum throwing range of a grenade and the minimum distance of mortar fire. It also allowed the use of various rounds, notably High Explosive, buckshot, Flechette, smoke grenades and Parachute Flares. Modern US squads have continued the concept of the grenadier armed with an M203 grenade launcher attached to an M16.

Grenadiers today


The Argentine Army, still maintains a prestigious unit known as the Horse Grenadiers Regiment (Regimiento de Granaderos a Caballo)--actually a battalion-strength formation--which serves as the Presidential ceremonial escort and guard unit. The Regiment's founder and first commanding officer was national hero General José de San Martín. Unlike most other units which carried the title of "grenadiers", the Argentine Grenadiers are a cavalry unit, and continue to mount horses for ceremonial purposes.


The Belgian Army retains two regiments of grenadiers based in Brussels. First raised in 1837 from companies drawn from the line infantry of the newly independent Kingdom, these troops served with distinction in both World Wars. In peacetime they had a ceremonial role which corresponded to that of Royal Guards in other armies. In 1999 the historic blue and red full dress worn prior to World War I was reintroduced for limited wear, although the tall bearskin headdress is now made of synthetic material.


The Canadian Grenadier Guards is one of the longest serving units in the Canadian reserve, it still continues today, both in its reserve role and as a Ceremonial Guard at Rideau Hall among other places of "symbolic" importance.


In the German Army Armoured Grenadier (Panzergrenadier) is the lowest rank in the Panzergrenadiere branch of service which translates into mechanized infantry.


The two regiments of Grenadiers of Sardinia (Granatieri di Sardegna) remain as a brigade in the Italian Army. This unit traces its history back to a Guards regiment raised in 1659 and is made up predominantly of one year volunteers. On ceremonial occasions in Rome the Italian Grenadiers parade in their nineteenth century blue uniforms and fur headdresses.


In Mexico, Grenadiers (Granaderos) are heavily armed specialist police units used for anti-riot duties and other security roles.


The modern Dutch Army maintains a regiment of Guard Grenadiers who retain the bearskin headdress of the early nineteenth century.


In the Norwegian Army, grenadier is used as a rank, the lowest enlisted below sergeant, to distinguish the professional soldiers from the conscripts.


In the Swiss Army, the Grenadiers form the elite Special Forces. They are used for especially challenging operations and are initially trained in Isone, a secluded, mountainous region in the South of Switzerland. The Swiss Grenadiers specialize in urban warfare, guerrilla warfare, anti-terrorist operations, commando tactics, sniper missions, hand to hand combat, and other special operations.


The United Kingdom still uses traditional Grenadier dress for the Grenadier Guards when they are on sentry duty at Buckingham Palace. The Grenadier Guards are one of the five prestigious regiments of foot guards.


grenadier in Bulgarian: Гренадир
grenadier in German: Grenadier
grenadier in Spanish: Granadero
grenadier in French: Grenadier (militaire)
grenadier in Korean: 척탄병
grenadier in Italian: Granatiere
grenadier in Hebrew: גרנדיר
grenadier in Dutch: Grenadier
grenadier in Japanese: 擲弾兵
grenadier in Norwegian: Grenader (infanterist)
grenadier in Polish: Grenadier
grenadier in Portuguese: Granadeiro
grenadier in Russian: Гренадеры
grenadier in Finnish: Krenatööri
grenadier in Swedish: Grenadjär

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Zouave, bean pole, bersagliere, carabineer, chasseur, dogface, doughfoot, expert rifleman, foot soldier, footslogger, fusileer, giant, grunt, infantryman, light infantryman, longlegs, longshanks, marksman, musketeer, paddlefoot, rifle, rifleman, seven-footer, sharpshooter, sniper
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