You can contact me at rogercdavies(atsquiggle)  If you have a comment and the system won't let you post it, ping me using the @ for (atsquiggle)

This blog has evolved into a review of historical and modern explosive devices, and responses to them. Links are drawn between historical activity and similar activity in the world today. Mostly I focus on what are now called IEDs but I have a loose personal definition of that and wilingly stray into discussions of more traditional munitions, the science and technology behind them, tactical employment and EOD responses. Sometimes it's just about interesting people in one form or another. Comment is welcome and encouraged but I do monitor it and reserve the right to delete inappropriate stuff. Guest posts are always welcome. Avoid any stuff that makes the enemy's job easier for them.

A note on moral perspectives. Throughout this blog there are descriptions of all sorts of people using IEDs, explosives, or suffering the consequences. Some of the people using IEDs are thought of as heroes by some and terrorists by others. One person's good guy fighting for a cause is another person's evil demon.  It's complicated, and history adds another series of filters too. All of us too live in a narrative made up around however we were brought up, what we were taught and what we learned along the way, rightly or wrongly. So if you sense moral ambivalence, one way or the other, well, I'm guilty and I'm not perfect.  By and large though, I have unapologetic sympathy for those dealing with the devices, whether they be soldiers, cops, or whatever, even those who are part of Nazi or other nasty regimes. That's the cool thing about EOD techs - we don't really care who the enemy is.

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Historical use of IEDs

Some of you will know that I have an interest in the historical use of IEDs, (there’s a book being written, very slowly!) and for many of my presentations and seminars I use some interesting aspects of the historical use of IEDs to illustrate that these aren’t new problems.  My definition of an IED excludes the use of gunpowder to “mine” castle walls.  Aside from some interesting Chinese historical use of explosives, until now the earliest use of an IED that I could find in records was at the siege of Pskov in 1581.  The city of Pskov was being besieged by Stephan Bathory, who had been elected King of Poland.  Bathory’s troops were Polish, German, Hungarian and Scottish.  Bathory had an IED made in the form of a jeweled casket, by an IED maker called Johann Ostromecki that was sent to the Russian defender Ivan Petrovich Shujski.  The casket was sent to Shujksi ostensibly by a freed Russian prisoner. The casket, “booby-trapped”, exploded when opened by some of Shujski's companions ,killing them but not its intended target.

Other historical use of IEDs from around the same time include roadside IEDs being used to ambush invading Spanish troops in Holland (I have a copy of great engraving showing a multiple IED attack from around the 1580s) and English use of “exploding” fire ships also against the Spanish… and evidence of an Italian engineer who seemed to be designing a range of innovative explosive devices for the English around this time.

However, my research over the past few days has uncovered perhaps earlier use of IEDs.  The key technological development within the confines of my definition, is the invention, around 1500, perhaps by Leonardo da Vinci, of the flintlock/wheelock mechanism. Such a mechanism was actually first made somewhere around 1510-1520. This invention provides the opportunity to initiate gunpowder charges at a distance by means of a spring to release the mechanism, by pulling a string.  Using a clock to initiate the flintlock also developed about this time and again I have found an interesting diagram from some time in the 1500s allegedly showing a clock initiated IED.

The recent finds I have made include a book written by Samuel Zimmermann of Augsberg in 1573. Most of the book discusses firework design, but sections also discuss initiation of explosive devices by means of “hidden springs” and “hidden string”. Zimmermann discusses “booby trapping” a chair that will initiate a device when sat on, and booby trapping a “purse of gold” left lying in the street.

It is possible too that a collection of explosive recipes offered for sale to Queen Elisabeth in 1574, which makes reference to “hollow tronckes” could be a reference to IEDs

Another book discussing a range of IEDs from this period is by Austrian Wulf von Senfftenberg, who discusses in some detail IEDs such as the Pskov device.  Von Senfftenberg advocates using explosive letters against Turks, but suggests the letters must only be carried by Jews!

More to follow and I'll try and post some of the historical diagrams if people are interested...

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Reader Comments (4)


Fascinating stuff and a salient reminder to all about just how long we have been subject to the problems associated with these 'infernal devices'. Seems like an ideal topic to research and I will gladly pass on any snippets I locate.



September 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBarry Taylor

Barry, in some ways it gets more interesting in the second half of the 19th century, with the invention of high explosives and primary explosives. Anarchist groups were among the first to utilise this technology in IEDs, and some IEDs made up entirely of a primary explosive were encountered. The 1890's were known as the 'decade of the bomb" because so many were used in attempts to assassinate heads of state. But, you'll have to wait and read the book!

September 5, 2011 | Registered CommenterRoger Davies

Roger, as usual you are a wealth of knowledge on the subject matter, was always fascinated by your lectures over the past many years. Let us know when the book is "born" , as I will be wanting one. Regards. Bruno

September 7, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBruno Eddy


Excellent article & site. Put onto it by mutual friend, 'Woz'. I wrote thesis on the subject last year; wish I'd seen your site first! I'll mail it on if you like.


September 8, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAlan

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