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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.

« Syrian FSA EOD techniques | Main | Rockets - a reassessment, a mystery and a discovery. »

The Felix Orsini Bomb

The Orsini bomb was a remarkable terrorist IED in the form of a hand grenade used in 1858 by Italian Felix Orsini in an assassination attempt on the French Emperor. The bomb or IED was originally designed by a Hungarian artillery officer.

The IED casing was made by English gun maker Joseph Taylor In Birmingham and tested in Sheffield and Devon. Taylor claimed he thought the the device a genuine piece of ordnance. The grenades were then smuggled into France as “gas machinery” components.

What is important in terms of IED design and explosive history is that the entire fill of the device was primary explosive, mercury fulminate.  The protuberances mounted crushable percussion caps, as used on small arms of the time. 

In one of those peculiar coincidences of history, Orsini decided to attack the target as he went to the Opera. Readers of this blog will know the story of a previous IED attack on the “original” Napoleon in 1800, while he too was on his way to the opera, some 58 years earlier.   

Three of the Orsini bombs were thrown, killing 8 people and wounding 142 (including Orsini himself).  But the Emperor Napoleon and his wife were both unhurt.  Here’s a description of the plan from a participant:


Here's another odd thing - an Orsini grenade was dug up in a field in Arkansas in the 1950s  - discussed here, which includes a beautiful photo of one of the devices. I know a lot of improvised grenades were used in the American Civil War - perhaps Orsini's designs were copied?

If you think that improvised grenades have advanced much, technologically, in the 150 years since Orsini, then I suggest you take a look at this from CJ Chivers excellent blog, showing some Syrian improvised grenades.



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Reader Comments (1)

In 1897, two Orsini bombs were found in a house in Crete. The house was occupied by Italian troops in Crete as part of the International force sent there to keep the peace between Christian Cretans and Christian Muslims/Ottoman Empire forces. The bombs were found in a locked room, sealed with the Russian Consular seal, and only discovered when the room was broken into in order to put out a fire. The Russian Consul accepted responsibility for the arms and ammunition found but not for the bombs. Details and illustration at:

December 12, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMick McTiernan

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