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.


More railway IED attacks from history

I have built an exceptional trove of IED attacks on railways, which I'll blog further about in coming days and weeks. These include:

1. A fascinating and unsolved IED attack on a railway line near Watford, in 1880, using an unusual booby trap switch.

2. A further campaign against the Ottoman train system in Salonika in the early 1900s.  So the Ottoman train system was subject to IED attacks in Salonika (now Greece) in the 1900s, in Arabia in WW1 (Lawrence etc) and in the Dardanelles campaign, WW1 (from submarines). 

3. Attacks on the railway system in the Arab revolt in Palestine, pre WW2.  Of interest the British forces in Palestine applied an unusual,and in today's terms, immoral technique for preventing booby trapped rail IEDs -see the photo below, which shows an improvised armoured rail car behind two Arab hostages.


Also from Palestine, but this immedaitely post WW2, and prior to the establishment of Israel. the railway lines were attacked extensively by the Irgun/Stern gang.  These groups posed a significant IED problem for the British Forces, which I'll write about in coming days - a largely forgotten story, with some challenging EOD situations and challenging IEDs.  This device below uses a bell push which is depressed by a bracket fastened to a sleeper.  I found this image in an official British Royal Engineer publication from 1946 describing Irgun devices.   Note that the device contained a hidden anti-handling switch in addition to the bell push. (Details of that not shown, for security reasons).



Investigating Zeppelin Bombs - WW1 Tech Int

A while back I posted a long piece, here, about a number of German airdropped bombs including a peculiar incendiary dropped from Zeppelins.  Here's a picture I just found of two officers inspecting the remains of such a device - Tech Int from WW1.  I think the "well-known naval airman" on the right might be Lt Rex Warnford, awarded the Victoria Cross for shooting down a Zeppelin.


D'Oyly-Hughes's IED

As is often the case my previous post on the IED attack from the US Navy Submarine, USS Barb in 1945, sent me down an investigative alley.  Here's details a similar attack, this time launched from a British submarine, against an Ottoman train line in the Dardanelles in 1915 in WW1.

The leading character here is Lt Guy D'Oyly-Hughes, the first officer on the Royal Navy submarine, the E11.  This submarine had an incredible aggressive series of operations against the Turks at the time of the Dardanelles campaign in 1915, sinking over 80 vessels on three operational tours.   In August 1915, they hatched a plan to blow up a key railway line with explosives after attacks with its deck gun on the railway line at Ismid had proved ineffective. This was the railway line that ran between Istanbul and Baghdad, so was very much a key transport route.

Lt D'Oyly-Hughes constructed a small raft containing two barrels into which he packed the components for his device. The main charge was gun-cotton, (frequently used for such purposes in WW1 and earlier) initiated by burning fuze to a detonator.  The burning fuze was itself initiated by a system we are not that familiar with these days - using a special "pistol" which fired a flash cartridge. The pistol was used by Navy and Engineer units because the system was much less likely to be damaged by water. Here's a picture I have found of such a pistol, although this one may be from the late 1800s.

I have also, surprisingly, found two photographs of Lt D'Oyly-Hughes with his explosive raft, one on the transom of the submarine before the operation and the second as he entered the water off the coast of Turkey. 

Before launchIn the waterThe raft contained 16lbs of guncotton. Lt D'Oyly-Hughes, swimming, pushed the raft towards the shore. Here's what happened next from the official history of British Naval operations:


Finding the cliffs were unscalable at the point where he landed, he had to relaunch the raft and swim further along the coast till he reached a less precipitous place. Armed with a revolver and a bayonet, and carrying an electric torch and a whistle for signalling purposes, he laboriously dragged his heavy charge up the cliffs, and in half an hour reached the railway. Finding it unwatched, he followed alongside the track towards the viaduct, but he had only gone about a quarter of a mile when he heard voices ahead, and soon was aware of three men sitting beside the line in loud conversation. It was impossible to proceed further undetected, and after watching them for some time, in hopes of seeing them move away, he decided to leave his heavy charge of gun-cotton where he was and make a detour inland to examine possibilities at the viaduct. Beyond stumbling into a farmyard and waking the noisy poultry, he managed to get sight of the viaduct without adventure, but only to find that he was beaten again. A number of men with a stationary engine at work were moving actively about, and the only course was to retrace his steps and to look for a vulnerable place up the line where he could explode his charge effectively. A suitable spot where the track was carried across a small hollow was soon found too soon, in fact, for it was no more than 150 yards from where the three men were still talking. But the place was too good to leave alone, and deciding to take the risk, he laid the charge, and then, muffling the fuse pistol as well he could, he fired it, and made off. For all his care the men heard the crack, started to their feet and gave chase. To return by the way he came was now impossible. His only chance was to run down the line as fast as he could. From time to time pistol shots were exchanged. They had no effect on either side, and after about a mile's chase he had outdistanced his pursuers and was close to the shore. Plunging into the sea, he swam out, and as he did so the blast of the explosion was heard, and debris began to fall about him, to tell of the damage he had done.
Yet his adventure was far from over. The cove where the submarine was lying hidden was three-quarters of a mile to the eastward, and, when about 500 yards out he ventured to signal with a blast on his whistle, not a sound reached him. By this time day was breaking and his peril was great. Exhausted with his long swim in his clothes, he had to get back to shore for a rest. After hiding a while amongst the rocks he started swimming again towards the cove, till at last an answer came to his whistle. Even so the end was not yet. At the same moment rifle shots rang out from the cliffs. They were directed on the submarine, which was now going astern out of the cove. In the morning mist the weary swimmer did not recognise her. Seeing only her bow, gun, and conning tower she appeared like three small boats, and he hastily made for the beach to hide again amongst the rocks. Once ashore, however, he discovered his mistake, and hailing his deliverer, he once more took to the water. So after a short swim he was picked up in the last stage of exhaustion and his daring adventure came to a happy end…


Later in his career, Lt D'Oyly-Hughes rose in rank to command HMS Glorious, an aircraft carrier, but died when it was sunk by the Scharnhorst in WW2.

Interestingly I have also found a report of another, similar operation from a second British submarine, the E2 , a few weeks later in September 1915.  First Lieutenant H.V. Lyon from HMS E2 swam ashore near Küçükçekmece (Thrace) to blow up a railway bridge. The bridge was destroyed but Lyon failed to return.


In WW2, the British Navy also employed this tactic in the Mediterranean. On 28 May 1941 Lt Dudley Schofield led a raiding party of 8, deployed from HMS Upright to attack an Italian railway line with pressure initiated explosives. I can find little description of the device other than it used "pressure pads". A month later, on 24 June Lt Schofield, who had adapted his techniques from lessons learned, went ashore with one  other and planted explosives on the Naples-Reggio di Calabria line. The charge failed to be initiated by a train so Schofield went ashore the following night to detonate the charge manually. Similar operations continued with Lt Wilson, (Royal Artillery) and Marine Hughes put ashore by HMS Urge in Sicily where they succesfully planted a pressure initiated device on a railway bridge.  There were quite a few other similar attacks from HMS Unique and HMS Utmost and other submarines.   Some similar submarine sabotage operations took place in Norway. 


The US Navy Sub that destroyed a train, with an IED

I've written a few blogs in the past about IEDs placed under train tracks, that the weight of the train triggers. As a reminder:


  • In the US Civil War, in 1864, the Union Army designed an IED (a "rail torpedo") that initiated when a train ran over a rail , pressing down on a gun trigger that caused the device to function.
  • Another IED design was used in the Franco-Prussian War, in 1870, with the rail pressing on an artillery fuse to initiate the charge.
  • In the Boer War, in 1901, Jack Hindon used devices under railways to attack British trains, using an upturned Martini Henry gun lock, with the rail bending under weight to press on the trigger which initiated an explosive charge.
  • In WW1, ordnance specialist "Bimbashi" Garland designed and deployed similar devices, again using an upturned gun trigger, and used by Lawrence of Arabia to great effect against the Ottoman Turk trains in Arabia.


I'm glad to say I've now found a similar device, with a great story, from WW2.   The use of the IED was effectively the ONLY US ground combat operation on the Japanese homeland in the entire war. (Noting that the attack took place in southern Sakhalin, which was considered a Japanese home island at the time) .

Late in the war, US Navy submarines begain to patrol very aggressively close to the Japanese mainland. One of the subs was the USS Barb, skippered by Commander Eugene Fluckley. The patrol in question started on 8 June 1945 and involved a variety of attacks including, unusually, firing rockets at Japanese targets from the deck of the surfaced submarine. After noting considerable Japanese railway activity on a railway line near the shore, a plan was developed to blow up a train by putting a team ashore at Karafuto from the submarine.

An improvised device was carefully designed.  As far as I can make out it was as follows:


  • The main charge was a 55lb super-Torpex "scuttling charge" held in reserve on the submarine for scuttling the sub in an emergency. The blasting caps used must have been the ones meant to be used with this charge.
  • Power was provided by two dry cell batteries.
  • The switch was a microswitch removed from some electronic equipment on board.
  • The batteries and circuitry were mounted inside an oil-can to protect it from the elements. Included was a "test circuit" to ensure safety.


The crew made careful calculations to estimate the deflection of the railway line  (7/10", which was adjusted on the operation itself to 1/4") and made an improvised gauge to help the setting of the switch. They also made improvised shovels to help bury the charge under the rails. An eight man team was put ashore in inflatable boats and made their way (with one or two adventures) towards the track.

The charge was succesfully initiated by a 16 carriage train and all the saboteur group escaped unharmed. Commder Fluckley ended the war as the most decorated officer in the Navy. 




Bomb Alleys

I now have an ulterior purpose in this blog.  I’m considering writing a book on "the history of explosive devices” and doing so in a perhaps unusual way. I propose to write the book in three parts, each part describing a geographic journey.   I have probably 70% of the research done and readers of this blog will recognise parts of the content.
Part 1 describes a walk of perhaps a mile and a half. The walk starts at Westminster Abbey in London and finishes in a church just up the road in Trafalgar Square.  This journey highlights the fact that explosive devices have targeted the centre of government and power over a 500 year period, and also highlights early bomb squad responses.  
Part 2 describes a sea journey along the coast of Europe, beginning in St Petersburg and ending in Lisbon, Portugal.   It highlights how war and revolution has driven the development of explosive device design and tactics.
Part 3 is a car journey in the United States, starting in Connecticut and ending in Florida, highlighting the surprising thread of explosive device use throughout the history of the USA. 
On each case a short chapter will detail the events on the route with a map to provide the theme of a geographical context. I welcome your comments as to whether you might find this interesting or not and of course any incidents on these journeys I have omitted.
Part 1 - A walk from Westminster to Trafalgar Square
This section of the book describes a walk past the sites of various historic incidents and significant places in the history of explosive devices, showing how perceived or actual centres of power have often been the target of explosive devices.  In summary the walk goes like this:
  1. Westminster Abbey. Suffragette Bomb, 1914
  2. The Houses of Parliament discussing the following attacks  The Gunpowder Plot, Guy Fawkes et al 1605   Fenian Bombs in Westminster Hall and the House of Commons, 1885 Westminster Hall  IRA Bomb, 1974  Westminster Palace Yard, assassination of Airey Neave with under car boobytrap, 1979
  3. Whitehall, Fenian bombing 1883
  4. Duck Island Bomb Disposal facility, St James’s Park , established 1894.
  5. Downing street, IRA Mortar attack 1991
  6. Admiralty Building off Horse Guards Parade Square, a peculiar bomb at the same time as Fenian attacks but probably different perpetrators. 1885
  7. Palace of Whitehall, Bomb attack attempt to assassinate Oliver Cromwell (device defused), possibly inspired by the Royalist Prince Rupert 1657
  8. Adjacent to Old War Office Building - launch site of the IRA mortar attack on Downing St. 1991
  9. Old Scotland Yard Police headquarters, Fenian Bomb attack 1884
  10. Nelson's Column. IED consisting of 16 sticks of dynamite defused, 1884
  11. Church of St Martin in the Fields, Suffragette bomb attack 1914
Themes - repetition of attack targets, security measures, Church, State and the Law as targets. Characters discussed Col Majendie, Dr DuPre, Prince Rupert.
Part 2 - A sea voyage from St Petersburg to Lisbon along the Northern European coastline.
This journey highlights how war and revolution has inspired the development of explosive devices
  1. St Petersburg. The assassination of the Tsar by suicide bomb, perpetrated by Russian revolutionaries Narodnaya Volya 1881
    • St Petersburg 1887 - another attempted assassination of the Tsar, by Lenin’s elder brother.
    • St Petersburg. The tsar established a research department to research underwater mines in 1839 - led by Professor Jacobi, later joined bi Immanuel Nobel. 
  2. Baltic sea. The development and deployment of the sea mine using the Jacobi fuse (invented by Alfred Nobel’s father) - the story includes two British admirals blown up in separate incidents in the same day as they investigated recovered Russian sea mines as part of  Weapons Technical Intelligence operation. 1854
  3. Wismar, Germany, Swedish concealed IEDs on ships 1645
  4. Kiel. Siemens deployed an electrically initiated sea mine system to protect the port of Kiel, saving it from being bombarded by the Danish fleet 1848
  5. Copenhagen - Congreve's rockets, and Danish Harbour defence mines
  6. Bremerhaven, Timed explosive device used in attempted insurance fraud by Alexander Keith , the so called crime of the century, 1875
  7. Antwerp  timer initiated Dutch explosive ship (the “Hoop”) device killing more people than any other explosive device ever 1584
  8. Zeebrugge, explosive filled submarine used by the British to attack the Germans in Zeebrugge, 1918
  9. Dunkirk, Dutch Ship bomb, 1588
  10. Hop over the channel to Sandwich for Fulton and the Dorothea, sunk as a demonstration using timed waterborne IEDs, 1805
  11. Boulogne. Operation Lucid, ship IEDs, 1940 (plan did not take place, despite 4 attempts).   Fulton attack 1804 
  12. Dieppe, Admiral Benbow's Ship bomb attack on the French  1694
  13. Spithead, Portsmouth Colonel Pasley , Wreck of the Royal George used electrical initiation to clear a wrecked ship explosively. 1839
  14. Portsmouth Dockyards arson devices, John the Painter, 1776, part of the American revolution
  15. St Malo, Admiral Benbow’s exploding ship, Vesuvius, 1693.  Fulton’s ourrigger IEDs, captured by the French 1805
  16. French Atlantic coast, St Nazaire, Operation Chariot and the explosive ship HMS Campbeltown, 1942
  17. Basque Roads ship bomb attack by Captain (later admiral) Cochrane 1809
  18. Lisbon and Prince Rupert’s royalist bomb attack on the parliamentarian ship the  Leopard in the English Civil War 1650
Themes.  Suicide bombing, Bombs on ships, Timers and initiation, creating terror, concealing devices,The English channel as a battleground, war and revolution providing encouragement to inventors. WTI investigations.  Characters discussed - Jacobi, Nobel (father and son), Giambelli, Pasley, Peter the Painter, Cochrane, Benbow, Fulton and Prince Rupert again.
Part 3. A car journey through the USA
Here I'll highlight the surprising thread of explosive device use weaving through the history of the USA
  1. Connecticut Birthplace of Bushnell and Colt and where early experiments on under water explosion took place. Niantic Bay “torpedo” attack on HMS Cerberus 1777, part of American Revolution.
  2. Millstone Point, CT, Trojan Horse ship IED used against the British, 1812.
  3. New York, centre of global IED activity 1890-1921
    1. Bushnell’s Turtle attack on HMS Eagle 1776
    2. Thomas Tunney, Bomb Squad commander 1905- 1919
    3. Owen Eagen, EOD expert New York, 1895-1920
    4. Fenian bomb schools - Professor Mezzeroff 1880s
    5. Mafia black hand bombings early 20th C
    6. Galleanist attacks New York 1914 onwards, Wall St Bomb 1920
    7. Black Tom explosion 1916 by German saboteurs
    8. Other German sabotage attacks on shipping etc.
    9. Ramzi Yousef 1996
  4. Philadelphia Battle of the kegs, IEDs in barrels designed by Bushnell used against the British 1776, Philadelphia Benjamin Franklin, 1751 Electrical initiation of gunpowder Galleanists attacks 1918, Bomb factory 1883 
  5. Washingtion - Senate bombings 1915,  1983
  6. Virginia, City Point , Fredericksburg railway IEDs,  Raines’s Williamsburg IEDs 1862
  7. Wilmington North Carolina, ship bomb , USS Louisiana 1864 Sinking of the USS Cairo by improvised anti-ship mine 1862
  8. North Central Florida Captain (later Brigadier General) Gabriel Raines set up a victim operaterd IEds to catch Seminole Indians near an Army base. 1839
Themes.  Explosive devices being used at key points in US history. Revolution, Civil war, war and crime. German sabotage campaign. Port defences in comparison to European efforts. Other parallels with attacks in parts 1 and 2 Characters discussed.  Bushnell, Franklin, Colt, Thomas Tunney, Owen Eagen, Brigadier General Raines, Ramzi Yousef.
Feedback welcomed!