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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.


Entries in 1850-1860 (6)


Report of IEDs in the Crimea, 1855

I have written before about Russian use of IEDs in the Crimea, here and here, but recently I came across another report referring to IEDs in Sebastopol, left behind after it was taken by the British in September 1855. Before evacuating the city, Russian forces had prepared and set thirty to forty victim operated IEDs (“booby traps”).   Lt Col Frederic Dallas wrote “ the Russians, outside all their works, have Machines, our men call them “Man traps”, which explode when you touch, or rather tread upon them, and they are a frightful source of accidents”.
The Illustrated London News war artist wrote an account of one such incident on 28 September 1855 describing an explosion that had taken place.  He also describes the initiation mechanism of these IEDs which is clearly the so called “Jacobi Fuse”, actually designed by Alfred Nobel’s father, Immanuel Nobel for Jacobi who was head of the Russian munition design bureau.  Here’s the report:

Yesterday, as I was sketching in the west of Sebastopol, an explosion shook the buildings around and reverberated through the roofless and untenanted edifices of the place. The Arsenal Creek was filled with a heavy black smoke, and showers of large stones fell into the water, lashing it for a moment into sheets of foam. The centre of the fire was a battery on the left flank of the Creek Battery. This was one of the works erected by the Russians to sweep the approaches of the Woronzoff road; it was built of stones taken from the houses around it, faced with earth externally, and without a ditch. The magazine was in the foundations of a house which had once stood there […]. The Russians had placed a fougasse over it, and an accidental tread upon a wooden peg driven into the earth broke a glass tube of inflammable matter which communicated with the powder below […].

Three of the men in the work were blown to atoms; and a large number were buried in the ruins; whilst sad havoc was at the same time committed on parties of workmen leading mules along the road close by. Two soldiers of the guard in the Creek Battery were killed by stones projected with great violence into the air, and launched with fatal force upon them. Several mules and horses were killed in this same manner, and every point within 200 yards of the spot was visited by the terrible shower. The crater left by the explosion was about twenty feet deep and twenty wide; and in its crumbled sides were found some of the wounded, who were speedily conveyed to hospital.
After this incident , troops searched carefully for others and found one in a nearby battery . The devices left behind in Sebastopol prevented the British and French form occupying the city properly. It did not prevent them from undertaking appalling looting however. 

Chinese River IED of 1857

Here's an interesting story about a failed IED attack on a British Naval vessel in 1857. Britain was at war with the city of Canton in China in what was called the "Opium War". Two British naval vessels, the "Niger" and the "Encounter" were patrolling the Pearl River. A couple of months earlier two small boats had exploded next to the Niger, so a strict policy of look-outs and challenges was being enforced to keep small boats at bay.  At 4 am on 7th January 1857, a look-out on the Encounter spotted a man in a small boat sculling towards the ships. He challenged him and on not getting the appropriate response, shot him dead.  A ship's boat was launched and they recovered two large explosive charges, each with over a half a ton of explosives. The charges consisted of sealed wooden barrels weighed down with stone so that they only just floated. Protruding from the barrel was a gunpowder filled tube to a small platform on which glowing embers were placed. The embers were kept seperate from the gunpowder in the tube by a metal tray or slide atached to a piece of string. The render safe procedure used was to splash water onto the embers.  The plan was that the two barrels linked by rope would float down and the rope fastening them together would catch the bow of the Encounter, then pushing the barrels close either side of the ship. Then the boatman would pull the string to pull out the slides on each barrel, causing the glowing embers to ignite the gunpowder. 

Here's a picture of one of the two charges.

The tactical design has great similarities to British IED attacks in 1804 on the French, although the initiation system is somewhat exotc.


Cross Post on IMSL Insights


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.




The Russian Jacobi Fuze - 1854

I've written before about the "Jacobi" fuze, used in Russian sea mines and early land mines in the Crimean War in the 1854s. Although called a "Jacobi" fuze, they were I think actually designed by Immanuel Nobel (father of Alfred Nobel).   I've found some clearer diagrams of the sea mine and the fusing mechanism.