You can contact me at rogercdavies(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.


Entries in 1930-1940 (10)


Going Around and Coming Around

During World War One there was an extensive IED sabotage campaign run by German agents and diplomats in North America.  I have written in previous posts about some of these bombing incidents. See:
One of the protagonists, or “players” in this great game was a young aristocratic German military officer, serving as diplomat on the staff of the German Embassy in Washington., His name was Kapitan Franz von Papen.  
Von Papen in 1914 (public domain)
Von Papen was a man who clearly enjoyed intrigue. As well has involvement in the German sabotage campaign in 1915, he was also involved in discussions as an intermediary to Irish revolutionaries looking for a  supply weapons for the Easter rising of 1916, and was involved in liaison with Indian nationalists as part of the Hindu German Conspiracy.   In December 1915 he was declared "persona non grata" by the US government because of alleged complicity on the Vanceboro Bridge bombing .   Travel home to Germany was challenging, but Von Papen received a diplomatic document, a Laissaiz Passer, meaning he travelled via Falmouth in England knowing he could not be detained by the British under diplomatic law.  To his horror the laissez passer did not cover his luggage and in front of him on the dockside at Falmouth the British officials opened his bags finding code books and incriminating documents.
Documents were found which detailed the payment of over $3Million to the German agents involved in the sabotage campaign.   Transcripts of the seized documents are available here and make fascinating reading.  His cheque stubs were annotated with signifgcant detail such as “for the purchase of picric acid”  “for dum-dum investigation” and exposed several agents who lived in England but were offering services to the Germans.   Of note is the Germany authorities in Berlin asking him to find out details of how Mexican revolutionaries were blowing up trains in 1914, "in order to form an opinion whether, in the event of a European war, explosions of this kind would have to be reckoned with".
One can magine the apopleptic Prussian officer watching as the British officials simply opened his bags and took the documents out.       Further documents linking Von Papen to the Bombing Campaign in the US were discovered in a Wall Street office he rented. Other documents incriminated the Austria Ambassador who was collecting munition shipping data for the Germans.  One might have thought that Von Papen would have learned his lesson.  But no….  In a later parallel, while serving with the Ottoman Army in Palestine the following year, he left behind a suitcase in a room he was using in Nazareth as the British advanced. In it, papers were found belonging to him incriminated several agents he was running locally.  All in all then, Von Papen's spy-craft was pretty shoddy.              
In 1916, an US indictment was issued against him for plotting to blow up Canada’s Welland Canal, based on the seized documents from Falmouth.  He remained under indictment as he rose in the ranks of the German inter-war political scene, becoming Chancellor of Germany in 1932, at which point the US charges were rescinded.   There is this rather nice quote about Von Papen at the time by the French Ambassador “His appointment to Chancellor of Germany was met by incredulity. He enjoyed the peculiarity of being taken seriously by neither his friends nor his enemies. He  was reputed to be superficial, blundering, untrue, ambitious, vain, crafty and an intriguer.”   He was subsequently easily out-manouvered by the Nazis.  He was then made Ambassador to Austria, in the run up the the Anschluss.
In 1939 he was appointed as Ambassador to Turkey, where the intrigue of the war years suited his inclinations, if not his expertise. The Turks initially objected pointing out that his previous diplomatic activity had involved sabotage in the US and subversion in another (Austria). but he was appointed.  In 1942 a peculiar incident occurred, an act of intrigue against the man with so much experience of it himself.  There are conflicting version of this story but it would appear that the most convincing is this:
The Russian intelligence service , the NKVD, decided to assassinate Von Papen.  After an abortive attempt to incorporate a Czech officer, they found a Yugoslav born communist, now Turkish,  to conduct the mission. The perpetrator was told to shoot Von Papen who regularly strolled along a particular avenue with his wife, then cover their escape by triggering a "smoke bomb”.  But with NKVD subterfuge the smoke bomb wasn't a smoke bomb at all, but contained a large amount of high explosive. The perpetrator fired one shot at Von Papen, which missed then immediately triggered the smoke bomb’ which exploded blowing the shooter to pieces.  His penis was found in a tree and a distinctive wart on the skin near an eyebrow was also recovered from the scene.   The NKVD had also , allegedly planted documentation in the device packaging suggesting the perpetrators was from the German Embassy itself. Another version suggests that this was “reported” by TASS as disinformation.   Then idea was that the assassination would occur and the perpetrator would be blown to bits to reduce the risk of the incident being compromised as an NKVD operation. 
Von Papen and his wife survived the attack, shaken but largely unharmed. For what it is worth Von Papen suspected the British. The Russian embassy hinted that the Americans “knew” it was the gestapo who were responsible.  The turks arrested the "station chief” of the NKVD (officially listed as an “archivist”)  at the Russian embassy . This occurred amongst diplomatic uproar as the Turks surrounded the Russian embassy for two weeks demanding he be handed over.   Two other emigre Yugoslav communists (from the Muslim community) were also arrested.  These latter two confessed that the Soviets had ordered the assassination.   They claimed that the Russians had given the perpetrator, Omer Tokat, a revolver and the supposed smoke bomb. all defendants were found guilty. Things got complicated in subsequent appeals (too complex to explain in a short blog).
After the war Von Papen was convicted at the Nuremberg trials , released in 1949 and died 20 years after that.   



Explosion at C-IED Lab, Paris, 1938

In a previous blog I detailed the French C-IED facility that existed at the Municipal Laboratory in Port de Vincennes, Paris.  This facility started around 1880, and my earlier post detailed its operations in 1911.

A sister facility existed in the French suburb of Villejuif in 1938.  At that time there was a terrorist campaign of bombings by an anti-communist fascist group called the “Cagoulards”, some of them “false flag” attempts to blame communist groups.  The French authorities mounted a series of security operations.  In 1938 large quantities of improvised grenades were recovered in one such operation.  As was the normal drill these were recovered to a laboratory for examination, some 3000 in all (some sources say 5000). The large quantity resulted in the need to move them to a larger storage facility in Versailles  The French military were tasked to assist the police in the loading of these grenades onto appropriate transport (two military trucks) at the Pyrotechnical Laboratory in Villejuif.  For reasons not understood, (but probably caused by someone dropping one of the delicate improvised grenades into a box of others) there was a large explosion and 14 people were killed including the M. Schmitz the head of the explosives investigations unit at the laboratory.  Three of the five explosive laboratory buildings were destroyed.

Here’s a video of the aftermath.


Historical ROVs

Recently I had a dialogue with some colleagues as I researched modern versions of this very early piece of EOD equipment from 1573.
A remarkably similar piece of equipment was in operational use only 45 years ago and I was seeking a photo of the equipment in use in the 1960's/1970s. I'm still digging on that. 
Anyway the dialogue with a few modest practitioners of the art of EOD in the 1970s took me in an interesting direction, and I’ve turned up some interesting stuff from much earlier on the subject of ROVs.  The general perception of the world we live in is that the tracked ROV as used in EOD is a very modern invention. Manufacturers produce glitzy videos showing these twin-tracked vehicles performing tricks as the operator remains a safe distance behind, secure from the hazards that their robotic buddy faces. All very High-Tech.  I used to work for one such manufacturer, and we have all seen the videos showing the technological prowess of a wide range of differing modern ROVs.   Like many, I assumed that the tracked ROV was essentially invented for the purpose of EOD in the dark days of the early 1970s.  But it appears that ROVs were around for a considerable time before the 1970s.  This does not to lessen in any way the significant innovative effort that went into the development of the “wheelbarrow” series of ROVs and all subsequent EOD “robotics”, but there are some fascinating precedents.
I began by searching for images of the first ROVs in Northern Ireland in about 1972, in the hope that they might also show images of the protective screen I was looking for so I could do a visual comparison. Suddenly I came across a picture in some archives that made me sit up.  You should understand that my operational experience was largely in the 1990s so I’m most familiar with Mk8 “wheelbarrow” ROV.  But I came across the image which at first glance appeared to show a number of Mk 8 Chassis…. but from WW2… How could that be?
British soldiers with captured Goliaths
US Navy examine captured Goliaths on Utah Beach 11 June 1944
For comparison here’s  a picture of a Mk 8 wheelbarrow - note that the main body of the Mk 8 is remarkably similar to the images above in terms of shape and scale.
The WW2 item turns out to be of a system called Goliath. It's not an EOD ROV, but rather its a remotely controlled demolition vehicle. 
When you think that probably there were only a couple of hundred Mk 8 wheelbarrows produced in the 1980s and 1990s, but there were many thousand “Goliath” ROVs produced.  The Goliath ROVs were initially electrically powered but later used a small two cylinder engine.  Here's a great shot from the top, showing the engine and the wire spooling from the rear. 
I also found reference to a Japanese tracked ROV, also used a a remote demolition tool - called the "I-GO” developed in 1937. How strange that the nomenclature predates the “I-Robot"
Japanese I-GO ROV from 1937
Now in the early 1990s some of the Northern Ireland EOD units developed a deployment technique called the “Rapid Deployment Trolley”.  This was a cobbled together wheeled trolley on which we placed the Mk 8 wheelbarrow ROV to transport it rapidly to and from a small helicopter in emergency situations where a full deployment requiring a large helicopter wasn’t possible. So it was with delight I saw that Germans in WW2 also had such a “trolley” for the Goliath - and actually theirs looked much better engineered!. Vorsprung Durch Technic.
Wheeled Trolley for moving Goliath ROVsA Goliath being moved on its wheeled Trolley, Warsaw
Then as I was researching the provenance of the German Goliath I came across reference to the genesis of this equipment… It turns out that the German Goliath was based on an ROV developed by the French in the years running up to WW2….  Supposedly, as the Germans advanced on Paris the inventor, Adolphe Kegresse threw the prototype into the Seine, but somehow the Nazis got wind of this, reverse-engineered it, and ended up building the Goliath.  I have also found reference to the Germans recovering , later, Kegresse’s blueprints for the ROV and reverse engineering their ROV from that. 
The French Kegresse ROV, 1940
I then found details of  British tracked ROV, developed in 1940 by Metropolitan Vickers, again as a remote demolition tool. Here’s an image - note the interesting inwardly facing track extensions.
Vickers MLM ROV, 1940
50 of these Vickers MLMs were built before the project was suspended in 1944.  I have a copy of a Canadian officer’s trial report if anyone is interested.  The ROV had a range of 1100 yards and could carry 120lbs of Ammonal. Initiation was either by a command signal or a contact switch (which had a command safety override). 
I then found a reference to an American ROV from WW1. This is the Wickersham Land Torpedo, built in 1918, possibly 1917 but patented in 1922. Here's the link to the patent. They were manufactured by the Caterpillar company, I think.  
Wickerhsam Land Torpedo
This ROV looks similar in size shape and design to a modern day Talon EOD ROV, or a Dragon Runner. The Wickersham and the Kegresse ROVs look pretty similar.
I kept digging and encountered 2 more tracked ROvs that predates the American one - both French.
The first of these was the “torpille terrestre electrique”  (electrical land torpedo), developed by M. Gabet and M. Aubriot in 1915. It could carry 200kgs of explosive and was wire guided of course.  I’m intrigued that the single lever track at the rear looks a little like the lever track on some modern robots.
The second of these was the “Schnieder Crocodile” also developed in 1915 and trialled by many Allied nations, including the British, Belgian, Italian and Russians.
"Crocodiles" Schneider type B.
It could carry 40kg of explosives and looks similar in size, shape and scale to the Allen-Vanguard ROV
So it seems that next year will be the centenary of the tracked ROV...



Early Bomb Squad Protective Clothing.

This excerpt from a magazine, dated 1922

This from 1933, a German protective suit.

And this from the Nienteen-fifties, a NYPD bomb suit.  Note the object behind the operator. This is a "LaGuardia-Pyke Bomb carrier" developed in 1940 and still in use in the 1990s, albeit mounted on a newer truck.  The device was for transporting IEDs before in-situ safe disposal techniques were developed.  I'm pulling together a blog piece on this equipment for the near future.




Early equipment for X-raying IEDs

The use of emerging technology to counter IEDs appears to be a theme of the moment.  But like many of the themes in countering IEDs, this is another that is not new. In 1895 Rontgen developed our understanding of what are now called X-rays and made public his findings on 28 December 1895. This technology was seized upon with alacrity for a number of purposes, including medical applications and non-destructive testing. There was much discussion about the use of "Rontgen images" in court as forensic evidence. But one of the other applications, implemented in early 1896 in Paris, barely more than weeks after the publication of Rontgen's studies, was the use of both portable and permanent systems to x-ray suspect packages and other contraband. At that time there was a signifcant threat of IEDs used by anarchists, revolutionaries and criminals.

I have posted before some of the x-ray images of IEDs at the time, here. But now I have found some images of the systems themselves.

The Paris Bureau de Post seems to have had a permanent system emplaced in an office in Paris for examining suspicious items of post by about June 1896, image below:

And the Bureau de Doaunes appeared to have two portable systems operating, one at Gard du Nord (below) at about the same time.  Thus, within just a few months the technology was being commercailly exploited in C-IED roles.

I think nowadays you wouldn't get quite so many people crowded around the operation. By comparison modern systems such as AS&Es excellent MiniZ technology still uses the X-ray concept (but in the much safer backscatter application)  - but it's doing exactly the same job as the systems above, it's just a lot smaller and more portable. Take a look at the guy on the right in the image above and the guy on the right in the video below - spookily similar!