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.


Entries in 1940-1950 (18)


Russian WW2 Radio Controlled Explosive Device

I'm afraid this is going to be a long and detailed post, but it is one of the most interesting historical explosive devices I have ever written about.  Despite the length, I must urge a little caution. I'm working from a very small number of poorly translated documents, about a technology that is at the edge of my understanding, and about which there are conflicting assessments and denials. I have some Russian references but my Russian is very poor and worse now through lack of use. Very happy for input from anyone who has a better handle on this or who sees errors in my analysis. 

In the 1920's and 1930's the Russians developed a number of radio-controlled systems. As an aside, this included radio-controlled tanks.  Another system, and the subject of this blog piece, was the F-10 radio-controlled mine. This mine was first developed in 1929 (90 years ago!) and deployed operationally in 1941 in the "Great Patriotic War" (WW2) against the Germans, most notably in Kiev, Kharkov and Odessa, and against the Finns in what is called the "Continuation War". Their use came to a real crescendo in September/October 1941.  There are several very interesting aspects to the device, - its design, its employment/and the MO of its use, the highly ambitious planning and significant operations it enabled, and the reprisals that resulted.  Furthermore, the electronic countermeasures employed by both the Finns and the Germans at great speed following technical exploitation of captured systems provide useful historical vignettes about rapid fielding of EW against radio controlled explosive devices.  

By necessity, I have to get a little technical, and to repeat, some of my technical assessments and understanding might be wrong, but I'd like to get this out there rather than spend a year refining peculiar technological aspects. 

So firstly, the design of the system.  Here's an image of the main receiver (Rx) of the system. I think this image is actually German, following a render-safe procedure:

The receiver is a briefcase sized radio and decoder, and I'll come on to the detail of that shortly. It is accompanied by, and wired to, a large battery. More pictures of the components (I think)

The radio component is the Left hand box, the right hand box is the power source or battery. The "decoder" is the small object to the front left. 

Below there is a battery, a radio box, and the rubber bag in which the device is placed when concealed (usually buried) and what appears to be detonation cord or cables, perhaps leading to a large explosive charge.

Here's an image of the batteries and radio enclosed in the rubber protective bag , ready for burial and concealment. 

The system is designed to recieve a coded signal , and detonate up to three explosive circuits. The complete device, less explosives, weighs 35kg. There is a 30m antenna, which according to the references can receive a signal if the antenna, placed horizontally, is buried in the ground up to 120cm (some assessments say less),  in water of a depth up to 50cm or hidden by brickwork up to 6cm - Grateful for comments on this aspect from any EW experts or RF engineers.

The system has a complex timing system. Using the batteries alone would give an operational life cycle to the radio receiver and enable power to the explosive circuit of 4 days. But a mechanical timing system is integrated to give a complex range of operations, including a long time delay before activation or providing a number of time "windows", from as short as 2.5 minutes "on" to 2.5 minutes "off", and other longer on-off windows, giving a  maximum receiver power life of 40 days.  There is a complex relationship between the length of time windows and the length of the command signal required that I don't fully understand.  Suffice to say, that several frequency signals in a sequential row need to be transmitted for the decoder to accept a command, and the length of those individual sequential signals isn't quite clear to me, but is at least a minute and sometimes longer. 

Additionaly, there are some clever extras... It is possible to set a mechanical time delay to explosive initiation (avoiding the Rx) of up to 120 days. If I understand it correctly, this was usually set as a last-resort back-up self-destruct. It is a mechanical clock and some EOD successes were made by detecting the ticking clock. The explosive contents used with F-10 varied from a few tens of Kg to several thousand Kg.

The device also was fitted or could be fitted (I'm not sure) with anti-handling swicthes. The anti handling switches quoted in the spec are "EHV, CJ-10,CJ-35, CMW-16 and CMW-60" I haven't investigated these yet but at least one is a pull switch attached to the opening of the rubber bag the system is deployed in.

The range of the command system of course depends on the power of the transmitter. From German exploitation of a captured F-10 device, the frequencies employed reportedly range from "1094.1 khZ to 130khz". Again I welcome comment from EW specialists.  This implication is that the "setting" of each F-10 mine to specific frequencies was quite flexible and easy but I'm not sure quite how it was done.  Perhaps by replacing individual tuning forks?  I have found one reference, a Finnish technical exploitation report, saying the tuning forks were colour coded, which would be logical. Another report suggests that the radio receivers were marked with a numerical code in roman numerals, which defined the initiation frequencies.  A slightly contradicatory early Finnish exploitation report, very interestingly, suggests that two of the frequencies allocated to the F-10 were set to pre-war popular music radio stations from Kharkhov and Minsk, with a specific "calling tune".  I can't quite make sense of that, but never mind. 

The decoding system predates DTMF of course. A system such as the F-10 needs to be able to discriminate random signals from an actual command signal, so this system uses (I think) a triple tuning fork mechanism, with specific successive frequencies transmitted over a time window. Only when three succesive signals of different specific frequencies, each of a sufficient duration, are received will the "AND" logic of the system allow initiation. 

Such a capable system allows for a wide range of operational designs, or employment plans.  It is clear that the Russians used these in areas where they ceded territory, so they are "stay-behind" sabotage devices. They are expensive too, compared to other mines and challnenging and resource-heavy to deploy effectively. So to justify that, the targets have to be significant. Initiation could be by a separate line-of-sight concealed engineer team using a transmitter quite close, or indeed could be several hundred km away (I think). So the device could be under observation and initiated at the optimum time, or more remotely, without line of sight, perhaps based on intelligence.

In the Finnish campaign, the Finnish military encountered quite a few of these devices as they re-took the city of Viipuri in September 1941 and rendered at least one safe. One such item is on display in a Finnish military museum. As a result, it is alleged, they developed an electronic counter-measure, which was to set up a pemanent high power frequency transmission on one of the first two frequencies. This overwhelms the timer element of the decoder and perhaps jams incoming other frequencies from the system with its power. That, sort of, makes logical sense to me but I'd appreciate comment from any ECM experts. I have seperate reports, hard to confirm, that the "jamming signal" was a piece of music transmitted at high power over and over again at a fequency of 715KHz.  In response the Soviets changed the frequency of the F-10 systems. and the Finns responded by putting the same song out, constantly, on every frequency they could, apparently

Here's an image of a Finnish EOD team and the F-10 recovered safely from a water tower in Vyborg. I'm pretty sure the "wall" they are leaning against is TNT blocks.

On a more practical level, Finnish engineers worked out that the long 30m antenna gave them an opportunity to locate the mine. In any places where they suspected a buried F-10, they dug a small trench 2 ft deep, around it, and if there was a mine hidden there, they invariably encountered the antenna. 

As an aside, I understand that the young Finnsh Officer (Lauri Sutela) who rendered safe one of these devices in September 1941 in Vyborg rose to be Chief of the Finnish Defence Forces in the 1980s.  There's always hope then for yoong EOD officers to make their way in the world... 

German EW responses to radio control initiation appear also to have been developed and deployed quickly. They captured an F-10 mine in mid September 1941 and it appears there were countermasures deployed, apparently by 25 October at the latest. That's pretty fast for a capture, technical exploitation to deployed countermeasure cycle.   

German countermeasures included:

  1. Digging an exploratory trench looking for the antenna as the Finnish engineers did. Quite often Russian prisoners of war were used for this task.
  2. Use of an electrical listening microphone to listen for the mechanical clock component
  3. A responsive jamming capability to transmit, quickly, a powerful "blocking"  signal if any known F-10 frequencies were detected. I don't think this was automated.
  4. There was another RF method developed, apparently of limited use, which involved transmitting a "disabling" signal, somewhere "between 150 - 700Hz" but I cant quite make out the sense of that. Again advice accepted, gladly.

When the Germans took territory from the Russians, in 1941, eventually the cities of Kharkov, Kiev and Odessa were ceded.

In the run up to Russian withdrawal from these cities, engineer teams in significant number laid a wide range of mines and booby-traps for the advancing Germans. The Russians worked out that quite often Germans would take over large buildings that had been used for Russian military headquarters, and use them for their own headquarters. It appears that although equipped with a wide range and number of relatively cheap mines and boobytraps, the expensive radio controlled mines were used in a very focused manner to target senior officers and their staff in headquarter buildings. The Germans moved into large office buildings (as previously used by the withdrawing Russians), presumably because they had the scale, number of rooms and perhaps even telephone lines. So a vacated Russian Army HQ would become a HQ for the advancing Germans. This provided a predictability that the Russian engineers could exploit. Russian engineers became expert at laying "slightly obvious" booby traps which German EOD would render safe and then assume the ground underneath was clear - but actually often there was an F-10 radio controlled mine buried deep and everything including the antenna was much more carefully concealed. 

In the captured cities of Kharkov, Kiev, and Odessa, German generals and their Headquarter staff were killed by concealed F-10 devices over a 7 week period in 1941, as follows:

Between 24 and 28 September, numerous F-10 devices were exploded in central Kiev in buildings occupied the prior week by German Army headquarters.  The F-10 devices were allegedly initiated by command from stay-behind hidden engineer units observing the area from an island on the Dneiper river. In particular an explosion on 24 September hit the Rear Headquarters of the Wehrmacht arny Group south killing a large number of officers, including the artillery commander of the 29th Wehrmacht Corps. In immediate reprsails the massacre of Babi Yar took place, with a death toll of 100,000.

On 22 October, the Romanian Military Headquarters in Odessa, established 3 days earlier and manned jointly by Nazi and Romanian military staff was exploded up by an F-10 device (I believe) killing 67 people including the Romanian General. 40,000 Jews were killed in reprisals.

On 14 November, multiple buildings just occupied by German forces in Kharkov were destroyed I think with F-10 devices. There were hundreds of casualties, including the German commander, Generalleutnant Georg Braun. In immediate reprisals 200 civilians, mostly Jews, were hung from balcomnies of surrounding buildings. The following month there were further reprisals and 20,000 Jews were gathered at the Kharkov Tractor Factory. All were shot or gassed in a gas van over the next two months.

It is hard to get to the bottom of how many F-10s were used in these cities but I think they were used in significant numbers, alongside extensive conventional mining and booby trap techniques. I think historians in regarding these cities seperately in the Eastern front campaign miss the point that this was a clear strategic effort to deploy these weapons to "cut offf the head" of the advancing German armies. The fact that these attacks came at the same time as their use in the Vyborg penninusla against the Finns, cannot be a coincidence and I sense a strategic decision to employ these weapons as the Soviets were being pushed on all fronts.  In the main, use of the F-10 was part of operations under the command of a remarkable explosives engineer, Col Ilya Starinov.  I will be returning to discuss Starinov in future blog posts, suffice, for now, to say he was ultimately responsible for more explosive attacks on trains and railways than any other man that has ever lived (by a long way) and fought in at least 4 wars as a Russian explosives expert. He really was the instigator of Soviet Spetznatz tactics.

This F-10 radio controlled device then poses a fascinating case study of an early radio controlled explosive device threat, and how a technical capability (in this case of a pretty flexible system) when coupled with intelligence and innovative employment can pose significant threats not only to whatever troops are in its path, but also targeted specifically on high value enemy leadership as part of a strategic plan.  The appalling reprisals to these F-10 attacks suggests the concern felt by the Wehrmacht.

This story also demonstrates the rapidity that is possible with suitable technical intelligence resources and processes to develop both technical and procedural countermeasures. The RC threat and response game is nothing new. 



Two IED attacks on police during WW2

Here's the story of two curious IED attacks that occurred during WW2. Different in nature, but with some odd parallels between the two. 

The first attack took place in Tel Aviv, Palestine against the British Palestine Police in 1942.  The target specifcially was members of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) investigating the extemist "Lehi" group, aka "The Stern Gang". This was a significantly complex IED plot, what might be termed a "double come-on attack", using 3 IEDs, the latter two electrical command-initiated, targeting the responders to the first explosion. Senior members of the CID had had a number of successes against Lehi in the months prior to the attack. In particular Superintendent Geoffrey Morton and his subordinate Tom Wilkin were well known to the Stern gang.  When Wilkin managed to arrest Lehi's chief of staff for shooting a Jewish member of the Palestine Police, the Lehi leader, Avraham Stern, decided on very focused action against the head of CID (Morton) and his assistant Wilkin.

Superintendent Geoffrey Morton

The plot was complex and multi-stage. A small explosion was made to occur in a roof-top room of a house in Yael St, Tel Aviv, as if it was a premature explosion in a Lehi bomb factory. The CIDs response to such an incident was well known and the Lehi assumed that Morton, as head of CID would attend the scene of the incident, along with Wilkin as he normally did to incidents involving Lehi. A second larger device had been hidden in the roof-top room, connected by a carefully concealed command wire to a waiting operative in a building nearby. Another command-wire initiated device was buried in a flowerbed just outside the house, providing another opportunity to attack responding policemen.

When the first reports of the explosion came in, Morton and Wilkin were involved in another matter so tasked other senior Palestine Police officers to the scene, saying they would follow shortly. Three officers went to the the house in question and went up to the roof top. Deputy Superintendent Shlomo Schiff was the leading officer, and was the senior Jewish officer in the Palestine Police. He had been the target of a Lehi assassination attempt the previous year. He was accompanied by Inspector Nathan Goldman and Inspector E Turton.  As they approached the door of the roof-top room the command wire device was initiated. Allegedly the perpertrator mistook the unifomed police for Morton and Wilkin. Schiff was killed immediately and the other two succumbed to their injuries in following days.  Morton and Wilkin arrived shortly afterwards but the third device was not initiated and was discovered later. It contained 28 sticks of gelignite. In police operations that followed a number of Lehi members were shot during raids. Stern himself was shot dead by Morton after being arrested. In a curious after-story, there was an attempt on Morton's life three months later, another command wire IED on a car he and his family were traveling in. He escaped serious injury but later hidden IEDs were found at the cemetery where supposedly Lehi expceted him to be buried, purportedly to attack mourners. 


The second attack took place in Rome, Italy, in 1944, against the German SS "Bozen" Polizie Regiment. The attack target specifically was a mass column of German speaking Italian police, recruited by the Nazis from northern Italy, who regularly walked the same route on parade through Rome.  Thus the column of marching troops provided a predictable target for the attack by the partisan "Patriotic Action Group" (GAP). The regular march by the column of police, paraded through Rome singing, around the Piazza del Spagna and into the narrow street of Via Rasella. The partisans prepared a large charge consisting of a steel container holding 12 kg of TNT, along with another bag containing more TNT and TNT filled metal tubing. The bomb was hidden in this hand cart.


A forty second burning fuze was lit as the marching troop approached (exactly the same technique as used in the VBIED attack against Napoleon in 1800). 28 of the SS policemen were kileld in the explosion. The incident led to very significant reprisals by the Nazi authorities, includng the dreadful Ardeatine massacre where 335 Italians were executed.


I think there are some interesting points shared by these attacks.  Both were against police forces at least partially recruited or sponsored by other nations.  Both exploited the predictability of their targets, albeit in different ways. In both events the aftermath of the IED attacks led to further nasty tragedies. In war the focus of history is on the front line battles between armies. But Home fronts also provide an environment for IEDs and the police are often the targets but are often forgotten in some history books. Patterns of IED tactics seen today appear as we look further and further back in time. 




Railway attack on British troops - 1948

More on interesting railway attacks. During the years after WW1 up to Israeli Independence, the British forces in Palestine came under repeated attack from both Arab and Jewish Groups. I posted a picture of one (immoral) counter-measures used in 1936 against Arab attacks here.  I've also found some details of Jewish militant devices from both Irgun and Lehi (the latter referred to by the British Army as the Stern gang). 

Probably the most significant of the Lehi attacks was in late February 1948, a few days after the VBIED attack carried out by British Army deserters in Jerusalem, described in an earlier blog here. In this railway attack electrically initiated comand wire IEDs were used to attack the train carrying British troops from Port Said near Cairo to Hiafa. The attack occurred just outside Rehovot.  28 British soldiers died in the attack. The command initiation point was in a nearby orange grove, with a full view of the train as it ran along an embankment.


Interestingly the intensity of the bombing campaign was so high in 1946 that the Britsh military, reducing in size following WW2, were short of EOD operators, and so sought volunteers. This is an interesting quote from one of those volunteerrs

"District asked for two volunteers to attend a Bomb Disposal Course in Jerusalem. I don't know how many fools applied but I was one of the Twelve Apostles that found themselves rather hurriedly in Jerusalem. For our tutor we had a hightly experienced Sapper Major; His opening words to the twelve of us as we sat in the classroom in the Police Depot at Mount Scopus were as follows: 'Gentlemen. I have seen Bomb Disposal service in France, the African campaign, Sicily, Italy, France and Germany, and now here. I am wise and experienced, but here I haven't a bloody clue.' It was like a sentence of death." My Trinity, Eric Howard.




A peculiar Heavy Water journey

This week is the anniversary of Operation Gunnerside, a fantastic SOE operation to destroy the Norwegian Heavy Water plant at Vermork. The wider story of the destruction of Vermork is told here and is well worth a read.  I would also recommend reading this if you have a few minutes, an excellent contextual document with also some fascinating detail. 

The anniversary reminded me that a few years ago I blogged about Mad Jack Howard, the eccentric English aristocrat, adventurer and experimental bomb disposal expert who played a key role in "rescuing" a batch of heavy water from France as the Nazis invaded.  In retracing some of the research for that I found a nice little thread, looking at the journey that the Heavy Water took. It is a tale of secret operations, spies, buccaneering adventurers waving pistols, and peculiar persuasive pragmatism, worthy of a heist movie. So here it is: 


  • In early 1940 a group of clever French Physicists (Joliot (husband and wife), von Halban and Kowarski) had recognised the potential of heavy water to perform as a moderator in a nuclear fission reaction. The only place in the world where this heavy water (deuterium oxide) was being produced in any quantity was in Norway by Norsk Hydro. Norsk Hydro was effectively controlled financially by the Banque de Paris et des Pays Bas. At the outbreak of WW2 in 1939 almost the entire world stock of any significance was 185kg, held by the Norwegians.  They had already limited the Germans to buying only a few litres a year, and the French had intelligence that the Nazis were seeking much more. Vitally, the French were able to see the importance of heavy water as a weapon component. Interestingly the Norwegians were not aware of that and made an assesment that the German interest had a use in biological research.
  • With the political situation deteriorating and with excellent forethought the French authorities moved to secure this 185kg, using a combination of bank pressure and the pragmatic, persuasive skills of Lieutenant Jacques Allier of the Deuxieme Bureau. I think the reasons were twofold - to secure it for themselves and also to prevent acquisition by the Nazis.  Allier travelled to Norway under a false passport in his Mother's maiden name, via Stockholm.  The French went to some trouble in preparation designing aluminium metal canisters that were specifically built that could be disguised in suitcases. These were made in Norway. They had to be made from metal without any trace of boron or cadmium and some other trace elements which might cause the heavy water useless.
  • There are some indications that the Nazis were aware of the presence of Allier in Norway and had alerted local agents, even providing them with the name that Allier was travelling under. 
  • In a series of meetings Allier persuaded Norsk Hydro to part with their entire stock - 185kg - of heavy water. Nordsk Hydro provided the stuff at no cost despite Allier being authorised to pay a significant sum - Norsk Hydro were left in no doubt as to the military imperative of the material to France.  The material was poured into the 26 five litre special aluminium containers. In two batches then, the Heavy Water started their journey, on 9 March 1940, both ending up by seperate routes in Oslo, where they were stored in a French safe house which happened to be next door to a German Abwehr owned office.
  • The next day, 10 March 1940 a complex operation took place with Allier and a colleague booked with a cargo on a plane to Amsterdam, but conducted a secret "switch" actually boarding a plane to Scotland. Just as well because the Amsterdam plane was intercepted by the Luftwaffe and forced to land in Hamburg - clearly the German knew something was up.
  • As the plane carrying Allier and the first batch of Heavy Water left the coastline of Norway it too was tailed by another plane - but the adventurous Allier briefed his pilot that they were secret agents and persuaded him to "lose" its tail in the clouds. According to one report the plane climbed so high that Allier passed out due to lack of oxygen.  Eventually it landed near Montrose in Scotland.
  • There is a suggestion that the operation to fly out to Scotland was assisted by MI6 in Oslo. One report sugegsts that the MI6 agent, Frank Foley, helped load the plane at Oslo airport. Indeed when the plane landed (another followed the followng day with the remaining heavy water), there were no customs or immigration procedures applied. 
  • After a night in an Edinburgh hotel with the 26 canisters alongside the beds, the French agents, led by Allier, caught the train to London with the canisters stowed in the overhead luggage racks. As we will see this wasn't their last journey on British train luggage racks...
  • From London Allier took the canisters to France by train and ferry and eventually storing them in a cellar in the College de France in Paris. He was given a receipt, on 16 March 1940.
  • Two months later on 16 May 1940, the Nazis invaded France, and the Heavy Water was loaded in a truck and taken 200 miles south to the vaults of a bank in Clermont Ferrand.
  • Soon after the cans were moved, oddly to a women's prison in Monts Dore, and then to the Central Prison in Riom. It is sort of peculiar that prisons were used on this journey (and not for the last time).
  •  Now, Allier reappered on the scene, with instructions to take th e heavy water to London, via Bordeaux, ahead of the German advance.on 17 June 1940, Allier arrived at Riom prison, but the prison governor was reluctant to release the cans. Allier drew his revolver and the governor was "persuaded".  Some prisoners helped load the cans onto Allier's waiting vehicle. The vehicle with Allier and some scientists aboard arrived at a requisitioned school in Bordeaux at midnight. There they received instructions to take the cargo and load it on a coal ship, the "Broompark" in Bordeaux docks. Arriving there in in the early hours of 18 June 1940 they were met on the gangplank by a strange character - Moustached, short sleeved, arms covered with tattoos, two revolvers in shoulder-holsters and swinging a riding crop. It was "Jack Howard", the Earl of Suffolk and Berkshire. Acting as an unpaid "science attache" he was coordinating the Broompark's journey, loaded with Heavy Water, diamonds, physicists and machine tools. Interestingly, the MI6 agent who had been in Oslo two months earlier, Frank Foley, was also at the docks. Later that same day, 18 June 1940 the Broompark steamed out of Bordeaux. The 26 cans had been lashed to a raft on the deck in the hope of saving them if the ship was sunk - clearly Howard knew the importance of the cans, and had probably been briefed by Frank Foley, who had left to head south over the Pyrenees to Spain.  I have picked up that Howard may have stashed a special part of his cargo ashore on the coast somewhere not far from Bordeaux, but it is pretty vague and its not clear at all. one report says that whatever it was was "collected" in a secret naval operation sometime later. Could be a spoof, maybe with the help of Foley. 
  • On 21 June 1940 the Broompark docked in Falmouth England. It had been spotted by a grman aircraft at one point in the Bay of Biscay but no action had been taken against it. So the heavy water was back in England, and once more was loaded onto a train, the express, to London Paddington, with Jack Howard guarding it, unshaven, fierce and with his twin shoulder-holstered pistols on clear display.
  • Arriving in Londonon 22 June 1940, the Heavy Water was again sentenced to imprisonment, this time in a cell Wormwood Scrubs a legendary London prison.
  • Some time later the Heavy Water was transfered, of all places, to Windsor Castle, home of the Royal Family, were, under the watchful eye of the King's librarian, Owen Morshead, it was stored with the Crown jewels. I kid you not.
  • It is possible that in the next two years the Heavy Water was moved to Cambridge were British research into fission was ongoing, but I can find no specific records.
  • The Heavy Water is next recorded as being delivered to the Anglo-Canadian research effort in Montreal, Canada on 1 May 1943. I do not know its mode of transport across the Atlantic. In 1944 the Heavy Water was moved to the Chalk River Experimental Plant on the Ottawa River.
  • In 1946, the French governmment then requested "Could France have its Heavy Water back please?" This clearly caused something of a panic. A note dated 30 September 1946 noted that the "remaining" material was stored in container "T-7" which was 99.5% pure with respect to Deuterium. It was agreed to ship 100ml back to France which accordingly occurred, being flown by Trans-Canada airlies to Paris. So a small quantity returned "home" to the French.
  • In 1947 Drum T-7 containing the Heavy Water was sent to Trail in British Columbia for re-processing. At this point it appears to have been mixed with other Heavy Water, losing its "French" identity.  
  • In 1948 the French, supported by the British, requested return of the material or equivalent from other sources. After some discussion 32.5 pounds of heavy water was shipped to France, via Harwell in the UK in a stainless steel drum.

This may be, at the end of the day, simply a logistics story, but I feel it is a true adventure, featuring bravery, human character and fortitude, and it is a story which may have changed the world.

For more on Jacques Allier, see here.  Frank Foley was another remarkable man, and a little of his life is detailed here.  He helped 10,000 Jews escape Nazi Germany, was responsible for interrogating Rudolf Hess, and played a key role in the Double Cross deception operation using double agents to persuade the Nazis that the Allies would invade the Pas de Calais rather than Normandy.  Some more on "Jack Howard" is here


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).