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 Historical EOD (10)


EOD Equipment 1573 and 1971

I have finally found a picture of a wheeled EOD shield from 1971 - courtesy of RLC Museum. Compare these two largely similar tools, the first from 1573, and the second from 1971 - 402 years apart. I believe the shield was used operationaly in Hong Kong in the sixties, and quickly went out of service after limited use in Ulster in the early seventies.

circa 1573circa 1971

My earlier post on the subject of historical ROV's is here. 




1894 Bomb Disposal Techniques

I have blogged before at an IED disposal system and associated organisation set up in Paris, France in the late part of the 19th century.  In my earlier blogs I have discussed the “containment vehicle” used to transport suspect IEDs to one of four disposal sites set up around Paris, and the use of hydraulic presses to dismantle IEDs once taken thefre.

I have recovered a little more detail about both, in some reports written by Colonel Majendie, the British explosives expert, who visited Paris in early 1894 and considered the techniques being used , adapting some for use in London.

Firstly the vehicle and containment system, originally material posted here.   Here now is Majendie’s description:

The bomb is deposited on a quantity of wood shavings or similar elastic material in the body of the phaeton….At one time the idea was entertained of constructing a bomb proof cart for this purpose - or at any rate a cart by which by mans of iron shields would prevent the lateral dispersion of fragments should the bomb unfortunately explode in transit. But the idea was abandoned in view of the fact that infernal machines in some cases contained very large charges of explosives (e.g the machine which exploded at the Rue de Clichy contained between 50 and 60 lbs), and of the considerations, 1st. that the cart which would resist the explosion of such a charge would be proportionally inconvenient to bring into action, besides attracting much attention… and that in the event of a bomb containing a charge in excess of what the cart was calculated to resist exploding therein, the iron and stout structure of the cart itself would probably seriously aggravate the effect. 

Majendie goes on to discuss that the presses available at each of the four disposal sites (which are pictured i the earlier post referenced above) which often succeeded in dismantling the IEDs without them exploding, but on occasion when an explosion did occur, its effect was usually "greatly diminished” by cracking of the outer shell.  Interestingly Majendie also reported three other techniques used during EOD operations:
a. Sometimes small dynamite charges were used to open the container of a bomb.

b. The French also used a mechanical device with three movable arms, or “holders” into which IEDs of different sizes can be fixed and lowered into a bath of mercury. Some devices were sealed with the use of solder and by immersing that part in mercury, for about 24 hours, caused the tin in the solder to dissolve breaking any soldered seal.

c. if the team attending the site of an incident felt it too dangerous to move they would “blow in place”. Majendie disagreed with this approach and recommended a degree of risk to avoid inadvertently seconding and supplementing the anarchist’s intentions.

As a result of the visit, Majendie developed the small, light handcart for transporting devices, that I showed in an earlier post here. The first of London’s disposal facilities was set up in 1894 on Duck Island , with others planned at Hyde Park, the Tower of London and in some circumstances a facility at Woolwich.   Later, in 1895, a truck was provided for transporting devices to the disposal facility by the War Office.  Two years later in 1896, the French authorities were using the first X-ray imaging systems to examine suspect IEDs.



Victorian era Bomb basket

I'm indebted to John Balding for forwarding me this picture. The image, I think from around the 1880s, shows the contraption used by Colonel Majendie, the British Chief Inspector of Explosives, for transporting IEDs.  The IEDs were taken to the EOD facility on Duck Island in St James's Park, Westminster.   I think it is very possible that Majendie copied it from a similar technique used the the French authorities in Paris.

A nicely sprung vehicle, clearly intended to be pushed by a person, possibly based on a "pram".



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...