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 Historical EOD (11)


An innovative buried IED detection technology from 1400

I'm slowly researching a number of old military technology books (if I can describe them as that) written several hundred years ago. Every so often I come across something intruiging. Here's today's.

Conrad Kyeser lived between 1366 and about 1405. He was born in Eichstadt in Southern Germany but lived for a time in Prague. I have referenced his book "Bellifortis" in my last post. The book was written in (poor) Latin and contained many illustrations. Kyeser clearly copied a number of other military technology books, but there was also new material. It exists today with several versions. Some of the technology discussed is remarkable for the time of writing - paddle powered boats able to move against a current, diving suits with some form of stored air for breathing, and a variety of explosive devices, rockets and multi-barrelled revolving firearm systems.  The rocket discussion includes remarks on the need for a combustion chamber (described as a "seele" or hollow in the propellant), and that the rocket cylinder/case must be gas-tight. 

But here's something very interesting - a buried IED detection technology. Kyeser describes burning a resin to create a volume of dense thick smoke, contained under an inverted tub. Once a dense cloud is formed the tub is lifted off and the dense smoke allowed to spread across the ground of an area where a buried explosive device is suspected. Kyeser claims that if the smoke rises at any point, that is an indicator of disturbed earth, and the potential that an explosive device has been buried there. 

Now that's an interesting idea, but on the face of it, I don't have any particular belief that it might work.  If a heavy gas rises it perhaps could be due to convection, but why would disturbed earth have convection , I assume associated with a thermal energy release from distrurbed ground?  I can imagine certain theoretical scenarios where a dark soil is exposed as the device is buried and that causes slightly more solar energy to be absorbed, and then released, but that's perhaps stretching it a bit. Maybe a buried barrel of gunpowder previously stored in a building would retain its heat long enough when compared to the cold earth in which it was buried and that could cause some convection for a short time.  I wonder how long....

I welcome any readers who might have a better explanation, email me at the email address explained above right.


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.