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 Russia (6)


Russian Partisan EOD search, 1942

I've found an interesting book, "The Partisan's Companion", a guerilla warfare manual produced by Russia in 1942. There's a small section on EOD search for German mines and booby traps which is interesting.

Remember the fascists use mines widely and employ them with cunning and trickery. Quite often they leave various lures in plain sight and conenct them to mines. You should be careful and wary of them.

Do not enter a house which has been left by the Germans until you have inspected the ground around it, The stair steps of the porch, doors, windows, floor boards and various household objects - all of them could be connected to mines.  Any attempt to move them or even a simple touch could produce and explosion.   Use long rope and a grapnel to open the door of such a house.

After entering the house - thoroughly inspect it. First, do a visual inspection, looking for the revealing signs of mines: fresh spots in the wall's plaster, evidence of disturbing the bricks in the walls or stove, fresh scratches on the floor. Also check the electrical wires - see if there are any devices connected to them. If you find suspicious areas- check them more thoroughly.

Try to avoid all kinds of twine, rope and wire in the forest, on the roads and in the houses. They could be linked to mines. Be careful around places which show some disturbance to their uniformity.For example: small lumps of dirt on grass warn you about digging at that site. Be careful not to pick up a rifle or other weapon left behind by the Germans, especially if it is in a highly visible spot. Remember that the Germans sometimes even put mines on the corpses of their soldiers and officers.

The manual then goes on to describe an interesting technique for finding buried clockwork timed mechanisms attached to mines, using a "water stethoscope".  A water bottle is filled almost to within a few centimeters from the top, and a glass tube inserted through the stopper. Put a rubber hose onto the outside of the tube. Then plant the bottle in the ground, with the surface of the water in the bottle level with the ground. Place the end of the hose to your ear and if there is a buried clockwork device nearby you will hear it. 

That sounds like an interesting technique - I'll have to give it a try. 



Multiple suicide bomber attacks in 1904 or 1905

This is very intruiging - a second hand report about Japanese troops using multiple suicide bombing as a tactic against the Russians in 1904 or 1905. I've spent a few hours looking for a primary source or even a better secondary source and can't find one - vague references to the tactic but no specifics.  Fascinating in its implications.   Rather than lift the story, here's a straight image from the book, as is. 



A most unusual IED attack from the Russo-Japanese war

I've found a new source of interesting historical explosive incidents that will fill several blog posts.  But I couldn't resist posting this story straight away. (It's a little apocryphal I admit). Stand-by for more from this source.

During the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, a certain Russian officer was an impatient, overbearing martinet. He took particular pleasure in treating his Chinese servants with the utmost of harshness, for the slightest delinquency or indeed for no reason at all.  One of his favoured forms of punishment was to dismiss his servants and as they left kick them roundly around the backside as they left through the door.

 On of his servants became very irritated with this treatment, and one day related the circumstances to a man he met who happened to be a Japanese spy. The spy gave the Chinese servant much sympathy and promised him a solution - a pair of padded breeches which he would supply himself the following day. A rubber hot water bottle was filled with absorbent cotton wool and topped up with nitroglycerine. An initiation system using a percussion cap was fitted alongside such that any blow would cause detonation. The unfortunate Chinese servant was oblivious to this, thinking that he had a fine, but bulky new pair of trousers which would protect him. 

At the next meeting the servant inadvertently spilled a little tea on the officer's uniform. Thereupon the master raged and raged and dismiised the servant in the usual way, but with perhaps a little more preciptation than usual.

One of the officer's legs was blown off, an arm was crushed, four ribs were broken and the Russian was unconscious for a good period of time. When he came to, he found himself a prisoner of the Japanese who had overun the hospital.  The Chinaman, well, he was never seen...




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.


The Tsar and the suicide bomber

I have been promising for some time a blog post about the 1881 assassination of the Tsar by suicide bomber in St Petersburg, the site of which I visited a few month ago.  I think that this incident is particularly interesting for the following reasons:

  1. It was a suicide bombing by any definition and thus invites comparisons with modern suicide terrorism
  2. It seems to have sparked and inspired the revolutionaries of the time, demonstrating what was possible – for the next 25 years revolutionaries around the world sought to repeat the impact of the incident
  3. The design was enabled by the development of dynamite in the late 1860s and it would appear by Russian military experience of fusing from the sea mines I discussed last week

The late 1870s and early 1880s were politically a time of great drama. In Russia Anarchists and Nihilists were active and some sought the use of violence to achieve their goals in the light of poor harvests and industrial recession.  The Nihilists objected to the status quo of the ruling class and the capitalist control of the economy and in that at least there are some very modern echoes. One particular group, the Narodnaya Volya (The People’s Will) decided to target the Tsar.  One of this group’s early attempts to assassinate the Tsar was in Moscow in 1879  - the terrorists dug a tunnel from a house and planted three large command initiated IEDs under the railway on a track (by digging a tunnel under a road from a nearby house) that the Tsar was predicted to use. The attack failed as did an attempt a year later when explosives were planted in the Winter Palace in St Petersburg by an employee Stephan Khalturin who was able smuggle the explosives in bit by bit. The picture below shoes the aftermath.

I can’t find details of the construct of this device but I believe it was a timed IED. The Tsar delayed a reception dinner thus missing the explosion, but many people were killed or badly wounded in the incident. Amongst the dead were all the members of the Finnish Guard in a room below the intended victims.

In an early example of an “attack the Network” C-IED effort the Russian secret police, the Okrhana, was established in the light of the failed bomb attacks (along with the rise of left wing revolutionary groups) and they were the archetypal “secret police", running double agents, agents provocateurs, surveillance and interception of communications. They also operated internationally.

On the 13 March the Tsar once again overruled the advice of his security staff and took his carriage on a well known and predictable route through St Petersburg from Michaelovsky Palace to the Winter Palace. Once again this is a story of terrorists exploiting the known and predictable routes of their target. An armed Cossack sat with the coach-driver and another six Cossacks followed on horseback. Behind them came a group of police officers in sledges.

All along the route he was watched by members of Narodnaya Volya, who had carefully planned a triple IED attack. On a street corner near the Catherine Canal a woman terrorist gave the signal to two of the conspirators to throw their bombs at the Tsar's carriage. The bombs missed the carriage and instead landed amongst the Cossacks. The Tsar was unhurt but insisted on getting out of the carriage to check the condition of the injured men. While he was standing with the wounded Cossacks another terrorist, Elnikoff, stepped forward with a shout and threw his bomb on the ground between himself and the Tsar.

Alexander was mortally wounded and the explosion was so great that Elnikoff also died from the bomb blast.  The device used is quite interesting – he is a contempory description and an image.


 The infernal machine used by Elnikoff was about 7 1/2, inches in height. Metal tubes (bb) filled with chlorate of potash, and enclosing glass tubes (cc) filled with sulphuric acid (commonly called oil of vitriol), intersect the cylinder. Around the glass tubes are rings of iron (dd) closely attached as weights. The construction is such that, no matter how the bomb falls, one of the glass tubes is sure to break. The chlorate of potash in that case, combining with the sulphuric acid, ignites at once, and the flames communicate over the fuse (ff) with the piston (c), filled with fulminate of silver. The concussion thus caused explodes the dynamite or "black jelly" (a) with which the cylinder is closely packed.

You will note some similarities, in principle, with parts of the initiating system from the Russian sea mines of the Crimean war that I posted last week.

In all, I think that this terrorist attack is one of the most significant in history - the first "suicide bombing" to gain international attention, and certainly an attack that inspired revolutionaries the world over.  My friend Greg Woolgar, who is about to publish a much needed book on the Victorian Bomb disposal expert and first proponent of IED exploitation and technical inteligence, Colonel Majendie, tells me that the good colonel visited St Petersburg in ther aftermath to seek intelligence on the device.