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 Syria (6)


Intriguingly Similar Designs of Improvised Munitions Over Decades

One of the most notable improvised weapons in the last 15 years has perhaps been the “IRAM”.  This “Improvised Rocket Assisted Munition” appeared in 2004 in Iraq, using the rocket motor of a 107mm rocket with a “bolted on” over-calibre warhead. This is a relatively short-range munition with more target effect than a standard 107mm, but quite difficult to range and target.  The IRAM munition came in various designs. Here’s one variant:
IRAMs 2004


Such munitions appear to be being used now by Syrian government forces and others in Syria. See this report from the excellent Brown Moses/Bellingcat website from 2013:  Sometimes the users seem to have not fired these from 107mm tubes (with the overcalibre warhead “left out the front”) but from tubes with a greater diameter. See: .  In this variant the rocket motor is "under-calibre", in effect.
When the IRAM appeared in 2004 it was commonly thought to be a new type of improvised munition. But as readers of this blog might already suspect, it wasn't new at all - the concept was used in the early part of the Vietnam war. Here's the image of Viet Cong overcaliber warhead that was fitted to a 107mm rocket, just as they are today. The image provider suggests that the warhead was cast iron, but the welds in what is probably rolled mild steel are clearly present.  These early Viet Cong "IRAMs" were fitted with what were described as WW2 Japanese impact fuzes. 
Viet Cong over-calibre warhead for 107mm rocketJapanese WW2 impact fuze on Viet Cong warhead
Now here’s another interesting thing - probably coincidental. The design of the Viet Cong over-calibre warhead is remarkably similar to a Provsional IRA mortar bomb warhead. This image is from a de-fuzed Mk 12 mortar bomb taken in 1991.  The IRA warhead was of course not on a rocket but on a mortar, but the design structure of the mild steel welded warhead looks remarkably similar to the Viet Cong warhead, does it not and is of an almost identical construction. The Mk 12 mortar of course is a horzontally fired anti-armour weapon with a copper cone liner, but the outer form of the warhead is remarkably similar.  
PIRA Mk 12 Mortar bomb with identical shaped warhead
Keen readers of this blog will recall too that Irish revolutionaries were firing rockets horizontally at the British Military as early as 1803, using a rocket designed in 1696. 




Warsaw IEDs

I’ve been researching the improvised explosives used by the Polish resistance in WW2.  One can’t but help notice some parallels between the Warsaw uprising and the ongoing tragedies in Syria - the devastation of Warsaw looks pretty similar to that being seen in Aleppo and other Syrian cities.  The Nazi destruction of the ghetto is scarily similar to the Assad regime’s destruction of areas of Syrian cities.  Compare the effect of the use of the seige mortar “Thor” (Karl-Gerat) against the Warsaw ghetto with the user of barrel bombs in Aleppo.   
Here's two interesting images - the black and white one shows a Warsaw resistance fighter examing a "blind" Karl-Gerat munition. The colour image below it shows a Syrian resistance fighter with a "blind" barrel bomb. I'm not suggesting the munitions are identical, but in terms of explosive effect they will have been pretty similar, and it's spooky how similar the images are, some 70 years apart.
Consider the similarity of effects:

There are other similarities too - the Polish resistance had a very significant production of ingenious improvised weapons - and some of their techniques appear similar too to those seen in Poland. Look at this image of a spring-loaded Molotov cocktail projector - I’ve seen similar from Syria
The boundaries between improvised weapons and production weapons can get a bit vague here - for example its is thought that tens of thousands of Sidolowka and Filipinka grandes were produced by the resistance.
These improvised grenades had a variety of fills, but most commonly “cheddite”, a chlorate/nitrobenzene mix I have discussed in earlier posts (used by many including Irish revolutionaries circa 1920.) Not much difference in design , of course with the Irish grenades seen here...with the same explosive fill.  All aspects of the grenade including the fuse and the detionators were produced by the Polish resistance. Largely they obtained the potassium chlorate component of the explosive by theft from the Germans.
An improvised Filipinka grenade. The Cyrillic marking is an attempt by the Polish resistance to obfuscate indigenous manufacture
Improvised Sidolowka grenade.
The Polish resistance also made significant use of command wires devices and other IEDs to attack trains and other targets.    Here’s a picture of the explosive unit of the Warsaw resistance on route to attacks the Warsaw telephone exchange on 18th/20th August 1944 with a command wire initiated device.

Hundreds of German military trains were attacked with IEDs too. During one six month period the British SOE assessed that the Polish resistance ahd wrecked 1,268 railway engines and damaged 3,318 carriages. This report describes the operationally sophisticated use of multiple IEDs along a railway line:
An ordinary railway mine, which exploded when the first train passed over it would cause an interruption in traffic for only about four hours. At one time we were anxious to interrupt traffic on the main Warsaw-Malkinia sector of the Eastern front for a minimum period of 10 days. Our experts solved the problem, and the resulting interruption lasted as long as two weeks.  It was done by specially devised mines which could be automatically blown up. A chain of these mines was laid across the tracks. The first, which was placed in the middle of the chain, went off as the first train was passing over it. Two more placed on the tracks on either side of the first when the rescue train arrived from one side or the other. The remaining mines on both sides of the wrecked trains exploded successively when the repair trains arived from both directions. Result: Ten miles of track effectively mined. After ther first train has been blown up four repair and relief trains sent in to deal with it had been effectively destroyed.

Other sophisticated IEDs were also created by the Poles. I have found one report that 18 Luftwaffe aircraft were destoyed by the use of an explosive device in an elongated cylinder which was hidden in the rear of German aircraft and initiated on a reduction of atmospheric pressure once the aircraft reached a certain height. 


400 years of IED design - and you end up with the same device

Compare the device from Syria, last month at this link:

with this IED from 1630:

Ok, so the Syrian rebel one hasn't actually got wheels on, but the axles are there.  This design was also used in Dublin in 1803.  


Syrian FSA EOD techniques

Oh dear!   


No comment.


Revolution and Invention - Comparing Syria in 2012 with Ireland in 1803

1803 saw an attempted revolution in Ireland, that has some interesting parallels with today’s conflict in Syria.  Robert Emmet  (1778-1803) was the leader of the revolution and was sponsored to some degree by other regional states (France under Napoleon and individuals from the USA).  Emmet and his fellow revolutionaries had been inspired by the revolutions in both those nations (perhaps similar to the Arab spring revolutions inspiring events in Syria).

Emmet was an enthusiastic inventor who developed innovative home made weapons and probably the first Irish IEDs.  While in Paris trying to encourage Napoleon’s support for Irish revolution he met Robert Fulton, and seems to have been inspired by his use of explosives (I’ve discussed Fulton before, here)

Emmet returned to Ireland to plan the revolution. He designed rockets to be launched in salvoes from special batteries, and so called “infernals” which were hollowed-out beams packed with gunpowder to be pulled into the middle of streets to halt cavalry charges.  The devices were crafted by Emmet’s assistants in Marshal Lane South and Patrick Street. Essentially, the infernals were bored and plugged logs packed with black powder and readied for initiation by burning fuses. Each log was rendered more lethal by hammering deal strips to their length that held small stones, metal scraps and nails in place. Emmet decided to bind two infernals to each other and mount them together on small carriages from which the wheels had been removed. Thus elevated, immobilised and sited in confined, narrow streets, the initial blast wave would have dispersed splinters, stone shards and jagged metal with good effect.

Emmet also designed and had made numerous grenades. In one depot alone Emmet had 240 hand grenades made to his own design, formed of ink bottles filled with gunpowder and encircled with buckshot; 100 larger grenades made from wine bottles covered with canvas; numerous rockets and flares; explosive beams; and fire balls made of flax, tar and gunpowder which would stick to walls when thrown and burn fiercely when ignited.

Subsequently the revolution failed when key potential supporters failed to commit – in particular key parties of United Irishman revolutionaries from Kildare and Wicklow failed to join the fight.  Emmet failed to control other revolutionaries and the effort rapidly descended into farce.

Nonetheless the concept of Emmet’s “infernals” seems to have inspired Irish revolutionaries for a couple of centuries. And revolutions today in Libya and Syria are still characterized by innovative use of home made explosive devices and other weapons.  Brown Moses posts some excellent analysis of improvised weapon systems in Syria and frankly some of them wouldn't have seemed out of place in Dublin in 1803.