StandingWellBack

You can contact me at rogercdavies(atsquiggle)me.com

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.

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Entries in Victim-operated IEDs (11)

Friday
Apr212017

Westminster - an Explosive Past in a 100m Radius

The recent murder of people on Westminster Bridge and the stabbing to death of a policeman at the gates of the Houses of Parliament New Palace Yard have highlighted that the British centre of government and state power has a natural attraction to terrorists.  In my blogs I often look at threads in history of terrorism.  One can find, occasionally, interesting threads in the warp and weft of time, and usually I follow technical threads as far as I can.  But Westminster provides another thread, at right angles, the thread of geography, in a history of explosives and munitions. Bear with me as I recount the explosive history of Westminster - some of which you will know and others you won’t. I have underlined certain specific locations in order to make the point about repeated locations. Westminster is a surprisingly compact place and most of the incidents listed below occurred within about 100m of each other.   For context here's a plan of the explosive incidents in the Houses of Parliament, just about all within a circus of 100m radius:
Locations and Dates - Westminster
1605.   The Gunpowder Plot.  Of course you will know that the Gunpowder Plot targeted Parliament itself, and there is little new I can repeat here. But one aspect is interesting in the light of very modern accusation of “fake news” and “false flag” operations. There has been a school of thought over the ages since soon after the plot itself, that the Gunpowder Plot was a false flag conspiracy dreamt up by loyal royalists to discredit the Catholic opposition. The suggestion is that Sir Robert Cecil, the Royal Chancellor, coordinated a "false flag" operation for political motives, to persuade the public and the King himself that harsh measures were needed to keep persecuting Roman Catholics in England. There is also a suggestion that the gunpowder recovered from the 36 barrels discovered in the Westminster Undercroft had deteriorated so much that it may not have exploded anyway.  In another interesting parallel with today, and attitudes towards Muslims after the recent Westminster attack, King James himself, speaking to both Houses of Parliament five days later made clear that he believed that the plot had been the work of only a few Catholics, not of the English Catholics as a whole. By modern terminology the device was a large timed IED, the timing component being burning fuze.

 

A report from a few years after the PlotThe Conspirators

1885.     Dynamite Saturday - As part of a dynamite campaign Irish American “Fenian" terrorists planned and executed ”Dynamite Saturday" detonating a number of devices across London. One device exploded as it was being moved by policemen in Westminster Hall.

PCs Cole and Cox are blown up in Westminster Hall

PC William Cole was a London Police officer on duty in the Houses of Parliament on 24 January 1885. He was notified by a visitor, a Mr Green, about a smoking black bag on the steps between the St Mary Undercroft chapel and Westminster Hall, both within the Palace of Westminster. The bag was on the third step of the staircase that lead to the main part of Westminster Hall.  Bravely, Cole picked up the smoking bag and ran up the stairs of Westminster Hall with the intent of moving the bag outside into New Palace Yard. He was preceded by Mr Green who shouted “Dynamite!” to clear the way.  But before he could reach the door,  the bombfuze began to burn his hand, causing him to drop the bag - a second later the bag fully exploded. Cole and his colleague PC Cox, were injured, their clothes largely blown off them  and they lay, blackened in the crater caused by the bomb.  Mr Green was injured in his eyes and his two female companions were “bereft of their upper garments".  Other police and the Deputy Segeant at Arm's wife, Lady Horatia, rushed to attend to the injured. Cole was unconscious, and Cox was "rolling about, talking incoherently and hitting out with his fists although two constables held him down.’  Both officers were described in the politically incorrect language of the time as “black as n*****s”.  Seconds later, another bomb exploded in the empty House of Commons.   In one of those interesting pieces of history (given my interest in the Government’s Inspector of Explosives of the time, Colonel Majendie), Lady Horatia, the wife of the Deputy Sergeant was coopted by the police in the aftermath to help control access to the Hall. Imagine the scene,  the redoubtable Victorian lady assuming the role of gate guardian to a terrorist bomb incident. A short, bearded foreign gentleman approaches and demands access in a German accent, to inspect the scene. Lady Horatia is having none of it and physically blocks his path , firmly instructing a footman to “put him out”, ejecting him from the Hall.  It was in fact Dr August DuPre, the German born Chemist who was Col Majendie’s most important technical assistant and official Home Office consulting chemist who played a key and official role in investigating explosive crime.   PC Cole (later promoted to Sergeant) regained consciousness the next day, and was awarded the Albert Medal for his bravery, which was presented to him on the exact site of the explosion.  Mr Green suffered permanent injury to his sight but was not compensated despite the efforts of the Deputy Sergeant at Arms (probably prompted by the fierce Lady Horatia). Interestingly the body of PC Keith Palmer who was fatally stabbed in 2017 was kept overnight in St Mary Undercroft before his funeral.   My assessment of the device based on an interpretation of the reports and the fact that a James Cunningham was seen lighting a  fuze on a similar bomb that same day at the Tower of London was that the device was a timed IED, with less than 2.5kg of explosives, with burning fuze being the timing element. James Cunningham and an accomplice, Harry Burton, were sentenced to life imprisonment for their role in the bombings. Interestingly this bombing changed the ambivalent feeling of the USA towards the Fenians. Prior to this UK governmental efforts to encourage the US to constrain Fenian activity had fallen on deaf ears, but with an attack on parliament, wheels began to turn.

 

1939-1945. Although not terrorist attacks, the Houses of Parliament were subject to explosive attack frequently in WW2.   It was hit by German bombs on 12 occasions (nine exploded, 3 were defused) and the House of Commons was destroyed in a subsequent fire after an incendiary bomb attack - one of numerous incendiary bomb attacks.  The buildings were hit three times by our own anti-aircraft guns, one hitting Big Ben. Here’s a Pathe film of the aftermath of one attack.    Particular damage was caused by an explosive bomb on St Stephen’s Cloister on 8 December 1940, and the incendiary attack that destroyed the House of Commons and damaged the roof of Westminster Hall occurred on 10 and 11 May 1941. Three people were killed in all the attacks.

Bomb damage St Stephens Cloister, 1940

1974.  During the construction of the Underground carpark beneath New Palace Yard, the IRA was able to exploit the poor control over a large number of casual workers employed on the contract to place a bomb in a ladies toilet adjacent to Westminster Hall.  It exploded at 8am on 17 June, igniting a gas main causing considerable damage (photo).

1974, Westminster Hall Bombing

The IRA claimed it contained 20 lbs of explosive. That might be an exaggeration.  The device was probably on a  mechanical timer and laid the previous evening, I suspect. The authorities in Westminster have deliberately not removed all the black soot and sign of burning from one corner of Westminster Hall, where is remains to remind those present of the threat to democracy

1979.  The Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) planted a bomb on the car of MP Airey Neave. the device exploded as Neave drove his car out of the underground car park in New Palace Yard. Neave died shortly afterwards. the device probably contained less than 2kg of explosive and was probably initiated by a ball bearing tilt switch. It is possible that the device was placed on the car before it entered Parliament buildings

Neave Assassination

From this list I have excluded a number of nearby incidents, including:

1. A Fenian bombing of the underground between Westminster Bridge station and Charing Cross station in 1882.

2. A suffragette bomb planted in Westminster Abbey in 1914.

3. An IRA mortar attack on Downing Street in 1991.

There are also a number of unsuccessful plots (other than 1605) relating to Westminster which I’m still gathering data on - the strangest is a post WW2 plot to drop bombs contained in adapted fire extinguishers on Parliament by an extreme militant zionist from a charted plane flown from France. More later on that!
 
Of course the nature of the target of these incidents attracts attention because of the political focus of power from the geography of the target. If I may be allowed a slightly political comment, following the stabbing of PC Keith Palmer and the associated murders on Westminster Bridge some commentators expressed the opinion that London was running scared from terrorism, and that the terrorists were winning. The silly phrase “London has fallen” was used by some of the alt-right to describe the incident, and people talked of Londoners being fearful and terrorised. I don't believe that to be true.  With the possible excerption of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, none of the other incidents ever caused anyone to suggest that terrorists could defeat our democracy and culture even though they penetrated the buildings of Parliament themselves. In 400 years, attackers have penetrated parliament many times and British culture and democracy remains. The perpertrator of the attack in 2017, armed with his mothers kitchen knife was shot before he entered the building and we can now forget his name.  
Thursday
Dec242015

18th Century TPU, 19th Century Grave Robbers

I've blogged before about the use of flintlocks and other gun-lock mechanisms used as initiators in IEDs between the end of the 16th century and the middle of the 19th century.   Some recent digging has made me think that the integration of a timing mechanism with a flintlock mechanism was a widely used system, perhaps not regularly within an IED but widely enough that it's use must have been well known, even if only as a potential initiation system.  Here's some images of a couple of peculiar alarm clocks which I think make the point well. The operator sets a time on the clock which when reached released a spring loaded trigger on a flintlock.  A small amount of powder is then initiated which also ignite the wick of a candle which then by a linked spiring stands up in the box. These are I think from the period 1715- 1740 or thereabouts. Nowadays we'd call these a Time and Power Unit (TPU)

 I have also found a "set gun" which attached a flintlock to a tripwire, used as a deterrent for both for both poachers and grave robbers. Here's an image of one of these.  

To be clear I'm not suggesting any of these are IEDs, just that such a mechanism could have been used at the tme to initiate explosive devices.  The set guns were outlawed eventually but in 1878 an inventor, Mr Clover of Columbus, Ohio then came up with a "coffin torpedo" to deter grave robbers who opened a coffin with something like a shotgun cartridge, initiated by the opening lid.  "Torpedo" was the name given to IEDs at that time.   

In 1881 a Mr Howell invented two "Grave Torpedos", much more like IEDs and images from the patent application is shown below. These were much more like an American Civil War land mine, placed on top of a coffin with a plate above it, designed to be initiated when the grave robbers dug down.

These were effective - a grave robber was killed by the device and an accomplice wounded: 

 

Tuesday
Jul092013

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...

 

 

Tuesday
Jul022013

Coal Torpedoes

A “coal torpedo” was the name given by Confederate Secret Service agents for a crude IED disguised as a lump of coal. The device was then introduced into the stocks of coal on ships and trains with the aim of causing an explosion in the boiler when it was shoveled into the engine.

The coal torpedo seems to have been invented by Capt Thomas Edgworth Courtney of the Confederate Secret Service.  Courtney proposed the idea to Jefferson Davis motivated probably by the financial rewards promised by the Confederacy which were suggested could be 50% of the value of Union shipping destroyed by new inventions. In this case, financial reward became the mother of a number of inventions. Courtney was commissioned and formed a Secret Service Corps of 25 men with direction to to attack any Union vessel or transport carrying military goods found in Confedserate waters, with his rewards (no salary) being paid in Confrderate war bonds.

Details of Copurtney’s plan leaked to the Union who put a price on his head. Courtney escaped to England, and tried to sell the design of the Coal torpedo to the British Navy, the French, the Spanish and Turkey, without success.

The Union naval forces on the Mississippi under Admiral David Porter issued General order 184 accordingly:

The enemy have adopted new inventions to destroy human life and vessels in the shape of torpedoes, and an article resembling coal, which is to be placed in our coal piles for the purpose of blowing the vessels up, or injuring them. Officers will have to be careful in overlooking coal barges. Guards will be placed over them at all times, and anyone found attempting to place any of these things amongst the coal will be shot on the spot.

Details of the actual ships destroyed by this means are unclear as records have been destroyed but it appears likely that a number of the devices functioned as intended.

Courtney’s torpedoes were manufactured carefully at the 7th Avenue Artillery shop in Richmond, Virginia. Actual lumps of coal were used to form a mold into which iron was cast. The walls of the devices surrounded a hollow sufficient to hold about four ounces of blackpowder.  After filling, the void was closed with a threaded plug, dipped in beeswax and rolled in powdered coal to disguise it.  The device, although small, could rupture the pressure vessel of a ship, causing much greater secondary damage.

The concept of coal torpdeos carried on. After the American Civil War the Fenian Brotherhood (see previous blog posts) had connections with both sides and there appears to have been a plot in the 1860s and 70s to use such devices to place in the furnaces of New York hotels and British shipping .

In WW1 German saboteurs operating in the US planned to use such devices to attack munitions ships, and in an earlier post I mentioned that such devices were found by US forces after overrunning the Germans in France in 1918.

In WW2 both the OSS and the SOE used similar devices, as did German spies. I have found reports that the Japanese also developed a similar tool at the Noborito research Institute, and they were used by Japanese commandos in raids in New Guinea.  There is also a hint that the CIA explored this as a tactic to be used in Vietnam.

The OSS didn’t do things by halves and developed a coal camouflage kit for such devices, with a range oif paints to enable the device to match variations in coal supplies.

Tuesday
Feb122013

US C-IED and counter booby-trap efforts on the Battlefield - 1918

Further to my earlier post about German boobytraps on the battlefield in 1918 and the similarities to today's IED threat, I've found the following typed document, a briefing paper, of sorts, from the office of the Chief Engineer of the General Headquarters of the American Expeditionary Forces in France in 1918. The document is titled "GERMAN TRAPS AND MINES" and describes the booby traps being encountered by American forces as the Germans retreated. Those of you with recent experience in Iraq and Afghanistan will recognise some of the phrases.

The doument is a little faded, but I'll make it as big as possible. It's worth reading.