Wednesday, February 08, 2012



So, awhile back, one of our readers (I believe it was #3) asked me about land mines. As a military aviator, he had seldom encountered them. I had trained with them waayyy back in bootcamp, when we had to worry about brontosaurus stepping on them, and I think the US Army’s basic designs (not counting the Claymore) were, and maybe still are, essentially copies of German stuff basically unchanged since WWII. Ah, if they had only taken the same route with the General Purpose Machine Gun.

Landmines as most people think of them from war movies aren’t often used in typical "minefield" fashion this day and age, what with all the improvised explosives used by insurgents, but they still come up, usually used against us, often in combination with other devices. During the Soviet Afghan-War, the Russians literally carpeted the place with mines and they were used extensively in the Balkans and all over Africa as well. Some still remain active after God only knows how many years. The vast majority were never mapped, let alone recovered.

Modern western armies either recover their mines or, in the case of aerial and artillery-seeded minefields, have timers within the mines themselves to detonate them after a set period. Insurgents now, when using “land mines”, usually rely less on the pressure-detonation fuse and more on command-detonation using wire, radio, or even IR beams. Pressure mines are often used in conjunction with other IEDs.

In Italy in WWII, German engineers emplaced Teller [anti-tank] mines inside thin concrete blocks to hide them in stone bridges or streets. Today, insurgents have taken this ruse to great heights and hide them in every place imaginable: dead animal carcasses, cars, garbage, street curbs, lamp posts, burlap bags, animal dung, MRE packages, tires, trash piles, you name it. Later hiding places included bombs made to look like roadside curbs or hollow foam structures built and painted to closely resemble large rocks; some were integrated into lamp posts. In other cases, both crude and sophisticated devices were used together, the crude offerings being the throw-aways intended to distract attention from the real threat. Often, the IEDs were covered by direct fire.

Since WWII, soldiers have found anti-tank mines not good enough out of the box, and this continues to this day. Usually, two AT mines were stacked, with a pressure-release booby trap underneath to prevent lifting. In Iraq, up to four mines were found stacked in hopes of taking out an M1 Abrams.

Afghan muj fighting the Soviets noted: “We liked powerful mines, so we usually took the explosives from two Egyptian plastic mines and put these into a single large cooking oil tin container.”

Most people, myself included, are in the Don Rickles as Crapgame in Kelly’s Heroes Category when it comes to mines. When he finds one by probing, he shouts that he’s found one. Telly Savalis as Big Joe asks him, “What kind is it?” Crapgame immediately responds, “The kind that blows up!” The ticklish job of clearing mines is not something most people care to take on, although it has to be done.

Having first been Armored Cav, the obvious response on what to do with the damn things would be to have an engineer vehicle or a tank equipped with mine flails or rollers drive through the minefield. The original M3 light tank of WWII had two extra Browning .30-caliber machine guns, one in a sponson on either side of the hull. One tanker recalled using these to shoot their way through a minefield, firing burst after burst along the path the tracks would take through the sand. This practice made the quartermaster officer, and I quote, “Whine like a bitch dog in heat.” Plus the sponson guns were removed on the M3A1. The British 8th Army in North Africa countered one of Rommel’s extensive, carefully laid minefields by hammering it with well over a half a million shells from 882 artillery pieces. Shoving a Bangalore torpedo into a minefield and blowing it has been used for many decades.

I suspect, however, that our reader(s) were more interested in how dismounted or light infantry could deal with the problem if they don't have all the high-tech military stuff readily at hand. For Joseph Stalin and the Ayatollah Khomeini, the answer was to simply make their infantry run through the minefields. This is generally not regarded as a very good method by infantrymen.

Rather than go into the whole big step-by-step description of what I learned eons ago, I’ll linkie to the probing method. See Appendix A, B, and C. In fact, the whole manual is worth checking out, even though it dates back to the Stone Age when my platoon leader was named “Og” and we fought with rocks and sticks.

What else has been done? Lots of things, some of which you might not have thought of. For the modern jihadist, driving a herd of goats or sheep through a minefield remains popular, even if their love life does suffer afterwards. I actually found instances of this tactic being used back in WWII.

ITALY: “A herd of sheep, hurriedly bought up around the local countryside in ITALY, was used effectively by the 36th Division Engineers in clearing an area on the south bank of the RAPIDO River of the Schu [anti-personnel] mines that had been planted there in great numbers by retreating Germans.

“The mined area was under direct small-arms fire of the enemy. The only apparent method of clearing a path through it was to send men in at night with steel rods to crawl &mg on their hands and knees and locate each mine by probing every inch of the ground. This was too slow.

Wanted: 300 Sheep “The engineering officer asked the division quartermaster to provide 300 live sheep. These were made available the next day. Two Engineer officers and an enlisted man disguised themselves as native Italian sheepherders and started driving the flock across the mine

field. Near the end of the field, after a number of mines had been detonated, the Germans got wise to the ruse and opened fire, the sheepherders taking cover and withdrawing to safety, But the sheep continued to mill around

in the area exploding many mines. The project was considered successful as ‘it provided the necessary cleared path to the riverbank.”

This was probably the smartest move made in General Mark Clarke’s ill-conceived and disastrous attempt at forcing the Rapido. Today, Bunny Huggers would no doubt protest such tactics and get them prohibited by American forces.

Booby-Trap “Baton” Patrol experts from the 99th. Infantry Division,

FRANCE, report effective use of a “magic wand” when it was necessary for small units to cross known minefields not covered with snow: “We had considerable success in detecting the boobies by having one man precede us through the minefield holding a small stick lightly in his hand at an angle of 45 degrees with the end about 2 inches off the ground. Pressure of the trip wires against the stick warned him of eight booby traps in 1 day.

“Some trip wires are neck high, others only 6 inches or less from the ground. Remember that if you find one booby trap, there probably are more around.”

VC and NVA sappers in Vietnam reportedly crawled through the defensive wire entanglements with a piece of grass or straw held lightly in their lips. This gave them a way to feel tripwires with the lightest of touches.

A Canadian infantry Recce Platoon Leader made note of these ideas after a deployment to Afghanistan.

In the planning of routes, the threat of land mines became a mitigating factor. River and streambeds, or waatis, would have been the preferred method to scale the steep slopes to reach positions in the mountains, however, old mines and UXO [Unexploded Ordnance] collect near the waatis with each rain and the spring run off. Chosen routes then became increasingly more demanding as the more difficult slopes were felt to be the safest. The main indication of a possible mine free area, however, was animal dung. If signs of animal dung could be seen, it was generally believed that the area was relatively mine free, and as the soldiers trudged up mountainsides, they would conduct level one ground clearances of the intended route in front of them.”

Also in Afghanistan, when approaching mined but undefended targets such as power line pylons, the muj progressed night by night by throwing large rocks into the minefields until they built a path of stepping stones.

Today, “bomb-sniffing” dogs are being used by Coalition forces quite successfully. In WWII, military forces didn’t know to teach the dogs to sniff out the smell of the explosives themselves and trained them to find mines by evidence of recent digging. This didn’t work out very well, especially for the dogs. Now they not only have mine-sniffing dogs but mine-sniffing rats, which are much more readily available and you don’t really care if they go up in smoke.

Hey, maybe we can train politicians to sniff out bombs. There's plenty of 'em, they serve no useful purpose otherwise, and they're even less lovable than rats.


"On August 1 2008, while working as a forward detection dog in Sangin, Treo found a 'daisy chain' improvised explosive device (IED) - made of two or more explosives wired together - that had been carefully modified and concealed by the Taliban at the side of a path."

Here’s what the Army said about the use of dogs in Vietnam, another war where mines and booby traps were a scourge.

Mine Detection Dog

1. This animal is trained to detect mines, booby traps, tunnels, hides or ammunition caches. The scout dog is trained to detect and sit within two feet of any hostile artifact hidden below or above ground, to discover tripwires, caches, tunnels and "punji pits," and to clear a safe lane approximately eight to ten meters wide.

2. A commander who properly employs a scout dog team can rely on the dog to safely discover approximately 90 percent of all hostile artifacts along his line of march. This depends, naturally, on the state of training of the animal.

3. Since this animal is a specialist in its own right, it is vitally important that this team be provided with adequate protection while working. It may be necessary to make use of the patrol dog to give this added protection.

The Rhodesian Security Force faced an intensive land mine campaign from the Commie insurgents there. Indiscriminately planted on roads everywhere, they didn’t care who they blew up, military or civilian, black or white. Not that the self-flagellating Western press bothered to point this out.

Of course the Rhodesians were quick to start countering the threat almost immediately. They had improvised MRV (Mine Resistant Vehicles) on the road in less time than it takes for the Pentagon to compose a memo to suggest perhaps mines might be a threat and if so, what type of donuts should be served at the exploratory conference to determine if mines actually have the potential to become a threat. In six years, Rhodesian security forces were all equipped with purpose-built MRVs, with some 2,000 official models built. Remember that at the time Rhodesia didn’t have much in the way of industry and were cut off from supplies from the so-called Free World by UN sanctions.

The Rhodesian Generation 1 MRV, the Leopard used the inexpensive and readily available automotive components of the Volkswagen Beetle, but it was in the hands of the men who needed it within months. It wasn't pretty or elegant, but the V-shaped blast deflecting hull and roll-over cage were saving lives in the time it takes for the US Military-Industrial-Congressional Complex to define "landmine".

The damn things worked, and that's what counted.

"The Rhodesian MRAP efforts to reduce casualties through survivability clearly speak for themselves. Their extremely detailed mine casualty records indicate unprotected vehicles suffered a 22 percent kill rate, while 1st and 2nd generation MRAP vehicles only suffered 8 percent casualty rate. However, 3rd generation MRAP fatality percentages drops to 2 percent while 4th generation falls below 1 percent. Rhodesian MRAP vehicles immediately restored the tactical mobility, and operational maneuver critical to the Fire Force while virtually eliminating casualties. The Rhodesians had effectively defeated the mine and ambush threat with mild steel, a sound design, and a philosophy that protecting their forces to improve their mobility was the key to victory."

FWIW, here’s the section of the Rhodesian ATOPs/COIN manual for dismounts dealing with mines without MRAPs. The whole manual, BTW, is worth checking out for its sections on patrolling, man-tracking, ambushes, security, IA Drills and other light infantry skills. Basic techniques (and common sense) remain the same, but there may be a few tricks here not covered in American doctrine which could save somebody’s life.



Action by Troops

1. Dismounted troops. The best protection against mines and explosive devices is a high standard of training and a keenly developed sense of mine awareness. However, listed below are a few simple rules to assist in minimizing the dangers of these devices to personnel:

a. Only one man at a time should work on a device while the remainder remains under cover.

b. When in doubt, always call in the services of a specialist.

c. Redouble precautions when tired or nearing the base on the return.

d. Keep your eyes on the ground when in a suspicious area.

e. Do not rush; time saved is paid for in lives.

f. Expect continuous changes in techniques used by the enemy and be prepared for them.

g. In dangerous ground be extremely cautious and be very careful with any suspicious looking object.

h. The man who proceeds incautiously will cause the death of his comrades.

i. Maintain concentration and strict discipline when working with mines or other devices.

j. Never move over suspected ground without good reason and don't ever be careless or overconfident.

k. Do not be misled or jump to conclusions when the first mines found are not activated or are simulated.

l. Never:

1. Cut or pull taut wires or cord.

2. Pull a slack wire or cord.

3. Simultaneously cut through two metallic strands.

4. Move in compact groups...

m. Treat every mine or device as being booby-trapped.

n. Do not use the easiest or best sign-posted route without careful examination.

o. Whenever possible, avoid moving along paths or tracks and avoid the obvious.

p. Be extremely cautious in the selection of return routes and the use of newly made paths and/or tracks.

q. Keep up to date with new devices and techniques.

r. Look upon mines as a normal risk of war.


3. Detection aids. The enemy is very adept at laying mines and explosive devices and as his skill and cunning improve he makes the detection of these mines and explosive devices difficult and complicated. However, to detect whatever he has laid, the following

aids and methods may be used:

a. Mine detectors. These vary from the type used to detect any metallic object buried below the surface of the ground to the more modern and sophisticated type that will detect any foreign matter buried below the ground's surface. The effectiveness and

efficiency of these detectors will depend on the standard of operating, type and model and the enemy's efforts to counter their effectiveness. When used by correctly trained technical personnel, they can be most effective, but because of their limitations they should be used in conjunction with other detection methods.

b. Mechanical detectors. This type can vary from the flail type to a type of remote-controlled vehicle or device moving in front of a vehicle with the intention of detonating any mine or other type of explosive device that the enemy may have planted in the road

or track. Its effectiveness will be determined by the enemy's mine-laying techniques.

c. Improvised means. This is probably the most expedient method, bearing in mind the effectiveness and availability of the above-mentioned equipment. This method can be carried out by making use of a prodder or a rake:

1. Prodder. This can be the standard prodder or an improvised type which is used to prod the ground at an angle or to scratch the surface to detect any hidden object. Experience in the use of the prodder will improve its effectiveness.

2. Rake. This is the standard type of rake, but with a longer handle It is used to scrape the ground's surface to detect any possible hidden device. To facilitate its handling, it may be equipped with two small wheels.

d. Users or operators of the above-mentioned equipment must be relieved frequently to avoid the strain placed on them while operating the various types of detectors.

4. Detection techniques. The following are the suggested techniques that may be applied when searching for or endeavoring to detect any concealed devices:

a. Visual search. Whatever aid is being used, as an added means, a visual search will improve its effectiveness. The degree of effectiveness of a visual search will be determined by the experience of the person or persons concerned, their concentration, patience, powers of observation and keen sense of awareness. All soldiers must be made conscious of this awareness and not leave the detection to the operators of the various devices only. Although it will not be possible to mention all the points in this chapter, listed below are a few examples of what to look for which may indicate the presence of a buried or concealed device:

1. Disturbed soil or soil with a varying degree of dampness.

2. Stones loosened or moved from their apparent original or normal position.

3. Smoothed-over soil between tracks and footprints.

4. Soil with suspicious-looking debris such as grass, leaves and sticks scattered over the surface.

5. Footprints converging at a point in the road.

6. Knee-, hand- or footprints in the soil indicating kneeling persons. In this case toecap prints will be most pronounced.

7. Vegetation not conforming to its surroundings.

8. Presence of apparent unnecessary cutting of vegetation.

9. Wire or nylon cords, taut or slack.

10. Any type of metallic reflection.

11. Leaves or sticks partially cleaned of normal dirt.

12. Scattered damp soil near wells or drops of water.

b. Dismounted detection. This method is time-consuming and should it be necessary to cover long distances, a careful appreciation must be made, bearing in mind the enemy activity and techniques and terrain, to select the best route that would require the minimum of this type of detection. Best speed with this method is one and a half to two kilometers per hour. For maximum effect a mine detector should be used in conjunction with a prodder. The diagrams below give a suggested technique. For a normal width road two searchers must move abreast of each other with their search patterns overlapping.

When all else fails, this is the technique we used to refer to as the Polish Mine Detector.


Charles said...

Just downloaded the Rhodesian ATOPs/COIN Manual. A must read for anyone who wants to protect their families from the Rhodesians.

Seriously, what's wrong with the Rhodesians. Didn't they understand you can't write a military tactics/doctrine how-to unless it has a letter/number designation starting with ATTP? Honestly, how I can't trust the information unless it is designated something like ATTP 15.1.4598765.0.9? Very suspicious!

And only 143 pages! Tsk, tsk. A proper ATTP manual will contain at least that many pages of contributing authors and commanders. How does anyone expect to get promoted?

And how dare they write in plain, understandable English. Why someone might make practical use of the information. God help them if they're not wearing their regulation required reflective belts, safety glasses, and toe protectors. Why someone might get hurt.

Whoever heard of an MRAP that didn't take years of lead development and fielding time? Not even using "off the shelf" components. Good grief. Everyone knows it should use proprietary parts, weigh tons, break down often, and then fail to perform anywhere near its desired specs. That way contractor profits can be maximized in repairs and redevelopment costs. How is an aspiring logistics officer going to get a job with a defense contractor when he retires/separates from active duty with an attitude like that? Plus, it doesn't matter how well it's built, because everyone knows they should be stored at a depot, well away from the hazards of possible use. Remember, if it's not used, it can't break or fail.

Bawb said...

We really need to get you over your reticence and shyness to just come out and speak your mind.

You being a technical type, I thought perhaps you could explain something to me. TWICE now I've seen this strange code word/phrase in Canadian Army infantry manuals and I can't find it in any American military reference anywhere, not even in the glossary. The code phrase was "common sense". What does that mean? Isn't there an acronym for it? What kind of PPE do you need to use it? Is it merely some Canadian cuss word?

Those pesky Russians were even worse. In 1942, the entire Soviet manual for their 14.5mm anti-tank rifle was four pages...with illustrations. In 1942, the US Army manual for the 37mm AT gun had four pages, small print, of just the changes and corrections from the previous manual.

How can such countries even field a military with attitudes like that?

Charles said...

The phrase "Common Sense" isn't even long enough to merit an acronym. In US military circles, especially in the USAF, it is considered a major breach of etiquette to even whisper those words. Being caught or even suspected of uttering this phrase can earn you at least three months of counseling and a frowny face on your fitness report. The only way to atone for your sin is to work in a protocol office, public affairs office, or as in the case of the AF, "spear head and coordinate" the next air show. The horror! That and you'll be shunned by more politically astute personnel (as oppose to people).

In general, you can tell if you have mentioned a tabu subject because everyone in the room will immediately become morose and leave immediately. When this happens you must also likewise depart and pretend it wasn't you who made the faux pa. If before 1300, go on a long lunch. After 1300, tell everyone you're going to the gym and then just go home. Buy lots of beer for the unit bar, I mean heritage room and pray no one turns you in to the social actions office.

Thankfully “common sense” is extremely rare in today's military. Aggressive social and regulatory pressures plus pre-recruit screening have eradicated this menace to bureaucracy.