Earliest military mines


The Assyrian Army, from around the time of Ashurnasirpal II (about 850 BC) organised the first known Corps of Engineers. These elite specialists operated his siege and bridge trains and also provided mobility support for his chariots. They were the first equipped with advanced iron pioneer tools and are credited with the first known use of offensive mine warfare. This occurred as late as 880 BC and consisted of tunnels (mines) driven beneath or through the foundations of walls and fortifications. These mines could then be used by soldiers to gain access to the interior of a fortified area or, later, they were used to create a breach large enough for a full-scale attack by collapsing a section of a wall. This was done by excavating a chamber under the wall while bracing the ceiling with timber supports. These supports were then burned, which caused the collapse of the chamber and the structure above it. Attacking soldiers then assaulted through the resulting breach.

Many such mines have been mentioned in history, most notably the successful mines used by Alexander the Great and his engineer Diades at the sieges of Halicarnassus (334 BC) and Gaza (332 BC) as well as Julius Caesar and his engineer Mamurra during the siege of Marseilles in 49 BC. Although effective mining and other combat engineering skills were critical to the military successes of both of these great leaders, these are frequently neglected or forgotten by historians.


Tunnel mines

The advent of the capability to manufacture and explode black powder (in Europe this occurred in the 14th century) resulted in the next major improvement in military mining. The surprise and effectiveness of tunnel mines was significantly increased by exploding large charges of black powder at the end of the galleries driven under fortifications. The first recorded use of such a 'mine' in Europe was in 1403 during a war between Pisa and Florence, when Florentine Domenico di Matteo attempted to explode a charge in a forgotten walled up passage in the walls surrounding Pisa. The plan failed when the defenders found the charge and neutralized it before it could explode. Leonardo Da Vinci, while serving as a military engineer for Ludovico Sforza around 1500, took an interest in mine warfare, (in fact, his invention of the wheellock in 1493 led directly to the first European- made target activated mine, the fladdermine). The first recorded important success with explosive underground mines occurred at Castel Nuovo in Naples, on 27 November 1495 when a mine planned by Francesco di Giorgio blasted a breach in the west wall of the French held barbican, enabling Argonese soldiers to capture the entire fortress by 8 December. The shockwaves from this successful attack reverberated across Europe as military engineers began to modify their fortresses to withstand this new threat. This was done by lowering and thickening the curtain walls and adding subterranean countermine galleries as done at Salses in Rousillon in the early 1500s. However, for a long time, black powder was a scarce and expensive commodity and the less spectacular method of burning out the timber supports beneath the wall continued into at least the 17th century. Eventually, the continued slow evolution of the cannon and underground mining tactics eventually forced the high castle walls of the Middle Ages to be replaced by low-walled bastioned fortresses, one of the first examples of which is the fortress at Sarzanello in Italy, from around 1497.

In his famous work on siege warfare (published in 1740), King Louis XIV's engineer Sebatien Le Prestre de Vauban (French Marshal, 1630-1707) codified the principles of military mining. These principals remained valid well into the nineteenth century. Vauban stated that the number and locations of demolition chambers were dictated by the type of fortification. These mines were defined by the depth and size of the charge as follows:

  • For depths greater than 3 m, it was called a mine
  • For depths less than 3 m underground, it was called a 'fougasse' (or contact mine)
  • When used as a 'countermine' against an enemy mine, it was called a 'camouflet'
  • When intended to destroy an entire fortification (using 2,500 kg of powder or more), it was called 'pressure balls' (globes de compression).

According to Vauban's tables, explosive charges for mining could range up to 12,100 kg. The purpose of the mine was not only to cause destruction, but also - with the rocks and soil ejected - to form an earthen ramp across any moat or dry ditch that the assault troops could use to gain access to the breach. Moreover, the demolition often came as a surprise to the defending forces, causing panic and confusion among them.

Tunnel mines were very time-consuming to employ. Military mining during a siege could last 30 days or more. Furthermore, specialists were required for the job. During the Middle Ages, coal miners were hired. It was not until standing armies were raised by the absolute monarchs of the 17th century that formal mining units were formed: 1673 in France, 1683 in Austria, 1742 in Prussia and 1772 in Britain (the Company of Soldier Artificers). Their work demanded courage and special caution. Lack of oxygen and possible flooding made their jobs difficult. Typically about 18 miners and 36 unskilled workmen were employed in three 8-hour shifts to construct an assault mine.

Against the bastioned fortresses of Vauban's time, mining was normally begun as soon as sappers had completed the last parallel in front of the glacis of a fortress or fortified town. The besieging miners then dug galleries, about 1.25 m high and 1 m wide, lined with wood. These had to be dug in a 'serpintine' fashion or with sharp turns in the direction of the tunnel to prevent back flash. Once the miners had reached the site selected for the explosion, they dug out the blast hole perpendicular to the previous direction of the gallery. This mine chamber was then filled with the amount of black powder determined by the siege engineer.

To ignite the mine, an 'ignition sausage' was laid from the mine chamber to the point of ignition (minenherd). This primitive fuze was a tube made of linen and filled with granulated powder. The fuze was laid in a 6 cm wide wooden duct, and covered with a board to protect it from moisture on the floor of the mine gallery or other damage. The gallery was finally tamped (sealed) with earth, over a length of 6 to 10 m. The miner ignited the fuze at the appointed time, and then retreated quickly.

Immediately after the explosion, the besiegers could assault the fortress or, as the situation required, extend their sap trenches into the crater and reinforce them with gabions. If necessary, further mines were used to take the palisades of the covered way and the supporting walls of the counterscarp or the scarp thus facilitating entry into the fortress.

While working in the tunnels, attention had to be paid at all times to listening tunnels and the countermines of the defender. The attackers tried to deceive the listening posts by constructing phony galleries, in which workers produced a lot of noise, called a 'noise gallery'

As they became available, military engineers incorporated the latest technology from civilian mining, including more efficient explosives: nitrocellulose in 1845 (Christian Schoenbein, Germany), dynamite in 1866 (Alfred Nobel, Sweden), picric acid in 1871 and TNT in 1902 (C Hausermann, Germany). Nevertheless, many engineers continued to prefer the 'heaving' effect of the slower detonating black powder. Other improvements include galvanic (electrical) ignition (1850s), and forced-air ventilation systems. During the First World War, both sides employed new mechanical tunnel boring machines that were developed for commercial coal mining in addition to traditional pick and shovel techniques.

This type of tunnel mining has continued sporadically into the modern era and was used by Napoleon at Acre (1799), the Crimean War (Sevasol, 1854-1855), General Grant's men in the American Civil War (Vicksburg in 1863 and Petersburg in 1864), the Russo-Japanese War (Port Arthur, 1904), the First World War (Western Front and the Isonzo Front), the Second World War (Russian Front) and the French-Indochina War (Dien Bien Phu, 1954). In fact, the recent (1996) successful rescue of the hostages held by terrorists in the Japanese Ambassador's residence in Peru was initiated through the use of underground tunnel mines.


The defensive use of explosive mines followed soon after their introduction as offensive instruments. Initially, defensive mines were a battlefield expedient used in the same manner as offensive mines, that is, tunnels were driven underneath hostile siege engines and batteries, vulnerable outworks likely to be captured by the attackers, expected breach sites, or other emplacements. Later, these evolved in to preplanned devices emplaced as part of a fortress's permanent defenses in peacetime. These made their first appearance in Italy and Sicily by 1530. Frederick the Great, King of Prussia, stated that 'Fougasses formed into a T like mine, in order to blow up the same place three times, can be added to the entrenchments. Their use is admirable, nothing fortifies a position so strongly nor does more to ward off attackers.' These fougasses were simple black powder devices that were first developed for the defence of permanent fortifications. They were intended to be exploded in the face of an enemy assault. A black powder charge was placed in a chamber excavated in the face of a fortification (firing horizontally) or in front of it (firing vertically). The chamber was then packed with a large amount of fragments (normally just rocks or scrap iron) and called a stone fougasse or filled with explosive artillery shells and called a shell fougasse. If properly emplaced, a horizontally fired fougasse functioned as a crude claymore mine. Fougasses were command detonated by manually igniting a powder train from a protected position at the appropriate time. The fougasse suffered from several defects, not the least of which was the vulnerability of its black powder to the elements: even moderate dampness could render a fougasse inoperative. Also, because of the delay and uncertain burn time of its fuse, it was very difficult to have it detonate at the optimum time. However, in the right circumstances they could cause a large number of casualties, as occurred during the sieges of Ciudad Rodrigo, Badajoz and Santander in the Duke of Wellington's Peninsular Campaign of the Napoleonic Wars.

A pair of fougasses were employed by George Washington's engineer Francois de Fleury in October 1777 against the 1500 Hessians of Colonel Carl von Donop's regiment at Fort Mercer, New Jersey on the east bank of the Delaware River during the American Revolution. During the War of 1812, an American ammunition chest accidentally exploded in the midst of a British attack on Fort Erie, Canada. This caused the attack to collapse and the resulting fear of 'additional' fougasses was enough to dissuade further British attacks. The Mexicans also attempted to employ six of them on the approaches to Chapultepec during the Mexican-American War of 1845. Fougasses are still occasionally employed by irregular forces, such as the Viet Cong, Central American guerillas and Bosnians who lack access to modern land mines in sufficient quantity.

Self-contained mines

Military engineers in China produced and employed the first self-contained explosive Anti-Personnel (AP) mines against Kublai Khan's Mongol invaders in 1277. These mines were manufactured in many shapes and sizes. They could be command detonated or activated with either a pressure (probably based on a match) or pull firing device (a forerunner of the flintlock mechanism). However, these mines did not gain lasting use in the Orient and were largely forgotten by the time Western explorers arrived on the scene in the 17th century.

The introduction of Da Vinci's wheellock in the early 1500's was the basis for the first target activated anti-personnel mine in the West. This was the Fladdermine, which was developed by Samuel Zimmermann of Augsburg in 1573. It consisted of one or more pounds of black powder in a ceramic pot with iron fragments imbedded in it. This device was buried at a shallow depth in the glacis of a fortress and was actuated by somebody stepping on it or activating a tripwire strung low along the ground. This released a wheellock igniter, which fired the main charge. Like the fougasse before it, these devices required frequent maintenance to be reliable because they were highly vulnerable to dampness. Therefore, they were used primarily around fixed fortifications. For example, after a strategic miscalculation in 1761, Frederick the Great found himself and his Prussian Army of 57,000 in an awkward position with 60,000 Russians to his front and 72,000 Austrians to his rear. Consequently, he prepared his famous camp at Bunzelwitz to cover Breslau, which "was within a range of hills, protected on three sides by streams; six salient points in its circuit were fortified with bastions, the fires from which commanded all the intermediate ground, which was further strengthened by flĂches, forming a broken curtain between adjacent bastions. Abattis, trous-de-loups, fougasses, and other obstacles surrounded the camp, and more than 180 pieces of artillery defended the approaches." As part of this effort, Frederick and his French-born engineer Lefebvre directed the emplacement of 182 fladderminen, 48 of which were placed under Frederick's 24 big artillery batteries (two per battery). Frederick intended to destroy these in case of capture, noting that "mines and being blown into the air are always very terrible to the common man." Prussian pioneers planned to use 'ignition sausages'to detonate some of their improvised fladderminen from 50 paces away. Intimidated by these defenses, the Russians and Austrians withdrew. As a result of the tremendous effort that Frederick dedicated to good combat engineering in this case, his army survived.

Although explosive shells (as opposed to solid shot) were used early (1221 in China), their unreliability led to them falling out of favour except for use with mortars. The reintroduction of explosive shells in the West in the 1700s, combined with the appearance of the percussion cap which was invented by Reverend Alexander Forsythe of Scotland in 1814, made possible the next important step in the development of reliable mines by greatly improving the water resistance of the device. This occurred for the first time in battle when Confederate soldiers under the leadership of General Gabriel Raines improvised the first of this new type of AP mine from artillery shells at Redoubt No 4 near Yorktown, Virginia during the campaign of 1862. By the end of the Civil War, the Confederates had emplaced thousands of 'land torpedoes'around Richmond, Charleston, Mobile, Savannah and Wilmington producing hundreds of casualties. Their use was advocated by such famous soldiers as Robert E Lee, John Mosby and J E B Stuart.

As late as 1960, five Raines torpedoes were found near Mobile, Alabama.

Self-contained antipersonnel mines were employed by the British during several of their colonial wars, including the Zulu War (1879), the Sudan (1884), and the Boer War (1901). Examples included command detonated, tripwire, or pressure-activated types. In the Boer War, they were used to protect railways and deny fording sites to the Boers. At the siege of Port Arthur, during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904, the Russians also employed a variety of landmines, including fougasses, electric-command, electric vibration, and pressure fuzed mines. The Japanese attempted to breach these minefields with volunteer suicide squads that were expected to force a passage by sacrificing their own bodies. In event, on approaching the minefield, the volunteers found that heavy rains had exposed many of the mines.

As discussed earlier, the period from 1865 to 1914 also witnessed the introduction of more powerful military explosives, resulting in a significant increase in lethality. The black powder shells of the American Civil War period had burst into only 2 to 5 fragments and those of the Franco-Prussian War into 20 to 30. By the First World War, a 76 mm high-explosive shell (which first appeared in 1886) produced about 1,000 high-velocity fragments.

The improvised German 'Tretmine' (step-on mine) was the next mine of this type to appear, seeing limited service in the First World War. Indeed, soldiers on both sides frequently improvised explosive, tripwire activated devices that were integrated into their wire entanglements early in the war. The Allies also made extensive use of mines and boobytraps to cover their withdrawl from Gallipoli. Nevertheless, the near domination of infantry by artillery and the machine gun meant that the need for standard, manufactured AP mines received little attention from the warring powers. It was not until the Second World War that anti-personnel mines gained real recognition. They have been a facet of almost every conflict since.

Fragmenting anti-personnel mines

Three types of fragmenting AP mines emerged from the Second World War: bounding, directional claymore and simple fragmenting mines, sometimes known as 'stake mines' Examples are shown in the Generic types of mine and booby trap entries at the beginning of this section.

Bounding anti-personnel mines

Although the Dutch engineer Baron Minno van Cöhorn had include a sketch of an improvised command detonated bounding anti-personnel mine, called a 'shell fougasse' (which he called a 'Boitte a Grenade') in his classic 1706 treatise titled Nouvelle Fortification, modern manufactured examples of this type did not make their combat debut in the west until the early days of the Second World War when French patrols of the German West Wall (Siegfried Line) began to take unexplained casualties. These casualties were attributed to a device the French dubbed 'the silent soldier' the famous German 'S'mine which was introduced in 1935. Indeed, the S-Mine 35 was reported to have played a critical role in defeating the French attack into the Saarland in 1939. This "secret weapon" apparently made quite an impression on the French and British who rapidly developed their own versions, the M-1939 and the Shrapnel Mine No. 2 respectively. A French engineer who reached the US after the fall of France, helped the US develop a similar mine (the M2), which used a 60 mm mortar round as its bounding munition, however, the M2 proved deficient in combat. Consequently, the US developed their M16 directly from the German S-mine after the war. This type is still widely used and is sometimes referred to as a "Bouncing Betty." The most recent improvement in the technology of the bounding AP mine is the scatterable US 'ADAM' fielded in the early 1980s.

Directional anti-personnel mines

Directional AP mines are descended from the early directional type of stone fougasse that was used for centuries in Europe. Two types of modern directional antipersonnel mines have evolved, one disk-shaped, the other rectangular. Under the guidance of the physicists Franz Rudolf Tomanek and Hubert Schardin, the Germans were the first to develop disk-shaped directional antipersonnel mines that they called "trench mines" (grabenminen), based on knowledge gained in the development of shaped charges. However, it was too late to see combat in the Second World War.

By 1947, in co-operation with Schardin, the French had fielded several types of directional fragmentation mines. Consequently, the French employed them in combat first, during the Indochina War against the Vietminh. Apparently, these directional mines made an impression on the Vietminh as they produced their own versions (known as the MDH, with at least nine variants); these were used by their successors, the Viet Cong, as used against the Americans as early as 1965.

It was the Americans who developed the directional AP mine into its familiar modern form. This was done in response to the human wave attacks of the Chinese Communist Forces (CCF) during the Korean War in the early 1950s. By the time the Americans finished the development of the new mine in 1953 it was placed in production, but once again it was too late to see combat, this time in Korea. However, the M18 claymore, named after the famous Scottish broadsword, first saw combat in Vietnam in 1961. The claymore mine has proven to be highly effective and has been widely copied. It appears that the Soviets developed their directional MON series of mines from American and Vietnamese examples, with the MON-50 and MON-90 based on the American claymore design and the MON-100 and MON-200 based on variants of the Viet Cong MDH series. These Soviet mines did not enter service until 1970.

Simple fragmenting anti-personnel mines

Stake-mounted fragmenting AP mines have been employed since Russo-Finnish War of 1939 when the badly outnumbered Finns improvised them from grenades. During the Winter War, the Finns were able to fight the Russians to a standstill along the Mannerheim Line in November 1939. During World War I, (Russian) mine hardware also underwent further development. To strengthen wire obstacles, Russian combat engineers used fragmentation (shrapnel) mines with pull-action fuzes. The mine consisted of a metal cylinder with double walls, between which pieces of iron were placed. Inside the inner compartment were the explosive charge and the fuze, which was triggered by pulling the arming pin out of it. The mine was attached to a tree or a bush, or to a peg driven into the ground, with the trip wires of the arming pin attached to other pegs. Stake-mounted fragmenting AP mines were also employed in the Russo-Finnish War of 1939 where the heavily outnumbered Finns improvised them from grenades. During this war, the Finns were able to fight the Russians to a standstill along the Mannerheim Line in November 1939. Such stake mines were frequently employed during the Second World War and have continued in use to the present day without significant changes to their design. The best-known example is the Soviet-made POMZ-2, which appeared in the Second World War and remains a common mine around the world.

Blast anti-personnel mines

Blast AP mines are descended from artillery shells with sensitive fuzes, vertical fougasses and the large underground mines that were dug under fortified positions and then exploded. It is unclear which mine should be considered the first modern blast AP mine. However, the Soviet-made PMD-6, PMK-40 or the British-made 'Ointment Box'mines are likely candidates.


The British-developed Livens Projector (a 'projectile fougasse'or 'earth mortar') was first employed in 1917 and is arguably the first chemical mine. The Germans also developed and employed what the Allies dubbed the 'Yperite Mine'in 1918. It was used to contaminate a bunker with mustard agent ('Yperite' to deny the use of the bunkers to the advancing Allies. This device normally used a delay action fuze, but it could be set as a target activated booby trap. The first modern chemical mine, the Spruh-buchse 37 (Bounding Gas Mine 37), was developed and produced by Germany during the Second World War. It normally had a mustard agent fill but it was never used in combat. The Chechen rebels are reported to have improvised large command-detonated chemical fougasses, by burying railroad tank cars filled with toxic chemicals (ammonia and/or chlorine mixed with oil) around Grozny in their recent (1999) conflict with the Russians. Except for the introduction of nerve agent fills, no significant improvements have occurred in the design of chemical mines since the Second World War.


Although the existence of 'liquid Fire'and 'Greek Fire'were reported by Aineias the Tactician as early as the 4th century BC, the first flame mine did not appear until the Confederates reportedly emplaced improvised examples on James Island near Charleston in 1864. These may have been based on shells containing 'Greek Fire'that the Union had fired earlier into the city, some of which undoubtedly failed to function and were put to use by the Confederates. During the Second World War, the Russians introduced a tripwire activated static flame-thrower at the Battle of Kursk.

These were quickly copied by the Germans as the Abwerflammenwerfer 42 (Defensive Flamethrower 42); more than 50,000 were made, with some used as part of the Atlantic Wall. Improvised flame mines, sometimes called 'flame fougasse' were employed by the US in Korea and Vietnam, and are still occasionally encountered. The US developed two modern flame mines, the X-200 (used in the Korean War) and the XM-54; 200 of the XM-54 mines were shipped to Vietnam for evaluation in August 1968, where some were used operationally. The XM-54 was a bounding mine filled with 15.3 pounds of plasticised white phosphorus; it could be armed with a pressure or tripwire activated fuze, or set up for command-detonation.


The first explosive booby traps were employed by the Chinese against the Mongols in 1277. The first appearance of explosive booby traps in the West occurred during the Seminole War of 1840. These were also employed in a limited quantity by the Confederates during the American Civil War where they employed a variety of devices including pull-firing switches, timer run down fuzes, and coal or wood 'torpedoes'which exploded when burned in the firebox of a boiler. With the combat debut of reliable German mechanical anti-handling devices at the beginning of the Second World War, the booby trap reached full maturity and has been a facet of almost every conflict since. The development of the booby trap has continued with the highly sophisticated electronic devices, known as 'Superquicks,' manufactured by the former Yugoslav Republic (see Special Electronic Fuzes entry).


During the American Civil War, the Confederates developed and employed pressure fuzed railway mines, destroying at least eight heavily loaded trains in Tennessee and Georgia. These railway mines also resulted in the first improvised countermine vehicle at Fredericksburg, Virginia in May 1862, where Union General Hermann Haupt had a flat car pushed slowly ahead of a locomotive to detonate any mines in its path. In response to a British invasion, the Dutch Boers used railroad mines improvised by a young German named Carl Cremer from the components of captured Martini-Henry rifles and about fifty sticks of dynamite. This device proved quite successful, wrecking a number of British trains.

Anti-tank mines (pressure fuzed)

German combat engineers improvised the first Anti-Tank (AT) mines during the First World War in response to the appearance of British- and French-made tanks starting in September 1916. Initially, they used existing artillery and mortar shells with sensitive fuzes. They also employed command-detonated mines; these are arguably the first full-width attack anti-tank mines. These earliest AT mines were scattered at random to reinforce wire obstacles and anti-tank ditches in front of the trench lines. The Germans also began to manufacture the 'Flachmine 17' anti-tank mine in 1916 and produced almost 3 million before the Armistice of 1918. These normally consisted of a wooden box weighing about 12 lb and filled with 18 Ă— 200 g explosive blocks. These were placed in boxes approximately 20 Ă— 30 Ă— 5 cm and were concealed about 25 cm deep. Detonation was caused by one of 4 'spring percussion lighters.' It could function automatically as the tank passed over it or by command detonation (which was greatly facilitated by the use of electric detonators which first appeared in 1900). By the end of the war, the German pioneers had developed row mining techniques and accounted for approximately 15 per cent of US tank casualties during the battles of St Mihiel, Catalet-Bony, Selle and Meuse/Argonne. The British also produced at least two varieties of AT mines: one based on a pipe bomb and the other on a bombard shell. In the early twenties, the first Soviet anti-tank mines (then called fougasses), went into development. In 1924, the EZ mine, developed by Yegorov and Zelinskiy, went into service. It had a 1 kg charge, enough to break tracks of the tanks of that time. Finally, in 1929, the Germans introduced the first in a series of modern pressure fuzed anti-tank mines: the Tellermine 29. The Tellermines formed the basis for many of the AT mines in use to date, such as the Yugoslav TMM-1 detailed in a separate section.

Full-width attack mines

The Russian AKS, a tilt-rod actuated blast AT mine was probably the first true full-width AT mine; this was used on the Russian Front during the Second World War. However, it was the Germans who developed the first modern full-width attack mines toward the end of the Second World War. These were the Hohl-Sprung Mine 4672 and the Panzer Stab 43 Mine which employed a tilt-rod fuze and shaped charge warhead. Although these never saw combat, these mines represented a significant improvement in mine technology: shaped charges combined with full-width attack fuzes have proven extremely effective. Their greater effective coverage enables the emplacing unit to get the same effect with significantly fewer mines per km of front. Additionally, this type of mine often results in fatalities to crew members, decreasing the willingness of combat vehicle crews to 'bull through'a mined area. Another interesting development occurred on the Eastern Front when the Germans pressed magnetic-influence fuzed anti-ship mines (either SM or TM series) into service in the Carpathians, thus introducing the first magnetic-influenced fuzed anti-tank mine to ground combat.

The French were probably first to field a modern full-width attack AT mine when the Model 1948 AT mine entered service in 1948. The first magnetic-fuzed anti-tank mine with a shaped-charge or explosively formed penetrator to enter service appears to have been the US RAAMS mine, in the early 1980s.

Side attack mines

The advent of shoulder fired AT weapons, beginning with the US Bazooka and German Panzerfaust in 1942, led to the development of side attack AT mines. The first improvised side attack AT mines were employed by the Germans and Soviets during the Second World War. These were based on the Panzerfaust (forerunner of the modern RPG-7). The early Soviet-made side attack AT mine was called the LMG and is reported to still be in service with the North Koreans.

Since the Second World War, two basic types of side attack anti-tank mines have evolved, one using a rocket propelled HEAT (High Explosive Anti-Tank) round and the other using an EFP (Explosively Formed Penetrator). However, some of the larger directional mines, such as the Soviet-made MON-100 and MON-200, produce fragments of sufficient mass and velocity to threaten lightly armoured personnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles. The US manufactured and fielded one of the first modern side attack anti-tank mines, the M24, which was based around a 3.5 in HEAT rocket.

Chechen rebels have reportedly improvised side attack mines from RPG launchers during their recent conflict (2000) with the Russians. This type of mine is difficult to employ due to its large size and the fact that it must be emplaced above ground.

Wide area mines

Arguably the first wide area mine, defined as a mine that sends a munition towards its target, was the Russian 'dog mine'of the Second World War. The Russian 'dog mine'consisted of a dog with an explosive charge, fuzed with a tiltrod-activated firing device, strapped to its back. The dogs were trained to run under tanks, thus activating the explosive charge. However, the Russian 'dog mine'was not particularly effective, as the dogs could not reliably tell the difference between German and Russian tanks. One of the first modern wide area mines was the US Navy's Mark 60 'CAPTOR'mine which used an acoustic sensor to launch a Mark 46 Torpedo, which entered service in 1979. Advanced wide area landmines are only now beginning to emerge in western Europe, Russia and the USA. For example, the US M93 'Hornet'has been recently fielded in limited quantities.


The Germans conducted some of the first successful tests of air-droppable seamines in 1931. However, the first scatterable landmine laying systems used in combat were the Italian Thermos Bomb (also called Anti-Personnel Bomb Manzolini) which was scattered by aircraft and was used fairly extensively in North Africa 1940-1942) and the German SD-2B Schmetterling (butterfly) which was first used against the Poles in September 1939. Both types came with anti-disturbance and time delay fuzing. There was also a cluster bomb version of the SD-2 that had airburst or impact fuzing. It was employed in Italy, Russia, Tunisia and UK. It was copied by the US and was later dropped by the USAF in Korea and Vietnam. Krupp, the famous steel and weapons manufacturer, in Germany also developed, but did not field, the first mechanical mineplanter which was towed behind a Tiger tank. The US Air Force also developed a number of scatterable mines and used them in the Vietnam War. The first fielded scatterable AT mine was the US-made M-34 AT mine that was scattered by the helicopter-mounted M-56 system, which appeared in 1975.


The first identified use of an explosive countermine occurred when John Vrano used black powder in a countermine against the Turks during the siege of Belgrade in 1433, just 30 years after the first European explosive mine was emplaced at Pisa. In this application, the intent was to dig down close to the enemy's mine gallery and emplace/explode a charge that would collapse his tunnel and kill the miners. By the 1530's, Anonio da Sangallo had built the prototype for the fortress countermine system under Porta Ardeatina (also called Porta S. Sebastiano) in Rome. During the Thirty Years War, defenders released poisonous antimony gas into the besiegers' tunnels to kill the miners. The use of this type of explosive countermine was continued into the First World War.

Manual breaching

The first deliberate breach of a minefield was made by Colonel Edward Serrel's 1st New York Volunteer Engineers at Fort Wagner, South Carolina in August and September of 1863 during the American Civil War. Here, the sappers literally dug their way through the minefield using traditional siege warfare techniques.

Mechanical and Electronic breaching

Modern countermine equipment first appeared at the end of the First World War as the British attempted to develop the first true mine rollers as a countermeasure to protect their tanks from the increasingly common German anti-tank mines. The French appear to have been next and developed the first plough-equipped tank based on a Renault FT-17 tank in 1918. Although British Royal Engineers had improvised the earliest example of an electronic mine detector in Palestine in 1932, only the Germans, French, Russians, and Italians entered the Second World War with metallic mine detectors. Indeed, during the inter-war years, the French developed the first vehicle-mounted electronic mine detector. Plough tanks would not see combat until the British 'Bullshorn'Plough was used by the 79th Armoured Division on Sword Beach on D-Day.

Major Gifford le Q Martel, who had been a staff officer for General Elles, senior British tank commander during the First World War, explored the possibility of producing mine rollers and assault bridges which could be used by armoured vehicles. Three special tank battalions, one of them commanded by Martel, were formed at Christchurch in Hampshire in 1918. Each contained Mk V tanks that were designed to accept either mine rollers or to push/pull mobile bridges. However, the armistice came before these units became operational. Mine rollers would not see their combat debut until March 1940, when the Russians used them to help breach the Mannerheim Line. The highly successful Russian Mugalev roller was developed based on this experience and first saw action in 1942. The Mugalev Roller is the base of most modern rollers such as those currently used by former Warsaw Pact countries, Israel, and the USA.

The idea for a mineclearing flail, first pursued by Abraham S J du Toit, was also developed by a South African Engineer Lieutenant Colonel named Mill Colman. He got the idea while watching a tracked vehicle drive by with a length of wire wrapped around its sprockets, with each revolution of the sprocket; it would hit the ground hard. This idea was then developed in the 8th Army's GHQ workshop in August 1942. A total of 25 of these flails, called 'Scorpions'first saw combat during the Second Battle of El Alamein (October/November 1942), where they were employed in several of the British breaching efforts. Eventually, the flail and many other specialised armoured vehicles were consolidated by the British in their 79th Armoured Division. This division, under the command of General Percival Hobart, was probably the most advanced combat engineering organisation ever developed and was called 'Hobart's Funnies'. Flails remain in service in the UK and are the forerunner of the highly advanced German Keiler system.

Explosive breaching

The Bangalore torpedo was invented by Captain McClintock of the Bengal, Bombay and Madras Sappers and Miners in 1912. It took its name from the region of India where it was developed. The Bangalore torpedo was developed to counter the problem posed by the rise of barbed wire obstacles during the Boer War and the Russo-Japanese War of 1904. The original torpedo was a 5.5 m length of pipe filled with 27.2 kg of dynamite. Early in the Second World War, it was found to be effective at clearing a path through minefields. This device remains a standard item in the inventory of many armies to this day. Experimentation on a system that would use a rifle grenade or small rocket to deploy a length of detonating cord were begun by the USA in 1944, but have not been particularly successful.

The 'big brother' of the Bangalore torpedo, the demolition 'Snake'was first developed by a Canadian combat engineer named Major A T MacLean of the 11th Field Company starting in October 1941. It was originally nicknamed the 'Worthington Wiggler' after F F Worthington, MC, MM, commander of the 1st Canadian Tank Brigade. It consisted of sections of 76mm diameter pipe loaded with explosive, which when coupled together in lengths up to 130 meters, could be pushed as a unit ahead of a tank across a minefield. The subsequent detonation would clear a path through the field. It was demonstrated successfully in February and March 1942. Although the US Army had been equipped with a small number of them during the campaign in North Africa, they were not used in combat until 23 May 1944 during the breakout from the Anzio Beachhead by the US 1st Armoured Division. The successor to the 'Snake'was a British-made rocket-deployed flexible line charge called the 'Conger' It consisted of 300 m of specially woven 50 mm diameter flexible hose, which was launched across a minefield by a 130 mm rocket. After the hose was deployed, it was pumped full with approximately 1,200 kg of nitroglycerine based liquid explosive. This liquid explosive proved to be extremely dangerous. As a result, the 'Conger'was only used in combat once, when the British 79th Armoured Division used it during the battle for Calais on 25 September 1944. Modern mineclearing line charges like the US MICLIC, the Russian UR-77, and the British Giant Viper are descended from this device.


This type of mine is still emerging from the technological shadows. Arguably, the first anti-aircraft mines were barrage balloons with charges that were designed to detonate on contact with an aircraft. The first improvised anti-helicopter mines appeared during the Vietnam War and were used to cover potential landing zones. The VC employed improvised claymores most frequently in this application, although they also used grenade fougasses and other devices against the helicopters. During the Cold War, the Russians developed an anti-aircraft mine based on their SA-7/14 for use by SPETZNAZ against NATO airbases. The British and the Americans had developmental programmes for producing 'smart'anti-helicopter mines that could be deployed to engage low-flying helicopters, but these have been cancelled.

Bulgaria has developed a range of anti-helicopter mines featuring directional fragmentation charges initiated by electronic sensors; these use an acoustic alerting system and Doppler radar for initiation. Several of the mines combine the penetration of Misznay Schardin warheads with the area coverage offered by a conventional fragmentation warhead. For several years, Russia has been developing the Temp 20; this is a more sophisticated anti-helicopter mine with a single Misznay Schardin warhead, giving a lethal range of 200 m. See Mines less widely used for more details of these anti-helicopter mines.


Although innovations in mine warfare have come from a variety of sources throughout history, frequently, it has been the engineer on the ground that gained the critical insight required for the next leap forward. Mine and countermine technologies and techniques have evolved over the last 3,000 years and indeed, still continue to do so in the typical measure/countermeasure/counter-countermeasure cycle seen for other weapons.

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