Bomb disposal is the process by which hazardous explosive devices are rendered safe. "Bomb disposal" is an all encompassing term to describe the separate, but interrelated functions in the following fields:
In 1918, the Germans developed delayed-action fuzes that would later develop into more sophisticated versions during the 1930s, as Nazi Germany began its secret course of arms development. These tests led to the development of UXBs (unexploded bombs), pioneered by Herbert Ruehlemann of Rheinmetall, and first employed during the Spanish Civil War of 1936-37. Such delayed-action bombs provoked terror in the civilian population because of the uncertainty of time, and also complicated the task of disarming them. The Germans saw that unexploded bombs caused far more chaos and disruption than bombs that exploded immediately. This caused them to increase their usage of delayed-action bombs in World War II.
Initially there were no specialised tools, training, or core knowledge available, and as Ammunition Technicians learned how to safely neutralise one variant of munition, the enemy would add or change parts to make neutralisation efforts more hazardous. This trend of cat-and-mouse extends even to the present day, and the various techniques used to disarm munitions are not publicised.
The problem of UXBs was further complicated when bomb disposal personnel began to encounter munitions fitted with anti-handling devices e.g. the Luftwaffe's ZUS40 anti-removal bomb fuze of 1940. Bomb fuzes incorporating anti-handling devices were specifically designed to kill bomb disposal personnel. Scientists and technical staff responded by devising methods and equipment to render them safe.
The United States War Department felt the British Bomb Disposal experience could be a valuable asset, based on reports from U.S. Army, Navy, and Marine Corps observers at Melksham Royal Air Force Base at Wiltshire, England in 1940. The next year, the Office of Civilian Defense (OCD) and War Department both sponsored a Bomb Disposal program, which gradually fell under military governance due to security and technical reasons. OCD personnel continued to train in UXB reconnaissance throughout the war. After Pearl Harbor, the British sent instructors to Aberdeen Proving Ground, where the U.S. Army would inaugurate a formal Bomb Disposal school under the Ordnance Corps.
Lt. Col. Geoffrey Yates (RE) and his British colleagues also helped establish the USN Mine Disposal School at the Naval Gun Factory, Washington, DC. Not to be outdone, the US Navy, under the command of Lieutenant Commander Draper L. Kauffman (who would go on to found the Underwater Demolition Teams -- better known as UDTs or the U.S. Navy Frogmen), created the USN Bomb Disposal School at University Campus, Washington, D.C. U.S. Ordnance and British Royal Engineers would forge a partnership that worked quite effectively in war -- a friendship persisting to this day.
1942 was a banner year for the fledgling EOD program. U.S. Army Lt. Col. Thomas Kane, who began in 1940 as a Bomb Disposal Instructor in the School of Civilian Defense, traveled with eight other troops to the UK for initial EOD training. Kane took over the US Army Bomb Disposal School at Aberdeen Proving Ground. Three members of Kane's training mission later served as Bomb Disposal squad commanders in the battlefield: Ronald L. Felton (12th Bomb Disposal Squad Separate) in Italy, Joseph C. Pilcher (17th Bomb Disposal Squad Separate) in France and Germany, and Richard Metress (209th Bomb Disposal Squad Separate) in the Philippines Islands. Captain Metress and most of his squad were killed in 1945 while dismantling a Japanese IED.
Graduates of the Aberdeen School formed the first Army Bomb Disposal companies, starting with the 231st Ordnance Bomb Disposal Company. The now-familiar shoulder emblem for Army EOD Technicians, a red bomb on an oval, black background was approved for them to wear. Following initial deployments in North Africa and Sicily, U.S. Army commanders registered their disapproval of these cumbersome units. In 1943, companies were phased out, to be replaced by mobile seven-man squads in the field. In 1944, Col. Thomas Kane oversaw all European Theater Bomb Disposal operations, starting with reconnaissance training for the U.S. forces engaging the Germans on D-Day. Unfortunately, the Pacific Theater lacked a similar administration.
Late in 1942, the first US Navy EOD casualty was recorded. Ensign Howard, USNR, was performing a render-safe procedure against a German moored mine when it detonated. Only a few months later, the first two Army EOD fatalities occurred during the Aleutian Islands campaign. While conducting EOD operations on Attu Island, LT Rodger & T/SGT Rapp (Commander and NCOIC of 5th Ordnance Bomb Disposal Squad) were fatally injured by unexploded ordnance.
Overall, about forty Americans were killed outright performing the specialized services of bomb and mine disposal in World War II. Scores more were maimed or injured during combat operations requiring ordnance support. At Schwammanuel Dam in Germany, two Bomb Disposal squads acting as a "T Force" were exposed to enemy mortar and small arms fire. Captain Marshall Crow (18th Squad) took serious wounds, even as his party drove German defenders from their positions.'
Ironically, the only major ordnance attack against the continental U.S. would be handled by the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, who dealt with the Japanese Fu-Go balloon bomb menace in 1945. The all-black 555th "Smokejumpers" were trained by ordnance personnel to defuse these incendiary bombs before they could kill civilians or start forest fires.
Following the war, U.S. Bomb Disposal Technicians continued to clear Nazi and Japanese stockpiles, remove UXO from battlefields, while training host nation (HN) troops to do these tasks. This established a tradition for U.S. EOD services to operate during peace as well as war.
Colonel Kane remained in contact with EOD until his retirement in 1955. He urged reforms in the Bomb Disposal organization and training policy. Wartime errors were rectified in 1947 when Army personnel started attending a new school at Indian Head, MD, under U.S. Navy direction. This course was named the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Course, governing training in all basic types of ammunition and projectiles.
1947 also saw the Army Air Corps separate and become the US Air Force, gaining their own EOD branch. That same year, the forerunner of the EOD Technology Center, the USN Bureau of Naval Weapons, charged with research, development, test, and evaluation of EOD tools, tactics and procedures was born. 1949 marked the official end of an era, as Army and Navy Bomb Disposal squads were reclassified into Explosive Ordnance Disposal units.
In 1953, reflecting the trend in name changing, the EOD School formally became the Naval School of Explosive Ordnance Disposal (NAVSCOLEOD). Two years later, the Army Bomb Disposal School would close, making Indian Head the sole Joint Service EOD School in the US. Though currently NAVSCOLEOD has relocated to Eglin AFB FL.
The current, most recognizable distinctive item of wear by EOD Technicians, affectionately referred to as the ‘crab’, began uniform wear as the Basic EOD Qualification Badge in 1957. The Master Badge would not appear until 1969. (See picture below.)
On 31 March 2004, the U.S. Army EOD Headquarters at Fort Gillem, Georgia dedicated its new building to Col. Thomas J. Kane (1900-65). Whether Kane Hall remains after the Bush Administration's recent base closure announcement remains to be seen.
The Ammunition Technicians of the Royal Logistic Corps (formerly RAOC) have become the world's foremost experts in IED disposal, after many years of dealing with bombs planted by the Provisional Irish Republican Army. The bombs PIRA employed ranged from simple pipe bombs to sophisticated victim-triggered devices. The roadside bomb was in use by PIRA from the early 1970s onwards, evolving over time with different types of explosives and triggers.
A specialist Army unit 321 EOD (now 11 EOD Regiment RLC) was created to tackle increased IRA violence and willingness to use IEDs against both civilian and military targets. The unit's radio callsign was Felix in allusion to the cat with nine lives and led to the phrase "Fetch Felix" whenever a suspect device was encountered and became the title of the 1981 book "Fetch Felix" 321 EOD Sqn RLC is unique in that it is the most decorated squadron (in peace time) in the British Army, notably for acts of bravery during OP BANNER (1969-2007) in Northern Ireland.
British bomb disposal experts of 11 EOD Regiment RLC were amongst the first personnel sent into Iraq in 2003 prior to the actual invasion itself.
The British Armed Forces have become experts in IED disposal after many years of dealing with bombs 'planted' by the IRA. These came in many different forms, particularly car bombs rigged to detonate via a variety of manners including command wire and remote trigger. As such the first personnel sent into Iraq in 2003 were, amongst others, British Bomb Disposal experts of 11 EOD Regiment RLC.
During the al-Aksa Intifada, Israeli EOD forces have disarmed and detonated thousands of explosive charges, lab bombs and explosive ammunition (such as rockets). Two Israeli EOD teams gained high reputation for leading the efforts in that area: the Army's Israeli Engineering Corps' Sayeret Yaalom and the Israeli Border Guard Gaza-area EOD team.
In the Iraq War, the International coalition multinational force in Iraq forces have faced many improvised explosive devices (IEDs) on travel routes. Such charges can easily destroy light vehicles such as the Humvee, and large ones can even destroy main battle tank. Side charges caused many casualties and along with car bombs and suicide bombers are the cause of casualties in Iraq.
All prospective Ammunition Technicians attend a grueling course of instruction at The Army School of Ammunition and the Felix Centre, UK. The timeframe for an Ammunition Technician to complete all necessary courses prior to finally be placed on an EOD team is around 36 months. Whereas the Engineer EOD training period is 8 weeks.
Ammunition Technicians, having completed their training will be posted to a variety of units involved in IEDD, EOD or plain conventional ammunition duties. Until recent times the most prestigious EOD unit in the world was 321 EOD, that has now been surpassed by 11 EOD Regiment RLC , who not only provides all the mainland IEDD capabilities, but also provides detachments for Op TELIC Iraq and Afghanistan.
To be certified, PSBTs must attend the joint U.S. Army-FBI Hazardous Devices School at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama which is modeled on the International IEDD Training school at The Army School of Ammunition, known as the Felix Centre. This school helps them to become knowledgable in the detection, diagnosis and disposal of hazardous devices. They are further trained to collect evidence in hazardous devices, and present expert witness testimony in court on bombing cases.
Generally EOD render safe procedures (RSP) are a type of tradecraft protected from public dissemination in order to limit access and knowledge, depriving the enemy of specific technical procedures used to render safe ordnance or an improvised device.
Many techniques exist for the making safe of a bomb or munition. Selection of a technique depends on several variables. The greatest variable is the proximity of the munition or device to people or critical facilities. Explosives in remote localities are handled very differently from those in densely-populated areas.
Contrary to the image portrayed in modern day movies, the role of the Bomb Disposal Operator is to accomplish their task as remotely as possible. Actually laying hands on a bomb is only done in an extremely life-threatening situation, where the hazards to people and critical structures can't be lessened.
Ammunition Technicians have many tools for remote operations, one of which is the RCV, or remotely controlled vehicle, also known as the "Wheelbarrow". Outfitted with cameras, microphones, and sensors for chemical, biological, or nuclear agents, the Wheelbarrow can help the Technician get an excellent idea of what the munition or device is. Many of these robots even have hand-like manipulators in case a door needs to be opened, or a munition or bomb requires handling or moving.
Also of great use are items that allow Ammunition technicians to remotely diagnose the innards of a munition or IED. These include devices similar to the X-ray used by medical personnel, and high-performance sensors that can detect and help interpret sounds, odors, or even images from within the munition or bomb.
Once the technicians determine what the munition or device is, and what state it is in, they will formulate a procedure to disarm it. This may include things as simple as replacing safety features, or as difficult as using high-powered explosive-actuated devices to shear, jam, bind, or remove parts of the item's firing train.
Preferably, this will be accomplished remotely, but there are still circumstances when a robot won't do, and a technician must put themself at risk by personally going near the bomb. The Technician will don a specialized suit, using flame and fragmentation-resistant material similar to bulletproof vests. Some suits have advanced features such as internal cooling, amplified hearing, and communications back to the control area. This suit is designed to increase the odds of survival for the Technician should the munition or IED function while they are near it.
Rarely, the specifics of a munition or bomb will allow the Technician to first remove it from the area. In these cases, a containment vessel is used. Some are shaped like small water tanks, others like large spheres. Using remote methods, the Technician places the item in the container and retires to an uninhabited area to complete the neutralization. Because of the instability and complexity of modern bombs, this is rarely done.
After the munition or bomb has been rendered safe, the Technicians will assist in the removal of the remaining parts so the area can be returned to normal.
All of this, called a Render Safe Procedure, can take a great deal of time. Because of the construction of devices, a waiting period must be taken to ensure that whatever render-safe method was used worked as intended. While time is usually not on the EOD Operator's side, rushing usually ends in disaster.
"Pigstick" is a British Army term for the waterjet disrupter commonly deployed on the Wheelbarrow remotely operated vehicle against IRA bombs in the 1970s. The pigstick is a device that disables improvised explosive devices (IEDs). It fires an explosively-propelled jet of water to disrupt the circuitry of a bomb and thereby disable it with a low risk of detonation. The modern pigstick is a very reliable device and fires many times with minimal maintenance. It is now used worldwide. It is about 485 mm long, weighs 3 kg. It is made of metal, and can be mounted on a remotely operated vehicle (ROV). These factors make it a very effective, safe way to disarm IEDs. The "Pigstick" is also known as the PAN (Percussion Actuated Neutralizer), or just water cannon.
It was invented for the British army in 1972; prior to that time bombs would be dismantled by hand, which was obviously very dangerous. It has to be held three inches (76 mm) from the IED to disarm it, still putting the user in danger. So explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) operators started connecting them to Wheelbarrows, and “in the period 1972-1978, and taking into account machines which had been exported, over 400 Wheelbarrows were destroyed while dealing with terrorist devices. In many of these cases, it can be assumed that the loss of a machine represented the saving of an EOD man's life.”