In order to give yourself a reasonable chance of survival, you must know what you are looking for and, equally important, how mines work.
Anti-tank mines generally follow a specific layout and are detonated by an initiating action (perhaps you stepping on it) which fires a series of explosions known as the explosive train. If the train is broken at any point, the mine may not detonate.
Beware: a mine may have more than one explosive train.
Mines are always left behind
The war is over, and the soldiers departed. The odd rusting tank or water-filled crater bears mute witness to years of bitter fighting, but civilian traffic now passes over rebuilt roads and bridges.
As you pass across a field towards the edge of the village, there is a dull boom from across the track. The plow stops dead, the ox stands patiently. But the farmer lies in a bloody heap. The troops may have returned to barracks, but their mines remain on duty.
Combat zones and old battlefields the world over are dominated by minefields. Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia remain littered with mines: the old infiltration routes along the borders were showered with airdropped mines by the US Air Force, and unexploded ordnance in the south continues to inflict casualties.
Afghanistan has been similarly treated by the Soviet forces, leading to the joke about how, before the war, good Muslim women walked meekly behind their husbands: now, they have to walk in front.
Throughout North Africa, the desert still conceals lethal leftovers from World War II, and in the western Sahara, the Polisario guerrillas and the Moroccan army are both sowing new fields. In the Falklands, tiny plastic anti-personnel mines are moved out of the marked danger areas by the winter storms and continue to present a serious hazard.
You may be lucky and never need to know how to survive the mined battlefield, but if, by accident or design, you find yourself tip-toeing across eggshells in some foreign field, knowledge of mines could mean the difference between life and death.
A bewildering selection of mines confronts any soldier trying to learn how to counter them. Different nations manufacture mines, producing similar effects but of totally different construction. The only general preparation you can make is to learn how mines are used, how they are constructed, and how armies mark minefields and make them safe for themselves.
But if you’re on operations against an unexpected opponent, you won’t have a chance to become familiar with his mines prior to hostilities. This is what happened to the sappers of the Falklands Task Force, who had little idea of the types of mines used by the Argentines. In the end, young sappers had to infiltrate booby-trapped minefields and recover examples of live mines.
Mines are being developed with increasing sophistication to keep phase with their primary target – the battle tank – and have an enormous psychological as well as physical impact on an enemy.
If you are to survive the mined battlefield, you must appreciate that you are in as much danger from “friendly” devices as you are from your enemy’s. Remember, the mine is a double-edged weapon.
The basic principles
A mine is made up of a fuse, a detonator, a booster (sometimes), a main charge, and a body or case. An initiating action causes the fuse to function, and this starts the explosive train, whereby a flame or concussion is caused by electrical or mechanical means and is applied to the detonator.
This then sets off the booster, if there is one, or the main charge. A variety of initiating actions can set off the process:
1. Pressure (downward force caused by a man’s foot or the wheel or track of a vehicle).
2. Fulling (on a tripwire attached to the fuse).
3. Tension release (release of tension, such as cutting a tripwire, that prevents the fuse from acting).
4. Pressure release (release of pressure that prevents the fuse from acting).
5. Electrical (closing a circuit that activates the fuse).
6. Timer rundown (a preset timer arrives at a point that activates the fuse).
Other types of initiating actions include vibrations, magnetic influence, frequency induction, and audio-frequency.
Types of mines
There are three main types of mines: anti-tank, anti-personnel, and chemical. Anti-tank mines, designed to damage or destroy tanks and other vehicles and their occupants, can be blast-type, disabling wheels or tracks; vertical penetration, attacking the bottom of a vehicle; or horizontal effect, placed off routes to attack the side of vehicles.
Anti-personnel mines are designed to disable or kill personnel. The blast type has an explosive charge and detonates when stepped on. Fragmentation types contain shrapnel or have a case that fragments when the main charge fires, and are divided into static mines (which detonate in place), bounding mines (which bound into the air and explode several feet above the ground), and horizontal effect mines (which expel a spray oi shrapnel in one direction).
Not all mines are harmful. You may come across phony mines – dummies planted to make the enemy think they have found a live one and waste time tackling it or avoiding it.
Like any other explosive material, mines and their fuses must be handled carefully. Most mines have safety devices to stop them from going off by accident or prematurely, but as a soldier, you may also find yourself having to improvise mines in the field, so get used to taking great care.
Any amount of explosive can be fused and placed as a mine. Grenades and some demolition charges already have fuse wells for installing firing devices; bombs, mortars, and artillery shells can be used; and incendiary fuels in containers can be rigged as flame mines. The aspects of handling mines are:
1. Fusing – This means installing the detonator and fuse assembly. Fuse wells should be clean and free of the foreign matter when the fuse and detonator are put in.
2. Arming – When the fuse is installed, you arm the mine by removing all safety devices. The mine is then ready to function.
3. Safing – In general, this is the reverse of arming. If you put the mine in place yourself and kept it in sight the whole time, you can remove it from its hold for safing. If not, attach a long rope or wire, take cover, and pull the mine from the hole.
Safing involves checking the sides and bottom of the mine for anti-handling devices and disarming them if found, replacing all pins, clips, or other safety devices; turning the arming dial, if there is one, to ‘Safe’ or ‘Unarmed’; and removing the fuse and, if possible, the detonator.
4. Neutralising – This means destroying the mine if safing is thought to be too risky, as in the case of improvised mines, which will probably be unstable and dangerous. But do not detonate chemical mines: they will contaminate the area.
There are several devices for preventing someone from disabling a mine. Enterprising engineers are apt to booby-trap their mines to make it difficult and dangerous to clear them.
Anti-lift or anti-handling devices, when attached to a mine, will detonate the mine or another charge nearby if the mine is lifted or pulled out of its hole.
An anti-disturbance device sets off the explosion if the mine is disturbed or shaken. Shielded, twisted firing wire can be attached to command-detonated mines to defeat enemy ECM. Long pulse or multi-pulse fuses can defeat tank mine-clearing rollers and explosive mine-clearing charges.
Another way of dealing with mine-clearing rollers is to place an unfused anti-tank mine (or explosive charge) in the ground, connected with detonating cord to a pressure fuse or firing device about three metres away. The roller then rolls over the unfused mine and activates the fuse when the tank itself is over the mine or charge.
Most anti-tank mines cannot be set off by a man’s weight, so unless they are used in conjunction with AP mines, infantry could lift them. For this reason, many mines will have anti-handling devices fitted to additional detonator wells.
Slightly more sneaky is the use of a second mine to booby-trap the First using a pull-firing device. Most anti-tank mines are equipped with extra detonator wells, but the same effect can be achieved with quantities of explosives placed with the mine.
A last word
With the current situation in Ukraine, the information provided in this article can prove useful for those living in a war zone. We must all acknowledge that we live in uncertain times, and even though the probability of war on domestic soil is low, we can’t really tell what the future may bring. In a follow-up article, we will cover the mine detecting and avoidance principles.
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