Bomb disposal is an explosives engineering profession using 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 military fields of explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) and improvised explosive device disposal (IEDD), and the public safety roles of public safety bomb disposal (PSBD) and the bomb squad.
The first professional civilian bomb squad was established by Sir Vivian Dering Majendie. As a Major in the Royal Artillery, Majendie investigated an explosion on 2 October 1874 in the Regent’s Canal, when the barge ‘Tilbury’, carrying six barrels of petroleum and five tons of gunpowder, blew up, killing the crew and destroying Macclesfield Bridge and cages at nearby London Zoo. In 1875, he framed The Explosives Act, the first modern legislation for explosives control. He also pioneered many bomb disposal techniques, including remote methods for the handling and dismantling of explosives. His advice during the Fenian dynamite campaign of 1881–85 was officially recognised as having contributed to the saving of lives. After Victoria Station was bombed on 26 February 1884 he defused a bomb built with a clockwork mechanism that might have gone off at any moment.
The New York City Police Department established its first bomb squad in 1903. Known as the “Italian Squad”, its primary mission was to deal with dynamite bombs used by the Mafia to intimidate immigrant Italian merchants and residents. It would later be known as the “Anarchist Squad” and the “Radical Squad”.
WWI: Military bomb disposal units
A British NCO prepares to dispose of an unexploded bomb, during the First World War.
Bomb Disposal became a formalized practice in the First World War. The swift mass production of munitions led to many manufacturing defects, and a large proportion of shells fired by both sides were found to be “duds”. These were hazardous to attacker and defender alike. In response, the British dedicated a section of Ordnance Examiners from the Royal Army Ordnance Corps to handle the growing problem.
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 specialized tools, training, or core knowledge available, and as Ammunition Technicians learned how to safely neutralize one variant of munition, the enemy would add or change parts to make neutralization 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 publicized.
EOD in Afghanistan
Wheelbarrow MK9 Unmanned Ground Vehicle