The Nazi Were Geniuses With Landmines (It Still Causes Problems Today)

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October 18, 2020 Topic: History Region: Europe Blog Brand: The Reboot Tags: World War IINazi GermanyLandminesStealthMinesweeping

The Nazi Were Geniuses With Landmines (It Still Causes Problems Today)

The Germans attempted to make their mines difficult to detect. They buried them as much as 24 inches below the surface so that they would explode only after a number of vehicles had compacted the earth sufficiently to set off the fuse.

The Germans were methodical not only in laying mines but in planning and recording minefield information. Mine plans provided technical details on one or more fields. A mine map showed all mine obstacles within a sector and their tactical significance, but without technical details.

A mine map usually showed the name of the obstacle (minefield) and designation of the unit that laid it, the name of the area in which the obstacle was located, a grid reference, the obstacle shown in a small sketch in red, the date the minefield was laid, and the name and rank of the officer or noncommissioned officer in charge of laying the field.

Data on the mines used included the number, type, and fuse; whether the mines were dug in; the number of rows, and number of mines per row; any information about fences; and information about special features that distinguished the field.

Minefield type identification was indicated by colored lines drawn diagonally across the upper right corner of the mine map, identifying the type of minefield. A red diagonal line designated fields that could not be cleared because some or all the mines were booby-trapped; a yellow diagonal line designated fields that could be cleared by using data from a mine document; a green diagonal line designated dummy minefields; and mines taken up or exploded were marked in red. The number of the minefield plan and unit designation appeared on the upper right corner of the plan.

A drawing of the minefield was included, using a scale from 1:500 to 1:2,000. Other information included the shape and size of the field, its pattern, the location of booby-trapped mines, the location of survey points with azimuth and distances, the location and type of any warning fence, the location of front lines and fortifications, neighboring minefields, mine lanes, terrain features, and any special features.

Minefields in the Army’s Organizational Structure

Mine plans were provided to company or battalion command posts—with copies distributed to the engineer company that was in charge of the minefield, to the division, to the army, and to a central file at Dessau-Rosslau.

Engineers provided frontline troops with instructions or sketches with the approximate location and extent of minefields. These sketches, as a rule, did not contain details on types of mines or fuses or on minefield patterns.

Army headquarters usually designated certain areas for fields of scattered mines. In such a case, mine reports took the place of mine plans. Normally, mine reports contained the number of the order authorizing scattering of mines, the designation of the units scattering the mines, the name and number of the field containing scattered mines, the map location of the scattered minefield, the number of mines scattered by types and fuses, and the number and type of booby-trapped mines and kinds of booby traps.

“Bouncing Betty”: The S-Mine

The Germans entered the war with just two types of antitank mines and one type of antipersonnel mine. By the end of the war they had 16 different types of antitank mines and 10 types of antipersonnel mines, and they employed many different types of booby traps or improvised devices. From 1942 on they placed increasing importance on the mine as a weapon of attrition.

The S-mine (Schrapnellmine), also known as the “Bouncing Betty,” was the best-known version of a class of antipersonnel mines referred to as bounding mines. When triggered, these mines were launched into the air and then detonated at about waist height. The explosion released a lethal blast of steel balls and steel fragments in all directions. Developed in the 1930s, the S-mine was used extensively during the war. It was designed for use in open areas against unshielded infantry. Two versions were produced, designated by the year of their first production: the SMi-35 and SMi-44. There are only minor differences between the two models. More than 1.93 million were produced.

French troops first encountered the S-mine in the German Saar in September 1939. The French nicknamed the mine “the silent soldier.” Germany used the S-mine heavily during defensive operations later in the war.

The S-mine was a steel cylinder less than 13 centimeters (five inches) tall, without its sensor, and only 10 centimeters (four inches) in diameter. A steel rod protruding from the mine’s top held the main fuse, where its trigger or sensor was attached. The SMi-35 had a central fuse, while the SMi-44 had an offset fuse. It weighed approximately four kilograms (nine pounds).

The main explosive charge of the mine was TNT; the propelling charge was black powder. The standard pressure sensor was ignited by a percussion cap.

The main fuse was designed to delay the firing of the propelling charge for approximately four seconds after the mine was triggered. The explosion of the propelling charge sent the mine upward into the air and activated three short-delay pellets between the propellant charge and the three detonators. These pellets delayed the mine’s detonation long enough for it to reach a specific height before exploding.

The standard pressure sensor was designed to activate if depressed by a weight of roughly seven kilograms (15 pounds) or greater. This was to ensure it was not set off by wildlife. A trip wire adapter for the mine used a shallow Y-shaped device and would trigger the mine if the trip wire was pulled away from the mine.

The S-mine was normally triggered by a three-pronged pressure fuse. It could also be modified to be triggered by a trip wire or could be triggered manually.

The time between triggering and ignition of the propelling charge varied between 3.9 and 4.5 seconds, depending on the age and condition of the mine. According to German documentation, the S-mine was lethal within 20 meters (22 yards) and could inflict casualties within 100 meters (110 yards). A common misconception about the S-mine was that it would not detonate until its victim stepped off the trigger. The mine would detonate whether the trigger was released or not. The most effective way to survive the mine’s detonation was not to flee but to fall to the ground lying face down as quickly as possible.

The S-mine was constructed mostly of metal, so it could be easily located by metal detectors. The mine could also be detected through careful manual probing, a time-consuming process. It was important to probe at an angle that would not accidentally depress the pressure sensor.

Once an S-mine was discovered, disarming it was fairly simple. To prevent triggering while the mine was being planted, the pressure sensor featured a hole where a safety pin kept the sensor from being accidentally depressed. This pin was removed once the mine was planted. If the discovered mine was fitted with the pressure sensor, the personnel disarming it would slip a pin into this hole. If the device was armed with a trip wire or electrical trigger, this could simply be cut. The Germans were known to use booby traps to discourage this, so caution was advised. The mine could then be removed carefully from the ground and the sensor easily unscrewed.

Non-Metal Anti-Personnel Mines

The Schu-mine 42 was a model of an antipersonnel blast-type mine. It consisted of a simple wooden box with a hinged lid containing a 200-gram block of cast TNT. A slot in the lid pressed down on the striker retaining pin, and sufficient pressure on the lid caused the pin to move, releasing the striker that triggered the detonator. The mine was cheap to produce, and its wooden body made it difficult to detect.

The Glasmine 43 was another antipersonnel mine. To make the mine less detectable, the entire body was made from glass. Initially, only mechanical igniters were used, but later models had chemical igniters. However, the Glasmine 43 was not produced in large numbers.

The Tellermine

The Tellermine (or T-mine) was a German antitank mine developed between the wars. The Tellermine 29 was a round metal-cased antitank blast mine. It first entered service in 1929. Although replaced by later models, this model did see limited service, notably after D-Day in France, where Allied troops reported encountering it. The mine used a pressure or a trip wire fuse. It was also fitted with two secondary fuse wells that enabled the fitting of antihandling devices.

The Tellermine 35 (T.Mi.35) was used extensively during the war. The mine was made of sheet steel and had a slightly convex pressure plate on the top with a central fuse well. It also had a fuse well on the side and bottom for anti-handling devices. For use on beaches and under water, the mine could be deployed inside an earthenware or concrete pot that acted as a waterproof jacket.

The Tellermine 42 (T.Mi.42) was a metal- cased antitank blast mine. Based on the Tellermine 35, it had an improved resistance to blast because it was smaller than the 35.

The Tellermine 43 was a circular, steel-cased, antitank blast mine. It was a modified version of the Tellermine 42 that used simpler production techniques. Between March 1943 and the end of the war, over 3.6 million Tellermine 43s were produced.