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 Tellermine was designed with a circular casing rising toward the center, where a large, flat pressure plate was located. A rectangular metal carrying handle was fitted to the side of the mine. The pressure plate sat over the fuse well. At the bottom of the fuse well was a booster charge, surrounded by a doughnut- shaped main charge of 5.5 kilograms of TNT or Amatol. The mine had secondary fuse wells on the side and base to enable antihandling devices to be fitted. Additionally, it could be fitted with an antitampering device, detonating the mine if the pressure plate was lifted. The mine could also be fitted with a tilt rod fuse, screwed into to the side fuse well.

In contrast to the “dinner plate” mines like the Tellermine were “bar mines” such as the Riegel mine 43 or Sprengriegel/R.Mi. 43. Its long narrow body was designed to increase the probability of a vehicle triggering it. Made of steel, the mine had a thin, oblong shape (800 millimeters) and consisted of lower and upper metal trays and an explosive block of four kilograms of TNT. It used two fuses inserted into either end of the block although it could be used with an additional top pressure fuse. More than three million were produced between 1943 and 1945. The mine was almost impossible to disarm since corrosion of the wires in the fuse made it sensitive to touch. In addition, the mine could be fitted with up to three antihandling devices.

Mine Innovations

Possibly the most advanced German antitank mine of the war was the minimal metal Topfmine. The Topfmine was a circular, minimum metal antitank blast mine that entered service in 1944. The mine was in a case made of compressed wood pulp, cardboard, and tar along with glass plugs and components designed to be undetectable by Allied mine detectors. Often the only metallic part of the mine was the detonator.

To enable the mines to be found by friendly forces, they were painted with a black sandy substance called Tarnsand. Allied forces found that although the mines were undetectable by Allied mine detectors, German mine detectors could locate them. After the war Tarnsand was discovered to be mildly radioactive, permitting the German mine detectors, which incorporated a simple Geiger counter, to locate them.

The Panzer-Stabmine 43 antitank mine, together with the Hohl-Sprung mine 4672 (hollow-charge jump mine), was the first mine to combine a shaped charge warhead with a tilt rod detonator. A Panzerfaust warhead was mounted in a metal holder on a wooden panel, which was buried with a rod protruding above the ground.

When a vehicle passed over the mine, the rod was forced sideways, triggering a black powder charge at the base of the projectile, launching it out of the ground and into the belly of the passing vehicle. The 125mm warhead’s 1.6- kilogram shaped charge could penetrate over 100mm of armor and was capable of destroying most tanks. However, the mine was not issued until January 1945, due to manufacturing problems. Only 59,000 were produced because it was felt that the warheads were better employed as antitank handheld rockets.

A Legacy That Kills

During operations in North Africa, many large minefields were put down as barriers. In time many of these locations went unmapped, and markers were lost or covered with drifting sand. Even today, the Red Cross estimates that over 27 percent of Libyan farmland is unusable due to World War II minefields. In Europe, minefield clearance is still being undertaken in the Netherlands and France. Although the war ended more than six decades ago, its legacy is still with us in the form of these deadly devices.

This article first appeared on the Warfare History Network.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.