Recent stories in the Egyptian press have disclosed that vintage anti personnel mines in places like Tobrouk andEl Alamein (scenes of battles during World War II) still claim the lives of locals.
The bulk of mines still used around the world are neither self-deactivating nor self-destructing, which suggests that future generations will be experiencing the same problems of unexploded ordnance as that faced by Egyptians today.
The mine was first conceived during siege warfare in the Middle Ages. When attacking an enemy castle wall, a fire was positioned at the end of a tunnel dug out by the attacking force. When the fire was lit, the tunnel supports burnt and both the tunnel and the wall collapsed. For this reason, moats were dug around fortifications to prevent this type of tunnel and fire attack.
Later, the fire was replaced by an explosive charge and by the 20th Century, most mines were triggered by foot or by vehicle.
In the 21st Century, landmines are still triggered by foot or vehicle pressure and there are five types of anti-personnel mines which are in common use today. The thinking behind such mines is twofold: one, to dictate the direction of travel by the enemy through controlled detonations; and two, to incapacitate a soldier which will require two buddies to remove him and themselves from the battlefield.
The following most dangerous anti personnel mines are the ones found in Hostile Environments:
create a large explosion when somebody steps on them. The mine is designed so that it is almost impossible to make it safe.
are triggered by a tripwire positioned a few centimetres above the ground. The mines can be tied to poles or to trees along a route or are sometimes clustered together in groups.
Bounding fragmentation mines
are activated by tripwires and when triggered the mines leap into the air and explodes into fragments at chest height.
Directional fragmentation mines (aka Claymores)
shoot out steel balls in one direction at high speed. The mines are triggered by tripwire or by remote control and have a kill zone as far out as 200 metres.
are deployed from the air via aircraft or artillery. They land on the ground without exploding and when picked up, they detonate. Often called a butterfly mine because of their bright colours and ability to float gently to the ground, they await pick up by innocent children or other civilians before exploding in the hand.
The ability to detect mines is best left to professional demining experts. In principle, you can locate a mine by touch, using a stick, non-magnetic probe, bayonet or an electronic mine detector. However, some mines have anti-lift devices that are set to explode on movement; and others are made with small amounts of metal to make them difficult to find.
Apart from antipersonnel mines, the other types of land-based mines are anti-tank. Anti-tank mines are designed to immobilise or destroy vehicles and their occupants. The anti-tank mine either creates a mobility kill or a catastrophic kill, when detonated. A mobility kill immobilises a vehicle by destroying one or more of its vital drive components – engine block, axle or track. A mobility kill does not always destroy the crew and the weapons system which might continue to function. However, in a catastrophic kill explosion, both the weapon system and the crew are destroyed.
An antipersonnel mine will often only burst a tyre on a vehicle and there is little collateral damage, especially if the tyre is full of water. Experience from the Rhodesian bush wars showed that water-filled tyres absorbed some of the energy from the detonated mine. In this way, occupants of the vehicle were safer than soldiers walking alongside.
The best advice for operating in suspected mined areas is to ensure that you only walk along paths that have been cleared by demining specialists.
If you are unfortunate enough to trigger a mine, remember that bleeding is the commonest cause of avoidable death in a Hostile Environment. By applying firm pressure at the point of injury, and elevating the affected limb above the heart, you can increase your chances of survival dramatically. If bleeding from the limb cannot be controlled by pressure and elevation, then attach a tourniquet and release pressure for one minute every ten minutes. Reapply pressure on the tourniquet until medical assistance is provided.