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Bomb disposal is 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.
“Bomb disposal” does not encompass the remediation of soils polluted with explosive materials.
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 with a clockwork mechanism which 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”
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.
Modern EOD Technicians across the world can trace their heritage to the Blitz, when the United Kingdom’s cities were subjected to extensive bombing raids by Nazi Germany. In addition to conventional air raids, unexploded bombs (UXBs) took their toll on population and morale, paralyzing vital services and communications. Bombs fitted with delayed-action fuzes provoked fear and uncertainty in the civilian population.
The first UXBs were encountered in the autumn of 1939 before the Blitz and were for the most part easily dealt with, mostly by Royal Air Force or Air Raid Precautions personnel. In the spring of 1940, when the Phony War ended, the British realized that they were going to need professionals in numbers to deal with the coming problem. 25 sections were authorized for the Royal Engineers in May 1940, another 109 in June, and 220 by August. Organization was needed, and as the Blitz began, 25 “Bomb Disposal Companies” were created between August 1940 and January 1941. Each company had ten sections, each section having a bomb disposal officer and 14 other ranks to assist. Six companies were deployed in London by January 1941.
The problem of UXBs was further complicated when Royal Engineer bomb disposal personnel began to encounter munitions fitted with anti-handling devices e.g. the Luftwaffe’s ZUS40 anti-removal bomb fuze of 1940. Bomb fuzes incorporating anti-handling devices were specifically designed to kill bomb disposal personnel. Scientists and technical staff responded by devising methods and equipment to render them safe, including the work of Eric Moxey.
The United States War Department felt the British Bomb Disposal experience could be a valuable asset, based on reports from U.S. Army, Navy, and Marine Corps observers at RAF Melksham in Wiltshire, England in 1940. The next year, th