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Extensive Definition

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 following fields:
  • military – Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD)
  • public safety – Public Safety Bomb Disposal (PSBD), Bomb Squad
  • civilian – Unexploded Ordnance (UXO)


World War I and the interwar period

Bomb Disposal became a formalised practise 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 Service Corps (latterly the RAOC) to handle the growing problem.
In 1918, the Germans developed a delayed-action fuse that would later develop into more sophisticated weaponry 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 because of the uncertainty of time. The Germans saw that unexploded bombs caused far more chaos and disruption than bombs that exploded immediately. This caused them to increase their use of delayed-action bombs later in World War II. The Germans were also the first to develop and use proximity sensitive fusing on air dropped bombs. Allied UXO specialists, unaware that movement on or around the fuse caused detonation, took a number of casualties. They believed these fuses were set at varying time increments in order to cause unpredictable destruction. Allies began calling these proximity devices Variable Time or VT fuses. This label is still used on many proximity fuses today.
Bomb disposal staff would soon face munitions designed to kill civilians and ultimately, themselves. Initially there were no specialised 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 techniques used to defuse munitions are held to high standards of secrecy.

World War II

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) also took their toll on population and morale, paralyzing vital services and communications. These delayed-action explosives provoked terror and uncertainty, with complex fuses equipped with anti-tampering devices. Troops responded on the ground by devising methods to inert and remove deadly bombs and anti-personnel mines.

United States EOD history

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 Melksham Royal Air Force Base at Wiltshire, England in 1940. The next year, the Office of Civilian Defense (OCD) and War Department both sponsored a Bomb Disposal program, which gradually fell under military governance due to security and technical reasons. OCD personnel continued to train in UXB reconnaissance throughout the war. After Pearl Harbor, the British sent instructors to Aberdeen Proving Ground, where the U.S. Army would inaugurate a formal Bomb Disposal school under the Ordnance Corps.
Lt. Col. Geoffrey Yates (RE) and his British colleagues also helped establish the USN Mine Disposal School at the Naval Gun Factory, Washington, DC. Not to be outdone, the US Navy, under the command of Lieutenant Commander Draper L. Kauffman (who would go on to found the Underwater Demolition Teams -- better known as UDTs or the U.S. Navy Frogmen), created the USN Bomb Disposal School at University Campus, Washington, D.C. U.S. Ordnance and British Royal Engineers would forge a partnership that worked quite effectively in war -- a friendship persisting to this day.
1942 was a banner year for the fledgling EOD program. U.S. Army Lt. Col. Thomas Kane, who began in 1940 as a Bomb Disposal Instructor in the School of Civilian Defense, traveled with eight other troops to the UK for initial EOD training. Kane took over the US Army Bomb Disposal School at Aberdeen Proving Ground. Three members of Kane's training mission later served as Bomb Disposal squad commanders in the battlefield: Ronald L. Felton (12th Bomb Disposal Squad Separate) in Italy, Joseph C. Pilcher (17th Bomb Disposal Squad Separate) in France and Germany, and Richard Metress (209th Bomb Disposal Squad Separate) in the Philippines Islands. Captain Metress and most of his squad were killed in 1945 while dismantling a Japanese IED.
Graduates of the Aberdeen School formed the first Army Bomb Disposal companies, starting with the 231st Ordnance Bomb Disposal Company. The now-familiar shoulder emblem for Army EOD Technicians, a red bomb on an oval, black background was approved for them to wear. Following initial deployments in North Africa and Sicily, U.S. Army commanders registered their disapproval of these cumbersome units. In 1943, companies were phased out, to be replaced by mobile seven-man squads in the field. In 1944, Col. Thomas Kane oversaw all European Theater Bomb Disposal operations, starting with reconnaissance training for the U.S. forces engaging the Germans on D-Day. Unfortunately, the Pacific Theater lacked a similar administration.
Late in 1942, the first US Navy EOD casualty was recorded. Ensign Howard, USNR, was performing a render-safe procedure against a German moored mine when it detonated. Only a few months later, the first two Army EOD fatalities occurred during the Aleutian Islands campaign. While conducting EOD operations on Attu Island, LT Rodger & T/SGT Rapp (Commander and NCOIC of 5th Ordnance Bomb Disposal Squad) were fatally injured by unexploded ordnance.
Overall, about forty Americans were killed outright performing the specialized services of bomb and mine disposal in World War II. Scores more were maimed or injured during combat operations requiring ordnance support. At Schwammanuel Dam in Germany, two Bomb Disposal squads acting as a "T Force" were exposed to enemy mortar and small arms fire. Captain Marshall Crow (18th Squad) took serious wounds, even as his party drove German defenders from their positions.'
Ironically, the only major ordnance attack against the continental U.S. would be handled by the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, who dealt with the Japanese Fu-Go balloon bomb menace in 1945. The all-black 555th "Smokejumpers" were trained by ordnance personnel to defuse these incendiary bombs before they could kill civilians or start forest fires.
Following the war, U.S. Bomb Disposal Technicians continued to clear Nazi and Japanese stockpiles, remove UXO from battlefields, while training host nation (HN) troops to do these tasks. This established a tradition for U.S. EOD services to operate during peace as well as war.
Colonel Kane remained in contact with EOD until his retirement in 1955. He urged reforms in the Bomb Disposal organization and training policy. Wartime errors were rectified in 1947 when Army personnel started attending a new school at Indian Head, MD, under U.S. Navy direction. This course was named the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Course, governing training in all basic types of ammunition and projectiles. 1947 also saw the Army Air Corps separate and become the US Air Force, gaining their own EOD branch. That same year, the forerunner of the EOD Technology Center, the USN Bureau of Naval Weapons, charged with research, development, test, and evaluation of EOD tools, tactics and procedures was born. 1949 marked the official end of an era, as Army and Navy Bomb Disposal squads were reclassified into Explosive Ordnance Disposal units.
In 1953, reflecting the trend in name changing, the EOD School formally became the Naval School of Explosive Ordnance Disposal (NAVSCOLEOD). Two years later, the Army Bomb Disposal School would close, making Indian Head the sole Joint Service EOD School in the US. Though currently NAVSCOLEOD has relocated to Eglin AFB FL.
The current, most recognizable distinctive item of wear by EOD Technicians, affectionately referred to as the ‘crab’, began uniform wear as the Basic EOD Qualification Badge in 1957. The Master Badge would not appear until 1969. (See picture on the right)
On 31 March 2004, the U.S. Army EOD Headquarters at Fort Gillem, Georgia dedicated its new building to Col. Thomas J. Kane (1900-65). Whether Kane Hall remains after the Bush Administration's recent base closure announcement remains to be seen.

Northern Ireland 1969–present

The Ammunition Technicians of the Royal Logistic Corps (formerly RAOC) have become the world's foremost experts in IED disposal, after many years of dealing with bombs planted by the IRA. The bombs the IRA employed ranged from simple pipe bombs to sophisticated victim-triggered devices. The roadside bomb was in use by the IRA from the early 1970's onwards, evolving over time with different types of explosives and triggers.
A specialist Army unit 321 EOD (now 11 EOD Regiment RLC) was created to tackle increased IRA violence and willingness to use IEDs against both civilian and military targets. The unit's radio callsign was Felix in allusion to the cat with nine lives and led to the phrase "Fetch Felix" whenever a suspect device was encountered and became the title of the 1981 book "Fetch Felix" 321 EOD Sqn RLC is unique in that it is the most decorated squadron (in peace time) in the British Army, notably for acts of bravery during OP BANNER (1969-2007) in Northern Ireland.
British bomb disposal experts of 11 EOD Regiment RLC were amongst the first personnel sent into Iraq in 2003 prior to the actual invasion itself.

EOD in low intensity conflicts

Generally EOD render safe procedures (RSP) are a type of tradecraft protected from public dissemination in order to limit access and knowledge, depriving the enemy of specific technical procedures used to render safe ordnance or an improvised device.
Many techniques exist for the making safe of a bomb or munition. Selection of a technique depends on several variables. The greatest variable is the proximity of the munition or device to people or critical facilities. Explosives in remote localities are handled very differently from those in densely-populated areas.
Contrary to the image portrayed in modern day movies, the role of the Bomb Disposal Operator is to accomplish their task as remotely as possible. Actually laying hands on a bomb is only done in an extremely life-threatening situation, where the hazards to people and critical structures can't be lessened.
Ammunition Technicians have many tools for remote operations, one of which is the RCV, or remotely controlled vehicle, also known as the "Wheelbarrow". Outfitted with cameras, microphones, and sensors for chemical, biological, or nuclear agents, the Wheelbarrow can help the Technician get an excellent idea of what the munition or device is. Many of these robots even have hand-like manipulators in case a door needs to be opened, or a munition or bomb requires handling or moving.
The first ever Wheelbarrow was invented by Lieutenant-Colonel 'Peter' Miller in 1972 and used by Ammunition Technicians in the battle against Provisional Irish Republican Army IED's.
Also of great use are items that allow Ammunition technicians to remotely diagnose the innards of a munition or IED. These include devices similar to the X-ray used by medical personnel, and high-performance sensors that can detect and help interpret sounds, odors, or even images from within the munition or bomb.
Once the technicians determine what the munition or device is, and what state it is in, they will formulate a procedure to disarm it. This may include things as simple as replacing safety features, or as difficult as using high-powered explosive-actuated devices to shear, jam, bind, or remove parts of the item's firing train.
Preferably, this will be accomplished remotely, but there are still circumstances when a robot won't do, and a technician must put themself at risk by personally going near the bomb. The Technician will don a specialized suit, using flame and fragmentation-resistant material similar to bulletproof vests. Some suits have advanced features such as internal cooling, amplified hearing, and communications back to the control area. This suit is designed to increase the odds of survival for the Technician should the munition or IED function while they are near it.
Rarely, the specifics of a munition or bomb will allow the Technician to first remove it from the area. In these cases, a containment vessel is used. Some are shaped like small water tanks, others like large spheres. Using remote methods, the Technician places the item in the container and retires to an uninhabited area to complete the neutralization. Because of the instability and complexity of modern bombs, this is rarely done.
After the munition or bomb has been rendered safe, the Technicians will assist in the removal of the remaining parts so the area can be returned to normal.
All of this, called a Render Safe Procedure, can take a great deal of time. Because of the construction of devices, a waiting period must be taken to ensure that whatever render-safe method was used worked as intended. While time is usually not on the EOD Operator's side, rushing usually ends in disaster.

EOD Equipment

"Pigstick" is a British Army term for the waterjet disrupter commonly deployed on the Wheelbarrow remotely operated vehicle against IRA bombs in the 1970's. The pigstick is a device that disables improvised explosive devices (IEDs). It fires an explosively-propelled jet of water to disrupt the circuitry of a bomb and thereby disable it with a low risk of detonation. The modern pigstick is a very reliable device and fires many times with minimal maintenance. It is now used worldwide. It is about 485 mm long, weighs 3 kg. It is made of metal, and can be mounted on a remotely operated vehicle (ROV). These factors make it a very effective, safe way to disarm IEDs.


The name "pigstick" is an odd analogy coming from the verb meaning “to hunt the wild boar on horseback with a spear.”
It was invented for the British army in 1972; prior to that time bombs would be dismantled by hand, which was obviously very dangerous. It has to be held three inches (76 mm) from the IED to disarm it, still putting the user in danger. So explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) operators started connecting them to Wheelbarrows, and “in the period 1972-1978, and taking into account machines which had been exported, over 400 Wheelbarrows were destroyed while dealing with terrorist devices. In many of these cases, it can be assumed that the loss of a machine represented the saving of an EOD man's life.”

EOD badges

British Army

Having been pre-selected for training as Ammunition Technicians soldiers will attend the specialised course at the Army School of Ammunition with both soldiers and officers completing an almost identical course. Only Ammunition Technicians and Ammunition Technical Officers of the Royal Logistics Corps are entitled to wear the flaming A badge on their uniform . If serving in the Corps of Royal Engineers and passing the Explosive Ordnance Disposal course at the Defence Explosive Ordnance Disposal School, Sappers are entitled to wear the EOD badge.
The move in recent years has been to make best use of the specialist training and skills set of the individual services; recognition that each service has its particular strengths within the field of EOD and will be tasked accordingly. EOD support to UK military personnel reflects the tri-service capabilities with the inclusion of subject matter experts from all three services. RLC, RE, RAF and Navy SMEs and operators are tasked through a Joint Service cell depending on the type of ordnance requiring attention.
This joint approach now applies to the manner in which the services are trained and commanded. RLC,RE RAF and RN EOD personnel go through basic IEDD training together, ensuring all can provide the basic capability. The RLC Ammunition Technicians also train in High Threat and Advanced Manual Techniques at The Felix Centre. RE, RAF and RN personnel receive some basic training at Defence EOD School to provide them with the basic EOD skills for use in War and peace support operations in clearing battle fields of mines and explosive remnants of war; a separate skills set reflecting the larger scale of battlefield EOD clearance in deployed theatres. This allows RLC Ammunition Technicians to focus on providing the lead for IEDD in the UK and all overseas theatres of operation, reflecting the many years experience the RLC have in IEDD terrorist/insurgent devices in Northern Ireland, UK, Europe, Iraq and Afghanistan. Within the UK the RLC (30 teams), RAF (2 teams) and RN (6 teams) are responsible for UK IEDD cover.
Within the UK the RLC are responsible for High Threat IEDD and the disposal of Land service ammunition items, including ammunition used by the Army Air Corps. As the subject matter experts they are responsible for the training of all IEDD teams and provide back up on the ground to RAF and RN teams faced by complex devices or those from known terrorist organisations. RLC Ammunition Technicians are also responsible for Nuclear, Biological and Chemical munitions disposal.
Within the UK, the Royal Engineers BDOs are responsible for enemy air dropped ammunition, and the Royal Navy are responsible for ammunition items found below the High Tide mark.

Royal Air Force

Within the UK the Royal Air Force are responsible for UK service airdropped ammunition less ammunition used by the Army Air Corps helicopters like the AH-64 Longbow Apache
No 5131(BD) Squadron (RAF) Mission Statement To deliver and develop EOD capability to support UK defence policy No 5131(BD) Squadron is a sub-unit within the Armament Support Unit which delivers and develops EOD capability to support UK defence policy. Airfield EOD assets provide rapid Explosive Ordnance Clearance (EOC) of Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) and other explosive hazards prior to or during DOB activation. The prime function of this Force Element is the generation of an aircraft Main Operating Surface, Main Aircraft Operating Surface and the EOC of facilities for vital Detached Operation Bases (DOB) installations. Following DOB activation, it provides continuing EOD support to air operations and DOB Force Protection (FP) assets within the FP AOR.
The Squadron will provide a 5-man AEOD C2 team (to integrate within the Force Protection Headquarters). The 3-man EOD teams deploy in Spartan CVR(T) fitted with Clansman (to be replaced with BOWMAN). Force strength deployed will depend upon the threat. Additional EOD personnel are available from non-cadre EOD posts (NFU personnel). During peacetime, the Squadron fulfils Military Task 1 (UK MACP) and Conventional Munitions Disposal - and conducts EOC Tasks across the UK ranging from the clearance of Air Weapon ranges and the land remediation of current MoD sites to the removal of hazard from former chemical weapon storage sites.

United States

US military EOD Technicians are awarded a specialized badge upon successful completion of school, informally referred to as a 'crab'. Civilian PSBTs have a similar badge. The components of the badge each have a special meaning:
  • The Wreath: Symbolic of the achievements and laurels gained in minimizing incidents through the ingenuity and devotion to duty of its members. It is in memory of those EOD members who gave their lives while performing EOD duties.
  • The Bomb: Copied from the design of the World War II Bomb Disposal badge, represents the historic and major objective of the EOD mission, the unexploded bomb. The three fins represent the major areas of nuclear, conventional and chemical/biological interest.
  • Lightning Bolts: Symbolizes the potential destructive power of the bomb and the courage and professionalism of EOD personnel.
  • The Shield: Represents the EOD mission -- to prevent a detonation and protect the surrounding area and property to the utmost.


The Israeli military EOD technicians wear the badge and pin of Yahalom unit, after the SAP unit was merged with Sayeret Yael and grew up to other fields as well.


Combat Engineers, Air Weapon Systems Technicians (now called AVN techs), Ammunition Technicians and Clearance divers are all candidates for EOD training.
It is the Dress Uniform version of the EOD badge.

Basque Country-Spain

In the basque country, sited in the north of Spain, there are three corps in charge of bomb disposal nowadays. Policia Nacional, Guardia Civil, and Ertzaintza.
Ertzaintza has its Bomb Disposal Unit since the 80's when they started been trained by a British Expert from the London MET. They have been making safe IEDs from the terrorist group ETA since then. ETA is possibly the European only terrorist group still setting bombs . They have an EOD-IED association call Adexe.

Notes and references

  • Samuel J. Hooper, The History of U.S. Army Bomb Disposal and Explosive Ordnance Disposal (1941-1980). (unpublished manuscript) c.1981.
  • Jeffrey M. Leatherwood, Nine from Aberdeen: Colonel Thomas J. Kane and the Genesis of U.S. Army Bomb Disposal in World War II. [Master's Thesis] Western Carolina University. Department of History, c. 2004.
  • Christopher Ransted, Bomb Disposal and the British Casualties of WW2, c. 2004.

Further reading

External links

pigstick in Danish: Ammunitionsrydningstjenesten
pigstick in German: Munitionsräumdienst
pigstick in Hebrew: סילוק פצצות
pigstick in Japanese: 爆発物処理
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