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 clockworkmechanism 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".
WWI: Military bomb disposal units
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.
WWII: Modern techniques
A bomb disposal team in 1940.
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 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.
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, the Office of Civilian Defense (OCD) and War Department both sponsored a bomb disposal program. After the attack on 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. Col. Thomas J. Kane became the U.S. Army Ordnance Bomb Disposal School commandant, and later served as ETO Director of Bomb Disposal under Dwight D. Eisenhower. In May 1941, British colleagues helped establish the Naval Mine Disposal School at the Naval Gun Factory, Washington, D.C. Not to be outdone, the U.S. Navy, under the command of Lt. 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 Naval Bomb Disposal School at University Campus, Washington, D.C..
The first Army Bomb Disposal companies were deployed in North Africa and Sicily, but proved cumbersome and were replaced with mobile seven-man squads in 1943. Wartime errors were rectified in 1947 when Army personnel started attending a new school at Indian Head, Maryland, under U.S. Navy direction. 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.