Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
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Mines, Land

Two basic forms of land mines existed in World War II—antipersonnel and antitank mines. Antipersonnel mines are primarily based on static omnidirectional (360-degree), static directional (180-degree), and bounding omnidirectional (360-degree) models. Often injury rather than death was viewed as a more desirable outcome from the use of land mines because of the logistical strain it could create on an opposing force. For this reason, many mines were developed and emplaced to maim rather than kill. Antitank mines were used either in an antimobility or a catastrophic-kill function. Beyond their destructive effects, land mines were also useful to channel enemy forces into kill zones, to create impassable barriers to maneuver, to engage in the area denial of key points, to deny matériel resources via booby-trapping, and to psychologically affect opposing troops.

U.S. land mines were based on both antipersonnel and antitank requirements. The two standard U.S. antipersonnel mines were the M-2 and the M-3. The M-2 was a 6.5 lb bounding mine based on a modified 60 mm mortar shell. This was a mine that would leap into the air and explode, causing far more shrapnel damage to troops than a mine exploding at ground level. It could produce a 30 ft casualty radius. The M-3 was a larger 10 lb mine made out of cast iron and filled with TNT. It could be buried or used in an above-ground, booby-trap mode. It also had a 30 ft casualty radius.

At the start of World War II, the standard U.S. antitank mine was the M-1. This simple mine used a cross-shaped metal pressure detonator, known as a "spider," that fit over the mine. The M-1 was later replaced by the heavier M-5, which weighed 14.5 lbs. The additional weight allowed for a greater explosive charge to be packed in the mine, which then could better disable a tank tread or destroy a lighter vehicle. The even more effective M-6 was developed next. It weighed 20 lbs. A lighter M-7 weighing 4.5 lbs was also fielded against lighter vehicular threats.

The British forces used both antipersonnel and antitank mines. The British No. 75 "Hawkins," an antipersonnel mine shaped like a rectangular food tin, was carried by paratroopers and U.S. forces. British forces also utilized U.S. land mines as part of the American aid effort. British minefields were used extensively in North Africa. French mines were based on World War I and interwar designs. One example was the 14.5 lb light antitank mine. This pressure-sensitive mine had a rectangular steel body and was filled with 5.12 lbs of high explosives. It was employed in defensive mine belts to help protect the Maginot Line.

Soviet and German military forces were the principal innovators in land mines during the war. Soviet mine advances were primarily antitank in nature because of the continued operational encirclement threat posed by German panzer divisions. The 1941 AKS was likely the first full-width-attack, tilt-rod-actuated mine. The Red Army employed fusing based on both seismic (VZ-1) and magnetic devices and deployed the first radio-controlled mines in 1942. At Kursk in 1943, the first use of a flame mine took place. Calling on their harsh experiences in the Russo-Finnish War of 1939, Soviet forces also utilized stake mines (based on improvised grenade booby traps), mine daisy chaining, low metal mines, and well-defined countermine assault techniques. The Soviets also employed antitank dog mines during the war. Specially trained dogs carrying explosive mine packs were taught to run under German tanks. The mines were then detonated on the command of the dog handler or set off by a timing mechanism. The technique was not very effective.

German innovations in land mines included the bounding antipersonnel mine of the 1930s. This was known as the "S" mine or the "Bouncing Betty" mine. Scatterable antipersonnel mines, such as the SD-2B Schmetterling, were first used in Poland in 1939 and dropped by fixed-wing aircraft. Side-attack mines based on the Panzerfaust antitank rocket grenade were employed on the Eastern Front in 1943. Booby-trapped antihandling devices, attached to land mines, were also developed by German forces in the war. A chemical mine, known as the "Bounding Gas Mine 37" and based on the mustard gas agent, was developed, but it was never fielded. About 40 types of German antitank mines existed, with the Terrlermine 42, Terrlermine 43, and Terrlermine 35 (two variants) being the most common. The Germans developed numerous types of friction, pull, and pressure igniters for their land mines.

The Japanese were not known as innovators in land mines, but they fielded both land mine types and were adept at booby traps. The Model 93 (1933) "tape-measure mine" was an antipersonnel device that weighed 3 lbs. The mine had four metal rings on the side for carrying it and for emplacement and a brass dome fuze. The Model 99 (1939) armor-piercing mine was developed for use against tanks and the iron doors of pillboxes. This 2.11 lb mine was carried in a stiff canvas pouch and had four permanent magnets attached via khaki webbing to the outer edge of the mine body. It was carried by individual soldiers and was usually coupled with another for greater armor penetration by placing the opposite magnetic poles of the four outer-edge magnets together. The fielding of a Japanese antitank "satchel charge–like" mine, rather than a traditional antitank mine, represents a tactical limitation. This limitation was somewhat made up for by the existence of the Model 96 (1936) dual-use land and water mine and the Bangalore torpedo. The Model 96 carried a 46 lb explosive charge, and the Bangalore torpedo had sections weighing 10 lbs each (most of that a TNT-cyclonite explosive mixture).

Robert J. Bunker


Further Reading
Schneck, William C. "The Origins of Military Mines: Part I & Part II." Engineer Bulletin (1998), 3: 49–55; 4: 44–50.; U.S. Department of the Army. Soviet Mine Warfare Equipment, TM 5–223A. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, August 1951.; U.S. War Department. Handbook on German Military Forces. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Press, 1995. (Reprint of 1945 handbook); U.S. War Department. Handbook on Japanese Military Forces. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Press, 1995. (Reprint of 1944 handbook).
 

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