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"Clearance of German Minefields in Tunisia" from Tactical and Technical Trends

The following intelligence report on methods of clearing German minefields in Tunisia was originally published in Tactical and Technical Trends, No. 30, July 29, 1943.

[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department publication Tactical and Technical Trends. As with all wartime intelligence information, data may be incomplete or inaccurate. No attempt has been made to update or correct the text. Any views or opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the website.]


The mine menace is a formidable problem and one of general application. It has been stated, and with considerable truth, that the land mine is considered to be more of a menace to inexperienced troops than was ever the dive bomber.

In the No. 43-34 issue of Informational Intelligence Summary, prepared in the Office of the Assistant Chief of Air Staff, Intelligence, a report of an interview with Brigadier General D.A. Davidson contains some interesting observations in connection with the story of landing fields in North Africa. In dealing with the difficulties incident to taking over former German fields, from the point of view of the mine hazards in the vicinity of Tunis and Bizerte, General Davidson submitted the following:

We had anticipated a great deal of difficulty with those Tunisian fields because we had learned the thoroughness with which the Germans mined those areas which they took time to mine. We had very little to worry about, however, because the break came so rapidly that the Germans did not have time to mine the Tunisian fields. However, in one runway of the group of fields between Bou Arada and Pont du Fahs, we took 1,788 antitank mines. That sounds as if it were a hazardous undertaking. We found that was not so. We used a technique for de-mining an area which the aviation engineers had developed in their school.

Discovery of mines in any locality was made possible by sending out men at intervals of fifty feet and moving forward. Each man was furnished with one of our excellent mine detectors. As soon as a man would detect a mine, we would close into that area and determine the pattern. Thanks to the German habit of thoroughness and orderliness, we found the patterns always regular. As soon as we would discover what it was, we could almost draw a map of the minefield without seeking out each individual mine. Having determined the pattern, and where the individual mines were, we would then send two men forward, one of whom went on his hands and knees and very gingerly scraped the earth away. There were usually eight to nine inches of earth over the mine. He uncovered the mine and neutralized it by unscrewing the main detonating cap in the center. That, however, did not make that mine safe because it might be booby trapped from the side or the bottom. There may be another exploder screwed in on the side or the bottom. If there, it is anchored into the ground. If one lifts, or tries to move a booby-trapped mine, he sets it off, even though he has taken out the main detonating cap fuze. So the task of the first two men was simply to uncover the mine and carefully feel around it to see that it was not booby-trapped from the side.

Next, two more men came up--one of them with a light rope lasso, which they put over the mine. They then fell back about fifty feet and shouted, "mine." Everybody lied flat on his belly, and then the mine was jerked out. If it was booby-trapped, it exploded fifty feet away from anyone. With everyone lying down there was very little chance of a person being hit. We never had a casualty from de-mining a field. If the mine wasn't booby-trapped, it came tumbling out and there was no harm done. It took us about eight hours to take up these 1,788 mines, so it wasn't a particularly hazardous or long drawn-out task.

If we had had to apply that technique to each one of the fields in Tunisia, we figured out long ago that it would save us time to make new fields. We had selected the sites and were prepared to construct new fields. The fact that we didn't, meant that the air forces could move into their rest areas much more quickly than would otherwise have been the case.


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