Demolition: Engineers in their own element

Demolition: Engineers in their own element

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“Three, two, one, fire” - a ball of fire, and a blast wave: When the blasting machine is initiated, the demolition area is shaken by an explosion. Demolition training is the last large segment of the special-to-arm training for the engineers from Bogen, and it is the highlight of the three-month training for the officer candidates Jonathan Seib (OR-3) and Benjamin Teichmann (OR-2). We are with them on this demolition day.

Explosion on a safe site

The engineers from Bogen get to know the effects of explosives in the instructional demolition.

Bundeswehr/Lena Techam

Based on their basic military training, the two officer candidates complete the engineer special-to-arm training. Equipped with thick leather gloves and razor wire, Seib and Teichmann set to work on the last step of their task. The demolition day re-enacts situations typically encountered in combat so as to illustrate the effect of explosive charges: The knife rest, consisting of a basic frame with two wooden crosses and a long girder, is almost complete. It is an obstacle suitable for quickly blocking paths and roads. The two soldiers have the task of completing the knife rest using round timber and razor wire. Their instructor has showed them how to proceed. They have been trained for this day during the last one and a half weeks.

From theory to practice

Im Vordergrund liegt ein gesprengter Holzstamm, dahinter stehen Soldaten im Halbkreis, ein Soldat erläutert.

The demolition training illustrates how different construction materials can be demolished using different types of explosives and methods. The location of the charge and the manner in which it is emplaced play an important role.

Bundeswehr/Lena Techam

Looking back, the two officer candidates explain that lessons on safety regulations, different demolition techniques as well as details on explosives and initiating devices were the starting point. “Then, we all practiced in the demolition training area.” Emplacing explosive charges at different objects such as wooden piles, steel pipes or walls, but also railway tracks and doors was practiced. “The emphasis is on emplacing blasting caps, detonating cords and fuzes”, they say.

First lieutenant Benedikt Sewe says: “We familiarise the soldiers with the demolition procedure by starting with a simple first demolition exercise.” The officer in charge of the demolition exercise moves on to explain: “Our young comrades are behind cover and about to experience the bang and the blast wave of a nearby explosion.” The following instructional demolition, by contrast, is to demonstrate the effects that different explosive materials and types of fuzing material have on demolition targets. Setting up demolition sites with different demolition targets is part of the training.

Preparation is key

Two solders build a wire frame from which two buckets are suspended.

When setting up the stations, the soldiers use the knowledge gained during their classroom training.

Bundeswehr/Jan Diehl

Subdivided into teams of three to four soldiers, they set to work. They also receive a slip of paper with instructions on how to set up and emplace the explosives. Teichmann und his comrade are about to show at their station which effects a small blasting cap will have on the environment. “We are installing a wire rope between two metal posts and suspend two metal buckets from it. One of them is full of water”, the officer candidate describes the setup. Later, they will suspend blasting caps in both buckets and initiate them.

Two soldiers install a wooden door in a solid concrete frame.

Demolishing doors, called explosive breaching, will be important during combat in built-up areas.

Bundeswehr/Jan Diehl

Seib’s task is to demolish a thick wooden pile with his team. One after the other, all teams receive their construction material. The officer candidate ties empty sandbags around the wooden pile: “The explosive will be covered by them later”, he explains. The preparations at the other stations are well underway, too. At the adjoining station, Seib’s comrades insert two old doors into concrete frames. Two other soldiers stuff an old field jacket with full sandbags and fill an old combat boot with gravel.

Things are getting serious - the explosive charges are emplaced at the stations

Two soldiers mould plastic explosive around a tree trunk.

Plastic explosive is very suited to fit the irregularities of different base materials.

Bundeswehr/Lena Techam

After the basic setup of the stations has been completed, the soldiers receive the explosives. At the “metal buckets” station, a blasting cap is suspended from the wire rope into each bucket. “Later, they will be electrically initiated. We have to make sure that there is a minimum distance between the cable ends of the electric blasting caps and the ignition cables. Moreover, we are not allowed to carry mobile phones or must switch them off”, Teichmann explains some of the safety regulations.

Meanwhile, Seib and his comrade are busy attaching the plastic explosive to the wooden pile. They cover it with the sandbag to prevent it from slipping out of place. One thing is special about the exercise: “At some stations, we use the correct quantity of explosive charge while at others, we use less. This is to show the soldiers which effects this will have on the success of the demolition”, the officer in charge of the demolition exercise adds. This explosive charge would usually be tamped on the outside to prevent too much of the blast effect from being lost. However, the soldiers do without tamping today.

Before the big bang

A Bundeswehr combat boot has been armed with a blasting cap and placed on a gravelled area.

Practical examples, such as a combat boot with a blasting cap, illustrate the “what-if” scenario.

Bundeswehr/Lena Techam

All stations have been charged with explosives and the initiating devices are ready at a safe distance. Together will all soldiers, Sewe once again walks to all stations and explains the effects to be expected. “The explosion of the blasting cap in the field jacket and in the combat boot is to demonstrate the injuries that can be caused even by very small quantities of explosives if handled incorrectly.” At the station “Doors” different procedures for the demolition of closed doors, gates or windows will be shown. This is called explosive breaching, and it is of enormous significance during combat in built-up areas.

Caution: Demolition taking place

A soldier blows a shalm.

First lieutenant Benedikt Sewe blows the shalm. The officer in charge thus signals in which stage the demolition is.

Bundeswehr/Lena Techam

A long sound interrupts the silence on the demolition range. Its meaning is clear: “Evacuate the danger area and seek cover.” Some of the soldiers will initiate the stations, all others must leave the danger area. Equipped with hearing protection, glasses and combat helmet, the first firing team and the officer in charge head towards the demolition range.

 The horn sounds again, consisting of two short sounds in succession. It is the demolition warning signal 2, meaning “initiation now”, and it is sounded just before the ignition cables are connected with the explosive charge. Shortly afterwards a fountain erupts from the full water bucket, and a combat boot flies through the air. Big and small explosions alternate, they are getting louder, the blast waves bigger. “We initiate up to 500 grams of explosive today”, says the first lieutenant in charge. The soldiers surrounding him are visibly impressed by the flying debris, the blast wave and the clearly audible detonation. Finally, all charges have been initiated. Sewe checks that all explosive charges have detonated and whether the demolition range is safe again. He gives the all clear: three short successive sounds.

Seeing is believing

A soldier kneels next to the combat boot damaged in the explosion. He shows where the hole in the boot is.

Combat boots do not offer any protection against an explosion in the vicinity. Thanks to the purple gloves, the hole in the boot can be clearly seen.

Bundeswehr/Lena Techam

All soldiers return to the demolition range. As before, the effects of the explosion are discussed at each station. Wood splinters are everywhere. The water bucket is almost empty. Through the explosion of the blasting cap, Teichmann’s second bucket has literally been covered with holes. “In the event of an accident with explosives, tiny fragments will be propelled away and penetrate your skin. It is virtually impossible for a surgeon to remove them”, Sewe makes clear to raise the young soldiers’ awareness. The holes in the equipment show that field jacket and combat boot do not provide any protection against explosive materials. “If a soldier had been wearing this boot, he would be severely injured now”, the officer points out while showing the hole.

A thick wooden pile toppled over in the explosion. Its upper half is completely splintered.

After the demolition, the soldiers evaluate the success of the demolition operation in detail, in this case a tree trunk.

Bundeswehr/Lena Techam

The wooden pile at Seib’s station is no longer upright. The blast wave of the explosion toppled it over. The upper half is completely splintered. The dried pile is destroyed, despite the small amount of explosive. “A fresh tree would only be slightly damaged”, Sewe adds. The doors are also destroyed and some of them still hang on their hinges. All breaching methods worked as planned. The lock was blasted out and the door cut in half along its centre axis.

A door that has been cut in half along its centre axis hangs from a thick concrete frame in the height of a room.

The demolition training ends successfully, but the officer candidates’ training is far from over yet.

Bundeswehr/Lena Techam

Everybody is impressed with the results of the demolition day. However, it does not mark the end of the special-to-arm training. Seib, Teichmann and the other young soldiers will show during a three-day final exercise what they have learned in the past three months. Then, they will all take their Christmas leave.

The officer candidates will attend the Engineer School in Ingolstadt in the new training year where they will take part in the probationary officer cadet course to be trained as section leaders.

by Jan Diehl

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