Interesting Tidbits on Subterra Shells

SOURCE: A Torpedo fitted with Rains Fuze

The first devices designed to explode on ‘target-contact’ were floating mines first employed by the US Confederate Navy in 1861 (see left). Reference to these mines was made during the Battle of Williamsburg in 1862, where they adapted shells so as to surprise the Union vanguard. They consisted of a steel tank, 122 cm (4 feet) X 91.4 cm (3 feet) broad, and 25 cm (10 inches) deep, which contained scrap metal. The receptacle for the charge was a case of sheet iron with a heavy base, and a strong cap of cast iron connected together by a stout spindle. When the charge exploded, the light sides of the case were blown out, and the top, which was retained in its place by the spindle and base, gave a horizontal direction to the contents of the tank.

Even at that early date, the use of mines raised strong feelings, with many judging them as “unworthy and improper to the conduct of war”. But by the end of the war these mines (or ‘torpedoes’ as both land and water mines were termed during this period) had sunk 29 ships and damaged 14 others. The ability of a cheap mine to destroy an expensive warship was an irresistible economic argument for its deployment.

The Americans are really the first nation to develop and use operational landmines and this is attributed to Brigadier-General Gabriel J. Rains. Rains experimented with booby traps while leading his troops against Indians in Florida in 1840, but without a lot of success. Then in 1862 he ordered his troops to prepare artillery shells so that they could be exploded by pulling trip wires or by being stepped on (see right). On 4 May 1862, while scouting along a road leading to Yorktown, a horse rider activated one of these landmines becoming the first person killed by a pressure-operated landmine.

An American Civil War Electrically
Initiated Mine

During the winter of 1862-63 Rains worked on designing a primer that would ‘explode from the slightest pressure’. After losing the forefinger and thumb of his right hand, he decided to settle for a pressure of 3.1 kilos (7lb). By 1863 his mines were being widely and successfully used throughout that period. The Civil war experience demonstrated the longevity of mines in the ground. In 1960 five landmines with Rains fuses were recovered nearly one hundred years after they were laid – with the powder ‘still quite dangerous’.

The above is taken from this source.

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