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An American paratrooper demonstrates the process of removing a live S-mine
|Type||Bounding anti-personnel mine|
|Place of origin||Germany|
|Used by||Germany, Axis Powers, Finland|
|Wars||Second World War, Winter War, Continuation War|
|Number built||1.93 million|
|Filling weight||182 g|
S.Mi.Z 35 (pressure),
Z.U.Z.Z. (tension release),
E.S.Mi.Z (pressure and electric)
The German S-mine (Schrapnellmine in German), also known as the Bouncing Betty, is the best-known version of a class of mines known as bounding mines. These mines launch into the air at about waist height and explode, propelling shrapnel horizontally at lethal speeds. The S-mine was an anti-personnel landmine developed by Germany in the 1930s and used extensively by German forces during World War II. It was designed to be used in open areas to attack unshielded infantry. Two versions were produced, designated by the year of their first production: the SMi-35 and SMi-44. There are only minor differences between the two models. The number indicates the year of introduction into service.
The S-mine entered production in 1935 and served as a key part of the defensive strategy of the Third Reich. Until production ceased with the defeat of Germany in 1945, Germany produced over 1.93 million S-mines. These mines were responsible for inflicting heavy casualties and slowing, or even repelling, drives into German-held territory throughout the war. The design was lethal, successful and much imitated, and remains one of the definitive weapons of World War II.
The first Allied forces to encounter the S-mine were French soldiers who were attempting minor probes into the coal-rich German Saar region from September 7th through the 11th, 1939, during what is known as the Phony War. The S-mine contributed to the withdrawal of these French incursions. The mine's performance in the Saar region affirmed its effectiveness in the eyes of the German leadership, and prompted the United States and other countries to attempt to copy the design. After their experience, the French nicknamed the mine the silent soldier.
Germany used the S-mine heavily during the defense of its occupied territories and the German homeland during the Allied invasions of Europe and North Africa. The mines were produced in large numbers and planted liberally by defending German units. For example, the German Tenth Army deployed over 23,000 of them as part of their defense preparation during the Allied invasion of Italy. S-mines were deployed on the beaches of Normandy in preparation for the D-Day invasion, as part of a general program of heavy mining and fortification. The mines were subsequently used to defend German positions during the Battle of Normandy and in the defense of Northern France and the German border. S-mines were typically used in combination with antitank mines to resist the advances of both armor and infantry.
It was during the Allied actions in Europe that the S-mine gained its cynical nickname Bouncing Betty from American infantrymen. The S-mine had a great psychological effect on Allied forces, because of its tendency to seriously maim infantrymen's limbs or genitalia rather than killing them. In his book Mine Warfare on Land, Lt. Col. Sloan described the S-mine as "probably the most feared device encountered by Allied troops in the war." Exact death tolls inflicted by the S-mine are not known, since the Allies did not record whether a death was caused by a particular type of weapon, only whether or not the death occurred in the course of battle. Civilian casualties are even more a matter of speculation.
S-mine production ceased after the end of World War II. No information has been discovered as to the exact fate of the remaining stockpiles of the mine, but it can be assumed a majority were destroyed as part of the disarmament of Germany after their surrender. It is likely some were preserved for study and reverse engineering by the conquering Allies. Many direct imitations of the S-mine appeared in the years following World War II.
During the military occupation of Germany and the postwar rebuilding of Europe, the American Army Corps of Engineers, the newly established French government, and the British Ministry of Defence engaged in one of the most prolonged and successful mine clearing operations throughout Western Europe. France deployed a variety of personnel to undertake this task, including 49,000 German prisoners of war. This joint operation eliminated a majority of the remaining fields of landmines on the war-torn western half of the continent, and was greatly assisted by the German policy of clearly marking and accurately recording the locations of minefields.
However, incidents involving accidental explosions of landmines in North Africa, the former Warsaw Pact countries, France, and Germany still occur sporadically. North Africa and Eastern Europe have a particularly large amount of uncleared World War II era minefields, lost in the desert sands or forgotten by authorities. In Libya, for example, the Red Cross estimates over 27% of farmland is unusable due to World War II minefields. While German documentation says the S-mine had an effective lifespan of two to seven years once planted, the explosive charge could still operate in mines to this day.
The German S-mine was a steel cylinder less than 13 cm (5 inches) tall without its sensor, and only 10 cm (4 inches) in diameter. A steel rod protruding from the mine's top held the main fuse, where its trigger or sensor was attached. The SMi-35 had a central fuze, while the SMi-44 had an offset fuze. It weighed roughly 4 kg (9 pounds), with the weight depending on whether it was loaded with the lighter powdered or the heavier poured TNT.
The main charge of the mine used TNT as its explosive; the propelling charge was black powder. All triggers for the mine were designed to create a spark to set off a flammable fuse inside the device. The standard pressure sensor used a percussion cap for this purpose.
The main fuze was designed to delay the firing of the propelling charge for roughly four seconds after the mine was triggered. The explosion of the propelling charge sent the mine upwards into the air, and activated three short-delay pellets between the propelling charge and the three detonators. These short-delay pellets slowed the mine's detonation long enough for it to reach an appropriate height before exploding.
The standard pressure sensor was built to be activated if depressed by a weight of roughly 7 kilograms (15 pounds) or greater. This was to ensure it was not detonated by wildlife or natural impacts. The tripwire adapter for the mine was a shallow Y-shaped device, and would trigger the mine if the tripwire was pulled away from the mine.
The S-mine was normally triggered by a three-pronged pressure sensor. It could also be modified to be triggered by a tripwire. A special tripwire adapter was provided by the German army. The steel tube that held the fuse was threaded to accept any standard German igniter or trigger, allowing the sensor to be removed and the mine to be deliberately triggered by a human operator. When triggered, the mine detonated in two stages (see diagram).
- First, the mine was propelled 0.9–1.5 m (3–5 feet) into the air by a small propelling charge.
- Roughly half a second later, the main charge exploded at the optimum height to wound infantry and personnel.
- The main charge of the mine was surrounded by roughly 360 ball bearings, short steel rods, or scrap metal pieces. These became metal shrapnel that sprayed horizontally from the mine at lethal speeds.
The time between triggering and detonation of the propelling charge varied between 3.9 and 4.5 seconds, depending on the age and condition of the mine. According to German documentation, the S-mine was lethal within 20 meters (22 yards) and could inflict casualties within 100 m (110 yards). American training manuals warned of casualties at up to about 140 m (150 yards). A common misconception about the S-mine is that it would not detonate until its victim stepped off the trigger. This fallacy was propagated by incorrect United States propaganda during World War II. The mine would detonate whether the trigger was released or not. Standing still or attempting to run from the S-mine would be equally dangerous. The most effective way to survive the mine's detonation would not be to flee but to fall to the ground lying face down as quickly as possible.
Detection and disarming
The S-mine was constructed mostly of metal, so it could be easily detected by metal detectors. However, such expensive and bulky equipment was rarely available to infantry units and was prone to malfunction. The mine could also be detected through careful manual probing, a time-consuming process. Using a knife or a bayonet, an infantryman would probe at a low angle through the soil. It was important to probe at an angle that would not accidentally depress the pressure sensor.
Once an S-mine was discovered, disarming it was fairly simple. To prevent triggering while the mine was being planted, the German pressure sensor featured a hole where a safety pin kept the sensor from being depressed. This pin was removed once the mine was planted. If the discovered mine was fitted with the pressure sensor, the disarming personnel would slip a pin (such as a sewing pin) into this hole. If the device was armed with a tripwire or electrical trigger, this could simply be cut. Germans were known to use booby traps to discourage this, so caution was suggested. The mine could then be removed carefully from the ground and the sensor easily unscrewed. If it was deemed necessary to render the mine completely inert, three plugs on the top granted access to the three detonators inside the mine. These could be unscrewed and the detonators removed.
These diagrams depict the SMi-35 landmine's internal workings, along with the workings of the standard three-prong pressure sensor. The safety pin for the sensor and the three removable plugs for the detonators are clearly visible. These diagrams were issued as part of a US Army field manual on landmines in 1943.
The S-mine was an extremely successful design, and allies as well as enemies were impressed by the mine's performance and effectiveness. Once it had gained its fearsome reputation, the S-mine was widely imitated by various countries throughout the world. Both during World War II and for many decades afterward, armies have attempted to imitate the great success of the S-mine. The nickname 'Bouncing Betty' came to be applied to many of its imitations.
The Finnish army began purchasing the SMi-35 model S-mine from Germany following the Winter War. This was part of a larger military assistance agreement between the two nations. Finnish forces achieved great success with the S-mine, but the monetary cost of the mine was considerable. During the Continuation War, the Finns attempted to produce their own version of the mine but with no success. The Finnish nickname for the mine was Hyppy-Heikki (Hopping Henry).
The French Mle 1939 mine was inspired by the success of the S-mine. In 1940, Major Pierre Delalande of the French Corps of Engineers managed to escape the German conquest of his country and reached the United States with the Mle-1939 plans. These plans led to the development of the American M2 mine which was fielded in 1942 but proved deficient in combat. The American army was impressed by the S-mine's role in thwarting the French offensive in the German Saar region at the beginning of World War II, and continued further work on bounding mines. After the war, the American army developed their M16 mine directly from captured S-mine designs.
The Soviet Union also based the design of its OZM series of landmines on the German S-mine. The Soviet mines tended to be far simpler internally; instead of being filled with ball bearings or scrap metal, the OZM-4 mine was given a solid cast-iron body that would fragment on its own. Later, the OZM-72 bounding mine was filled with steel rods, returning to the original concept of the S-mine. Both of these mines are still being produced by Russia.
Other nations that have produced S-mine-inspired designs include the People's Republic of China and Italy. The use of landmines remains a controversial issue to this day. Antipersonnel mines like the S-mine have been the subject of repeated treaties and human rights objections, and are the subject of extensive international debate.