The definition of a Booby-Trap according to the Rhodesian Corps of Engineers (RhE) training pamphlet was as follows:

A booby trap is a cunning contrivance, usually of an explosive and lethal nature, designed to catch the unwary enemy; a savage practical joke. It is aimed directly at the reduction of morale and mobility, both of which are vitally important to success in war.“.

In this post I would like to recall two occasions where I was tasked by my higher HQ to lay Booby-Traps. These operations were to take place in the Operation Tangent area and were to be sighted in such a way that terrorists would be well into the kill-zone before the traps were initiated, meaning that we were going for maximum gook casualties. Concealment of the entire set-up was therefore of critical importance, and this includes clandestine insertion of the Booby-Trap team, as we knew that there were eyes and ears everywhere in the bush. We therefore had to apply counter surveillance techniques from insertion to extraction as it is pointless to lay a Booby-Trap that can be seen, or the laying team are observed moving into the target area.

Without going into too much detail, Booby-Traps can be initiated (set-off) by a number of actions, the most popular at the time being the application of pressure, the release of pressure, pull, pull (or tension) release, or the application of some form of Delay. There are many other ways that Booby-Traps can be initiated but I am not going to cover these here. We had specially manufactured devices known as switches, available to us, however for the specific tasks that I was to lead on we would be using Pressure switches only. In other words the required action for success was for someone or something to stand on the pressure switch for the Booby-Trap to detonate. Please note that I used the term “someone or something” as these devices cannot tell friend from foe and would therefore activate the trap regardless of who or what applied the pressure. Sadly animals and friendly forces have been collateral damage to these devices on a number of occasions causing death or injury. The following illustrations show the abovementioned methods in simple to understand detail:

Looking at the previous paragraphs, my readers will appreciate that there are a number of fundamental pre-requisites for a successful Booby-Trap result. One does not simply pick a spot on a map and Booby-Trap it and there are a number of basic principles that we observed when sighting and laying Booby-Traps, and these are as follows:

  1. Concealment: The charges and mechanisms must be concealed or made to resemble some harmless object. The surroundings should be disturbed as little as possible and all signs of preparation should be concealed or removed.
  2. Constricted Localities: The more constricted the site in which a trap is laid the more chance there is of its being sprung and the greater the difficulty of detection and clearance. Any form of defile is therefore a suitable site for boobytraps.
  3. Concentration of Traps: Traps should be laid, whenever possible, in considerable concentrations to reduce the chances of finding them all without springing some. Dummies should be used freely.
  4. Double bluff: An obvious trap may be used to mask a well concealed trap near by.
  5. Inconvenience: Traps may be operated by the removal of obstacles such as road blocks and demolitions, or of furniture or litter in dug-outs or buildings, particularly if these are suitable for headquarters.
  6. Curiosity: The handling of souvenirs, pictures, food and drink containers, musical instruments, weapons, etc, may operate a trap.
  7. Everyday operations: Traps may be operated by opening or closing doors or windows, using telephones or electric light switches etc.
  8. Attraction: Delay-action or incendiary bombs may attract personnel to a booby trapped site.
  9. Alternative methods of firing: A trap may be provided with two or more methods of firing.
  10. Variety: As many different types as possible should be employed in any one locality.

Before continuing I would like to be clear on what I was expected to achieve on both missions and you will note that this ties in closely with the foregoing paragraphs:

  1. Inflict maximum casualties on the enemy.
  2. Use Pressure as the initiating action.
  3. Use of the following Principles – Concealment, Constricted Localities, Concentration of Traps, Alternative methods of firing and Variety.
  4. Covert infiltration to laying site
  5. Operational Security (Opsec)

A brief description of the two missions are as follows:

Mission 1

  1. Operational Area: Tangent
  2. Environment: Forest
  3. Type of Booby-Trap: Multi-device, pressure operated
  4. Concealment method: Existing vegetation
  5. Explosives to be used: Date expired Air Force and Army ordnance
  6. Insertion: Vehicle and night-march

Mission 2

  1. Operational Area: Tangent
  2. Environment: Existing dirt road
  3. Type of Booby-Trap: Multi-device, pressure operated
  4. Concealment method: Existing soil on dirt road
  5. Explosives to be used: Anti-personnel and anti-vehicle mines
  6. Insertion: Boat and night-march

In the next post I will describe in detail Mission 1 and Mission 2.