Antipersonnel Weapons

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Antipersonnel Weapons have been defined as being “designed to destroy or obstruct personnel.” The first antipersonnel (AP) mine device activated by human foot pressure, a fladdermine, was described by a German author in 1726. During the American Civil War, Gabriel Rains (1803–1881) devised step mines activated by foot pressure and small AP devices set off when attractive items laid on the ground activated a cord attached to the buried mine. Despite outraged objections from critics in both the North and South, work on AP devices continued during that war. In World War I, the tretmine, or step‐on mine, containing shrapnel, was used mainly in trench warfare. Most early twentieth‐century AP mines were intended to dissuade enemy personnel from disabling heavier antitank mines.

All modern mines have fuses, detonators, booster and principal charges, and a case; but they come in a variety of types. Bounding fragmentation mines, such as the German S‐Mine (1935), sprang up to 2 yards above the ground before they exploded, effectively spewing metal to a radius of some 150 feet, though injuries were possible up to several thousand feet. The M‐2 was the first U.S. mine of this type (1942). The M‐3 fixed, or nondirectional fragmentation mine (1943) was an early example of a weapon that effectively spewed metal fragments to a distance of 30 feet, though some shards might travel for several hundred more. The Claymore mine, developed by the American Norman A. MacLeod in the early 1950s, was a directional fragmentation mine, utilizing several pounds of explosive to disseminate hundreds of irregularly shaped steel cubes. Lighter types were utilized by infantrymen in the Vietnam War.

Blast mines achieve results through their bursting effect. Some of these are very lightweight, can be fabricated in the field, and have increasingly been made of plastic, glass, wood, and other nonmetallic substances, with nonmetallic fuses, rendering them virtually impossible to detect. The wide area antipersonnel mine (WAAPM) was a flanged metal sphere with tripwires spread by springs. Scatterable blast‐kill, tripwire‐activated mines, dispensed from magazines or drums on truck trailers, have seen much use since the 1970s. By 1996, there were some 2500 different types of AP mine and fuse combinations worldwide.

Detection of mines by hand or by hand‐held detectors is still the most effective method, but it is labor‐intensive. Vehicular clearing methods have entailed the use of flails, plows, and lightweight rollers. Breaching of minefields can also be done by electronic means, or by the use of explosives. By the late 1980s, more than 90 percent of casualties due to AP mines worldwide were civilians. And by 1995, approximately 110 million AP mines had been deployed around the world. In 1992, the U.S. Congress enacted a moratorium on the sale of AP mines, and the United Nations and other nations have since done the same. In 1997, the United States refused to sign a multinational treaty banning the use of antipersonnel land mines because the U.S. Army uses such devices to protect American troops on the Korean peninsula.
[See also Mines, Land.]


The Arms Project of Human Rights and Physicians for Human Rights , Landmines: A Deadly Legacy, 1993.
Eric Prokosch , The Technology of Killing, 1995.

Keir B. Sterling