BOOBY TRAPS, devices that explode when a hidden or apparently harmless object is disturbed and detonate before the victim can recognize and react to the danger. Traps executed in warfare have existed since antiquity, but the modern booby trap did not appear until World War I.
The Germans and the Japanese used booby traps extensively during World War II, usually as defensive weapons. The Korean War also saw wide use of booby traps by the Chinese and the North Koreans. In the Vietnam War, booby traps became a major weapon, their employment by the Vietcong and the North Vietnamese being so common that they had the practical effect of serving as offensive as well as defensive weapons. Soldiers in these armies extensively booby trapped their supply caches, known routes of communications, and approaches to hidden base camps. The Vietcong used nonexplosive traps as well, especially sharpened stakes hidden in vegetation at likely helicopter landing zones. U.S. troops seldom used booby traps in World War II and the Korean War but did so frequently in Vietnam, where Americans employed the "mechanical ambush" using a pellet-firing mine activated by a hidden trip wire.
Convention on Prohibitions or Restrictions on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1995.
Sullivan, George E. Suicidal Booby Traps. Washington, D.C.: G. E. Sullivan, 1949.
boo·by trap • n. a thing designed to catch the unwary, in particular: ∎ an apparently harmless object containing a concealed explosive device designed to kill or injure anyone who touches it: miles of mines, booby traps, and underground fortifications. ∎ a trap intended as a practical joke, such as an object placed on top of a door ajar ready to fall on the next person to pass through. • v. (boob·y-trap) [tr.] place a booby trap in or on (an object or area).