For the soldiers of 11 Explosive Ordnance Disposal and Search Regiment (11 EOD), 2020 has been a busy bomb-filled year featuring highs, lows and some distinctly fishy tasks.
Whilst the UK has lurched from one lockdown to another the job of explosive ordnance disposal (EOD), has steadily increased. 11 EOD & Search Regt, across 14 locations with 400 serving personnel on duty at extreme high readiness, many at ten minutes notice to move, have remained fully committed to critical ‘No Fail’ Military Assistance to Civil Authorities (MACA) Operations over the period covered by Op RESCRIPT.
An increase in more hi-tech kit and equipment, enabling the bomb disposal experts to fulfil more tasks more efficiently and safely, has been a boon to the troops. They’ve even starred in their own Channel 4 documentary, shining a spotlight on the dangerous and important work they do.
Check out some of this year’s highlights for the Army’s bomb disposal team during 2020:
Magnet fishing - a dangerous new hobby
The spike of additional tasks certainly can be seen in the early stages of lockdown. This is assessed as a result of an increase of garden and home renovations revealing legacy buried unexploded ordnance (UXO). In addition to this we have experienced an increase number of items discovered as a result of magnet fishers.
Previously metal detector enthusiasts were an Operators best friend, now it would appear a magnet fisher is now an operators best friend. We can’t comment at this time if the increase of magnet fisher finds are a result of the lockdown and more time on their hands or an increase in the amount of people taking up this hobby.
The lockdown has also resulted in an increase of further-afield finds; this has been as walkers find themselves with more time to test their map reading skills and transit deeper into the Yorkshire Moors and some of the most remote spots.
Our most frequent Conventional Munition Disposal (CMD) taskings are generally small hand-held sized items such as 2inch Mortars and Hand Grenades (Grenade Hand HE Mills No36, referred to by many as pineapple grenades, generally weighing in at around the 500g-1Kg mark).
New vehicles and robots come online
The concept of (MACA) EOD operations have remained relatively unchanged over recent decades, with improvements in how we operate rather than the equipment itself. Two current projects; GASKET and STARTER have been designed to modernise and replace existing equipment and procedures.
Project GASKET sees the introduction of 297 new vehicles, most significantly a new 4x4 medium scale capability. It is perhaps one of the most significant changes to EOD operations in recent times. This concept is designed around improving agility of the fleet, maximising options available to an EOD team whilst also reducing response times to the 2500-3000 EOD tasks dealt with by the unit each year.
In addition, to ensure we maintain maximum capability under Ops TAPESTRY and HELVETIC, Project STARTER will introduce a new robot, the T7 HARRIS to the EOD community, with 122 robots to enhance the heavy scale capability. This robot has been through a lengthy and vigorous trial period and will offer enhanced communications, robustness and ease of use, amongst other advantages.
With the projects scheduled for full operating capability during 2020 at a value of £96 million (STARTER) and £17 million (GASKET), it is evident that the investment into the EOD community reflects the ongoing high operational tempo of the duty teams and importance to Defence and wider national security.
Half a century of Felix
This year also marks the 50th birthday of Felix, the Regiment’s mascot and was commemorated in Aug 20 with the re-dedication of the 321 EOD & Search Sqn Memorial Garden. Felix originated at 321 EOD & Search Sqn, NI. 321 Explosive Ordnance Disposal Company, Royal Army Ordnance Company was formed in response to an increasing terrorist bombing campaign during 1970.
Early on Felix became the unit’s nickname and mascot. While not the first ever organisation to conduct ‘Bomb- Disposal’ 321 and Felix have become internationally recognised for operational excellence. The lessons from Northern Ireland and Felix have been globally adopted. 321 and Felix are a benevolent constant for NI, through the Troubles and beyond.
Over time the Company evolved, no longer an independent unit but within 11 EOD&S Regiment, Royal Logistic Corps and now home to 6 different cap badges and both bomb disposal and search disciplines. It remains true that more personnel serving within 321 EOD & Search Sqn and 11 EOD & Search Regt RLC have been decorated for their service more than any other unit in the British Army.
Callouts in numbers
The Joint Service EOD Operations Centre (JSEODOC) on average deploys to c2500 taskings each year. So far this year, there have been 2301 Conventional Munition Disposal and 497 Improvised Explosive Device tasks.
In 2020 the JSEODOC has seen an increase of approximately 15 per cent on the average yearly taskings. We are on track to see an increase of approximately 300+ CMD taskings from the five-year average of 2000 per year with IED taskings following suit to previous years, ending at about 500.
Most unusual tasks
Improvised explosive device (IED) taskings can vary greatly from task to task. Ranging from an innocently left behind item of luggage in an Airport, a schoolboy trying to advance his chemistry knowledge and mixing a cocktail of explosive ingredients in his garden shed, through to tasks like assisting in the aftermath of the Manchester terrorist attack.
The most unusual or most interesting task is somewhat subjective, but we think it was a task involving two x British 500lb Semi Armour Piercing bombs. These were likely a result of a mid-air collision involving 2 Wellington Bombers during WW2. The company developing the land where the bombs were found gave a donation to the Felix Fund as a thank you for clearing the site. The story can be viewed here: http://www.yorkshire-aircraft. co.uk/aircraft/yorkshire/ york43/hz531.html
Inside the Bomb Squad
Our personnel starred in our own documentary on Channel 4, called Inside the Bomb Squad. We are hoping to do a second series in 2021.
Have a safe and happy Christmas and New Year, and remember, if you inadvertently disturb what you believe to be live ordnance, contact your local police force as a matter of urgency.