A Brief Tale of Awesomeness:
History of Army EOD
A comprehensive history of Army EOD was written by CSM (Ret.) James H.
Clifford . I've decided to repost almost all of it here.
Although I wasn't able to get in touch with CSM Clifford before I
first posted this, he has since emailed permission and
compliments on the website. I'm grateful because I couldn't have
written a better history myself.
The Origins of U.S. Army Explosive Ordnance
By CSM (Ret.) James H. Clifford
Among the many developments to come out of the World War II
experience, the establishment of a bomb disposal organization is one
of the more interesting. Until then, the Army had no bomb disposal
apparatus. The seeds of Army bomb disposal were planted out of the
necessity of World War II and grew into an organization that lasts
unto this day.
As Europe was engulfed in war, the United States watched and planned
for the inevitable day when it too would be dragged into the carnage.
The handling of unexploded bombs, known at the time as UXB, was one of
the most challenging problems. Before the war there was no method or
organization to deal with UXB. It was a small problem usually handled
by engineer squads that detonated UXB where found. Pre-World War II
ordnance was simplistic in design and posed little hazard to people
when it failed to detonate. As modern technology was applied to
ordnance design, the task took on a higher level of hazard. Delay and
anti-tamper fuzing added new complications that could only be handled
by a dedicated organization specially trained in the mission of bomb
The birth of modern bomb disposal dates to the Battle of Britain in
1940. As the German Luftwaffe blitzed English cities, citizens were
killed and wounded in increasing numbers by UXB. Some of these UXB
were duds but many had delay fuzing designed to detonate hours later,
creating the effect of a twenty-four hour bombing campaign. At first,
untrained British engineers took on the task of bomb disposal. The
casualty rate was high and the need for specialized training soon
The earliest bomb disposal training was conducted for all services at
Melsham Royal Air Force Force Station, Wiltshire, England. In
September 1941, the Royal Engineers established a formal Army Bomb
Disposal School in Donnington, relocating to Harper Barracks at Ripon
in January 1942. At the same time, each of the British military
services established their own independent bomb disposal training to
handle the specific requirements of that service.
Early training and equipment were rudimentary and casualties continued
to be very high. However, the casualty rate decreased as experience
grew and training matured. Disposal troops developed several
techniques for handling UXB, including those designed to stop
clockwork timers, remove fuzes, and steam explosives out of bombs.
American authorities originally planned for bomb disposal to be a
civilian function. In April 1941, the Office of Civilian Defense
established the Chemical Warfare School at Edgewood Arsenal, Maryland.
Bomb disposal would be taught as part of the overall course of
instruction at the school. The Chemical Corps asked for assistance
from the Ordnance Corps located at nearby Aberdeen Proving Ground. GEN
Julian S. Hatcher, commander of the Ordnance Training Center, detailed
MAJ Thomas J. Kane to provide whatever assistance he could to the
program. MAJ Kane is considered the father of U.S. Army Bomb Disposal,
today known as Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD).
Two ideas changed the structure of what was to become U.S. Army Bomb
Disposal. First was the realization that civilians could not be
expected to carry out bomb disposal duties. Second was that bomb
disposal was not a Chemical Corps function. Five days after the attack
on Pearl Harbor, the War Department assigned the Office of Civilian
Defense responsibility for bomb disposal in the Zone of the Interior,
and the Ordnance Department similar missions on military installations
and overseas areas. The Chief of Ordnance rightly concluded in a
letter to the Adjutant General that â€œCivilian volunteers cannot be
properly trained or disciplined for this hazardous work. Every detail
of delayed-action bomb disposal is hazardous in the extreme and
requires the utmost in skill, caution, and discipline. Only
professionals can develop the skill and experience necessary for such
work.â€ Shortly thereafter the Office of Civilian Defense was relieved
of bomb disposal responsibilities in favor of the Ordnance Department,
and the idea that civilians should conduct bomb disposal activities
In January 1942, the Ordnance Department formed a bomb disposal
organization at Aberdeen with now LTC Kane as the first Commandant of
the Bomb Disposal School. LTC Kane and another officer immediately
traveled to England along with two enlisted soldiers to learn the
craft of bomb disposal from the British. A second team consisting of
two officers and enlisted soldiers followed them two weeks later. At
the same time, a British team led by COL Jeffrey Yates traveled to
Aberdeen to begin instructing U.S. soldiers.
COL Yates brought along a complete line of tools and equipment
developed in England, so the first U.S. soldiers were taught British
methods. The first several classes consisted solely of officers in
keeping with the British model that dictated that only officers could
do the delicate and dangerous work of defuzing bombs. The first
enlisted men started bomb disposal training at Aberdeen in April 1942.
The training included recognition of bombs, use of bomb disposal
equipment, bomb excavation, and rigging.
In addition to a lack of trained personnel, there were no
instructional materials available in the United States. That shortage
was soon rectified by the reproduction of British training
publications. In March 1942, the Signal Corps duplicated the British
film UXB for use in the United States.
Before long, thousands of soldiers and civilians viewed the film.
Later manuals were published, including a bomb reconnaissance manual
for civilians, Ordnance Field Service Circular No. 75, Bomb
Reconnaissance for All Arms, and a handbook entitled Objects Dropped
from the Air. The publication of these documents and the undertaking
of an instructional mission set a precedent that is still followed
Many aspects of bomb disposal continued simultaneously throughout
1942. As training progressed, the organization of bomb disposal units
proceeded. On 9 May 1942 the 231st Bomb Disposal Company became the
first such unit in Army history established under basic Allowance No.
9 for Bomb Disposal Company. The 231st was sent to the Western Defense
Command, one of the geographical theaters of the United States
landmass. The next month the revised table of organization was
approved for overseas companies.
At the same time, construction of the bomb disposal school at Aberdeen
was completed in June. The school became a frequent stop for visiting
officers and bomb disposal experts from U.S. allies, including England
and Australia. Naval bomb disposal experts also visited Aberdeen from
their recently established school at American University in
As soldiers graduated from the school, they were assigned to companies
being sent throughout the United States and all combat theaters. Some
officers were detailed to the various U.S. and Allied commands as bomb
disposal advisors. A regular program of support to civilian
authorities was established that has continued to this day. Within a
few months, bomb disposal officers were dispatched throughout the U.S.
to instruct public safety and industry leaders on such subjects as
bomb recognition and safety, and bomb disposal teams operated on
military installations and their surrounding communities. The first
recovery on an unexploded bomb occurred about this time along the Elk
River in Maryland.
Overseas, bomb disposal companies were unavailable for Operation
Torch, the invasion of North Africa in November 1942. By the invasion
of Sicily in July 1943, bomb disposal soldiers were busy dealing with
both Allied and Axis UXB and teaching troops the details of bomb
reconnaissance. The issue of teaching troops was so important that a
school for that purpose was established at Bristol, England. The
school included a miniature village and a museum of UXB. Initially,
instructors from the Royal Engineer School at Ripon handled the
instruction, but upon their arrival in the fall of 1943, the 234th
Bomb Disposal Company assumed responsibility for the school.
In March 1944, COL Kane arrived in England to become the Eighth Air
Force Bomb Disposal Officer. He and his men formed the Bomb Disposal
Division, a staff section designated to handle bomb disposal matters.
In addition to the duties disposing UXB, they also maintained an
active liaison between various military units to further the knowledge
of bomb disposal. They produced a regular newsletter called Fuze News,
and made such progress in the field that the British, despite being in
the business for five years, adopted several American procedures and
types of equipment. The chief advantage of American equipment was that
it was substantially lighter than that of British bomb disposal units.
The British equipment weighed nearly two tons, while the American
equipment used for bomb disposal duties weighed around two hundred
Throughout the war bomb disposal soldiers went about their dangerous
job with courage and professionalism. Dozens of them paid the ultimate
price to protect soldier and civilian alike from the ravages of the
unexploded bomb. Led by COL Kane, they began a legacy that continued
through World War II until today. In each of our conflicts since World
War II, whether they were called police actions, peacekeeping or peace
making missions, rescue missions, or war, the bomb disposal, now
explosive ordnance disposal, soldier has been there.
COL Kaneâ€™s legacy is reflected in the cooperative effort that is the
modern EOD community consisting of the Army, Navy, and Air Force, and
Marine Corps. As soldiers trained at Aberdeen Proving Ground in World
War II, sailors, and later, beginning in 1943, Marines, trained in
Washington, D.C. The Navy eventually moved their school to the Naval
Powder Factory in Indian Head, Maryland, in 1946, designating it the
Explosive Ordnance Disposal course, which gave birth to the term used
The year 1947 saw two significant developments in BD/EOD history.
First, the U.S. Air Force was established as an independent service,
and with that airmen began EOD training. Next, the Army began sending
officers and senior noncommissioned officers to the EOD School at
Indian Head. Junior enlisted soldiers continued to train at Aberdeen.
In 1951, the Navy was assigned joint responsibility for all EOD
training, and in 1955, the Army EOD School at Aberdeen was closed.
From 1955 to 1993, soldiers joined volunteers from the other services
to train at Indian Head. In 1993 the EOD School began a transition
into its current location. That transition lasted until 1999 when the
Naval School, Explosive Ordnance Disposal, at Eglin Air Force base,
Florida, was fully operational. It is there that instructors teach
volunteers from each service modern EOD techniques before they join
the field and fleet to apply their skills.
Today EOD soldiers are easily recognizable by the distinctive badge
worn on the uniform. Early bomb disposal soldiers did not have that
symbol of excellence. The basic EOD badge was designed in 1956. The
basic and Senior EOD Badges were approved by the Department of the
Army the following year. The Master EOD Badge was approved by the Army
in June 1969. Those badges are now the universal symbol of bomb
disposal, worn by all services and copied by several civilian bomb
squads and foreign military services.
Danger is still an inherent part of the EOD soldierâ€™s existence. The
evidence of that can be found at the EOD Memorial located at the range
complex at the EOD School. Each spring, EOD members past and present
gather to commemorate the sacrifices made by the over 160 volunteers
whose names are enshrined there. Unfortunately, most years require
that a name, sometimes several, must be added. Each name represents an
EOD soldier, sailor, airman, or marine, who lost his life in an
operational or training accident, during peacetime or combat, for the
sole purpose of protecting others. In 2001, the names of three EOD
soldiers were added shortly after bombs mistakenly dropped on their
position on a Kuwaiti range from a U.S. Navy F/A-18 killed them. Their
deaths serve to remind us all that danger is to be found on any EOD
mission, no matter how routine it may appear.
Today, EOD soldiers are at work throughout the United States, at every
overseas station, and every deployment location at great risk to their
own personal safety. They, like the bomb disposal soldiers of World
War II, and the organization that started from scratch in 1941, are
adding an invaluable contribution to the history of the U.S. Army.
The Meaning of the EOD Badge (The "Crab")
Armando Robles, an EOD Tech in the USAF, did some great EOD graphics
work on his old website, A Brown Origin.
He created this flash that explains the meaning of the EOD badge. I
thought it would be better than typed words.
Note: If you don't see the Flash Movie and you're using Internet
Explorer, try clicking the Compatibility View icon in the address
bar. It looks like the piece of paper ripped in half.