Landmines: a History
This document was consolidated by the ME Senior Design Class2008.
    this document can also be found here: landmine.doc

Landmines are a type of military weapon that is planted in the ground.  Once the mine is trigger by either pressure or the presence of another object, the mine self-destructs and destroys or damages anything within its range.  In general, there are two types of landmines.  First antitank mines that are design to destroy tanks and other military vehicles were invented, and second antipersonnel mines that are designed to kill or maim other soldiers.[1]  Further, Anti-Personnel Landmines can be broken down into the categories of blast mines and fragmentation mines. Fragmentation mines can then be broken down into the categories of stake or bounding. The military use of antitank mines was compromised, however, because they could be easily removed and re-deployed by the enemy, smaller antipersonnel landmines were developed.”6

There are also many different triggers for landmines such as pressure, movement, sound, magnetism, and vibration.  The main components of a landmine are the casing, firing mechanism, detonator, booster charge, and the main charge.[2]

Anti-Personnel mines are designed to injure and maim enemy soldiers.  A common misconception is that they intend to kill the enemy.  By maiming the enemy it requires more enemy soldiers to help the wounded soldier, and takes more away from their forces.  Also, the sight of a severely maimed soldier has a profound psychological impact on the other soldiers.  The purpose of the mine field and not each specific mine is to effect where the enemy soldiers go for your strategic advantage.  The blast mine explodes to cause severe injury to the enemy’s legs when it is stepped on by the enemy.   Fragmentation mines are typically detonated by a pressure plate or a tripwire.  They are designed to explode and cause severe injury by shooting shrapnel at the enemy who set the mine off or a group of enemies.  Bounding mines are buried in the ground and when they are set off, they jump out of the ground into the air, around torso height, and explode injuring surrounding enemies with shrapnel.  Stake mines are usually hidden in brush on a stake above ground and set off by a tripwire.  They explode and injure the surrounding enemies with shrapnel.

            There are many different designs, shapes, and sizes, but they are all designed to cause severe injury.  All types of mines are dangerous, especially to citizens after wars are over.  Many countries are littered with mines today which need to be found and removed to stop the injuries and deaths of innocent people.

Landmines work by stepping on a pressure sensitive pad that sets off a detonator that ignites a booster charge.  This is used to trigger the main charge that explodes and hot metal pellets and fragments from the casing shoot outward up to 50 meters.  See Figure 1.[3]  Three main types of mines are anti-tank, anti-personnel and sea mines.[4]  According to How Stuff Works, “Landmines are easy-to-make, cheap and effective weapons that can be deployed easily over large areas to prevent enemy movements.”[5]  These can come in many different sizes, such as anti-personnel mines which are small and meant for injuring humans but do not kill them.  From CBC News, “Landmines are indiscriminate.  Many victims are civilians and they are very often children.  Victims who don't die from the blast end up maimed for life.”[6]   The larger anti-tank mines are used to destroy tanks and vehicles.  The International Federation of Medical Students’ Associations says that “The most common landmines are priced from $3 to $40 on the international arms market.  When the war is over mine clearing operations are very tedious, expensive and dangerous.  Estimates from mine clearing organizations ranger from $300 to $1000 per mine cleared3.”  From CBC News we can see that, “It would take $33 billion and 1,100 years to clear all the landmines around the world.” 

Landmines were used from the early to create havoc on a city.  “This occurred about 880 B.C. when engineer soldiers drove tunnels (mines) under or through walls and fortifications to gain access to fortified areas or to create a breach large enough for a full-scale attack. These engineers excavated a chamber under the wall and braced the ceiling with timber supports. The supports were then burned, causing the chamber and the structure above it to collapse. Attacking soldiers then assaulted through the breach.”[7]  The idea for tunnel mines came from the current technology of mining precious materials from beneath the earth’s surface.  As new technologies came in the practice in the commercial coal mines industries, these practices were used to help with tunnel mining during war.

Before WWI most battles were fought in trenches.  Then during WWI the tank was invented.  World War I witnessed the introduction of tanks to break the impasse of trench warfare. Antitank mines were developed to counter this new invention.”[8]   The use of these mines was then extended to protect bases and restricted areas.  These mines though were made to damage tanks so they were large and made to detonate once under large amount of pressure.  This allowed other soldiers the ability to remove them.  To prevent this, smaller mines were created with just enough power to stop a person but not much else.6

When mines were planted, it took much time and energy from the soldiers to put into place.  This made mines mainly a defensive weapon that could not be used in excess.  Then in World War Two, new and improved forms of antipersonnel mines were created so that many mines would be planted quickly and with very little effort.  Do to these types of changes over 300 million mines were used in WWII.  Landmines were changed from a defensive weapon to a strategic attack weapon that could be used in excess.6

Today, mines are even easier to plant in large numbers.  Instead of hand planting mines, militaries are able to air drop them onto areas and become active the moment they hit the ground.  This is why there are about 110 million miles in 64 countries now and estimated 2 to 5 million planted every year.  Mines are so widely used still also because they are an inexpensive form of weaponry.  Each mine cost rough between $3 and $75.  Mine have also evolved to be known as “smart mines.”  Mine are now able to distinguish between a small animal and a human and are able to time delay when to become active.[9]


The impact of landmines on humans today is that over 18,000 people are killed or maimed by landmines and about one third of those people are children.2 , “One in 250 people in Cambodia is an amputee because of landmines6.”  Also, “8,000 children in Angola became amputees because of mines,6” since their presence in Angola.  The impact of landmines in dollar amount is, “The cost of treating and fitting a victim with an artificial limb is about $3,000.6” That is a pretty big toll to be taking from innocent people from landmines.   Another downfall of mines is their removal.  Even though mines are cheap to produce and easy to plant, they are very expensive to remove and require much man power to do.  Their prices vary between US $ 3 and US $ 75 per unit whilst the cost of clearance estimated by the United Nations, including support and logistic costs, is between US $ 300 and US $ 1,000 per mine.”9   Landmines have come along way from being a protective defense to a deadly attack weapon.

There has been much advancement in landmine construction and the frequency of use of them. In the future there will hopefully be a way to safely detect and remove unforeseen landmines that kill innocent people.

Figure 1(Left): Anti-personnel blast mine explaining basic components





Figure 1 (Above ): Steak mine








Figure 3 (Left): Anti-personnel bounding mine





[1] Wikipedia, “Land Mine,”

[3]  Wikipedia The Free Encyclopedia.  Wikimedia Foundation, Inc, 28 Aug. 2007.


[4] . IFMSA Landmine Information & Advocacy Kit.  IFMSA, 28 Aug. 2007.


[5] Bonsor, Kevin.  How Stuff Works It’s Good to Know. How Stuff Works Inc, 28 Aug. 2007.


[6] CBC News Online.  CBC News, 28 Aug. 2007. <>

[7] Schneck, Major William C. The Origins of Military Mines: Part I.

[8] Adopt-A-Minefield (UK), “History of Landmines,” October 10, 2003


[9] Louise Doswald-Beck, “Basic Facts: the human cost of landmines,” January 1, 1995