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Landmines

Anti-personnel training landmine, Kosovo, 1999.

Anti-personnel training landmine, Kosovo, 1999.

Credits:Science Museum, London/SSPL

Landmine injuries usually result in amputation. Landmines have a long history; the first ones were devised by the Romans and were a small spike planted in the ground that would cause injury when stepped on. They were not as devastating as later mines because they were not explosive. The first explosive landmines were used by the Chinese in 1277.

European landmines were developed in the 1500s. High-explosive landmines, more devastating to those who stepped on them, were developed in the 1800s in the United States. The British designed mines filled with poison gas in the First World War. Just before the Battle of the Somme, on 1 July 1916, the British exploded 21 mine chambers underneath German lines.

Mines have become more controversial as uncleared mines from previous wars have killed and maimed enormous numbers of civilians and children in countries such as Cambodia, Angola and Vietnam. Poor countries cannot afford large-scale mine clearance. It cost about US$3 to lay a mine and between $300 and $1000 to clear one. Campaigns are under way to clear landmines and prevent their manufacture.

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Bibliography

M Croll, The History of Landmines (Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 1998)

L Monin and A Gallimore, The Devil’s Garden: A History of Landmines (London: Pimlico, 2002)

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