Sapper Bradnam’s latest blog from the Royal School of Military Engineering looks back at an explosive week!
Demolitions week. Everyone was in high spirits as the demolitions phase has a high reputation for being one of the better aspects of the course. To begin with, however, we had to learn all of the theory and safety relevant to the use of demolitions. Theory varied between learning the names of various components and their uses to learning the exact burning rates of safety fuse. We also had to learn the various different types of explosive charges such as simple slabs of PE4 to shaped charges designed to cut through bridges. It is, however, not very useful knowing what the parts do without being able to set them up, so we spent a considerable amount of time learning how to put together demolitions using dummy equipment including simple initiation sets and a bridge demolition. The bridge demolition practical was my favourite part of the theory side as it was good to step back and see in practice what you had been learning.
Once the theory was complete it was time to use live explosives, with our first venture being into the bull ring, which is a sand circle in a wooded area used for detonating small initiation sets. Eight people at a time sets up small charges at regular spacing around the sandy opening. Each had a different burning rate, timed go off one after another. Everyone initiates the set and then, as calmly as possible, walks out in a line back the way they came past the burning fuses. This might not sound much but when you are walking past a fuse which is burning shorter and shorter into a lump of PE4, all you want to do is run. My heart was pounding as I walked past!
With the bull ring completed we came to the most anticipated day of all – Demolitions Day. On this day we all travelled down to Salisbury Plain Training Area for a day of blowing things up. Each section set up different explosive devices. My section made an improvised claymore (which to the shock of some wasn’t little box with a red laser from “Call of Duty”!) We also showed how to effectively cut through objects such as telegraph poles and trees using small amounts of explosive. Other sections showed how to cut through bridge panels and make a shaped charge out of wine bottles and also how to strip reinforced concrete structures. Once everything was set up we moved back to a bunker and watched as we detonated each set in turn. Once the explosions had awed us all we returned to the wreckage to have a look at the devastation we had achieved. I was shocked to see how accurate the use of explosives can be with things such as the bridge panel being cut almost perfectly in two. With all the fun, there was a serious side to the whole day – to give us confidence in handling explosives and also to teach us how dangerous and powerful they are. One thing that really stuck in my mind was when a detonator alone was detonated. It would be enough to cause severe damage! When using detonators we were always told to crimp down the correct end or it would explode and after seeing that I definitely do not want to be crimping the wrong end!
With the Demolitions phase over it was time for the Field Fortifications phase. This module taught us how to build and defend fortifications. This included razor/barbed wire fences, 2 and 4-man battle trenches, low wire entanglements and even down to the basics of filling sandbags and building a wall. It was a short and sharp phase and I really enjoyed it. We built a Super Sangar which is a bit like the cuplock tower from the water purification module, except it has a permanent stairway and a roof. It is used out on operations at the moment and provides good protection whilst providing good fields of view and arcs of fire. I love building structures like this as there is something strangely satisfying looking at a huge scaffold tower that has been erected from scratch in just a couple of hours.
I thought the first 2 weeks went fast but the course is now flying by. Weeks 5 and 6 involve watermanship (driving around in boats) and mine warfare modules, which I cannot wait to do. If the course continues to be like this then I don’t think I am going to want to leave.