The Long Walk
A British army bomb disposal specialist approaches a suspect vehicle in Belfast, 1970s
“Prepare to meet your God”.
During the bombing campaign, 23 bomb disposal specialists lost their life trying to disable improvised bomb devices.
See: palacebarracksmemorialgarden.co.uk for more details and memorials
I actually lived in Manor Street for a number of years and use to hang out on that corner – just saying!
A British Army Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technical Officer approaches a suspect device at the junction of Manor Street and Oldpark Road in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The Manor Street marked the line between protestant and catholic neighbourhoods. The quotation on the sign on the building to the left is from the Old Testament (Amos 4:12) and it reads:
“Prepare to meet your God“.
Probably the most discouraging thing to possibly read before approaching something that may or may not blow you to pieces.
What is even more morbid is that the technician pictured is already within the “kill” radius for an explosive of that size. Fortunately, the technician in this photo did not lose his life, the bomb did not explode.
The Ammunition Technicians of the Royal Logistic Corps became highly experienced in bomb disposal, after many years of dealing with bombs planted by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) and other groups. The bombs employed by the PIRA ranged from simple pipe bombs to sophisticated victim-triggered devices and infra-red switches.
The roadside bomb was in use by PIRA from the early 1970s onwards, evolving over time with different types of explosives and triggers. Improvised mortars were also developed by the IRA, usually placed in static vehicles, with self-destruct mechanisms. During the 38-year campaign in Northern Ireland, 23 British ATO bomb disposal specialists were killed in action.
The EOD squad who served in Northern Ireland pioneered gears and tactics. For example the first EOD robot was made from a wheelchair stolen from a hospital and a various pulleys and some bits of wood. Also they were first to use the protective suit. The EOD suit only protects from the shrapnel that is ejected by an explosive device, it does not prevent the technician from being killed by the pressure wave produced by a large explosion.
The issue is that the bomb suit stops fragmentation injuries, but explosive force doesn’t care about the suit. Either the explosive force hits you without it and you haemorrhage and die, or it hits the suit and the suit hits you and you haemorrhage and die. It’s useful, but for smaller pipe – bombs, grenades, and small IED objects.
Bomb disposal is the process by which hazardous explosive devices are rendered safe. Bomb disposal is an all-encompassing term to describe the separate, but interrelated functions in the military fields of explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) and improvised explosive device disposal (IEDD), and the public safety roles of public safety bomb disposal (PSBD) and the bomb squad.
The Ammunition Technicians of the Royal Logistic Corps (formerly RAOC) became highly experienced in bomb disposal, after many years of dealing with bombs planted by the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) and other groups. The bombs employed by the PIRA ranged from simple pipe bombs to sophisticated victim-triggered devices and infrared switches. The roadside bomb was in use by PIRA from the early 1970s onwards, evolving over time with different types of explosives and triggers.
Improvised mortars were also developed by the IRA, usually placed in static vehicles, with self-destruct mechanisms. During the 38-year campaign in Northern Ireland, 23 British ATO bomb disposal specialists were killed in action.
A specialist Army unit, 321 EOD Unit (later 321 EOD Company, and now part of 11 Explosive Ordnance Disposal Regiment RLC), was deployed to tackle increased IRA violence and willingness to use bombs against both economic and military targets.
The unit’s radio call-sign was Felix. Many believe this to be an allusion to the cat with nine lives and led to the phrase “Fetch Felix” whenever a suspect device was encountered, which later became the title of the 1981 book Fetch Felix. However, the real reason could be either of two possibilities.
All units in Northern Ireland had a callsign to be used over the radios. 321 Company, a newly formed unit, didn’t have such a callsign, so a young signaller was sent to the OC of 321 Coy. The OC, having lost two technicians that morning, decided on “Phoenix“.
This was misheard as “Felix” by the signaller and was never changed. The other possible reason is that the callsign for RAOC was “Rickshaw”; however, the 321 EOD felt it needed its own callsign, hence the deliberate choice of “Felix the Cat with nine lives”.
321 Coy RAOC (now 321 EOD Sqn RLC) is unique in that it is the most decorated unit (in peace time) in the British Army with over 200 gallantry awards, notably for acts of great bravery during Operation Banner (1969–2007) in Northern Ireland.
British Ammunition Technicians of 11 EOD Regiment RLC were requested by the US Forces commanders to operate in support of the US Marine Corps in clearing the Iraqi oilfields of booby traps and were among the first British service personnel sent into Iraq in 2003 prior to the actual ground invasion.
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