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International Campaign to Ban Landmines - A History of Landmines | Problem | ICBL

Precursors of the weapon are said to have first been used in the American Civil War in the 1800s. But antipersonnel mines were first used on a wide scale in World War II. Since then they have been used in many conflicts, including in the Vietnam War, the Korean War, and the first Gulf War. During the Cold War, many states laid long stretches of landmines along borders.

Antipersonnel mines were initially developed to protect antitank mines and stop them being removed by enemy soldiers. They were used defensively, to protect strategic areas such as borders, camps, or important bridges and to restrict the movement of opposing forces.

Aside from anti-ship mines, I can't remember hearing much about them in WW1, on land.

However they were extensively used in WW2 in defensive contexts, El-Alamein and Kursk come to mind. Korea too. Even now, they are making a comeback in Ukraine, whose frontline conditions not infrequently get compared to WW1 (both do anti-vehicle mines, but Ukraine is a signatory to Ottawa Treaty and Russia is not).

I just don't recall them mentioned much, in any of the books I've ever read about WW1.

Given that WW1 involved static defenses for the most part and that other methods were used to impede troops, such as barbed wire, and that concerns about humane warfare were not foremost in WW1, what explains their lack of use, at least until tanks arrive? Manufacturing them would have been well within the combatants' industrial capacities.

I am not saying they weren't used at all, but searching for anti personnel mines ww1 seems to mostly bring back hits within the Ottawa ban and mine-clearing efforts contexts, rather than tactical WW1 military information.

No, wikipedia, which in any case is not always the final say in all things, doesn't say much.

Nevertheless, antipersonnel mines were not a big factor in the war because machine guns, barbed wire and rapid-fire artillery were far more effective defenses.

This sentence is not sourced or referenced, leaving unclear who tried mines, where, in what year and exactly what didn't work well.

Interesting read

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    Does the Wikipedia section on WWI on its page on Land Mines not answer this? "Nevertheless, antipersonnel mines were not a big factor in the war because machine guns, barbed wire and rapid-fire artillery were far more effective defenses. " If not, why?
    – T.E.D.
    Jun 24, 2023 at 1:29
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    @T.E.D. First, I didn't look at wikipedia. I usually do it for battles or persons, not for more complex info. Second, no, that entry really doesn't say much. Where was mining attempted, in what year, by whom, and how did it it fail? That sentence doesn't even link to a source for its claim, it just makes that claim and leaves it at that (other info do have sources linked). So, no, it doesn't answer this. Jun 25, 2023 at 21:19
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    That's cool. Could you edit that info into the answer, so that prospective answerers can find it easily and don't waste their time looking up and giving you that same info?
    – T.E.D.
    Jun 26, 2023 at 13:09
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    concerns about humane warfare were not foremost in WW1 yeah, you could say that...
    – fgysin
    Jun 30, 2023 at 11:25

2 Answers 2

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In military doctrine, antipersonnel mines and barbed wire are very closely related. Both deny the enemy the ability to move quickly. (Neither side on the Western Front moved quickly, that was the whole problem...)

Either mines or barbed wire needs to be laid down first. Here we get the first real snag: Barbed wire can be brought into position very quickly. Mines are required to be armed. Doing this (which involves standing still for at least a couple of seconds) in closely contested no-man's land is a suicide mission.[1]

Either mines or barbed wire works both ways. If you mine no-man's land so much that no-one can cross it anymore, that includes you. With the tides of battle swinging as much as they did on the Western Front, mining no-man's land to the point were no-one could cross it would free enemy troops just as much as it would free yours. Your own barbed wire is obvious to your troops. On the attack, they can circumnavigate those obstacles, and if they trip up, it's their own fault, and they won't think much of it and continue. Mines are not easily visible; if your troops suffer a handful of casualties in the beginning of an attack due to your own mines, their morale will be much more affected.

But the real issue is this:

Mines react very poorly to artillery, much more so than barbed wire. Actually, using explosives is a common way to clear a minefield in combat conditions.

Given the intensity and concentration of artillery fire on the Western Front, a minefield would not have lasted long.


Fast forward to WWII. Troops were mobile, front lines fluent. Both the Eastern Front and North Africa were wide-open theaters, with troop movements taking on characteristics of naval warfare of area denial and navigation. Troop density seldom reached the kind of levels that were seen on WWI's Western Front.

Both Kursk and El-Alamein (and e.g. Hurtgenwald, another prominent mine-strewn battlefield) were telegraphed long in advance, so minefields could be laid, friendly troops provided with maps so they could move through mine-free corridors as long as the enemy was not yet upon them. There was also little doubt of who would be the defender and who the attacker.

And neither attacking side could concentrate artillery firepower to plow no-man's land in advance of an attack for days at the scale seen in WWI.

So mines became much more effective than they would have been at the Somme in 1916.


[1]: Speaking in WWI terms. Today there are mine-laying vehicles as well as artillery-delivered and air-dropped mines, either of which was not available -- to my knowledge -- in WWI.

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    This looks more solid. I'd add to it that mines in WW1 would have been most beneficial in no-man's land, but that it would have been very dangerous to mine that zone once the front had stabilized and it was under enemy sniper, machinegun and artillery cover. Still, that leaves out any reports of any actual attempts to mine during ww1. Jun 28, 2023 at 19:18
  • @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica I am sure mines were employed where they made sense. It's just that most of the Western Front just didn't have the conditions where they would have made sense, which had certainly been obvious to those involved. I don't really know what kind of reports you're looking for.
    – DevSolar
    Jun 29, 2023 at 7:03
  • This applies to the Westernt Front, how about the Eastern Front where, to my knowledge, trench warfare was much rarer?
    – Bartors
    Jun 30, 2023 at 11:19
  • @Bartors I have to admit I know next to nothing about the WW1 Eastern Front beyond what you said.
    – DevSolar
    Jun 30, 2023 at 11:24
  • re. "suicide mission": I believe night patrols in the no-man's lands during WWI are well documented. How exactly would laying mines at night would have been different from laying (or cutting) barbed wire at night?
    – Jan
    Jul 3, 2023 at 12:52
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The main issue is that industrial production of mines was not enough developed, while one big other issue had to be addressed by the industry: producing enough shells. This was far more important than the mines since the defensive side during WW1 was already greatly equipped with:

  • Machine guns killed infantry in the open
  • Infantry men fought in the trenches, which were specific paths where no mines could be installed

On the other hand, artillery was used in defense and attack, so it was very important to keep it supplied with shells.

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  • I feel this is circular reasoning. Germany went from <350,000 artillery shells / month in 1914 to >11,000,000 / month in 1918. Naval mines were employed in great numbers by both sides. If land mines had provided an advantage on the battlefield, their production could have likewise been ramped up -- but it wasn't.
    – DevSolar
    Jul 3, 2023 at 11:06
  • @DevSolar You are correct in the sense that the problem of producing enough artillery shells was mostly a problem in 1914 and 1915, and started to resolve after. BUT the answer also gives other hindsights about that: after the front line stabilized in the West,mines could not be established and machine guns were enough And yes I did not take into account naval mines since OP spoke of land mines Jul 4, 2023 at 19:09
  • @DevSolar I don't know if that makes it a solved problem however. Shell use in large scale attacks went up correspondingly. It might be that land mines would have been advantageous, but not as much as artillery shells, so one got priority over the other. Plus, that does fit with - now deleted, but still +4 upvotes answer focussing on the Cult of Offense. Dismissing this answer out of hand seems premature. Jul 4, 2023 at 21:35
  • @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica "Why wasn't X used more?" -- "Because they focussed on producing Y." -- "Why did they focus on Y?" -- "Because X was not deemed as effective." -> You are right back at the question of "Why wasn't X deemed as effective?".
    – DevSolar
    Jul 5, 2023 at 6:04
  • @DevSolar The reasoning you present is not exactly what I meant in my answer. This is rather: "X, Y and Z were available weapons". "None of them was produced in number. A choice had to be made." "X (shells) had multiple usecases, Z had far less because of lack of motorized transportation" => X was chosen over Z Jul 7, 2023 at 17:53

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