A Huge Explosion!

Lt. Pedro Fernández Vicente
First published in
SFOR Informer#139, May 23, 2002

During the first week of May, the French Engineer Platoon, belonging to the French Battle Group (FRBG), carried out the destruction of the ammunition and weapons seized, or collected within Multinational Division South-East's (MND-SE) Area of Responsibility. The ammunition seized in Vrapcici (see SFOR Informer # 138) were part of the load. Kalinovik firing range was the location for the detonation.

Kalinovik - Throughout the week big explosions broke the silence of the mountains in a repetitive sequence: for seven days, three times a day, the explosions' blasts sounded early in the morning, at noon and in the early evening.

The Mission
The bottom of a deep and narrow gully, in the most remote location on Kalinovik range, was the best place to avoid unnecessary risk.
"My Platoon has been assigned to destroy the crop of the last phase of the MND-SE's Harvest Operation. We have been reinforced with a French Infantry Platoon, which was in charge of: providing security for our temporary ammunition depot, to maintain a safety area around the demolition point and to control all the accesses to Kalinovik range during our stay here. We have also been reinforced with an excavator from the German BG. We carried out our labour by doing controlled explosions of 300 mortar shells each time. The maximum safety area in this range is a 1,500m radius from point zero; that allows this number of mortar shells to be detonated at the same time," explained Lt. David Gomez, leader of the French engineer platoon.

The Labour
"We received the ammo daily. We had to keep some in our temporary depot while we went to destroy other ammo, in such a way to ensure that the temporary store is empty at the end of the day. The process which we followed was: flatten the bottom of the gully, dig the demolition pit with the excavator; build the charge; cover it and crush the earth; the detonation; check the effects and start again," Gomez said.
Gomez explained how the mortar shells are placed in the pit, why the explosion is tamped and that the weather conditions are all critical in ensuring that all of the shells are destroyed and that the local villagers are not overly disturbed by the explosions. His team of experts prepared each pit with attention to these details and to safety issues.

Safety is a main concern
"There is a thing that is really true which is that the mistakes you make when working with explosives are paid for with your life. There is no place for absentmindedness or forgetfulness. Your entire mind has to be concentrated on your job and your only thought is about it. Although it could seem that when you repeat the same operation three times a day, your work would become monotonous, that is not so. Each new demolition pit becomes a new challenge, you are in a new world completely different to the one before and your attention is totally focused on your labour," said Staff Sgt. Pascal Desremaux, deputy of the French Engineer platoon.

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Photo: PO Susan Rose

To have some idea about the force of the explosion, the tree in the centre of the picture is eight metres high.

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When the excavator finished digging the demolition pit, the ammo batch was unloaded.

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The shells were placed on the demolition step.

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Careful thought must be given when working with plastic explosives.

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When the pyramid of shells is ready, tonnes of earth will assure there is enough pressure inside the charge during the burst.

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Layer after layer, the shells were used to build a pyramid, which formed the big charge.

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All members of the engineer platoon are highly aware of safety.

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The fuses are put among the mortar shells on each layer.

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Wearing a protective helmet, gloves and keeping a careful watch this soldier heeds careful caution when dealing with the ammunition.