Yes, the good old C4 explosive. If you were not in the military, you probably heard of C4(Composition Four) from action movies or video games. C4 is the go-to explosive for the military, combining stability in storage and handling with lightweight and high explosive yield.

 

A Marine from 4th Force Reconnaissance Company inserts a blasting cap into a block of C4 explosive during demolition training at the Kaneohe Bay Range Training Facility Aug. 20, 2014 (Wikimedia Commons). Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Annual_training_140820-N-AX577-063.jpg
A Marine from 4th Force Reconnaissance Company inserts a blasting cap into a block of C4 explosive during demolition training at the Kaneohe Bay Range Training Facility Aug. 20, 2014 (US Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Patrick Dille, Navy Reserve Navy Public Affairs Support Element-West/RELEASED).

Let me take a guess. You know C-4 from one of the best-selling games in history, Counter-Strike. You were probably in the CSGO lounge or looking forward to the CSGO majors in Rio de Janeiro when you just happened to stumble upon the thought, “Does C4 in the game work the same in real life?”

If you’re not a fan of Counter-Strike, you probably know this from the violent console and PC games such as the Grand Theft Auto franchise and the Call of Duty franchise. To an extent, maybe even Valorant and its usage of a spike.

We’re here to answer your questions! Let’s get to it!

A Brief History of the C4. Yes, the good old C4 explosive. Used by the military and by gamers alike! But how are they different when used in real life?

Whether you call it a C4 explosive, a C-4, the Composition C-4, or the M112 Demolition Block, it’s all the same. A C-4 explosive belongs to the RDX family of explosives that use hexahydro-1,3,5-triazine. Yes, I also think that’s too sciency, but regardless, it was first made in 1898 by the Germans(Not a surprise there).

Later on, it was patented by Edmund von Herz in the UK and the US in 1921 and 1922, respectively, and was later further developed to be used in World War II as a substitute for TNT. Its British counterpart is locally known as the PE-4 or the Plastic Explosive No. 4 simply because C4 is a plastic explosive.  It is not a “plastic” explosive because it contains plastics of course, plastic refers to it being soft and moldable into shapes.

C4 belongs to a family, just like us humans! It has brothers and sisters (otherwise called variants) called Composition C, C-2, and C-3. The Composition C variant was first used until 1943, when the C-2 replaced it, then replaced it again by the C-3 in 1944.

So technically, C-4 was used only in 1956! So if you see any films or video games that were set before 1956 and called an explosive a C-4, then they didn’t do research very well, I’m afraid.

C4 Uses

It’s not a secret that the C-4 is used to make things go kaboom. That’s the most obvious use for it. Here are some other ways it was used by the military!

C4 as a heat source

In the Vietnam War, C-4 was used as a heat source for soldiers, sometimes to battle the cold, sometimes to heat their food rations. But they did not do this often because C4 is highly poisonous and toxic to humans.

You might be thinking to yourself, “How the writer must be crazy, everybody knows C4 explodes when you light it up!”

Well, sorry to burst your bubble, but C4 actually does not explode when you light it up. In fact, it’s one of the most stable explosives there is, as you would need a detonator to activate its explosive component.

C4 as a drug

Yup, some people ingested small amounts of C4 to get intoxicated or, in colloquial terms, to get high. Soldiers often did this by cutting a small piece from a detonation block or through Claymore mines.

If they did it right, they would get sick and would have to recover. This means they get to have sick leave. I don’t recommend this because C-4 is highly toxic!

80 blocks of C4 and Claymores unearthed by ATF in rural Arizona, origins unclear

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C4 as a toy

Let’s get one thing straight. Playing with explosives is a dangerous thing to do, so they are definitely not toys!

But, C4 is malleable, in fact so malleable that it is extremely similar to modeling clay. So it wasn’t uncommon to see soldiers making art out of it and form it into different shapes or even statues.

Despite this, you’re not supposed to play with C4, nor should soldiers use it for a plaything because you’re putting yourself and others in danger.

C4 in real life vs. video games

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive C4 Explosive Planting (Screenshot from HS Top YouTube Account). Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zwzLwFbfyEU
Counter-Strike: Global Offensive C4 Explosive Planting (Screenshot from HS Top YouTube Account)

A common misconception is that C4 is a machine-like explosive with timers and all those complicated wirings. While a C4 can be detonated remotely, you do need a detonator to induce a shock to detonate C4. It also does not automatically come with those timers you see on Counter-Strike.

C4 is actually pretty simple. It has a modeling clay-like texture and is color white.

Counter-Strike does get something right, though. When you shoot the C4 in the game, it does not explode. That’s completely correct! C4 does not explode via gunshot or dropping it hard on the floor. As we said earlier, it doesn’t even explode when you light it up.

C-4 is fitted with blasting caps for detonation. Pfc. Lukas J. Blom, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

It can only be detonated with a shockwave, usually done with a detonator. This is why the military has a detonating or priming kit complete with detonating cords and clips so that they can breach or destroy things properly.

So there you have it! A brief history of the famed C4 and how it’s different from those you see in video games!