President Biden said in an address Wednesday that his administration has authorized yet another $800 million block of military aid to Ukraine. Included in the weapons package will be numerous Claymore antipersonnel mines and US training on how to use them.

The basics. A claymore is simple and efficient. Image Credit: man.fas.org

The Claymore Explained

We’ve all likely heard the term Claymore by now. They’ve been in use since 1960. Sometimes you’ll hear them called “Claymore mines.”  And that’s a fair term; they are antipersonnel mines. The proper military name of them is the M18A1 Claymore Antipersonnel Mine. The name says it all; they were designed and built to take out people.

You’d be wrong if you assumed the name came from the person who built the first one. Instead, its inventor, Norm McLeod, named it after a large Scottish medieval sword that was used with two hands to “cut people down.”  Clever guy, that McLeod.

Claymores are not conventional landmines; they are command-detonated and directional. This means they are fired (usually) by remote control and shoot a pattern of metal balls into their kill zone, much the same as a shotgun.

Claymores blowing up a bunch of stuff. Video courtesy of YouTube and United States Defense Media.

The Claymore fires steel balls, about the size of small ball bearings, out to around 110 yards in a 60-degree arc in front of the device. They are primarily used in ambushes and as anti-infiltration devices against enemy infantry.

War Stories, Turn About is not Fair Play

From listening to countless war stories from guys who spent time in Vietnam, I learned that the VC would sneak their way through concertina wire in a perimeter area that had been mined with Claymores.  Once they reached the mines unnoticed, they would turn them around, so the “Front Towards Enemy” side was now facing friendlies on the inside of the wire.

They would next sneak their way out through the concertina wire again, undetected, and retreat a few meters into the woodline. Now the tricky bastards would fire off a couple of rounds and throw some rocks towards the perimeter area to make our troops believe they were being attacked. Hearing this, the anxious young troop with the detonator would blow the Claymore and most likely be killed by the blast that was now headed his way.

After this happened a time or two, we started getting smart and putting reflective tape on the backsides of the Claymore to ensure they were pointing in the right direction before they were used.

If you want to learn a lot more about these deadly mines, click here to access the 96-page training circular the US Army has put out regarding their use.

 

A self-explanatory crude illustration of the type seen in Army field manuals. Image Credit: The United States Army

See where it says “Keep out of here”? That would be an excellent idea if you want to live to see another day. It’s a little hard to read in the illustration, but the information is vital. The “Keep out of here” arrow points to “16 meters”. For those of you who don’t speak metric, that’s about 50 feet. If you clack off one of those things while standing right behind it, it’s an instant lights out for you.

The first time I used one of these things, I literally said to myself, “Holy s**t!” the noise was deafening, and I could feel the concussion from the blast deep in my chest. It was in a wooded area, and the thing took small branches off of trees in the kill zone. Our instructors set up human torso-sized paper targets at various ranges from the weapon. The ones within 50 meters were ripped to shreds. The targets within 100 meters were peppered with holes large enough to stick your thumb through. A hit from that distance would likely kill you as well.

Have We Seen Claymore Mines Already Used In Ukraine?

Remember a few days into the war; there was a 40-mile-long Russian convoy slowly heading down muddy roads into Ukraine? The satellite image below showing Russian trucks packed together like sardines in a can was taken on 28 February of this year. The red arrows are mine. I’ll talk about those in a minute.

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Maxar satellite imagery from February 28 of the northern end of the convoy with logistics and resupply vehicles, southeast of Ivankiv, Ukraine. Image Credit: Maxar Technologies/Getty Images. Augmentations by the author.

A group of 30 Ukrainian Special Forces operators and drone operators on quad bikes managed to bring this thing to a screeching halt within hours. Munitions such as Claymore mines played a role in that.

The unit commander was Lt Col Yaroslav Honchar, and he gave an account of the ambush and the Ukrainian epic David vs. Goliath resistance.

The Ukrainian soldiers on the quads were able to approach the advancing Russian convoy from the front, riding through the woods on either side of the road. This was done at night, and they were equipped with night vision goggles, sniper rifles, remotely detonated mines (such as Claymores), drones equipped with thermal imaging cameras, and others capable of dropping small 1.5kg bombs.

Colonel Honchar explains what happened:

“This one little unit in the night destroyed two or three vehicles at the head of this convoy, and after that it was stuck. They stayed there two more nights, and [destroyed] many vehicles.”

Brilliant plan. The red arrows I drew on the map are where I would have secretly placed Claymores. You’ll note some are positioned closer to the vehicles, and some are further away, in the woodline. To cripple the convoy, I would have detonated the inner line of mines once the convoy was halted. Then, after the surviving occupants of the vehicles had exited their trucks and made their way towards the woodline, I would have detonated the back row of mines to take them out. All the while, drones would be dropping their 1.5kg bombs on the convoy to ensure it wasn’t going anywhere.

And that’s basically what the Ukrainian SF did.

Colonel Honchar is understandably proud of their accomplishment. “The first echelon of the Russian force was stuck without heat, without oil, without bombs, and without gas. And it all happened because of the work of 30 people,” he said.

Ukrainian forces already know how to effectively use these weapons, and I’m sure they’ll be put to good use in the future.

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