Produced by the German in the 1930s as the Third Reich’s defensive weapon, the Schrapnellmine or simply S-mine was a nasty piece of work — a self-contained anti-personnel mine that springs up from the ground when triggered. It’s the surprise that no one asked for. The Eastern Front knew it by the name of “frog-mine” while the Western forces call it the “Bouncing Betty.”
Bouncing Betty was considered one of the deadliest tools on the battlefield.
This mine is made from a steel cylinder just about 15 centimeters in height, 10 centimeters in width, and 4 kilograms heavy. It would be buried just underground, with its three prongs sticking out of the ground but are usually camouflaged by leaves or grasses. Once the unsuspecting victim stepped on the pressure sensor prongs, it will trigger the black powder propellant and launch the mine upward at around 3 feet at the victim’s waist level. It had a half a second delay to make sure that the mine would fly up before it explodes and release approximately 360 steel balls, short steel rods, or scrap metal pieces that spray horizontally at a very high speed. Bouncing Betty was lethal within 20-25 meters and could reach up to 100 meters. Similar to other mines and booby traps, like those that the Viet Cong made, the s-mine had also great psychological effects on the troops. Depending on the needs, s-mines could also be triggered through a tripwire. All in all, there were 2 million of these that were made until the end of the war. Imagine walking on the field, and a cylinder would suddenly fly and the next thing you know, you’re mortally wounded and bleeding on the ground.
What would you do if you suddenly stepped on one of these Bouncing Bettys? Sprint and hope for the best? Stand still? While it’s tempting to sprint away from it, it’s impossible to outrun it, so the best course of action would be to quickly dive on the ground face first. The metal pieces would fly above you instead and would hopefully spare you from mutilating your waist and genital area. But given the short delay fuse between it bouncing up from the ground and then detonating, the best practice was to look down carefully as you walk and stay off the trails and roadsides where these mines were typically buried.
Bouncing Betty was mostly made of metallic parts, so a simple metal detector could help the troops determine where the s-mine exactly were. The problem was that metal detectors were rarely available to the troops because they were bulky and expensive plus it was prone to malfunctioning. An alternative was through a time-consuming manual probing using a knife or bayonet by a soldier crawling on his belly with his squadmates crawling behind him in a long line.
Once a Bouncing Betty was detected, it could be disarmed by inserting a needle or a pin in place of the safety pin and then unscrewing the detonator from the mine itself. If it was rigged with a tripwire, it could simply be cut, the detonator removed, and then remove the mine from the ground. It was pretty common for U.S. troops to then replant these mines near their own lines for use against German troops.
With the number of Bouncing Bettys that were produced, it is believed that there are still many of them out there up until this day.