Taming the Landmine

by Peter Stiff

330 X 245-mm;
300 plus b/w illustrations
Hardback pictorial;
ISBN 0-9470-2004-7;

Non Fiction.


The first book written on the development of the landmine as a tactical weapon combined with the efforts made to combat its devastating effects.

It was the advent of superior firepower in the 19th Century, particularly the machine gun, which caused soldiers to cease fighting in the open and seek cover in trenches. A natural follow-on was the appearance of barbed wire to defend those trenches against attack. The stalemate of the trenches in World War-1 was finally broken by the tank, a weapon designed to crush barbed wire entanglements, cross trenches and provide a protective steel shield behind the safety of which the crews could fight the opposing infantry. The landmine, developed by the Germans to combat the tank, made its first tentative appearance in the final stages of the war.

World War-2 saw radical developments. The British and French hierarchy who still viewed the tank in much the same light as they had in the last war, were rudely surprised when the Germans utilised them in powerful and fast-moving formations with motorised infantry in support, to break through battle lines and cleave through the soft underbelly of the rear echelons.

By the end of the war both the Allied and Axis powers had adopted the same armoured tactics. The unglamorous and inglorious landmine laid by the tens of thousands to combat armoured breakthroughs, or making landings from the sea, had become a major weapon in the hands of all armies. To breach minefields, the South African-invented flail tank and other devices such as mine rollers were brought into service by the Allies and used with great effect at the Battle of El Alamein and later on the Normandy beaches.

The 1950s saw the beginnings of most of the post-war uprisings against colonialism in Asia and Africa. In almost every case the communists provided training as well as weapons to nationalist insurgents and successfully prised them away from Western influences. The landmine, instead of being used principally in its more usual role of holding up the advance of motorised enemy forces, began being deployed as a terrorist weapon to halt the movement of all civil and military vehicles in an effort to bring a country’s economy to a halt and strangle the ruling administration. In the Portuguese colonial wars in Africa, the insurgents’ landmine tactics worked exceptionally well. The Portuguese found no effective way of combatting them.

In the early 1970s, the landmine menace spread to both the South African-controlled Caprivi strip of South West Africa (now Namibia) and to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). Both countries were stumped in their first efforts to find an answer, but they found it. A number of revolutionary ideas, including the v-shaped vehicle hull to deflect the blast of landmines, were successfully developed in both countries to minimise the explosive effects of vehicles and to reduce injuries and the deaths of people being carried in them. This told for the first time, is the remarkable story of those developments as well as the historical events that shaped them.


Media reviews:

A welcome addition to the limited amount of published material on that crucial topic for combat engineers - mine warfare. Peter Stiff has prepared a profusely illustrated book, aimed particularly at the lessons learned during the low level operations in Rhodesia and South Africa . . . the excellent photographs throughout provide much scope for reflection.

Few of us have had the misfortune to face the effects of mine devastation, but these photographs provide sobering insights into the consequences . . .
Royal Engineers Journal
- Great Britain

Peter Stiff in his book Taming the Landmine reveals how South Africa, by learning from Rhodesia’s experience, has taken the lead among Western nations in securing a highly sophisticated landmine-protection industry . . .
The Star
- Johannesburg

Peter Stiff, best known for his books on the Rhodesian bush war and the Selous Scouts, has found an unusual subject for his latest effort and has written the first book on the development of the landmine as a tactical weapon.
The Citizen
- Johannesburg

A well documented book by Peter Stiff, an authoritative writer, provides interesting and important reading.
- South Africa

The book, a truly incredible work by Peter Stiff . . . a meticulous researcher.
South African Sapper

South Africa, and before it, Rhodesia, was forced by necessity to find solutions to the threat of mines and I wonder what our solutions would be, faced with a similar threat, because I’ve seen very little so far to suggest we’ve given the problem anything more than passing interest.

Readers' Comments:

I've read your books, lived in SA when I was a lad, and am a member of the US Military. I was completely floored when the "mad rush" to find an MPV 
created chaos and confusion in the Pentagon and other government locales after 9/11.
I remember well riding in Casspirs and other AFVs while working with the SAPS in the 90s. I also remember the late 60s/early 70s when I lived near Jo'burg and read about the exploits of the Rhodesian Security Forces.
It just galls me that due to the (Political Correctness) and pressure from our own citizens of the United States, we overlooked a working, combat proven weapons system, ie: Casspirs/Nyalas/Buffels, and wasted years and 
monies to redesign what already worked! Can you say: "stupid is as stupid does" (with apologies to Forrest Gump!) Thank you for pointing it out in your column.
I look forward, as always, to any new books you write.
Jim Thurber, USA

I have read with interest Peter Stiff's SA Bush war trilogy, Taming the Landmine, and others. It was (is) really stupid of the US forces to use those unarmoured and makeshift-armoured Humvees in Iraq. We should have bought Casspirs or at least licensed production of them.
Robert Starnes Pleasanton, CA 94588 United States 44

I can’t help thinking that the British and American forces in Iraq would do better with Casspirs than their soft-skinned Land-Rovers and Humvees. I have written to every National newspaper and TV broadcaster in the UK to try to publicise this fact without an answer.
Graham Smith, Poole UK

If you don’t have this book or have not read it, you are simply not on top of the world of the mine, countermine and counter-ambush. This book should be purchased en mass by the US Army and made a standard student text at the Combat Engineer School. Peter Stiff shows how the armies in the southern African area SOLVED the landmine, automatic weapons fire ambush, and if we want to avoid learning the same lessons all over again at a high cost in destroyed lives, we should read and heed this book’s ideas into our own army. This is NOT being done as combat engineering concerns have been marginalised by armor/infantry branch officers dominating decision–making even though the landmine is the biggest killer of our soldiers since Vietnam.
Sam Damon Jr
Fort Bragg, NC, USA.

A very good illustrated book on landmine-protected vehicles. Peter Stiff has written an excellent account of the evolution of landmine-protected vehicles in southern Africa. Apart from an initial section on early armoured vehicles and their protective capabilities, the book focuses on the development thru trial, error and experience of mine protected vehicles firstly in Rhodesia in response to the terrorist mining campaign and then in South Africa as the threat escalated. The book contains a large number of photographs of the various vehicles that were developed and used, culminating with the current South African mine-protected armoured fighting vehicles which are some of the best available in the world. All in all it’s a very good read while the accompanying photos really make the book.
A reader

I truly think that this is a valuable contribution to the recording of the development of armaments for the particular type of conflict in southern Africa.
P G Marais
- Chairman, Armaments Corp of South Africa

Defence Minister General Malan has noted the contents of the book with interest and appreciation.
Capt H C M Burger
- Military Secretary: Ministry of Defence

It has been an interesting experience working with such an obvious expert in this field as yourself.
Col J C Beyers -
PP Chief of the SA Defence Force

I found the book to be a first-rate account of the Rhodesian and South African efforts at beating the landmine.
Peter Cooke -
Wellington, New Zealand



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