EOD US Army
United States EOD history
The United States War Department felt the British Bomb Disposal experience could be a valuable asset, based on reports from U.S. Army, Navy, and Marine Corps observers at Melksham Royal Air Force Base at Wiltshire, England in 1940. The next year, the Office of Civilian Defense (OCD) and War Department both sponsored a bomb disposal program, which gradually fell under military governance due to security and technical reasons. OCD personnel continued to train in UXB reconnaissance throughout the war. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the British sent instructors to Aberdeen Proving Ground, where the U.S. Army would inaugurate a formal bomb disposal school under the Ordnance Corps.
Lt. Col. Geoffrey Yates (RE) and his British colleagues also helped establish the USN Mine Disposal School at the Naval Gun Factory, Washington, D.C. Not to be outdone, the U.S. Navy, under the command of Lieutenant Commander Draper L. Kauffman (who would go on to found the Underwater Demolition Teams—better known as UDTs or the U.S. Navy Frogmen), created the USN Bomb Disposal School at University Campus, Washington, D.C. U.S. Ordnance and British Royal Engineers would forge a partnership that worked quite effectively in war—a friendship persisting to this day.
1942 was a banner year for the fledgling EOD program. U.S. Army Lt. Col. Thomas Kane, who began in 1940 as a Bomb Disposal Instructor in the School of Civilian Defense, traveled with eight other troops to the UK for initial EOD training. Kane took over the US Army Bomb Disposal School at Aberdeen Proving Ground. Three members of Kane’s training mission later served as Bomb Disposal squad commanders in the battlefield: Ronald L. Felton (12th Bomb Disposal Squad Separate) in Italy, Joseph C. Pilcher (17th Bomb Disposal Squad Separate) in France and Germany, and Richard Metress (209th Bomb Disposal Squad Separate) in the Philippines Islands. Captain Metress and most of his squad were killed in 1945 while dismantling a Japanese IED.
Graduates of the Aberdeen School formed the first Army Bomb Disposal companies, starting with the 231st Ordnance Bomb Disposal Company. The now-familiar shoulder emblem for Army EOD Technicians, a red bomb on an oval, black background was approved for them to wear. Following initial deployments in North Africa and Sicily, U.S. Army commanders registered their disapproval of these cumbersome units. In 1943, companies were phased out, to be replaced by mobile seven-man squads in the field. In 1944, Col. Thomas Kane oversaw all European Theater Bomb Disposal operations, starting with reconnaissance training for the U.S. forces engaging the Germans on D-Day. Unfortunately, the Pacific Theater lacked a similar administration.
Late in 1942, the first US Navy EOD casualty was recorded. Ensign Howard, USNR, was performing a render-safe procedure against a German moored mine when it detonated. Only a few months later, the first two Army EOD fatalities occurred during the Aleutian Islands Campaign. While conducting EOD operations on Attu Island, Lt. Rodger & T/Sgt. Rapp (commander and NCOIC of the 5th Ordnance Bomb Disposal Squad) were fatally injured by unexploded ordnance.
U.S. Navy explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) divers.
Overall, about forty Americans were killed outright performing the specialized services of bomb and mine disposal in World War II. Scores more were maimed or injured during combat operations requiring ordnance support. At Schwammanuel Dam in Germany, two bomb disposal squads acting as a “T Force” were exposed to enemy mortar and small arms fire. Captain Marshall Crow (18th Squad) took serious wounds, even as his party drove German defenders from their positions.
Ironically, the only major ordnance attack against the continental U.S. would be handled by the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, who dealt with the Japanese Fu-Go balloon bomb menace in 1945. The all-black 555th “Smokejumpers” were trained by ordnance personnel to defuse these incendiary bombs before they could kill civilians or start forest fires.
Following the war, U.S. bomb disposal technicians continued to clear Nazi and Japanese stockpiles, remove UXO from battlefields, while training host nation (HN) troops to do these tasks. This established a tradition for U.S. EOD services to operate during peace as well as war.
Colonel Kane remained in contact with EOD until his retirement in 1955. He urged reforms in the bomb disposal organization and training policy. Wartime errors were rectified in 1947 when Army personnel started attending a new school at Indian Head, Maryland, under U.S. Navy direction. This course was named the Explosive Ordnance Disposal Course, governing training in all basic types of ammunition and projectiles.
1947 also saw the Army Air Corps separate and become the U.S. Air Force, gaining their own EOD branch. That same year, the forerunner of the EOD Technology Center, the USN Bureau of Naval Weapons, charged with research, development, test, and evaluation of EOD tools, tactics and procedures was born. 1949 marked the official end of an era, as Army and Navy Bomb Disposal squads were reclassified into Explosive Ordnance Disposal units.
In 1953, reflecting the trend in name changing, the EOD School formally became the Naval School of Explosive Ordnance Disposal (NAVSCOLEOD). Two years later, the Army Bomb Disposal School would close, making Indian Head the sole Joint Service EOD School in the U.S., though currently NAVSCOLEOD has relocated to Eglin AFB FL.
The current, most recognizable distinctive item of wear by EOD Technicians, affectionately referred to as the “crab”, began uniform wear as the Basic EOD Qualification Badge in 1957. The Master Badge would not appear until 1969. (See picture below.)
On 31 March 2004, the U.S. Army EOD Headquarters at Fort Gillem, Georgia dedicated its new building to Col. Thomas J. Kane (1900–65). Whether Kane Hall remains after the Bush Administration’s recent base closure announcement remains to be seen