In Italy: "All advances are necessarily slow because there are mines, mines and more mines, and quantities of booby traps," said the Army's Lieut. General Courtney H. Hodges.
Even in the landings below Rome, where surprise of classic proportions was achieved, a few Allied casualties were suffered as the mechanical sentinels planted along the beach edge exploded under the weight of boats, vehicles or men.
Since the Wehrmacht has been making a career of retreat, mines have been met in such quantities that the work of detecting, disarming and removing them can no longer be handled solely by skilled Engineer detachments. The infantry and all other combat branches must be trained to do their own mine-finding.
Last week at Camp Swift, Tex., the traveling faculty of the Engineers' special school of mines was giving its 14th intensive course in mines, booby traps and how to fool them. The students: 200 officers of other combatant branches, who will pass on to their own troops the Army's hardbought education in enemy wiles.
Working out of Fort Belvoir, the Engineers' mine and trap men fly from camp to camp with samples of German (and Jap) devices. After lectures and demonstrations, students are divided into two groups, go to work laying mines. Most of the mines have 2-in. firecrackers attached.
Only a few have heavier charges. After planting the model mines, each group turns to on the other's field, ferrets out and digs up what it finds, in the dark as well as in daylight.
Jokesmith's Art. In the training classes, mines and traps are mixed with a practical joker's devilish wit. Students quickly learn to be suspicious as the giant firecrackers explode when a truck is started, or a tool lifted. Students cannot be too suspicious for their own future good.
The Germans whom they will meet are admitted experts in the delicate and deadly art, use mines as a psychological as well as a destructive weapon.
One new trick uses the standard platter-like German Teller mine. The thick disc, with almost 12 lb. of TNT, is buried extra deep in roads which rut quickly. The first few trucks roll over without disturbing the round, flat trigger called "the spider." When the rut deepens, usually after the road is considered safe, the next truck sets off the mine.
The Hunters' Teller. Some new German mines have nonmetallic casings to foil the electrical detectors. Some have chemical rather than metallic fuses. One type has a soft plastic case which raises no hum in the electrical locators. To a probing bayonet, it feels like the surrounding earth.
One procedure for removing mines, after they were located, was to attach a long rope, walk off to a safe distance, or crouch in a shell hole and pull. But the ingenious German mine layers frequently mined the shell holes, too, and other means had to be devised.
"Bouncing Betty" and "Leaping Lena" are names for the Nazi S-mine. No bigger than a quart-size tin can, it is buried close to the surface. When it is tripped it leaps five feet into the air, then explodes in a spray of steel in all directions.
One classic example of German ingenuity now taught the troops is the mine which is itself mined. To Tellers the Nazis attached delayed-action booby traps set to explode ten minutes after the Teller was dug up.
What next? U.S. soldiers must still learn the hard way.