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The Dangers of Battlefield Digging

Article about: We've all heard stories of the dangers of battlefield digging. Unexploded ammo, mines, etc.... As a relatively new enthusiast, i would greatly appreciate some advice on detecting and digging

  1. #1

    Exclamation The Dangers of Battlefield Digging

    We've all heard stories of the dangers of battlefield digging. Unexploded ammo, mines, etc....

    As a relatively new enthusiast, i would greatly appreciate some advice on detecting and digging on battlefield sites.

    many thanks gentlemen.

  2. #2

    Default Re: The Dangers of Battlefield Digging

    Hi Military, welcome to the forum. First start by stating where your from and then we can determine the type of ordinance you may encounter. For example if you live here in the U.S. then the dangerous ones of course will be live civil war ordinance. If that is the case stay away from unexploded cannon balls. Call local authorities to deal with it. Anything alive no matter what era your dealing with is not worth life or limb.

    rgds, Ty

  3. #3

    Default Re: The Dangers of Battlefield Digging

    My advice is:
    Don't touch the shells which stay on the surface ground and dry under the sun light. If you found one in the ground, better to leave it on the place where you found it, if you need to remove it from the ground ( in case of other signals) remove it very carefully. The most dangerous is cannon and mortar ammo which is shot, and run trough the barrel.
    The hand grenades is not dangerous if you don't try to open them. If you found something, better to call the proper authorities to remove them.
    The Eastern front area is most dangerous is 45 mm and 76 mm shells for Soviet guns, they have fuse KTM-1 which is very dangerous, that shells killing every year approx 2 peoples. Also 3 years ago in Estonia was accident when the guy tryed to open 75 mm round for Shermann tank, which kill him.
    The same in the Wolchow front area in the positions of 1942 year. There still dangerous glass balls for the Soviet ampulathrower, which contains white phosphorus, and if you destroy that ball, there approx 1 kg phosphorus inside ( approx 7 years ago one guy is burned out when damage this ball, being destroy it with the showel. The same about the Molotov coctail- the white phosphorus oxidated with reaction with the air, and burned with a temperature more than 1200 grad celcium....

    my Skype: warrelics

  4. #4

    Default Re: The Dangers of Battlefield Digging

    Hi Military

    I agree with the others, when I go looking and see live ammo laying around, I never touch it unless they are bullets...


    Nick VR

  5. #5

    Default Re: The Dangers of Battlefield Digging


    The guys from the USA will advise on the problems you will face with civil war stuff. Us guys in Europe don't tend to find cannonballs very often !

    As for WW1 and WW2 items, as the guys above have said, any artillery or mortar shell discovered should be left WELL alone. As Dimas said, the rounds that have already passed down a barrel are 'primed', armed and ready to go off at the slightest touch or movement. Ground dug grenades are not as dangerous but I personally would still not move them although many people do. If the firing pin and detonator have gone, they are relatively safe but do NOT under ANY circumstances attempt to dismantle a grenade or any other ordnance for that matter. The charge inside tends to leech into the threads of fuzes, filler plugs and anything else threaded. Turning that 'thread' creates enough friction to set the charge off. The only good thing that happens is you won't feel any pain as you're blown into 10 or 12 nice sized chunks.

    Small arms ammunition is, on the whole, safe and not liable to go off UNLESS it has an explosive tip (e.g. 20mm cannon shells). These type are notoriously twitchy and have been known to remove fingers. Of course any live item you find cannot pass through any EU border, (not sure about state lines), and in many European countries the possession of live ammunition is a criminal offence. Hence, if you find live stuff in Europe, leave it where it is.

    The biggest tip I can give you when digging for relics such as the ones we all love......... Dig SLOWLY, dig WIDE and dig WITH A FRIEND.

    Different techniques abound but always dig the hole bigger than the detected area, go nice and slowly with no violent downward thrusts of a spade and have a mate either next to you, or on the end of a phone. Make sure someone knows exactly where you're planning to go if you do go alone.

    Sounds like a horror story don't it ? Wish you'd picked a safer hobby now don't you ? Well........don't worry. So long as you go carefully and leave stuff in the ground if you are at ALL unsure about it you will be fine. Don't try to dismantle anything !

    Remember, no relic is worth your life or any part of you anatomy !

    Above all....have fun

    Steve T

  6. #6

    Default Re: The Dangers of Battlefield Digging

    Hi Guys,

    many thanks for your replies and kind advice. Im based in the United Kingdom, but a friend of mine has invited me over to the Czech Republic which borders just south of Germany. We are into WW2 items and we're doing this archaelogy for personal research.

    What methods of digging do you guys use?
    As Steve T said, Dig SLOWLY, dig WIDE, but as I have tried some some ground, the soil is generally very hard and i would actually use a shovel to prise the ground hard - which i think is just dangerous. perhaps the key should be - being slow and patient?

    Or perhaps what better tools / entrenching tools could I be using?
    thanks all.

  7. #7

    Default Re: The Dangers of Battlefield Digging

    Some excellent advice from experienced diggers and i concur with all they've said , even on the Somme 2 or 3 farmers are killed every year by explosions over 90 years after the Battles.

    Plus check out the legality of where you are digging or you might find the local cops exploding on you as well !!

    In some areas you can see that it has been an Arty position or that an Arty strike has come down so slow and easy is the way to do it even if the ground is hard.


    The gates of hell were opened and we accepted the invitation to enter" 26/880 Lance Sgt, Edward Dyke. 26th Bn Northumberland Fusiliers , ( 3rd Tyneside Irish )

    1st July 1916

    Thought shall be the harder , heart the keener,
    Courage the greater as our strength faileth.
    Here lies our leader ,in the dust of his greatness.
    Who leaves him now , be damned forever.
    We who are old now shall not leave this Battle,
    But lie at his feet , in the dust with our leader

    House Carles at the Battle of Hastings

  8. #8

    Default Re: The Dangers of Battlefield Digging

    Guys, thanks for the kind advice.
    i guess there's risk in everything, but being knowledgeable does help and I appreciate your kind advice.

    one more thing: what metal are most ammo, bullets, granades, etc made of? And what will it show on the detector? i suppose a composition of iron alloys? or not necessarily?

    if there's anything else, please feel free to add.

  9. #9

    Default Re: The Dangers of Battlefield Digging


    I always get a mid or high tone beep when my MD detects cartridges or projectiles. The cartridges are brass most of the time (except later in the war where the Germans particularly used plated steel), and the metal jacket on the bullet and the lead/antimony inside gives a high pitched tone.

    This being the case, small arms ammo will not be confused with iron.

    Larger artillery rounds, mortars and grenades usually show up as a mix of signals, the main one being iron. However, if the fuse caps are in place on the shells you will get a brass detection. If the tail fins are intact on mortars you'll get a high pitched detection. If the base nut is in place on a grenade you'll get a mixed detection.

    As I say military, the only way to know for sure is to dig the stuff up. You WILL get used to it the more you search and will quickly learn what to ignore and what to dig up.

    The first thing you will learn is how big an object is. For example, a detection of iron over more than a couple of feet is almost certainly a pipe under the ground ! A detection of iron over 12-18inches and then brass could be an arty round.....or it could be a load of pieces of grenade and then the base nut. Bullets give detections that are in a very small area and easily missed. Cartridges are less easy to 'miss' and the bigger the cartridge the more widespread the detection.

    Steve T

  10. #10

    Default Re: The Dangers of Battlefield Digging other thing.

    Please read the sticky post in this will help someone like you who's just starting out.

    Steve T

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