How the claymore mine changed the battlefield forever

Front toward enemy.
Joshua Skovlund Avatar
claymore mine
A U.S. Army Soldier with 1st Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment, emplaces an M18A1 Claymore mine during a multinational claymore training exercise with Battle Group Poland at Bemowo Piskie Training Area, Poland on July 10, 2018. (Spc. Hubert D. Delany III /22nd Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, US Army)

“Front toward enemy” is the ominous warning soldiers heed while setting up the claymore mine. Named after the Scottish broadsword, the M18A1 claymore munition is a compact anti-personnel mine designed to take out several people simultaneously.

Designed to strengthen defensive perimeters and ambush bad guys, this mine is still in use today by the U.S. military and several other countries. Though it was first developed in the mid-1950s, the claymore mine became infamous during the Vietnam War. 

Capt. Rick Woolard (Ret) is the Chairman of the Navy SEAL Museum Board of Directors, but before that, he served in the U.S. Navy for 30 years and commanded SEAL Team 2, SEAL Team 6, and the Naval Special Warfare Development Group.

Woolard had two combat deployments to Vietnam as a SEAL Platoon Commander in the 1960s. Though they didn’t use them daily, Woolard’s team implemented claymores while on patrol or establishing ambushes for the Vietcong. He had a simple response when asked why he thinks the anti-personnel mine is still in use today. 

“It’s a simple thing. Sometimes simple things are one of the best,” Woolard said. “I mean, they’ve evolved a little bit over time, but these things were pretty much lethal 100 years ago, and they still are now.”

What is a claymore mine?

A claymore mine is a basic anti-personnel mine with massive stopping power. It’s a plastic housing containing an explosive charge, approximately 700 steel ball bearings, and a detonation device. It was contained within the M7 Bandolier, a satchel that enables expedient deployment on the battlefield. 

At 3.5 pounds, its “olive drab” color makes it difficult to spot, which is perfect for preventing bad guys from sneaking up or triggering an ambush. It’s detonated via electric or non-electric blasting caps and can be fired via a wired clacker or tripwire booby trap. The M18A1 can also be daisy-chained for a greater area denial effect.

The claymore mine has a peep sight that allows the user to find the general direction of the blast. It has four metal foldable legs at the base that allow a soldier to plant it in the ground. It can be tied around a tree, tree stump, or other items to increase the height of the Claymore blast. 

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When detonated, 1.5 lbs of C4 explosives propel hundreds of ⅛” in diameter steel balls up to 100m out in a 60-degree fan pattern. According to the U.S. Army, the steel wall of projectiles is lethal within 50 meters but can maim or kill out to 250 meters

Though the front of the mine bears the “front toward enemy” warning, there is a 16-meter-long, 180-degree area immediately behind the claymore where the concussive force of the detonation will harm anyone standing within the area. 

The U.S. Army requires soldiers to demonstrate their knowledge and skill with the M18A1 claymore mine to earn the Expert Infantryman Badge or the Expert Soldier Badge for non-infantry personnel.

Though claymore mines have been found in the possession of veterans, they are not legal to own or buy. Attempting to make your own is extremely dangerous and will likely land you in trouble with the neighborhood bomb squad. 

History of the claymore mine

Versions of the Claymore mine were first used in combat during WWII and the Korean War. Instead of traditional anti-personnel mines meant to wound soldiers, the claymore was designed to kill as many soldiers within 50 meters and wound as many others outside of that lethal zone as possible.  

The first patent for the claymore mine was filed by Norman Macleod on Jan. 18, 1956. Originally designated the T-48, it had significant flaws. But, after several rounds of improvement from different companies, it was in full use during the Vietnam War. 

Several Vietnam War veterans owe their survival to the claymore mine, which was used to line the perimeters of forward positions and often accompanied the barbed wire surrounding bases. The mines were often the deciding factor in preventing American positions from being overrun by Vietcong forces. 

During Woolard’s deployments to Vietnam, his team often used claymores to prevent the enemy from coming up behind them while they were in a static position. But, one of Woolard’s claymore experiences didn’t go as planned. 

“We had this claymore, which would have taken them out right away. I gave the command and said, ‘Claymore.’ I mean, how many times do you get to say that in combat,” Woolard said. “I heard click, click, click, and the damn thing didn’t go off.” 

He and his team of SEALs had set up a claymore to ambush an enemy force, but some moisture caused a short in the firing device. They ended up in a gunfight and eliminated the enemy force, but Woolard was shot twice. 

“Had it detonated on demand, it would have been just great,” Woorlard said. “We wouldn’t have had a firefight or anything, and I wouldn’t have gotten shot if the thing had gone off.” 

Instead of disarming the claymore, they gave it one more try, and it detonated — after Woolard and his team had taken out the enemy personnel. Unfortunately, there are instances of this happening throughout the history of the claymore mine. 

50 years later, it’s still in use today. 

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