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The Innovative Necessities of War

Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo The MRAP (mine-resistant ambush-protected) Overhead Wire Mitigation Kit was a top Army invention in recent years.

You’ve all heard the amazing stories of soldiers hacking on the battlefield — the stories of fox hole radios, scrap armor, and anti-IED tech (that must constantly change as IED tech itself adjusts to the hacks). In time for this year’s Memorial Day, the Army announced that they are going to start giving awards to recognize soldiers for their “Battlefield Innovations.” Jeez, what took them so long? They’re calling it the Soldier Greatest Inventions Awards.

I love the amazing stories of some of these battlefield innovations, some done at the risk of a soldier (or POW’s) life. There are all of the pee hacks, for instance — peeing on machine gun barrels in WWI to cool them down, peeing on stuck gun mechanisms in WWII to unfreeze them from the winter cold, and the most amazing one, of Jewish prison workers secretly peeing on V2 control mechanisms to create time-released rusting which would remain undetected during assembly, but cause a malfunction by the time the rocket hit the pad. Recently, there’s been the cat and mouse “game” between US forces and insurgents with tricks like suspending a toaster from a pole in front of a truck to cause heat-triggered IEDs to detonate early.

What are some of the more clever battlefield innovations that you’ve heard about?

84 thoughts on “The Innovative Necessities of War

    1. it is the hack from WW2
      the soviet tankists have soldered the wire-grid to the tanks against the german Panzerfausts :)

      there was another hack:  guided anti-tank mine. It was an ordinary mine with a long rope. During the fight the mine was pulled to hit the tank  :)

      1. I don’t know much about the history of zimmerit (the ridged coating that was added to tank armor in WWII to protect against magnetic mines), but I wonder if it started out as a battlefield innovation. It was certainly fun to model it when I used to do tank modeling.

        1. When you consider that today’s M1A1 tank and M2A2 tanks wear the sort of armor that a rhino would give his horn for, that kind of innovation stands out. That and the fact that our friend’s people survived something worse then his country’s normal winter,and survived amazingly well.

        2. When you consider that today’s M1A1 tank and M2A2 tanks wear the sort of armor that a rhino would give his horn for, that kind of innovation stands out. That and the fact that our friend’s people survived something worse then his country’s normal winter,and survived amazingly well.

  1. Why not mention the battlefield innovation featured in the picture?

    From the picture’s tooltip at fedscoop: “Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo The MRAP (mine-resistant ambush-protected) Overhead Wire Mitigation Kit was a top Army invention in recent years. (…)”

  2.  On his first tour to Iraq my little brother was a mechanic in the first army’s motor pool and this was about the time they were in the process of re armoring the Humvees.  The solution  at the time was to slap extra armor on the sides of the old hummers while the new “up armor” models were still being deployed. 

    Only problem was the extra weight destroyed the suspension of the older models.  At the time the springs and shocks of the older models were failing left and right, but they were already issuing replacement suspension parts for the newer models but they didn’t fit the older chassis without some “modification”..My brother figured out how to make it work.

    This really pissed off the KBR contractor when this little Buck Sargent started drilling extra holes in the chassis of the vehicle he was supposed to be maintaining.  IN the end he took it to my brother’s CO and the CO simply asked “does it work?”, “Well, yes”, “Fine do it”.  The KBR guy was really just butt hurt he didn’t think of it himself.

    1. Casey, advise your bother, that someone is thanking him for his service. Me. And for his talents, and expertise in doing that. So? The KBR guy should have thought of it first, but your brother did because he knew his buddies would need it.

    2. Casey, advise your bother, that someone is thanking him for his service. Me. And for his talents, and expertise in doing that. So? The KBR guy should have thought of it first, but your brother did because he knew his buddies would need it.

  3. Let us not forget Cullin Cutters, the three pronged assemblies fabricated from scrap metal at the Normandy Beach landing in World War II.  As Allied troops began moving inland, they encountered thick, hundred year old hedgerows that the U.S. Sherman tank could not drive over or through.  The Cullin Cutters allowed tanks to plow right through them.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culin_cutters

  4. Oh, I love this! I’ve got nothing to contribute, but I can’t wait to hear what our Brothers In Arms have to say!

  5. Oh, I love this! I’ve got nothing to contribute, but I can’t wait to hear what our Brothers In Arms have to say!

  6. Oh, I love this! I’ve got nothing to contribute, but I can’t wait to hear what our Brothers In Arms have to say!

  7. When I was in Baghdad in 2005, the various terrorist/militant groups began using infrared motion sensors to trigger IEDs at precisely the most lethal moment.  In response, a mechanic took a bunch diesel glo-plugs and wired them up inside an ammo can, then mounted the assembly on a long pole protruding from the front of the vehicle.  The hot ammo can would trigger the motion sensor early–saved probably hundreds of lives.  The Army took the idea and mass produced it, called the “Rhino II”.

    1. Mr Mooney, sir, thank you for your service. The world is still a better place because of people like you. And of course for your posting.

    2. Mr Mooney, sir, thank you for your service. The world is still a better place because of people like you. And of course for your posting.

    3. Mr Mooney, sir, thank you for your service. The world is still a better place because of people like you. And of course for your posting.

  8. It’s great to see some sort of tribute, here in MAKE-ville, to our troops who enable us to live in freedom. 

    Many MAKE readers are not modern day hippies- we just like to learn, build, hack, and invent along side the rest :) 

    I wish war was not needed, but as long as there are those who despise our freedom, fighting to defend it is required.  The time I spent in Kosovo was no picnic, but many of the residents were extremely thankful that we were there and feared the day the peace keepers would leave. 

    Many have no idea how good we have it and how high the cost for it was.
    Hats off to all who served.

  9. It’s great to see some sort of tribute, here in MAKE-ville, to our troops who enable us to live in freedom. 

    Many MAKE readers are not modern day hippies- we just like to learn, build, hack, and invent along side the rest :) 

    I wish war was not needed, but as long as there are those who despise our freedom, fighting to defend it is required.  The time I spent in Kosovo was no picnic, but many of the residents were extremely thankful that we were there and feared the day the peace keepers would leave. 

    Many have no idea how good we have it and how high the cost for it was.
    Hats off to all who served.

  10. It’s great to see some sort of tribute, here in MAKE-ville, to our troops who enable us to live in freedom. 

    Many MAKE readers are not modern day hippies- we just like to learn, build, hack, and invent along side the rest :) 

    I wish war was not needed, but as long as there are those who despise our freedom, fighting to defend it is required.  The time I spent in Kosovo was no picnic, but many of the residents were extremely thankful that we were there and feared the day the peace keepers would leave. 

    Many have no idea how good we have it and how high the cost for it was.
    Hats off to all who served.

  11. First of all to all who have already or are serving our country thank you.  A few low tech ideas  which may or may not work instead of having toasters shipped over seas.
    On sunny days seems a black painted ammo box or other metal object would build up heat. Also a DIY fat based candle (like bacon grease) in a metal box would also have a potential for setting off heat detecting IED’s. A small tea light last between 2 to 3 hours so a pint or quart of fat could burn for quite a while. Another idea might be to gather batteries switched out of devices durring preventative maintinance. Think when you and i trade out the batteries for home smoke detectors they are sometime stll good for something else. Well shorting out a DC battery the wire gets hot. The old Polaroid one step batteries would make a stripped wire bread tie glow white. Always ment to put a volt meter to those things never did.

  12. First of all to all who have already or are serving our country thank you.  A few low tech ideas  which may or may not work instead of having toasters shipped over seas.
    On sunny days seems a black painted ammo box or other metal object would build up heat. Also a DIY fat based candle (like bacon grease) in a metal box would also have a potential for setting off heat detecting IED’s. A small tea light last between 2 to 3 hours so a pint or quart of fat could burn for quite a while. Another idea might be to gather batteries switched out of devices durring preventative maintinance. Think when you and i trade out the batteries for home smoke detectors they are sometime stll good for something else. Well shorting out a DC battery the wire gets hot. The old Polaroid one step batteries would make a stripped wire bread tie glow white. Always ment to put a volt meter to those things never did.

  13. Not exactly battlefield, but while over seas in Iraq we had to find ways to keep our water some what drinkable. Left out in the heat a bottle of water would become a boiling hot bottle of water.

    Our solution was a sock. You would wrap a sock around the bottle you were drinking from and wet it with another bottle. Then you would use some wire to hang it in the air. The hot winds would wick away a little heat making the water slightly cooler.

    Once in a pinch I did have to do some re-wiring and near shorting to get an engine back online on our CH-53E. We were in a forward fueling area in Iraq with not much protection. I wanted that damn plane to fly so I got up there with some spare wire and pins. That baby flew alright.

    Chances are there a lot of mini hacks and projects we did that were just standard fixes to us. We didn’t even think about them.

  14. Not exactly battlefield, but while over seas in Iraq we had to find ways to keep our water some what drinkable. Left out in the heat a bottle of water would become a boiling hot bottle of water.

    Our solution was a sock. You would wrap a sock around the bottle you were drinking from and wet it with another bottle. Then you would use some wire to hang it in the air. The hot winds would wick away a little heat making the water slightly cooler.

    Once in a pinch I did have to do some re-wiring and near shorting to get an engine back online on our CH-53E. We were in a forward fueling area in Iraq with not much protection. I wanted that damn plane to fly so I got up there with some spare wire and pins. That baby flew alright.

    Chances are there a lot of mini hacks and projects we did that were just standard fixes to us. We didn’t even think about them.

  15. Not exactly battlefield, but while over seas in Iraq we had to find ways to keep our water some what drinkable. Left out in the heat a bottle of water would become a boiling hot bottle of water.

    Our solution was a sock. You would wrap a sock around the bottle you were drinking from and wet it with another bottle. Then you would use some wire to hang it in the air. The hot winds would wick away a little heat making the water slightly cooler.

    Once in a pinch I did have to do some re-wiring and near shorting to get an engine back online on our CH-53E. We were in a forward fueling area in Iraq with not much protection. I wanted that damn plane to fly so I got up there with some spare wire and pins. That baby flew alright.

    Chances are there a lot of mini hacks and projects we did that were just standard fixes to us. We didn’t even think about them.

  16. Not exactly battlefield, but while over seas in Iraq we had to find ways to keep our water some what drinkable. Left out in the heat a bottle of water would become a boiling hot bottle of water.

    Our solution was a sock. You would wrap a sock around the bottle you were drinking from and wet it with another bottle. Then you would use some wire to hang it in the air. The hot winds would wick away a little heat making the water slightly cooler.

    Once in a pinch I did have to do some re-wiring and near shorting to get an engine back online on our CH-53E. We were in a forward fueling area in Iraq with not much protection. I wanted that damn plane to fly so I got up there with some spare wire and pins. That baby flew alright.

    Chances are there a lot of mini hacks and projects we did that were just standard fixes to us. We didn’t even think about them.

  17. Not exactly battlefield, but while over seas in Iraq we had to find ways to keep our water some what drinkable. Left out in the heat a bottle of water would become a boiling hot bottle of water.

    Our solution was a sock. You would wrap a sock around the bottle you were drinking from and wet it with another bottle. Then you would use some wire to hang it in the air. The hot winds would wick away a little heat making the water slightly cooler.

    Once in a pinch I did have to do some re-wiring and near shorting to get an engine back online on our CH-53E. We were in a forward fueling area in Iraq with not much protection. I wanted that damn plane to fly so I got up there with some spare wire and pins. That baby flew alright.

    Chances are there a lot of mini hacks and projects we did that were just standard fixes to us. We didn’t even think about them.

  18. 2 MRE (Meals Ready To Eat) hacks that I am aware of (making gatorade bombs out of your heater doesn’t count):

    We were taught in basic training that the plastic case of the MRE can be used as a pressure bandage to treat sucking chest wounds. Its inside is clean (if not sterile).

    I have also heard of a foil wrapper (such as the one that covers MRE crackers) has been used as a field expedient fuse for a radio when the original had burnt out. Isee no reason this would not work for any fuse.

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Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. And he has a new best-of writing collection and “lazy man’s memoir,” called Borg Like Me.

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