Door Breaching for SHTF
Situations like this will happen and that means that citizen defenders will have to engage in Close Quarters Battle (CQB). CQB is almost always fighting done indoors. It is a specialty of SWAT teams and Tier 1 military forces the world over. It is a highly dangerous way to fight and demands special tactics be used. Speed, surprise, dynamic entry, and violence of action are hallmarks of CQB. In some cases you may have to go in a building or room occupied by a bad guy. That means you may have to breach a door.
In my previous two books (Suburban Warfare and Suburban Defense) we discussed use of less-lethal shotgun rounds in detail. Another specialty shotgun is the breaching shotgun. This commonly available weapon and ammunition can give the citizen defender the ability to rapidly and effectively breach doors without resorting to power tools.
A breaching shotgun is a valuable tool that can provide faster entry than manually prying or beating down a door. These typically are stockless and short-barreled weapons with a special crenelated muzzle device to ensure proper standoff of the muzzle from the door. Only pump-action weapons are used because many breaching rounds lack the power to properly cycle a semi-automatic action.
Until recently, many of these weapons were legally Short Barreled Shotguns (SBS) under the National Firearms Act (NFA) and required a lengthy background check and an extra tax for barrels under 18”. These new “firearms” that are manufactured in a way to take advantage of loopholes in federal laws to essentially create pistol-gripped shotguns with 14” barrels. These are known as the Mossberg Shockwave and Remington TAC-14. Currently they are available the same way as any other firearm is in most states. Should they be legally registered as a SBS or in a WROL situation, they can be fitted with stocks.
Note that muzzle devices have to be added by a gunsmith in some cases. Choke style devices are also available but they may not fit all guns. Purpose made 18” barrel shotguns with these devices with and without pistol grips are fairly common. These devices can also help with flash suppression to preserve night vision and help control recoil.
A special shotgun for breaching purposes should be used rather than mixing shells in a shotgun meant to shoot humans. Note that ordinary birdshot and buckshot rounds should not be used; death or injury could occur. Breaching rounds are specially made to be fired at close range. The most common variant is powdered steel with a wax binder. These are commercially available. Other types are made of copper or other frangible materials and a soft binder.
Note that while frangible shells are intended to not be lethal or even particularly injurious a few feet away, this is after they’ve disintegrated against a barrier. Without hitting a barrier, many of these payloads essentially act like slugs as they haven’t hit anything to break them apart. In some respects, this is similar to a birdshot cut-shell slug. Breaching rounds need to be treated the same as lethal shot.
The shot is designed to physically break the door material and the latch mechanism. Unlike the movies, shooting at the knob or lock itself does not work and can cause ricochets. Once the frangible shell material hits the door, it breaks up and tears through the wood or steel. The intent is to so severely weaken the door material that the latch bolt is no longer capable of resisting any force or that the bolt itself is blown away. Note that some doors are hardened and may take extra shots.
Breaching shotguns are carried on a sling to be stowed out of the way of the breacher’s primary weapon when clearing rooms. The gun is actually carried with the safety off, but no round chambered, until just before firing. Then a live shell is racked into the chamber and fired. Empties are not ejected. This is to allow the gun to be carried safely without having to fumble for a safety catch in a critical moment.
Purpose-made breaching muzzle devices helps to “bite” in to the door for correct positioning, which is halfway between the frame and the knob/deadbolt. If shooting at the hinge, standard procedure is to fire three shots at each hinge. Firing at the latching mechanism is preferred because it takes less shots and most doors open inwards, concealing the hinges.
Shooting at the hinges is really not preferred. This requires 6-9 shells and a degree of luck. The door may be harder to pry open than the latch side and all of this may take precious time while an enemy knows where you are. The hinge pins can be knocked out instead or another entrance can be found.
Both wood and steel doors can be breached with a shotgun. The difference is the aiming angles and the resistance offered by the individual door. Steel door skins may deform when shot, jamming the door closed so a different technique needs to be used.
Once you do get the door open or are proceeding through a secondary entrance, you will need to deploy diversionary devices like smoke, flashbangs, or stun grenades. There may be no surprise, but hopefully you’ve disturbed the bad guys’ reaction. If you still can’t gain entry, it may be time to consider other tactics such as a siege or deploying pepper spray grenades (as CS/tear gas is not commercially available to civilians).
Note: this an adaptation from my non-fiction book Suburban Warfare: A cop's guide to surviving a civil war, SHTF, or modern urban combat, available on Amazon.
VIDEO: Shotgun breaching techniques
Few people know that the United States already had gun registration, but because of one of the few true victories of the NRA, that registry was stuck in the 1970s. Millions of records were held on paper and microfilm in a fenced and guarded building on the grounds of a VA facility in Martinsburg, West Virginia. It held the records of every gun dealer (FFL) in the country who had gone out of business, retired, or simply no longer wanted to store the forms.
Federal law prohibited a digital gun registration database, so all gun tracing had to be done manually, which was incredibly time consuming considering the volumes of paper records that had to be flipped through and the microfilms that had to be read. Decades ago no one would have complained but since the 1990s ATF officials had been quietly nudging “somebody” to “do something.”
Trace requests came to the National Tracing Center (NTC) in from all over the country and the world. Many of the requested were routine law enforcement queries. Murder weapons found at crime scenes were traced to try and identify the shooter. Staff would comb through the records like a page flipping through a card catalog to find out where a gun originated from and what others hands it might have been in, as long as it went through a dealer.
To accommodate all the requests, the ATF had a bunch of old ladies who were into genealogy working out of West Virginia warehouse working these ancient microfilm machines because younger people these days thought they were props from the original Star Trek series. The best job qualification for the civilian staff was “librarian.”
This analog collection of files was a lot of trouble and the powers that be at the NTC were finally rejoicing at finally completing the puzzle. In the year 202X, a bipartisan Congress, well a couple of squishy GOP crossovers and the Democrats, finally modernized America’s gun registry and brought it into the digital age. The Firearm Acquisition, Sale, or Transfer Security Audit Filing Enterprise (FAST-SAFE) Act was just what a growing ATF needed.
When the project was complete, agents across the country could instantly identify and track the sale and transfer of a gun, the buyers, or the sellers. Law enforcement loved it because there would be no delay or waits. Detectives had visions of arresting suspects the same day based on gun traces. Dispatchers could run individuals through the database to see if they ever bought a gun and advise officers before they ever arrived.
Digitalization, for all its benefits, would not be without its hurdles. Middle management’s consumption of antacids and anti-anxiety medication, the pill or liquid forms, skyrocketed in anticipation of the herculean task of scanning and data entry that was coming. The little old ladies were already stretched thin and now they needed who knows how many people to run the scanning machines. At least the FBI would handle the temporary employee’s background checks.
Preparations were made as soon as the legislation was proposed. Advanced Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software had been written to scan the 4473 forms and translate the handwriting. Women who worked at the NTC told their friends and family to expect jobs to be posted. An ugly tilt-up building was placed on an empty lot in front of the VA water-tower and surrounded by an even uglier chainlink fence. West Virginia National Guardsmen had already been deployed outside the center at the VA complex because of threats to burn down the heavily secured building.
The Act allowed the ATF to dispose of the paper records—it was dubbed a “paperwork reduction measure”—as long as they uploaded them to a secure database. All of the benefits were sold to the public and the news media dutifully reported it along. Who could say no to safer police officers and faster criminal investigations? Besides, millions of precious tax dollars would be saved!
Everyone ignored the “gun nuts” who were saying it was a registration database and the gun control advocates got the media to simply hit on the paperwork reduction thing. They filmed a scene of the agent in charge of the warehouse tripping over a fallen stack of forms. That segued into a few minutes about the 1973 National Personnel Records Center fire that destroyed everyone’s grandfather’s military records.
The morning the Act went into effect, the center was ready to go. Cart loads of microfilm and forms were wheeled across a rough asphalt path to the new building. Inside, it was a cold, drab affair where boxes were unpacked and forms fed into scanners in batches. These batches were verified for correctness, shredded, then stuffed into a trash compactor to be recycled. An average laborer’s day consisted of stuffing forms or film into a scanner, moving it to the “shred” pile, then swapping out with some hauling files from the old building.
For the most part, files could be fed into a scanner which would send the file to a computer program. The program would then use Optical Character Recognition (OCR) of the most sophisticated variety to recognize the handwriting on the forms. It was the same type of software that the optical system at the post office used to decipher handwritten addresses, but vastly more powerful. The only human interaction would be checking forms that the computer flagged as difficult to read or possibly erroneous.
Manually reading forms and entering each entry would make the task impossible. Using 100 of the sophisticated scanners, it was estimated that feeding the machines an unknown amount of forms would take up to two years. At least an additional 250 employees were hired to work two shifts, but the cost was well worth it. In eight months’ time, virtually every gun sold or transferred by a dealer in the last few decades would be in an instantly searchable database.
Trucks from all over the country started to roll in. FedEx and UPS arranged special shipments directly from regional centers to West Virginia. Residents at the veteran’s home complained about the traffic that lasted from about five in the morning to ten at night. Physical therapy clinics in the area began seeing an uptick in carpal tunnel syndrome. Those weren’t the only “side effects.” Gun dealers around the country were getting arrested for non-compliance or destroying their records.
The goal wasn’t to identify who owned what…yet. No, the guns probably changed hands too many times over the years. People died. It was estimated that crime guns changed hands too many times after two years for that kind of registration to really be useful. In fact, in earlier times all the center could really do was give an investigation into a gun’s origin a start.
Field agents would have to track down the original buyer, anyone he might remember selling it to, and perhaps get lucky if the suspect bought it themselves. It was all a process that started with the idea of tracking what dealers broke their gentleman’s agreement with Colt and Thompson not to sell machine guns to gangsters. All tracing really did was identify what, if any, crimes were committed in transferring the gun into the hands of the criminal. One homicide cop compared it to tracking a DUI driver’s used car back down to the original car lot.
What the FAST-SAFE Act did was give police and federal agents a way to identify gun owners. More software would compare various state and local databases to give the identified owners a notice that they were to comply with the new gun regulations. It was a veiled threat that the government knew they owned guns and had a pretty good idea of exactly what they owned. It was also a good way to start the tracking process of a privately sold gun, if the sellers kept a record of who they sold it to. By this tracking of transfers, maybe in another 30 years they would have a working real-time database of all the guns and their owners in the country.
One could no longer simply claim that they had sold the gun. Proof was needed. Many people dimed out their friends, family members, co-workers, neighbors, and gun club buddies. Others turned over bills of sale, photos of IDs and CCWs, and emails from the buyers. Sometimes the proof was thin, but it put the necessary fear of God in people. The ATF could never prove a case against a guy who sold a gun anonymously face-to-face at a gun show if a house search came up empty, but that guy would know the ATF had his name and number. If that gun turned up in his hands again, there would be hell to pay.
More accurately an indictment for perjury, making false statements to a federal agent, and violation of the Act. It was the same way for so-called “lost” or “stolen” guns. Reports of unverified boating accidents surged, as did burglaries and vehicle thefts (often of entire collections). All it took was one burglar or looter to be ventilated by that “lost” shotgun for federal time to apply. Guilty pleas were easy as long as the fines were kept low. No jail time, probation, a couple grand taken in easy monthly payments, and a lifetime ban on gun ownership. Lots of guns dug up from the yard that way.
People said that registration would lead to confiscation. They never talked about registration being part of confiscation. Once again, the hoplophobes out flanked the gun nuts. Too many people dreamt up ways to save their hides rather than pour time, money, and effort into politics. “I don’t own any assault weapons,” only works when there is no record of you ever purchasing one. It wasn’t a flawless plan, but it was a pretty good idea nonetheless. One of the few, small complications were the recalcitrant liberty-minded dealers.
One of those recalcitrant types was Ned Ferguson. He looked carefully at the Banker’s Boxes lined up along the back wall. Each box was labeled with a date, the first one, in the lower left hand corner marked July 1998. Nineteen boxes in all, stacked seven deep and three high, marked his nearly twenty years as a FFL. All in all, close to 50,000 ATF Form 4473s sat in those boxes. It had been a long career and it would soon be over.
The Form 4473 was properly called the Firearm Transaction Record—Over the Counter, intended to track each sale or transfer of a firearm that a dealer made to a customer. Industry sales, wholesale or off to another dealer, were done separately. For anyone who has bought a gun from a dealer, they have filled out a 4473, detailing all the relevant personal information to identify them. Buying two or more handguns in a five-day period from the sale dealer will result in a Form 3310.4 reporting the sale, including the particulars of the gun. Even more odious, copies of the form were required to be sent to state or local law enforcement.
In theory, that information was only used by the government once to run the initial Brady Background Check. Then poof! the date disappears off the computer screen and into the virtual wasteland to be recycled into other bits and bytes. Ferguson told anyone who bought a gun through a dealer to assume that the government knew about the purchase. Even if the person only bought one gun through a dealer, it was a safe assumption that the person had bought on privately or had more that the Feds didn’t know about.
Federal law mandated that FFLs maintain their copy of the 4473 for twenty years, ostensibly in case the ATF needs to trace a firearm and to prove that the dealer is complying with the background check requirement. At the end of the twenty years since the sale the dealer may destroy the records, but if he goes out of business before then, the dealer must turn the forms over to the ATF.
Computers and the Internet eventually brought electronic forms. The data could be saved electronically to avoid storage problems like Ned had. Big box stores like Walmart loved it. Even with electronic reporting, millions of forms remained uncollected and un-scanned, sitting under counters, in filing cabinets, or stacked in the backroom of a gun store. Plenty of dealers just plain refused to join the e-form crowd for one reason or another.
Over the years, FFL conventions featured the equivalent of campfire stories where one dealer or another complained about an ATF Industry Operations Investigator scanning files or ‘borrowing’ them for a few days during a ‘routine’ compliance check. The dealers knew that if they objected to the investigator removing the files or scanning them, which they could not ordinarily do, the dealer’s license would be jeopardy.
Ferguson’s 4473 boxes sat on a thick base of cinderblock and 2x4s to bear the weight of the paper. Security and fireproofing were not his concern. If the files were stolen, well, then space along the wall would be freed up. If the forms accidentally burned, so much the better. Water damage was his only worry, hence the cinderblock and wood platform. Heavy, wet boxes filled with soggy paper was not something he wanted to deal with. He could care less if the forms somehow became useless to the ATF.
But what to do with the boxes? He’d be damned if he would pay the shipping bill just to rat out his customers to the feds. Ferguson had gotten past the point of rage. Getting angry rarely led to productive thinking. The dealer bit off the tip of his cigar and spat it into his wastebasket before lighting the end. Stupid city code inspector had smelled the cigar smoke in his office and made a smart-ass comment about smoking indoors not being worth the fine or the potential fire damage.
He would miss his little office, he reflected as he leaned back into his chair. The small room, hardly 40 feet square, was his cigar-smoke filled fortress of solitude. The tiny quarters, if not the smell of two decades of smoking, kept most guests out. Some nights he stayed late, claiming to be catching up on gunsmithing or paperwork, when in reality the man wanted an evening away from his wife to smoke cigars, drink bourbon, and eat greasy food in peace.
Photos and technical bulletins hung from the occasional free spots on the wall. The rest was cabinets and bookshelves, filled with obscure publications, technical manuals, and binders of tediously kept data and records. A few nights he had caught himself dozing off in his chair with his still burning cigar drooping from his lips. The beer-bellied retailer woke with a start each time, feeling foolish for having drifted off like that. Usually, he took the cue to go home then.
How badly would a fire in here screw me? He chuckled at the thought of himself snoring away in his reclined chair, flames climbing the wall and turning years of research into ash. The thought struck him like a thunderbolt.
No, it wasn’t to burn his records. He had thought of that years ago. Leave the back door unlocked, turn off the camera, and poof! Undoubtedly the Feds would drag him into court, but if he did things right, he might get off on reasonable doubt. Better to do it in a way that would keep him from going to trial altogether. The ATF would investigate anyway, but he could hardly help that.
Acting on the impulse, he rose from his chair and got to work before he came to his senses and chickened out. Standing backwards on the top rungs of a latter, his head almost twenty feet above the concrete floor, Ferguson knew he would have to be careful. That was an understatement. Looking down or around gave a slight feeling of vertigo due to the awkward way he stood, supported only by his free hand.
The work had to be done just right too, or else he would get a sprinkler head in the face along with a lot of rusty water. The wrench had to be lifted slowly and cautiously into position. If he accidentally hit the head with it too hard, the glass bulb inside might shatter and start the water works. Same thing with twisting it too hard and causing it to slip off the fitting and go banging around. He found that he could not work the adjustment knob on the pipe wrench and had to use his ‘free’ hand.
Ferguson tightened the wrench to the fitting and balanced on just his feet. It was tight enough to hang on the pipe by itself. He was grateful to grab back on to the rafter. With his right hand, he slowly started turning the wrench. It took a lot of pressure, far more than he felt comfortable applying.
Ever so slowly, the fitting gave, partially due to the pre-soaking of WD-40 he had given it. Within half a turn, he was able to twist the head freely around the fitting. He kept turning the wrench slowly until water began to seep out. He stopped, waited a moment, then kept turning incrementally, then waiting, until enough water leaked to form a steady drip. Perfect.
Once the ladder was back in its place Ferguson poured himself a drink. He chuckled thinking about all the hell he was going to get from his wife for this. Can’t tell her the truth, neither. Oh well, it’s for a good cause. With a raise of the Styrofoam up, he toasted his success.
Despite being heavily intoxicated, Ferguson still felt apprehensive about his plan. Dropping a lit cigar into a basket full of oil and gunpowder soaked rags? It was inherently dangerous and his stomach, full of fatty fast food and alcohol, rebelled at the thought. Around 11:30 PM, he let the almost extinguished cigar fall into the pile of rags. After smoldering for a minute, the whole bundle began to combust. Soon the flames were licking upward, following the trail of ATF technical bulletins and dealer memo’s scotch taped to the wall.
He began to cough from the acrid smoke composed of fabric, paper, gun oil, and burned smokeless powder. A faint haze was already collecting at the ceiling. Once the rags really got going, the heat was intense. His skin felt like it had been scalded. Just a little bit longer, a little bit longer. Sweat was beading up on his forehead and under his arms. The smell was terrible!
The drywall was black now. The years of paper on the wall was almost all burned up, fire now starting in on the mounds of other papers and books stacked haphazardly on the shelves and cabinetry. The fire was spreading. A few surprises, like a bottle of highly flammable solvent, purchased in the late 1990s, sat tucked into a corner. Hopefully that would explode before the fire department arrived.
Now the ceiling was obscured by black smoke. Ferguson coughed incessantly, feeling like his lungs were filling with sand. Now, he thought. He rose from his chair and turned the knob, not burning his hand on the metal, but feeling the heat it had absorbed from the fire. Blackness attacked the fringes of his vision as he stumbled towards the door towards the show floor. No, wait. He remembered that the security grate was down and he had to go out through the emergency exit.
His last view of inside the building came as he saw flames shooting out the door of his office in a spray of exploding solvent. He collapsed on a grass strip in the parking lot, alternatively coughing and sucking in the cool night air. It took him a minute before he could recover sufficiently to dial 911 on his cellphone. By then, the fire alarm had already sounded.
The temperature inside the warehouse area rose quickly immediately after Ferguson opened the office door. The solvent explosion was all it took to set the entire office ablaze, causing all the paper goods, gunpowder, and ammunition to quickly ignite. Flames began to attack the drywall and the drop ceiling tiles. The temperature sensors of the fire alarm system triggered notifying the fire department and also activated the fire sprinklers.
Contrary to popular belief, most sprinkler systems only activate the sprinklers immediately above the fire, not the entire room. However, since this was a multi-tenant commercial building, local fire regulations for a gun store holding significant quantities of ammunition required a deluge system that activated all sprinklers in the warehouse area.
The intent was to soak any ammunition and prevent it from exploding in a fire. Exploding cartridges don’t have the ability to propel a bullet, but the flying shrapnel from the brass cases can cause injuries. Firefighters will generally not enter any structure where ammunition is cooking off for that reason, often causing a total loss of the building.
Safety wasn’t the only reason that Ferguson was required to install a deluge system. Fires in gun stores are very rare things, considering that modern smokeless powders and cartridges are incredibly stable. A congressman who signed the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban did not want gun stores to open in his town, so he convinced a councilman to amend the municipal and fire codes to make it expensive and difficult to open a gun store. Ferguson persisted mainly out of spite and ate the cost of the requirements, considering it the price of self-satisfaction.
When the sprinkler system went off, it was as if a downpour began inside. In mere seconds, an inch of water was on the floor. The loosened sprinkler head, under 75 pounds of pressure, blew off the fitting and left a dent in the cinderblock wall. 250 gallons per minute began pouring down, directly on to the boxes containing years of Form 4473s.
There was no sprinkler head in the office, which was still blazing merrily, even though the sprinklers had kept the fire from extending much further. Eight minutes after receiving the alarm at dispatch, the first fire engine arrived. The paramedic found Ned lying semi-conscious in the grass. A paramedic began administering oxygen while the captain and two firefighters made ready to attack the fire.
It took another five minutes for the popcorn sound of the ammunition Ferguson had stashed in the office to stop. By the time Ferguson left in the ambulance, the sprinkler system flooded the boxes and back room. When the fire-fighters finally went in, they made quick work of what was left of the flames. The office was a wet, charred remnant of its former self. Smoke and water damage affected the rest of the backroom area. Only a small hole had to be cut in the showroom ceiling to confirm no extension into the ceiling there.
An arson inspector was sent over in the morning and called the ATF, surprised that a dispatcher hadn’t done it overnight. The agent knew that Ferguson somehow sabotaged his records, but faced the age old police dilemma—he couldn’t prove it yet. If only a cop’s instinct could be distilled down to something quantifiable he would be in business. While Ned’s story was sound, the sheer coincidence and the totality of destruction pointed to it being deliberate.
Poor rehabilitation work by the fire crew damaged the records further. Concerned with fire, they had spread the pile of soggy boxes and papers on the floor to soak in the water while any hotspots were managed. Evidence protection has never been a defining quality of fire-fighting. The building manager dewatered the building with the help of a restoration company, who only made more of a mess by piling the records back up after the pulpy remains clogged the hose intakes.
The ATF agent was stumped on what to do with the records, and so was his supervisor. The weekend came and still the records sat. No one wanted to deal with them. In the National Personnel Records Center fire, a specialized military decompression chamber was used to freeze-dry all the service records, but the ATF had no access to such a facility. In the end, dithering, apathy, and the actions of several people to personally avoid having to try to salvage the forms cost the investigation dearly. The restoration company had no problem shoveling the sodden mess into wheelbarrows to a dumpster. West Virginia saw not a single form that had been through Ned’s gun shop.
Blog post: Post-Nuclear Gardening
Victory Garden video (USDA film)
Excellent links from the University of Maine on all topics gardening
USDA Victory Garden history and resources page
(Originally published on SurvivalBlog.com)
Several weeks ago, Reader L.E. asked how seeds would fare after a nuclear war. That got me researching about growing food after the nukes fly would be complicated. Turns out not much. After a nuclear war, fallout and higher radiation counts worldwide will be a fact of life. The remnants of the fallout will remain acutely in our food chain for a century. Consuming radionuclides (radioactive isotopes) will be unavoidable, but not as catastrophic as some think, and it can be mitigated.
Fallout will not be a massive, universal phenomenon as some of the outdated fallout pattern maps from the 1960s show. Airburst weapons do not create any appreciable fallout and as cities are the likely targets, they will be destroyed by warheads detonating a few thousand feet above the city to maximize blast effects. Surface detonations are used against things like missile silos; so if you live near some, watch out. Fallout from surface blasts may travel long distances but will almost certainly be heavily localized near hardened military targets.
Long distance fallout or worldwide fallout that is lofted high into the atmosphere will be a universal concern. This radiation will be much weaker as the particles are less dense and have been decaying while airborne. A real-life example is that of the Downwinders who were exposed to atomic testing in Nevada during the ‘50s and ‘60s.
Fallout in food is an ingestion hazard of radionuclides (radioactive isotopes) through the food cycle. These radionuclides include isotopes of iodine, cesium, and strontium. Iodine is a short-term hazard whereas strontium and cesium, with their longer half-lives, are long-term hazards. Thyroid and other cancers are the primary pathology. Radioactive material can be ingested in two ways; consuming produce with fallout embedded in it or consuming produce that has absorbed an isotope from the soil.
Isotopes, or radionuclides, are the radioactive elements within the fallout particles. Decay can take months to lifetimes for many fallout products. Typically the life of an isotope or radionuclide is expressed in half-lives or how long it takes for a radioactive isotope to decay to half of its initial strength. Once the half-life passes, the isotope is still radioactive, but the strength of that radioactivity is considerably diminished.
Some isotopes and their half-lives are:
Iodine: 22 hour half-life (-133) and 8 days (-131), which is hazardous up to 60 days.
Cesium-137: 30 year half-life.
Strontium: -90 has a 29 year half-life; -89 has a 53 day half-life.
Iodine can be mitigated by taking potassium iodide (KI) supplements to fill the thyroid with good iodine. Due to strontium’s similarity to calcium, children are at special risk of exposure as the body will absorb and deposit it in the bones like the calcium their growing bodies need. The body does tend to naturally discriminate against strontium in favor of calcium and this acts to reduce the amount of the isotope that is absorbed.
Direct contact contamination is when fallout lands on the food and get stuck into it. Unlike a tin can with fallout sitting on top, you can’t as easily remove fallout from a piece of produce. Fallout can land on plants or be blown into it. It is the same mechanism that allows dust and dirt to get into fruits and vegetables; think of gritty spinach.
These embedded pieces of fallout grit are what emit the radiation. Remove the grit; remove the radiation. A decontaminated fruit will not be radioactive just because it sat outside in fallout or got covered in radioactive dust. This kind of contamination will be the most prevalent immediately after the nuclear exchange especially downwind of ground detonations.
Plants that are “dusted” with fallout should be rinsed or brushed off (if they cannot be harvested) to prevent the particles from entering the plant. Leeching from rain or irrigation water is a potential issue if particles are allowed to sit. Immature plants and fruits may continue to grow around the particle, embedding it into its flesh. This is a particular danger to livestock that are grazing on contaminated grasses that can’t feasibly be washed off.
Uptake from the soil
Fallout that lands on the ground will over time (months to years) be taken up by plant life, working its way into the food chain. Plants take in the radioactive particles from the soil the same way they absorb nutrients. Unfortunately many of the radionuclides are absorbed by living organisms, plant and animal, like necessary nutrients are. The isotopes are then distributed throughout the plant as it grows. Because the radionuclides are now actually incorporated into the plant itself, it cannot be decontaminated.
Humans are affected by this as they eat produce from gardens and farms. Strontium is present in that spinach just as calcium is. Animals who eat contaminated feed or forage will also be affected likewise. As animal products like milk or cheese and their meat is eaten by humans, the contamination will also be transmitted on.
Gardening after a nuclear war requires no special techniques to raise or care for the plants. A gardener can use all the normal and traditional methods. More care may be required due to adverse conditions because of radiation effects, lack of water, or nutrient depletion due to soil remediation. Plant stresses from radiation will be similar to the stress from any other environmental effect.
Plants, fruits, and vegetables that have been visibly damaged by radiation (wilted, browning, or have holes) are relatively safe to eat if any surface contamination is removed. Even produce that has incorporated radionuclides into itself like a nutrient is relatively safe to eat. Starvation is a sure killer while an elevated cancer risk is over decades.
It is best if plants can be harvested before fallout arrival though one should not place themselves in danger to do it. One should never risk their safety to attempt a harvest during fallout or until it is safe to work outside again. Plants may not be ready for harvest until after the critical fallout phase. These should be harvested when ripe and decontaminated.
Root vegetables like potatoes will require extra cleaning to remove all dirt when grown in or pulled from contaminated soil. Skin should not be eaten but peeled off. When cutting or peeling fruits or vegetables, avoid letting contaminated outer skin or parts touch the inner surface. Knives or peelers should be rinsed between cuts to avoid introducing contamination from the blade to the inner flesh.
Produce like apples, head lettuce, and cabbage can be virtually totally decontaminated (from surface contamination) by through and repeated washings, pairings, and cuttings. Peas, beans, and corn can be shelled or husked to remove surface contamination. There is no decontamination from absorbed radionuclides.
Compared to humans and animals, plants are remarkably resistant to radiation. Levels that will kill a man in days or hours is not much to a plant. Wheat can be killed at 4,000 R (Roentgens) and 1,000 R reduced yield by half when exposed at the seedling stage. This level of radiation would be expected within tens of miles of Midwestern missile fields, for example.
Fatally exposed plants may take several weeks to show effects and die. Lethal dosage will appear symptomatically as rapid, premature aging and wilting. Non-lethal high doses may impair growth or have an effect similar to weather extremes; heat, cold, drought, pests, etc. Surviving crops will have decreased yields meaning more will need to be planted and cultivated than before. Mutations and plant damage can occur at lower doses. Young plants that are in an active growth phase may be affected because their cells are rapidly dividing.
Soil decontamination is generally not advised. Radioactive hot spots should be avoided. Except for strontium-90, most isotopes will decay too quickly to make long-term contamination an issue. Deep plowing where the contaminated soil is buried under at least 18” inches can reduce strontium contamination by up to half for shallow rooted crops. For most gardeners (versus farmers) it would probably be more realistic to remove any hot spots in the top two inches of soil instead.
Planting of fallout contaminated land may be necessary. Excessively radioactive hot spots, such as where runoff water ponds, should be avoided. Lime is used in acidic soils to make more calcium available to the plants and can reduce strontium uptake to up to half. Neutral soils are the best as alkaline soils tend to maximize radionuclide absorption. Phytoremediation, where non-edible crops are used to deliberately take up radiation and then are discarded, may take generations.
As Reader L. E. asked, your seeds should be fine. Seeds are relatively impervious to nuclear radiation at levels expected from radioactive fallout. Radioactive accumulation in seeds is far less than in leaves. Harm to seed germination is not expected at radiation levels that are not high enough basically to outright kill the owner of the seeds. Radiation resistance is variable based on the type of plant and the species.
In conclusion, the bottom line is that radiation in your food will be the least of your worries. Most Americans probably won’t have much fallout to deal with, but little bits of it working its way into food over the years will be inevitable. Those who do need to worry are folks who get the remains of missile silos or bunkers raining down on them or have the unfortunate experience of living in a freak fallout hot spot.
Note: This article contains adaptations taken from my book, Nuclear Survival in the Suburbs.
Mistakes made by settlers
Settlers did not set themselves up for success. Their farms/ranches were isolated, in poor defensive locations, had few capable defenders, and situational awareness sucked. If your house is in a poor physical defensive position (or design), you have to overcome this with technology or manpower. Remember that barricades and obstacles can only delay an attack; manpower can defeat an enemy and turn that obstacle into a force multiplier. More men allows for more area to be defended and casualties to be absorbed. Lastly, if you aren’t paying attention and get surprised you’ve lost the advantage.
I get that everybody wants their own land and that scarcity of resources like grazing land and water made it necessary to spread out, but it was stupid from a defensive standpoint. Houses that were widely separated could not rely on each other for mutual support. Given that many of these frontier families were a nuclear family with one adult male, maybe some older boys, there wasn’t the manpower to defend them.
When help was needed, anyone who could escape and manage to evade the Indians faced a desperate run, ride, or walk to neighbors that could be miles away. Even a one mile jog might take 10 minutes for someone in average shape. Up to half an hour might pass before help arrives and God only knows what horrors may have transpired in the balance.
The houses should have been built much closer to each other, like 100-200 yards maximum; an easy rifle shot. With a clear view, each house could offer supporting fire to the others. Neighbors would be in close proximity for refuge and defense. More eyes could more easily keep watch. Modern building practices where homes are on smaller lots now naturally accommodate this kind of thing, though the homes weren’t laid out and built to maximize defensive fire.
Today, homeowners will probably have to clear brush and trees to improve sightlines for natural surveillance and for supporting angles of fire. Radio communication and cameras can supplement human lookouts. Vehicles conquer the tyranny of distance. Technology and development patterns change some of the risks, but there are plenty of rural properties that are just as isolated and undermanned as in the frontier days.
One repeatedly losing tactic was for a settler to chase after raiders by himself. Pursuing Indians alone or in pairs was a recipe for disaster as the Indians almost always outnumbered the settlers. In many cases “Pa” was ambushed or routed and killed when he went rushing off alone to recover the stolen horses or try to get some parting shots in. If the family was lucky, they were able to defend alone from inside but often the house fell anyway.
It might seem natural to try and recover a stolen vehicle or livestock as the enemy flees, but this is like swimming out into shark infested waters. As you leave the house, you deprive it of a capable defender, lose the benefit of any defensive works (fencing/covered positions), and are more easily flanked by the enemy. Going out alone is stupid.
A smart enemy who is being pursued would setup a hasty ambush or just circle back and engage their pursuer. Perhaps they were content to “live and let live” until you decided to chase after them. Too many victims of robberies, etc. have been killed because they decided to go after their attacker, usually unarmed. If you are in a weak position, don’t do things that make yourself more vulnerable. You could be running into a trap.
You cannot afford to let ego or revenge blind you to tactical realities. If your family is alone, if the enemies are withdrawing, and if you are outnumbered, let them go. I understand that things might be different if a family member is kidnapped, but act smartly. In today’s world, a vehicle could be identified or followed from a distance while you radio for help. There may be moments of necessary self-sacrifice, like if a family member is a captive, but don’t potentially sacrifice your life for “stuff.”
Tips for today
This article is a part of my new non-fiction book, Rural Home Defense: A cop's guide to protecting your rural home or property during riots, civil war, or SHTF.
Note: Many of the individual accounts this analysis is based on are taken from the raids of the Comanche and Kiowa tribes and the observations made from them (and others) generalized.
Rural homes in SHTF will suffer from isolation and potentially lack of communication. A situation not unlike that of homesteads that fell to Indians in (mainly) the 19th century will be faced by many rural properties. Rapid raids, not by horse but by vehicle, by criminals and not natives, will share some overlapping elements of what our frontier ancestors faced.
I believe that Native American warfare on our frontier is a better idea of what rural Americans will face post-SHTF than Rhodesians did during the 1970s Bush War. Both the Zimbabwean communist terrorists and the Native American tribes fought guerilla wars; one successfully and the other unsuccessfully.
The Indian population was small and easily reduced by warfare, famine, and disease. In Rhodesia, the European population was outnumbered by the Africans and white population flight eventually doomed the minority government. All the African guerillas had to do was bide their time and keep the pressure up. Native Americans were fighting a losing war against a technologically and numerically superior enemy and could only inflict painful stings.
When Indians couldn’t win a decisive engagement over the Army, they sought to hinder, delay, and demoralize the soldiers the best they could. Undefended homesteads were easier to wipe out than a cavalry troop. Atrocities perpetrated upon pioneers had the effect of frightening and driving some of them away. The population imbalance was always in the settlers’ favor so no matter how brutal the Indians were, they couldn’t out kill the overflowing European population.
Raids sought to steal goods for material gain and were conducted by small groups. This would in turn have the effect of requiring taking revenge on the raiding tribe, which could spawn open warfare. War parties would go out with the objective to kill and take captives to avenge wrongs. Many engagements were blood feuds intended to avenge the death of relatives or tribe members. This tended to produce a never-ending conflict that was self-perpetuating as each new retaliation must be punished.
Modern criminals will target properties for hit-and-run attacks to gather supplies or valuables. The “Indians” may be desperate criminals coming out of big cities or roving groups of bandits. If political or racial strife is interjected into a struggle for resources, atrocities to shock and demoralize may be perpetrated on victims. We have seen inter-tribal warfare in many countries get very ugly. Whether it is Native Americans vs. pioneer Americans or ISIS vs. the Kurds, awful things done to “others” is an ugly part of human nature.
Wagons traveling alone was a bad idea. Indians deliberately separated parties or took advantage of separation to more easily kill or capture their victims. Trains of wagons provided additional security, more provisions in case some were lost/spoiled, and help should anyone get stuck or find some other kind of trouble.
Wagon trains had mounted advance and rear guards who scouted for Indian ambushes. Wayward trains would blunder over the horizon without the use of scouts riding ahead or on the flanks to look for signs of approaching Indians. The Indians could surely see and hear the wagons long before the opposite occurred. Failure to scout resulted in ambushes.
Scouts also had the duty of looking for a suitable and defensible campsite. When setting up camp, doing so in the bend of a river was recommended as the water would form a defensive perimeter on roughly three sides. Areas with dense brush that could conceal Indian raiders were to be avoided as the Indians would use the cover of the brush to their advantage. Camping on the high ground for the ability to survey the terrain was also recommended.
Picket guards were stationed at night 200-300 yards away from the camp between the most likely avenue of approach by Indians and the wagons. These guards stayed on low ground when possible to allow Indians to skyline, that is silhouette, themselves against the horizon as they came over the crest of the terrain. In daylight, guards moved to any high terrain for greater observational distance.
At night, travelers were confined to the camp. Wagons were loosely circled to help corral the animals and provide a defensible formation against attack. Corralling livestock helped prevent stampedes which might be incidental or provoked as part of a raid. Horses were to be always kept ready to stop a stampede and herd the animals back in lest they get away and scatter over the countryside. Stampedes could be a way to rustle the animals or part of a distraction during an attack.
Some horsemen carried their pistols in holsters attached to the saddle which left them handy while mounted, but if they dismounted, they would have to draw the guns before getting off the horse. This left men without their guns if they had to quickly quit the saddle in an attack. The prairie guide’s advice to always keep pistols holstered about the waist is similar to advice in my books to keep guns in the car holstered on your body at all times in case you have to abandon the vehicle in a hurry.
Indian tactics were not suited for campaign/occupation style warfare as Europeans were accustomed to. Indians used their knowledge of the terrain and living off the land to survive and evade. Raids and ambushes, where the attack was sudden and followed by a withdrawal, were suited to the form of warfare Indians were accustomed to. They could melt back into the wilderness where the settlers were at a disadvantage.
Generally Indians fought short wars or engaged in reprisal attacks. The inability to store large quantities of food made supporting a long campaign difficult. Indians who farmed were required to tend their crops so they could not make extended deployments. Militia troops in New England would burn or trample crops and block areas where Indians hunted, fished, or foraged.
Out west, Indian logistics were attacked including the infamous buffalo hunts that were intended to deprive the Indians of this resource. Raids on the hunting, fishing, and foraging grounds tended to discourage activity there and displace the Indians, resulting in hunger and famine. Even the choice of settlements on prime hunting, foraging, or gardening land could be weaponized against the natives.
Capture of territory in the European sense, where it was held and occupied, was uncommon among the Indians. Sedentary tribes, particularly in the desert, fought over land as water and arable land were scarce resources. Warfare could generally be regarded as competition over limited resources as represented by control of the land. Whites inadvertently or deliberately scared off game. Good farming areas or reliable water sources would be homesteaded and denied that area to the Indians.
As a result, Indian raids were intended to force the white man to leave the land. Obviously this was not successful but you can’t blame them for trying. Terroristic attacks with atrocious horrors have universally been a feature of inter-tribal/racial warfare historically. As mentioned above, the worse an attack was, the more likely it was believed to have an influence in causing whites to flee. In many cases, homesteads were abandoned for a time but the whites always came back. Without a large-scale picture of migration trends and the sheer size of the American-European population, Indians can’t be blamed for assuming these methods would work as they did on Mexicans and rival tribes.
Comanches, in particular, were notorious for carrying out horrible depredations on their victims. With a poor command structure they were likened to “street gangs.” The most probable motivation was to make warfare so unpleasant that no whites would want to risk an Indian attack and thus avoid their territory.
Scalping as mutilation, for instance, could be considered psychological warfare; nobody wants to get scalped. Wounded men and captives were routinely tortured to death. This is why the saying “Save the last bullet for yourself,” became popular.
Quarter and mercy was rarely given. Indians treated their victims and captives in the same way that they expected to be treated, and were treated, by other tribes. Like the Japanese during WWII, surrender in the face of overwhelming odds was considered a weakness. Resistance might deter or stop an attack. Even brandishing a firearm in some cases was enough to stop an attack. While part of the reason this worked may have been wise judgement and self-preservation, in other cases Indian warriors respected a courageous fighter.
Rape was almost always perpetrated against female victims, white, black, or Hispanic. In some cases, women were raped after being mortally wounded. Rapes occurred in the presence of husbands who were dying or killed shortly thereafter. Girls and children were often kidnapped and taken into concubinage. Infants were regularly beaten to death in front of their mothers. It was savagery to a degree that many tribes disapproved of.
Attacks on settlers may also have been retaliation for settler depredations on Indians or for Army attacks (hitting a soft target). Excesses occurred on both sides, usually an over-zealous retaliation for an attack or offense. One side would do something atrocious and the other side might seek to do something worse in revenge. Vengeance was a deep theme among the Indians and a part of tribal warfare from before the arrival of Europeans.
Raids on homesteads and wagon trains had multifaced purposes that combined elements of terrorism, to drive off settlers, and result in material gain. Raids upon multiple locations or even feints were possible. Indians might attack one homestead, and as neighbors pursued the Indians or rode to the defense, another group (or the original group circling around), would attack a second, undefended location.
Indians stole livestock (cattle and horses) in raids. Entire herds could be stolen and driven into Indian controlled land. Often they were traded locally or driven into Mexico for sale. Animals that weren’t stolen or killed were set loose. Any livestock they could not take with them, like chickens, were slaughtered and they trampled young crops into the ground. Fleeing settlers often set their own animals free so they wouldn’t starve in their pens, and if they returned home, often faced dead crops upon their return.
Once the homesteaders were dead, unable to resist, or driven off, Indians would tear the houses apart. Homes were looted of anything valuable or of use to the Indians including food. Vandalism of houses and cabins was common. After looting and vandalizing homes, they were often set on fire.
Indians were hard enemies to fight because attack parties could form up from different camps at an initial point or ambush site due to their familiarity with the terrain. European warfare had moved away from this kind of small unit engagements. Likewise, natives could disappear after an action and it would be difficult for white scouts to track them and navigate through often foreign terrain. Being able to break camp or abandon villages while living off the land was an advantage that the plains tribes had over settlers who could not easily afford to abandon their cabins and farms to flee.
Poor situational awareness
Indians could approach farms and houses undetected mainly because there were too few people living there to keep proper watch. Countless stories, good and bad, start with an Indian showing up at the door. Literally like: “Ma was cooking and suddenly the local chief was standing in the doorway.” In one case, a little girl peeping out the cracks of a schoolhouse saw Indians approaching and was able to escape through a window before the attack began. Alert fatigue is a factor so get more eyes on your homestead to share the burden.
Another mistake was knowing Indians were likely to be about and yet going outside, at night, unarmed and without escort. Men would go out to tend the animals, sans gun, only to be sprung on by an Indian. One woman left at dusk to draw some water near a spring that was noted as a prime ambush site due to thick foliage and was shot with an arrow by an Indian hiding in concealment.
Ambushes from deep brush was common. In the preceding account, it was known that the brush around the spring was too deep and could hide ambushers, but it was not cleared away. Romans were known for clearing the verges of their famous roads so legions and travelers could pass in relative safety. Had basic military engineering measures to deny the enemy concealment been taken the tragedy may have been averted or at least mitigated.
Indians often attacked while settlers were away from the house to separate the victims from their shelter. Any distance that separated one from the home or others could result in ambush; two little girls were killed by Indians when they went to draw water a hundred yards from the house. This could have been prevented had “Pa” checked out the area or escorted the girls. In modern terms armed overwatch with a shooter capable of hitting targets at that distance might have made a difference.
Too few men/defenders
A recurring theme is that attacks happened when the men weren’t home. Indians knew this and that more than likely the women would be unable to successfully defend the home and attacked. The husband went into a town or trading post and Indians watching the home knew it was unguarded by a man. Or the husband was ambushed by Indians hiding in the brush while cutting wood, traveling, working, etc. With no other men, there was no one to protect the women and children.
In many cases, only the man of the house was armed or there was a long gun inside the house that never got to be used. Women did not usually carry pistols but many had access to firearms inside the house. While many women put up a credible defense and there were plenty of heroines, a single woman was seldom a match for multiple Indian warriors. The Indians would also not fear or respect a woman in the same way they would a man. Sexist yes, but history is.
Not enough guns was also a problem. Homesteaders were likely to be operating on shoestring budgets and might have one long-gun mainly for hunting. A man with a brace of pistols, a rifle, a shotgun, and a pistol for his wife would have been a rare thing indeed. One small Texas settlement was entered by a band of hostile Indians. There was less than half-a-dozen men and no guns; the town only being saved by the proximity of Texas Rangers whose response caused the Indians to leave.
Many fights were turned because of the effective use of firearms by whites. Whites tended to be more accurate shooters, have better weapons, and more ammunition than their native enemies. Indians succeeded at hand-to-hand attacks. This is a lesson in that a better armed and skilled defender can utilize his firepower to overcome the numerical advantage of a more poorly armed or trained enemy.
A barricaded home and a defender who was willing to, or did, shoot discouraged some assaults. A shuttered up home might mean someone was armed inside and ready to fire. Some built strong houses with loopholes and protected enclosures for the horses. Iroquois and other Indians surrounded their villages with palisade fencing made of thin, sharpened stakes of wood. Entrances were staggered to deny a straight entry and were barricaded in times of siege.
A successful defense was for all the neighbors to “fort up” in the largest and well-protected house if there was time. Men would stand guard outside while the women and children stayed inside the house. If they could not be protected by the house or were driven out, women and children often hid away from the house, such as in tall grass, deep brush, or caves.
The Army was tasked with “frontier defense,” which was essentially counter-insurgency warfare. The responses to attacks, raids, and reprisals looked like a horse-borne version of what happened in Rhodesia during the 1970s Bush War. Prairie guides criticized small, widely scattered Army garrisons as too ineffective to provide protection of the frontier. Generally this was the case.
Often the only help was from neighbors who joined the fray at the risk of their own lives. In the northeast, settlers formed local militias and small garrisons were present in many communities. Settlements were surrounded by a stockade. Any field work was done under the protection of armed men. Life around 1700 was described as near siege-like. Some eastern colonies required men to carry arms to church. A century and a half later, in the Southwest, “Minuteman” type companies were organized for similar reasons.
On the other hand, not everyone cooperated with their neighbors during Indian attacks. French-Canadian settlers had strong ties with native peoples, unlike the British. During Pontiac’s Rebellion, many French refused to offer shelter or aid to British victims who were the primary target of Indian attacks.
This article is a part of my new non-fiction book, Rural Home Defense: A cop's guide to protecting your rural home or property during riots, civil war, or SHTF.
SHTF Lessons From Rhodesia
Note: this an adaptation from my non-fiction book Rural Home Defense: A cop's guide to protecting your rural home or property during riots, civil war, or SHTF, available on Amazon.
The 1970s Rhodesian Bush War was a revolution of sorts led by communist Black guerillas against the white minority-led government and white population of the country that is now called Zimbabwe. This war was both a civil war/revolution and an insurgency/genocide. The rebels/terrorists engaged in genocidal tactics against the population, both Black and white.
Farms were sniped at. Coordinated attacks with supporting fire from mortars and RPGs (Rocket Propelled Grenades) were common. Black employees as well as the farmers themselves were shot or kidnapped. Roadside ambushes and IEDs, often in combination with each other, took many lives. The goal of these attacks was to terrorize white farmers off the land and to prevent Africans from cooperating with the government.
While I doubt that Americans will see a similar guerilla war as Rhodesia did, many of the lessons will carry over. I believe that attackers in America’s troubled times ahead will want to capture and possess isolated properties that can sustain them. Theft of valuables or food and kidnapping will also be common.
Every home had an Agric-Alert radio system that linked the farms and police. The radios included panic alarms and would automatically identify the farm transmitting. Informational broadcasts would be made if terrorists were operating in an area. Roll calls happened two or three times a day. Often this was how many nighttime attacks were discovered as farms not answering at roll call were investigated. After an attack, neighbors would check on each other for accountability. Multiple antennas were used in case one was destroyed and concealed antennas were also installed.
Depending on the severity of an incident, police or army forces would be dispatched to an attack. Forces would often arrive by helicopter or by parachute. Air support was available. The responding forces would then counter-attack and often engage in a search and destroy mission.
Particularly vulnerable farms received military assistance from small “sticks” of soldiers who rotated through guard duty at night. Others employed former or off-duty soldiers as body guards. Militias were formed under government auspices to act as guards. Black militias were trained by police and had good success suppressing cattle rustling.
Police/military forces would brief farmers in full regarding terrorist activity in the area and procedures to be taken to counter the threat. Police training for civilians in general combat tactics was also offered and taken by both men and women.
Weapons must be carried at all times; “Always go to bed with your weapons accessible” was the practice. One police transport veteran recalled a holiday in the country where he sorely regretted not having his pistol when his family encountered two suspicious characters. Days later, not far away from that very spot, a couple was robbed and murdered.
Every night farmers would set out a first aid kit and layout an aid station in the event of a night attack resulting in serious casualties. Attacks usually came at night. Curfews from shortly before dusk to after dawn were instituted as twilights were still vulnerable times. Early afternoon/evening attacks were preferred because the terrorists could escape into the darkness.
At night, all the curtains were drawn and the doors were closed and locked. All the lights were left on in the house and then all turned off at bedtime. This was done so that terrorists couldn’t tell by a light which rooms were occupied or not. Everyone went to bed at the same time due to the lights being put out simultaneously.
Fires were often deliberately set to draw farmers out to either fight the fire or evacuate. Terrorists would then ambush the farmers as they ran or fought the fire. Attacks often began unannounced until the first gunshot. The immediate reaction was to hit the floor and crawl to the bunker.
Windows were blocked with sandbags to prevent RPGs or mortar fragments from penetrating. Some were outright bricked up. Grenade screens were installed on windows and porches. Other windows had security bars installed.
Farmers would frequently displace their residences from their rural homes and move into urban areas for safety. The cities were not subject to the same level of terrorist attacks. As the country emptied out, so did the available mutual aid from neighbors. Abandoned homes then were at risk for looting and vandalism.
Fences were wired with intrusion detection systems to pinpoint breaches. Microphones were used to listen for and locate suspicious noises. Some farmers used very thin wood for the walls of their outbuildings. When terrorists would fire from inside or around the corners of the buildings, the farmer could return fire by shooting through the wood that offered no protection.
Building layouts were adjusted so that they were closer together and more defensible. Arrangements were such that one building could offer interlocking fire to the others. Jack Lawson (author of the Civil Defense Manual) believes that this will be vital for rural American properties. Protected or hidden walkways and entrances allowed movement behind cover. Walls and other visual shields were erected to prevent terrorists from getting lines of sight or clear shots into the farm compounds.
Some farms were not fenced in the concern that if a fence kept the terrorists out, they would keep a family in if they needed to escape. The lesson learned from captured farms was to leave yourself a route to escape. However, chainlink fences could detonate an RPG before it hit the house similar to slat armor on tanks and fighting vehicles seen today. High-voltage electric fences were also used.
Gates were favorite places for attack by terrorists and robbers because the vehicle had to stop and someone had to get out of the car. See-through fencing was preferred over big, decorative gate pillars. Attacks would often happen immediately at this point (they still do in South Africa and the third world). Tall or thick plants obscuring the area around the gates were used as hiding places and had to be cut down.
Anyone traveling away from home had someone housesit. House guards were often hired who were also capable of fighting should the property be attacked while the owner was away. Off-duty soldiers or retirees were used for this. Visiting friends casually for an evening was uncommon due to curfews, the danger of traveling at night, and the need to stay overnight because of the foregoing.
Perimeters were checked every morning for signs of intrusion or booby traps. Roads and driveways were also examined for mines that may have been planted. Landmines and ambushes of civilian vehicles were laid on roads. The front passenger typically scanned the roadway for signs of mines or an ambush. Often specially protected vehicles would drive in front of convoys to safely detonate mines. One such vehicle, the Pookie, carried a mine detector and rolled on low-ground pressure racing tires.
On the road when ambushes were expected, rifles were routinely pointed out the window during the journey. Vehicles typically traveled in convoys for protection against attack. Early countermeasures included rubber mats on the floors to catch shrapnel, armor around the wheel wells, and water filled tires to absorb the blast. Eventually travel was done in mine-resistant vehicles (MRAPs); the precursors to the South African designs that became familiar to Americans after Iraq/Afghanistan.
Due mainly to fuel rationing, trips would need to be carefully planned in terms of mileage and fuel consumption. Day visits would also need to be timed to ensure all travel was done in daylight. Even military/police convoys were often stopped at camps/forts/stations by their commanders at night. Overnight visits would be required if there wasn’t enough time to return safely. Intelligence would be obtained from the police/military on the current dangers along the route.
Sources are taken mainly from book and YouTube memoirs as well as various accounts online. Select sources:
The Farmer At War, Trevor Grundy and Bernard Miller
The Part-Time War: Recollections of the Terrorist War in Rhodesia, Rod Wells
The Bleed: With the Marines in Vietnam and the RLI and Selous Scouts in Rhodesia, John R. Cronin
Fire Force: A Trooper's War In The Rhodesian Light Infantry, Chris Cocks
Commando - Shoot To Kill: Rhodesian Bush War Operator, Peter Rische
Mukiwa: A White Boy in Africa, Peter Godwin
Capturing Memories (YouTube Channel)
Five Romeo Romeo (YouTube Channel)
Author Don Shift
Don Shift is a veteran of the Ventura County Sheriff's Office and avid fan of post-apocalyptic literature and film who has pushed a black and white for a mile or two. He is a student of disasters, history, and current events.