The Bangalores of the Middle Ages

The Bangalore, named after the Indian city of Bangalore where it was invented by the British Captain McClintock in 1912, is basically an iron pipe which is filled with an explosive substance. It was originally designed to clear minefields in World War I. It was soon discovered that it could also be used to destroy fortifications by exploding the Bangalore underneath them. One of the most famous illustrations of this practice is surely the opening scene of „Saving Private James Ryan“ in which the U.S. troops use Bangalores to destroy the German fortifications on the beach.

During the studies of old German sources for my master thesis I found a text passage that indicates that an early form of Bangalore was used in the late Middle Ages. The name of the source is “Die Geschichte von der Belagerung von Neuss”, in English „The History of the Siege of Neuss“. Neuss is a city at the river Rhine, directly opposite of Düsseldorf. In 1474/75 it was besieged by Charles the Bold, duke of Burgundy. The text was written in prose by Christian Wierstraet, the town chronicler in these years. It was published in Cologne in 1476. That makes it an ideal source for the events, because Wierstraet was an eye witness of the events. The text itself is in German, but I will give you a translation:


Heultzen pyffen vast umbunden
Wurden zu den grauen unden
Behentlych ingestossen
Myt donrekruyd gewullet seer
Idt bracht den greyfften groys erueer
Ind hedt sy wayll verdrossen


Wooden pipes, tightly wrapped in iron straps,
were quickly and neatly
pushed below into the trench side:
they were filled with black powder.
This was a great danger for the ones who were digging,
and almost let them give up.

Pages 106/107.

The defenders used this bombs to defend themselves against the besiegers who had begun to dig mines towards the town. The description of the look and the use of these weapons is very similar to the one of the modern Bangalore, which is in use until today. It seems that these bombs were forgotten for a very long time, only to be rediscovered in 1912.


Wierstraet, Christian. Die Geschichte von der Belagerung von Neuss. Faksimile der Erstausgabe bei Arnold ther Hoernen, Köln 1476. Herbert Kölb, Albert Kreuels, Rudolf Küppers [Hrsg.]. Neuss, 1974.