The 5 Most Horrifying Booby Traps in the History of War

When we say "booby trap," chances are you either A) imagine Indiana Jones running, jumping, and dodging through a hail of poisoned arrows, or B) snicker like a schoolboy because we just said "booby." But you don't get to run away from booby traps in reality, because the kind of person who builds them is, generally speaking, trying to kill you, not supply a narratively compelling escape scene. And then there are these folks, who stepped way over the line from "homicidal maniacs" to "huge dickheads."

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5
The Viet Cong Rigged All Sorts of Traps Involving Insanely Venomous Snakes

The 5 Most Horrifying Booby Traps in the History of WarStefanieDegner/iStock/Getty Images

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There's rigging a trap for your enemy, and then there's rigging a venomous snake to bite your enemy right in the face. IN THE FACE.

This trap falls into that second category.

The 5 Most Horrifying Booby Traps in the History of WarSteve Kharmawphlang
IN. THE. FACE.

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The bamboo pit viper of Vietnam is chock full of hemotoxic venom, which works by disrupting the blood's clotting process, destroying red blood cells, and wreaking havoc on your organ tissues. They were known as three-step snakes, because that's as far as you'd make it after getting bit by one. Now, it's bad enough to be burdened with the knowledge of such a creature, much less to have even the remotest possibility of stepping on something like that in the dense underbrush. But during the Vietnam War, the Viet Cong made everything worse when they started using them as natural biological weapons.

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They hid pit vipers in their packs so that anyone searching through them would get an agonizingly fatal surprise. In the tunnel complexes, they stuffed them into pieces of hollow bamboo and propped them in places where U.S. "tunnel rats" were likely to stick their unwary hands. Worst of all, they tied them into the branches of trees by their tails, right at face height. After a couple days spent hanging in a tree without food, the snake would be (admittedly, justifiably) pissed. And at that point, it would lash out at anything that came within range, even your goddamn eyeball. Especially your goddamn eyeball.

The 5 Most Horrifying Booby Traps in the History of WarRishi Vairale
"Don't worry. I'll settle for other balls, too."

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In fact, Charlie forgetting where he left one of his slithery booby traps is the origin of the phrase "come back to bite you." We don't know if that's true, but we know that it sounds true. Somebody should probably look it up. We're thinking you -- we just had to look up all that shit about snakes in your face. We're done.

4
The Nazis Planted Exploding Helmets, Rifles, Bars of Chocolate, Peas, Etc.

The 5 Most Horrifying Booby Traps in the History of WarGeneral Photographic Agency/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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Imagine you're an Allied soldier in the late stages of World War II. Your regiment has just driven the Nazi hordes out of a previously occupied village, and you're feeling straight-up Uncle Sam as you survey the results of what the Allies can accomplish when they put their minds (also, tanks) to it. So what do you do next? We'll tell you what you damn well don't do, and that's touch literally anything whatsoever.

The 5 Most Horrifying Booby Traps in the History of WarMichaA Bucholc/iStock/Getty Images
"Follow this advice carefully and you'll survive."
*knock on wood*
*BOOM*

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See that discarded Nazi helmet left lying on the ground? It's a bomb. That rifle leaning against a tree? Yep, that's a bomb too. The door of that newly unoccupied house? You guessed it: bomb. The window beside it? Bomb. It's starting to get dark out, but God forbid you flip on that lamp over there because fucking everything is bombs. You're thirsty and there's a cup, but you'd better not risk it. Is that a real flower? You look to your best friend and cannot help but wonder: is he a bomb? Are ... are you? You sure don't think you're a bomb, but then again, isn't that exactly what the bomb maker would want?

The 5 Most Horrifying Booby Traps in the History of Warvia Benefactum.org
In WWI, you only had to worry about losing an eye playing football with German helmets.

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As they were being driven back during the late stages of the war, the Nazis planted explosives everywhere like a bunch of homicidal squirrels, planning for the long winter of their defeat. Other than the obvious benefit of exploding a few soldiers, this had the added advantages of demoralizing, slowing, and exposing the advance of the Allies. And not only did the Nazis booby trap everything from wall paintings to bars of soap, they eventually started booby trapping the spots that looked like good places to seek cover while activating the more obvious booby traps. No corner was safe.

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It wasn't limited to the battlefield, either: Nazi spies put bombs in everything from lumps of coal to bars of chocolate.

The 5 Most Horrifying Booby Traps in the History of WarBritish National Archives
Explodes in your mouth, or in your hand.

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That's right: exploding chocolate. The closest they ever got to actually using their food bombs was in 1940, when three German spies landed on the southern coast of Ireland, toting four explosive cans of peas that they hoped to sneak into Buckingham Palace. In a move straight out of International Espionage for Dummies, they asked the first guy they encountered to take them to the IRA. He, of course, took them to the police instead.

Details of what happened next are fuzzy, but we're imagining the three "spies" having a slapstick argument in the back of a paddy wagon over which of them was supposed to have brought the can opener.

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3
Flags That Just Never Stopped Exploding

The 5 Most Horrifying Booby Traps in the History of Warcenk unver/iStock/Getty Images

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One of the most powerful symbolic actions on the battlefield is taking down the enemy's flag. You know who fucking hates symbolic actions? Apparently the Viet Cong. Whenever they gave up a position, they'd also rig their flags with explosive surprises. Imagine you're the first G.I. to burst into a captured village after a fierce firefight. Standing at the center of the village is the VC flag, proudly flying in the wind. You rush up to it and pull the rope -- but instead of sweet symbolic victory, you catch a hand grenade. You're pretty sure you hear people giggling in the jungle just before the boom.

The 5 Most Horrifying Booby Traps in the History of WarStocktrek Images/Stocktrek Images/Getty Images
"The G.I.'s racistly assumed we were mispronouncing 'frag grenade.'"

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And like the world's worst infomercial, you can't go yet, because there's more. The Viet Cong frequently used secondary booby traps, so your corpse isn't done being punished. It's also going to be used as a ploy to lure in others. And as those others rush in to help, a delayed secondary charge will go off, turning one casualty into many.

But don't scream yet, we're just getting started! We'll also throw in a third bomb, absolutely free!

The 5 Most Horrifying Booby Traps in the History of WarRamon Castillo Nava/iStock/Getty Images
So call in the next 10 seconds, while you still have hands and ears!

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If you opt not to pull down the VC flag, you're still screwed, because there's a good chance that the base of the pole is booby trapped as well -- the slightest disturbance will result in a hidden mine beneath it going off. Maybe that's why all that flag-burning kicked off around Vietnam -- not as a protest of an unjust war but because fuck flags.

2
The U.S. Planted Faulty, Exploding Ammunition to Discredit Chinese Manufacturing

The 5 Most Horrifying Booby Traps in the History of WarErik Gregg

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Back to the Vietnam War. Don't worry, we're done harping on the Viet Cong like they invented the concept of guerrilla warfare. America wasn't exactly standing in neat, orderly rows during the war, exchanging volleys like a bunch of gentlemen. Yes, the U.S. got one faceful of pit viper and immediately decided to fight dickotry with dickotry.

The 5 Most Horrifying Booby Traps in the History of WarUS Marine Corps
That is actually the cause of all wars.

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Let's say you're a U.S. soldier during the Vietnam War and you dodge all the snakes and bombs and snake-bombs -- you finally come face to face with your enemy. You both raise your weapons. You pull the trigger. Click. Your M16 just (unsurprisingly) jammed. The enemy's Chinese-made AK-47 has no such difficulties. He pulls the trigger... and his own face explodes.

You, our lucky young friend, are the unwitting beneficiary of Project Eldest Son.

In 1967, the U.S. Studies and Observations Group enacted a plan to covertly place ammo booby trapped with high explosives into stockpiles used by the Viet Cong and the NVA. Green Berets would carry the faulty ammo with them, slipping bullets into enemy ammunition caches or inserting them into rifles found near fallen enemy soldiers. The trick was to insert no more than one explosive bullet at a time -- that way, when the booby trapped gun made it to the front lines and exploded in an enemy soldier's face, it left no sign of tampering behind.

The 5 Most Horrifying Booby Traps in the History of WarSgt. Herman Kokojan
"Can't trust any gun, then. Guess it's back to snake-slingshots."

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They rigged mortar rounds in a similar manner. The purpose of the operation, however, was not to rack up huge numbers of enemy casualties but to undermine the enemy's faith in their Chinese-built weaponry. Much like you learned your lesson when that knock-off designer watch gave you contact dermatitis. Never trust a Rolecks.

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Rigging Old Graves to Shoot You in the Face or Blow the Whole Place Up

The 5 Most Horrifying Booby Traps in the History of WarHeinrich Volschenk/iStock/Getty Images

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Body-snatching was a popular career choice among ne'er-do-wells during the 18th and 19th centuries. Budding young doctors needed bodies for practice and possibly also for horrific puppet shows, but donating your body to science wasn't a thing yet. So graves needed protecting. Here's what an 18th-century graveyard security system looked like:

The 5 Most Horrifying Booby Traps in the History of WarMuseum of Mourning Art
No one used toilets, but they'd perfected the Looney Tunes coffin.

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That's a cemetery gun. Now, you're probably thinking, "How clever! It must have had some type of pressure-sensitive trigger that set it off if a robber tried to dig up the grave." To which we say that's very cute and naive of you -- this was the 18th century, remember, and apparently the value of innocent life wasn't invented until sometime in the 1950s.

The cemetery gun was secretly set up at night (so criminals wouldn't know which graves were trapped) and was rigged with tripwires that both swiveled the gun in the direction that was tripped and also fired at what tripped it -- be it grave-robber, random animal, or unlucky grieving relative who worked a swing shift. An alternate method of grave protection was known as a grave torpedo.

The 5 Most Horrifying Booby Traps in the History of Warvia Guns.com
To preemptively strike against the army of the dead.

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Sadly, no, there weren't torpedoes being fired from coffins and skittering about beneath the cemetery like explosive graboids. The grave torpedo came in two forms, one substantially more insane than the other. The first was basically a shotgun rigged to blow once the coffin's lid was removed. Understandable. The second rigged your dearly departed grandma with the equivalent of a goddamn anti-tank mine. This version of the grave torpedo was equipped with a metal plate backed by a large black-powder charge. Digging up the grave (or walking over it fatly) would set off the charge and disturb the holy crap out of that cemetery's peaceful slumber. As an advertisement for the device put it: "Sleep well, sweet angel, let no fears of ghouls disturb thy rest, for above thy shrouded form lies a torpedo, ready to make mincemeat of anyone who attempts to convey you to the pickling vat."

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Most of them probably never worked, and those that did have likely long since been dismantled or decayed. But still, the next time you're touring an old graveyard, step lightly: you could be playing a game of necrotic Minesweeper.


For accidental booby traps, check out 6 Real People Who Turned Their Homes Into Death Traps. And then check out If Everyday Objects Went to War.

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