By: Tom Gersbeck, CWO (Ret) USMC, EOD. Written on the efforts of Mark Lasley, MGySgt (Ret) USMC, EOD.
The Battle for the Solomon Islands began on 7 August, 1942 when allied forces, predominantly U.S. Marines, landed on the Japanese held islands of Guadalcanal, Tulagi, and Florida. The fighting officially ended on 9 February 1943 after three (3) major land battles, seven (7) major Naval battles; as well as thousands of day and night raids, ship-to-shore bombardments, aerial engagements and other combat actions. The results of a very successful 3-year training effort on the Guadalcanal is the focus of this article. Specifically the efforts of 13 members of the Royal Solomon Island Police Force (RSIPF) from May 2011 through April 2014.
The Island of Guadalcanal is located in the Solomon Island chain, northeast of Australia (Figure 1). During the battle for this island; which raged for 6 months, over 30,000 men were killed. When the fighting ended, Explosive Remnants of War (ERW) and Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) that was not in the way was simply left in place; while anything obstructing construction was buried, moved out of the way or dumped in the ocean. Over the next 9 months, an area in the north central part of the island, designated "Hell's Point" was converted into a massive ammunition storage area capable of supplying Allied Forces throughout the South Pacific (Figure 2).
In November 1943 a grass fire burned into the Hell's Point Storage Area with catastrophic results. Three days of massive explosions resulted in Hell's Point being so badly contaminated with damaged ordnance that everyone living or working on Guadalcanal was restricted from entering this section of the island; these restrictions are still in place.
In May, 2011 Golden West Humanitarian Foundation, in partnership with the Australian High Commission, U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of Defense and the People of Japan began a capacity building program. The goal of this 1-year program was to train a section of the Royal Solomon Island Police Force (RSIPF) to International Mine Action Standards (IMAS), in order to ensure the safety of the communities on their islands. The original 1-year project is now beginning its 4th year and 13 RSIPF personnel have been fully certified as IMAS EOD Level 2 technicians with a specific expertise in WWII ordnance. As of today, the RSIPF has a fully operational bomb squad that has participated in joint EOD operations. Most notable of which was Operation Render Safe-2013, a large scale, joint EOD operation involving military personnel from Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States.
The program started with an assessment of the situation and the capabilities of the RSIPF. Results of the assessment showed that some RSIPF officers had received training on explosives and disposal operations, but the training had been piece-meal in nature and historical training records were nonexistent. Most of the BAC specific equipment was broken, mobility consisted on an old Toyota Hilux, the disposal site consisted of a few water-filled pits in an unsecured area, there were no computers, no classroom, no designated training areas, a large amount of blasting explosives that are unsuitable for destroying ordnance, and a lack of detailed maps of the Hells Point area of the island.
There was no doubt the RSIPF lacked all types of EOD related equipment, but they did have a group of motivated Police Officers ready to enter a long-term, grueling training program and operational commitment that would change their lives. Additionally, a four-phased plan had been developed to address the training and equipment shortfalls. Execution of first 3 phases would result in a retired Marine EOD technician living on Guadalcanal for the next 3 years, while working 7-days a week with the RSIPF officers who had volunteered for this assignment.
Phases 1, 2 and 3 focused on building infrastructure, training personnel to internationally recognized standards, and begin the daunting task of clearing the ERW and UXO from the communities and eventually the entire island. Phase 4; which the program is in now, focuses on transition as RSIPF personnel take over all operational and administrative duties from the Golden West Humanitarian Foundation representative.
The 4 Phase Plan:
1. Establish a team structure and counseling program. Three negative counseling led to removal from the program.
2. Fully assess the technical skills and abilities of the RSIPF personnel.
3. Fully assess the functionality and suitability of on-hand equipment and explosives.
4. Purchase computers, began formal "Office" training for RSIPF personnel.
5. Upload ordnance publications and reference software on newly purchased computers.
6. Upload the automated IMAS Incident Report, log and record formats on newly purchased computers.
1. Design and construct an EOD training and operations area that includes: (Figures 4, 5 & 6)
a. Clearance of 700 x 100 meters of dense jungle.
b. A surface and subsurface Quality Control (QC) area for equipment calibration.
c. A demolitions range area with firing points and disposal pits.
2. Design and build: (Figures 7, 8 & 9)
a. A covered, open-air classroom.
b. Indoor storage.
b. Office space.
c. Range briefing hut.
d. Range firing points.
e. Down range safety bunkers.
3. Make an updated map of Hell's Point. Up to this point, the only map available was a photocopy of a map obtained from Marine Corps historical records, which was used during the initial battle. (Figure 2)
4. Obtain appropriate EOD response vehicle(s).
An example of how dense the jungle on Hells Point is, Figures 8 & 9 show two of the six M3 Stuart Tanks that were recovered during clearance operations. The story concerning how the tanks came to be partially disassembled, stacked in a large hole or crater and partially buried on Hells Point have not been found. But their discovery sheds light on the size and amount of military equipment that can be encountered on the island.
1. Begin formal EOD training based on the International Mine Action Standards (IMAS) curriculum. (Figures 10, 11 & 12)
2. Customize training to increase emphasis on Japanese and American WWII ordnance, as well as diagnostic techniques. The accurate identification of ordnance category, group and fuze conditions are usually impossible to determine due to the severe deterioration and coral encrustation on munitions commonly recovered on the island.
3. Improve the quality of ordnance training aids, which will be used for reference. (Figures 13 & 14)
4. Decrease explosives and disposal costs by using NMD explosives. NMD is a binary high explosive; which is capable of effectively destroying ordnance, but with decreased shipping costs to the South Pacific. (Figures 15 & 16).
Phase 4: (Currently ongoing
1. Finalize RSIPF command level policy to ensure long-term funding, manpower, training and the overall survival of the RSIPF EOD team.
2. Continue mentoring EOD Team and Response Team leaders through the transition process.
3. Formalize communications and coordination with military units and EOD teams scheduled to visit islands in the RSIPF area of responsibility.
The RSIPF EOD Team has worked extremely hard over the last 3 years and today can boast the following accomplishments:
1. Thirteen (13) 13 RSIPF personnel have been certified as IMAS EOD Level 2 technicians with a specific expertise in WWII ordnance, and supervisors are being trained in Level 3 managerial tasks
2. All team members have completed formal IT training programs, and have email accounts with daily access.
3. Incident reports are completed using the IMAS Incident Report format and electronically filed. Ordnance reference publications and software are used with great affect for operations and training.
4. Full professional acceptance of the RSIPF EOD team became a reality. In 2013, the knowledge and professionalism of the RSIPF EOD was recognized and they were invited to participate in an upcoming event. Which turned out to be Operation Render Safe, a large scale, joint EOD operation including bomb technicians from Australian, New Zealand, Canadian and the United States. During the 3 weeks of the operation 12,000 ERW and UXO were recovered and destroyed. Throughout the operation, the RSIPF EOD team participated as a fully operational partner.
5. As the operational capability of the RSIPF team grew, so did the calls for assistance. During the 35 months covering May 2011 to April 2014, there were 25,417 ERW and UXO removed from public areas.
The yearly breakdown was:
a. 2,700 munitions recovered in 2011.
b. 6,722 munitions recovered in 2012.
c. 15,531 munitions recovered in 2013, which is in addition to the 12,000 munitions recovered during Operation Render Safe.
Most importantly, as of September 2014, no RSIPF EOD team personnel have been injured during an incident or operation, which speaks highly of their training and professionalism.
1. Golden West. The Golden West, Royal Solomon Island Police, EOD Project, Guadalcanal, monthly status reports and recovered ERW & UXO logs.
2. Mark Lasley. Series of interviews with Mark Lasley, MGySgt (Ret) USMC, 2014.
2. Richard Frank. Guadalcanal: The Definitive Account of the Landmark Battle. Penguin Books, 1992.
3. Ivan Musicant. Battleship at War: The Epic Story of the USS Washington. Harcourt, 1986.
Figure 1: Solomon Islands
Figure 2: The actual map still has blood stains on it. Injuries to locals and the illegal use of explosives for fishing, which destroys the reefs, were some of the reasons that launched this initiative. Guadalcanal WW-II Positions.
Figure 3: The completed RSIPF EOD training and operational area, which is 700 meters by 100 meters.
Figures 4 & 5: The task of clearing dense jungle was accomplished with chainsaws, explosives and a "Badger" (an armored 13 ton excavator).
Figure 6: Blasting explosives were used to clear stumps and roots.
Figure 7: Firing Point
Figure 8: Briefing Hut
Figure 9: The solar powered, cyclone-resistant building that included secure storage, office space and open air classroom.
Figure 10: Initial discovery. A total of 6, M3 Stuart Tanks were found during clearance operations.
Figure 11: The 6 Stuart tanks with their 37mm main guns are now on display.
Figure 12: Training was initially conducted in an outdoor classroom.
Figure 13: RSIPF technician conducts training utilizing his hand drawn model of the AN-M110A1 fuze and M41A1 frag bomb.
Figure 14: Cutaway of a Japanese Type 88 fuze, which was hand-drawn by RSIPF team member.
Figure 15: Japanese rifle grenades.
Figure 16: Japanese 70mm HE projectile.
Figure 17: NMD used to destroy 15, 75mm HE projectiles.
Figure 18: NMD used to destroy large amounts of grenades and fuzes.