It doesn't seem like much. It's just a spool of metal wiring, dotted with small, sharp, evenly-dispersed bits. If you happened upon some of it strewn across the ground, you could maneuver around the teeth fairly easily and make your way through, unscathed, with ease. It's more of a flimsy annoyance than a deterrent — but that's the beauty of it.
Since the turn of the century, troops have implemented it when setting up defensive positions. It's only ever placed by itself in training situations — since the worst damage it can inflict is a small cut and maybe a tear on one's uniform — but when it's used in conjunction with other defensive emplacements, it becomes substantially more difficult to navigate.
Its relatively cheap price tag has made it the perfect option for training scenarios. It's become so integral to training warfighters that every troop, regardless of branch, occupation, or era, has had to learn to crawl under it at one point or another.
This was also back in the day when C-wire had to be made by hand. Each and every barb was tied on manually. Thank God for mass-production because that must have been one sh*tty detail.
(U.S. National Archives)
Barbed wire was first created in 1876 for ranchers. Ranchers had difficulty keeping their cattle on their land and the big, lumbering cows could just knock over any puny fence. Then, an Illinois cattleman by the name of Joseph Glidden came up with the idea to cut small strips of metal and tie them to his metal fences to poke the cows when they got too close, deterring them from trying to break through barriers.
It worked and, in just four short years, the U.S. military caught on. They started using it as a deterrent to enemy forces and, seeing the success, nearly every other military quickly followed suit. Barbed wire saw use in the Spanish American War, the Second Boer War, and the Russo-Japanese War.
The heyday of barbed wire was the First World War, the first time it was spooled for quick transport and deployment. This spooled barbed wire became known as concertina wire, named after the tiny, accordion-like instrument the spools resembled. The wiring spread across the vast battlefield, nearly engulfing the entire Western Front. It's been said that there was enough concertina wire used in WWI to encircle the globe forty times.
The prevalence of barbed wire made it impossible for infantrymen or cavalry to cross areas with ease. In fact, one of the earliest selling points for WWI-era tanks was their ability to roll over barbed wire unaffected.
From personal experience, I can tell you that the gloves the Army issues to soldiers are garbage when it comes to protecting your hands as you set it up — just throwing that out there.
(U.S. Army photo by Terrance Bell)
Today, concertina wire is much less of a headache to deploy. It comes pre-packaged and simply opening the packaging unravels it from its spool, like a compressed slinky being set free. A single platoon in today's military can "bounce out" an entire kilometer of concertina wiring in just a single hour — even faster if they unspool it from the back of a vehicle.
You can deploy it in a single row to cover a long distance or place it next to another to create a wider row. Toss a third strip on top in a sort of pyramid shape, anchor it with a post, and, voila, you've created and impromptu barrier that no one is getting through any time soon.
Modern concertina wiring is so effective, in fact, that all it takes is eleven rows of it staked down to stop most vehicles.
There are three goals when using concertina wire:
- It multiplies the difficulty of crossing a defensive position — this is why you'll so often see it wrapped along the top of a fence line. A normal fence can be easily climbed, but not when there're little razor blades at the top!
- Even alone, it's great at slowing down enemy movements. Anyone rushing a concertina wire line will have to slow down and watch their step — all while the guards are lining up their shot.
- And, finally, concertina wire adds to an intimidation factor. If you've worked with the wire up close, you're probably not very afraid of it — but from afar, those little metal bits can look pretty mean.
To watch a sapper veteran explain concertina wire, check out the video below: