World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Wire obstacle

Article Id: WHEBN0000402845
Reproduction Date:

Title: Wire obstacle  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Barbed wire, Main Line of Resistance, Cheval de frise, Border outpost, Abatis
Collection: Fortification (Obstacles)
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Wire obstacle

Double apron fence
Obstacle with concertina wire

In the military science of fortification, wire obstacles are defensive obstacles made from barbed wire, barbed tape or concertina wire. They are designed to disrupt, delay and generally slow down an attacking enemy. During the time that the attackers are slowed down by the wire obstacle (or possibly deliberately channelled into killing zones) they are easy to target with machinegun and artillery fire. Depending on the requirements and available resources, wire obstacles may range from a simple barbed wire fence in front of a defensive position, to elaborate patterns of fences, concertinas, "dragon's teeth" and minefields hundreds of metres thick.

One example is "low wire entanglement", which consists of irregularly placed stakes that have been driven into the ground with only some 15 cm (six inches) showing. The barbed wire is then wrapped and tightened on to these. An enemy combatant running through the barrier, which is difficult to see, is apt to trip and get caught.


  • History 1
  • Enhanced effectiveness 2
  • Gallery of Images 3
  • References 4
  • External links 5


Wire obstacles may have originated with Union General Ambrose Burnside during the American Civil War Battle of Fort Sanders in the Knoxville Campaign, when telegraph wire was strung between tree stumps 30 to 80 yards in front of one part of the Union line. They first saw significant military use during the Second Boer War, and reached their pinnacle during World War I where, together with machine guns, they were responsible for many casualties in the trench warfare that dominated that conflict and gave the defending side substantial advantage.

World War I entanglements could in some places be scores of metres thick and several metres deep, with the entire space filled with a random, tangled mass of barbed wire. Entanglements were often not created deliberately, but by pushing together the mess of wire formed when conventional barbed wire fences had been damaged by artillery shells.

Whenever there was time and opportunity to plan and emplace wire obstacles during the First World War, it was standard practice to deploy designs that would channel and concentrate attacking troops, through avenues of approach, herding them like cattle into designated killing zones i.e. fixing multiple screw pickets of wire running diagonally, away from the protected zone. This meant that a belt-fed machine-gun such as the Maschinengewehr 08 sighted along that diagonal line had easy targets to enfilade when attacking troops were blocked from advancing by the wire and then massed together in a line.

Another method was to deliberately leave attractive-looking gaps in wire obstacles to give the appearance of a weak link in the defences. Such gaps were designed to act like a funnel, luring attacking troops through the opening and straight into the concentrated direct and enfilade fire of different machine gun emplacements. Because multiple water-cooled machine-guns such as the Vickers gun were used, continuous fire could be sustained for hours at a time if required.

Methods for soldiers to face this threat were a small wheeled steel plate that was slowly pushed forward in front of the soldier to shield them from bullet fire as they crawled, shielded machine gun carts, the MacAdam Shield Shovel or systems like the Mobile personnel shield among others. When the obstacle was reached, access holes in the shield allowed the attacking soldier to cut away at the wire obstacle with pliers from behind the protection of the armored shield.[1]

Stormtroopers platoons included ballistic shields in their equipment list, as infiltration was one of their specialities.

Relatively elaborate obstacles were also used in some phases of the Korean War, and continue to be used on the Korean Demilitarized Zone, and a few other borders. However the more fluid nature of modern war means that most obstacles used today are relatively simple, temporary barriers.

Tanks and light armored vehicles can generally flatten unmined wire obstacles, although the wire can become entangled in the tracks and immobilize the vehicle. This can also occur to wheeled vehicles once the wire becomes wrapped around the axle. Wire obstacles can also be breached by intense artillery shelling or Bangalore torpedoes.

Enhanced effectiveness

The effectiveness of any wire obstacle is greatly increased by planting anti-tank and blast antipersonnel mines in and around it. Additionally, connecting bounding anti-personnel mines (e.g. the PROM-1) to the obstacle with tripwires has the effect of booby-trapping the obstacle itself, hindering attempts to clear it. Dummy tripwires can be added to cause further confusion. If anti-personnel mines are unavailable, it is very easy to connect hand-grenades to the wire using trip-wires. If the use of lethal explosive devices is deemed to be unsuitable, it is easy to emplace trip-flares in and around the wire obstacle in order to make night-time infiltration harder.

Gallery of Images


  1. ^ It Nipped Its Way Through Wire Entanglements, Popular Science monthly, January 1919, page 30, Scanned by Google Books:

External links

  • Tactical Use of Barbed Wire
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Hawaii eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.