Saturday, April 15, 2006

The first car bomb

Last year, just after the July bombings in London, I pointed out that suicide bombing is not the new phenomenon that many imagine. An Anarchist blew himself up at Greenwich Observatory in February 1894.

An article by Mike Davis shows that the same is true of the car bomb - or at least the horse-and-cart bomb:

On a warm September day in 1920, a few months after the arrest of his comrades Sacco and Vanzetti, a vengeful Italian anarchist named Mario Buda parked his horse-drawn wagon near the corner of Wall and Broad Streets, directly across from J. P. Morgan Company. He nonchalantly climbed down and disappeared, unnoticed, into the lunchtime crowd. A few blocks away, a startled postal worker found strange leaflets warning: "Free the Political Prisoners or it will be Sure Death for All of You!" They were signed: "American Anarchist Fighters." The bells of nearby Trinity Church began to toll at noon. When they stopped, the wagon - packed with dynamite and iron slugs - exploded in a fireball of shrapnel.

"The horse and wagon were blown to bits," writes Paul Avrich, the celebrated historian of American anarchism who uncovered the true story. "Glass showered down from office windows, and awnings twelve stories above the street burst into flames. People fled in terror as a great cloud of dust enveloped the area. In Morgan's offices, Thomas Joyce of the securities department fell dead on his desk amid a rubble of plaster and walls. Outside scores of bodies littered the streets."

Buda was undoubtedly disappointed when he learned that J.P. Morgan himself was not among the 40 dead and more than 200 wounded - the great robber baron was away in Scotland at his hunting lodge. Nonetheless, a poor immigrant with some stolen dynamite, a pile of scrap metal, and an old horse had managed to bring unprecedented terror to the inner sanctum of American capitalism. ...

Buda's wagon was, in essence, the prototype car bomb: the first use of an inconspicuous vehicle, anonymous in almost any urban setting, to transport large quantities of high explosive into precise range of a high-value target. It was not replicated, as far as I have been able to determine, until January 12, 1947 when the Stern Gang drove a truckload of explosives into a British police station in Haifa, Palestine, killing 4 and injuring 140.


Anonymous said...

Interesting article, but definately not the first "horse and cart" or "anonymous urban vehicle" bomb.

What about the Infernal Machine attempt on Napoleon Bonaparte in December 1800 ?

The name of the plot was in reference to the sixteenth-century revolt against Spanish rule in Flanders. In 1585, during the siege of Antwerp by the Spaniards, an Italian engineer in Spanish service had made an explosive device from a barrel bound with iron hoops, filled with gunpowder, flammable materials and bullets, and set off by a sawed-off shotgun triggered from a distance by a string. The Italian engineer called it la macchina infernale.

Anonymous said...

What about the 1922 car bomb in Dundalk, Ireland? The latest history on car bombs cites it to be truly the first carbomb as such. The bombmaker's plans ( Michael Bellew ) are to be found in the Irish National Archives.