Explained: From American Wild West to Europe war theatres, evolution of razor wirehttps://indianexpress.com/article/explained/from-american-wild-west-to-europe-war-theatres-evolution-of-razor-wire-5918272/

Explained: From American Wild West to Europe war theatres, evolution of razor wire

Concertina wire fences are used along territorial borders and in theatres of conflict around the world, to keep out combatants, terrorists, or refugees.

Explained: From American Wild West to Europe war theatres, evolution of razor wire
A coil of concertina wire in Srinagar last week. (Photo: PTI)

At a number of places in the Kashmir Valley, security forces have put coils of concertina wire on roads to enforce restrictions on movement. Concertina wire fences are used along territorial borders and in theatres of conflict around the world, to keep out combatants, terrorists, or refugees.

The Nomenclature

The expandable spools of barbed or razor wire get their name from concertina, a hand-held musical instrument similar to the accordion, with bellows that expand and contract. Concertina wire coils were an improvisation on the barbed wire obstacles used during World War I. The flat, collapsible coils with intermittent barbs or blades were designed to be carried along by infantry, and deployed on battlefields to prevent or slow down enemy movement.

The early avatars

The Englishman Richard Newton is credited with creating the first barbed wire around 1845; the first patent for “a double wire clipped with diamond shaped barbs” was given to Louis François Janin of France. In the United States, the first patent was registered by Lucien B Smith on June 25, 1867, for a prairie fence made of fireproof iron wire. Design innovations and more patents followed; Michael Kelly twisted razor wires together to form a cable of wires.

The American businessman Joseph F Glidden is considered to be the father of the modern barbed wire. His design of two strands of intertwined wire held by sharp prongs at regular intervals, won a famous legal victory against the US Patent and Trademark Office in 1874.

Non-military uses

Advertising

Barbed wire was initially an agrarian fencing invention intended to confine cattle and sheep, which unlike lumber, was largely resistant to fire and bad weather. An advertorial published in the US in 1885 under the title ‘Why Barb Fencing Is Better Than Any Other’, argued that “it does not decay; boys cannot crawl through or over it; nor dogs; nor cats; nor any other animal; it watches with argus eyes the inside and outside, up, down and lengthwise; it prevents the ‘ins’ from being ‘outs’, and the ‘outs’ from being ‘ins’, watches at day-break, at noontide, at sunset and all night long…”

Barbed wire soon became a symbol of power and property, changing the sociopolitical and economic landscape of the American West, converting the undefined prairies into private properties, and making the roaming cowboy on horseback increasingly redundant.

Evolution of concertina

Barbed wire was put to military use in the Siege of Santiago in 1898 during the Spanish-American War, and by the British in the Second Boer War of 1899-1902 to confine the families of the Afrikaans-speaking Boer fighters.

World War I saw extensive use of barbed wire — and German military engineers are credited with improvising the earliest concertina coils on the battlefield. They spun barbed wire put up by the Allied soldiers along the Hindenburg Line on the Western Front into circles, making it more effective against infantry charges. Both sides eventually used concertina wire, which did not, unlike traditional barbed wire, require too much support infrastructure or nailing down, and could simply be spread on the battlefield.

Use in Jammu and Kashmir

The fence erected by India along the Line of Control to keep out terrorist infiltrators consists of rows of concertina wire coils held by iron angles. Concertina coils have long been deployed during curfews in the Valley. They are now commonly seen elsewhere in India too, and are used to secure private properties as well.

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