Portable landmine detector inventor born in Poland 108 years ago

2017-04-21 22:36 update: 2018-09-26, 23:17
Landmine detector in use PAP/Aleksander Koźmiński
Landmine detector in use PAP/Aleksander Koźmiński
April 21 marks the 108th birth anniv. of lieutenant Jozef Stanislaw Kosacki (1909–1990), a Polish engineer best known for inventing the first manual mine detector that revolutionised field battle and was used in armies worldwide for over 50 years, until 90s.

Before World War II Warsaw-born Kosacki worked as a technician in the Artillery Department of the Polish Defence Ministry. Shortly before the war he joined the Special Signals Unit, a clandestine institute that developed electronic appliances for the military. Following the 1939 invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, he managed to flee to the United Kingdom, where he continued service in the Polish Army as a signals officer. In 1941 he devised the so-called Polish Mine Detector Mark I, first used in the Second Battle of El Alamein. Kosacki's detector doubled the speed at which heavily mined sands could be cleared (from 100 to 200 meters an hour) and considerably aided the Allies' victory at El Alamein. The device remained in use until the 1991 Gulf War.

Kosacki, who trained soldiers in wireless telegraphy, was inspired to develop his mine dector by a fatal accident that took place in 1941 in Scotland, when a Polish military patrol was decimated by land mines on a beach near Arbroath. Kosacki with the help from Sgt. Andrzej Gabros needed only 3 months to build the breakthrough detector, which later turned out first electronic device to ever become a part of a soldier’s gear.

His Polish Mine Detector Mark I was able to pinpoint objects the size of a coin (Kosacki's device is said to have quickly detected all coins that had been scattered for field test onto the grass at the Sapper Training Centre in Ripon in Yorkshire - PAP). Polish engineer won the British government's competition for a mine detecting device leaving six much more awkward rivalling British constructions far behind in efficiency. Unlike others' propositions it was fairly light (14kg) and operated by one person.

Jozef Kosacki did not patent his invention. He handed it over to the British free of charge, for which he is said to have received a congratulation letter from King George VI.

According to documents, during the war more than 100,000 of Polish Mine Detector Mark I type were produced, along with several hundred thousands of further versions of the contrivence. The device was used, among others, during the Allied invasion of Sicily, invasion of Italy and the Invasion of Normandy.

The only surviving prototype of Kosacki's Polish Mine Detector is housed at the museum of the Josef Kosacki Military Institute of Technical Engineering in Wroclaw, southwestern Poland.

After the war Kosacki returned to Poland, where he became a pioneer of electronics and nuclear technology and for many years held the electronics chair at the Institute for Nuclear Research in Otwock - Swierk. He also held a professorship at the Military Technical Academy in Warsaw. He died in 1990 and was buried with military honours.

During World War II Kosacki's name was classified in order to protect his family, which had remained behind in German-occupied Poland. For this reason most of his patents were submitted under pseudonyms, including "Jozef Kos," "Kozacki" and "Kozak". As a result, his surname is often misspelt in post-war historiography. (PAP)