How do explosions kill people?

I understand that flying debris and shrapnel would be a killer in a lot of cases, but in an open field, if a non-shrapnel bomb is thrown at someone, what exactly kills? Or are all bombs shrapnel based?

All bombs produce some shrapnel, but not all depend on the shrapnel for their effectiveness. Concussion bombs depend on the force of the explosion to do the work. The shock wave they produce can be enough to get the job done. If the victim is close enough, the shock wave can, sometimes, stop their heart and/or damage the other internal organs, which can lead to a slower death. In some cases, they can cause the other type of concussion, where the brain is battered against the skull, bruises and swells. his can also be fatal, if severe enough and untreated. It can also break bones, sometimes driving them through soft tissues. Fun topic for first thing in the morning. :wink:

Shock waves impart kinetic energy to the human body; if there is enough of it, it will cause trauma just like impact from a tangible object.

Um, in many reports of explosion aftermath the limbs are blasted off, separated from the torso.

Bombs designed specifically for an anti-personel role (like this) are designed to fragment and produce lots of nasty bits of shrapnel. Cluster bombs such as this are really nasty and are used to shower an area with a hundred or more bomblets each the size of beer can. Again, in an anti-personel role, the shower of fragments is the aim.

So, it is pretty clear that if you want to kill people, lots of shrapnel is what is needed. I think that it would be safe to say that the lethal range of the shrapnel will generally be much greater than the leathal range of the pressure blast.

Any bomb will produce at least some shrapnel. If the pressure wave does not get you, you may thrown onto the ground or against a wall with some force and then of course, there is going to be debris flying about or simply falling down.

It would also stand to reason that someone could be incinerated in a fireball.

It seems to me that this wouldn’t even require an incendiary device. When I think of a bomb exploding, I always think of that healthy orange glow.


Meaning what exactly?

That the good stuff just kicked in.

I heard from a show about armoured cars that a bomb blast can create the same force per square inch that a rifle bullet can (which calliber, I don’t know)…so, in essence, as I understand it, it would be like hitting things with a bullet everywhere on its surface, all at once. This, for some reason, made it easier for me to visualize the force inflicted on things that make them so bent and torn from an explosion.


Similarly, I recall hearing several times (I think the latest was on an episode of Law and Order: Criminal Intent) about the “white butterfly” that can be seen on an x-ray of an explosion victim, where the torso seems to have a white butterfly shape in it as a result of the internal organs being shattered and/or liquefied from the pressure wave.

I don’t know how accurate the information about this phenomenon is, but it does seem at least somewhat plausible.

Okey-dokey. I gotta go now and try to forget that image.

Here is an incident from a bombing in Israel that references the “white butterfly” phenomenon.

It’s called blast overpressure, and it can kill. Most common scenarios for blast overpressure fatality are troops in the open in flat terrain or persons inside a confined space with the explosive (e.g., bus bombings). As you can see from the graphs on that link, the pressure wave drops off very quickly with distance. So unless the are reflection or reinforcement of the blast wave, fatalities from blast effects are limited.

This is why most anti-personnel weapons are, as G. Cornelius said, shrapnel-based.

To give an idea of the power in a blast wave, I’ll relate the following:

Our Fire Company was dispatched one evening to a residential address, the report being “Unknown type-assist the Police.” We drove up to the front and saw nothing in evidence. Just then, the front wall of the dwelling lit up bright orange and jumped from the foundation.

It seems that a Police officer was following a vehicle in the alley to the rear of the dwelling when the driver bailed (stolen car), and that officer had to engage in foot pursuit. The car from which the perp bailed rolled onward and into the rear of the house, where it damaged the wall and sheared off the gas meter. The escaping fuel found a point of ignition about the time we were on the opposite side wondering what was up.

From my position in the driver seat of a 15 ton truck, it felt like another large vehicle had run into us from the side. It certainly got our undivided attention. :eek:

What others have said, but …

Explosions can be quirky. We had a plane crash and burn on takeoff at our base in France. Bombs were scattered around and one of the fire companies had a crew spraying water on a 1000 lb. bomb near the fire to prevent an explosion. One of the fireman was manning the hose nozzle only about 20 ft. from the front end of the bomb with 2 hose tenders behind him and a guy running the pump on the engine. The bomb blew up and the nozzle man was unhurt except for ruptured ear drums. All three behind him, the pump tender being 60-70 ft away, were killed. The nozzle guy is still going today.

How’s that for an answer to “What did you do in the war, Grandpa?”