Time bomb

For other uses, see Time bomb (disambiguation).
Aftermath of the Grand Hotel bombing in Brighton (1984) which was targeted at British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the result of a time bomb which had been placed in the hotel nearly a month before it detonated. Mrs. Thatcher escaped harm, though 5 others perished and 31 were injured.

A time bomb (or a timebomb, time-bomb) is a bomb whose detonation is triggered by a timer. The use (or attempted use) of time bombs has been for various purposes including insurance fraud, terrorism, assassination, sabotage and warfare. They are a popular feature in fictional thriller and action films as they offer a way of imparting a dramatic sense of urgency.


Diagram of a simple time bomb in the form of a pipe bomb

The explosive charge is the main component of any bomb, and makes up most of the size and weight of it. It is the damaging element of the bomb (along with any fragments or shrapnel the deflagration might produce with its container or neighboring objects). The explosive charge is detonated by a detonator.

A time bomb's timing mechanism may be professionally manufactured, either separately or as part of the device, or it may be improvised from an ordinary household timer such as a wind-up alarm clock, wrist watch, digital kitchen timer, or notebook computer. The timer can be programmed to count up or count down (usually the latter; as the bomb detonates when the time runs out).


Types of time bombs include:

List of some notable incidents involving time bombs

Year Event Location Perpetrator(s) Deaths Injuries Comments
1864 Confederate sabotage of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s headquarters City Point, Virginia John Maxwell of the Confederate Secret Service 43 to 300 125 Maxwell called his device a "clockwork torpedo"; placed on an ammunition barge, it detonated 30,000 artillery shells[1]
1875 Attack on the Mosel (ship) Bremerhaven Alexander Keith, Jr. 80 or 83 200 Bomb set for insurance fraud purposes; detonated prematurely
1880 Winter Palace bombing Saint Petersburg Narodnaya Volya 11 30 Attempted assassination of Tsar Alexander II
1881-1885 Fenian dynamite campaign Great Britain Fenians 3 (bombers who died when bomb went off early) 100 Irish nationalist campaign led by Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa
1910 Los Angeles Times bombing Los Angeles John J. McNamara and James B. McNamara 21 100 Union-related action
1915 Muenter Attack Spree Washington DC, New York City German nationalist Eric Muenter 0 1 Set time bombs in United States Capitol, SS Minnehaha, and shot J. P. Morgan, Jr. against selling arms to Germany's enemies
1916 Preparedness Day Bombing San Francisco Labor leaders 10 40 Isolationist political action
1920 Wall Street bombing New York City Anarchists (suspected) 38 400 Followed other bombings in 1919
1939 Bürgerbräukeller Munich Georg Elser 7 63 Assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler
1942 St Nazaire Raid St Nazaire, France (wartime) Royal Navy, British Commandos 590 unkn. To damage port facilities being used by enemy forces
1944 July Plot Wolf's Lair, Poland (wartime) German Resistance 4 ? Failed assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler
1955 United Airlines Flight 629 over Longmont, Colorado, USA Jack Gilbert Graham 44 0 Murder; insurance fraud
1956 Milk Bar, Place Bugeaud,
Cafeteria, Rue Michelet,
Air France office (failed to detonate)
Algiers, French Algeria Djamila Bouhired
Zohra Drif
Samia Lakhdari
3 50 Reprisal bombings at start of the Algerian War, September 30, 1956[2] Part of the so-called Café Wars
1963-1971 FLQ bombings Canada Front de libération du Québec None 1 (Army officer Walter Leja) Series of politically motivated bombings (timed and non-timed devices) and other activities
1969-1976 Weatherman bombings United States Weather Underground 1 unconfirmed; 3 bombers (premature) 3 confirmed; 1 unconfirmed Series of politically motivated bombings (timed and non-timed devices) and other activities including jailbreaks and riots
1972 Aldershot Bombing Aldershot, UK IRA 7 18 A 280 lb time bomb in a car
1974 M62 Coach Bombing West Yorkshire IRA 12 38 Continuing anti-British campaign
1974 Birmingham pub bombings Birmingham, UK IRA (suspected) 21 182 Continuing anti-British campaign
1974 Guildford pub bombings Guildford, UK IRA 5 65 Targeted against Army personnel
1977 Lucona sinking Indian Ocean Udo Proksch 6 0 Attempted insurance fraud
1984 Brighton hotel bombing Brighton, UK IRA 5 31 Attempt to assassinate PM Margaret Thatcher
1985 Air India Flight 182 and 1985 Narita International Airport bombing Atlantic Ocean, Tokyo Narita Airport Babbar Khalsa Khalistan separatists 331 4 Bombing of two 747 flights with alarm clock and dynamite hidden in radio tuner
1987 Korean Air Flight 858 Andaman Sea North Korea 115 (all) 0 State terrorism against South Korea
1987 Remembrance Day bombing Enniskillen, Northern Ireland IRA 12 63 Continuing anti-British campaign
1988 Pan Am flight 103 Above Lockerbie, Scotland Libya 270 0 Reprisal against UK & US
1989 Deal barracks bombing Deal, Kent, UK IRA 11 21 Targeted against military personnel
1993 World Trade Center bombing New York City Ramzi Yousef 6 1,042 Truck bomb used 20 ft fuse for twelve-minute delay, intended to collapse both towers.
1994 Philippine Airlines Flight 434 Between Cebu and Tokyo Ramzi Yousef 1 10 Blast missed fuel tank, killed one passenger and damaged control systems but pilot was able to land. Yousef bombed World Trade Center in 1993
1996 Centennial Olympic Park bombing Atlanta, Georgia, USA Eric Rudolph 1 111 Politically motivated anti-abortionist; occurred during 1996 Summer Olympics.
1998 Omagh bombing Omagh, Northern Ireland IRA 29 220 Worst single incident loss of life during the anti-British campaign.
1999 Columbine High School massacre Columbine, Colorado Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold 15 24 deadliest mass shooting was originally planned as a bombing including timed bombs [3]
1999 Russian apartment bombings Buynaksk
unkn. 293 651 4 bombs over 4 days; purpose unknown.
2006 Moscow market bombing Moscow Racialist organization 13 46 Racially motivated attack

Time bombs in fiction

Time bombs are common plot devices used in action/thriller TV series, cartoons, films and video games, where the hero often escapes the blast area or defuses the bomb at the last second. Many fictional time bombs are improvised, and usually involve a beeping sound with a large prominent countdown timer (on rare occasions, the timer will count up).

Such fictional appearances include:

See also


  1. Grady, John (August 15, 2014). "The Confederate Torpedo". New York Times. New York Times. New York Times. Retrieved 1 September 2015.
  2. Gannon, James (2008). Military occupations in the age of self-determination: The history neocons neglected (PDF). Westport CT: Praeger Security International,. p. 49. ISBN 978-0-313-35382-6. Retrieved 21 February 2015.
  3. "10 years later, the real story behind Columbine". April 14, 2009.
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