Scotland – a country of inventors

This is the story of Józef Kosacki (Kozacki)– a soldier and engineer who during his stay in Scotland invented the mine detector that was used by the British Army until 1995. Kozacki’s name is just one of many on the list of Polish inventors that contributed to the Allied victory during WWII. This small but important invention is still being used in many countries that have been affected by the horror of war, and it has saved countless lives across the globe.

For another article by Jurek Putter follow the link.

Józef Stanisław Kozacki 1909-1990


Józef Kosacki  Portrait by Jurek Putter
Józef Kosacki
Portrait by Jurek Putter

St Andrews has always been a ‘City of Firsts’. Pre-eminent in pre-Christian times as a sacred site, it was the first Christian place to have a Cathedral with the tallest Campanile in Britain,108 feet high. It was the first to have a second Cathedral Church, which remained the largest building to be constructed in Scotland before the Victorian era. It was the first City in Scotland to be deliberately conceived, planned, and constructed as such by Bishop Robert in the 11th century. It was home to the first University in the Nation. The playing of Golf was first recorded as being played within its streets in the 15th century. Principal of the University, the scientist Sir David Brewster, invented the Kaleidoscope, in the late 1830s, collaborating with his English friend Fox Talbot of Laycock Abbey, in the first successful experiments in Callotype photography. The first custom-built photographic studio in Scotland was built in St.Mary’s Place by that other illustrious early photographer, Thomas Roger.

In the year 1940, during the first year of the Second World War, came the Poles. They came, neither out of choice, nor as tourists, but as a substantial fragment of an army which had rebuilt itself outwith its conquered country; a feat remarkable in itself. Having fought in the Battle for France that year, its survivors extricated themselves, then regrouped and re-equipped, they were stationed on the Eastern Seaboard of Scotland, initially building a long chain of coastal defences against imminent invasion. In their midst was one First Lieutenantt Jozef Stanislaw Kozacki , a signals officer of the first Polish Army, stationed in St Andrews. In 1937 he had been commissioned by the Department of Artillery of the Polish Ministry of National Defence, to develop an electrical machine capable of detecting unexploded ‘duds’ on firing ranges and battlefields.

Detector Mine No.3. (Polish) instruction sheet. Image from 'Polish Forces in defence of the British Isles 1939-1945'
Detector Mine No.3. (Polish) instruction sheet. Image from ‘Polish Forces in defence of the British Isles 1939-1945’

Based at the military research centres at Stalowa Wola and Radom, he successfully developed a machine constructed at the famous AVA Electronics factory in Warsaw – the same factory which built the first secret Polish replicas of the German Military ‘Enigma’ cipher machine. The outbreak of war arrested development. Escaping to France, Kozacki continued the same objectives under Polish Command, but altered the purpose of the machine to detect land mines. Evacuated to Scotland and St Andrews, the Polish Military Command, ever mindful of pre-war projects, revived the work. In the Ardgowan Hotel / Eden Court army headquarters complex in Pilmour Place, also the Polish Communications Training Centre, Kozacki was, according to his fellow officer Jan Zakrzewski, ‘given a laboratory, workshop, and an aide with whom to complete and perfect the mine detector’. Prototypes were built and tested, appropriately enough, on the West Sands. In the North African desert theatre of war, the British Army hampered by the lack of an effective land mine detector, appealed to the Ministry of Defence to field a competition for the submission of an effective machine. The Polish Government in Exile, aware of its own accomplishments in this field, submitted Kozacki’s design. In trials it triumphed and was immediately accepted. 500 examples of ‘Mine Detector nr 2 (Polish)’ were rushed to North Africa in time for the Battle of El Alamein, where it proved its worth. The basic design was still in use during the 1991 Gulf War, and the MK 4 version till 1995. Kozacki’s design weighed 30lbs (14 kilos) was portable, reliable, effective, and relatively easy to maintain in the field.

A mine detector being used close to a Universal Carrier that has been destroyed by a mine, Tilly-sur-Seulles, France (June 1944) - Sergeant Midgley - Wikipedia
A mine detector being used close to a Universal Carrier that has been destroyed by a mine, Tilly-sur-Seulles, France (June 1944) – Sergeant Midgley – Wikipedia

It is no exaggeration to state the huge beneficial humanitarian implications of Kozacki’s invention; it has saved countless thousands of lives and limbs world-wide, and continues to do so. Kozacki received neither payment nor official recognition for his work, save for a treasured letter of gratitude from King George VI. The mine detector was a ‘first’ for Kozacki, and yet another ‘first’ for St Andrews.

How did it work? It consisted of two coils; the first connected to an oscillator, which generated an oscillating current of acoustic frequency. The second coil was connected to an amplifier and telephone. When the coils came into the presence of a metal object, the balance between the coils was disturbed and the telephone connected to headphones reported an altered signal.

Kozacki returned to Poland after the war. There he became one of the pioneers of electronic and nuclear machinery. He headed the Chair of Electronics for Nuclear Research in Swierk. In parallel with this work he also became Professor at the Military Academy in the Capital, Warsaw. He died in 1990, but he lived to see the collapse of Soviet domination of Central Europe and the emergence of a free and democratic Poland. He was buried with full military honours. In 2005 the Wroclaw-based Military Institute for Engineering Technology (WITI) was named after him.

He was part of that Polish Pantheon of truly great inventors, who made significant and memorable contributions to the Allied cause in WW2 – Rejewski, Rosicki, and Zygalski, the first to comprehensively understand and then break the German military ‘Enigma’ cipher codes in the mid ‘30s, pioneering work given freely to the British in 1939, and without which Bletchely Park’s Station ‘X’ would have been denied its massive head start resulting in ‘Ultra’ and the access to German codes; Henryk Magnuski, working for the American electronic firm Motorola, invented the SCR-300 miniature hand-held radio transmitter/receiver, the first to be equipped with manually set frequencies, and nicknamed the ‘Walkie-Talkie’; Rudolf Grundlach, who invented the Tank Periscope in 1936, eventually used by every tank manufacturer; Wladislaw Swiatecki in 1940, who developed the bomber bomb hatch system; Jerzy Rudlicki, who in 1943 upgraded the design for the American B17 Flying Fortress; Edward Stecke, inventor of the immensely strong and smooth Roller Locking system for automatic small arms.

Text and illustration Copyright 2006/7 Jurek Alexander Putter

This article was originally published in St Andrews in Focus. The article’s author and illustrator is Jurek Putter, an extraordinary Scottish artist of Polish descent.


26 pin   Memorial plaque at  The Ardgowan Hotel, North Street, St Andrews

Further reading:


“Polish Forces in defence of the British Isles 1939-1945” ISBN 0-95432-170-7, article by David List “Clandestine inventions and devices, Poland’s contribution in World War II” 1939-1945′