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An author I know (a retired Army lieutenant colonel) wrote this on his Facebook page:

There is a term of military art I cannot remember, that I need for a book, and that is driving me [batty] trying to find. So what is the single word – no, it isn’t “sabotage” – we use for the destruction of friendly military equipment to prevent capture and use by the enemy?”

There are terms for some particular techniques for doing this: one might “spike” cannons, “scuttle” ships (sometimes by “scuppering” them, but there are other methods), or “slight” castles and fortifications; “scorched earth”, also called “denial”, is a policy of doing this destruction to everything in an area; but—

The author and others there with military backgrounds remember the existence of a single, possibly somewhat obsolete, verb for the general idea of rendering materiel useless by an enemy about to capture it. They just can’t recall the word itself.

  • @jxh, none of the online dictionaries suggest any military meaning of “dismantle”. – J. C. Salomon Aug 24 '14 at 20:33
  • Actually 'scorched-earth' is a general term : relating to or being a military policy involving deliberate and usually widespread destruction of property and resources (as housing and factories) so that an invading enemy cannot use them. – user66974 Aug 24 '14 at 20:34
  • Yes, @Josh61; and under a scorched-earth policy, you ‹do something to› all equipment. Is there a verb for that action? – J. C. Salomon Aug 24 '14 at 20:38
  • @J.C.Salomon: Right you are about "dismantle". The technique to accomplish scorched earth often involves demolitions, the use of explosive charges. – jxh Aug 24 '14 at 20:42
  • en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scorched_earth. In wiki article, besides the verbs you mention, there is reference to general verbs like destroy, unarm, burn and damage, to refer to scorched-earth policy. – – user66974 Aug 24 '14 at 20:57
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It's hard to definitively prove that something doesn't exist, but I think there is compelling evidence to show that there is no special term for this.

A US Army Colonel (ret.) specializing in logistics and demolitions stated that there was no special jargon for this. The demolition kits they use to carry out such destruction are simply called "destruction kits".

This mirrors the language in several US Army technical manuals that can be found online (Vehicles, Chemical Weapons) detailing procedures used to deny gear to the enemy through destruction or demolition.

"Demolition to prevent enemy use" (from the title)

"...if materiel must be destroyed to prevent enemy use" (from the procedure)

"Destruction by Demolition...Destruction by Fire...Destruction by Mechanical Means" (from the section titles)

Further, there is no specialized term listed in a couple online sources of military jargon.

Scuttling, strictly-speaking, is a naval term, but it would likely be understood in this context. It was the first thing that popped into my mind, and a couple video games provide controls to "scuttle" a tank, suggesting they couldn't find a better term either.

  • Your last link points to civilian-made military games, or to technical uses of the term scuttle that do refer to maritime vessels. – J. C. Salomon Dec 10 '14 at 12:22
  • @J.C.Salomon - Yes, sorry if "military video games" was misleading. I just meant that you're not the first person to search (apparently in vain) for such a term and have to settle on something less-than-ideal. – Lynn Dec 10 '14 at 12:44
  • @J.C.Salomon - Updated this answer based on another source. – Lynn Dec 10 '14 at 16:03
  • This is probably as good an answer as I can expect. The author, BTW, (as I just edited the question to indicate) is a retired Lt. Col. himself and is sure this word does exist, but unless and until someone comes up with this other word I’m marking this answer accepted. – J. C. Salomon Dec 10 '14 at 16:13
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Since no one else has had much luck with this question, I'm going to suggest a word that initially struck me as being a very unlikely candidate: decommission. In normal use, decommission has a single, specific meaning that isn't at all similar to spiking, scuttling, scuppering, and the like. From Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary (2013):

decommission vt (1922) : to remove (as a ship or nuclear power plant) from active service

Merriam-Webster Online offers the same rather narrow reading of decommission. Now consider the three definitions and four examples for decommission that appear on Wiktionary:

decommission (third-person singular simple present decommissions, present participle decommissioning, simple past and past participle decommissioned)

  1. To take out of service or to render unusable.

[Example:] They decommissioned the ship after the accident.

[Example:] The Army decommissioned the Sherman tank by filling the turret with cement.

  1. To remove or revoke a commission.

[Example:] After his arrest, the officer was decommissioned from the police force.

  1. To remove or revoke a formal designation.

[Example:] The state highway was decommissioned and reverted to local control.

The first Wiktionary definition of decommission explicitly extends to instances where the operators of a piece of equipment intentionally render it unusable, and the second example of the relevant usage refers to disabling a military tank by plugging its turret with cement.

It seems just possible that someone in the military might have come up with the idea of equating rendering a piece of military equipment unusable with formally taking it out of service and mothballing it—an ironic equivalence, but not an unimaginable one—and the usage caught on.


UPDATE (12/10/2014): I just found a copy of US Army Field Manual 003-090 Operations: Tactics (July 2001) online. It uses the term denial operations to describe what the OP seems to have in mind. Here is (part of) the manual's discussion of denial in a section titled "Unique Retrograde Situations":

DENIAL OPERATIONS

11-110. Denial operations are actions to hinder or deny the enemy the use of space, personnel, supplies, or facilities. It may include destroying removing, and contaminating those supplies and facilities or erecting obstacles. It is inevitable that, on occasion, an enemy will be in a position to capture friendly equipment and supplies. This situation often occurs during retrograde or defensive operations. As a result, the defending commander may be required to conduct denial operations. The principles of denial are:

  • The commander should deny his enemy the use of military equipment and supplies.

  • Steps taken to deny equipment and supplies to the enemy should, if possible, not preclude their later use by friendly forces.

  • The commander orders the destruction of military equipment and supplies only when friendly forces cannot prevent them from falling into enemy hands.

  • The user is responsible for denying the enemy the use of its military equipment and supplies by means of its destruction, removal, or contamination.

  • Deliberately destroying medical equipment and supplies and making food and water unfit for consumption is unlawful under the terms of the Geneva Conventions.

In denial operations, the definition of a unit’s military equipment and supplies could expand to include military installations and any civilian equipment and supplies used by the friendly force. Under the law of war the destruction of civilian property is only permitted where required by immediate military necessity. The determination of whether there is sufficient necessity to justify destruction is a complex analysis that requires consideration of moral, political,and legal considerations.

11-111.The commander who orders the denial operation must consider the potential value of the military equipment and supplies to an enemy when determining the priorities and the extent of the denial operation. Examples of high priorities for denial include—

  • Classified equipment, material, and documents.

  • POL ["Petroleum Oil & Lubricants," presumably].

  • Sophisticated weapon systems or electronic equipment.

  • Heavy weapons and associated ammunition.

  • Communications equipment.

  • Ferrying and bridging equipment.

  • Air, sea, and land transport systems.

Of lesser priority for denial would be any other military supplies, equipment, or facilities that may be of use to an enemy.

11-112.The commander must issue detailed instructions to deny military equipment and supplies to prevent the enemy from directly using such assets. Denial must also prevent an enemy from repairing a system through the cannibalization of several systems. The unit must destroy the same parts in each type of system.

Given that this manual was published in 2001, it may well have been in force during the middle to late stages of the retired lieutenant colonel's military career, and the term he is looking for may be either denial or denial operations. It seems to me that denial as used in this manual is by no means identical to a "scorched-earth" policy. Indeed, section 11-117 of the manual refers to the possibility of "Limited or partial denial operations":

11-117. Limited or partial denial operations are particularly suitable if the defending force expects to regain control of the geographical area within a short time. The removal or destruction of only a few key components can reduce a facility to limited utility, yet it allows for the facility’s quick restoration of all functions once it is returned to friendly control. American forces only destroy discrete targets of significant military value. Limited denial operations normally do not affect the advance of properly supported enemy combat formations possessing cross-country mobility. However, they can seriously impede an enemy’s road-bound and rail-bound logistics support if executed with skill and imagination according to an overall plan.

In contrast, it's hard to imagine a "limited scorched-earth operation."

  • 1
    I don't think this fits in the OP's context. Decommissioning is an orderly, planned process. You would not say that you 'decommissioned' a helicopter on your way out of town to keep the enemy from using it. – Lynn Dec 10 '14 at 11:32
  • The author said (back in June when someone proposed the term), “Denial isn't quite it either, though the entire operation tends to be called denial.” He’s looking for the verb, not the objective: “denial via ‹action›ing”. – J. C. Salomon Dec 10 '14 at 21:03
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I have been compiling a list of aircraft losses in the Falklands War and have been hunting for such a one word term to describe the cause of the loss of a helicopter that was deliberately destroyed by its crew in Chile. (Others in the list are, for example, "Small arms fire", "AA", "Air-to-air", "Crash/Accident")

I began with "Scuttled" but knew that it really only referred to ships (as mentioned by others). I graduated to "Deliberately destroyed" before settling on the only fully-descriptive, non-ambiguous term I could think of: "Denial through Deliberate Destruction".

I agree with the general conclusion that such a word probably does not exist and hereby coin the verb "To Triple-Dee" !

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The closest expression I could find is not a single word but an entire phrase

  • The destruction of army materiel to prevent enemy use

Destruction Notice For Radio Sets:

Why:
To prevent the enemy from using or salvaging this equipment for his benefit.

When:
When ordered by commander.

How:
1) Smash - Use sledges, axes, handaxes, pickaxes, hammers, crowbars, heavy tools. 2) Cut - Use axes, handaxes, machetes. 3) Burn - Use gasoline, kerosene, oil, flame throwers, incendiary grenades. 4) Explosives - Use firearms. grenades, TNT. 5) Disposal - Bury in slit trenches, fox holes, other holes. Throw in streams. Scatter.

Destruction Notice For M38A1 Jeep and M170 Ambulance:
[...]
In general, destruction of essential parts, followed by burning will usually be sufficient to render the vehicle useless. However, selection of the particular method of destruction requires imagination and resourcefulness in the utilisation of the facilities at hand under the existing conditions. Time is usually critical.

c.) If destruction to prevent enemy use, is resorted to, [emphasis mine] the vehicle must be so badly damaged that it cannot be restored to a usable condition in the combat zone either by repair or cannibalisation.

Alternatively:

  • Destruction of Small Arms to Prevent Enemy Use

Finally, we must look to TM 750-244-7 for the instruction on how to perform the final, unthinkable duty of the armorer. This manual details the methods by which you will destroy your unit’s weapons to prevent them from falling into the hands of the enemy

  • Demolition to prevent enemy use

  • DESTRUCTION OF ARMY MATERIAL TO PREVENT ENEMY USE
    (note spelling variation)

GENERAL INFORMATION:
Objective. Methods of destruction used to inflict damage on air delivery equipment should make it impossible to restore equipment to a usable condition in a combat zone by either repair or cannibalization.

Authority. Destruction of air delivery equipment that is in imminent danger of capture by an enemy is a command decision that must be made by a battalion or higher commander or the equivalent.

Sources 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

  • This is merely a restatement of the question. But thank you for reminding me of the term materiel. – J. C. Salomon Aug 25 '14 at 9:02
  • @J.C.Salomon I'm glad to have been of minimal help. I must also add I did check in a few online military dictionaries, quite thoroughly, and as far as I could tell there is no single-word term. The dictionary that looked to me the most promising was Military Terms. Perhaps this post will jog someone's memory. – Mari-Lou A Aug 25 '14 at 9:20
  • I suspect if you edited the answer to say, "there may be no such word; the memories of the author & his military friends are deceiving them," you would get plenty of up votes, though I could not mark that accepted without evidence of absence of such a word. – J. C. Salomon Aug 25 '14 at 9:25
  • @J.C.Salomon I am still hunting! There's still the possibility that there is a verb/single-word. I'm not an expert in military history so I wouldn't dream of stating that no such term exists. – Mari-Lou A Aug 25 '14 at 9:36
  • @J.C.Salomon I'm waving the white flag here, the only other possible one word answer I came up with is neither obscure nor specifically connected with military operations or directives. – Mari-Lou A Aug 26 '14 at 4:59
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I suspect nullify may be the word you seek.

The The American Heritage Dictionary says

  1. To counteract the force or effectiveness of.

Collins says

  1. to render ineffective or useless; cancel out

And MacMillan says

  1. to make something lose its value or effect
0

Suggested on another forum:

Demilling: the act of rendering something unsuited for military uses.

ETA: To demill a gun apparently refers to the specifics of gun manufacture; but the fuller term demilitarize (as used, e.g., at http://defense.gov/news/Nov1996/x112696_x1126bkg.html), with the above definition, was also mentioned in the same forum.

  • I believe that's a specific term like 'spiking a cannon' to refer to guns and ammo - or am I mistaken? – Lynn Dec 10 '14 at 12:15
  • Might be, though it sounded to me like the general term being sought: but anyway the author said this wasn't it either. – J. C. Salomon Dec 10 '14 at 12:18
  • "De-milling is destroying the receiver to BATFE specifications so it's no longer legally a firearm." (from various gun forums). Interestingly the BATFE specifications in question simply refer to 'destruction' of the weapon. – Lynn Dec 10 '14 at 12:21
  • So “mill” refers to a detail in the manufacture of a gun rather than being an abbreviation for “military”? That would explain why the author rejected this as well. – J. C. Salomon Dec 10 '14 at 12:25
  • Yes, exactly. Which apparently is not a long enough comment so I must add extraneous text. – Lynn Dec 10 '14 at 12:45

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