Germany has new construction detonate old bomb when an excavator discovered a World War II explosive buried for nearly seventy years. Construction in the west German town of Euskirchen was delayed when the excavator shovel struck the buried bomb, killing the operator and injuring thirteen others. Two of the thirteen injured are in hospital with serious wounds, while the rest were treated for minor injuries and released. Witnesses up to twenty kilometers away reported hearing the blast, and windows and doors of homes and businesses were blown in for several blocks. Although the German government has several agencies devoted to finding and safely removing World War II munitions, unexpected detonations such as this still happen from time to time. Weapons experts and historians say there are most likely still hundreds of thousands of bombs and other ordnance waiting to be found. Although the war has been over a very long time, the actions taken are still having profound effects across Europe, similar to the long forgotten land mines still being found in war-torn nations around the world.
Euskirchen was the sight of most of Germany’s armament and vehicle factories during the war, making it a prime target for British and American bombers. Photographs from archives in both countries are regularly consulted before new construction gets underway in order to look at bomb craters in the area. This is then used to deduce the number of missiles dropped and how many may have not detonated, giving workers and idea of what to expect and places to avoid. Although accidents like this one where Germany has new construction detonate old bombs are rare, the sheer bulk of bombings that occurred in Euskirchen during the war make knowing exactly where an undetonated weapon lies nearly impossible. Experts say that at least a few more decades of dedicated searching and destruction of weapons will be needed before all of the old bombs are found.
Small explosives such as grenades and mortar shells are found every day in Germany but the findings are so common they are rarely reported. Recently a 1,400 kg bomb was discovered in the Rhine river after decades of corroding simply because the water levels had become lower than usual. Otherwise it would probably still be there. The German state of North-Rhine Westphalia spent $26.4 million in 2010 hunting for old bombs, but thousands more are buried under cities and fields across the country. When Germany has new construction detonate old bombs, the dangers and complexities of the devices and the complications that can come with trying to disable them is becoming more commonly known. Many bombs are equipped with a detonator made of a breakable vial filled with a combustible liquid. When the vial breaks, the bombs payload is detonated. The fragility of the vial ensured the bomb would work as intended, but in the case of the slumbering weapons beneath Germany it makes the weapons much more likely to go off suddenly and with almost no provocation.
By Daniel O’Brien