Hacker News new | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
London City Airport Shut as WW2 Bomb Found in Thames (bbc.com)
105 points by IntronExon on Feb 12, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 117 comments

There's a lot of this stuff around! About 10yrs ago, my dad caused a lengthy shutdown of the channel tunnel after a piece of metal (he'd assumed it was a machine gun barrel) he picked up on the Somme battlefield was found in the boot of his car during a random search. It was a live WW1 mortar. They closed the tunnel and detonated it at the terminal.

As farmers work on the fields in northern France they regularly find artifacts from the war and just toss them aside as an annoyance.

Assuming you're talking about the incident in 2005... My wife and I to got stuck at Waterloo station for hours waiting for a train to Paris while the authorities sorted things out... :-)

We were interviewed by a reporter from one of the red tops and they had to re-take our photo several times because we didn't look miserable enough.

> As farmers work on the fields in northern France they regularly find artifacts from the war and just toss them aside as an annoyance.

More exactly they put them on the side of the field and the military (eventually) hauls them off to sites so they can dispose of them.

Eh, that's the theory. The reality is more as the parent describes - they just get tossed. More often than not they'll dig a pit, drag the heap of ordnance out of the barn, dump it in, pour on petrol, strike a light and leg it. The more enterprising/brave/stupid ones strip, clean, and sell on eBay through German and Dutch middlemen.

The nuts thing is that quite often they're chemical weapons they do this with - but it's not much different to what the military do - but nobody wants a cordon sanitaire around a productive field, so DIY it is.

I spend all my youth in the north of France. I have never heard of the behavior you describe. AFAIK, the rules are rather well applied and children are well informed to avoid accidents.

Children, totally - I lived in Alsace for about six months as a kid, and was repeatedly warned not to touch any weird looking objects in woods, fields, etc., not that it stopped me from ferreting around in old bunkers.

I've never seen it done, but I did meet a farmer with an impressive array of ordnance stacked in his grange, some of which he sold, the rest of which he said he burned in a deep hole. Sure, single data point, but he definitely held the "this is what we do" attitude. This would've been '93.

GP described pretty much what we did with that stuff in our childhood in USSR. Not that we weren't well informed about the rules :)

How are the stupidest of that bunch the ones that sell them, and not the ones lighting piles of unexploded ordinance on fire?

They are both stupid ideas, but I can't see how a farmer would live past maybe one or two of those burn piles.

I know you’re right about how this is done, but my god I’d rather have that cordon than exposure to some horrific vesicant!

In the early days after world war 2 - working at the sugar refinery in my town was considered a suicide job. Many of the sugar beets had some mixend in ammonition with them, so there where days where the washing assembly or the hacking machine would blow up- sometimes killing people.

I am very surprised given how little machine gun barrels resemble a motar round!

Was your father prosecuted?

Edit: see stefanfisk comment, there is a surprising similarity between one type of wwi motar and wwi machine gun barrels.

For privacy's sake I won't link to the story, which is not hard to find since the Channel Tunnel doesn't get closed that often, particularly over bomb scares, and I will delete/edit this post if the poster wants, but wow:

    The bomb went undetected as he travelled back to the
    UK through the Tunnel but later, as he attempted to 
    return to France to show the device to a war expert 
    friend, he was stopped for a routine check.

Apparently a Stokes mortar. To be honest, with enough rust I probably wouldn't have recognised it as that either. But doesn't mean it's wise to transport that in your car.


sometimes the similarities are not too far off http://www.westernfrontmilitaria.com/ourshop/prod_4018094--S...

He was, yes. He received a 9 month sentence suspended for 2yrs.

I am sorry to hear that. That must have been a terrible experience for him and you.

while WW2 left a lot of munitions around that did not explode as well as some impressive architecture WW1 left its mark on France with Zone Rouge which was considered too costly and too dangerous to clean up. The issue in this case wasn't just explosive ordinance but chemical weapons.


wouldn't something like that be a good idea to test robots for different use cases? I.e. restoring landmarks by scanning/cleaning the area?

There are restricted woods in France still full of unexploded explosives from WW1[0]. It's a huge problem more or less all around Europe.

0. https://www.warhistoryonline.com/world-war-i/this-red-zone-i...

And fairly regularly French farmworkers are killed by ww1 shells - there is also a similar area near Berlin with a lot of unexploded ww2 ordinance

An ever present problem, I believe Cambodia is one of the places with the largest amount of Unexploded Ordinance:


Oh, that's creepy - where is that area near Berlin? (Berliner here)

The eastern side where the main soviet attack came from in the battle of Berlin in 45 - there was massive bombardment a lot of which went into the ground and did not detonate.

Gare du Nord was in chaos once when we were coming back to London. Some idiot had tried to KNOWINGLY bring a live WWII grenade back as a souvenir.

If you don't know anything about ordinance, it's easy to assume to explosives go inert after 70+ years of lying dormant. "If it hasn't exploded in all this time, why would it go off now?"

That doesn't make any sense.

> "If it hasn't exploded in all this time, why would it go off now?"

This explains why someone might be (erroneously) confident that it won't spontaneously go off, but even if that was right, saying it hasn't spontaneously gone off doesn't tell you anything about what will happen if you instead activate the mechanism. Why would they conclude it's inert from the fact that it hasn't spontaneously gone off?

Even if their understanding of explosives is wrong, they must still understand that it's an offence to have these munitions?

Statistically, some percentage of the people will get it wrong. Instead of railing against them for being stupid, why not just accept that "people being wrong" is an inevitable natural phenomenon?

Most mechanisms break down and stop working after decades of sitting in a field with no maintenance. The fact that bombs might still work is surprising.

The actual bomb lasts way longer than the safeguard.

Also, picric acid was a popular filler for WWI shells, and picric acid tends to react with metal casings over to form picric acid salts, which are very shock/friction (and potentially vibration) sensitive.

Also, be careful of first aid kits from that era, as they sometimes used picric acid as an antiseptic on gauze, often in contact with a metal case...

You mean that old first aid kits might explode if disturbed?!

No need to panic, but yes.


> In the early 20th century, picric acid was stocked in pharmacies as an antiseptic and as a treatment for burns, malaria, herpes, and smallpox. Picric acid-soaked gauze was also commonly stocked in first aid kits from that period as a burn treatment.

On the slightly positive side, picric acid also sublimates, but I'm not sure how long it would take for evaporate from the first aid kit. On the other hand, sublimation also increases the surface area of any metal container for forming metallic picrates.

I’m not panicking, but wow. I did not expect to learn this sort of thing today. Amazing.

> https://www.google.be/search?q=machine+gun+barrel&safe=off&c...

How could he mistake a « piece of metal » with a machine gun barrel ?

A water-cooled Vickers or Spandau barrel with its cooling jacket is a similar diameter

There is a WW2 shipwreck [1] in the Thames estuary that apparently still has 1400 metric tons of explosives aboard. Remaining explosives include 286 2000lb bombs.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SS_Richard_Montgomery

My father was in the Royal Engineers and after WWII he was part of the unit dumping this stuff. He claimed there were also tonnes of mustard gas and very dodgy dynamite dumped too. The dynamite was sweating and gave them all headaches. Terrible job dumping this stuff in the Irish Sea off of a heaving ship.

My father used dynamite in his work (geological exploration). He was susceptible to migraine headaches.

I could always tell when he'd been personally setting charges, because he'd come home with a killer headache on those days. Not because of overage 'sweating' dynamite, but because of his high sensitivity to headache triggers like minute amounts of nitroglycerine vapor.

Wow, really smart guys...

The funny thing about Beaufort's Dyke is that it's a possible route for a UK-Ireland tunnel (similar to the Channel Tunnel), although of course not now since it's full of unexploded ordinance.

Yeah, I mean, Jesus, couldn't they have dumped stuff a bit farther from the islands. What the hell, it's right between NI and GB...

A short video about SS Richard Montgomery:


This one's very frustrating: no-one wants to touch it because then it will become their problem. The safest thing for everyone would be to dispose of it properly, with dangerous parts done at low tide with the Thames Barrier closed. But no-one wants to take the risk, so we take the much bigger risk of leaving it in place.

In Germany, around 5000 bombs from WW2 are discovered and disarmed or detonated each year still. Most of these don't make news. Some of them make it to regional news when they need to evacuate parts of towns or cities for safety. Other than that, this massive effort is mostly under the radar.

edit: the number I remembered was lower than the actual count.

Exactly. I've been living in this town for six years now. In this time there have been three big bombs found, with substantial evacuations on the same day (a few thousand people).

The last time was some weeks ago, and the local press not only did features about the two experts defusing the bomb, but was welcoming them by their first name, as they were old acquaintances.

Also, when you get official permission to build the permission does not only include restrictions like maximum height etc., but also very clear directives in case munitions are found, including the correct phone number in the regional government.

Before the permission for the building I'm living in was issued they actually interviewed older neighbours, one of which claimed he remembers some bomb droppings on this lot. They cross-checked with aerial imagery from the 1940s and concluded there was low risk and permission could be granted.

The authorities had to detonate a bomb in Munich (Schwabing) back in 2012 which did not work out as planned:


In another video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NRccXqD5KsY) some of the people involved were interviewed and they all say that it went exactly as planned, because a detonation with a radius of 300 meters was planned.

I remember that incident quite well. But cases like this (or worse than this) are luckily a rare exception given the number of bombs that are found.

The last time that this happened in London was 2-3 years ago:


"The bomb is 10ft from my flat on the other side of a wall and I’ve had so many parties here if it was going to blow up, it would have done so by now."

They're pretty common. More like one every month or three and it's only the big ones that make the news. From a 2015 BBC piece[0]:

"A guide on dealing with unexploded devices was released by the Construction Industry Research and Information Association (CIRIA) in 2009."

"An estimated 15,000 items, ranging from unexploded bombs to small mortar rounds and grenades, were removed from UK construction sites between 2006 and 2008, the association said"

[0] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-33861431

Given that there was no fighting on the ground in the UK during WW II, why are mortar rounds and grenades found?

Practise ranges on greenfield sites that are now being built over.

They're faily common but only the bigger or more disruptive ones make the news, there was one last year[1] that closed a few bridges

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/jan/19/wwii-bomb-di...

This one was half a mile from my old flat: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-39151023

Work on the Olympic stadium was halted a few months before the Olympics too

Here in Germany in an average large city we get this every other week or so. Luckily so far these duds don't seem to self-ignite after more than 7 decades in the dirt.

There's a great book about this phenomena, "Aftermath: The Remnants of War." Apparently unexploded ordinance in Europe from WWI is very common because trench warfare lasted for years and, due to relatively primitive manufacturing techniques, mortars, bombs, etc. often failed to detonate. That explains a lot of the comments below about French farmers getting killed by ancient munitions


Here in Hong Kong last week, two different American 1,000 lb. bombs were found a couple days apart during construction on reclaimed land (Wan Chai), dropped during the Japanese occupation. Presumably, they fell in the shallow bay, sank in the mud, and were later covered by lasdfill as one of the densest populated areas on earth expanded.

If you’re in to this kind of stuff, I recommend “Aftermath: The Remnants of War,” by Donovan Webster.

A related recent post: "Bomb Sight – Mapping the World War 2 London Blitz Bomb Census"


This thing seems to happen once in a while and all the times I can remember the bomb is safely disarmed, which obviously is the best outcome.

Does anyone know how long ago it was that one of these things actually unintentionally exploded?

In Germany at least as recently as 2014: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/germany/105...

Unexploded ordnance is a sad thing, causing continued death and misery (mostly land mines) long after whatever war it was meant for has ended.

Cluster bombs are also horrific devices and should not be used by anyone including the United States.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/01/us/cluster-munitions-pent...

There was a controlled explosion in Graz, Austria in 2011. The un-exploded ordnance was found during excavations for expansion of the main railway station.



The latest I remember is three months ago, in Kuala Lumpur [1]. Three very serious injuries.

In the UK I don't remember any uncontrolled explosions, though a lot of the bombs are detonated by the EOD teams rather than disarmed.

[1] http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com/category/nation/2017/10/10/...

During WW I, what is now American University in Washington, DC, had a chemical warfare station. Once the war was over, the unit disposed of the ordnance using standard operating procedures: they dug holes, rolled the shells in, and filled the holes. About 70 years later, when the fields around AU had been developed with expensive houses, people (including I think the Korean ambassador) started finding the shells in their gardens. A lot of money has been spent since on the cleanup.

there's a lot of it about. We sometimes hear sea mines being blown up the Royal Navy, or hear about them being caught in fisherman's nets. Must be way worse in Germany.

Not only that, but they're still finding chemical munitions from WW1 around europe. There was a documentary on the BBC last year called "Inside Porton Down" where they showed the lengths they have to go to disarming and destroying these compounds. Despite being 100 years old they still maintain their potency and could kill or maim easily if handled incorrectly.

There was a minefield laid between Scotland and Norway in WW1 and then a similar one laid in WW2. There are potentially over 100,000 devices still out there from what I remember reading.

We also dumped an awful lot of nasty stuff in Beaufort's Dyke, a trench in the Irish Sea.

Another reply mentioned the Porton Down TV documentary, that is well worth watching.

Very common in Italy. My hometown has always been a critical railway node, so it was heavily bombed by USAF; any time they start building on unused land, they inevitably find some unexploded ordinance. It's super-weird when they just take down a building, re-dig the site, and lo, they find stuff underneath that could have exploded at any time in the last 75 years killing hundreds...

Germany here: there's news about parts of some city or other being temporarily evacuated every couple of months. Usually the bomb is defused without incident.

Here's one example where they had to do a controlled detonation on site: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_NbM2Xbc1uk - not so controlled after all, since the straw bales they used to dampen the shockwave cased several fires.

Most of the North Sea and Baltic Sea are have been cleared but some areas remain full of mines. And there's no real desire to clean those up if it's in areas shipping/fishing doesn't use. Makes it harder for other nations to hide submarines in case of a future conflict.

Reasonably regular occurance in France, too.

According to Wikipedia “the French Département du Déminage (Department of Mine Clearance) recovers about 900 tons of unexploded munitions every year”


And, in the most heavily-impacted areas such as Verdun, they estimate that it will take not less than 700 years to clear the areas, at the present rate.

Where I grew up in Scotland the problem was ww2 mines (the spiky kind you see in submarine movies).

Maybe they should leave it shut.

This airport means that a good share of the east londonders have to live their lives under noise so the 1% can get to their meeting a little bit more easily.

To me it's an example of social oppression.

> This airport means that a good share of the east londonders have to live their lives under noise so the 1% can get to their meeting a little bit more easily.

Try living under the Heathrow flightpath before you complain about City airport.

You can always find a worse situation, but that does not invalidate the concerns regarding the original situation.

The Heathrow flight paths cover most of London. http://your.heathrow.com/under-the-flight-path-reducing-nois...

Do you actually live near London City Airport? I live a mile away from there and the noise level over here in Woolwich is negligible. Perhaps we're not under the flight path.

I used to live in the flight path of another airport but even there the noise from road traffic was orders of magnitude worse than any noise from air traffic.

That said, I don't doubt that some people are badly affected.

I did a small contract in the home of a member of one of the richest and most renowned families in the world last year, a beautiful pad in West London somewhere... right under the flightpath of flights descending into Heathrow and helicopters regularly buzzing a nearby heliport.

I found it odd that on the one hand I was in one of the poshest homes I'll likely ever find myself, and how miserable I figured I'd feel not being able to enjoy any outside aspect of it, were it mine.

This is my direct personal experience, and how it affects the 0.001%. May I ask how personal your experience of City of London airport is and the horrors it impacts upon its neighbours, or are you simply regurgitating the widely-publicised leftist whinging that was surrounding the topic a year or so ago?

i live in a city with a similar airport situation (santa monica, ca) most of these public fights about land use are just rich people fighting other rich people, because they're the only ones interested/wealthy enough to publicize their 'plight'.

poor and middle class folks either just deal with it or are pushed out.

There are thousands of cheap / normal homes under the Heathrow flightpath.

It's one of the smaller reasons I left London. (My workplace was under it, so I looked for a new job that wasn't.)

The Green party had a fairly good plan for London City Airport:

Close it down, replace with "thousands of new homes within easy reach of central London"


Which seems fair to me - surely a better site for an airport would be larger, further out and well-connected by rail? This applies to Heathrow as well.

Given LCY can only handle short haul routes (the longest flight, to JFK, has to land and refuel in Ireland before the medium haul leg), Expanding the Eurostar seems a better fit to me.

It recently expanded with direct service to Rotterdam & Amsterdam, future expansions are under discussion.


I was under the impression that you could already take a train from London St Pancras to Amsterdam, or was I forgetting about a change in Paris Gare Du Nord?

Currently you change in Brussels. Going via Paris would be rather a long way out of your way.

Sort of. It starts direct service in April but it will initially only be direct on the London to Amsterdam leg. You'll still need to change in Brussels going the other way until the Netherlands and the UK setup passport controls for Amsterdam departures.

Don't bother expanding the Eurostar. The longest routes are already three times as expensive as the plane and take much longer.

> take much longer ... as the plane

If you live within half an hour's travel from King's Cross, eurostar does not take longer for door-to-door time. More pleasant and less weight restrictions too

The eurostar London to South France is 6 hours and 100-300 GBP. It's about a thousand kilometers.

Plane can do faster and cheaper door to door.

And Eurostar is 1.) Far more pleasant than (in particular) budget European airlines and 2.) Not much longer downtown to downtown (and less for some routes like London to Brussels). Similarly in the US, I basically never fly from Boston to NYC or NYC to Washington.

I admittedly am not optimizing for price--intra-Europe flights can be pretty inexpensive--but I'd much rather take the train than fly even if it costs a bit more and takes a bit longer.

The main portion is 6h of train against 1h30 of flight. Door to door is a few more hours in both cases.

I understand the feeling. I hate flying too, in particular cheap European airlines. Gotta admit that there is an inflection point though, maybe around a thousand kilometers, where trains are struggling to keep up.

The main portion of flying isnt the 1h30 of the flight, it's the 2 hours getting to the shitty suburban airport then 1.5h going through security if it is busy, then 1.5h flying, then another hour getting from a shitty suburban airport to the destination city. Compare with just getting to Kings Cross and walking through passport control in ~20 mins, then disembarking in central Paris.

I commuted monday-friday from London to Paris for a couple months, and if I were to fly I don't think I could take it.

The London-Paris eurostar is short and quite cheap. It's really good. I couldn't agree more with you.

The London-Lyon is disappointing. Better take a plane.

If you were flying daily then you'd have to be doing something terribly wrong to spend 1.5h getting through security - with airline status it should take minutes at worst, and even without status LCY has pretty minimal waiting times.

I agree south of France is probably borderline by train from London. Germany probably is as well. Likewise, I won't usually take the train from Boston to Washington DC. Just too long a trip under most circumstances even if the prices were comparable.

It depends on the speed of the service of course but, even with relatively high speed rail, a thousand kilometers is probably at the outside edge of where a train makes utilitarian sense.

European rail companies have claimed rail can be competitive for up to 4 hours, which matches my impressions of these journeys. London-Amsterdam and London-Frankfurt (which DB were talking about running at one stage before the problems with the new ICE models - don't know if that's still planned at some point or not) make sense, but that's about the limit tbh.

That feels about right and would seem to be consistent with both my own preferences and my observations on the Acela in the US Northeast Corridor. The two halves of the corridor (north and south from New York City) are heavily traveled by train and a lot of people prefer the ~3.5 hour trip to flying.

However, my impression is that relatively few take it all the way from Boston to Washington DC. It's still about the same 1 hour flight that the shorter legs would be by air but now it's basically a full day of train travel. I've done it when I've just been happy to work on the train but it doesn't really make a lot of sense most of the time.

It's the highest speed trains. There is a speed meter on one side of the carriage. The cruise speed is beyond 300 km/h.

Yes. But that's not the average given stops etc.

Even with a train service like the Shinkansen, getting from Tokyo to, say, Hiroshima is over a 5 hour train ride for a distance of a bit under 1,000 km.

I like taking trains in Europe and Japan but there's an upper distance limit for when they make utilitarian sense. (For London to Brussels or Paris though, it's hard to imagine why I'd want to fly even if it were a little cheaper.)

Admittedly my experience has been "door to door" where door 1 is within half an hour's travel of Kings Cross, and door 2 is a hotel in downtown Paris / Brussels. So the differences between "downtown to downtown" and "door to door" times are minor.

Yeah but you can get Eurostar tickets for £59 too.

Whereas going to Marseille's airport is a right pain.

So basically, replace an airport for the 1% with thousands of homes for the 1% (plus foreign thugs wanting to park capital)?

Airports usually suffer heavy contamination from fuel dumping and exhaust, so it's not really somewhere you'd want to build a home. Normally these get turned into garbage dumps or similar usage, to reclaim it you'd need to scrape off a good chunk of topsoil for miles around.

Land in London would be reclaimed, some fresh soil is a tiny cost compared to the value.

In Denver we have two successful neighborhoods built on old airports: Stapleton and Lowry.

This is a place where land is cheap and sprawl is common, so the cost can't have been prohibitive.

Not very Green, tho’, is it? If it is closed it should be replaced with something, well, green, like a public park or a nature reserve.

> Not very Green, tho’ ... green, like a public park

I refer you to the same site for actual green party policies

http://www.sianberry.london/the-power-of-good-ideas/manifest... https://london.greenparty.org.uk/assets/files/londonfiles/Lo...

I think their conception of what is "green" for the inhabitants of London is a little wider than just "public parks", though that is mentioned. But not specifically for that site.

They're not a single-issue party. https://www.greenparty.org.uk/green-guarantee/

Plus it looks like there is a fair bit of greenery in the photo.

Not every policy of a green party has to involve the color green

It's not at all for the 1%. The flights can be cheaper than Gatwick or Heathrow when you factor in the transportation to go to the airport.

Rarely. Some weekend flights are cheap but otherwise it tends to be at least £50 more for a city flight. One-way journeys to heathrow and Gatwick both cost less than £10 (compared with £1.5-£2.6 for city) so that this doesn't really make a difference.

I agree they should leave it shut but for different reasons: maybe people would then move elsewhere and we'd stop worrying about London property prices and London trains and London airstrips...

Applications are open for YC Summer 2019

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact