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Mass Evacuation Underway in German City over WWII Bombs (bloomberg.com)
50 points by hhs 5 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 51 comments





This is a fairly regular occurrence in parts of Europe.

Once, I was supposed to take a train from Munich back home to Padova. It's a fairly long train ride, but quite pleasant, as it's very scenic, and of course on trains you're free to move around, buy food, read, use electronics, and so on. It turned into an epic odyssey because they rerouted the thing through... Villach and Tarvisio in for northeastern Italy, due to a bomb near the tracks somewhere in northern Italy. That was a bit too far.


Years ago, maybe twenty or more, I heard that due to faulty triggers, almost half of the ordinance dropped on France in WWII is unaccounted for, as in “could still be a couple feet underground in your yard/field”. Farmers were still discovering them relatively often.

I wonder if that fraction has moved much. Wikipedia in the subject of the Ardennes, Verdun, and Unexploded Ordinance (UXOs):

> In the Ardennes region of France, large-scale citizen evacuations were necessary during MEC removal operations in 2001. In the forests of Verdun French government "démineurs" working for the Département du Déminage still hunt for poisonous, volatile, and/or explosive munitions and recover about 900 tons every year. The most feared are corroded artillery shells containing chemical warfare agents such as mustard gas. French and Flemish farmers still find many UXOs when ploughing their fields, the so-called "iron harvest".

I know these are often big bombs but 900 tonnes a year‽


> I know these are often big bombs but 900 tonnes a year‽

Remember the Allies alone dropped _millions_ of tons of bombs, yet alone the tens (hundreds?) of millions of tons of shells fired across battlefields, and we've not even started counting grenades and other similar smaller ordinance.

900 tons is _nothing_ compared with the sheer amount fired in the European theatre, especially across both World Wars.

Also remember many of the prolonged battles were essentially fields of potted mud: along with period fuses, many of the shells simply landed in soft mud to slowly sink in.

I think it's definitely the case that many of those less involved in the European theatre (v. the near universal conscription of men in Europe) don't realise how intensive much of the fighting here was. These are wars that went on for years, often with the front lines scarcely moving for months, with continuous bombardment for the entire time.


There's another comment here that a big one found was several thousand pounds, so the 900t doesn't seem like all that much.

Almost one thousand tons per year still seems like a pretty large number considering the war ended some 75 years ago. How long is the long tail of demining?

That war is now over a century ago. Belgium still has an impressive infrastructure and skilled personnel to deal with this.

Now you understand why mines are outlawed almost everywhere. Cleanup will never be done. Its just started in Bosnia for instance, with decades of work ahead of us.


This. If we assume we're talking about the order of 10,000,000 tons, of which 10% didn't detonate (this is roughly accurate for bombs & shells, mines are much harder to quantify), then that left 1,000,000 tons of UXO.

If we assume (somehow!) half of that was dealt with quickly, that leaves 500,000 tons of UXO. If we assume 1000 tons are found per year, that's still 500 years to tidy up.

Across both wars the total may well be closer to 100M than 10M, so then that makes it 5000 years.


In Belgium they still have weekly demolitions of WW1 ordnance found by farmers.

A couple of years ago an explosion went wrong, somebody died, and they built a new facility.


> In the Ardennes region of France, large-scale citizen evacuations were necessary during MEC removal operations in 2001. In the forests of Verdun French government "démineurs" working for the Département du Déminage still hunt for poisonous, volatile, and/or explosive munitions and recover about 900 tons every year. The most feared are corroded artillery shells containing chemical warfare agents such as mustard gas. French and Flemish farmers still find many UXOs when ploughing their fields, the so-called "iron harvest".

These are WWI ordnances. Ardennes and especially Verdun was the theather of one of the largest battle of the western front. That's trench warefare at it's worth. The whole region was chock-full of shells.


"Iron harvest" is such an adequate and awesome naming for something so dangerous.

Often it's what people plow up ... so it's somewhat descriptive.

I believe most of the stuff dug up that's called "Iron Harvest" in Northern France is WW1 artillery rather than WW2 bombs


People were still getting blown up by WWI era stuff in Italy 10 years ago:

https://strafexpedition1916.altervista.org/i-recuperanti-.ht...


As a kid in the 90s, we would holiday along the coast of Brittany and Normandy. Every year we would find bombs while building sand castles or searching for crabs in rock pools. Never thought anything of it.

I think the train re-routing you talk about took place because of this bomb in Bolzano: https://www.dw.com/en/italy-thousands-evacuated-for-world-wa...

That's along the route, but it was quite a few years ago, so probably not that specific one.

I came across some interesting tech for disarming these old bombs: Raketenklemme https://de.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raketenklemme

It's a tool that will super quickly unscrew the detonator before it can fail and lead to detonation.


'Rocket wrench' in English. That is a cool tool! https://www.scopex.fr/en/products/eod-rocket-wrench-csl-50-c...

This happens often. When I was there in 2011 or so, there was a massive one found on the Rhine because the water was low. It was something like 2 or 3 thousand pounds. It's amazing how much of this stuff will be sitting around for hundreds or thousands of years even.

How long can a bomb remain potentially dangerous though?

The explosive doesn't rot, but the trigger mechanism does. When the trigger is good, at least its behavior is predictable and a technican knows the precise condition that the bomb will detonate, but in the worst case, of which the trigger is completed damaged, it's unpredictable - they don't spontaneously detonate, until the slightest disturbance.

„Good“ triggers were deliberately engineered to be unpredictable to make defusing harder and so you cannot assume the the area is safe just because the bombing has stopped.

The most notorious example is a time-delayed chemical fuse, it uses a slow chemical reaction to detonate the bomb a few days later, as a form of psychological warfare. If the bomb didn't explode as designed, it means the chemical somehow got stuck, extremely dangerous to defuse, no matter how much prior knowledge one has.

I'm not sure anyone really knows. We're 100 years out from WW1 and still digging up UXO from that war, and it still goes off given an appropriate ignition source. There are still 'red zones' in France where there's still so much ordinance in the ground it's not considered safe to build there.

The explosive doesn't really rot... it tends to get more dangerous, not less.

Reminder that unexploded ordinance kills over 10,000 people every year (worldwide, not in Germany)

I recall someone discovering that the kind or color of plants growing near landmines can help identify some of them. They leak a little nitrogen and the plants grab it. The researchers were proposing seed bombing affected areas to speed the removal process.

But I dunno what would be worse. Clearing unidentified mines from hardscrabble or trying to dig located mines out from under roots (especially when they won’t locate every last one of them)


Yeah I was really excited about this when I heard of it,

the idea is less about identifying bombs for removal than just as a way to mark areas dangerous or safe according the presence of metals in the soil

Here, I found the company [1] via a 2004 slashdot thread [2]

Looks like they closed shop in 2008, according to a wiki citation they are mentioned in a comparison of landmine detection methods, where as risks it mentions "indeterminate false positive" and "Issues of ecological control of a new genetically engineered species" [3]

From reading [3] it sounds like landmines are not the only source of nitrous oxide in the environment, so the flowers may trigger without the presence of mines

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

[2] https://science.slashdot.org/story/04/01/27/191211/genetical...

[3] http://www.greatcore.com/demining-comparison.htm


Yeah sounds like it's statistical in nature.

We have looked at some mine-sweeping tech that might, for instance, be an effective way to remove a small number of mines from a large area. Knowing that this area is mostly clear as opposed to saturated might make it cost effective to sweep.

Aren't there areas so riddled that a single mine detonating can end up triggering others? Or have I been watching too many movies?


From memory, most of these casualties are from landmines that are still planted in South-East Asian countries during the Korean and Vietnam conflict? I am thinking that Afghanistan etc. may also figure quite high in the statistics.

Sadly, the primary victims seem to be children, who come across these 'interesting' metal objects in the ground, or inadvertently tread on them while playing or working the fields.

More needs to be done by the forces who planted them to clear designated minefields after the conflict has ended.


Not that it makes it any better, but the primary victims aren't children, it is usually the main provider. Who is plowing a field or looking for food in the forest.

Yea the majority are from landmines, not bombs. Like 80%+.

Most of those are from Afghanistan and Syria, with a steep drop off and followed by Ukraine, Iraq.

I don't think vietnam-area or koreas feature in the top 10 anymore.


> From memory, most of these casualties are from landmines that are still planted in South-East Asian countries during the Korean and Vietnam conflict?

What is South-East? Did you mean Southeast-East? Korea is an East Asian nation. Vietnam is a Southeast Asian nation. South Asians are indians, pakistanis, etc. As to your point/question about landmines casualties in korea and vietnam, you are incorrect. The landmines in korea are in the DMZ ( demilitarized zone - which is the misnomer as it is the most militarized zone ). As for vietnam, laos, etc, most of their deaths are likely due to unexploded bombs.

> I am thinking that Afghanistan etc. may also figure quite high in the statistics.

Most landmine casualties are probably in afghanistan, iraq, etc. Current or recently active war zones where the situation hasn't be pacified or settled.


For those who are not aware of the issue, the Smithsonian Magazine has a comprehensive introduction of this issue, I recommend to read it.

* There Are Still Thousands of Tons of Unexploded Bombs in Germany, Left Over From World War II

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/seventy-years-world-w...


> 250-kilogram (330-pound) American and British bombs

Probably a typo, but is this a special case in imperial measurement where bomb-pounds are heavier than regular pounds?


I'm not sure about this but bomb weightings in pounds are often nominal. Analogous to weapon caliber I guess.

https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2006/06/how-heavy-is-a-5...


Most likely someone used a calculator and input 150 kg instead of 250. 150 / 0.45 = 333.

I highly recommend the recent documentary on Netflix "greatest events of ww2 in color"...

It's hard to think that something so horrible as ww2 happened in fairly recent history. These unexploded bombs serve as a good reminder of that.


It’s easy to act civilized when you don’t feel directly threatened.

A friend who works at Amazon told me finding unexploded bombs has become almost expected when they're building new fulfillment centers in Germany.

Three things you’re almost guaranteed to find at a German construction site are UXO, Roman ruins, or the migratory path of some rare animal.

An issue with these occurrences are the resulting costs, which sometimes can catch land-owners off guard, when a bomb is found on their property.

[translated]: https://translate.google.com/translate?sl=auto&tl=en&u=https...

[original]: https://www.t-online.de/heim-garten/bauen/id_81059224/wer-za...


why on earth is this not covered by some sort of fund?

Happens once or twice in my city every year. Last year I missed the evacuation perimeter by about 50m. Quite a weird feeling taking your trash out and hearing policecars driving though the neighbourhood making PA-announcements to evacuate.

How often are people killed in Germany by old ordnance?

I think now there's an incident with deaths every few years, e.g. last I could quickly find were 2014 (excavator hit one on a construction site, driver killed) and 2010 (3 bomb disposal workers killed while prepping a bomb to be disarmed).

I was in a somewhat close vicinity for the 2010 one, about 3km away. It occurred in Göttingen[1], I was studying for an exam and at around 10pm I heard a rather loud dull/muffled bang and my windows vibrated. 3 people from the Kampfmittelräumdienst[2] died while trying to disarm a 500kg bomb with a chemical trigger, 2 were heavily injured and 4 slightly.

[1] https://www.goettinger-tageblatt.de/Nachrichten/Panorama/Goe...

[2] https://www.goettinger-tageblatt.de/Nachrichten/Panorama/Goe...

Update: Around 7000 people were evacuated before the disarming took place.


We have a special institution for dealing with that:

[1] https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kampfmittelr%C3%A4umdienst


Estimations I've read are that around one tenth of bombs dropped in WW2 didn't explode (which leaves open how many were cleared quickly though)

This is clickbait and not worth your time.

The last paragraph in the article is the most important:

Almost 75 years after the end of the war, unexploded bombs are frequently found in Germany. Disposing of them sometimes entails large-scale evacuations as a precaution.

OK, evacuating 14k people is a bit unusuable, but we find and defuse WWII bombs roughly whenever we have a relatively big construction site. Besides, this doesn't only happen in Germany as bloomberg writes. Europe is a little bigger then just Germany...


I hope the bomb squad in Dortmund is smarter than the one in Munich...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schwabinger_7#Underground_bomb...


Idunno, they're fairly competent. Not all WW1 or WW2 bombs can be disarmed, sometimes the trigger is too sensitive or can't be safely disarmed. Sometimes the best call is to detonate the bomb when you know it's going to blow rather then when you don't.

We had a rather large bomb (3.8t) the previous year in my city, a large radius (1.5km) was evacuated and the disposal team went in (opting to forgoe the protective gear as the bomb was too large anyway) and successfully disarmed it. It's simply pure luck.




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