Berlin Bomb Legacy

Discussion in 'WW2 Battlefields Today' started by canuck, Apr 21, 2011.

  1. canuck

    canuck Token Colonial Patron

    "Berlin city officials estimate there are some 4,000 unexploded pieces of ordnance -- mostly aerial bombs and artillery -- still scattered across the capital"

    Published: June 06, 2010
    by Eric Westervelt
    In the German town of Gottingen on Tuesday, three workers were killed and six wounded while trying to defuse a 1,100-pound Allied bomb -- a tragic legacy of World War II.
    Sixty-five years after the end of the war, unexploded ordnance from the conflict remains a common, annoying and occasionally deadly hazard for construction crews across Germany.
    The nine German bomb-disposal experts -- men with years of experience -- were working Wednesday on a bomb found during construction of a sports arena in the central German town. The police had already evacuated some 6,000 people when the bomb exploded.
    Peter Bodes, head of the Hamburg Ordinance Disposal Unit, told German public television that while old war bombs are commonplace, fatalities are not.
    "Accidents happen, of course. But you always go out there thinking 'It won't be me.' So it's just dreadful when something tragic like this happens," Bodes said.
    Unexploded Ordnance A Fact Of Life
    Each year as spring and summer construction work expands, unexploded aerial bombs, hand grenades, artillery rounds and ammunition are uncovered: Last year, construction crews even found old explosives near the private apartment of Chancellor Angela Merkel.
    Berlin city officials estimate there are some 4,000 unexploded pieces of ordnance -- mostly aerial bombs and artillery -- still scattered across the capital.
    Earlier this spring, officials evacuated several hundred Berlin residents from offices and apartments after construction crews found a live 500-pound bomb near a main S-Bahn commuter rail track.
    Laila Quetera was among the evacuees.
    "[The police] simply announced to us that everybody must leave, because a bomb is being deactivated," Quetera says. "You just don't expect something like this to happen."
    Unexploded World War II ordnance remains a problem in many European cities and in parts of North Africa. Berlin city officials estimate the German capital was bombarded by 465,000 tons of explosives and that 1 out of 8 bombs dropped on the city during the war did not explode.
    According to Berlin's municipal records, some 7,300 bombs have been detonated successfully in the city since officials started purchasing aerial images from the British in the mid-1980s.
    Berlin's City Hall requires construction firms to carry out bomb-risk assessments of sites, and the city pays for the eventual removal of any Allied explosives found. But the disposal of German-made bombs is paid for by the federal government, which is responsible for paying for the legacy of the Third Reich.
    Lucrative, If Dangerous, Business
    It all adds up to job security for those who make their living doing the dangerous work of bomb disposal.
    Tom Alexander runs a Berlin company that specializes in locating and assessing the removal of unexploded ordnance.
    "I still have to work about 15 or 20 years. We won't run out of bombs and ammunition," he says. "There are still massive amounts of ammunition in Berlin from the ground fighting and of course from the bombing of the city."
    Alexander has a doctorate in biology, but decided to take over the business his father founded in 1947. A trained car mechanic, Alexander's father served as a German army explosives expert during the war.
    Alexander says it's really just a guess how much unexploded ordnance is left in Berlin.
    "The city's [Nazi] administration really collapsed in the fall of 1944 and records stopped being kept of the bombs -- especially in the last days of the war, when the Russians on the ground came closer to the city, it all went into a big chaos," Alexander says.
    As this spring's ammunition finds show, the Allies targeted major transport hubs such as train stations and airports. But the acres of woods surrounding the city also contain munitions dumps where German soldiers got rid of their guns and grenades as the Soviets and the Western Allies converged on Berlin and what was left of Hitler's regime fell.
    Hitler committed suicide in his Berlin bunker on April 30, 1945, and German commanders in Berlin surrendered May 2. A week later, almost all Nazi armed forces had unconditionally surrendered throughout Europe.
    One legacy of Berlin's post-war division is that bomb busting differed on either side of the Berlin Wall. In the West, most construction sites were cleared of explosives before new buildings went up; the communist East seemed less bothered by what might be underground.
    "Many new buildings were just [built] on bombs. They never did ammunition searches in socialist times," Alexander says. "They looked a little bit, but they didn't have the technology." Or the money, he adds.
    Aerial Images A Powerful Tool
    In 1945, as the war ended, both the British Royal Air Force and the U.S. Air Force recorded the damage their bombs had done across Germany. These images are still paying off today.
    The British government's Aerial Reconnaissance Archives in Edinburgh, Scotland, sells photos to help the German government and private firms locate the ordnance.
    Allan Williams, head of the archives, says that his team looks at aerial photos of war-damaged Germany every day.
    "It's like Avatar of the Second World War. It's quite surreal," he says. "We are able to identify images showing bomb craters and many of the images show actual unexploded bombs on the ground. So through our work, we are able to supply bomb disposal agencies in Germany on a daily basis with photographs of particular areas."
    The photographs prove helpful, most of the time.
    But Berlin's City Hall is reluctant to make public its records of where ordnance is located beneath the city for fear of panicking residents.
    Last summer, a woman was walking her German shepherd when it dug up and played with what looked like an odd bone. In fact, it was a live hand grenade left by the U.S. Army.
    The bomb disposal unit was called, and the dog and its master walked on -- carefully.
    [Copyright 2011 National Public Radio]
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  2. Gage

    Gage The Battle of Barking Creek MOD

    Wow, that's a lot and so sad people are still dying. Thanks for sharing a fascinating piece.
  3. canuck

    canuck Token Colonial Patron

  4. militarycross

    militarycross Very Senior Member


    It really goes to confirm how much ordnance is still scattered over the battlefields of the last 100 years. The wars are over, but they keep killing the innocents.

    Gives one pause to give thanks for the land we live in, and offer prayers for the well-being of those who dwell now in the shadow of past evils.

  5. canuck

    canuck Token Colonial Patron

    Unexploded Bombs in Germany

    The Lethal Legacy of World War II

    By David Crossland in Wünsdorf, Germany
    Germany remains contaminated with unexploded bombs that are becoming increasingly unstable with age, warns one of the country's most experienced bomb defusers. He has just retired after a perilous career spent tackling the deadly legacy of World War II.,Sub2,Top1,Top2,TopRight,Left,Right,Right1,Right2,Right3,Right4,Right5,Middle,Middle1,Middle2,Middle3,Bottom,Bottom1,Bottom2,Bottom3,Position1,Position2,x01,x02,x03,x04,x05,x06,x07,x08,x09,x10,x11,x12,x20,x21,x22,x23,x70,VMiddle2,VMiddle,VRight,Spezial!Middle2
    Hans-Jürgen Weise, one of Germany's most experienced bomb disposal experts, will never forget his hairiest moment.
    It was in 1997 in the eastern town of Oranienburg and he was squatting in a hole in the ground trying to defuse a 250 kilogram American World War II aerial bomb that builders had found. Its detonator was so bent that he couldn't unscrew it to make the bomb safe.
    "I fitted a pneumatic press to tear the detonator out of the bomb remotely. We were 150 meters away and could see what was happening on a TV monitor," Weise, a fit 65-year-old with a ready laugh, told SPIEGEL ONLINE in an interview. "The detonator budged a few centimeters but wouldn’t come any further.
    "So we decided to detonate the bomb. While everything was being prepared I climbed back down into the pit to retrieve the press from the bomb because those machines cost €20,000," he said. "It was then that I noticed that the detonator had come a bit loose. So I started playing around with it and ended up screwing it out by hand."
    "You should have seen the goose bumps on my arm! I didn’t think of anything while I was doing it. I could have just waited for it to be detonated. But that’s the ambition of the bomb disposer, I suppose. No one said anything at the time. But looking back on it today they say I was mad. And they were right."
    Lethal Harvest Each Year
    Weise retired at the end of September after spending almost four decades clearing munitions from one of the most bomb-contaminated regions in Europe -- the state of Brandenburg surrounding Berlin. In Brandenburg alone, an average of 631 tons of old munitions from the two world wars and from Soviet army exercises in East German times are found every year by builders, bomb location squads or children playing.

    In the whole of Germany, more than 2,000 tons of American and British aerial bombs and all sorts of munitions ranging from German hand grenades and tank mines to Russian artillery shells are recovered each year. Barely a week goes by without a city street or motorway being cordoned off or even evacuated in Germany due to an unexploded bomb being discovered.

    Nazi Germany was first to launch massive air raids on civilian targets in World War II with devastating attacks on Warsaw and London. But, it reaped what it sowed as the Allies waged a five-year campaign of aerial bombardment during which they dropped 1.9 million tons of bombs to destroy Germany's industry and crush public morale. The raids killed an estimated 500,000 people.
    Most estimates for the percentage of unexploded bombs range from 5 to 15 percent -- or between 95,000 and 285,000 tons. As Germany hastily rebuilt its cities after the war, authorities didn’t have the time or the means to locate and dispose of a large part of that tonnage.
    As a result, a deadly legacy has lain dormant beneath Germany's streets ever since.
    Daily Callouts
    "We get two or three calls a day saying a shell or bomb has been found at construction sites or elsewhere," said Weise, who was head of bomb disposal operations for western Brandenburg. In Brandenburg, Weise and his team of around 70 colleagues disposed of 10,733 tonnes of munitions between 1991 and 2007 at a cost of €259 million, a regional government spokesman said.
    Unearthed munitions that can be transported safely are taken to a detonation ground where they are exploded or have their explosives removed. But many bombs -- and all bombs with delay-action detonators -- are too dangerous to be moved and must be either defused or detonated where they are found.
    Weise said it will take at least another 20 years before Brandenburg's bombs are cleared, and that the state is particularly contaminated with American delay-action bombs which have become so unstable that it will soon be impossible to defuse them safely. The bombs are on a hair trigger because their chemical detonators have been worn down by acetone vapors as they have lain lurking in the ground for over 60 years.
    Slumbering Bombs on a Hair-Trigger
    "In the last few years we’ve found that the detonators we take out of such bombs are increasingly brittle," Weise said. "Recently we’ve had three extracted detonators go off with a pissssh sound while they were being transported away, all it took was a bit of vibration. One day such bombs will be so sensitive that no one will be able to handle them. We may have to stop defusing them as soon as next year."
    Several people have been in injured in spontaneous bomb explosions in Oranienburg over the years and experts have warned that with the passage of time such detonations are becoming more likely.
    An estimated 20,000 delay-action bombs were dropped on Oranienburg during the war because it had a suspected atomic bomb research site, the Heinkel aircraft factory and a pharmaceutical plant. They were designed to explode between two and 146 hours after hitting the ground, to disrupt clearing up work and cause chaos.
    But many failed to go off because Oranienburg has soft soil with a hard layer of gravel underneath. That meant bombs would penetrate the earth, bounce off the gravel and come to rest underground with their tips pointing back upwards. In that position gravity stops the chemical detonators from working. They contain a vial of acetone which bursts on impact and is meant to trickle down and dissolve a celluloid disk that keeps back the cocked firing pin.
    But when the bomb is pointed upwards, the acetone seeps away from the celluloid, leaving only the vapors to wear the disk down.
    Weise has defused a total of 394 large bombs in his career including 47 delay action bombs which tend to be the trickiest.
    Eerie Silence
    Weise's final mission was in August in the city center of Potsdam, the regional capital of Brandenburg, which came to a standstill after workers found a 250 kilogram British World War II bomb at a construction site. Some 3,000 people were evacuated from the area and the train station was closed as Weise gingerly unscrewing the bomb’s detonator with a wrench.
    "When you’re on your own in that pit with the bomb in the middle of a city, it’s strange how everything suddenly goes totally quiet,” said Weise. "Sometimes even the birds stop singing. That’s always the point when you feel edgy. After the Potsdam bomb last month I thought, you’ve been lucky so many times, that’s the last one today, now you’ll stop."
    Weise admits he must have had a lot of luck in his career which started in 1970 when he began helping to locate and transport munitions in what was then communist East Germany. He got his qualification to defuse bombs in 1983.
    Until his retirement, the wall of his office in the town Wünsdorf south of Berlin was covered with photos of him and members of his team smiling with relief as they stand next to defused bombs hanging from hooks or lying on the ground like trophies from a perilous safari.
    Weise said he soon lost his fear of bombs but never stopped respecting them. "After I passed my exam and had to defuse my first bomb on my own I did get a bit nervous," he recalled. "Suddenly there was no one behind me telling me what to do. I was totally alone. As you kneel down and apply the wrench you think, 'am I doing this right?' But then I remembered exactly what I'd learned and after that I wasn’t afraid anymore."
    Weise said British bombs with conventional mechanical detonators were relatively easy to defuse with a wrench because the detonators were made of brass and didn’t rust.
    Sudden Death
    "I always say a bit of fear isn’t bad because it makes you careful. But fear can also make you do uncontrolled things. I have respect for every type of munitions because I've seen what can happen," he said. "I saw two men killed on the detonation ground while they were sorting munitions. After you witness something like that it takes you a few weeks before you can go near a bomb again. It keeps you careful."
    Three bomb disposal workers have died handling munitions at the Brandenburg detonation ground since 1950. But no defusers have been killed.
    The search for bombs intensified across Germany in the early 1990s after the British and Americans handed over air reconnaissance photos taken after the bombing raids. Holes in the ground amid the craters showed the likely locations of unexploded bombs, sometimes to an accuracy of less than two meters. But the photos can't pinpoint every dud. Bomb disposal teams spent the 1990s searching in high priority locations such as schools, hospital, residential areas and busy streets.
    While the detonators are decaying underground, the TNT in the bombs isn’t. In 2006 a worker was killed when his bulldozer struck a bomb near a motorway in southern Germany. Eyewitnesses said the explosion tossed the bulldozer through the air like a toy.
    Search Slowing Due to Shortage of Money
    Apart from aerial bombs, Weise’s team removes grenades, mines, artillery shells and guns of all types. Brandenburg is so contaminated because it was here that whole German divisions were annihilated in 1945 in last stands against the Soviet armies advancing on Berlin.
    The state has cleared 12,541 hectares of munitions-infested land, but a further 391,000 hectares, or 1,500 square miles, of contaminated area remain. The proactive searching has slowed down due to a shortage of money, and most bombs these days are found by chance, said Weise.
    "If one were to search systematically and intensively it wouldn’t take that long to locate all the bombs but the money isn’t there. Politicians have the view that if it’s been lying there for that long, leave it, it won’t hurt anyone, but they start paying attention when something happens," he said.
    "No new staff are being hired and the experienced ones are coming to retirement age," said Weise. "Our detonation ground is short of staff especially during vacation times." Weise said he definitely won't encourage any of his three grandchildren to follow in his footsteps. "They may not be as lucky as their grandpa was."
    Weise, who was awarded the German Federal Cross of Merit last year, is looking ahead to retirement with mixed feelings. "I don’t know if I’ll miss the excitement. But suddenly everyone’s running past me when something’s up and it makes you think you’re no longer needed. Taking the photos from the office wall was difficult."
    Weise, who was born during a World War II air raid when his pregnant mother had to be carried down to a shelter in her bed, said he bears no ill will to the nations that dropped bombs over Germany all those years ago.
    "It was war and all we’re trying to do is to remove its legacy. But what I don’t understand is that even after all the suffering caused by that war, totally senseless wars have been started over and over again ever since. People just don’t learn.”
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  6. canuck

    canuck Token Colonial Patron

  7. Earthican

    Earthican Senior Member

  8. ww2ni

    ww2ni Senior Member

    Some time ago I found a website which was used by the construction industry in germany to help locate UXB's from old wartime photographs in comparrison with the land as it looks today.

    Sadly i have lost it and have been unable to find anything like it again.

    Does anyone know of this??
  9. CL1

    CL1 116th LAA and 92nd (Loyals) LAA,Royal Artillery Patron

  10. dbf

    dbf Moderatrix MOD

    There have been many discoveries in the town where i was born, hardly surprising as it had one of the highest percentage rates of damage inflicted during the war.

    I've been told that some years back a relative discovered an unexploded phosphorous bomb while working on his new garden and was very lucky to have stopped digging when he did.

    Last year a bomb was found during preparations for a new grave in the main cemetery. This is located just off the very centre of the town, very near to the main city centre church which I know had been gutted after one raid; so a likely area. Still, I'm sure that the grave diggers got a real shock.

    A few weeks after this discovery there was a more tragic outcome in the news

    A World War II bomb killed three disposal experts and injured six in the central German city of Göttingen on Tuesday night when it exploded just as they were preparing to defuse it. Wartime bombs are found almost weekly in Germany, but deaths are rare. ...

    Full article Routine Disposal Goes Wrong: Three Killed in Explosion of World War II Bomb in Germany - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News - International

    Attached Files:

  11. CL1

    CL1 116th LAA and 92nd (Loyals) LAA,Royal Artillery Patron

    Berlin set for mass evacuation as WW2 bomb is defused

    Police say there is no immediate danger from the 1,100lb (500kg) British bomb, which was found on Heidestrasse last Wednesday.

    Berlin WW2 bomb sparks mass evacuation
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  12. Smudger Jnr

    Smudger Jnr Our Man in Berlin

    Massive disruption due to evacuation of thousands of occupants plus two large hospitals not to mention the closure of the Main Railway Station.
    Hopefully all goes well with defusing and all will be back to normal soon.
    It is estimated that 10% of bombs dropped failed to explode and that there will be bomb disposal requirements for the twenty years or so.
    Food for thought.
  13. The Cooler King

    The Cooler King Elite Member

    Given the inaccuracy of bombing, especially in the early years of the war (Only about 5% on target) it is hardly surprising that they keep turning up in what are effectively remote, low key areas.

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