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Lethal harvest
October 17, 2008 12:46 PM   Subscribe

"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..." Interview with one of Germany's most experienced bomb disposal experts as he retires. Photogallery.
posted by fearfulsymmetry (19 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Did there used to be UXB show on TV when i was a kid or did I totally just imagine that?

Aha, here it is. Thanks internets! Is there no magical childhood memory that you can’t pin down to mundane reality?
posted by Artw at 12:52 PM on October 17, 2008


My mind is still not comprehending that fact that people are still finding un exploded ordinance from WWII in Germany.

I mean, I knew about anti personal mines that get left behind after a conflict, usually in those small war torn regions no one remembers once we leave. But the fact that it is an ongoing problem for a major european nation over 60 years after the war was over, well fuck.

Or as my activists friends say: Peace, Damnit!
posted by mrzarquon at 1:16 PM on October 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


That Dresden photo is quite something... You can still see war damage there if you go there.
posted by Artw at 1:27 PM on October 17, 2008


the aim of the Combined Bomber Offensive...should be unambiguously stated [as] the destruction of German cities, the killing of German workers, and the disruption of civilized life throughout Germany.

It should be emphasized that the destruction of houses, public utilities, transport and lives, the creation of a refugee problem on an unprecedented scale, and the breakdown of morale both at home and at the battle fronts by fear of extended and intensified bombing, are accepted and intended aims of our bombing policy. They are not by-products of attempts to hit factories.


- Arthur "Bomber" Harris
posted by Artw at 1:33 PM on October 17, 2008


The Allies set up us the bomb!

My mind is still not comprehending that fact that people are still finding un exploded ordinance from WWII in Germany.

Yeah, it's all over the place.

They found one in my small town a few years ago(de). Now they are building a retirement home and some shops near that same area and it is taking a lot of time and money due to the search and clearing of unexploded bombs (de, pdf).

Also when they clear trees or old fields here in the Lüneburger Heath to build something, they work very carefully with the backhoes so they don't blow themselves up if they hit a bomb.
posted by chillmost at 1:37 PM on October 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


My mind is still not comprehending that fact that people are still finding un exploded ordinance from WWII in Germany.

Yeah, it's all over the place.


And here in Britain. It's persistent stuff. There are a couple of German bombs in the Thames mud near one of the support of the new Hungerford footbridge that were too difficult and dangerous to remove. I think of that whenever I cross that bridge.

The story of the building of that bridge generally is a weird and terrifying one.
posted by WPW at 2:20 PM on October 17, 2008 [2 favorites]


mrzarquon, you have no idea. These things can be anywhere. Last year in the city I live in, an unexploded 1,000 pound bomb was found [text in German] at a construction site downtown. The mind-blowing thing for me is that they found it while they were digging the foundation for a new structure after demolishing the building that already stood there. They had already built over it once! So you had a half-ton of high explosive ordinance just sitting there in the ground under this old building (which was built as a medical institute, and then later a commercial building that contained a cinema and nightclub) for all those years. It's kind of interesting in a distantly abstract sense to know that at any moment the place you are in may just up and explode.

And then there is the plane that may or may not have been loaded with six bombs [text in German] that laying at the bottom of a lake where people swim and boat for fun. Wee!
posted by moonbiter at 2:21 PM on October 17, 2008


It's also interesting to note how big of an area they evacuate for these things. In that 1,000-pound bomb case, it was a 750 meter radius, which was pretty much all of downtown, which also shut down train an auto traffic through the city. It's little wonder that things go totally quiet.
posted by moonbiter at 2:27 PM on October 17, 2008


My mind is still not comprehending that fact that people are still finding un exploded ordinance from WWII in Germany.

Live UXBs regularly turn up in British cities too (London - Liverpool). And unexploded ordinance on the former WW1 battlefields of France and Belgium still claim victims every year - farmers, tourists and disposal experts. Apparently the mustard gas is still lethal, even after 90 years.

Seems that people brave enough to do this job will never be short of work.
posted by boosh at 2:27 PM on October 17, 2008


Apparently the mustard gas is still lethal, even after 90 years.

I listened to a radio documentary on archeology of WWI battle fields last year. The sardonic archaeologist commented something on the lines of 'when the gas signal is given, we all get out of the trench pretty quickly'
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 2:37 PM on October 17, 2008


This is technically a self-link as I was working on the magazine when this piece was published, but here's the full, epic story of the construction of the Hungerford Footbridge. It seems I misremembered it - they didn't know exactly if there was a bomb - or the piece was toned down a little for general consumption. Probably the former.
posted by WPW at 2:39 PM on October 17, 2008


Wow, that was really interesting. I had no idea there even were time-release bombs, much less that they would fail to explode if they landed wrong-side-up. And I can hardly imagine knowing these unexploded bombs are all over your city. Thanks for the post.
posted by vytae at 2:53 PM on October 17, 2008


I had no idea there even were time-release bombs

It gets even sneakier. From wikipedia:

"The problem of UXBs was further complicated when bomb disposal personnel began to encounter munitions fitted with anti-handling devices e.g. the Luftwaffe's ZUS40 anti-removal bomb fuze[1] of 1940. Bomb fuzes incorporating anti-handling devices were specifically designed to kill bomb disposal personnel. Scientists and technical staff responded by devising methods and equipment to render them safe."

I remember this being discussed on a documentary. At one point there was a massive leap in the casualty rate in British bomb disposal officers during the war. Turned out that the Germans had started building a number of bombs that would explode if you started disarming them in the standard way. The Allies only found out about it when by pure luck one failed .
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:16 PM on October 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


Now that I think about it, there was an article somewhere about the disposal of mustard gas and other chemical agents by the US, and most of them ended up off the coast of New Jersey. Since the gas wasn't dispersed, it is still laying there, in rusting WWI era containers, as a kind of black ooze. Every once in a while there is a report about folks working off shore being hospitalized because their lines disrupt one of those containers, get covered in the gunk, which then gets on their boat and burns the crew members.

So I say it again: Peace, Damnit!
posted by mrzarquon at 5:05 PM on October 17, 2008


I went to school with a guy who was in the Latvian army. He said there were still chemical land mines around from WWI in his country.

I remember as a kid in Germany, a buddy had a bullet collection he'd found walking a dirt road like you'd look for arrowheads in a cornfield. Also one winter a crew dug a powerline trench near my bus stop and unearthed a 37mm anti-tank round, which I brought in to my dad's office. Everybody was pretty matter-of-fact about it, looking back.

Probably the best one was when somebody spotted pilings from a bridge Caesar had built across the Rhine when it got low one summer. Not explosive, but hey: Caesar!
posted by atchafalaya at 5:12 PM on October 17, 2008 [1 favorite]


My uncle worked bomb disposal. He told me this over a drink.

On a second tour of X, he gets called out to a drinking establishment and finds a hoax device. Second call, same venue, a real bomb, which they disarmed. So it continues. Fifth call, same venue they turn up and find a real doozy; they have the entire area cleared and bring in more equipment. The extra equipment was petrol, which they applied liberally to the venue before walking out and announcing that there was nothing they could do.

No sixth call, obviously – and nobody hurt.
posted by mandal at 5:13 PM on October 17, 2008


Bomb fuzes incorporating anti-handling devices were specifically designed to kill bomb disposal personnel. Scientists and technical staff responded by devising methods and equipment to render them safe.

This is all covered, dramatically speaking, in the Danger UXB series. It is quite excellent and gripping viewing, and perfectly embodies the quote by the German expert: "But looking back on it today they say I was mad. And they were right."
posted by dhartung at 11:16 AM on October 18, 2008


It's all robots these days. Bloody robots, coming over here, taking our jobs...
posted by Artw at 8:13 PM on October 18, 2008


It's all robots these days.

Unfortunately, not..
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 4:20 AM on October 19, 2008


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